My one and only B3/122 Leslie came from a local restaurant. The original owner had 3 B3’s around the country and decided to sell this one for $1400 (this was in 1968). It’s long since been sold to a recording studio and just recently replaced with a Hammond-Suzuki XK System/Motion Sound Pro-145. Not quite as good, but still a great sounding combo; good enough to fool the ears of practically anyone. I purchased the Native Instruments B4 a few years before purchasing the XK System. This review is for the B4, not the B4II.
GUI: The interface is very nice. You get to choose between a top-down view of a Hammond B3 or a controller-only view with the drawbars, rocker switches and other controls for microphone distance, overdrive, etc.
Sound: With nothing to compare it to, I thought the B4 could imitate the sound of a B3 almost perfectly. The first clue that this isn’t so came when I was jamming with some friends and found that the sound couldn’t cut through the sound of the band, even though they weren’t really that loud. I was using a Roland KC-100 amplifier and the bottom end was very weak. The second time was when I recently did an A-B comparison between my XK System and the B4 playing through an Onkyo 100w amplifier pushing a pair of JBL 4311 studio monitors. The sound of the B4 was much thinner (I play several other instruments through this system, including a DSI Poly Evolver, a Univox Mini-Korg synthesizer and an M400 Mellotron, and they all sound great; plenty of lows, mids and hi’s). I haven’t tried playing it through my MS Pro-145. Still, the B4 sounds better than any other VSTi I’ve tried. The Leslie simulation is very good, as is the overdrive.
Features: The B4 has all the features of a Hammond B3, including bass pedals, V1-3 and C1-3 vibrato, braked, chorale and fast Leslie, overdrive, adjustable microphone distance, and several add-on tonewheel sets. However, the Vox and Farfisa sounds are nothing like the real thing. It can be used as a standalone or as a VSTi. The authentication is very annoying though. Every couple of months I get a prompt to insert the installation CD. I’ve heard that NI has changed the authentication process with the B4II.
Docs: The manual seems to cover everything you may need to know about installation and usage. If you’ve ever played a B3 or similar Hammond, you can probably figure out how to use the B4 without the manual.
Presets: There are scores of very nice presets, but the enjoyment, as with a real Hammond, is in using the drawbars to shape the sound. This has been a pain in the rear, having to drag the drawbars with a mouse. Fortunately, NI has come out with the B4D Drawbar Controller, which makes using the B4 a little more like the real thing. And several midi controller manufacturers are now marketing keyboards with sliders that can be used to move the drawbars.
Support: I’ve never had to use NI’s support, so I’ll assume it’s as good as their products generally are.
VFM: I purchased the B4 when it first came out. It was a fairly priced piece of software then and I think it still is.
Stability: I haven’t had any problems with the B4 as a VSTi, but it has had problems in standalone mode. After releasing a key, the sound would sometimes continue until the same key was pressed again. This hasn’t been a major concern though, as I prefer to use it as a VSTi.
For computer recording, I think the B4 is more than adequate, but I don’t think it stands up to live performance.
My comments on the new B4II. Comparing it to the original B4, the most significant change is a much improved tube overdrive. A tonewheel leakage effect has been added, too, and the Leslie effect now offers a dual Leslie simulation and rotors stopped (brake). The Leslie sim is still not perfect but it's definitely better. It has a fuller low end which is closer to the real thing, and a couple of Leslie cabinet variations. Personally I have not use for guitar cab simulations on a B3 clone, nor do I need Harmonium samples, but they are there too.
The original B4 has a great Hammond model including a very good scanner chorus/vibrato. That part seems to sound exactly the same, just with a new look and a few more 'features'. You can tweak the look to be closer to a real B3. I don't care. It's the sound that matters to me.
I own a real Hammond B3 and Leslie too. Comparing the B4II to the B3 and Leslie, the Hammond part can sound very close to my B3, as good as any Hammond Clone keyboard. The Leslie sim is good, and better now with vII, but there is more room for improvement here. Nonetheless, the improved overdrive and Leslie effects were what got me to purchase the upgrade.
BTW I found the upgrade for $75 from a legit dealer on eBay.
B4 is a main part of my sound. I have been using it for years now and was first introduced to it while working for Mars Music, I fell in love then. I'm just a rocker, a little synth sometimes but I mostly just use guitar, B4, bass, drums and vox. I really can't say enough good things about it.
I sold many Hammonds during my time in retail, including B3's, E series, I was able to really mess about with the real thing often, this is as close as it gets.
I use mine with a controller so I have full control over all the parameters and though my controller only has eight slides I am able to invert them and I use one knob to control the last drawbar (or first one to be precise (16'). I use three banks and can link to all the settings in the control view, including presets. Because a B3 is without a pitch shift I map the swell pedal to the pitch control on my board and of course the rotator to the mod.
This is certainly one piece of gear I would not want go with out, like my favorite strat it's part of my musical family. Or perhaps my virtual band. If you want a hammond this is how to get it.
NI's B-4 originally came out as a standalone software B-3, along with VSTI and DXI support. It's a bit old - I've had it since 2001 or so, but it's still one of the best B-3 emulations.
User interface: There are two views: The "keyboard" view, IMHO, is too large and tries too hard to "look like a Hammond" (do we need animated manuals and pedals?) The "control" view is well laid out, this view gives you access to many parameters to customize your sound. I usually use this view.
