SKnote StageSpace Review
Many software developers have produced Leslie cabinet emulators for admission to the rotator roster: Amplitude’s “Rotary 147”, Native Instruments’ B4 & Vintage Organs built-in Leslie sim, Guitar Rig’s “Rotator”, and “Spinner(LE)” from fxPointAudio are all worthy of mention. Most Hammond/Leslie aficionados will nod in unanimous agreement that GSI’s VB3fx has been “the bar” by which all other software Leslie clones must be compared with.
Xils Lab’s new LX122 and LX122 Premium VSTs are, in this reviewer’s opinion, a couple of the better ITB virtual Leslie cabinet emulator(s) available. When I was first informed that this new heavy-weight prospect was poised to enter the Leslie cabinet championship ring, I was dubious. As an ardent and faithful admirer of GSI’s VB3, I was intrigued, whilst skeptical, that any product could possibly sound as good -- let alone sound better. VB3’s proven TKO record breaking run, due largely in part to its built-in Leslie cabinet simulator, has struck a chord of wariness in any would-be contender.
Weighing in at the MSRP of 69€/$88USD, this upstart contender for the Leslie emu championship belt is available for a small introductory price of 45€/$58USD. LX122 Premium is only available until December 5th, 2012, at this incredible welter-weight price.
Stick n’ stay. It will be exhilarating to see just how well this new entry into the illustrious championship VST ring fairs off. If you’re a serious Hammond/Leslie aficionado, you won’t touch your browser’s “back” button until you’ve carefully read this concise, 12 round review in its entirety.
We’re presented with a solid, easy-to-view GUI that provides a lean, well laid out workspace. The interface is sized comfortably; its dimensions measuring 780px x 520px. I guesstimate that the GUI was designed to give the appearance of a metal amplifier panel on the rear of an old Leslie cabinet; as opposed to trying to look like the wooden cabinet itself. However, there is a simple 3D perspective of a wooden Leslie cabinet in the mic/room configuration window.
The charcoal-colored knobs show up clearly against the slate-grey background. The controls are all aptly labelled with moderately-sized, antialiased, sans serif white text. The labels all maintain typical naming conventions and make sense to anyone who’s even slightly familiar with Leslie cabinet configuration. Clean, clear, legible and straight forward – just the way we like it.
In this reviewer’s opinion, the developer’s choice of color and GUI design infers strength and reliability – just like a real (140lb) road-tested Leslie 122.
But . . . .
Is there real honest-to-God quality under this solid, attractive interface, or is this simply a case of marketing gymnastics and just a pretty face?
Stereo Imaging and Depth Perception:
How wide do you want to go with the sonic imaging of a rotator cabinet? Imagine placing your stereo speakers next to the far most walls, and the sound still extending beyond those points. This “thang” can create a swirling, pseudo “3D ish” impact so wide that you might find yourself ducking; the massive boomerang stereo/surround effect is so believable. This proprietary 64bit magic is known as: “True Stereo Dynamic Engine (TSDE)” The Xils Lab software engineers have taken typical stereo imagery and reinvented it with “tae-bo” programming.
Deep, baby, deep. Go ahead – place your microphones all the way against the back wall if you want. The cabinet itself is effectively “placed” in the center of a virtual room. This musical marvel is amply supplied with FOUR virtual rooms; Simple, Medium1, Medium2, and Complex. Each convincing room algorithm is configurable in small, medium or large sizes. Beyond that, you can manipulate a virtual room’s width via the “studio size” knob. (Please note: the most realistic reverb/room option, “Complex” is more CPU intensive.)
Convenient click/drag mousing allows you to freely position the stereo-pair of microphones wherever you want within the virtual room. An incredible degree of control is available over mic placement. You can angle each of the microphones independently a full 180°. Want to ensure that your stereo imaging is exact? Simply right-click on one of the two virtual microphones, et voila! The mics are perfectly adjacent again. Need one mic spaced further and directed away from the Leslie cabinet, and the other mic close to the cabinet and on axis? It’s easy . . .
There are many, many virtual mic placement and room sizes available to you with the Premium version of LX122. The standard offering uses the same core processing engine and sounds great, but it is limited to a single room type and fixed mic position. However, you can adjust the microphone angle in the standard product.
Ambience high pass filtering? CHECKmark! Quality high pass filtering is selectable at (3) switch positions: Off, 80hz, and 160hz. No nasty ol’ boomy room sub tones here. The ambience quality is good. Well, very good, actually. Even when using the CPU-friendly “Basic Room” setting, the realism of the virtual space is very convincing. You can truly hear the difference when repositioning microphones or altering the room size. I will add, all knob-turning results in smooth changes utterly au gratis of unexpected “jumps” in effects or tonal quality.
