Thanks to 'Keyboard' Magazine for the following report
Hammond-Suzuki’s XK-2 earned a Key Buy in 1999, and was the first portable clone to feature waterfall keys, an all-important tactile aspect of the original. It had its devotees and detractors; I actually preferred the Roland VK-7 at the time. I’m happy to say the XK-3 should be approached with completely fresh ears. It picks up where its predecessor left off . . . but then runs a marathon.
The sound engine is completely new, it uses the same “long loop” sound sampling as the New B-3. But the XK-3 is digital only, whereas in the New B-3 and Porta B, there are analog elements introduced by the nine busbars and the key click mechanism. Control layout mimics a full-size B: drawbars above the manual, vibrato on the left, percussion on the right, and so on. A second set of drawbars has been added (so has a pair for the pedals); the sets can control upper and lower parts or follow the A# and B preset keys like on the real thing. Speaking of preset keys, they’re here in all their reverse-color glory. Hold one down a second or so, and the drawbar settings revert to what’s physically dialed up, but all other aspects of the now-loaded preset remain the same. Equally nifty is that lingering on any button calls up a relevant edit menu in the LCD: Sit on a percussion button, up come the decay parameters, and so on.
Pedal sustain is available for the string-bass feel that organists used to criticize the B-3 for lacking, there’s a “muted” mode, even a squishy Moog-like pedal sound as a bonus. Two MIDI inputs accommodate a lower manual and pedals, but you can play all three parts from the XK’s 61 keys. “Split” works as you’d expect, but the “Manual Bass” button is really ingenious: It couples the pedal part to the bottom two octaves, monophonically, with low-note priority. This means the pinky of your left hand can kick bass while the other fingers comp on a light, flutey sound, leaving the upper registration to your right hand.
The XK-3’s naked sound, which worship-music veteran Don Bosco found “very convincing,” is voiced just right for real Leslies old and new. Leslies are supposed to roll off some high end and “smear” things a bit, but on some clones, this can mean loss of clarity between drawbar tones that you can’t EQ back in, especially when heard next to a real B. The XK-3 and new B-3 led the pack in terms of avoiding this. Likewise, key click didn’t need to be maxed out to stay articulate in the big wooden boxes.
Onboard Leslie emulation got mixed reactions. “It’s definitely better than my XK-2,” observed Eppley, “which I’ve never used with the internal effect. I’d use this.” Roger Smith described it as “cool, with some depth to it. But you don’t really get a sense of circular motion . . . it’s more back-and-forth.” In the edit menus, slightly lowering the rotor speeds and widening the mic angle improved things, but not as dramatically as heaping on C3 chorus. “Wow, what a difference!” exclaimed Eppley. “That really gives you the . . . I want to say, ‘the ocean.’” Smith agreed: “Now I hear circles.” Working late one night, I had the demo songs playing as I paced around the Keyboard studio, and the rotary effect seemed sweeter than in my seat right between the speakers, as though it had more space to develop. Another detail: On many vintage Hammonds, the vibrato circuit boosts the treble more or less sharply depending on the model, year, and condition. On the XK, the V settings do this just a little, the C’s noticeably more, with C3 the most in-your-face.
The final feature to cover (though we’ve left a few out) is the dual-tube output stage, which can be set to overdrive two frequency bands independently. Don Bosco felt that the default settings in the presets he tried were “great for that Jon Lord sound, but unless turned down, too grungy for what I do.” In its favor, the circuit is as programmable as everything else, so you can certainly get subtlety out of it.
There’s no question that the XK-3 is the best single-manual clone ever from Hammond-Suzuki, but that’s not saying enough. It’s so well-thought-out and just plain musical that calling it a “real Hammond” is fully reverent of the name’s legacy.