Review – DB-33 by AIR Music
The DB-33 hearkens back to the old days and that classic sound of the Hammond B3. Can this AIR Music plugin pull off a good emulation of that legendary sound? Our reviewer checks it out in detail.
by Rob Mitchell, Sept. 2015
Air Music Technology is the company that is behind the creation of many great music software titles. You may have heard of some of their products before, as a few of them were included with Pro Tools. Xpand!2, Mini Grand, and Hybrid 3 are some of those titles that were exclusive to Pro Tools. They are now all available to purchase separately, and can be used in other DAWs. For this review, I will cover one of their instruments called DB-33. They released this one at the same time as the Mini Grand, which I also reviewed in this same issue.
DB-33 is modeled after the Hammond B3, and I really mean “modeled”, as it doesn’t use samples to get its sound. The DB-33 is what AIR calls a Tonewheel Organ Simulator. The Hammond B3 was used in many recordings during the 1960s and 1970s, and it’s still used today. Getting your hands on a real one can be very costly. I’ve seen them selling used from $2,000 USD all the way to up to over $10,000! The DB-33 has drawbar sliders (like the Hammond) to control the individual parts of the tone, and it also mimics the Leslie rotary cabinet sound. It can also be loaded in to your DAW as an effects plugin.
The installation was easy, and it uses a serial number for copy protection. You must also use the iLok License Manager, which is a free download for which installation is simple. DB-33 is available in VST and AU plugin formats. One odd thing is that they don’t list the requirements in the manual. They have a link in the manual that says it will bring you to that information, but it doesn’t actually go to a page with the system requirements. For most of their other products, they list those in adequate detail, but for the DB-33 (and the Mini Grand), they just aren’t there. However, there is a trial version you can download to see how well it works with your system.
After you load it into your DAW of choice, you will see the main display. This view is called the Organ page, and there is one other that’s called the Cabinet page. You can switch between the two pages by using the buttons along the bottom. I will get to the Cabinet page shortly.
On the left side is the Tone Wheel control. It lets you switch between different qualities of sound, ranging from “Dirty” (has some built-in drift, and an older/grittier tone) to a couple settings based on a triangle waveform (Syn1) and another with a square waveform (Syn2). To the right of the Tone Wheel control there is the Scanner Vibrato control. From here, you can set it to use a vibrato or chorus, and each of these effects has three different settings. Each of the three settings has a certain amount of modulation, with C1 and V1 having the least amount, and C3 and V3 having the most modulation.
Next up, we have the Drawbars section. Adjusting these will affect the sound, as they change how much of the harmonics are passed on to the final tone. As you drag a drawbar downward, it increases the amount of those harmonics to which it is assigned. The lower harmonics are on the left, and the higher ones are on the right side. These can also be mapped to the sliders on a MIDI controller. Right-clicking on a control in DB-33 will let you assign it to a knob or slider on your MIDI controller.
The Key Click control lets you adjust how much of the percussive “clicky” sound that’s added to the beginning of each key that is played. This can give it a more realistic sound, and being able to adjust the amount works well when you need it to cut through a mix a little more.
Over to the right of the Key Click control is the Percussion section. These controls will add an extra amount of harmonics near the start of the tone. It can be either a second or third harmonic, and the length can be set to be either short or long. You’re also able to set the extra harmonic’s volume, or you can switch it off completely if you just don’t want it enabled. This feature can add a bit more fullness/richness to the sound, and can give it a little more of an edge when used in combination with the Key Click control. Finishing off the controls on the right side is the Master Level, which adjusts the overall volume level.
Down below the keyboard are a few more features. The Rotation Speed Switch controls the rotating speaker simulator, which can be set to a slow or fast rotation speed. The center “Brake” position is for when you want to switch between the two speeds, or just need to have it stop altogether. There is a way to get at a little more control for this section, and I will get to that in the next part of the review.
The menu for selecting the presets is very basic. There is no complex browser here, just a list with categories, and the presets themselves will appear after you click on a category. Each preset name has a set of numbers to the right of it. These are the drawbar settings for the particular preset. When I made my own preset, then clicked the Save button, it brought me to the User preset folder to save it in. I figured that all those numbers for the drawbar settings I had changed would automatically show in the preset name. It doesn’t work that way though. You must enter those numbers in the preset name if you want to keep them for whatever reason. Call me lazy, but I thought it was a bother to even do that, so I just gave it a name without the numbers. The last item on this page is the wrench icon, which lets you load/save and reset the MIDI assignments you have made.
Turn the Page
After you click on the Cabinet button, it will bring you to the Cabinet page. On the left side you’ll see the Input section. The “External” control will not be active unless you are using DB-33 as an effect on a track. It will then adjust the amount of the incoming signal. The “Organ” knob adjusts the level of signal before it gets to the pre-amp stage. This acts a bit like a drive control, as it feeds into the pre-amp, and higher levels can give an increased amount of distortion.
The Tube Pre-Amp section has controls for Character, Drive, and High Cut. The Character knob basically changes the tone of the audio by either boosting the lows, or increasing the mid-range and high frequencies depending on which way you turn it. The Drive control will add an overdriven/distorted quality to the sound. The High Cut is just that; a sloped EQ to cut down on the higher frequencies.
The Mics section has a Drum/Horn control which will adjust the amount of the two simulated microphone levels. One microphone is for the lower frequencies (Drum) and the other is for the high end (Horn). The Spread control adjusts how much space there is between the two microphones. If you turn it up to its maximum setting, you will have an increased amount of depth from the spinning horn. If you want it more subtle, you just have to turn down the Spread control.
The Speed Control section has a duplicate from the Organ page: The Rotation Speed control. It’s placed here as well, making it easier to get to from this page, if needed. The other three controls are really fine tuning for what it already does in the first place. “Slow Rate” will change the speed/rate when the Rotation control is set to Slow. “Fast Rate” will change the speed/rate when the Rotation control is set to Fast. “Acc/Dec” adjusts how quickly it will change from the Slow speed setting to the Fast speed setting, and vice versa.
DB-33 definitely has a great sound, and it includes many useful controls. I can’t really think of anything that negative to say about it, as it seems to be a well thought out product. The only thing I’d wish for is a reverb and/or delay added to the effects, but that’s just me. Other products similar to this may have a few different features or effects, but I really like the sound of DB-33. As I mentioned before, its sound is modeled, which I actually like better than samples in many cases. There are a large number of plugins that use samples these days, but the modeled route can give a rich sound without the limitations of sample-based audio.
The DB-33 has a decent selection of presets included. There are 121 to be exact, and there are 60 additional FX presets for when it is loaded in as an effect on a track. DB-33 retails for $79.99 USD. At the time of writing this review, AIR was offering a crossgrade price of just $49.99 for owners of the Air Instrument Expansion Pack (AIEP) or Pro Tools 8+. You can check out the demo version and get more information from their website: