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Toontrack Session Organ EKX

Toontrack Session Organ EKX

Toontrack bring the world’s favourite organ to EZkeys 2.

Toontrack’s EZkeys 2 was an undoubted triumph when released just over a year ago (see the August 2023 issue for a full review). A number of EKX expansions have appeared since then, providing additional piano‑based sound choices (the excellent Soul Roads EKX, for example, which we reviewed in the September 2023 issue) and there have also been non‑piano options offered such as the Synthwave EKX with its cool collection of ’80s‑inspired synth sounds.

However, a popular request from within the EZkeys user community has been for a Hammond B3 expansion. This is an instrument with a special place in music history and its iconic sound can be found in a wide range of genres, from its origins as a replacement for the church pipe organ to its adoption in gospel, jazz, blues, classic rock, prog and pop.

Toontrack have now answered that call with the Session Organ EKX. Yes, this might be seen as just a further expansion (EZkeys 2 is required to use Session Organ) but, given that the implementation must have required some adaptations to the EZKeys engine, I suspect this was a more significant undertaking than with a piano‑focused EKX. Session Organ does, of course, have to find its way among a number of well‑established virtual B3s available from other developers. So, is Toontrack’s take on the Hammond B3 worth exploring?

Manual Control

While a piano and a Hammond organ are both keyboard‑based instruments, they are clearly very different technologies. In the original Hammond, the sound was generated by spinning ‘tonewheels’ near a pickup, thus creating an electric current that was then amplified to drive a speaker. Based upon a well‑preserved hardware example, Toontrack have combined detailed sampling of these individual tonewheels alongside some modelling as the basis for their virtual recreation.

The Hammond’s twin 61‑key ‘manuals’ (the upper and lower keyboard decks), alongside a set of 25 bass note pedals, are also reproduced here. The original hardware offers no velocity response (notes simply sustain until you release them) and volume/dynamics is controlled via an expression pedal. The same behaviour is obviously recreated here and, if you want to get the best out of Session Organ, a MIDI expression pedal (assigned to CC11 by default) would be an essential add‑on to your MIDI keyboard controller.

As with all Toontrack’s expansions, Session Organ ships with a broad selection of presets. I’ll say more about these below but, within the Keys window, the Effects tab offers a preset‑specific selection of additional macro‑style controls to shape the sound. These can include tone, ambience, ‘age’ (for a more lo‑fi sound), noise, options to mix different room mic levels, and a speed control for the Leslie speaker emulation. Some presets also include additional rotary options such as a Drive control.

However, the Keys window also includes an Organ tab and, if you pop this open, you get a view of the emulated drawbar controls, with sets of nine drawbars for each manual and a further two for the bass pedals. These essentially allow you to change the emphasis/balance between the root pitch and various octaves and/or harmonics of that pitch, giving you an authentic experience when shaping the tone of the resulting sound. This panel also provides access to various other sonic elements including the key clicks, percussive elements, vibrato and chorus, all of which are part of the original’s character.

The Organ tab within the Keys window provides full access to the emulated drawbars as well as other sonic elements.The Organ tab within the Keys window provides full access to the emulated drawbars as well as other sonic elements.

Adapted Engine

Given that the Hammond’s drawbar system lets you individually customise the sounds from the two manuals and the bass pedals, you could see the original instrument as a three‑part multitimbral sound source. Toontrack have customised elements of the EZkeys engine to accommodate this and, as a result, Session Organ supports multi‑channel MIDI in/out. Those with multiple MIDI keyboards (and even a set of MIDI foot pedals) can therefore get the full Hammond performance experience. Alternatively, if just using a single MIDI controller keyboard, you can configure keyboard split points. And, as with the original hardware — which features sound preset keys at the left side of both manuals — Session Organ includes tonewheel preset switching via dedicated keyswitches that, by default, are mapped starting at C0.

To accommodate the multi‑channel MIDI, Session Organ has suitable adaptations within the Grid Editor. You can still visualise and edit the MIDI notes for a performance within a single display, but located on the far‑left side are options to solo/mute/isolate notes from the three individual layers if you just want to hear and/or edit a specific layer. This is neatly done and retains the familiar Grid Editor workflow despite the additional channels of data being handled.

