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Palace of Arts Budapest: Mini-Review

Existing and forthcoming Hauptwerk instruments, recommendations, ...

Palace of Arts Budapest: Mini-Review

Postby Stefanussen » Mon Dec 08, 2008 11:07 am

A little while ago, I was asked to be as a beta tester for the upcoming PAB (Palace of Arts Budapest) sample set. I have been very busy since working on demos and putting the organ through its paces. Since a lot of people are asking questions about this organ, I made it a point to get permission to write up my impressions about it so far.

Before I go into too much detail, let me just say that my final verdict on this organ is very positive. When I heard the first demos, I was concerned by the rather dry acoustics. That didn't change when I first loaded it, either. After playing so much of the Metz and Hinsz, I had become used to the huge acoustic. I've spent a lot of time lately working on some of my pieces, and I've been surprised at how quickly my ears have adjusted. The sample set is not a "dry set." All the samples have been recorded in stereo with the hall acoustics intact; however, because of non-cathedral nature of the hall, the acoustics are much more subdued than some wetter sample sets.

Over the last few days, I have come to greatly appreciate the clarity and richness of tone that this sample set delivers. All of this is not to say that it's not nice to have a lush acoustic. Fortunately, with this sample set, you don't necessarily have to compromise the lush acoustic for all the other goodies this sample set has to offer. I'll touch on that a bit later.

The thing I like most about this sample set is the massive tonal palette at the organist's disposal. I recently recorded a piece that called for 8' Strings, 8', 4' Flutes accompanying an 8' Harmonic Flute and an 8' Bourdon. Both the Great and Swell have an 8' Harmonic Flute and an 8' Bourdon. The solo division also has the tonal resources to render a similar combination beautifully. There was no shortage of soft string / celeste combinations for solo accompaniment. That amounts to 3 distinctly different yet still completely accurate ensembles I could have used to interpret this piece. I also recorded Fox's "Nun Danket" which starts relatively light and works up to full organ in the end. Anyone who has seen the score knows that this piece is incredibly demanding in terms of registration. Even on the largest sample sets currently available, multiple significant compromises have to be made in the registration of this piece. In contrast, the PAB had everything this piece called for with some headroom for creative additions. I can't tell you how nice it is to actually have stops like a 10 2/3' in the pedal when a piece calls for it! One mark of a world-class organ is not only to be able to register a wide range of pieces with little to no compromise, but also to be able to do so in slightly different ways. From what I've experienced, that would accurately describe this sample set.

The second item which I believe deserves mention is the many features on this organ, and the level of detail with which these features have been implemented. This organ has two enclosed divisions which accurately replicate the original organ's unusually dynamic swell boxes. A welcome change from the current status-quo is the availability of so many flexible couplers. The solo, swell, and positive have unison sub and super couplers, and there are even more options for sub and super coupling between manuals. The PAB organ also has 2 configurable crescendos, which are surprisingly useful due to its large tonal resources. On some smaller instruments, the crescendo is less useful because the changes in registration are about as subtle as a shovel to the face. With the PAB, the crescendo produces a subtle buildup that one could actually consider using in a performance. The highly professional console, stop jamb, and crescendo pages also deserve mention. The PAB sets the bar a few notches higher for virtual organ graphics. The entire console was modeled in 3D, and the appropriate views were rendered using this model. The end result is an amazing virtual console and stop jamb pages that are a pleasure to use. The indicator lights on stops are also very practical without looking too "digital."

The quality of the samples is top notch. The samples are clear, colorful, and convincing. The organ is also very well balanced. I was particularly impressed with the 32' stops in the pedal. The Soubasse is perfect for the final chord of a soft piece. It is subtle yet crystal clear. The 32' Bombarde sounds just right. I'm also thrilled to have a full compass for a change (time to start learning Lemare's transcription of "Ride of the Valkyries"!)

