Clone Shootout report...

(Mark Longo, Hammond Mailing List, 22 Aug 1996)


Greetings folks,

This is my promised account of the shootout comparing the top B-3 clones against a real B-3 and each other done last weekend by a half dozen or so list members.

Let me state the obvious up front and say that we who tested the clones are not professional testers or product reviewers. We're just people who play various B-3 clones and were interested in playing and comparing the best of them in a side-by-side situation. The tests done were not especially scientific and I'm sure there are some flaws and missing pieces in our results. We don't pretend otherwise. In spite of that, I hope the opinions and information below can help someone struggling to make a purchase decision, or at least make some of us more informed about some of the clones out there.

I should also say that I'm not employed, affiliated, or compensated by anyone with an interest in what we did. As far as I know, neither are any of the other guys who helped out. We held the shootout at GOFF Professional and Al Goff provided us with a B-3 and Leslie 122 in top condition for the tests. Al helped us get everything wired up but did not participate in the tests.

What is written below is a factual account of what we did, followed by the opinions of myself and other testers about what we heard.


The Reference

We used a B-3 to reference all our tests. The test procedure was to play a part on the B-3, play the same part on a clone, play it again on the B-3, then on the next clone, etc. In this way the B-3 was used to bring our ears back to a "neutral" position between clone listenings, much as bread is used to clear the palette in a wine tasting.

This B-3 has had it's stock pre-amp replaced with a solid state Trek pre-amp and it's generator has had it's capacitors replaced. It also had a percussion volume control and reverb tank installed. We set the percussion volume to the middle which yielded what I'd call a typical B-3 percussion level and we did not use the reverb. In my opinion this particular B-3 sounded a little brighter than the average B-3 you'd stumble across out there. While I wouldn't say it's the brightest sounding B-3 I've heard, it probably made the clones sound slightly less bright than they may have compared to a stock B-3. In any case, it was the organ that was available and it was a very nice sounding organ at that, but the brightness should be noted.

The Trek pre-amp or other modifications had the effect that the percussion on this B-3 does not taper at the high and low ends of the keyboard, as is typical of B-3's with stock preamps. This is noteworthy because we were comparing the percussion of the clones against the B-3. We discovered that all the clones' percussion tapered off on the high end, to a greater or lesser extent depending on the clone being tested.


The Test Units

We tested the new Hammond-Suzuki XM-1 with the XMc-1 drawbar controller, the Voce V-3 with the Voce MIDI Drawbars controller, and an XB-2. A Viscount D-9 was present (same unit as the original OB-3), but since we had a lot of work to do in a limited time and because the D-9 is widely regarded as an inferior clone, we didn't include the D-9 in our tests. In fact, I never even got around to playing it.

The XM-1 and drawbars were provided by GOFF Professional. They are among the first units available in America.

List member Steve Morenzi provided the Voce MIDI Drawbars and list member Bruce Wahler provided a very recently manufactured V-3 module. Steve has made several custom improvements to his V-3 module so we felt that since Bruce's V-3 was closer to stock it would make for a fairer test. Bruce has made one modification to boost the percussion level which was recommended to him by Dave Amels of Voce. I believe the percussion change will appear in new V-3's very soon if it hasn't already. Perhaps Dave Amels of Voce can fill us in, Dave?

The XB-2 was a rental unit provided by Al Goff. This XB-2 was running version 2 ROM's and has had it's internal pots tweaked a little by Al to optimize it's sound for the 122. Nothing magical here, I've tweaked my own XB-2's pots as well (I've written up the procedure and posted it before, drop me a line if you're interested and I'll send you a copy). The main improvement in tweaking the pots is to increase the unit's output, which makes it sound a little fatter through a Leslie, but the overall tonality of the organ is not changed significantly by this.

Also, by adjusting the internal pots on the XB-2 you can improve the sound of the C-2 chorus a little so that it actually sounds a bit more like a B-3's C-3 than the XB-21's C-3 does. So in order to compare the XB-2's best C-3 sound to the B-3, we used the XB-2's C-2 setting. Again, we're talking very small differences here. There's nothing you can do to the XB-2's trim pots to improve it's chorus in any significant way.


The Setup

For the side-by-side testing we ran a 1/4" output from the B-3 and each of the clones into Bruce Wahler's Mackie 1202 mixer, from there into a TREK pedal, then into a GOFF Leslie 122. The Leslie 122 has had it's amp rebuilt with stock components. I'm not sure if it has the original speaker/driver or if that had been replaced.

When comparing one clone against another, we would simply turn one clone's volume down on the mixer and the other clones volume up. The Mackie's output LEDs were used to be sure that the output levels of the clones being tested were the same.


The Tests

The test procedure was designed to compare drawbar tone, percussion and chorus features of each of the clones against the B-3 and each other.


The Opinions

I sent e-mail to the guys attending the shootout to get their opinions. Not all responded, but here are the overall preference rankings from those who did. I have listed each clone with the number of votes it received for each of first, second, or third place.

The overall ranking: (votes received)
Clone 1st 2nd 3rd
Voce V-3 4 1 1
XB-2 1.5 4 -
XM-1 0.5 - 5

The "0.5" votes were from a listener who didn't hear a difference between the XB-2 and the XM-1.

We attempted a "blindfold test", meaning that the listeners did not know which clone they were listening to. We simply called them "clone 1", "clone 2", and "clone 3". Because Bruce Wahler was running the mixer, he knew which clone was which. Because I was involved in part of wiring the tests up, I knew who "clone 1" was in advance and others may have known something as well, so the testing wasn't entirely blind. Nevertheless, some listeners were very surprised to discover which clone was which. Two of the listeners told me that they had assumed the XB-2 was the clone sound they liked least, only to discover that they liked their best choice was either the XB-2 or that their best choice was only fractionally better than the XB-2. Given this, the blindfold aspect of the testing was wise.

I was surprised to find that so many of us gave the clones the same ranking. All those who like the V-3 best said that the V-3 only beat the XB-2 by the smallest of margins. Most listeners stated a clear preference for the V-3 and XB-2 over the XM-1 overall. All listeners agreed that the each of the clones was surprisingly good sounding and unexpectedly close to the B-3 in sound.

Following are some specific opinions sent to me by the folks who were at the shootout. I've kept the quotes anonymous and sprinkled my own opinions in among the others.


Drawbar Sounds

Each clone tested had a signature drawbar sound which remained consistent across all the registrations tested. The signature sound became more obvious as more drawbars were pulled out. This remained true whether the Leslie was used on chorale or tremelo speed. Thanks to list member Steve Morenzi for playing some very nice passages for the drawbar tests.

Here are the listener quotes from the drawbar testing:


Chorus

We tested the C-3 chorus capability using the 888500850 registration as we wanted to test the chorus on a sound that contained highs and also odd drawbar frequencies (a real acid test for the clones). Will Walker played a nice churchy version of "Let It Be" for the chorus tests.

As noted above, we tested the XB-2 on C-2 rather than C-3.

Here are the listener quotes from the chorus testing:


Percussion

The B-3 we were using for reference had been modified with a percussion volume control (which we set to as neutral as possible) and the percussion did not taper at the top or the bottom of the keyboard as with a stock B-3. All the clones taper their percussion in the high end by varying amounts, but since the B-3 we used did not, we couldn't check the clones for accuracy of B-3 type taper.

We tested the percussion first with all drawbars pushed all the way in with 3rd percussion turned on. The XB-2 had the least amount of taper, the V-3 had the most, and the XM-1 was about in the middle.

The percussion level can be adjusted on each clone to match that on the test B-3. The decay values on the V-3 and XM-1 are adjustable so we adjusted them to match the B-3. The XB-2 has fixed decay parameters but they are close to the B-3 decays.

We then set registration 888000000 with 3rd percussion and compared overall percussion sounds. It should be noted that the reference B-3 had some crosstalk in it which generates a small bass "thump" in the attack portion of each note. This has the effect of making the percussion in the B-3 sound a little meatier than in the clones, which do not simulate crosstalk (the V-3 simulates tonewheel bleed, but that is a different sound).

By the time we got to the percussion testing everyone was getting a little burnt out and several listeners had wandered off to bother Al as he attempted to rush Keith Emerson's pre-amp through the rebuild mill. Will Walker appreciates your patience Al!

Here are the listener quotes from the percussion testing:


Miscellaneous

A few of our clone testers made some additional comments that didn't fit into the above categories, so I've included them here:


Leslie Simulators

After doing the clone tests, those of us that had not yet burnt out completely (only a few of us!) tried out the V-3 and XM-1 Leslie simulators. In addition to comparing the internal simulators to each other, we compared against them against dedicated Leslie simulators, specifically the Digitech RPM-1 and Motion Sound PRO-3. The V-3 and XM-1 simulators had similar programable features. The Digitech and PRO-3 have little or no programability.

We agreed that the XB-2 Leslie simulator was so inferior to all the others as to not warrant testing.

It's very hard to rate a Leslie simulator after intensively listening to a killer Leslie 122 all afternoon. They all sounded lame to me that day, but that's not being entirely fair because I know that some of these simulators are capable of doing a decent job within the obvious limits of what they are.

After listening to all the clones through a VERY nice 122, one thing stood out to me. Any of these clones sound can sound fabulous through a very good Leslie. But even the B-3 sounded a little cheesy through the Leslie simulators by compared to the 122. If you can't have a B-3/122 for a live rig, you'll get a better sound by getting a nice 122 type Leslie and a clone than you will by getting a B-3 and a simulator.

We didn't mess around with the programmability of the simulators much, and perhaps their sound could have been improved with some careful programming. Also, the Digitech RPM-1 we had was wired up for stereo even though we were listening in mono, which was an error and made the RPM-1 have too much amplitude modulation.

Testing Leslie simulators should really have been a separate event from the clone shootout. And frankly, we just didn't have the energy to do a complete job of evaluating the Leslie simulators after spending the whole afternoon with the clone sounds. Also, comparing the Leslie simulators built into the clones against dedicated units like the RPM-1 or PRO-3 is somewhat unfair since to the clones are really specializing in tonewheel sound reproduction, not Leslie simulation. So please bear all that in mind when reading the below comments.

Here are some of the listener comments:


Summation

Comparing the clones overall, most people seemed to like the sound of the drawbar sound V-3 just very slightly better than that of the XB-2, with the new XM-1 just a little farther behind. A few folks had different preferences though. We were all surprised at how good each of the clones sounded compared to the B-3 (especially through Al Goff's awesome Leslie 122).

Most of us liked the XM-1 chorus sound best with some disagreement about the second best. Opinions were mixed on percussion, but most of us found all the clones to have satisfactory percussion. In the Leslie simulation category, the V-3 was preferred over the XM-1.


Cautionary Notes

I want to caution all readers that what you've read above are the highly subjective opinions of a few people on one afternoon. On a different day in a different listening space the opinions would probably be somewhat changed. It's not really possible to draw hard conclusions from the few subjective opinions and you should expect that your own impressions may be different.

Perhaps most noteworthy is that we were listening to these units in a quiet room, which is an environment more similar to your living room than to a gig. Gigging musicians may well be the majority of clone users and we have no idea how these units would compare at a gig. Something that sounds good in your living room (or in a music store) often sounds very different in a live performance situation with a band. Maybe we'll get a chance to do a gig comparison some day, but for now that must remain an unknown.

So I hope the tests and opinions described above are a useful guide in your desire to understand some of the differences between the top clones. Temper the above with your own opinions and experience and don't take it as the gospel truth, it isn't. Still, the information is useful and in the right context it can help guide your own opinions.

Mark, ( m a r k  l o n g o),

 
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3.    Click Here For Link Page To The "Leslie Shootout."

 

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