The MIDI grooves included with the EKX support this three‑channel format. If you export the MIDI from EZkeys to your DAW, it is automatically dropped as either three separate channels, or a single channel, depending upon your current configuration in the Settings panel as outlined above.

The Grid Editor supports the multi‑channel format when editing Session Organ’s supplied MIDI grooves.The Grid Editor supports the multi‑channel format when editing Session Organ’s supplied MIDI grooves.

The other important adaptation to note is that the Grid Editor also includes dedicated automation lanes for the rotary speaker speed and the expression pedal, as well as other elements such as the drawbars or chorus/vibrato. The supplied Session Organ MIDI patterns fully utilise both of these. Session Organ does, however, work quite happily with MIDI patterns originally created for piano‑based EZkeys content, but the velocity data will be ignored, and you do have to add any required expression.

Replace The Replacement

The original Hammond was primarily developed as an alternative to the pipe organ in a church context; small, less expensive and easier to maintain. However, it’s still a big bulky beast that comes with an equally big bulky price tag and, as such, may be impractical or out of reach (or both) for the majority. Which is, of course, why virtual recreations are seen as convenient alternatives to hardware that was, originally, seen as a convenient alternative to even older hardware.

No, Toontrack are not the first virtual instrument developer to think this might be a good idea. And while EZkeys brings much more to the table than just the sounds, Session Organ does have to deliver on that front if it is to compete with the best of the existing bunch. Thankfully, it does... and this is ably demonstrated by the presets that are organised into Standard, Gospel, Jazz/Blues, Rock and Soul/R&B categories. A ‘raw’ DI preset is also included.

There are some truly wonderful sounds here that are full of character.

There are some truly wonderful sounds here that are full of character. The presets include obvious classic ’60s pop references (Good Vibratos, Grey Onions or Pale White Shade, for example), but whether it’s soft and warm, or bright and vibrant, Session Organ does it with ease. A personal highlight, however, was the classic rock tones; if you want to create your own Jon Lord moments, Session Organ has you covered. It sounds epic and the character of the original is authentically captured — including, in some configurations, the low‑frequency hum that, in the absence of some notes within the same sub‑200Hz range, is part of the full Hammond experience.

Get Groovy Baby

The combination of the groove library and the Song Track makes EZkeys more than just a virtual instrument; it’s a powerful virtual performer. The Session Organ EKX ships with a broad collection of MIDI grooves patterns and, while the instrument will happily play back grooves from other EZkeys libraries or MIDI expansion packs, those included with Session Organ are specifically designed to exploit the multiple MIDI channels and expression pedal options found here. They are a great way to explore just what the instrument can do if you are a bit of a Hammond B3 novice, and they cover all the musical styles found among the sound presets.

At the time of writing, Toontrack have also released a couple of add‑on MIDI groove packs designed specifically for Session Organ: Gospel Organ and Classic Rock Organ. Having been supplied with the second of these two for the review, I have to say it is chock full of excellent stuff. If you want to add an instant touch of classic rock, psychedelic pop, blues, or progressive rock playing to your own projects, these MIDI groove packs are well worth their modest asking price. Here’s hoping Toontrack have more style‑based MIDI groove packs in the pipeline for Session Organ. sonic terms, I think Session Organ is absolutely up there with the very best of the existing alternatives.

No Grinder, No Monkey, All Organ

The virtual Hammond B3 is not a new concept and many SOS readers might already have one or more of these within their virtual instrument collection. Personally, in sonic terms, I think Session Organ is absolutely up there with the very best of the existing alternatives. It offers a convincing recreation of the iconic sound and, because of the way Toontrack have adapted the EZkeys engine, it also provides access to all the key sound shaping options that made the original hardware such a versatile instrument. However, thanks to EZkeys’ powerful virtual performer/bandmate and songwriting assistant functionality, Session Organ offers more than just being competitive in sonic terms.

The combination of great sounds, ease of use and powerful performance options make EZkeys 2 and the Session Organ expansion a heck of a combination. If you are already a dedicated EZkeys user, Session Organ is a truly excellent addition. And if you are just considering buying into the whole EZkeys ecosystem, Session Organ is a further great reason to take the plunge. Toontrack do not disappoint; the Session Organ EKX is beautifully done.


Toontrack’s Session Organ EKZ is beautifully done, capturing the sounds and features that made the original Hammond B3 such an iconic instrument. A great addition for EZkeys owners.


€89 including VAT.