The Hammond organ has been an important voice in music for more than fifty years. Changing the instrument's timbre on the fly is an essential part of
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The Hammond organ has been an important voice in music for more than fifty years. Changing the instrument's timbre on the fly is an essential part of

The Hammond organ has been an important voice in music for more than fifty years. Changing the instrument's timbre on the fly is an essential part of the performance practice on the Hammond, and the great organists have developed distinctive styles through their nimble manipulation of the tone controls. Native Instruments, in conjunction with Boehm Music International, have released the B4D ($449; $559 bundled with B4), a drawbar MIDI controller for Native Instruments B4 that allows the virtual tonewheel organist to take advantage of the vast tonal possibilities of the software instrument.

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The B4D organ controller offers lifelike control over Native Instruments'' B4 virtual drawbar organ.

The desktop-style unit is small and portable enough to sit atop mid- to full-size MIDI keyboard controllers. The B4D's rear panel includes MIDI In and Out ports, two control-voltage footswitch inputs, proprietary Link and Swell ports, and an input for the hefty wall wart. The Swell jack accepts a volume pedal made by Boehm, and the Link ports can be used to tie multiple B4D units together. The B4D is compatible with systems that run B4 — Mac OS 9 and OS X, and Windows 98, 2000, ME, and XP — and it supports VST 2, Audio Units, RTAS, DX, ASIO, as well as standalone operation.

Cozy Up to the Bars

The B4D features a set of nine drawbars, colored and oriented the way they would be on a real Hammond organ. These drawbars feel more like the ratchet-style drawbars of the earlier model C2 organ, rather than the smooth drawbars of the C3 and B3. Above the drawbars and to the left are controls for percussion, vibrato/chorus, and Leslie speaker settings. These include On/Off and Slow/Fast buttons for the Leslie; On/Off and V1/V2/V3/C1/C2/C3 buttons for the Vibrato/Chorus section; and On/Off, Soft/Normal, Fast/Slow, and Second/Third harmonic buttons for percussion.

The preset section has six 2-position Select buttons, a Bank button, and increment/decrement buttons. This arrangement makes it easy to have all of your favorite organ sounds available for spontaneous on-the-fly selection. The three-drawbar selection buttons specify whether B4D is currently controlling the upper manual, lower manual, or pedal settings of B4. The volume and overdrive knobs are positioned above the preset selection area.

Getting Jazzed

I plugged the B4D into my MIDI interface, placed it on top of my MIDI controller, installed the B4 software, and was immediately up and running. The buttons are not physically similar to those on a Hammond, nor are they oriented in a layout that an organist is used to. Nonetheless, it took only a few minutes to get acclimated to their locations, and for the first time for me, B4 took on the character and fluidity of a real Hammond organ. All the controls responded as they should, and the inclusion of an overdrive knob added an extra twist that is unavailable on a real Hammond: the ability to increase the growl and distortion of the instrument over the course of a solo (see Web Clip 1).

The B4D can also function solely as a MIDI controller. If you don't have two-way MIDI communication between the B4D and your computer, preset changes in B4 won't update the corresponding LED settings on the B4D, which can be confusing. To trigger this behavior, you have to enable B4D Controller Dump on Program Change from the File menu. In my opinion, this should be the default behavior. In addition, the drawbars are not motorized, so preset changes in B4 will not update their hardware physical position, regardless.

Drawn In

I love the convenience of software-based sound generators, but always miss the physical controls of their hardware counterparts. The B4D solves this problem nicely for Native Instruments B4, elevating its expressiveness and usefulness significantly.

The B4D is a niche device, and 450 bucks for a single drawbar box might make you consider saving your pennies and buying a full-size organ keyboard with all the trimmings. But if you are a regular user of B4 and want to delve more deeply into the sound of the mighty Hammond, the B4D will help you get there.

Overall Rating (1 through 5): 4
Native Instruments USA