VR Rivals

VR vs Hammond SK vs Nord Electro vs ….

or: the eternal question: which one is ‘better’?
Most replies will be ‘Nord’ as this has become a kind of ‘red sect’ …
From a neutral point of view all stage-organs (or  ‘clonewheels’) have their strong points and weak points.

The following list is an overview of single-manual combo stage organs

It does not include pure Hammond clones like Hammond XK, Viscount, etc. nor ‘Workstations with ‘tonewheel’ (e.g. Roland RD2000, Casio XW-P1…)
  • Roland VR700 and VR760
    see ‘special’ below

  • Dexibell Combo J7
    Why does Dexibell receive more attention from the v-combo webseite than the other ‘rivals’? Well, Dexibell is a young company founded in 2014 by the licensed Roland staff when Roland Europe R&D and production centre in Italy was closed down. Which means that Dexibell keys are quality instruments built by Roland people and assembled in a former Roland production plant.
    The J7 stage organ can be considered as a ‘superior quality VR730’ – positioned somewhere between Nord Electro and Nord Stage.
    The J7 shares the same Sound-System (“Vivo OS”) as the Dexibell Digital Pianos which probably gives it the best acoustic pianos of all actual combo organs.
    The J7 has some unique features like the motorized drawbars which follow selected organ presets an manual-toggle, the ‘permanent Leslie rotational noise’, the ‘organ morphing’ etc.

    • 73 key Fatar TP/8o Waterfall keybed (like VR730), split + layer mode
    • weight 10kg, metal housing, wooden side panels
    • decent tonewheel organ (not on the level of Hammond/Nord/Crumar – but in many aspects very comparable to Yamaha YC). Excellent Vox, Farfisa, Pipe
    • excellent acoustic and electric pianos
    • 100 bread&butter sounds + ca 100 more sounds from Dexibell website
    • loadable sounds in SF2-‘sound font’ format (unlimited number of free and pro SF2 sounds on the web)
    • 3 layers/split
    • motorised drawbars and ‘foot switch smooth transition’ (“morph”) between organ presets
    • permanent Leslie mechanical background noise (belts, bearings, wind…)
    • 3 jacks for pedals (e.g. expression, piano damper, rotary switch)
    • midi via usb, audio via usb, mp3/wav player, audio (wav) recorder, audio-in via Bluetooth
    • EQ, organ parameters, Leslie parameters, piano resonance+damper noise, filter + envelope (AHDSR), fully customisable MFX, freaky ‘sound modulators’ like ‘blow-noise’ for sax/flute/etc, noise of trumpet valves, etc
    • J7 profits from the regular upgrades of the ‘all products’ VIVO operating system (e.g. big improvement of Leslie sim, piano sound, constant bugfixing, improvments, new features
  • Yamaha YC
    Very well built, good waterfall keys (Yamaha built), exellent APs. At YC release, Organ/Leslie sound was not the best (sterile sound with ‘helicopter’ Leslie) – but the 2022 firmware upgrade lifted it up into the ‘premier organ clone league’.
  • Hammond SK-1
    It’s the ‘tonewheel-queen’ of the Combos: no one has more possibilities to customise the organ sound (up to individually tuning EACH virtual tonewheel) and the ‘more real drawbars’ make an enormous difference in ‘organ feel’. It falls behind with ‘additional’ sounds (althought new sounds can be loaded from Hammond) and split/layering. Keybed is a Fatar TP/8O waterfall (same as VR730, both feel very similar) with nice ‘vintage beige coloured keys’. Dedicated organ output for original Leslie connector. All controls are solid, case is metal and and the 2nd-lightest after VR09 (7 kg)
  • Hammond SK-Pro
    It’s even more the ‘tonewheel-queen’, replacing the VASE organ engine of SK1/2/X with the new MTW engine of Hammond XK5. Virtual ‘key multi contact simulation’, individually tuning of EACH virtual tonewheel and tons of Leslie-parameters. 4 Zones. 4 ‘principal’ sound categories where 2 can be composed of up to 4 layers (possible to create 8-layer sounds). Monophonic VA synth with real time controls + polyphonic PCM synth. Acoustic pianos improved since SK-1/2 but not at the level of Dexibell or Nord. Keybed is a Fatar TP/8O waterfall. Dedicated organ outputs for original Leslie connector AND TRS-plug
  • Nord Electro
    In 2016 Nord shocked the world by introducing (limited) key split to 5D (hahaha). Now, with 6D it’s still not possible to split two synth or piano (AP-EP) sounds…  Nord Electro uses the Fatar TP/8O keybed but in a strange specification with wobbly keys. Tonewheel sound is powerful (very good for rock bands but less suited for sublime Jazz), acoustic pianos are very good, electric pianos a bit synthetic and pale. Hundreds of other sounds can be loaded from Nords sound libraries, e.g. new (improved) acoustic pianos. R/L-Line-out can be split into organ-out (for routing to Leslie sims like Ventilator or real Leslie) and (mono) ‘sound-out’ for all other sounds. Electro still is very limited in splitting and layering
  • Nord Stage Compact
    The ‘Waterfall-version’ of Nord Stage has all the gizmos ‘missing’ on the Electro like mod-wheels and stereo-out for non-organ sounds (when rerouting the organ). It integrates a full featured synthesizer with real-time controls and 4 zones split/layering. On the con side: very expensive… and suprisingly limited for layering !
  • Vox Continental
    Is the fashion model: very stylish with its draw-touchsliders, falls behind with Hammond sound but has an integrated tube preamp to warm up your sounds
  • Crumar Mojo 61
    Maybe Mojo is a close second behind SK/SK-Pro with regard to the most authentic and beautiful Hammond sound of all combos – if it can be called a combo with only 5 additional AP/EP sounds

