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An American in Germany

Share photos of your Hauptwerk consoles, installations, audio systems, ...

An American in Germany

Postby blueband95 » Sun Feb 15, 2015 9:59 am

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Ahlborn Positiv 3 Console (III/51)
HW Advanced Edition/Mac Mini
Saffire 24/6+ Channels Audio

Background
I first fell in love with the organ when I was 10. While I eventually went on to become a full-time professional musician for many years, I never owned a practice instrument, because we moved too much for it to be practical. I now live in Germany, and had a chance to attend a seminar in Leipzig with the Gesellschaft der Orgelfreunde in April 2014. After playing such amazing organs, I knew I couldn't wait any longer, and returned home knowing it was time to look for an instrument.

As providence would have it, I soon found a terrific instrument, located less than 10km from our house(!). A local University professor had passed away in 2012, and his family was looking for a home for his custom-built Ahlborn 3-manual digital organ, delivered in 2008.

While the instrument was essentially a standard Praeludium V model under the hood, the Professor had demonstrated exceptionally good taste with some significant upgrades. The positiv-style console featured lighted drawknobs, a decent internal 3-way sound system, and most importantly, very nice real wooden Fatar keyboards. It also included some extras like an Allen sound module and Lexicon reverb unit. From photos I knew that the owner had primarily used the instrument to drive a HW setup, but that was gone. An opportunistic dealer had swept in earlier; while he had no interest in the console, he bought the HW PC, components and software from the family for well below what they were worth. Sigh...I can't complain, though, because the Professor's family settled on a fair price for the organ, and they included his excellent library of printed organ music as well.

Installation & Setup
Following carefully documented disassembly and reassembly, I set up the instrument in my tower room office/studio. Pictures tell the story; it fits like a glove.

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The overall project has progressed in several phases:

Phase 1: Setup Ahlborn System

The console was generally in good shape, but after a couple of years without use, it naturally needed some work. I replaced some electronic componants, as well as several rubber bubble contact strips on the Fatar keyboards. After this, I spent a couple of months just enjoying the Ahlborn instrument on its own merits. No, it's not HW, but it still sounds pretty good, and I wanted to take some time without distractions to thoroughly understood the system, document its system routing, etc.

Phase 2: Added external componants and connected instrument to existing external audio system

As a composer, for my Finale composition setup, I already had a small audio system in my studio with Bose bookshelf speakers and a small subwoofer.

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The next step was to connect the Alhborn to this, along with the Allen box and Lexicon reverb. This allowed me to play with the audio routing somewhat, and figure out what crossover and reverb settings work best for the room. I found a small kitchen cart (with the same bamboo finish as the instrument) which fits perfectly and serves as a rack for the audio components.

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I couldn't resist replacing the drawer knobs with a couple of mini drawstops. :)

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Phase 3: Added Hauptwerk system/connected to Ahlborn console

Now things got interesting. I purchased a mac mini (w/ extra RAM) to run HW advanced edition, using a touchscreen (which also required 3rd party software). Audio and MIDI is handled by a Focusrite Saffire Pro 24 digital interface with multiple outputs. I also installed my first couple of sample sets. This phase was all about making sure I understood HW's MIDI implementation, and experimenting with multichannel audio routing for the best sound.

Phase 4: Added secondary external audio system, Reaper, and additional sample sets

While the sound was already pretty good, I felt like the tower room presented an opportunity for some exciting effects. So, when budget allowed, I added two JBL powered monitors to the tower, strapping them down to the rafter (using rubberized buffers for sound insulation).

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At the same time, I added a KRK powered sub to provide more gravitas to the bass.

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For aesthetics, I draped the tower monitors with light fabric, and topped that with a woodcarving purchased at a flea market for a bit of a gothic look.

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These new speakers have significantly improved the experience! I generally route my Great/Hauptwerk divisions to the Ahlborn console's internal three-way stereo monitors. I route Swell/Oberwerk/Solo ranks to my tower speakers, with some Choir/Positiv ranks and surround channels going to Bose bookshelf speakers on the opposite wall. The lower ranks of the pedal divisions go to the subwoofers, of course. Specific rank routing all depends on works/sounds best for each individual sample set in the room.

Playability
At this stage, the system works wonderfully. The Fatar wooden tracker-touch keyboards are a joy; most instruments I grew up with had plastic keys, but wow, what a difference wood makes to the feel of the instrument.

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The Ergonomics of the positiv-style console make the instrument very comfortable to play. The expression and crescendo pedals work smoothly.

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The lighted drawknobs are paired with reasonable equivalents in my sample sets; HW drives them and they drive HW.

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All of this combines to provide the experience of playing a traditional organ console with benefits of HW sound. That being said, the touchscreen fills in the gaps for controlling virtual instruments.

Sample Sets
I use a variey of sample sets reflecting organbuilding schools that interest me and that are suited to the repertoire I play. I'm very pleased with most of them. I'll post that list seperately--suffice to say that at this point I'm convinced that illegal drugs would be a cheaper habit...

