Studiologic Numa Organ

July 4, 2012
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Studiologic_Numa_organIf you’re bringing a new hardware drawbar organ to market, it had better be good. “Clonewheels”—keyboards that emulate a Hammond B-3 organ and rotating Leslie speaker—have improved so much over the past decade that questions like, “Do I want other sounds or just organ?” and “Will I stand and play rock or sit and play jazz?” are now more relevant to choosing one than “Which one sounds more real?” This is precisely why if Joey DeFrancesco’s name is printed on the panel of a new clone, we get very interested. Since Joey could endorse any manufacturer he pleases and they’d do somersaults, why did he pick Studiologic, a name more associated with MIDI controllers? As we found out, it’s because, in addition to being extremely portable and easy to use, the Numa Organ sounds absolutely awesome.

More after the break. Can't see the video below? CLICK HERE.

Overview and Controls

Essentially, the Numa Organ is a distillation of the DLQ KeyB (find out more at keyborgan.com), the organ Joey D. plays on tour, into a more affordable, portable package. The tech is modeling, top to bottom, and you get nearly full polyphony. By that, I mean that no actual playing—even ugly, dense playing—hit any note ceiling, but laying both forearms across the keyboard robbed a few voices.

The “half-moon” pitch and rotary wheels and big, clicky vibrato/chorus knob evoke the controls on a real B-3. Backlit buttons give at-a-glance feedback on vibrato/chorus (you can toggle it for upper and lower/pedal parts separately), split status, transposition, harmonic percussion, and whether the drawbars are controlling the upper, lower, or pedal part.

With the exception of saving presets, this is a manual instrument— no edit button, no LCD. So, read the manual to avoid head-scratchers like “How do I set the split point?” (You hold the Split On/Off button until it flashes, then hit the top key you want for the lower part.) Speaking of splits, a thoughtful Octave Up button for the lower part lets you play mid-register without having to adjust the drawbars. A pedal-to-lower coupler is for kicking bass in the left hand.

Drawbars

You don’t want drawbars to be too clicky. In fact, transplanting in later-model drawbars is a popular modification for early Hammonds whose drawbars moved quite stiffly. However, you’re probably used to feeling that little bit of click that even “smooth” drawbars have.

In a departure from the norm, the Numa Organ’s drawbars are completely smooth, like faders on a mixer, and each is anchored in a slot to reduce side-to-side wiggle. As on some older Hammonds, pipe footages aren’t printed on the drawbar caps or anywhere on the panel. For the pedal part, the two brown drawbars control the 16' and 8' pitches, and are the only ones active. When I turned the volume up, I heard subtle zipper noise if I moved drawbars rapidly, but not if I did it slowly. You get similar noise on vintage Hammonds and most other clonewheels, and it’s not musically intrusive. Under the hood, each drawbar is sweeping the full MIDI volume range from 0 to 127, not chopping it into eight steps.

Keyboard and Preset Keys

The Numa Organ uses Fatar’s latest-generation waterfall action. For quietness and being easy on the hands when playing palm smears or thumb glisses, I’d rate it neck-and-neck with my Hammond XK-3C and a bit better than the Nord C2. The Numa Organ’s keyboard transmits velocity for playing external sounds, but doesn’t sense aftertouch.

You switch presets like on a real B-3, using the bottom octave of reverse-color keys. To save what you’ve done, hold the Preset button until it flashes, then hit any preset key (except for B, which reverts to manual settings). What gets stored? Drawbar settings, plus everything to do with rotary simulation, vibrato/chorus, harmonic percussion, and splits. What’s global and doesn’t get stored? Transposition, reverb, overdrive, key click, leakage, bass, treble, and master volume.

Part of the fun of having preset keys instead of buttons or a dial to change sounds is that you can “play” them while holding notes with the other hand. Creating dramatic drawbar jumps in this way isn’t an everyday technique, but more than a few jazzers use it. On the Numa Organ, sometimes the held notes would persist and jump to the new preset’s saved drawbar settings (the desired effect), but sometimes the notes simply cut off. I tried to find some pattern, such as the order in which I pressed preset keys, but the behavior seems random. My XK- 3C, by contrast, gets it right all the time. This seems like something Studiologic could easily fix in a firmware update, and it won’t otherwise affect your playing in the slightest.

Sound

With readers roasting gear-review clichés, I hate to say the Numa Organ is “fat, warm, and detailed,” but it is. And huge. And open. And transparent. And lots of other good things that overwhelm my writer’s aversion to beginning a sentence with “and.” This is a tonewheel-only axe—no pipe or transistor organs, no electric pianos, Clavs, or strings.

The drawbar tones themselves are neither too clean nor too dirty, but just right. Proper harmonic percussion shouldn’t sound like an analog oscillator with a quick decay, but like a spoon tapping on a half-full Coke bottle (the green glass kind you can still get in Mexico), and the Numa gets this right. Key click, that static pop a real B-3 owes to the live AC current under its key contacts, is nice and spitty, and can go loud—though I’d like to hear more randomness from one note to the next. You can also trash up the sound with the Leakage knob, which simulates the background cacophony of a beat-up tonewheel generator. Overdrive sounds tube-like up to about two o’clock, but gets a bit fizzy if you turn the knob higher.

