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What are the Secrets of Superior Sound ?

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What are the Secrets of Superior Sound ?

Postby Antoni Scott » Fri Sep 01, 2017 8:38 am

After a lifetime of being interested in the pipe organ, it was inevitable that I crossed paths with many electronic organ along the way. Back in the 1950's there weren't too many electronic organ companies. In Britain, the only British company I could think of was Compton. In the USA there was Allen, Rodgers, Conn, Wurlitzer and of course Hammond. Schober and Artisan were kit organs that used vacuum tubes and was similar to the above. I'm not sure if Hammond ever attempted to sound like a pipe organ but none the less they were very popular because of their compact size and mobility. I remember hearing a Compton organ and was impressed by the realism of the Open Diapason. It supposedly had rotating optical discs that reproduced previously recorded pipe organ sound. That was over fifty years ago so time has faded my true recollection of what it really sounded like. Possibly if I heard one today I may be disappointed.

Although all these companies basically had access to the same technology, there were no real breakthroughs or differences in sound realism in my opinion. Possibly Allen with its one tone generator per note (Conn as well) offered more stable sound, and offsetting the upper and lower manuals a bit gave a lush celesting effect , but other than that they were all the same - a rather unsatisfactory electronic sound.

Rodgers (and Allen) in the 1960's offered large organs with lots of stops, lots of tone generators, etc. and possibly the sound was a bit better than in the previous decade. The 1970 Allen computer digital organ was possibly a breakthrough compared to previous organ sound but upon closer analysis the sounds were thin, the Mixtures were flat and lacked brilliance. But even today, Allen seems to refuse to use enough Mixtures, in my opinion.But that is another story. But even when they do, their sound still falls flat.

I'm not sure why even today some electronic organ builders still lack the realism that I would expect, given all of the technology available. My criticism is based on what I have personally heard with my own ears. Take for example the Marshall and Ogletree organs. Why do they sound so superior ? The five manual organ at the Kravis Center in Florida is an amazing piece of realism as was the original organ at Trinity Wall Street. What is the secret to their sound ? Personally I refuse to believe it is just a matter of longer sample loops per note. If it were that simple (if in fact obtaining a longer sample loop is easy) wouldn't everyone be doing it ? Is it a matter of many many more audio channels ? It puzzles me to this day how a loud speaker can actually reproduce two frequecies at the same time. A vibrating speaker cone at one frequency is made to produce a frequency at another pitch and simultaneously. I can't visualize how that can work and reproduce both with equal accuracy.

I have purposely left out Hauptwerk because I think that it is a different animal completely. I am still not sure how to classify the sounds that I hear. They are not synthesized and I'm not even sure if I consider it a "sample". I seem to think that these terms are used interchangeably in the digital organ world without much thought being given as to what it actually is. In my mind I think of my Hauptwerk as being a "previously recorded" sound that is played back when I depress the keyboard key. When I am asked how to describe Hauptwerk compared to other organ companies I say that I think that Hauptwerk reproduces a previously recorded sound in its original acoustic environment. The bottom line is that I think that my Hauptwerk sound "sample" is the most realistic of all of them.

But it still leaves me curious as to why some companies (i.e Allen vs M&O) who I would think have the same technology available to them both can sound so different. I feel content that at least I don't have to concern myself too much because both of the above are way out of my price range and better yet, I feel that my Hauptwerk set up delivers the most realistic sound.

Any opinions would be greatly appreciated.

Antoni
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Re: What are the Secrets of Superior Sound ?

Postby josq » Fri Sep 01, 2017 10:42 am

There may be four questions here that would require entirely different answers.

1) How to make superior sounding pipe organs (the job of pipe organ builders and restorers)
2) How to make superior electronically generated sounds (e.g. the M&O organs, (hybrid) Hauptwerk church organs)
3) How to make superior recordings of real instruments (Hauptwerk sample set makers, recording engineers)
4) How to get a superior listening experience of recordings of real instruments (listening to a Hauptwerk sample set or organ CD)

What are you interested in? All of them? ;)
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Re: What are the Secrets of Superior Sound ?