Price

This sample set screams quality from top to bottom, and that brings me to one of the most important points: price. Currently, sample sets range from about $5 - $25 / stop. From what I've heard, you generally get what you pay for, but that is certainly not always the case. In terms of sound and "look-and-feel", the PAB seems like a very high-end sample set, yet it weighs in at less than $10/stop! Some have suggested that the price of this sample set should be brought down even further. To this I would respectfully disagree. Though we'd all like super cheap sample sets, our colleagues in Hungary have to eat, too. We all have to make a living, and I'd say that the price of the PAB is a steal as it is.

Acoustics

Coming back to where we started, one of the biggest concerns about this organ is the relatively dry acoustics. For me, it's taken a few days to adjust, but I've come to enjoy the out-of-the-box sound of the organ just fine. Having said that, a bigger acoustic is really not that hard to get. I recently tried micdev's tutorial on Sonar & Pristine Space using demo software. The results were very promising! Micdev's tutorial is very well written, and I'd say that anyone that is willing to take the time to go through his step-by-step tutorial would be able to get up and running easily. Also, now that Martin is able to dedicate more time to heads-down programming, I would imagine that the native convolver will be forthcoming sooner rather than later.

If you don't already think that this an absolute must-have sample set, I can't see how the ability to have effective reverb wouldn't make this set a no-brainer for the fence-sitters. I've determined that Sonar and Pristine Space would cost about $350 if you shop around. I'm planning on ordering the software soon. If you went this route, this organ would cost you $1,250 (though the reverb could be applied to any organ). That's still a steal. To get an idea of how effective convolution reverb is on this sample set, listen to Max Reger's Benedictus performed with truncated releases and convolved reverb.

Conclusion

The reason I decided to write this mini-review is because this set has grown on me so much in the time that I've been testing and preparing demos. I was one of the most skeptical earlier (just look at some of the other PAB threads). Now that I've had some hands on time, it's clear to me that this sample set is underrated, and not getting the credit it deserves. That is my only angle in writing these remarks. I am not being paid for my testing or demos.

I think that the folks at Inspired Acoustics will be the first ones to own up to the fact that the sample set's release could have been handled differently, but I think Hauptwerk users would be doing themselves a major disservice by passing on this sample set because of that. I do know that it's important for users to have as much information (demos and otherwise) at their disposal in order to make purchasing decisions. That is the sole aim of this review and any sound bytes that I may be able to produce.

All in all, the PAB is a fantastic sample set. The sounds are top-notch. The console and stop jamb graphics are way ahead of their time. The price is a steal. The semi-dry nature of this sample set makes it suitable for practice, installation in churches/concert halls, and the addition of convolution reverb. For anyone that's sitting on the fence about this organ due to acoustics or lack of demos, (though I'm sure more will be forthcoming), if my experience is any indicator, it would be hard to go wrong with this sample set.
Rob Stefanussen
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Postby micdev » Mon Dec 08, 2008 12:10 pm

Thanks Rob, this is what I think many of us were waiting for.

I own the NDB sample set (Gigastudio) and the quality was (is) great; I'm glad to hear that the same quality is in this sample set.

I think that your mini-review will help sell a lot more copies of this sample set and help us decide whatever to wait or buy now.

So... that's the reason why you bought a 4 keyboards stack! :-)

Many thanks for the review

François
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Postby gingercat » Mon Dec 08, 2008 12:18 pm

Nice review.

I think the problem with the discount scheme is that a lot more people would probably buy it if was already around the $600 mark, but nobody is willing to risk putting their name down for a copy until the price drops - a catch 22 situation.
Regards,
Chris Blaylock
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4 Manual Console, 32 R&C Pedalboard, 3xExpression, Solenoid coupler tabs
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Postby Stefanussen » Mon Dec 08, 2008 12:42 pm

Hi Chris,

I do get what you're saying about the group buy being a catch 22 situation. But the way I look at it, even without the group discount, you get an organ that feels like one of the $20+/stop sample sets for less than $10/stop. I'm not saying that $899 isn't a good chunk of change, but it still feels like a bargain for what you get. Considering the quality of the samples, and the sheer number of features (2 enclosed divisions, 2 programmable crescendos, more couplers than you know what to do with, and the nicest console graphics around), I'm surprised they're not asking $2,300+ for this organ.

I don't mean to belabor the price per stop point. I know there are mixed feelings about that concept, but I do think it helps quantify what a bargain this set is.
Rob Stefanussen
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Postby cedric » Mon Dec 08, 2008 3:02 pm

Rob,

Thanks for this interesting and useful review.
It doesn't change much for me as i was already on the buyers list (number 5 since yesterday :-)
Already owning the NDB set and having listened the available demos, i wasn't really afraid about the quality of this one.
Still, it's good to read such a positive review.
I sincerely hope it will help the sells to take off, as this set obviously deserves.

Thanks
Cedric
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Postby kenzoliver » Mon Dec 08, 2008 6:32 pm

HI,
I waited impatiently for this sample set but in fact I find it a little dry in some demo and splendid in the trio sonata of Bach.
The price is very reasonable compared to some other organ sample I therefore chose to trust ROB and order this organ that will 6 (LOL).
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Postby fantapavela » Fri Dec 12, 2008 5:01 am

Hi all,

the first time I heard about this sample set I was really perplex. I have a dvd of the TV broadcast of the dedication recital and I was not really convinced by the quite sharp voicing of the instrument. It is not my ideal organ since I like CC and Willis.
However I listened to the demos and have to admit that the quality of the sampling is REALLY superb! It do think this is one of the best sampled instrument.
So I would like to express my congratulations to the team that developed it and wish them success.
Questioning about the price seems to me really ridiculous and childish.

Ciao
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Postby Anonymus » Fri Dec 12, 2008 6:51 am

fantapavela wrote:quality of the sampling is REALLY superb! It do think this is one of the best sampled instrument.
Ciao


Folks!,

... this seems to be a forgotten point in posts about PAB and other sample
sets in general. From the sample sets I know and use, noise and/or
digital artifacts are very noticable in most! All of us must start being
much more demanding in this respect - our ears deserve it!

We can't just be happy to have a "x" historic instrument that is perfect
for playing "y" composer. Should really "x" organ be digitalized in the
first place?, or not, due to the original blower noise etc.? (as we know,
the problem seems to be not so much the quality of mic or other
equipment, or if it was done in 24 or 16 bits, but the noise present on
the original organ and space itself (for example, Casavant is a "cheap"
organ done in 16 bit, but it's very very clean in its sound); I'm gessing
position of mics also play a large role to "mask" this problem).

Still talking about the "noise" problem: some wet samples are excelent
(dry ones tend to be good, as expected). But not all (even from the
considered "best" sample set producers). I demonstrated recently some
sample sets to an Allen dealer, and first seem he notice was the "hiss"
noise (not the natural wind in pipes, but due to digital de-noising
process)! And he is NOT a professional music, just a seller who knows
the market (note: he is very insterested in making comercial products
based on Hautwerke, so he was not puting the product down). Of course,
I then played for him my "perfect" sample sets without noise, and he
was totally convinced of Hauptwerke.


From the demos, I'm finding PAB perfect in this respect - but I
gess only testing it "in the flesh" would allow final conclusion (I
was fooled before by demos...). I gess we're talking of the perfect
scenario for digitalizing an organ (a modern organ in a modern
auditorium - and of course, the right human factor!). Congratulations
to Csaba and its team.

Regards.

-A
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Copied from Another Thread -- PAB Demo Performer Chimes In

Postby jcfelice88keys » Fri Dec 12, 2008 3:51 pm

<This thread was copied here by the writer, because it would be more appropriate to add information along with a mini-review of the PAB organ. My apologies go to those folks who are reading this for a second time.>

Hello Fellow Crumhorns,

This is Joseph Felice, the organist who produced the Reger and Bach demos for the PAB instrument. I have remained lurking at the side, during this series of PAB related threads, because I possess only a pre-release version of this instrument. Csaba Huszty is the owner of the sample library, and he has been very forthcoming and articulate about his product in this forum. (Aside: Had Mr. Bill Gates been as openly communicative with his customers about Windows Vista to members of a public forum, there wouldn't be such an uproar about .... ....well, I digress.)


