On classic Hammonds (and in the current, full-sized New B-3 Mk. II family), pressing a key closes nine mechanical contacts: one for each drawbar. Your ears usually hear the multiple harmonics as one note. Depress a key slowly, however, and you can hear the harmonics come in at slightly different times. Normal playing created a subtle “slop” between otherwise crisp attacks, and the more drawbars you pull out, the more of an almost subliminal but chewy and soulful character it impacts to the sound. One perhaps feels this more than hears it, but seasoned players certainly notice its absence.
You can’t accomplish this with a single MIDI note-on, which is what most of today’s organ and synth key actions use. In the Hammond XK-5, there are three mechanical contacts used at different points in which the keys’ travel. Each of these in turn triggers three virtual contacts, giving you separate “note on” connections for every drawbar frequency in the same manner as the original nine-contact electro-mechanical Hammond® organs. The result is a fingers-to-music connection that perfectly duplicates sitting at a vintage B while saving on weight and cost. Plus, the time-spread between these “note ons” is programmable, as is the order in which you hear the harmonics speak. And since the contacts all receive and transmit MIDI note data, you can capture every harmonic nuance of your performance in your DAW program of choice—to which you can directly connect the XK-5 via USB.
Completely Redesigned Key-bed: The XK-5’s keyboard action is built in-house, not sourced from a third-party manufacturer. Hammond designed it to duplicate the heft, bounce, and key dip of a “new old stock” and well-maintained B-3™: No springy synth keys allowed! Master Hammond players who tested early prototypes confirmed that nothing comes closer to the feel and response they expect. Of course it has the “waterfall” key fronts critical to Hammond playing techniques such as palm slides. Play the XK-5 alongside any other modern organ and you’ll find the difference stunning.
All-New Sound Engine: The XK-5 employs new proprietary technology to recreate Hammond’s storied tone wheel generator with unprecedented accuracy and flexibility. Tone wheels were spinning discs on shafts, each with its own pickup pointing at the edge. The pattern of “teeth” cut into the edge of the wheel and its rotational speed determined the pitch. Modeling and sampling are combined in an exclusive process to capture the frequencies of all 91 tone wheels found in the original organs, not to mention other important sonic details such as key click, harmonic percussion, vibrato-chorus, and more.
Tone wheel generators have become like rare violins or classic cars: Even though Hammond originally calibrated all instruments that left the factory to sound identical, no two are exactly alike after decades of use. So Hammond extended the programmability of both the overall generator characteristics (such as leakage and cross-talk between pickups) and individual tone wheel behavior (such as the purity of the sine wave) to almost ludicrous depths. In addition to letting you perfectly duplicate different conditions of Hammonds—from showroom-new to road-abused if that’s what you’re going for—there’s the ability to recreate individual organs right down to the model, year, and serial number! Presets will capture the exact tonal qualities of famous artists’ instruments, from jazz great Dr. Lonnie Smith to Chuck Leavell (The Rolling Stones) to Gregg Rolie (Santana, Journey) and more.
Virtual Matching Transformer: An often overlooked subtlety of the Hammond sound was that the tone wheels generated tiny voltages that needed to be stepped up, and you could be “drawing on” some of the same wheels at the same time by playing similar notes with similar drawbar settings on both manuals. All signals from the upper, lower, and pedal manuals passed through a matching transformer that was intended to even things out before the signal moved on to the preamp and vibrato-chorus scanner. The transformer—a piece of iron with a coil wrapped around it—could “remember” some of its saturation based on how hard it had been working previously, thus affecting new notes played. Physicists call this hysteresis. Musically speaking, it affects how much “volume robbing” you hear and adds to what Hammond aficionados think of as the “breathing” quality of the organ. (The phenomenon is similar to why some recording engineers like transformer-equipped microphones and/or preamps for certain sounds.) In the XK-5, the matching transformer and its place in the signal chain is modeled precisely, and the saturation and hysteresis amounts are adjustable from barely-there to over-the-top.
Just a few of the XK-5’s more than 50 innovations and features include:
- Four full sets of Harmonic Drawbars plus pedal drawbars, just like on original Hammond console organs including the B-3
- 12 additional virtual tone wheels are devoted to harmonically complex pedal tones (i.e. more than just 16′ and 8′ sine waves), as found on Hammonds beginning in 1945.
- Custom tone wheel profiles available via download.
- The best-ever Digital Leslie effect. Anything else is just a “rotary simulator.”
- Continuously variable Digital Leslie speed if desired.
- Dedicated octave shift / transpose buttons.
- Improved DSP-based overdrive complemented by vacuum tube preamp.
- Improved vibrato-chorus.
- Dedicated on/off buttons and amount knobs for reverb, overdrive, and assignable multi-FX.
- Lower B drawbars can alternately control 9 MIDI CC messages for external gear.
- Left and right ¼” outs can be used at the same time as Leslie output, for running the XK-5 through a real Leslie in parallel to stationary speakers, a subwoofer, or house P.A.
- More key-triggering modes for pedal-to-lower coupler (Manual Bass function).
- Firmware updatable via USB flash drive or directly from computer.
- Crisp new OLED display is more readable under different lighting conditions.
Of course Hammond retained the things that made working with the XK-3C and the compact SK-series keyboards a joy. Hold any button and the first page of parameters most relevant to it comes up in the display—holding the Leslie speed button for Digital Leslie settings, for example. This saves you a ton of menu-diving when customizing your sounds. New patch-naming and copying features also make your housekeeping even easier.