Leslie speakers have a special place in the heart of many studio owners and musicians. Upon entering a studio equipped with one of these coveted rotating speaker cabinets, eyes will light up at the possibilities of running keyboards, guitars, and even vocals through it.
Sometimes these special wooden boxes hide in obscure little corners, only to be found days into tracking, sparking a whole new host of creative ideas. It is without question an exciting and unforgettable sound, but we all know the bottom line: Leslies are enormous.
There are a number of smaller physical clones out there, and also a good amount of effect pedals that claim to replicate the sound and feel of the massive Leslie cabinet. While all of these are successful to some degree, I’ve always found it a bit odd that the Leslie, and so many of its clones, were lacking in variable controls. Just “Chorale” and “Tremolo”? I love limitations, but I also love being able to tweak the tiniest details.
Feasting my eyes upon the PSP L’otary plug-in, I was instantly impressed, and almost a little scared at all the options available: Speed controls marked in Hz? Independent control for the Horn and Drum? A control that toggles between Tremolo and Chorale? I was happy that there were a few presets to get me started, but thrilled that I could dive in deeper. Let’s take a closer look at some of the particulars.
Horn & Drum
A Leslie cabinet derives most of its trademark sound from the top speaker, called the “horn”, which rotates 360 degrees and creates a memorable modulation-style effect that works along similar principles as the doppler effect.
There is a lower part to the cabinet as well, called the “drum”, which modulates lower frequencies. This is larger speaker stays in place while a baffle rotates around it. Both parts work along the same basic principal, though the sound most associated with a genuine Leslie comes from the sound of the rapidly rotating horn.
PSPaudioware gives you separate sections for each of these emulations, both with the same control parameters, so that you can have full control over both horn and drum.
On the far left of each there is a speed control section with a slow and fast control knob. These control the speeds of the slow section (Chorale) and fast section (Tremolo), and right next to them are two knobs which control the acceleration and de-acceleration of the motor when engaged.
For those more visually inclined, there is a glistening gray strobe at the top of each section which shows you about how fast the “motors” are going. I found this to be quite fun, as I would rather imagine how fast the motor would be spinning than spend time formulating exactly the right range in Hz.
Lastly, there is a microphone section where you can control the distance of a virtual microphone for the given section. This feature also contains a gain knob and a filter, that acts as a hipass on the horn, and a lopass on the drum.
If all that wasn’t enough to make your head spin like the proverbial Leslie horn, the master section of L’otary gives you even more flexibility to sculpt your perfect sound.
Probably the most useful thing to first lay eyes on is the EQ section. The 4 bands here are “Bottom”, “LoMid”, “Presence” and “Top”, all nestled between two special effect knobs called “Mechanical” and “Setup”.
The “Presence” seemed to prove most useful in this section as it can really bring forward the intensity of the Leslie sound.
I found the ”Mech” knob to be both entertaining and odd: A knob that controls how much you can hear the horns spin mechanically? I only came to notice this when my track was not playing, but I still heard something spinning in the background. What was it? Time to get my console checked again? Nope – it was that darn Leslie spinning!
There’s also an ”Amplifier” section and ”Ambience” section below, which adds choices such as amp style, drive, room size, etc to an already extensive selection of options.
I wouldn’t say that these completely replace any extra plug-ins one might want to add on later, but they certainly give you enough ability that if all you want is a little room sound or mid scooping, you can save yourself some time, clutter and CPU power.
Perhaps the coolest thing about this plug-in (besides the massive amounts of options and colorations) is an option I’ve always found lacking in physical Hammond/Leslie set ups for ages: the variability of the tremolo/chorale switch.
Many a time, I’ve found myself sitting at an organ with one hand playing while the other desperately tried to control the tremolo/chorale to attain the perfect amount of blend between the two sections—or the proper switch from one to the other in the correct amount of time.
With a cool side bar reminiscent of a car’s manual transmission, you can find that perfect in-between spot betwixt the two settings, or you can ride between them for that perfect moment of bringing your organ from amen to hallelujah.
This powerful emulator makes an impression immediately upon insert. When used on the traditional Leslie-modified assortment of keys it makes one giddy—whether those keys be virtual or real. And when those “not exactly” moments happen, a bit of tweaking in the right areas brings the prefect sound into play.
I’m also a fan of using Leslies on literally anything, and I’ve always been a huge fan of vocals through Leslies when I first discovered you could do that. (“Holy crap! that’s that amazing psychedelic Lennon sound!”) The PSP L’otary does not disappoint in these areas either, and used either directly or in parallel, it acts as a great addition to any number of instruments not usually under consideration for runing through a Leslie.
To me, the L’otary works on a number of levels. It really appeals to my intuitive sense with its swirling lines and manual stick shift drive, but it also allows you to get into the nitty gritty, satisfying many tone-sculpting needs all within one neat plug in. If you’re looking for a reliable, realistic, and fun Leslie emulator, this PSP is well worth the investment.
Rich Bennett is an engineer, producer, composer, and guitarist who grew up in New York City. He recently opened Acme Hall Studios, a recording studio and music education space in Park Slope, Brooklyn.