The Elderly Novice Virtual Organist

What is a Virtual Organ?

This page is a beginner's guide to the virtual organ. It explains what a virtual organ is, why it is the next best thing to a real pipe organ, how to buy one, and the system that I assembled. It is aimed at people who want a classical or theatre organ for use in the home. It does not cover the issues with using such an instrument in a public building.

My experience is confined to the use of Hauptwerk virtual organ software on Windows. I therefore do not offer comments on the use of Hauptwerk on MacOS, nor on other virtual organ software such as GrandOrgue. And I am no Hauptwerk guru, having used only a small proportion of its function. Nonetheless, I believe that the points I make here should be read by all prospective purchasers of a virtual organ, to avoid making expensive mistakes.

1 Why a Virtual Organ?

If you want an instrument that serves as a pipe organ, you have three choices:

1.1 Real Pipe Organs

These are typically very large and very expensive; only a very simple instrument with just a few small ranks could be accommodated in a normal room. And then, apart having very limited capabilities, it might not sound very pleasant, as a pipe organ requires a favorable acoustic environment with plenty of space for its sound to blossom.

Although pipe organs normally have a very long lifespan, they require a significant amount of maintenance, including regular tuning. This is another reason why pipe organs are not usually found in the home, and are often being replaced by digital organs in buildings such as churches.

However, pipe organs are the real thing; anything else is a (relatively) cheap imitation.

1.2 Electronic (Digital) Organs

These have been around since the 1930s. Early electronic organs were analog and used vacuum tubes; they were often referred to as "toasters" on account of the heat they produced. Transistors were introduced in the late 1950s, and digital organs date from the 1970s.

Most, such as the majority of Hammond organs, are suitable only for popular music. However, others are aimed at replacing a traditional pipe organ in buildings such as churches. Digital organs are becoming increasingly common in this role, due to their considerably lesser cost and size, while producing adequate sound for accompanying congregational singing. Digital organs are also often used to emulate a pipe organ in the home.

They are normally sold as complete self-contained systems, including console and audio components. This eases purchase and maintenance, thus making them attractive to institutions such as churches. When installed in buildings, they may be voiced in location just as would be the case with a pipe organ, and use custom-designed audio systems. In most cases, the sounds are synthesized from recorded pipe samples, but they may also be modeled by additive synthesis.

The quality of sound produced by an electronic organ is determined firstly by the generation (synthesis) of sounds, and secondly by their reproduction (via amplifiers, and especially, speakers). The second area also involves issues with the interaction of the speakers with their acoustic environment, and loudpspeaker placement is vitally important. But although the sound from even the best high-fidelity loudspeakers does not match that from natural sound sources (and indeed there are considerable differences between them), the bigger problem appears to be in sound generation.

Although one might expect that with developments in digital signal processing, a highly realistic and natural sound could be achieved, this is clearly not the case. Unlike with the piano, the changes and irregularities that make pipe organs sound natural are subtle; nonetheless (and perhaps even because of this), they seem to be difficult to model. If the organ is used in a dead acoustic (such as in the home), reverberation must also be synthesized, and this is also likely to lack realism.

It is my view (clearly shared by many others) that the sounds from an electronic organ vary from (at best) bland, to (at worst) ghastly. The good news, if the organ has MIDI output, is that it may be possible to ditch the built-in sounds and convert it to a virtual organ...

1.3 Virtual (Pipe) Organs

The virtual (pipe) organ (sometimes referred to as a VPO) is a much more recent development than the electronic organ. Complete virtual organ software was first available only in 2002, and its capabilities were initially limited by the memory and processing power of computers available at that time. High-quality modeling of a large organ became possible only with the advent of 64-bit computing.

Instead of synthesizing sounds, virtual organs use recordings of individual pipes from a real pipe organ. These are combined in real time in response to messages from MIDI devices and controls on the computer user interface. This can provide extremely realistic modeling of a real instrument.

Moreover, while a digital organ has only one fixed set of sounds, a virtual organ offers a choice of hundreds of instruments of many different types. As well as classical organs, these include theatre organs, and other instruments such as harpsichords. A virtual organ may have many of these installed, and a different instrument can be loaded at any time.

For the best possible realism, several high-quality recordings are made of each note for each stop (so, except for multi-rank stops, each individual pipe). Each recording is known as a sample, and the set of samples required to model an organ is known as a sample set. Even a moderate-sized organ requires many thousands of samples, and to avoid data accessing delays, all must be loaded into memory before the organ is used. This may require a very large amount of RAM. Processing requirements are also likely to be high, due to the large number of samples that must be handled simultaneously.

MIDI devices include keyboards (manuals and pedalboard), pistons (thumb and toe), and expression pedals. While stop controls are typically operated from a touchscreen, some virtual organs feature MIDI drawknobs and/or tabs.

Like the real pipe organ, the virtual organ comes in many forms. It is possible to assemble a virtual organ from components (which are often used or self-built) at relatively low cost. Some systems have the look and feel of a real pipe organ console, while others with multiple screens expose the computer function. As well as self-assembled systems, complete turnkey and computer-ready products are available that can make purchase and assembly as easy as with a digital organ.

2 More on Virtual Organs

2.1 Virtual versus Digital

While a digital organ is limited to one fixed set of sounds of questionable quality, a virtual organ can accurately model a large number of real instruments. For this reason, I believe that a virtual organ is generally a better choice than a digital one.

However, a digital organ is easier to buy and use, as:

But this ease of purchase and use also comes with disadvantages.

A single package is easy to choose and buy, and having maintenance under one roof makes it attractive to institutions. However, there are far fewer options available to the purchaser, and little or no ability to upgrade the system to meet future requirements. It is possible for an individual to put together a component-based virtual organ with a much more favorable price/quality ratio than that of a package.

Moreover, turnkey virtual organs have now been available for several years. There are also virtual organs on the market that include the furniture and MIDI devices, requiring only the addition of a computer system. It is also possible to convert a digital organ to a virtual one this way.

Having dedicated hardware and firmware makes a digital organ easy to use. In contrast, virtual organ software is far from straightforward, and requires a significant learning curve. To a large degree this is because it is general-purpose, being designed to work with a wide variety of different systems. And using a general-purpose Windows-based computer can be problematic, especially turning the system on and off.

But the other side of this is much greater function. Virtual organ software, while complex, provides a rich array of features. The computer can also be used for auxiliary applications; for example, displaying music, playing audio and video recordings of one's favorite interpretations, and a metronome.

And computer hardware made with ubiquitous components is easier for the end user to maintain. With a digital organ, servicing would almost certainly have to be done in conjunction with the manufacturer, and require special parts (thus institutions are likely to have a maintenance contract).

