This Blog has been informed of an unfortunate situation for a church and its organ purchase.  About three years ago a California church contracted with a West Coast Hauptwerk assembler, Martin Digital Organs, to purchase an organ based on PC tone generation technology.  The instrument was never delivered, the definition of a virtual organ.  The church suffered a significant loss of funds.

Purchasing an instrument from a small organ assembler is risky.  While the builder’s concerns should be for instrument reliability and long-term support, these undercapitalized companies instead often use funds collected for one customer to pay other bills.  This type of financing typically ends badly for customers.

While the church in this Case Study never received the organ, the builder delivered the instrument’s speaker cabinets, pictured below.  The outrageously low quality demonstrated in these photographs speaks for itself.

It is difficult to understand why a church would risk purchasing an organ that is supposed to last for decades from a garage-type organization.  Often this is the result of a personality at the church pushing an agenda not be in the best interest of the congregation.  Possibly this Case Study will help churches avoid this kind of tragedy in the future.

11 thoughts on “A Case Study: “Virtual Organ” Never Shows Up

  1. Similar story here in Manila. The so called organ installed and worked 2x and died. They call us as installer wont come and fix. Most awful constuction. They out p125,000 which is about $3500 but a lot of money for poor Catholic church

    1. That is really sad! What is even more sad is you have guys out there pushing this “virtual organ” stuff,claiming it sounds better than ANY Allen organ(or any other digital organ for that matter) you will ever hear,…but reading this tells another story,and why I won’t ever go with anything like this! NO church should ever allow themselves to be talked into this “virtual organ” garbage!

  2. How sad! This is why I WILL NOT have Hauptwerk,…very low quality,and very questionable reliability! And who’s to know if I would ever receive my instrument? I’ll play it smart and stick with Allen!

  3. ORGAN-EDITOR,…what has the church done in the meantime? Are they going to replace with an Allen,or have they already done so?

  4. Hi,

    My name is Thomas of Organtechnology and we build Hauptwerk powered virtual pipe organs for homes and churches, to the customers specifications and budget. We are as unhappy as you are when we hear these horror stories because they affect every one in the VPO business but shouldn’t.

    Building a Virtual Pipe Organ is more like building a pipe organ than it is an electronic organ, in that it requires matching the Pipe Organ recordings to the space and the Console to the organist and the church. The process also takes time and there needs to be a clear understanding of the needs of the customer by the builder and the needs of the builder by the customer so as to make every one happy. It is because of this that we build our VPOs one at a time.

    The VPO consists of three sub system which are interrelated, the MIDI Console, the sound engine computer and the amplifier and speaker system. All must be tailored to the space, desires and budget of the client. This takes time, care and knowledge of what the worship service needs are and how the final product is to be cared for as time goes on. The properly constructed VPO turn on with just the push of a button and a short (usually less than 2 minutes) wait before it is ready to play. When it does play, it sounds really really good.

    Actually we build organs like Allen does! Allen piles a bunch of parts and subsystem at a cabinet and assigns a single assembly technician to that organ to finish it. We do the same thing. We start with a new console shell or re-purpose an older shell which we call a ‘donor organ’ and connect the keyboards or replace them with Fatar keyboards, connect all of the switches from the pedals, keyboards, pistons and toe studs to the MIDI system and install the sound engine computer and software and then add the speakers and amplifiers and test the organ extensively. We then ship the organ and the installer to the client and help with the installation of the organ.

    We call our purchasers clients because after the installation there is a warranty relationship which remains.

    1. Virtual Organs are not built by actual organ builders, but instead assembled by individuals or small companies with little investment. This is the main advantage of Virtual Organs, a benefit to the assembler. However, businesses with little capital have a poor track record for long-term customer support, which is expected of a church organ.

      You list three components of Virtual Organs: MIDI Console, sound engine computer (PC) and amplifier/ speaker system. Each is purchased from different suppliers making long-term support problematic. The hardware and software in the MIDI system and PC will not be supported at some time in the future. Like most consumer products, they are designed to be thrown away if they become defective, a strategy that keeps the initial price low.
      Your state: “Actually we build organs like Allen does!”. This is an inaccurate claim. For example:

      • Allen builds consoles, tailoring them to individual customer needs. Your company does not.
      • Allen builds most subassemblies including the tone generation system and its software to not only control quality, but to facilitate long-term customer support. Your company does not build these assemblies, but instead purchases them from third party suppliers and then “piles a bunch of parts and subsystem at a cabinet”, as you indicated.
      • Allen has made a substantial investment for parts inventory to support organs long into the future. We are not aware of any organ assembler that takes this step.

      Your company’s website includes the following in its mission statement: “Because it is a modular, software based organ system, it grows with you and never becomes obsolete. This system requires minimal maintenance and can be serviced by any competent PC technician should the need arise.” This claim is not supportable. Claiming that a PC and operating system, which Virtual Organs depend on, will not become “obsolete” doesn’t match reality. First, PCs are only designed to last a few years. In addition, operating systems are supported for a set period of time after which the PC and operating system need to be replaced. In addition, in the case of a virtual organ, there is no guarantee that the organ’s current software will work in the new environment, irrespective of the additional costs involved.

      This Blog includes information about Virtual Organs and micro organ builders. The best consumer is a well-educated consumer.

      1. Your response is most reassuring,organ-editor,…not to mention dispels the claims made by the “virtual organ” assembler,and tells the absolute truth in your response to them! And that is why I will NEVER EVER consider a Hauptwerk “virtual Organ”,…EVER! I see absolutely NO ADVANTAGE to having a Hauptwerk “virtual organ” set up vs. a REAL organ like an Allen!

        1. Dewey – I don’t mean to sound so offensive, but you obviously have limited experience as an organist. I play a large Allen, have played other Allens and Walkers in the past, and based on my experience would emphatically state my Hauptwerk installation is superior in sound in all respects. The major weakness of the Hauptwerk system is that it’s not as simple as turning on a switch. The average organist could easily be overwhelmed by the technical side of such a system

          1. This comment is an example of hyperbole and puffery too often promoted in the industry. Claiming one organ system “is superior in sound in all respects” over another indicates a motivation outside of objective comparison. Allen organ digital voices are played and compared on a daily basis and in the same rooms and on the same consoles aside of windblown pipe ranks. Few musicians can tell the difference. Claiming that some other tone generation system is “superior” and in “all respects” better than pipe organ sound does not withstand the test of objective reality.

            Given the author’s comments one would have to conclude that voicing plays no role in a successful organ installation, i.e. the technology is the only aspect of quality pipe organ sound produced digitally. Preposterous!

  5. I agree,…such claims are preposterous! Hauptwerk is NOT superior to Allen in sound,…never will be! Such claims do not hold up,…and as the organ-editor said,…claiming that some other tone generation system is “superior”,and in “all respects” better than pipe organ sound does not withstand the test of objective reality. I’m just a beginning/amateur organist,..but I can tell you Allen is WAY better than Hauptwerk,…which is only PC based. What if the PC goes out of date? PC will only last 7 to 10 years,whereas an Allen can go to darn near 70 years and still be working. Not to mention Allen’s unmatched customer support,longevity,and reliability. Will Hauptwerk go that long? Not anywhere near it!

  6. Let me also add that Hauptwerk will NEVER be superior in sound to that of real wind blown pipes!

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