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Sound Performance
As stated previously, routing different divisions to different sound systems creates a really cool playing/listening experience. My office/studio isn't a big room, but the tower helps the resonance a lot. The German hard wall/floor/ceiling construction provides some bounce, albeit tempered by all the junk in the room (the art materials are for my calligraphy/illumination studio).

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Depending on the wetness of the sample set I'm using, I use either Reaper or my hardware Lexicon reverb unit to adjust the ambience for the room. Metz, Georgenkirche, Dortmund, Trost and Mt Carmel wet all sound great without any help. Naturally, Some others require a little reverb to sound right.

Residual Issues
Like other digital organs, there is no way for the pistons on the Ahlborn to send MIDI controls without also setting its own stops, meaning that I can't use them with HW. There is likely no solution to that issue, as there's no workaround via HW, and I can't see Generalmusic reprogramming their Ahlborn Drake boards to accomdate HW any time soon. It's all right, though, because the Touchscreen is within reach and works just fine. There is also something weird about the MIDI implentation for some of the toe studs; I can't get them to work in HW without doing strange things.

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Future Improvements/Dream Sheet

I'm really please with my sample sets at the moment, but who knows what wonderful instruments will be available in the future. I'd also like to create a real pipe façade at some point, if not a working MIDI-controlled pipe chest. I understand that hybrid instruments don't play well with HW, but I'd still like to mess around with real windworks at some point, just for the learning expetience.

If I had it do to over again, or if I ever roll into unlimited funds:
I'd keep the positiv style console, or switch to a Skinner type. While I respect and appreciate the simplicity of the minimalist HW setups, I personally prefer the feeling of playing an instrument with the look and feel of those I grew up with. I'd also much prefer moving electro-magnetic drawknobs; I've always loved the tactile, kinetic experience of magnetic stop action. As a dream request, it would be extra nice if each drawknob had its own electronic LCD stop label display, with stop names sent by HW matching its paired sample set stop.

A fourth manual would be nice, of course, and I'd definately invest the extra money to have wood keys again, although if possible I'd take it to the next level with UHT keyboards--their touch and quality is amazing. I'd also reverse the sharps because I've always liked that look. I miss my American-style divisional pistons, but Continental organs don't often have them. If I were ordering custom, I would include them. On the other hand, I've come to prefer the German-style roller crescendo. Finally, I'd add an adjustable bench.

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your questions and/or feedback!

ImageTower Office/Studio as seen from outside
Last edited by blueband95 on Mon Aug 03, 2015 7:18 am, edited 5 times in total.
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Re: An American in Germany

Postby blueband95 » Sun Feb 15, 2015 10:12 am

Sample Sets used with above setup:

French Baroque
- St. Michel en Thierache, Aisne, Piccardy, Jean Boizard, IV/31, 1714

French Romantic
- Notre Dame de Metz, Metz, Lorraine, Cavaille-Coll, III/38(48), 1903
- Cathedrale Saint-Sauveur, Aix-en-Provence, Ducroquet/Cavaille-Coll, III/40(47), 1854/1880

German Baroque
- Georgenkirche, Rötha, Sachsen, Gottfried Silbermann, II/23, 1721
- Stadtkirche, Waltershausen, Thüringen, Tobias H.G. Trost, , III/53, 1730

German Romantic
- Evangelische Kirche, Dortmund-Dorstfeld, Wilhelm Sauer, III/40, 1904

American Classic
- Mt. Carmel Church, Chicago, Illinois, E. M. Skinner, III/52, 1928 (Wet Version)
- 1st Baptist Church, Riverside, California, Schantz Organ Co., III/48, 1966
Versions: Original, Les Deutsch Voicing, Mark K. Williams Voicing

English Cathedral
- Hereford Cathedral, Hereford, Herefordshire, Willis/Harrison, IV/67, 1892/1936/1979

English Chapel
- St. Anne Parish, Moseley, West Midlands, Brindley & Foster, II/30, 1907
- Little Waldingfield, Suffolk, Joseph Hart, II/18, 1809
- St Bartholomew, Groton Parish, Suffolk, Father Willis, II/8, 1888
- English Composite, III/48
Versions: Les Deutsch Voicing, Mark K. Williams Voicing

Theatre
- Paramount (Composite), III/10 (Unit)

Miscellaneous Instruments
- Cembalo, Charlottenburg, Michael Mietke, II/4’-8’, 1713
- Steam Calliope, USA, 32 Notes, 1960
Last edited by blueband95 on Fri Jul 31, 2015 9:55 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: An American in Germany

Postby engrssc » Sun Feb 15, 2015 11:18 am

Thanks for sharing a very positive (detailed) experience. 8)

Rgds,
Ed
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Re: An American in Germany

Postby pat17 » Mon Feb 16, 2015 5:23 am

Waoow... What a magnificent journey! 8)

Thanks Blueband for sharing it with us. The result is simply gorgeous, and I'm already jealous by the acoustic you may enjoy thanks to your tower... :wink:
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Re: An American in Germany

Postby engrssc » Mon Feb 16, 2015 5:41 am

BTW, Matthew, should you wish to expand your Mac Mini, you can do it with a second M/M. Nice to have additional RAM available for larger sample sets. I'm just beginning to explore the possibilities. 8)

Rgds,
Ed
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Re: An American in Germany

Postby mdyde » Mon Feb 16, 2015 6:03 am

Hello Matthew,

Congratulations on the very impressive installation.

engrssc wrote:BTW, Matthew, should you wish to expand your Mac Mini, you can do it with a second M/M.