2.2 Sampling

Each note of each stop is normally recorded individually (so, for single-rank stops, each pipe), and there should be several recordings (samples) of each. This is to accurately model the three phases of each note played:

Attack
The initial transient (essentially the chiff produced when the pipe starts to speak).
Sustain
The sustained section (although uniform in principle, in practice it contains irregularities that impart naturalness).
Release
The end of the note (essentially reverberation, which may last several seconds).

The use of individual recordings of a real instrument eliminates the issues with artificiality that affect electronic organs. However, each recording of the sustained section is only a sample of a few seconds; if the note is longer than this (as many notes on the organ are), the sample must be repeated for as long as necessary. This can result in repetition apparent to the listener. Another issue is that the effect of the reverberation depends on how long the note has been sustained.

To avoid the first artefact, sample sets should feature multiple recordings of the sustained sound of each pipe. These are known as loop samples, of which good sample sets may contain several (often up to 12, sometimes even more). With longer notes, different loop samples of the pipe are used in a random sequence, thus removing any apparent repetition. This is particularly important for long sustained notes, which are most common in the pedals.

To provide more accurate reverberation, good sample sets also include multiple release samples. There are typically three release samples for short, long, and medium-length notes (sometimes more). The Hauptwerk User Guide indicates that these have a greater effect on the sound than multiple loop samples, and having multiple releases is particularly important for clarity when playing short notes.

A few sample sets offer multiple attack samples (which also contain some sustained sound). There will probably not be enough to accurately model a tracker response in conjunction with a velocity-sensitive keyboard. However, there may be other benefits to realism. In general though, multiple attack samples are less important than multiple releases and multiple loops.

Samples may be wet (recorded at some distance from the pipes to include the acoustic of the building), dry (recorded near the pipes, often inside the organ case), or semi-dry (or moist, or semi-wet). Most sample sets are wet, as the pipe organ can sound quite unpleasant without natural reverberation. However, dry sample sets are also available for use where there is already a lively acoustic, or with separate reverb (which is available in Hauptwerk).

Many sample sets offer surround sound. This may comprise samples taken from the front and rear parts of the building, which may be used with four speakers to give quadraphonic sound. Newer sample sets commonly feature three stereo pairs (six channels), or even more, recorded at different (close, middle, and far) positions; if all are loaded into memory, they can be mixed down to stereo as required.

In addition to recordings of the pipes, many sample sets include wind and action noises, to further enhance the realism. However, many interested only in making music may consider these to be extraneous. If there is no built-in option to disable these sounds, this can be done by simply excluding the relevant samples when the organ is loaded.

Recording quality should be at least CD (44.1 kHz with 16-bit samples), but is usually to a higher resolution. A number of blind A-B comparisons of CD with SACD have shown a complete inability to distinguish the two, despite what many believe (the ear is easily led). However, this is as an end result; sample processing should work with a higher level of precision. Therefore samples with 20 or 24 bits recorded at 48 kHz or even 96 kHz may well give audibly better results. This is particularly the case if further processing will be carried out.

But in any case, other factors such as the microphones used, their placement, and any processing done on the samples are likely to have a much greater effect on sound quality than these technical parameters.

In many sample sets, not all samples are recorded; some are synthesized from the recorded ones. Where the real organ has a limited keyboard compass, it may be extended to that of a typical keyboard in this way. Many sample sets have one or more useful stops extra to the original organ that were synthesized from recorded stops. These enhancements can hardly be viewed as detrimental. But in good sample sets, stops should be recorded chromatically; some compromise by not recording all notes of the scale.

Not all sample sets include recorded tremulant samples; these are often generated artificially. But as these tremulants are specific to that organ, they should give more accurate results than the general tremulant function in Hauptwerk.

While most sample sets feature only a single instrument, some are composite, meaning that they include samples taken from more than one instrument. Many of these are cheap or free, but require recorded samples from other producers (often free demos). This involves some compromise, partly as the samples will be from different acoustic environments. Nonetheless, this re-use of quality samples of known origin may be a good way to get a decent large instrument at low cost.

However, some producers offer composites that contain their own samples of unspecified origin, often at prices only somewhat lower than those of equivalent real single instruments. In the absence of clear information to the contrary, one should assume that such samples are synthesized rather than recorded, and therefore likely to deliver quality more like that of a digital organ than a virtual one.

2.3 System Software

The predominant software is Hauptwerk, for which several hundred sample sets are available, from positives to large cathedral and concert organs, plus theatre organs, harpsichords, and others. Hauptwerk 1 was introduced in 2002, and Hauptwerk is now a mature product that offers a multitude of options, and will work with a wide range of hardware and software.

There is also a shareware application GrandOrgue, which uses the same data file formats as Hauptwerk 1, but the vast majority of Hauptwerk sample sets are available for later versions of Hauptwerk only. However, a number of Hauptwerk sample sets are also available for GrandOrgue. Other applications include Great Organ by DigitalVPO, Sweelinq, EplayOrgan, jOrgan, Aeolus, and Miditzer, but these are more limited in scope and support.

Hauptwerk comes in two versions: Lite and Advanced, both of which are available on monthly or yearly subscription. Serious users will probably need the Advanced version, for which a perpetual license is also available (at the time of writing). I frankly do not understand why anyone would choose a subscription, when 30 months on this basis would buy a perpetual llcense, and updates now feature only superficial enhancements. Those who want Hautpwerkt are likely to require it over the long term (not just intermittenty); so do the math!.

Sample sets often provide function that is not available in the real pipe organ. Hauptwerk, in turn, provides function not present in either the pipe organ or the sample sets. These include numerous playing aids, a comprehensive set of couplers, floating divisions, tremulants, real-time reverberation, adjustment of pitch and temperament, per-pipe voicing, and a MIDI recorder.

Although a small positive may require only a few hundred MB, a full load of a large organ with multiple channels can easily require more than 64 GB. CPU demands can also be high, depending on the level of polyphony, and the more processor cores the better.

2.3.1 A Brief History of Hauptwerk

Hauptwerk was originated by Martin Dyde in 2001. Apart from leading to the current Hauptwerk, his work is also the basis of GrandOrgue. This was originally called myOrgan, and introduced in 2006. It was generally considered to be a rip-off of Hauptwerk 1, with the same Organ Definition File format and screens (although apparently different source code). It was released under the Creative Commons license as GrandOrgue in 2009.

From 2006, Martin Dyde traded Hauptwerk through a company named Crumhorn Labs. In September 2008, he sold his company to Milan Digital Audio; from now on, the business and administrative side would be handled by Brett Milan. The St Annes church where the included sample set was recorded is in Moseley, Birmingham, UK, in the area where Martin Dyde was living when he originated Hauptwerk.

HW1 was released in August 2002 with the original version of the St Annes organ sample set. It was for Windows only. Stops were operated by MIDI Note messages. One limitation was that the swell simulation changed only the volume, not the sound quality.

