Recording purists often talk about “moving air” as the ideal way to capture worthwhile sounds. This is debatable, as plug-ins and digital effects often get the job done adequately—except when it comes to the Leslie rotating speaker effect. Its wonderfully swooshing, phase-heavy, swirling warmth is punctuated with tube-ish growls and non-linear anomalies; these just don’t seem to be authentic unless coming from a high-maintenance, high-dollar, highly immobile Leslie cabinet.
Hammond USA’s latest Leslie offerings may just provide an ideal recording solution (pictured here, captured by a pair of Sandhill 6011A ribbon microphones). I recently purchased the Studio 12 which employs a rotating 12-inch woofer, rotating high frequency horn, a preamp with a tube gain stage, two foot-switchable channels (the high gain channel has contour control) and 100 W of power, all within a reasonably portable size. Although the woofer itself doesn’t rotate, a styrofoam reflector spins in accordance with the rotating horn; yes, the spin is foot-switchable at two speeds or is continuously variable with an additional Leslie-brand foot switch.
In small churches throughout the South, it’s easy to find many congregations where a drummer, a leader, a choir and Hammond/Leslie combo provide the entirety of the music at ear shattering levels, with both bass notes and upper registers via Leslie(s) and the distortion of the cabinet’s all-tube amp delivering a sonic wallop not unlike a loud rock band. The Studio 12 won’t do all that. Yet it will deliver close to that, with the clean channel providing clear bell-like tones and the distinctive Leslie warble that suits old-school R&B, classic country and the wedding march; the dirty channel will overdrive pretty nicely and the EQ/contour/foot switch provides numerous dynamic and tonal options. In fact, guitar tones are quite possible (both clean and dirty) and the warble when changing speeds (up or down) will light up a guitarist’s face every time, especially with just a touch of distortion for sustain. I’ve witnessed the successes.
Here’s a webclip as performed by keyboardist Jason Atkins with my Hammond L-222 organ, the Studio 12, a stereo large diaphragm condenser (LDC) up top and an AEA ribbon down low: https://www.soundcloud.com/pro-audio-review-magazine/hammond-leslie-studio-12-w-jason-atkins.
At $1,499, the Studio 12 isn’t exactly a steal, but the authenticity it lends a Hammond synth patch is tremendous; the real-deal authenticity when paired with an actual Hammond organ (which are dirt-cheap without a cabinet these days) is synergistic; and the flexibility the Studio 12 brings to guitars, vocal re-amps and synth re-amps is enough to entice curious clients looking to actually move a little air.