Postby josq » Fri Sep 01, 2017 10:55 am

Antoni Scott wrote: It puzzles me to this day how a loud speaker can actually reproduce two frequecies at the same time. A vibrating speaker cone at one frequency is made to produce a frequency at another pitch and simultaneously. I can't visualize how that can work and reproduce both with equal accuracy.


A single frequency can be visualized by a plain sine wave. Multiple frequencies sounding at the same time is simply a summation of the corresponding sine waves, resulting in a more complex wave form. A speaker conus is able to reproduce this complex vibration. While this vibration reaches our ears, to some extend we are able to discern the spectrum of frequencies (notes and harmonies) contained in the complex sound wave, and to some extend we interpret the spectral content as a specific sound color.
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Re: What are the Secrets of Superior Sound ?

Postby Antoni Scott » Fri Sep 01, 2017 11:35 am

There may be four questions here that would require entirely different answers.

1) How to make superior sounding pipe organs (the job of pipe organ builders and restorers)
2) How to make superior electronically generated sounds (e.g. the M&O organs, (hybrid) Hauptwerk church organs)
3) How to make superior recordings of real instruments (Hauptwerk sample set makers, recording engineers)
4) How to get a superior listening experience of recordings of real instruments (listening to a Hauptwerk sample set or organ CD)

What are you interested in? All of them? ;)

To Josq:
How to make superior electronically generated sounds is probably the question that I was asking. To clarify, I was asking about electronic organs and the "secrets" that electronic organ builders use to create superior sounds, superior being a sound that is more realistic and true to a pipe organ sound than what a competitive electronic organ builder might create. I'm not sure how Josq thought that my question was about pipe organ builders making superior sounding pipe organs.
I agree that superior recording techniques make for a better overall playing/listening experience. But this makes many assumptions. When Allen took an organ pipe and placed it in their anechoic chamber in order to eliminate all extraneous factors that would affect the original sound and then recreated that wave form, is it synthesized, sampled ?? One would think that an exact duplication of the wave form of a flue or reed pipe would result in a sound that sounds exactly the same as the original, but it doesn't always sound the same. So what is missing is my question ? The attack, steady-state and decay are the three parts of a sound, but there is obviously more to it. I have a Sonus Paradisi sample set of the Zwolle in both dry and wet (direct, diffuse and surround) so I can sort of see how a room acoustic could drastically affect the final sound reaching the organists ears.

One of the components to a realistic sound experience, in my opinion, is the number of channels the sound is
played back through. How much air are all these speaker cones moving ? The more channels one has is probably what i was alluding to before about how can a speaker cone faithfully reproduce more than one sound at a time. Is C out of one speaker, and G out of another, better than C and G out of the same speaker ?
So back to my original question. What is the secret to an M&O vs an Allen or a Rodgers, etc. Is it just the number of channels ? I don't think so, but I have no proof to suggest anything else, hence the posting of this query.
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Re: What are the Secrets of Superior Sound ?

Postby profeluisegarcia » Fri Sep 01, 2017 12:28 pm

josq wrote:
Antoni Scott wrote:
A single frequency can be visualized by a plain sine wave. Multiple frequencies sounding at the same time is simply a summation of the corresponding sine waves, resulting in a more complex wave form.


Hello Josq
I always have shared Scott´s puzzle.
But...the summation of partials from a given fundamental frequency give us a visual complex wave of that particular sound color (besides volumen and frequency). But what happen with the speaker cone when playing a given note with several stops are in the on position -mixtures included- ? ¿A super complex wave? Perhaps it should be :?:
Thanks
Luis
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Re: What are the Secrets of Superior Sound ?

Postby eajohnson » Fri Sep 01, 2017 12:57 pm

Part of the "secret" may be the attention to detail that a more expensive maker like M&O or Walker may put in to speaker placement, acoustics, and voicing compared to other builders. I say this because I have heard the exact same Allen model in two different venues. In one the sound was harsh and unrealistic, in the other glorious and very convincing.

