Recently I was fortunate enough to meet up with my friends at Hammond UK to have an extended test of the new Hammond XK-5 and XK-Pro systems. I enjoy meeting up with Malc and Barrie and enjoyed having a good “nerd-out” one rainy Thursday I afternoon as took my place on the stool in front of the new beast.
The usual things hit you straight away. I like the logical layout, and I know its obvious but where my hands go for knobs and buttons on my C3 they go on the XK and usually find what they are looking for. So a big tick in the “intuitive box” there I felt. Also what strikes you are the extra sets of drawbars. Classic feature of course, but I would be interested in a straw poll of people who routinely switch from one set to another at gigs. I have to be honest I wouldn’t and I don’t on the C3 either. (I saw Rod Argent on TV recently playing “Hold your head up” and noticed he was completely on presets with all the drawbars in and tucked away!). The drawbars are very well made and have survived any ‘value engineering’ that may have been requested, I’d even go so far as to say they were of better quality than the XK-3 (which is a good thing). The SK drawbars are different and made to a price and I think that this recognised by players and vendor alike and is fine. The Hammond XK-5 is expensive, lets not beat around the bush here but if a 2 drawbar model had been produced I wonder what the price-point would have been?
So, let’s play! Settings to Green Onions and play the riff. Wow, the keybed is good. No really, I know they keep going on about the authenticity of the keybed but it really does have the same feel as my 1960 C3. It’s hard to get over how close they have come to this. A lot of talk that this is down the the contacts system digitally re-created to emulate the C3 but I’m not sure. The whole topic is a little confusing for me really. I mean I have done the test on both and yes depending on how hard you press the note some of the drawbars do not come in so you can understand the sound layering aspect of the note but really I can’t see how that changes your response to the Organ, maybe I’m just a thug? The way the notes are processed, the order, plus the keybed now I can get on-board with that, the Organ gives you a lot back in that sense and does provoke you to go for those complex passages with more confidence!
So it plays fantastically well, and it really does. The ‘piano orientated’ keybed from the SK’s is a thing of the past and this is a step forward generation of the XK-3c which I welcome and can say they have totally hit the mark!
How does it sound? Well, its complicated. And its very configurable!
Out the box its okay you know, once you have gotten over how good the keybed is your ears light up. The Leslie is out of the SK I believe and is, you, know okay. It’s certainly gigable no doubt (and better than the XK-3c – lets not even talk about the XK-3!) but it would not make me leave my Leslie 145 or 122 at home. If I didn’t have the Leslie then I would, on face value, use my Vent before the internal Sim. But please remember how configurable this new Organ is. I am confident that with some tweaking I could leave the Vent at home, but not the Leslie.
Sound production is the standard “B3”, “bright”, “mellow” and all that but also there’s a “Vox” setting and an “A100” setting. Now, the A100 and C3 a basically the same but they are making a distinction in the tone here and I found the A100 ‘tone’ more pleasing that the pre-set B3. Overdrive, is roughly the same setup as on the XK-3c with two valves (I’ll just check but I bet they are AU7 and AX7’s again) and highly configurable, with a couple more deeleys in there to help the tone. I found the overdrive a little fizzy and although we got closer with 20 minutes of messing I felt that there was still a little more work to be done to get that to feel right.
The assignable controls on the right have side have gone (bit of a shame for MIDI types) ,and this is where I used to assign my key click levels, but I did like the fact that they been replaced with a “Sweepable Mid” EQ (the other things I used to assign to the knobs to was bass and treble!) and more controllable Overdrive settings.
Programming is via the small screen as usual although I was pleased to see that they have reversed the colours, this makes it much easier to read I feel – especially on stage under the lights.
A real highlight of the Organ for me was the percussion settings. Again, configurable to the max, I found them a delight ; so clear and precise, a real evolution again from the XK which sound dull and tame in comparison. In real life I think you would tone them down a bit but imagine it wound up to full on the C3 and through and overdriving Leslie – wonderful!
A potential lowlight is that they removed the configuration of Key Click. Now I know that you cannot configure this on a C3 but you are also sort of beholden to the contact system that you have bought into on the C and I must say being able to clean it up for some songs and dirty it for others is something that I routinely throughout the set. In short the Organ adapts the key click depending on how you have the sounds set, and you know I didn’t feel like I needed to mess with it so maybe, just maybe, they have got it 100% right. I would only really find out if it were an entire success in a full set rundown I think.
Finally the sampling. Well, it doesn’t sample the tone in the traditional sense obviously as it works on virtual tonewheels and build up the noise in the same way as the C3 did manually before it. Other clones show their work a little and you can hear where the samples come in and out and ultimately how they have hit their price point. Unlike the XK3 the 5 has (had on my setting) a bright top octave. Very bright, I was looking for a way to stop if jumping out at me. Maybe it was the foldback settings and maybe it’s configurable but this is that bright sound that all of the demonstrators and adverts are leaning on. Very Jazz and very church but not too C3 (or Rock C3 at least). Conversely, the bottom end, bottom octave is much clearer. You can tell that they have tried to clean this up and it has worked. A big difference between a C3 and all of the clones I have ever tried is playing the bassline on the left had on the same manual as the lead. To a greater or lesser extent, the left hand kills the sound of the right. This isn’t the case on a C3 and it isn’t the case on an XK-5. Something they have done is working to great effect here!
The upper and lower manuals bond together in similar ways to the XK-3 although its notable that they have fixed the design floor in the old wooden stand whereby adding the cross-member would invariable scratch the wood. The new stand is more ‘built’ than ‘unfolded’ and the cross member is at a 45 degree angle. The most trick bit is that you can by replacement wooden ends the encompass both the lower and upper manuals and effectively stick these two components together as one piece and the end blocks, in a single piece of wood, cover up and evidence or the ‘split’. This is a really nice touch and I believe you can purchase a case for the assembled XK-Pro to tour with.
In short then, I was impressed. Some very good evolutions and additions to the old XK system. There were some drawbacks that stopped me buying it there and then but in honesty I think given more time I would have been able to dial those out. From the moment you switch it on its bright bright bright and the overdrive is a little too fizzy for me with the top octave being shrill and sharp. After an hour is playing and chatting we had overcome much of this and I think with a further hours work I am pretty confident it would become a weapon of choice!