HW2 was released in May 2006. It came in three editions: Evaluation, Studio, and Concert. It introduced piracy protection via a HASP USB dongle. The Organ Definition File format was redesigned; apart from supporting much greater function, this meant that sample sets developed for Hauptwerk would not work on GrandOrgue (then myOrgan). The swell simulation now supported changes in tonal quality as specified in the sample set. Other enhancements were more flexible MIDI configuration, and phase alignment of release samples. It was also available as a VSTi plugin. A port to the Mac was added later.

HW3 was released in November 2007. It came in three editions: Free, Basic, and Advanced (the free edition featured a bell that rang every few seconds). It now supported MacOS as well as Windows. It also added support for multiple screens, and per-pipe voicing (both available only with the Advanced edition).

HW4 was released in April 2011. It also came in Free, Basic, and Advanced editions. This was a big release, which featured a newly-recorded St Annes sample set that took advantage of increasing memory capacity, as well as new Hauptwerk function. Among the other numerous improvements were: a redesigned interface optimized for touchscreens, redesigned settings windows, a MIDI recorder / player, MIDI learn (autodetect), real-time performance and activity meters, real-time reverb, VST/AU links to replace the previous VSTi, user-defined combinations and crescendos, floating divisions, master couplers, and pitch adjustment independent of temperament. It also introduced the Custom Organ Design Module.

HW5 was released in December 2019. This also introduced many new features, although perhaps fewer than HW4. It removed the Free edition, and introduced subscription pricing for both editions (Lite and Advanced) as an alternative to a perpetual license. Piracy protection was now by iLok License Manager. A 64-bit platform was now required. Enhancements in both editions included: operation of controls via MIDI and mouse, modeling of tracker action and velocity sensitivity, support for multi-layered samples, and support for ASIO (Windows) and Core Audio (Mac) audio drivers. Enhancements available only with the Advanced edition included: real-time impulse response reverb, audio routing, multi-channel audio, surround sound, audio mixing, more per-rank voicing adjustment, and air-flow turbulence modeling.

HW6 was released in November 2020. Now the Lite edition was available only on subscription. As can be seen, this follows hard on the heels of HW5, but offers few significant improvements. About the only new function is a higher-definition audio option, and this would only be useful for those who want to raise the organ pitch significantly (the more common requirement of lowering pitch should not lose resolution).

HW7 was released in January 2022 with even less, but including a revision of the higher-definition audio.

HW8 was released in August 2023 with a similar level of new function. Version 6 was now considered obsolete and no longer supported.

So, since the introduction of subscription pricing in HW5, there has clearly been a policy of much more frequent major versions, even though they have little new to offer (the release information struggles to disguise this fact). This is no doubt to both promote the purchase of subscription licenses, and increase sales of updates to those who insist on having a perpetual license.

But as Hauptwerk is now a mature product, future versions are likely to continue to include only superficial changes. This is not only because important core function not yet included is little or none, but also because changes in this area would impact product stability. So new features are likely to be at best "nice to have" (and then perhaps only for a minority of users), not "must have", or even "should have". My obsolete HW6 leaves nothing that I desire that is likely to be remedied by an update.

Although many people always want to be up-to-date with the latest version, I am personally averse to making changes without some compelling reason. The maxim if it ain't broke, don't fix it applies; especially as the process of "fixing" it could break it, due to incompatibilities or other problems with the update.

2.4 Sample Sets

For information on the technical criteria to consider when choosing a sample set, see Sampling.

Another area to consider is the user interface, and in particular what screens are available. All sample sets have a main console display with stop controls and keyboards. Other types of screen may include:

Stop and jamb screens may include photo-realistic left and right jamb displays, which may be in both landscape and portait formats. Many of the more recent sample sets also have a simplified stop layout screen, which may be easier to use than photo-realistic displays.

One should also check that the sample set is compatible with the version of Hauptwerk to be used. Many will work with Hauptwerk 4.2 and upwards (but often not 4.0); however, a number of sample sets require later versions. This, together with RAM and other requirements, should be checked on the producer's website.

Apart from normal paid products, some sample sets are completely free, while others require a donation to be made (in any case, donations are always welcome!).

2.4.1 List of Sample Set Producers

The main producers offer a large and varied selection, some offer only a single instrument, while others concentrate on a specific type of instrument. So the list is broken down as follows:

