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Neo Instruments Ventilator Rotary Pedal Review

Neo Instruments Ventilator Rotary Pedal Review

If Neo Instruments Ventilator rotary cabinet simulator is any indication, DSP technology—aided by some very inspired and obsessive engineers—has taken another important step in bridging the gap.

Of all the analog effects painstakingly

emulated through the magic of digital

signal processing (DSP), perhaps none is as

difficult to nail as the swirl and warble of a

rotary speaker cabinet. It’s easy to understand

why. Unlike, say, an analog fuzz, which is

merely another tone-altering circuit between

your guitar and amp, the rotary speaker

is practically a living, breathing thing at

the speaking end of your signal chain—an

organic combination of machine and moving

air that’s exceedingly difficult to imitate with

a computer chip and mounted speaker.

Rotary speaker cabs have the distinction

of being immensely impractical too.

The largest and most powerful specimens

are hefty enough to justify the use of a

small forklift. And even more manageably

sized units like Fender’s Vibratone are still

potential maintenance nightmares—if you

can find a solid working unit at all. This

conundrum leaves a lot of players lusting

for the authentically wobbly sounds of Pink

Floyd’s “Us and Them” arpeggios, Stevie

Ray Vaughan’s queasy and chugging “Cold

Shot,” or George Harrison’s funky Let It

Be tones between a rock and a hard place.

But if Neo Instruments Ventilator rotary

cabinet simulator is any indication, DSP

technology—aided by some very inspired

and obsessive engineers—has taken another

important step in bridging the gap.

Spinning While Sitting Still

A lot of manufacturers had a go at rotary

speaker manufacturing in the ’60s and

’70s. Fender’s Vibratone (a derivative of

the Leslie 16) was among the most successful,

finding favor with the Beatles,

and more recently, Heartbreaker Mike

Campbell. Odd brands like Cordovox,

Elka, and Dynacord, to name a few, also

made very cool sounding rotary cabinets

that have found their way onto records

ever since. But none are more legendary

than the Leslie—the original rotary speaker

cabinet, built for use with the Hammond

organ, and adopted by guitarists in the

mid ’60s. The Neo Ventilator is modeled

after one of the most famous Leslies of all,

the 122, which features a tube amplifier

section, woofer and treble speakers, and

most importantly a cylindrical lower rotor

that disperses the woofer’s output, and two

spinning horns that distribute sound from

the treble speaker.

For anyone who has lugged a Leslie

(never but never return your keyboard player’s

call when he tells you he’s moving his

Hammond), the compact dimensions of the

2-pound, 7-ounce Ventilator alone make it

worth a look. But while the German-made

Ventilator is small and light, it feels about as

rugged as an old wood-cabinet Leslie. The

enclosure is all aluminum and thoughtfully

designed with recessed knobs that are well

out of the way of errant boots, and the unit’s

high-quality switches for selecting bypass

and Slow/Fast modes feel especially precise.

The knobs themselves control five

parameters that can drastically modify the

sound in strikingly realistic ways. A Speed

knob increases or decreases virtual rotation

speed from the basic Slow and Fast modes.

The very cool Acceleration knob slows or

increases the rate at which the rotation

spools up—mimicking the mechanical properties

of a real rotary cabinet motor. The

Balance knob adjusts the relative volume

of the virtual lower rotor (for bass tones)

and rotating horn (which produces treblier

tones). Drive approximates the tube overdrive

of a Leslie amplifier. And Distance,

which really affects the rotary simulation’s

intensity, simulates a range of microphone

placements relative to the rotors.

The rear panel includes stereo outputs,

as well as a Remote jack for the optional

Ventilator Remote footswitch, which lets

you stop the effect in a manner similar to

a single-speed Leslie. There’s also a Key/

Git (keyboard/guitar) switch. Switched to

Key, it replicates the frequency response of a

Leslie 122, while in the 6-string-optimized

Git mode, the output is more linear and

has less signal coloration.

Let it Whirl

A real rotary speaker can color sound in

ways that range from subtle to extreme.

