There are three criteria for judging a digital church rgan: Musicality, Reliability and Value

Virtual Organs include compromises in Musicality, Reliability and Value, as compared to a real digital church organ.

Musical Differences

Most digital organs, whether based on PC’s or dedicated tone-generation technology, use sampling in which pipe sounds are recorded and stored in the organ’s memory for playback.  The most accurate tonal results require that pure pipe sounds be recorded with the microphone placed close to the pipe so that extraneous noises and the acoustics of the building do not corrupt the recorded sound.  This “dry” sampling technique is more complicated than placing the microphones farther out in the room.

PC-based organs, referred to as “Virtual Organs”, place the microphone out in the church when pipes are recorded.  This process is referred to as “wet” sampling since the acoustics (reverberation) of the building, are also recorded.  In addition, extraneous noises including undesirable clicks and clacks from the pipe organ are recorded.  When wet samples are played in a room with its own acoustics, the recorded and real acoustics “collide” producing unnatural results.  Also, the recorded extraneous noises become distortions in the sampled sound.  Playing a Virtual Organs is more akin to playing a recording of an organ, rather than a real-time musical instrument. [See “Wet” Samples Versus Pure Pipe Samples.]

Reliability & Longevity Differences

Pipe organs typically last for decades.  A digital church organ can only meet this goal by being designed and built with quality.  Just as important, the builder must use components that can be supported long into the future and the builder must have the financial stability and capability enabling long-term support.  Virtual Organs are lacking in this area, typically being produced by small companies with little capital.

PC-based organs are basically kits, comprised of PCs from one supplier, sound software from another (often Hauptwerk), MIDI controllers, organ consoles, keyboards, stop controls, etc., from other various suppliers.  No company is responsible for the entire product and the third-party suppliers are typically small and poorly capitalized.  Support and warranty for the organ will only be as good as that of the weakest sub-assembly supplier, a risky venture for purchasers.  [See A Case Study: New “Virtual Organ” Replaced]

Finally, the lifespan of a PC is about five years.  This coupled with the reality that Windows and Apple operating systems are constantly changing makes longevity for PC-based organs problematic.

Value Differences

Value is a function of quality and price.  High quality at an affordable price equals true value.  The chief benefit of Virtual Organs falls to suppliers who can avoid R&D investment and long-term product support responsibilities.  Incredibly, when Virtual Organs are provided with quality subassemblies, they often cost as much, as a real digital organ.

One thought on “Dedicated Versus PC-based Organ Tone Generation Technology

  1. Regarding the PC organ sample sets, I agree that there are those that are ‘room sampled’, are not truly viable for use in a church environment typically. I have heard them personally. Whereas these are acceptable to many people, the distinguished and trained ear can find them to be not totally accurate. There are sampled sets that available that are sampled in front of each pipe. These are generally good for many people and is the preferred method for this type of system. You will pay much more for these sample sets due to the extreme amount of man-hours to perform this long drawn-out process. Will it ever replace a dedicated instrument like Allen makes? I rather doubt it. I feel that it is designed to keep the organ music in churches that want more flexibility than one organ can sometimes provide. It also allows the theatre organ people the ability to play that “big” Wurlitzer in their living rooms. It does perform that task reasonably well. The number one reason is probably cost, of course. Hauptwerk can offer an good low cost alternative for churches. Allen makes AND supports their organs better than anyone in the business, hands down!

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