Major Producers
Offer a significant number of original sample sets featuring a variety of instruments.
Specialized Producers
Feature one type or style/nationality of instrument (for example, theatre organs).
Minor Original Producers
Offer one or two originally-recorded sample sets.
Composites Only
Offer only composites made from samples of other producers, or of unspecified origin.
Not for Hauptwerk
For GrandOrgue only, or other proprietary software (often using synthesized samples).
Major Producers
Augustine's Virtual Organs About seventy original organ sample sets, mainly from Hungary. Inexpensive, with some free (including a 51-stop Aeolian-Skinner). Also about a dozen composites, requiring either third-party or own (recorded) samples.
Hauptwerk NL About two dozen organs and a harpsichord, mainly Dutch, but also an Indonesian bamboo organ.
Inspired Acoustics Fifteen instruments of a variety of styles, including some very large symphonic organs.
Milan Digital Audio Ten organs of different styles, including Baroque, Romantic, and Theatre.
OrganArtMedia Around two dozen organs, including many historical instruments, from several European countries.
Piotr Grabowski About thirty varied European organs. All the earlier sample sets are free, and also for GrandOrgue. Friesach is perhaps the best completely-free sample set available.
Pipeloops Around twenty mainly German organs, with some French, and a steam calliope. Also completely-free sample sets.
Sonus Paradisi Around seventy varied organs, mostly European, but with some American. There are also harpsichords and other instruments. Most sample sets are also available in reduced versions as free demos.
Virtual Pipes Xport A number of old, but free or cheap sample sets, also available for GrandOrgue.
Voxus Virtual Organs Several historical organs, mainly Dutch, but also of other nationalities.
Specialized Producers
Andrea Bonzi Currently eight Italian instruments, with eight more in the pipeline, including harpsichords and a spinet, some free.
Binauralpipes Currently eight German organs recorded binaurally, including two not yet released.
CLR Resources Several American organs, now with Evensong.
Evensong About a dozen American organs, including those formerly available from CLR Resources.
Forestpipes Virtual Organs Seven German organs.
Jeux d'orgues Several free French historical organs for a variety of software as well as Hauptwerk and GrandOrgue.
Lavender Audio Seven English Romantic organs, including one composite.
Maltese Historic Pipe Organs Several Maltese historical organs.
Melotone Sound Productions Twenty Theatre organs (including some from other producers), plus three church organs.
Organ Expressions Five American organs, including at least one composite.
Prospectum Currently nine historical German organs, including three in preparation, and two free.
Silver Octopus Over two dozen English Romantic organs, but many composites with samples of unspecified origin.
Somiere Maestro Three organs from Italy.
Soni Musicae A few old but free harpsichords and other instruments (no organs).
Virtual Pipes Three Dutch organs.
Wustrow Organs Three German organs.
Minor Original Producers
aH Virtual Pipe Organs St. Stefanuskerk, Moerdijk (28-stop Marcussen neo-baroque).
Akkerorgels Reformed Church, De Pollen (8-stop Dutch positive by Bätz, 1766).
Appleton Audio Two English church organs in Australia (Neutral Bay, Penrith).
Audio Angelorum Peterborough Cathedral (85-stop English Romantic by William Hill), in 3 volumes.
Beauty In Sound Romsey Abbey (37-stop English Romantic by J W Walker, extended to 49 stops).
Christian Datzco German Portative by Dieter Ott, 2003 (5-stop). The first third-party sample set available for Hauptwerk.
Coral Pipes Bethesda Episcopal church (55-stop American Classic by Di Gennaro-Hart, 2007). Another coming soon.
Exemplum Organum St George's church, Ontario (42-stop Casavant).
Gerben van den Akker Two Dutch church organs (Mariënberg, Daarlerveen).
Legro Virtual Organ Bennekom (Cabinet organ by Onderhorst, 1762), free, also available for GrandOrgue.
Llanerch Organs Two English Romantic organs in Blackburn (the cathedral, and St. Silas' church).
Mark Beverley (Keith Spencer) Prudhoe Methodist church (9-stop English church organ).
Metrolina Theatre Organ Society Redford Theatre, Detroit (Barton), available from Melotone Sound Productions.
Michael Teske Grote kerk, Wildervank (25-stop Dutch Romantic by Walcker).
MIDIPipeOrgan Two small Italian organs (Santa Maria degli Angeli, San Giovanni Battista).
Orgue de Pibrac Patrimoine de Pibrac (16-stop French organ).
Paul Delferriere French Harmonium (Debain, 1874).
Post Musical Instruments Post Positif Organ (2 ranks).
Sam Sleath - Sesquialtera Organs Two English organs (St Mary Downe, Mander Chamber 1982), plus composite reconstruction of Saint-Ouen in Rouen. Also three unreleased, and Blackburn cathedral (available from Llanerch Organs).
Tarcisio Ferrari Two organs (Bellinzona G. Antegnati 1588, Vouvry Carlen 1822) produced to record the organs for posterity.
van der Waal van Dijk Hervormde kerk, Mijdrecht (23-stop Dutch Romantic by Bätz).
Virtual-Organs.nl Two Dutch church organs (Veendam, Oude Pekela).
Zion Organ Two English church organs (Prudhoe, Penrith), now with Mark Beverley (Keith Spencer) and Appleton Audio.
Composites Only
Al Morse About twenty free composites, mainly based on sample sets from Sonus Paradisi and others.
Etcetera Pipe Organs Four composite organs (two American Classic, North European, Norwegian church) using own samples.
Haupterk-Organ.com Aristide (composite reconstruction of the Cavaillé-Coll organ of Saint-Ouen in Rouen).
Key Media Productions Four composite Theatre organs by Neil Jensen (Connoisseur 3/35, 3/27, 3/19, 3/11).
Les Deutsch A number of free composites and extensions to original sample sets.
OBV Composite Baroque-inspired organ using Sonus Paradisi demos.
Organa Reginae Caeli Over two dozen composite reconstructions, requiring sample sets mainly from Sonus Paradisi.
Paramount Organ Works Five composite Theatre organs with samples from the USA and UK, including one free.
Not for Hauptwerk
Digital VPO Several cathedral organs requiring proprietary Digital VPO software.
Lars Virtual Pipe Organ Lars Palo is a developer of GrandOrgue, so doesn't mention Hauptwerk anywhere.
Modartt Requires proprietary organteq software. Samples appear to be synthesized, not recorded.
Ryan Thoryk Thoryk Custom Organ (composite, apparently with synthesized samples, for GrandOrgue only).
Sweelinq Several organs for the proprietary Sweelinq software.

3 Getting a Virtual Organ

A virtual organ requires the following components:

These components can be purchased as a complete turnkey console, obtained separately and assembled with a plain table, or anything in between. So the following criteria should be considered:

Assembly Type
Complete Turnkey, Computer-ready, or User-assembled from separate components
Furniture Type
Console (usually with jambs), Desk (surface without jambs), or Table (with four legs)

The key components (pun intended) are the manuals and pedalboard. The information in these links is important not only for those buying them as separate components, but also those contemplating buying a ready-assembled system.

Another basic decision is whether to use touchscreen(s) or physical stop controls (or possibly both). Most systems use touchscreens, as this is both cheaper and easier to implement. But other systems emulate a real pipe organ console.

The section Budget Systems discusses just what manuals and pistons are really needed.

3.1 MIDI Devices

These include the following:

The manuals usually contain Thumb Pistons, except where generic keyboards are used. Most systems also have Expression Pedals and Toe Pistons. Some systems have physical Stop Controls, instead of (or possibly in addition to) using a touchscreen. There may be other MIDI input and output devices, which are most useful to provide controls and display where there is no accessible touchscreen.

Devices must be MIDI-enabled to work with Hauptwerk or other virtual organ software. Those from electronic organs built since the mid 1980s will probably already have MIDI. However, it will be necessary to MIDIfy devices from a pipe organ or old electronic organ, and this is likely to be practical only with pedalboards.

Components designed for pipe organs should offer excellent quality, but at a substantial price. On a real pipe organ, these items would account for only a small fraction of the total cost, so there would be little reason to economize on them. And pipe organs are designed to last perhaps hundreds of years. However, products made for the mass consumer market are likely to offer a significantly lower standard of robustness.

3.1.1 Manuals

A set of manuals is perhaps the most fundamental component in the system, and is also likely to be the most expensive. Yet most of the information I have seen from builders of ready-assembled organs does not include any information on the manufacture of their manuals (as always, it's what they don't tell you that matters!).

Self-building manual keyboards would almost certainly not be feasible. And although used pipe organ manuals are available at attractive prices, re-purposing them would involve a substantial amount of work, and would probably be too difficult for most people. So they will usually either be bought new, or as part of a used ready-built system.

Organ manuals are distinguished from piano or generic keyboards by having a very slightly narrower scale. They are also designed to be built into a keyboard stack with mounting hardware, wood side cheeks, and rails into which pistons may be fitted.

The traditional method of construction is wood-core, with beds and guide pins of metal. These hand-made keyboards are clearly expensive to produce, but should last decades. They are in contrast to consumer-grade products, which are designed for low-cost mass production, and use internal parts of plastic and rubber.

The only three manufacturers of organ manuals are Fatar, Schwindler, and UHT. Another maker was Laukhuff, but this company is sadly no longer in business. Moreover, only Schwindler and UHT still make manuals with wood cores. This Hauptwerk Forum thread gives a good overview of these keyboards. For those who cannot afford organ manuals, there are numerous types of generic consumer-grade keyboard available at much lower cost.