Regarding the registrations and performance practices for these two demos:
I chose the Passacaglia as a demo piece, because the twenty one or so variations offered me a chance to display the vast tonal palette this instrument possesses. Agreed, this is not an authentically registered performance. However, did you notice how easily one combination flowed into another? Guys, we're talking about 30+ combination changes, when you include the fugue! I own other Hauptwerk libraries, and you cannot simply do what was just done in this demo, except for an occasional "Gang Bang Organ" <sorry, I shouldn't poke fun at the GBO!>. Just for the record, I did not have to resort to using the crescendo pedal/wheel -- and "No chamades were abused in the making of this demo."

The Reger Benedictus was chosen, because it allowed me to start from the softest strings, increase to a very healthy full organ sound, and back down again. This library "plays" like a well-behaved real organ.

I would be remiss if I didn't share with you my impression of the wide dynamic range this instrument is capable of producing. The mp3 file has a compressed dynamic range, so it could be converted without going into digital distortion. The softest sounds of the positif and recit. enclosed w/expression manuals can go down to a whisper -- and the bombardes, tuba, chamades and full foundations can each be thunderous, if you so desire.


Mac Computer Setup:
My computer is a year-old Intel-based Quad 2.66GHz MacPro, running the OSX 10.4.11 operating system -- not the newest one. As of this writing, Mac computers are only capable of 32-Bit processing, which means that 4GB is the theoretical RAM limit per application. When I tried to load the entire organ, the Hauptwerk program gave me an error message stating that all of the available 4GB RAM had been consumed (despite my computer being loaded with 13GB) As I understand, PC users with Vista have 64-bit processing, so their theoretical RAM limitation approaches 128GB. <Imagine ... the cost of so much RAM!!!!>

Of the 92 stops available in the PAB organ, I "only" selected 49 for these two demos!! When run with the truncated release tails, set at 250 milliseconds, my chosen stops consumed 3.4GB of the 13GB currently loaded into my MacPro.

Think about what I just wrote: You heard the Passacaglia performed with 49 stops chosen, leaving 45 additional stops untouched! Now, because I was performing Bach, I left out a vast number of mutation stops, as well as many foundation stops, including 16' Quintaton, Violon, Gedeckt, Rohrbourdon; plus a few extra 8' Principals <shame on me!>, Konzertflote; plus Smaller 4' reeds in three of the manuals and pedal.

Come to think of it, I didn't even draw all 49 stops for the Passacaglia, because I did not use the Chamades 16', 8' and 4', and except for a few measures in the second variant on the manuals, when the Unda Maris 8' was momentarily drawn, I used none of the celestes or string stops that were still loaded into the 49 stop total.


On the other hand, these stops are still available if I would choose to load and save a different Organ Definition File, depending whether I wish to perform baroque, romantic, or modern literature.

I do not recall the total number of stops I was able to load with full release tails, and still remain under the 4GB RAM per application limitation of my operating system. There is no "absolute" total number of stops, because 32 pedals load with less memory than 61 notes per rank. Suffice to say, it was much less than 49 stops.


The Ambience You Heard
I happen to own a copy of Altiverb6, a reverb convolver. This is what was allowed to be used, very graciously by Mr. Huszty, in these demos, I might add. Yes, the organ played with truncated release is dry. That is a given. The full release samples sound as would be heard in a concert hall -- not in a cathedral. That is also given.

The beauty of this library, is that one has the choice (assuming some form of hardware/software reverb system is installed) of absolutely dry, full release with no additional reverb, or as wet as one elects to indulge.

My PAB demos utilized the impulse response of a church, with the release tails shortened to approximately 75% of the 5.79 second original impulse. I could have gone much wetter, but I wished to present the PAB sample library, rather than a demonstration of the reverb.

Enough of my rambling; hopefully this narrative will have answered some of your questions about the performance, the playability of the library, and the computer requirements. I would love to answer more/all of your questions, but, until the PAB library is officially released, I shall defer to Mr. Huszty.

Thank you for reading this far.

Cheers,

Joe <jcfelice88keys>
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