Overall, the Numa Organ sounds like a cared-for B-3, skewing towards the clean, breathy tone preferred by gospel and jazz organists. You can dial in enough grit and grind for that Traffic and Santana-with-Gregg-Rolie sound, but for unbridled Deep Purple grunge, I’d ditch the internal overdrive in favor of outboard tube distortion.

Simulated and Real Rotary

There are two standards for Leslie simulation. The tougher one asks, “Will I believe a real Leslie is in the room?” The slightly easier one is how close the simulation comes to a stereo recording (or live P.A. amplification) of a properly miked Leslie. I used to make hay out of this distinction in order to give clonewheels the benefit of the doubt. With the Numa Organ, I don’t have to. It easily surpasses the “miked” standard and comes closer to a perfect “in the room” illusion than any clonewheel I’ve yet played. Reflected sound uncannily seemed to be circling behind my studio monitors, then behind my head, and even the sense of the treble and bass rotors turning in opposite directions was pronounced. The Neo Ventilator (reviewed May ’10), a $450 rotary pedal, may be a little better, but only a little.

An 11-pin connector lets you play through modern Leslie or Motion Sound speakers and control their speed with the wheel or a sustain pedal. Got a six-pin Leslie? Run the separate 1/4" mono out into your preamp pedal. Like on my XK-3C, the Numa’s highest frequencies spoke clearly through a real Leslie; on my Nord Electro 2 and Roland VK-7 and VK-8, the top two drawbars tend to get lost inside the big wooden box.

Back to the simulation, the only thing we can fault is that you can’t adjust anything like ramp-up and down times, rotor speeds, or rotor balance—you get what you get. What you get, though, is so good that you’d have to be really hardcore to lug even the most portable rotary cabinet to a gig and deal with miking it. More hardcore than Joey D., at least, who ran straight out of his KeyB (which has essentially the same rotary effect) into the mixing board when I heard him and David Sanborn blow the roof off Yoshi’s. Had I not known about this in advance, my ears would have insisted that a Leslie or two was miked offstage.

MIDI Control

For sequencing the Numa from your DAW, upper, lower, and pedal parts send and receive MIDI on channels 1, 2, and 3, respectively. This also lets you use a MIDI controller as a second manual, or plug in a MIDI pedalboard. To connect both at the same time, you either need a MIDI merge box, or a MIDI input on either your pedalboard or second manual so you can connect things serially. It would be better to make the Thru port a second input for pedals, as some other clones do.

In my studio, Logic Pro initially couldn’t see MIDI from the Numa Organ, even though it showed up in my Mac’s Audio/MIDI Setup window the instant I plugged in a USB cable. I then discovered that the Dynamic Touch button on the far right is really a MIDI mode selector: If it’s dark, you’re playing internal sounds only. If it’s lit, you’re playing external sounds only. If it’s flashing, you’re playing both. In external-only mode, hitting the Preset button so that it’s unlit turns the reverse-color keys into an extra octave of notes—nice! In other modes, it disengages the preset keys, which safeguards against changing sounds if you overshoot low C with an energetic downward wipe.

I was pleasantly surprised at the dynamics I could get out of Synthogy Ivory pianos on the Numa’s waterfall keyboard. For controlling synths, the rotary wheel does modulation and the drawbars are on CC numbers 12 through 20. Being drawbars, pulling them towards you always makes the onscreen value go up.

Conclusions

The Numa Organ is the best sounding single-manual clone I’ve yet played. (Fair warning: We haven’t yet obtained the new Hammond SK1 previewed here, but its existence suggests that Hammond isn’t taking this lying down. UPDATE: Now we have.) Tonally, the Numa is the perfect balance of hi-fi detail, big but natural stereo spread, and balls when you want ’em. The rotary simulation simply kills. If you’re a sonic customizer, you may care about the lack of things like alternate tonewheel sets and programmable rotary parameters. If, though, you want to fill that space above your stage piano with something that makes the initiated ask “Where’d you hide the Leslie?” and the rest of the audience ask for one more song, then there’s a new clone in town—and it means business.

Specifications

PROS Huge, warm, utterly realistic drawbar and tonewheel sound. Spot-on harmonic percussion and vibrato/chorus. Fabulous rotary simulation. Ultra-portable.

CONS Rotary simulation parameters are not adjustable. Sometimes, changing presets doesn’t cut off held notes, but sometimes it does.

CONCEPT Single-manual drawbar organ with rotary effect and basic MIDI controller functions.


WEIGHT 21.5 lbs.

MULTITIMBRAL PARTS  Upper, lower, and pedal.
 
SYNTHESIS TYPE  Modeling.

PRICE List: $2,499
Approx. street: $2,000

studiologic.net

Video: Joey DeFrancesco shows us the Numa's big brother, the KeyB.


 

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