Fatar keyboards are by far the most common, and are also used in digital pianos and synthesizers. Fatar previously used wood-core construction for its more expensive manuals, but for the last few years they have all used moving parts of plastic and rubber. Many people have reported that these parts wear out over a relatively short time period. Moreover, that these keyboards are not user-serviceable, and spare parts may not be readily available. The fourth post on this Organ Forum thread explains very nicely why I would not buy these keyboards. But they are used in most commercial ready-assembled organs, no doubt because they are the least expensive organ manuals available. And they are also widely sold separately under different names. So beware!

Schwindler keyboards are those used by PedaMidiKit, which I believe offers the most economical as well as the most convenient way to get a complete keyboard stack with wood cores. And they are very good to play, as you can see from this assessment of my keyboard stack with Schwindlers from PedaMidiKit. Although Schwindler is a German name, this company, like both PedaMidiKit and Fatar, is Italian.

UHT keyboards are high-end, and give the buyer many options. However, they are much more expensive than the other two makes.

Both UHT and Schwindler make keyboards that simulate tracker action by using magnets. PedaMidiKit offers Schwindler manuals with two types of tracker action, in addition to the standard action (at substantial extra cost). With UHT, the tracker action is adjustable. All Fatar classical organ keyboards have a mild tracker action (SNAP function) implemented by a second strip of rubber domes that can split and cause pops.

Note that the ability to control the chiff would require both velocity-sensitive keyboards, and a sample set with multiple attack samples (which very few have, and those few do not have enough to properly model tracker action). A velocity-sensitive keyboard may also be needed to control second touch for theatre organs. Otherwise, this feature is superfluous for a pipe organ.

The standard type of keytop is plastic (acrylic) with black sharps on white naturals. Another common style is black naturals with light wood sharps. Various natural keytops in other colors may also be available, which may have a classier look and a pleasanter feel. However, being porous, they will absorb sweat and oil from the fingers. Acrylic keytops are inherently cleaner, but their smooth surfaces may be slippery; a more suitable surface may be obtained by a light sanding with 600 grit sandpaper (perhaps on the sharps alone).

3.1.2 Pedalboard

Unlike manuals, used pedalboards from pipe organs are often MIDIfied for use with a virtual organ. Pedalboards can also be obtained from electronic organs (with or without MIDI). It is even possible for a skilled and well-equipped DIYer to build a pedalboard from scratch. So there are more ways to get a pedalboard than a set of manuals.

The pedalboard should have at least 30 pedals; widely-available 25-note pedalboards are not suitable for an instrument that mimics a pipe organ. It should preferably be built to either AGO or BDO standard, and thus concave. However, a 30-note flat pedalboard may be an acceptable budget option, especially for those who do not play a pipe organ.

Although building organ manuals is specialized and there are few suppliers, many pedalboards on sale are made in-house, as they are relatively easy to build. For example, while Alessandro Alfieri of PedaMidiKit uses Schwindler manual keyboards, he clearly builds the pedalboards himself (see my assessment). But some popular pedalboards on the market appear to be made of soft pine, or are otherwise of questionable construction - see this Hauptwerk Forum Post.

A rechargeable and dimmable pedalboard light with motion sensor is likely to be desirable (and perhaps also a similar type of light over the manuals). A single unit about 9" (23cm) long mounted under the desk surface should give a good light over the entire area of the pedalboard.

3.1.3 Physical Stop Controls

Stop Controls are usually operated via touchscreens; however, some virtual organs instead use physical MIDI drawknobs and/or tabs. These are likely to be expensive, especially with a combination action in which they are moved by pistons. But they can make a virtual organ look and feel just like a real pipe organ console. Real organists will prefer handling them to poking a touchscreen, and they are also more attractive esthetically. As such, they may be considered essential by many professional organists.

However, apart from being cheaper and easier to implement, a touchscreen offers much greater flexibility. In particular, a physical stop control layout is based on one specific organ, and will not fit well with other organs. This limitation can be addressed by providing spare stop controls and relabeling; however, this makes changing from one sample set to another much less convenient than with a touchscreen.

A touchscreen may also be used for many other functions, and for displaying information. If there is no easily-accessible touchscreen, consideration must be given as to how to supply the required function. This includes both user input via controls, and output via displays.

A MIDI control that may be particularly useful in the absence of a touchscreen is the Novation Launchpad. This features a set of buttons that can be assigned functions as required, and different functions can be assigned for different organs. The LCD panel can be used to display information in the absence of a screen. Hauptwerk can output various types of information through 32-character panels, and several of these will probably be required.

3.1.4 Connecting MIDI

Connection is usually either via a MIDI cable with 5-pin DIN plugs, or USB (MIDI over USB). Wireless connection over BlueTooth is also possible. PCs have native MIDI drivers provided by Microsoft, but do not normally have DIN connectors. Therefore connection of devices using DIN must be done via an interface, which will usually connect to a USB port.

However, most recent MIDI devices offer a direct USB connection, which should be used in preference to DIN. Although MIDI via DIN may support longer runs of cable, up to 15m of cable can be used with USB, which should be more than adequate for a home virtual organ. And many audio interfaces also offer MIDI support. So a separate MIDI interface is typically not needed.

Each MIDI connection to the computer is associated with a MIDI port. There will typically be a MIDI port for the pedalboard (which may also include expression pedals and toe pistons), and another MIDI port for the complete keyboard stack (including thumb pistons). However, in some cases, separate ports may be used (for example, with separate consumer-grade keyboards). In other cases, they may be combined into a single port via an interface. The MIDI Ports dialog in Hauptwerk allows each port to be given a meaningful alias.

A MIDI channel number (1 to 16) is used to differentiate devices (within a MIDI port, but see the next paragraph). Each keyboard (pedalboard, and each manual) must be assigned a unique channel number. Thumb pistons will normally be asigned another channel number. To avoid conflicts, it may be necessary to change the default channel numbers before connection (for example, one should check that the channel number of the pedalboard is not the same as that of a manual or the pistons).

Each control (for example, key or piston) within a MIDI channel is identified by a MIDI Note number. This is a value from 0 to 127, which forms part of the MIDI message. For keys, a MIDI ON message with the MIDI note number is sent when a key is depressed, and a MIDI OFF message is sent when a key is released. A stuck note occurs when a MIDI ON message is received without a corresponding MIDI OFF message. This can usually be cleared by pressing the key again (so that another MIDI OFF message is sent); failing this, there is a facility in Haupwerk to clear all MIDI messages.

Before connecting MIDI devices, one should check the Hauptwerk MIDI issues that I have encountered. Awareness of these can avoid problems with MIDI devices (apparently) not being recognized.

3.2 Computer System

The Hauptwerk Computer is dedicated to the important matter of choosing and commissioning the basic computer.

The computer system should also have the following:

It may also be preferable to use external Secondary Storage for data such as sample sets.

