Electronic Musician’s review of the Roland VK-8M module, which features a variety of organ sounds, a number of effects, and real drawbars.
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Electronic Musician’s review of the Roland VK-8M module, which features a variety of organ sounds, a number of effects, and real drawbars.

Overall EM Rating (1 through 5):4

The VK-8M ($995) is a 3.75-pound tabletop organ module that's partof Roland's VK (“Virtual Tone Wheel”) line of Hammond-organsimulators. At about 9 inches wide and 11 inches deep, this desktopunit won't take up a lot of your studio real estate, and it gives youreal-time performance control that's difficult to equal with a softwareorgan plug-in.

The VK-8M's intelligent layout puts all the important knobs andbuttons where you can easily grab them. The controls are big and easyto see, and there are plenty of useful LED status indicators. Thecasing is metallic gray with wood side panels.

Wheels and Bars

The most important controls on any tone-wheel organ are thedrawbars. The VK-8M has one set of nine drawbars (not four sets as on areal Hammond), but they can be assigned to control any of the threesounds that the VK-8M can simultaneously emulate: upper manual, lowermanual, or pedal (bass).

Rather than using sampling technology, the VK-8M physically modelsthe 91 tone wheels that actually generate the sound in a traditionalorgan. This approach means that the VK-8M is fully polyphonic and canchange drawbar sounds convincingly on the fly.

Above the drawbars are six preset-selection buttons, as well ascontrols to edit and write your own presets. You can store a total of36 presets, which can contain custom settings for the drawbars and theVK-8M's other editable parameters. There are two channel modes:Single-Channel Mode sets the VK-8M to play a single sound, andMulti-Channel Mode allows different incoming MIDI channels to triggerseparate upper manual, lower manual, and pedal sounds.

In the Rotation

I was knocked out by the VK-8M's Leslie simulation, which reallycaptures the spirit and sound of the real thing. It's controlled by aBrake button and a Slow/Fast speed selector. A pair of LEDs blinkalternately in time to the speed of the virtual rotor. The Lesliesimulator has 15 editable parameters, which gives you plenty oftweaking potential — but even the stock settings sound great.

The two other primary tone-shaping attributes of the VK-8M are theVibrato, Chorus, and Percussion effects. The VK-8M does a pretty goodjob of emulating a B-3 or C-3's vibrato and chorusing. I wasn't asimpressed with the percussion simulation, which was too bright andpingy for my taste.

Roland's COSM amplifier-modeling technology mimics four amp types.The Overdrive and Tone knobs let you dial in a wide variety of soundsfrom classical organ to Deep Purple raunch. Reverb section choices areRoom, Hall, Church, and Spring. The reverbs sound good, but parametercontrol is minimal. In the studio I would probably choose to turn offthe internal reverb and use an external processor during mixdown.

Beam Me Up

Roland has included one of its theremin-style D Beam sensors on theVK-8M. It lets you use hand motions to simulate a series ofHammond-specific effects, including the sound of the motor beingpowered down and of a spring reverb unit being smacked. You can alsouse the D Beam to create a crescendo effect and switch Lesliespeeds.

The rear panel includes stereo audio outputs, a volume-pedal input,MIDI In and Out jacks, and a stereo pair of keyboard inputs for mixingyour MIDI keyboard's audio with that of the VK-8M.

Getting the Sound

Is the VK-8M indistinguishable from a Hammond B-3 or C-3? Well, no.There is a certain meatiness to those keyboards running through atube-Leslie speaker that no emulation can duplicate. That said, theVK-8M is right up there with the best organ simulators I've heard. Itsounds musical, which is ultimately what counts.

Roland has done a good job with the VK-8M. The organ tone, while abit less beefy than a real Hammond, is serviceable. The Lesliesimulation and the Vibrato and Chorus settings sound accurate andreally animate the sound. The amplifier section has a wide variety ofdistortion algorithms that markedly change the color of the instrument,and the drawbars and D Beam add the element of real-time control. Bestof all, I can take it from my studio to a gig by tossing it on thefront seat of my car with one hand. Try that with the real thing.

Roland Corporation U.S.
tel. (323) 890-3700