Number of channels has to be a factor as I noticed a big difference going from a 2.1 arrangement to 8.1 in my own Hauptwerk set up. In general Allen and Rodgers seem to use few channels in an average installation.
Owner of an old Schober homebuilt, midified and Hauptwerkified.
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Re: What are the Secrets of Superior Sound ?

Postby magnaton » Fri Sep 01, 2017 1:48 pm

Antoni Scott wrote:But it still leaves me curious as to why some companies (i.e Allen vs M&O) who I would think have the same technology available to them both can sound so different. I feel content that at least I don't have to concern myself too much because both of the above are way out of my price range and better yet, I feel that my Hauptwerk set up delivers the most realistic sound.


The difference here is that Allen, Rodgers, & Johannus run a production organ business. They have a dealer network to support, warranties to honor, replacement parts to keep on hand, employees to pay, etc. All these things necessary for manufacturing a reliable and sustainable product. Granted the pace of the organ business now is such that they are probably just basically building on order like the boutique builders (M&O, Walker, Phoenix, etc.). To upgrade or move to newer technology and better samples (which they have to produce or purchase) into their paradigm takes planning, retooling, R&D, and preparation for dealer education, marketing, & support. Not to mention the most important; forecasting - when will they see an ROI (return on investment). I'm sure management looks at the current market and advancing technology and asks the basic question "how much would it cost to implement this new technology and by doing so, would that increase our market share or profits? If yes, by how much?"

Here is a similar example in real life: Shopping for cars a few years ago, I was surprised that a $40k Audi didn't have a USB port in the center console, dash, or anywhere to easily connect a mobile device. A base model Toyota on the other hand two USB ports. It took Audi about 2 years later to work that 'now standard' technology into their production line.

Then again not all new technology is better. Austin Organs in Connecticut took a huge financial hit when a prominent engineer recommenced they switch from using leather to Perflex for their pneumatics to save money and time. That material started to break down all about the same time which silenced many organs! To be fair, other related businesses made the same mistake!

There is no doubt that Hauptwerk has raised the bar considerably by giving a wide variety of end users authentic pipe organ sounds at an affordable price.

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Re: What are the Secrets of Superior Sound ?

Postby magnaton » Fri Sep 01, 2017 2:37 pm

eajohnson wrote:Number of channels has to be a factor as I noticed a big difference going from a 2.1 arrangement to 8.1 in my own Hauptwerk set up. In general Allen and Rodgers seem to use few channels in an average installation.


I agree. Many years ago that was the design architecture of the Saville Organ Company and it's spin off AOB (Associated Organ Builders) of Washington state. A modest 2 manual organ would have had 40+ speakers with a matrix array so certain notes and certain stops only spoke from their respective speakers. Unfortunately the quality of the organ tone was lacking. Many stops were unified and some had minimal timbre distinction like the 8ft Flute and 8ft Principal. Of course I speak from only 2 personal incidents and both instruments were needing repair.

It seems Rodgers and Allen at this time put their R&D into the quality of individual stops and zero on channelization. This kind of goes back to the days of audiophiles; to get a better sound do you invest towards the sound source:
. . . 1/2 mastered LP, turn table, early DAT
or the sound reproduction:
. . . Preamp, amp, custom crossovers, speakers


Danny B.
Last edited by magnaton on Sat Sep 02, 2017 2:03 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What are the Secrets of Superior Sound ?

Postby josq » Fri Sep 01, 2017 4:55 pm

profeluisegarcia wrote:
josq wrote:
Antoni Scott wrote:
A single frequency can be visualized by a plain sine wave. Multiple frequencies sounding at the same time is simply a summation of the corresponding sine waves, resulting in a more complex wave form.


