Natale states, “In this case I think it’s justified to tell people about this device because it gives you more consistency. It’s one less thing you have to worry about. What happens if the catering staff walks across upstage and knocks one of my mics off?
“You can adjust the drive without maybe blowing up the speakers in your Leslie like we used to do. You can control the acceleration, which I grant you is maybe a bit subtle of an effect for an arena with a million cubic feet of air, but it’s cool.
“I would always record with a Leslie. It’s a wooden box. It has a tone and a certain frequency response. But for live, now I don’t need a harness of three 100-foot mic cables to the edge of town to isolate the box. With the Ventilator, the unit is right next to all the keyboard DIs. It’s consistent. There’s no leakage. You should be able to deal with leakage if you’re a live engineer, but if the mics are in different positions from day to day it won’t be very consistent.
“Another great thing is there is no wind noise, that’s really great. (The Ventilator does model wind noise, and this is audible if you adjust the distance setting to the closest-to-the-cabinet position). I think it’s a really good product. Solid metal construction, small, weighs a lot less than a Leslie, no moving parts except knobs and switches.”
The Home Trial
I’m fortunate to own several vintage instruments, including a B3 and 122 and 147 Leslies. Even after glowing confirmation from two experienced engineers and a world-class musician, before writing this article I still wanted to do an A-B comparison of the Ventilator against the real thing in a listening environment I trusted.
So I set up a rotating “speaker” shoot-out in my music room, and in this setting, the Ventilator passed my 14-day home trial. Of course the B3 through the simulator did not sound exactly like my 122. I’m sure the Neo folks listened to a line-up of 122s before they selected the particular speaker they modeled. Considering the previously-mentioned variance in frequency response from one Leslie to another, no doubt the unit they modeled does not sound identical to the 122 I own.
Most importantly though, the Ventillator provided a realistic and legitimate alternative to the vintage device. The frequency response, timbre and overall instrument envelope were darn close, close enough that within a band’s ensemble mix I doubt a trained ear could consistently pick out one device from the other.
Composer musician Dr. Lonnie Smith, a true guru of the Hammond B3, working with a Ventilator.
I admit my tests were completely subjective – one listener, non-scientific. And I confess I wouldn’t choose to use it in an organ trio with jazz artists like Joey De Francesco, Ben Sidran, or the late great Jimmy Smith. In those settings, where the Hammond is the centerpiece of the program, the Leslie is probably the appropriate choice. But in many of the large venue presentations we support, including those with accomplished players like Leavell, practitioners of the live audio craft could recommend the Ventilator to their artists and reap the benefits of this well conceived and executed tool.
“I just love the thing, I really do,” Leavell tells me in parting. “As much of a vintage head as I am, whether it be a Wurlitzer or a Fender Rhodes or a Clavinet, it’s hard to find instruments that come that close to the real thing. But the Ventilator certainly does.”
Besides providing sonic legitimacy, the Ventilator doesn’t have any moving parts beyond pots and switches, only weighs a couple of pounds, takes no truck space, is not likely to break down, and you don’t have to mic it. It’s a very good substitute for a Leslie, and a problem-solving tool that could make your day easier.
Finally, for those who might wish to read the pre-eminent pro audio discussion of the Leslie speaker, I suggest Cliff Henricksen’s “Unearthing The Mysteries of the Leslie Cabinet.” Henricksen is a talented loudspeaker designer who grew up playing the Hammond in R&B bands.
After 40 years of playing with speakers, Danny Abelson is still infatuated with why things sound the way they sound. In his day job he is a consultant specializing in the electronic systems installed in college and professional sports facilities.
Editor’s Note: Neo has informed us that it is coming to market with two new mini Vent models, one for guitar and the other for organ. There will also be a new “pro” version in the coming months. Cabinet simulation for the Leslie 122 is included in all of them, of course, just like in the original.