VR09/730 vs VR700 vs VR760

The predecessors of VR09/730, VR760 and VR700, are very valuable combo organs: if weight and size is not important they can be interesting alternatives. Both keyboards are only available 2nd hand but considering the ‘like a tank’ build quality they won’t let the player down for the next 20 years.

  • VR700 ‘pros’ compared to VR09/730:
  • ‘military grade build quality’, very sturdy plastic chassis (feels like metal)
  • best Waterfall action ever built: incredible ‘control’, works also exellent for playing piano
  • better organ sound(more overtones, very powerfull bass, smooth ‘tube like’ overdrive), more parameters, ‘real’ full size drawbars
  • organ setting does not ‘reset to any factory’ setting when switching back&for between organ, piano, synth etc
  • much better acoustic pianos/Grand (less shrill, very controllable, longer delay, sympathetic+damper resonance), more ‘natural sounding’ Electric Pianos
  • fully customisable COSM MFX (requires using the CTRLR Editor for VR700)
  • 8 ‘direct access’ Favorite buttons (vs. 4 registration buttons on VR09/730)
  • VR700 ‘cons’ compared to VR09/730:
  • heavy (16kilogram) and large
  • chique but horrible to use ‘user interface’ (when not used with VR700 ctrlr editor)
  • while basic organ sound is better, rotary effect fall behind and V/C are really bad
  • less zones/layering when compared to VR09/730 + ‘hidden Features’
  • less sounds when compared to VR09/730 + ‘hidden Features’
  • many sound-patches are ‘outdated’ (could be seen as ‘oldschool’ charme)
  • no filter/envelope setting (ADR envelope/filter can only be set ‘live’ with VR700 ctrlr editor)
  • no MFX controls when used without VR700 ctrlr editor
  • Differences VR700 – VR760:
  • both share the same engenious key action
  • VR760 organ has no ‘split mode’ and less organ/rotary parameters
  • VR760 acoustic pianos are rather bad (dull sound, short decay, no sympha./damper resonance)
  • VR760 has ‘full controls’ on the user panel including EQ, envelope/filter, basic MFX controlls
  • VR760 MFX can be customized ‘on board (VR700 only with editor)
  • VR760 has less layer/split functionality
  • VR760 has very few onboard sounds (only 27 – VR700: 300) but accepts Roland SRX expansion cards !