3.3 Audio Interface

For Windows, a high-grade audio interface with ASIO driver is essential for low latency and high sound quality. Lower-cost audio products use the Windows DirectSound driver, which is to be avoided. A high-quality 2-channel interface (for normal stereo output) can be bought for around US$200.

The Hauptwerk User Guide describes the audio interface as perhaps the most crucial component in the system. Apart from determining audio latency, it can also have a significant effect on polyphony. And it is much more economical in both purchase price and power consumption than a computer system with a high-end CPU.

Most connect via USB, and many have MIDI input and output ports that may obviate the need for a separate MIDI interface. I consider the ability to monitor levels via a color LCD display to be essential; yet very few units seem to have good (or even any) level indication.

3.4 Headphones / Speakers

In my opinion, a comfortable pair of headphones is preferable to speakers for individual use, especially for practicing. Those at around US$250 can give better sound quality than all but the very best speaker systems costing many thousands of dollars. And this is not compromised by room interactions. The result is a better ability to discern defects in one's playing. Although headphones are not capable of tactile bass, they can give a better impression of deep pedal notes than most speaker systems.

Open-backed headphones give rather more transparent sound. However, closed-back ones may be preferable where there are high ambient noise levels, or the noise produced by the headphones may disturb people around. High-impedance headphones tend to give the best sound quality, but the audio interface may not give sufficient output to drive them, thus requiring the use of a headphone amplifier.

Speakers used with a virtual organ will probably be small nearfield monitors, and will need a subwoofer to get anything like the bass response needed for deep pedal notes. Although they can give surround sound, this is likely to be inconvenient, and placement and matching issues make it difficult to achieve good results. In any case, the quality of output from speakers is highly dependent on their positioning and the properties of the room. They are usually placed against walls, which increases bass output, but seriously compromises sound quality in general.

3.5 Assembly Types

A virtual organ may be obtained in the following three forms:

Complete Turnkey
Complete system, ready to run.
Computer-ready
As a turnkey system, but requiring a computer system with touchscreens and audio devices.
User-assembled
Built by the user from MIDI devices, furniture, and a computer system.

Products that include a console or desk tend to be significantly more expensive than the value of the components involved. And one will probably not be able to choose them, nor determine their origin. Where no information is given about the manuals, it is reasonable to assume that they are made by Fatar. Nonetheless, such systems will be popular, as they are easy to purchase for those who have the money, and a presentable console with attractive furniture might otherwise be difficult to obtain.

3.5.1 Complete Turnkey

This comes with a computer with installed software, usually with touchscreens and speakers fitted in a full console. Some of these are tall cabinet designs that incorporate all functions in as little floor space as possible. A turnkey system offers the greatest ease of purchase and installation, but at the same time the fewest options and least flexibility.

New systems often have touchscreens that give give dedicated access to the functions in Hauptwerk and sample sets via an API. While this may be convenient, the touchscreens tend to be small and limit the way in which the software can be used. And even these systems cannot completely hide the fact that underneath is a general-purpose computer running Hauptwerk and (probably) Windows.

Being installed in a console will normally mean that touchscreens and speakers are in fixed positions. And although many consoles offer surround sound, the speakers themselves may not be of particularly good quality, as well as being compromised by placement in a console. However, some systems come with free-standing speakers.

As virtual organs have now been around for several years, it may be possible to get a used ready-to-run system at a moderate cost. This might have been obtained in any of the ways given here; for example, there must be many digital organs that have been converted to Hauptwerk.

3.5.2 Computer-ready

This includes the MIDI devices and furniture only, normally with a desk. New systems will probably include a compartment and fittings for installation of a computer. They will typically be from the same companies that produce turnkey products or digital organs. They are mainly targeted at the home consumer, and sold off the internet. As such, like turnkey products, they will be made to look attractive, but one should check out component and general construction quality.

Another option may be to get an organ console and MIDI devices custom built by a company that supplies consoles to real pipe organ builders. Apart from the ability to specify the design (perhaps based on a real organ), it should offer excellent construction quality (but will not be cheap). It will also require a lot of interaction, and ideally one should visit the workshop several times to check the work.

Another possibility in this category would be to buy a used electronic organ, if it has MIDI outputs. However, the quality and suitability of the components should be carefully checked; for example, that the pedalboard has at least 30 notes.

3.5.3 User-assembled

This gives you much more freedom of choice, and perhaps a bewildering range of options. However, there is the potential to get a much better system for the money available. Moreover, such a system can easily be changed and upgraded to meet future requirements.

As self-assembly is potentially the most economical way to obtain a virtual organ, probably the majority of systems are in this category. Components may be obtained in one or more of the following ways:

Used

For those willing to do some fixing-up, high-quality components such as a pedalboard, bench, and even a console can be bought used and re-purposed. Many pipe organs are being decommissioned in favor of cheaper and more easily maintained digital organs, and their components can often be bought quite cheaply. Alternatively, it may be possible to find a non-functional electronic organ at a low price that can be used for parts.

Many used virtual organ pedalboards are from one of these sources; it is not too difficult to retrofit them with MIDI. However, while there are also used manuals from pipe organs available at very attractive prices, MIDIfying these may not be feasible.

Self-built

Those with access to carpentry and design skills could make furniture to exact requirements, and to a better standard and/or at a lower cost than ready-made products. For those with a well-equipped workshop and good DIY skills, it may be possible to make a pedalboard from scratch. However, it would probably not be feasible to build manual keyboards.

New

Manuals are the component most likely to be bought new, as used items and self-building are unlikely to be viable options. New organ manual keyboards are often supplied as bare units that must be fitted into a mounting frame, with MIDI pistons and side cheeks added to make a complete keyboard stack. While allowing user customization, this also requires user assembly. But it is also possible to buy a customized complete keyboard stack that requires only a single USB connection to the computer.

Gifted

Yes, some people manage to get perfectly good organ parts for nothing.

3.6 Furniture Types

There are three basic categories to consider:

Console
A full console with kneeboard and wooden superstructure, usually including jambs.
Desk
A desk with kneeboard and side panels.
Table
A normal open table with four legs.

New consoles and desks will normally have to be specially made, whereas a suitable table may be readily available. In any case, it is vital that it be as sturdy and stable as possible, so that there is no movement when the manuals are played. When designing furniture, measurements need to be carefully calculated; standard clearances are in relation to the keys of the pedalboard and manuals.

The console/desk/table should be chosen/designed in consideration of the manuals, and there are critical measurement criteria dependent on the pedalboard, bench, and height of the manuals. Greater attention needs to be paid to measurements if there are to be more than three manuals.

Another requirement is the bench, which must also be sturdy and stable. The bench must span the width of the pedalboard; for a radial pedalboard, the required span is less than for a parallel one. Most have a wide seat with straight vertical legs, but some have a narrower seat with curved legs ("doglegs").