While experimenting with the LX122 (Premium) cabinet controls themselves, I readily perceived the natural “woody” warmth of a real Leslie. You know, that electro-mechanical “organic” quality of 40 watts of tube-driven timbre heard through a 15” paper woofer cone, revolving metal drum, topped with a whirling horn. All encased in a louvered, wooden cabinet. My virtual environment? VB3 cranked with its built-in Leslie sim disabled and piped into LX122 Prem-ee-YUM! In my Sennheiser headphones, I was aurally translated to a full-blown, rollicking, Pentecostal Camp Meeting. LX122 was drowning out the 5 piece Chicago-blues combo down Tinpan Alley. It sounded so fine, that a bunch o’ the brothers done came up from the juke joint . . .
Seriously though, the tonal balance and “weight” of a real Leslie 122 cabinet has been carefully programmed into this wonderful new plugin. The “believable” factor of Xils Lab’s modelling has been very well implemented. The use of the BALANCE knob allows you to finely tailor the amount of horn/woofer balance that you are listening for. For example, edgier rock tones can be achieved with a more forward horn presence while combined with a strong amount of “drive”. I would be remiss to not make important mention that even when the balance is set to favour the horn, the tone remains pleasant without annoying brittle harshness.
The CABINET EFFECT knob gives you control over how much emulated “internal reflection” is heard. Lesser amounts of cabinet effect cause the individual speaker components to be more directional-sounding. As a Gospel player, I know what it’s like to have a Leslie right behind me or directly alongside of me while playing. I absolutely adore the LX122’s ability to give me that same “feeling” - fewer internal “reflexions” and more direct sounding.
In summary, the tonal quality of LX122 can be described as smooth, warm, “woody” and most importantly, quite a good facsimile.
- Microphones can be moved independently in all the rooms, with impressive, large stereo-field.
- Custom-build your own unit with or without the Horn or with or without the Drum. You have six options available to you. (1) The default, rotating horn & a rotating drum; (2) a rotating horn & stationary woofer; (3) a stationary horn & rotating drum (4) stationary horn & drum (much like the old Leslie “Tone cabinets”) (5) horn only (6) drum only.
- You can change the Horn diameter! (NOTE: you can't do that with a real physical 122 cabinet.) In my tests, playing mostly Gospel-bluesy material, the horn set at .18m yielded the most pleasant, and believable results. I personally felt that the doppler effects were slightly over pronounced at the default setting of .20m. However, you can achieve some very wild stratospheric warble effects with extreme settings.
- LX122 Premium allows you to control the “stretch” of the belt, very believably emulating age.
- In most of the real units, the drum rotates clockwise while the horn is turning counter-clockwise. LX122 provides a selector whereby the individual components can be modeled to randomly change rotatary direction. This adds yet another heretofore unsurpassed degree of physical modelling realism.
- On real unit, the horn has a small metal “dummy” part that spreads the high frequencies omni directionally, resulting in a more mellow sound. The LX122 provides a virtual feature to allow a more "straight in your face" effect by removing the diffuser. This feature is specific to the LX122 Premium only.
- Inertia a la deluxe! Inertia is the term applied to the unique effect of a Leslie cabinet’s rotary acceleration and deceleration. LX122 Premium facilitates the user with the absolute most control over inertia; it hasn’t raised the bar, it IS “the bar”. You can easily dial in the extent of horn vs. drum acceleration with individual horn & drum acceleration/deceleration knobs. As a Gospel/Blues player, I look for a moderate acceleration rate of the horn, followed by a slower, delayed drum acceleration. However, I also like the deceleration of the horn to be a little slower than its acceleration rate. This causes a very believable, smooth effect. Sure comes in handy for subtle, expressive playing.
- Authentic Tube Amplification Simulation. If you’re looking for authentic, over-driven sonic texture, this beauty delivers! We aren’t talking about screaming, Jon Lord tone. Rather, we’re hearing the evocative genuine Leslie 122’s tube sound character; complete with rich tube microphonic overtones. If you’re looking for that searing “Deep Purple” tone, you’ll have to crank a B3 organ through a higher-gain Marshall head, just like Jon Lord did. However, if you are used to playing through a real Leslie cabinet, you know that vintage Leslie cabinets are all about pure tone dripping with 1st order harmonics and creamy overtones - not “in your face” distortion. Both variantions of LX122’s built-in “Drive” emulation retain velvety, detailed, and harmonically saturated tone. Tone, baby, it’s all about the tone.
Using light to moderate settings of “CABINET EFFECT” and “BASIC” or “ROOM 1” reverbs keep the CPU consumption very low and manageable. I think it’s just tremendous that this plugin is capable of producing very High Quality room/ambience simulation, and as startlingly realistic as it can sound, it does require hefty horsepower under the PC hood.
As a brief aside, I would encourage Xils Lab to further develop their reverberation algorithms as stand-alone plugins. This reviewer was seriously impressed.
Glad you stuck around to hear the last bell? Clearly, Xils Labs takes the belt home tonight. By reviewer’s decision, LX122 is the new heavy weight dominator of the world Leslie simulation championship.
Brother Charles is a freelance writer, Gospel artist and minister. Charles had been a professional touring musician during the nineties; working primarily as a lead guitarist in the Canadian country music industry. Brother Charles is also involved with music production and quality home recording.
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