VR vs Roland Fantom 06

Fantom 06(07) ‘baby Fantom’ is considered by many as an alternative to VR09/730. We briefly discuss details:

  • different concepts: Fantom is not a ‘combo organ’ but a ‘workstation’:
    • it offers what modern complex workstations offer:
          multizones, thousands of sounds, Cosm-MFX, arpeggiator, sequencer, sampler, VA synth etc etc
    • menu diving’: the ergonomics of touch screen is excellent – but it’s not comparable to the ‘easy going’ direct access of VR
    • ZEN engine for running quality sound components (e.g. ‘cult keys’ like JD800) from Roland zenology website (on buy)
  • Fantom ‘Virtual Tonewheel Organ’ (VTW):
    • soundwise like VR09/730 SuperNatural organ (aka SN organ in Jupiter 80):
          despite shwowing more overtones it still sounds ‘churchy’ (unlike old VK-8 based VRs)
    • ‘options’ menu correspond to previous VR700
          4 organ types (vintage 1/2, clean, solid), 1 ‘Rotary’ type, 2 ‘Rotary’ types as (Cosm)-MFX, etc.
          features not available in VR09/730 (e.g. percussion recharge time)
    • organ has only ONE manual (VTW ‘as a part’): no way to get upper/lower manual organ or organ bass
    • faders can be used as drawbars – but only eight (no 1″ ‘drawfader’ – remind that with percussion one does not need 1″ anyway)
    • organ ‘note retrigger bug’ of VRs has been fixed (would be an even bigger plus if Fantom had upp/low organ manual)
    • massively improved ‘leakage’ (authentic ‘bright swirl’ instead of VRs ‘deep transformer fuzz’)
    • improved overdrive (3 types: tube, VK-OD, guitar amp) – despite being smoother than VR OD it remains ‘harsh’
    • synth action is fine but has no ‘organ high trigger point’ nor does exist a ‘Waterfall’-version (like VR730)

Stage organs: feature comparison

The following comparison tries to be as much as ‘objectiv’ as possible, e.g. considering
– ‘B3 authenticity’ for organ sound
– sample quality and ‘piano effects’ (like string resonance) for acoustic pianos
– authentic sound and ‘bite’ for electric pianos
– ‘natural/realistic’ vs. ‘artificial/digital’ sound character, etc.

Note: the ‘ranking’ is ordered from left to right and within a ‘box’ from top (‘better’) to down (‘worse’). VR09 stands also for VR730

feature excellent mediocre bad
Organ Hammond SK-Pro
Yamaha YC [3]
Mojo
Hammond SK
Nord Electro/Stage
Roland VR700
Roland VR760
Roland VR09
Dexibell J7
Vox
Roland VR09 [1]
Roland VR760/700 [1]
Acoustic Pianos Dexibell J7
Vox
Nord Electro/Stage

Yamaha YC
Roland VR700
Hammond SK-Pro
Hammond SK
Mojo
Roland VR09
Roland VR760
Electric Pianos Vox
Hammond SK-Pro
Hammond SK
Mojo
Yamaha YC
Dexibell J7
Nord Electro/Stage
Roland VR700
Roland VR760
Roland VR09
Bread & Butter Sounds Nord Stage
Hammond SK-Pro
Yamaha YC
Roland VR09
Dexibell J7
Nord Electro
Hammond SK
Roland VR700
Roland VR760
Mojo
Synth Features
(realtime controls, envelopes, filters …)
Nord Stage
Hammond SK-Pro
Yamaha YC
Roland VR09
Dexibell J7
Nord Electro
Roland VR760
Roland VR700
Hammond SK
Mojo
Split/Layer Hammond SK-Pro
Roland VR09 [2]
Nord Stage
Dexibell J7
Yamaha YC
Roland VR700
Vox
Hammond SK
Nord Electro 5/6
Roland VR760
Mojo
Nord Electro 1-4
Dedicated
organ line-out
Hammond SK-Pro
Hammond SK
Nord Stage
Nord Electro Vox
Mojo
Yamaha YC
Dexibell J7
Roland VR ‘all’

[1] under aspect of organ note retrigger bug: the bug is present in all VRs but most annoying sounding in 09/730
[2] under aspect of ‘hidden features’ for zones and layers
[3] under aspect of renewed organ/Leslie sound from radical YC firmware upgrade 2022