There are a few deviations from a standard B-3 (vibrato depth, percussion harmonic, number of pedal drawbars, percussion/ninth drawbar switching) that I consider enhancements/positives. On the other hand, the way the upper and lower presets are tied together (more below) is definitely un-Hammond-like.
Sound: This is close enough to the real thing that I'd give it a ten. You can customize your sound to match just about any B-3 you've heard - clean tonewheels, overdriven Leslie, lots of keyclick, etc.
Features: To a degree it's a one-trick pony, but a well-trained one. The (optional) extra tonewheels set gives you Vox, Farfisa, and harmonium sounds as well. It can be used as a VST effect. The standalone version has an internal MIDI player. Keyboard split is an alternative to using multiple inputs or MIDI channels.
The drawbars and settings can be controlled via MIDI, but the CC's are fixed. If you want to invert sliders so they move the same way as drawbars, you have to do that in your host or with other software (MIDIOX for example, use 127-value).
Documentation: B-4 comes with a perfect-bound book in multiple languages. The manual is clear and well-written. After the initial read, I only referred to it for the MIDI chart. While there's some background information, they assume you're familiar with how to shape sounds with the drawbars.
Presets: B-4 comes with 120 presets. You can select them from the NI logo that shows 40 at a time, or via the twelve inverse keys in conjunction with a range selector. The presets are diverse, most sound good, and they're helpful for an inexperienced Hammond player.
The gotcha: selecting a preset from the upper manual changes the lower manual and pedals as well. You either make your own presets or set upper first, then lower preset or drawbars, then tweak the pedal drawbars. I tend to stick with the same 4-6 settings I use on my A-105.
Customer support: This is NI. The copy-protected CD is checked about once a month or so. Rumored updates from "people with contacts" have never happened. NI offers a forum to registered users.
VFM: Although I think it's a little pricer than it merits given its age, I think it's worth it. If I had to give up my A-105 or gig, I'd be comfortable doing so with the B-4. It's still the best and I'd pay full price again.
Stability: rock solid. Never a crash in standalone or VSTI mode. CPU load is reasonable.
I have been using the B4 for a few years and have been pleased with it. However...seeing other Native products being updated (especailly Absynth) ...i would love to see this product updated... but to me the B4 is still the ultimate PLug in...and still with how old it is...still have not seen a comparison....NI ...love to see an update on 'tone wheel leakage', better chorusing on the 'leslie'...and more realistic tube distortion...
In 1968 I played a Farfisa organ in a band but I really wanted a Hammond. Later I got a two manual Farfisa but still wanted the Hammond. I finally got a Hammond organ and Leslie speaker and said goodbye to the Farfisa. I never thought that years later I would miss the sound of my old Farfisa organs. Now I not only have a Hammond organ but I also have my old Farfisa back and even a Vox Continental and I have Native Instruments to thank. Without a doubt the B4 Tonewheel set is the most impressive recreation of any keyboards I have ever played. The interface is so simple and the sound is so authentic I am truly amazed. For those of you who didn't live through the 60's playing in a band you might not appreciate it as much as I do but if you want the real sound of the 60's or any fabulous organ sound do not hesitate to get the B4 Tonewheel Set. Thank you NI.
Splendid. Does exactly what it says on the can. Our band are about to use it at a gig in place of a real Hammond - enough said?
Everything you need to adjust is available to you, and the presets are extremely useful - given names like "Green Onion" or "Whiter shade". Every time I get to the organ part in any of my songs I get (good) shivers down my spine - my wife even looked at the Cubase arrange window, pointed at the B4 track and said "That's the bit I'm looking forward to".
I know nothing about Analog synthesis and can't honestly see what the fuss is about there, I'm a guitarist seeking as "real" a sound as possible and this fits the bill exactly.
It can be a CPU hog on smaller systems, but it's a breeze on my P4. My setup isn't terribly stable but has never had issues with B4.
If you want organ sounds and you don’t have a real Hammond B3 this is the solution. It does a better emulation than the $2000 hardware alternatives and Sampled B3’s do not have the control you get with the B4. The interface is the best out there and lots of fun. Someone should make a draw bar controller just for this software. The ability to use the Leslie emulation as an effect for other tracks or instruments is a bonus. I don’t know anyone that dislikes this VSTi. At just under $150 street it is a great value, especially since you get VST, DXi, Windows and Mac versions all for one price.
God I love this synth. It really is as good as everyone says and I can understand its continued popularity.
If you want a decent Hammond emulation you really can't go any further than this plugin. It has the sound, and is perfect for almost any kind of music (though I cannot really imagine it for more electro oriented styles) and so is really worthwhile obtaining.
Native Instruments easily have cornered the market on VSTI's with breakthrough sound modeling, and they could stop there and we'd be happy but instead they go ON to update and improve and expand their products. B4 on its own is the best Hammond emulation around, and now NI is releasing updates and upgrades, instead of forcing users to instead buy b5 and b6 and b7.
I personally see the release of B4 as the point where vsti's started getting really serious.
Sounds great, looks great, support great, presets are great, has a papermanual like all other NI products (more like interresting books about the products) The new "weels" looks great to, but have not bougth them yet.
What can I say.... it's NI... excpect the best.
This is the best VSTi I have heard or played with bar none. The sounds are amazing, the amount of CC control is excellent, the attention to detail is tremendous. The surprise of new tone wheels only furthers my happiness with this purchase. The manual is skimpy but covers all the important points. NI support is SLOW. It takes more than a week for me to get a response via e-mail. But when they do answer it is correct.