Hello Josq
I always have shared Scott´s puzzle.
But...the summation of partials from a given fundamental frequency give us a visual complex wave of that particular sound color (besides volumen and frequency). But what happen with the speaker cone when playing a given note with several stops are in the on position -mixtures included- ? ¿A super complex wave? Perhaps it should be :?:
Thanks
Luis


Hey Luis, yes, that's my understanding: music consists of super complex waves containing many frequencies that increase and decrease in prominence as the music proceeds.

Computers and audio hardware that are able to generate such supercomplex waves, and speakers that faithfully reproduce them - those are wonderful engineering feats. But the biggest marvel is perhaps that when we as humans sense this "mess" of frequencies, we are able to recognize harmonies and melodies... and then we experience all kinds of emotions, and our spirits are elevated!
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Re: What are the Secrets of Superior Sound ?

Postby josq » Fri Sep 01, 2017 5:06 pm

Anthony: (sorry, I should not have added question 1). Yes, I guess many channels are a big part of the secret. With multiple channels you can achieve a number of things regarding my question 2

* The effects of harmonic and intermodular distortion are reduced, resulting in a clearer sound
* Many speakers can handle more power than a single pair
* When using many speakers, the sounds of the individual voices and notes emanates from many points, which better resembles the pipe organ.

The last point however does not apply when your aim is faithful sound reproduction (my question 4) because you'll destroy the stereo image that was captured during the recording.
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Re: What are the Secrets of Superior Sound ?

Postby Antoni Scott » Fri Sep 01, 2017 9:23 pm

To Magnaton:
At the the expense of being argumentative I have to respectfully disagree with all of your premises. I will agree that Allen, Rodgers, Johannes are all in the business to build organs but in a competitive world one would want to get a "heads-up" on the competition. I can't imagine that any one of them would have a distinct technological advantage over the other and if they did, they would certainly exploit it to their advantage. But so far I haven't "heard" much of a difference between an Allen or a Johannus and neither sound as good as an M & O or my Hauptwerk.
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Re: What are the Secrets of Superior Sound ?

Postby tf11972 » Sat Sep 02, 2017 5:53 am

In my opinion, Johannus and the others too long relied on their limited hardware and the resulting limitations of the sound. Due to non-available alternatives the customers accepted this. As Hauptwerk became more popular, many of them migrated to it, although many of them stayed, because they didn't want to deal with computer problems, just turn on and play.
Nowadays, more and more perfect-fitted Hauptwerk-solutions are growing, but the classical electronic organs are on the level of two generations back. As in comparison to your Audi, the company is still setting on oil-based engines and smiled about Tesla.
Johannus and Audi are having the same big problem now: Setting on traditional technology and losing customers, licensing the latest or developing their own, which costs them years and further customers.
Best regards
Thomas

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Re: What are the Secrets of Superior Sound ?

Postby mwdiers » Sat Sep 02, 2017 9:28 pm

The technology that Hauptwerk is using is not essentially different than the first digital samplers of the 70s. It is the apotheosis of the sampling technique tailored for a specific instrument with physical modeling applied to increase the realism. The early digital samplers lacked the memory capacity and processing power to do then what Hauptwerk does now.

Over the years as technology improved, the sampling method was used by various digital organ companies. The first, to my knowledge, to utilize multiple loop samples for each pipe was the Galanti Praeludium I. Galanit's technology was later licensed by Johannes. Rogers later followed suit, but in an overly complicated way that lacked the realism of their competitors. It always sounded muddy to me compared to the clarity of Galanti's tech. Allen, on the other hand, doggedly continued to use digital synthesis. Not physically modeled synthesis either, but methods little different from those of the synthesizers used in the rock and pop industry: digital oscillators, waveform shapers, and filters. The results, of course, could never compare to a well-executed sampling system. In a laughable move, they even tried to sue Galanti in the 80s over the use of the word "digital." The suit was basically thrown out of court. I'm not sure what they use now, but I'm sure they have moved on to sample-based technology.

