The B4 has been one of my most regularly used and cherished VST plug-ins, so just for the sake of nostalgia, I took a look back in the archive of Tape Op reviews and saw that my original review of the B4 was published nearly four years ago. For some reason, I never quite associated VST's or DAW-related software with the notion of longevity, but for me, the B4 has achieved just that. With the arrival of NI's new drawbar controller, other regular B4 users will have another reason to keep theirs in constant use; if they can swallow the price for what is a very specialized piece of hardware.
The B4D is superbly built and features nine mechanical drawbars, 22 buttons, and two knobs, allowing you to control every MIDI parameter in real-time. Setup is completely straightforward: just plug in a MIDI cable, and you're ready to go. Two separate footswitch jacks also round out control complement, giving you complete control of all functions. An additional MIDI port is provided so you can link two B4D's together. In this mode for example, a player can have two dedicated upper and lower drawbars, functionality a single B4D addresses by using a button that lets you switch between upper and lower.
Prior to using the B4D, I made all my performance parameter adjustments after I'd recorded the notes using MIDI "mix" recording mode in Cubase SX. While I could assign the B4's volume or rotating horn speed control to the pitch wheel on my keyboard controller, I missed not being able to move the drawbars in real-time. The B4D now lets me do this and more. The B4D gives me that invaluable quality of real-time performance dynamics that can mimic the genuine article. The feel of the drawbars is essentially identical to a vintage Hammond. The real challenge now will be to learn how to play with my left hand while, at the same time, making changes in the controller with my right- something "real" organ players already know how to do.
One important note on usage: you will need at least a two-in, one-out MIDI interface to simultaneously play the B4D with your keyboard controller.
Admittedly, $400 for this type of hardware may be a stretch for many, but for those who have yet to purchase the original B4, retailers are bundling the B4D with the B4 for as low as $399. Considering the B4 VST was originally priced at $239, getting an outstanding drawbar organ instrument and a proper controller for less than $400 is a darn good deal. ($449 MSRP; www.native-instruments.com)