The bench should be designed in conjunction with the pedalboard, to conform to the standard specifications; for example, the required height is relative to the top of the middle pedal. Many have a mechanism to adjust the height, but one should ensure that it does not seriously compromise robustness and stability. If only one person is ever to use it, the bench can be made to a fixed height, but another way to adjust height is by means of blocks.

3.6.1 Console

This has a kneeboard, side panels, and a wooden superstructure. There are usually jamb enclosures for touchscreens or physical stop controls.

Consumer turnkey systems are of this type, usually with embedded touchscreens, and often also with built-in speakers. Other consoles may be used (re-purposed organ consoles), or user-built (perhaps custom-built by an organ builder). They often use physical stop controls rather than touchscreens.

Physical stop controls will appeal to those who want the closest thing to a real pipe organ console. However, the lack of an easily-accessible touchscreen makes use of Hauptwerk and general computer functions more difficult. But with this type of console, computer devices may be considered extraneous, and so hidden away.

If touchscreens are fitted into jamb enclosures, their positions and sizes will be fixed, often in less than ideal positions. It will also be more difficult to replace them. Fitted touchscreens tend to be small, resulting in limited content and/or small controls that are more difficult to operate reliably.

In any case, jambs also limit the amount of workspace available for a mouse and/or keyboard. This may not be an issue for those with physical stop controls wanting to emulate a real pipe organ console. But it is another reason why it may not be a good idea to fit touchscreens into jamb enclosures. So in my view, it is better to reserve these for physical stop controls, and mount touchscreens on adjustable stands.

3.6.2 Desk

This has a kneeboard with a surface supported by solid side panels, but no jambs or other significant woodwork above the surface. Consumer systems without computer hardware are usually of this type; they normally contain a compartment to house the computer, and possibly fittings for components such as speakers.

Without jamb enclosures, touchscreens can be mounted on adjustable stands, leaving accessible space underneath. Thus computer functions can be made easily available.

3.6.3 Table

This is easier to obtain than a console or desk, and is used in a large proportion of component-based systems. But the lack of a kneeboard and side panels leaves cables and components open to view.

Commercial tables may not be sufficiently sturdy and stable, or be of the correct height. However, it may be possible to make a suitable table.

3.7 Budget Systems

While some people spend a small fortune to emulate the console of a large real pipe organ, others spend a tiny fraction of this, yet with a similar end result and function.

The main sacrifices in a budget system are in appearance, handling, and construction. End function and the quality of the results are determined largely by the software and sample sets (and, of course, the organist!), which are the same regardless of system cost. I assume the use of Hauptwerk, but even low-budget systems often use this rather than the free GrandOrgue.

Apart from buying components used or building them, one can economize by considering carefully just what is necessary. This particularly applies to the keyboard stack, which tends to be the most expensive component, especially as used organ manuals will probably not be an option.

3.7.1 Manuals

Consumer-Grade Keyboards

As these are much cheaper than organ manuals, they are normally used in low-budget systems. Apart from their considerably lower cost, they have the advantage of being widely available. Although they are not exactly organ scale (they have slightly wider keys), the difference is very small.

Being mass-produced, they will have a limited lifespan, but this also applies to the most commonly-used organ keyboards (the far more expensive Fatars). And with their much lower prices and widespread availability, they can easily be replaced when no longer serviceable.

However, these separate keyboards have a less elegant appearance than an organ keyboard stack. Shelves will be required to accommodate them, or it may be possible to extract the bare keyboards and remount them. They will also lack provision for fitting thumb pistons, but may come with controls that could serve this purpose. Another factor to consider is whether the action is satisfactory.

How Many Manuals?

Nearly all Hauptwerk systems have 2, 3, or 4 manuals. A fifth manual would probably never be utilized. Having only one manual would result in fundamental limitations that could not be overcome by Hauptwerk function.

Ideally, there should be as many manuals as has the real organ, which may well mean four manuals (although probably not five). However, the Hauptwerk software enables one to use a sample set with more manuals than has the virtual organ, in the following ways:

Combined Divisions
One manual can operate on two (or more) sample set divisions; for example, manual II could play division IV as well as division II. This is done by simply using the Hauptwerk Autodetect function on the same virtual organ manual for the different sample set manuals.
Floating Divisions
This solution is used where the above is not applicable, as the divisions must be played separately. One or more divisions can be made floating, and coupled to a manual as required (this can be done on the fly).

As a result, having fewer manuals than the sample set is unlikely to be a fundamental limitation. The compromise would be in different handling and some loss of convenience, compared to having a full set of manuals.

But having fewer manuals may otherwise be better ergonomically. The more manuals there are, the higher and deeper is the keyboard stack. Not only are the higher manuals more difficult to reach, but the music rest is likely to be higher up than is ideal. Moreover, it may compromise positioning of the touchscreen, which should be as close as possible to the keyboards, and fairly low down.

As well as minimizing the number of manuals, it may be possible to economize by using keyboards with fewer than 61 keys; many modern pipe organs have only 56.

3.7.2 Pistons

Traditional use of pistons involves large numbers of divisionals and generals as well as other functions; according to conventional wisdom, there should be about 20 on each manual. But pistons available for virtual organs are very expensive for what they are (switches); the most basic cost from US$15 to US$25 each (and by many accounts, commonly-available US$15 square pistons are unsatisfactory). On this basis, the pistons alone would account for a large proportion of the total cost of the manuals.

The good news is that very few pistons are really needed. The registration functions of Hauptwerk provide considerably more function than the pistons on a real pipe organ. Thus all the required function (and much more) is available on the touchscreen. Pistons are only needed for function that must be operated while actually playing; this essentially means that required for quick changes of registration.

And instead of using numerous divisional and general pistons for this purpose, one can use the combination stepper. This requires only two pistons; one for the next combination, and one for the previous one. For maximum speed of access, these can be duplicated on each manual without undue expense. With the Hauptwerk software, using the combination stepper is probably simpler as well as much more economical in pistons. Cueing, as well as setting, can be done on the touchscreen.

Another way to save on pistons is to use keys for this purpose. As the top 5 keys on a 61-key manual are unlikely to be played, they could instead be used as thumb pistons. This is done by simply using the Hauptwerk Autodetect function, pressing the required key as the MIDI device to set. Similarly, with a 32-note pedalboard, the top 2 pedals could be used as toe pistons (perhaps for the combination stepper).

And as noted above, consumer-grade keyboards may have buttons that generate MIDI messages; again, Autodetect would be used to assign them function as pistons.

3.7.3 A Basic Baroque Virtual Organ

If the user has only limited requirements, it is often possible to meet them fully with a simple and economical design. For example, a perfectly functional organ for baroque music can be built with only the following MIDI devices:

Even in baroque music, two manuals are required for quick changes of registration, and playing with each hand on a separate division. But sample sets with more than two manuals can be handled as described above.

While thumb and toe pistons may be convenient, they can hardly be considered necessary for baroque music. Poking a touchscreen is much quicker and easier than yanking and shoving the drawbars on a real baroque organ (although perhaps less satisfying😜).