I was interested in exploring the musical

potential of the Ventilator in a quieter

setting for my first tests, so I placed it

between a 15-watt Vox Pathfinder amp and

a DeArmond Jet Star and Martin 00-15

with L.R. Baggs iBeam electronics. With

the Martin out front, faster modulations

more commonly associated with Leslies

sometimes sounded a bit alien and out of

scale. But a slow setting and distant virtual

microphone placement lent a beautiful,

dynamic, and dreamy texture to minor,

open-tuned fingerstyle acoustic sections—

a cool, if unorthodox application of the

rotary speaker sound.

The Jet Star and Ventilator were a

more obvious match. And though a small

amp and speaker can be a major obstacle

to authentic rotary cabinet sounds, the

Ventilator still sounded incredibly deep and

rich—both in slow and fast settings—particularly

when I emphasized low-end content

with the balance knob. In a small room,

there was still something almost odd about

hearing such a rich swirl in the absence of a

hulking, monolithic Leslie cabinet. But it’s

remarkable how convincing this emulation

can sound on tape—all with a rig you can

fit in a gig bag and whatever free hand you

can spare to carry a little tube amp.

To really experience how good the

Ventilator sounds, it’s good to go big.

Rotary speakers are incredibly effective at

stretching and shifting time and space. And

those aspects of the Ventilator’s performance

are best experienced with the assist

of volume and dimension. To get them, I

ran one output from the Ventilator into a

35-watt Vox TB35C2 Bruno, ran a second

output into a Fender Vibroverb, and placed

the amps about six feet apart facing each

other at a 45-degree angle. And standing

in between the two amps with eyes closed

and the Jet Star slung over my shoulder, the

sonic likeness to a Leslie was uncanny.

With the Ventilator set to Slow, a little

treble horn emphasis, and a Distance

setting midway between minimum and

maximum, the plaintive arpeggios of

Pink Floyd’s “Eclipse” came alive with a

motion and breadth that was beautiful and

startling. The same settings worked great

for deep, funky Ernie Isley-style chord

vamps too—lending a cool wobble that

didn’t obscure pick attack or string muting

dynamics. Faster settings benefitted less

from the two-amp setup, but still made

the simplest arpeggios and leads sound

larger than life. Interestingly, the pedal

often sounded best using the Key mode,

which made the signal brighter and more

defined—particularly at lower volumes.

If there’s any one mode in which the

Ventilator sounds less than completely natural

in a room, it’s when the Distance knob

is set to zero. At these levels the Ventilator

gains intensity, but loses some of the sense

of dimension that is its greatest strength

in a live setting. In a recording environment,

however—especially one with a dense

mix—the more intense pulses from the

close mic’d emulation can be a huge asset,

particularly if the Ventilator’s stereo output

is hard panned on a mixing desk.

The Verdict

At nearly 500 bones on the street, the

Ventilator is not cheap. Those who rarely

use rotary speaker sounds may be hard

pressed to justify the expense, no matter

how incredible the Ventilator sounds. But

if you tend to use phase or chorus effects

with any regularity, the Ventilator sounds

as organic as anything short of a real Leslie.

And if you’re a studio hound or a session

player who loves to keep a real knock-’em-dead doozy in your bag of tricks, the

Ventilator can totally transform a song or


It doesn’t take two amps to get a gorgeous

and very real rotary cabinet sound

out of the Ventilator. But if you have two

amps at your disposal, it’s the best way to

maximize the pedal’s potential—especially

for slow, underwater, Gilmourish textures.

Regardless of how many amps you use, the

Ventilator can enliven the simplest song or

guitar part on stage or in the studio. The

pedal’s super-solid construction suggests it

can survive regular use in either environment.

Given that, and the fact that the

Ventilator weighs about 145 pounds less

than a Leslie 122, this rotary cabinet simulator

could be worth its weight in gold to

any modulation-happy guitar slinger.

Buy if...
you thirst for the unmistakable sounds of a Leslie, but haven’t the space to keep one or the dough to acquire and maintain it.
Skip if...
your limited use of this modulation effect won’t justify the expense.

Street $499 - Neo Instruments -