Just a work of caution: note that Ed's suggestion of using a second computer would also necessitate getting another Hauptwerk licence, an additional audio/MIDI interface, additional speakers (or an audio mixer), and potentially additional licences for sample sets. Running two computers together is also fiddly to set up and maintain. Hence it's usually much cheaper and simpler to use a single, more powerful, computer.
Best regards,
Martin.

[Please use email or the Contact page if you need to contact us privately, rather than private forum messages.]

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Re: An American in Germany

Postby engrssc » Mon Feb 16, 2015 2:26 pm

mdyde wrote:Just a work of caution: note that Ed's suggestion of using a second computer would also necessitate getting another Hauptwerk license, an additional audio/MIDI interface, additional speakers (or an audio mixer), and potentially additional licenses for sample sets. Running two computers together is also fiddly to set up and maintain. Hence it's usually much cheaper and simpler to use a single, more powerful, computer.


Martin's note is of course things to be considered. In my case, space, or lack of inside the console was a factor in using 2 Mini's. Plus, I had all the parts needed including a mixer. This AM I loaded a complete organ sample on one Mini and another virtual instrument (harpsichord) on the other. Really beautiful together.

Rgds,
Ed
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Re: An American in Germany

Postby blueband95 » Mon Feb 16, 2015 5:22 pm

Just wanted to clarify that I've had zero issues from the Mac Mini I'm using with this setup. I did bump up the RAM when I bought the Mini, in anticipation of memory issues--but consequently, it handles HW, my largest sample sets, and Reaper with no issues. That's not to say I won't have problems down the road, but no issues so far.
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Re: An American in Germany

Postby engrssc » Mon Feb 16, 2015 7:35 pm

Not thinking of issues in terms of problems (Mac Mini's have a good reputation of being very stable), but more in terms of the maximum RAM limitation. Apple says a M/M can deal with 32 GB of RAM, but there are no memory sticks available where this could be done (to accommodate larger sample sets). As a result, 16 GB is all that can be installed. Plus you have to allow for the amount of RAM used by the OSX as well. Martin has done a real great job of minimizing the amount of RAM required by Hauptwerk as well.

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Ed
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Re: An American in Germany

Postby Romanos » Wed Feb 18, 2015 2:27 pm

I have to say I love your setup. While I'm lucky to have a real console too, I've always adored these positif style consoles because they seem to me so much more like sitting at a real instrument. If I ever hit the lotto I'll order a similarly-styled console. (And I'm happy for your nice wooden manuals! I agree they are so much better than plastic!) Very cool. It's funny to me how there are always good instruments hidden right in your own backyard... just today I saw a very nice Allen theatre organ on craigslist that has full midi, all the bells and whistles, including an array of external speakers about 8 miles from my home. I thought I knew all the organists around here too! Go figure!
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Re: An American in Germany

Postby Romanos » Wed Feb 18, 2015 2:28 pm

(I imagine you could get a really phenomenal result with a whole array of studio monitors perched up on that beam!)
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Re: An American in Germany

Postby Romanos » Wed Feb 18, 2015 4:50 pm

I know it's not ideal, but have you tried using the built in combination action of the organ to control hw? I know your pistons and toe studs don't trigger HW directly. I am in the exact same position (johannus). However, I am able to link physical stops to virtual ones (like you have I believe) and then simply use the console's memory system to control the real stops which in turn activate HW. It's a bit more limited than HW's native controls, but it does work well enough.
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Re: An American in Germany

Postby blueband95 » Wed Feb 18, 2015 5:41 pm

I have tried that for a bit, and while I'm still open to further experimentation, I have regularly encountered a number of issues; a lot of my sample sets have features or additional stops beyond my Ahlborn's specification, and this limits the console's utility in using the pistons to set its own stops and thereby HW, because I'd be generally be missing the ability to set some stops in HW. There is a noticable delay as well, and the changes from the console pistons aren't always reliably or accurately made in HW. Finally, I would need to keep track of multple combination settings memories on the console related to the samples I'm using, which is certainly possible but a bit of hassle.

I just find it easier to zero out the console pistons and just use the touchscreen to control HW's combinations. I have to admit, though, that this bugs me somewhat, because my console has some nice features that i can't currently use with HW, like plenum toe studs and a stepper function with both pistons and toe studs, etc. I'm not giving up, though; our amazing HW development team has already done a lot to find solutions for proprietary control schemes, and I am optimistic they will find a solution for me at some point.

On the bright side, my couplers always work flawlessly, whether they be the drawknobs, pistons, or toe studs.
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