Neo Instrument Ventilator Review

Neo Instruments'' Ventilator ($499) is a digital rotary cabinet simulator in the form and feel of a high-end analog stompbox.
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Neo Instruments'' Ventilator ($499) is a digital rotary cabinet simulator in the form and feel of a high-end analog stompbox. Specifically modeled on a Leslie 122, the Ventilator sets the new standard for those who want to carry their rotating speaker effect in one hand rather than strapped to a dolly.

Like a real Leslie, the Ventilator is a mono-input unit; all the magic emerges from stereo outputs. Its virtual microphones are a stereo pair on the treble rotor and a single mic on the bass rotor. A Hi/Lo gain button accommodates the levels of keyboards and guitars, and the output is level-compensated to maintain consistency between the gain settings.

A Key/Git switch controls the speaker emulation. Key mode reproduces the frequency response and characteristics of a Leslie 122, and is intended for use with full-frequency studio monitors, P.A.s, and keyboard monitors. The Git bypasses the speaker emulation and is primarily for running into a guitar amp for coloration.

A Bypass footswitch activates the effect or sends the uncolored input signal to both outputs via a true-bypass circuit. A Slow/Fast footswitch toggles between Chorale (slow) and Tremolo (fast). Unfortunately, there is no way to access Brake (full stop) from the unit without the use of a remote dual-footswitch or Hammond CU-1 half-moon-type manual switch. Both the remote and onboard switches are simultaneously active, allowing Ventilator to be placed on top of a keyboard for hands-on control while also being controlled by foot.

The control knobs are large enough to easily tweak in a stage environment. The single Speed adjusts the upper and bottom rotors simultaneously and affects both Fast and Slow settings. At times, I felt the fast setting a bit too modulated and I perceived a slight added brightness, but these are minor criticisms.

Acceleration adjusts the time it takes the rotors to slow down and speed up, again affecting both. The Balance control adjusts the relative level of the top rotor to the bottom rotor, acting as a general way to brighten or darken the sound. The Drive knob controls the tube amp simulator, which provides an authentic grind that sounds analog. The Drive pot is level-compensated, so changing the distortion does not change the volume. Going from pristine jazz to Jon Lord territory is just a knob twist away.

The Distance control moves the virtual mics closer or farther from the rotors. Up close, there is a very pronounced sense of amplitude modulation and a very wide stereo image. Increasing the distance blends the rotors more, creating a less wide overall effect and imparts a pleasing sense of room and space Either extreme setting sounds nearly identical to a real Leslie miked up in the same manner, with all the various nuances in between.

Setting the controls to straight-up 12:00 (except Drive) matches the average response of a Leslie 122. This was a great starting place for my Korg CX-3, although I eventually settled on slowing down the Acceleration to 2:00. The recommended Speed and Balance settings were spot-on to my ears, and I tended to like the Distance set a little farther away, at around 1:30.

A real Hammond B-V sounds great through the Ventilator, as does an electric guitar. Although my two organs don''t sound identical, both sounded authentic in recording and were very satisfying cranked through a pair of powered stage monitors. While cutting an organ track with the CX-3, I would have believed I was hearing a real Hammond and Leslie if I didn''t know better.

A simulator is never going to sound like a real rotary cabinet because it''s the 360-degree source''s bouncing around the room that creates the actual Leslie sound. However, when you mike a real rotary cabinet and squeeze that into a stereo recording or amplify it through a P.A. in a performance, much of the real magic of the original is lost, and what you''re left with is a representation of a rotary cabinet. No matter the settings on the Ventilator, the overall illusion of real 3-D movement, wood, and air is always present and nearly sounds exactly like what a miked Leslie sounds like in a recording or projected through a sound system.

Overall Rating (1 through 5): 4