As to the question of how a speaker cone can replicate multiple frequencies simultaneously:

This is really a variant of a different question: How is it that a single ear-drum can hear multiple frequencies simultaneously?

The answer, of course, is that the ear drum is hearing an overlay of multiple frequencies, and is vibrating in a a wave form that represent that overlay. If you could capture the movement of the eardrum as a waveform, just as a microphone does, you would be able to recreate that waveform. The speaker cone is doing exactly the same thing, only in reverse. It is driven by an electromagnet to create the same waveform that would have reached your ears from the individual pipes and instruments you would otherwise have heard.

A single pipe, in any case, is far from a single frequency. It has a primary tone, and many harmonics that give it it's distinctive character. The only true "single tone" is a sine wave, which is rather uninteresting on its own.
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Re: What are the Secrets of Superior Sound ?

Postby Antoni Scott » Mon Sep 04, 2017 8:21 am

To mwdiers:
Thankyou to everybody for your responses to my query. I'm not a computer technical person or what goes into creating superior sound but I do know what superior sound is. I used to have a 15 rank pipe organ in my house so listened to the real thing for a decade. Being close to a rank of a Principals or a wooden Bourdon gives you that personal feeling of a sound being created and is a delightful experience when you play. The feeling is not there with an electronic organ. Electronic organs all create "sustained tones" and vary in their realism and how well they do this is how we judge them.

An interesting side story. Back in the 1970's I had recorded myself playing a chromatic scale on the Principal on my pipe organ. This recording was on a cassette. I had this cassette in my pocket when I sat down at a Lowrey organ that had a cassette recorder/player built in. I played the cassette in this poor sounding organ and was impressed at how good the organ sounded. I thought to myself how long would it take for electronic organs to sound like the cassette recording. Even with the limited audio system of this organ it sounded very realistic.

In response to my question about audio systems and speaker cone limitations, I seem to think that realism is much increased when many more speakers are used only because of the massive amount of air that is moved by multiples cones. This also requires that the stops be dedicated to certain groups of speakers. Its very complicated and very exciting.

Another side story: I was involved in a church group that was given a tour of several hybrid Allen digital/pipe organ combinations. It was a enlightening experience since I was able to easily discern some digital stops compared to their pipe counterparts but had difficulty with others. I'm not sure how Allen could successfully approach a realistic digital copy in some cases but not in others. I think I remember the reed stops were easier to discern real from digital.

These side stories are only show how things have evolved. All that being said, I'm content to know that my Hauptwerk is better than all of them, at least in my home environment using AKG 701's and a subwoofer. So whatever Martin Dyde came up with in collaboration with all the sampling engineers out there, its the best so far. No argument there.
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Re: What are the Secrets of Superior Sound ?

Postby RichardW » Mon Sep 04, 2017 5:48 pm

mwdiers, above, has just said what I was going to say about speakers and multiple frequencies. Just think how you hear those frequencies. Your eardrum has to receive the entire set of frequencies then your brain has to decode them. If a single eardrum can detect it then why can't a single speaker emit it?

My second point has already been hinted at as well. When you hear a single note from a single 8' pipe then you are already hearing multiple frequencies. If you were to add a 4' pipe to that, and they were in perfect tune, then all that would happen is that the shape of the signal would change. It would not look like two things happening at once.

As to superior organ sound, there are several tricks. I can remember many years ago when my school teacher and organist said that when people recorded the continuous tone of a pipe then played it back when a key was pressed the resulting instrument did not sound very good. It sounded better if you just recorded the starting transient of the pipe, the initial chiff, and the start of the sound. That is where the character was.

Another issue is that the room's reverberation also plays a part. Reverberation in a large room (e.g. a church) will hardly affect a very short note but will greatly affect the long notes.

So, basically, you need to record all the separate parts of the pipe sound and have a program reconstruct them by fading in and out those parts as required making it all appear seamless. Magically, Martin has managed to do that.

The sample set providers are now experimenting with different recording techniques and multiple channels. So the trend is to improve as time passes.

Regards,
Richard
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