Also bear in mind that if only sample sets of fairly small organs are to be used, processor and RAM requirements will be relatively modest.

4 The Hauptwerk Computer

4.1 The CPU

Processing power determines the maximum polyphony that can be achieved. For faultless sample processing, the required polyphony must not exceed this maximum.

The maximum (static) polyphony can be found experimentally and set in Hauptwerk. It depends not only on the CPU itself, but also RAM accessing, Hauptwerk settings, and other applications that may be running. In particular, it will be reduced if real-time impulse response reverbs are added. Therefore the test should apply these factors.

Unfortunately, the required (dynamic) polyphony cannot be determined in advance. There are considerable dynamic variations, depending on the number of stops drawn, keys depressed, and other factors. Playing many notes in quick succession substantially increases the polyphony, as while the loop parts of the samples are short, each has a release tail that typically lasts several seconds. Dry sample sets not only occupy much less RAM, but also have short release samples that reduce the dynamic polyphony; however, they require added reverb to produce acceptable sound in a normal room.

If the dynamic polyphony exceeds the preset static polyphony, normally the only consequence is that release samples are dropped early, resulting in a drier sound. The Hauptwerk documentation indicates that it would take a substantial insufficiency to cause complete loss of stops. CPU-related glitches are likely to be caused by unwanted activity, such as Windows deciding to do a virus scan during a particularly involved tutti. This results in the preset static polyphony being too high, thus inhibiting management by Hauptwerk. Hence the importance of Computer Preparation to avoid unnecessary processing.

Note that latency (the time interval between pressing a key and production of the sound) is determined by the Audio Interface and its driver, not the CPU; it has nothing to do with sample processing.

The usual advice is to buy the fastest processor possible. This is only reasonable if having the maximum possible processing headroom overrides all the following:

But unfortunately, the Hauptwerk documentation implies that anything other than a top-end Intel processor is substandard. And the Hauptwerk website currently recommends only an Intel i9 Core for a PC. This will have misled many people into buying a system with a power consumption comparable to that of an old toaster, when a far more economical and efficient one would have worked just as well.

The criterion in a real-time system such as Hauptwerk is sufficiency; a faster processor is only better in situations where a slower one cannot achieve the required polyphony. And even then, there are normally only minor consequences. Using a processor whose capacity is not utilized is simply wasteful. This is especially the case with the diminishing returns that apply at the leading edge; just a few percent extra performance adds substantial cost and power consumption. And with the wide range of possible processing requirements, this would rarely make a material difference.

So rather than just accept that only a high-end Intel will do, the purchaser should consider carefully what processor will meet their requirements. Detailed information that should give a good idea of what level of performance is appropriate can be downloaded here. Due to overheads in polling MIDI devices, I would not in any case recommend a two-bit processor for Hauptwerk (a 64-bit one is definitely a good idea!). But a blanket recommendation to get an Intel i9 Core is clearly NOT appropriate.

The good news is the development of mini PCs with processors of surprisingly-high performance that consume surprisingly-little power, and which require no fan in a very small box. I believe a unit of this type with 8 cores and a high clock rate (around 3.6 GHz) will function flawlessly for the vast majority of users.

And with this type of computer, it is reasonable to leave the system running 24/7, so that it is immediately available at any time. This is unlikely to be attractive with the likes of an Intel i9 Core, especially since Hauptwerk actively executes continuously without user input and does not support power saving.

4.2 Primary Storage (RAM)

Hauptwerk is a RAM-based system; the entire sample set data (or a selected subset) is loaded into memory before the organ can be used. This results in a high RAM requirement, but streaming the data would result in access delays that are unacceptable in a real-time system. If there is insufficient RAM, the sample set will simply fail to load.

So, unlike the required polyphony, the RAM requirement is static and predetermined. Most sample set suppliers provide it in their specifications, and there are usually various options for reducing the full requirement. These include reducing the audio quality of the samples, and loading only a selection of the samples.

Many recent sample sets feature 6 or more channels, which may all be loaded into memory and mixed down to stereo. This will considerably increase memory requirements. With 6 channels, only a fairly small organ can be loaded into memory if the RAM capacity is 32 GB; at least 64 GB will be required, or even 128 GB. On the other hand, with only 2 channels for normal stereo, a large organ can be loaded into 32 GB with high-quality samples.

4.3 Secondary Storage (SSD / HDD)

For many years, the Hard Disk Drive (HDD) has reigned. However, it is now being largely superceded by the Solid State Drive (SDD), which is continuing to fall in price and increase in capacity. In a new computer, the storage unit on which Windows is installed is likely to be an SSD.

An SSD offers considerably better performance (in practice, limited by the interface - SATA is relatively slow). It is also in general more robust and reliable. However, there is a limit to the amount of data that can be written to the SSD before it becomes unreliable.

There are different types of SSD with significantly different durability characteristics, but in any case the write durability increases with the amount of free space on the SSD. One should therefore have plenty of spare capacity on the unit, especially one to which a lot of data is written. But if the SSD is used essentially read-only, it can be filled fuller and still have a longer lifespan than an HDD.

I find external storage connected via USB to be a better way to store data such as sample sets than placing it on the unit that comes with the computer (on which Windows is installed). With the latest USB standards (3.1+), performance is excellent (better than SATA), and being able to dismount the storage means that it can easily be used elsewhere, or replaced if it becomes insufficient. And this maximizes the free space on the internal SSD (and thus its lifespan).

Hauptwerk requires all installed sample sets to be in the same base directory (in other words, on the same storage unit), and it is difficult to know in advance how much space might be required. However, if it is located on external storage, it is easy to replace the unit with a higher-capacity one if it becomes necessary. Naturally, as loading sample sets is data-bound and time-consuming, it is much better to use an SSD for this purpose. But as adding sample sets is write-once, the SSD can be filled to a high proportion of its capacity.

4.4 Turning the System On and Off

While this is straightforward with a digital organ, the issues associated with this may be a serious impediment to use of a virtual organ.

The most convenient way to turn the system off and on is with Hibernate; this restores the desktop, and takes only a few seconds with an SSD. However, it writes the entire RAM contents to the storage unit on which Windows resides, which nowadays will usually be an SSD. While this makes hibernate fast, it is likely to considerably reduce the lifespan of the SSD, as indicated above. Moreover, the Hauptwerk User Guide does not recommend hibernation or any power-saving modes, although hibernate has worked without problems for me the very few times I have used it.

Serious organists may want to practice several times a day (there is a limit to how long one can effectively practice at a time). Together with a large RAM, hibernating this frequently could result in errors on the SSD well within a year. And Microsoft does not permit relocating the hibernate file. As a result, the complete system may soon become unusable, resulting in the purchase of another system and another copy of Windows (just what Microsoft wants!).

And the Microsoft-recommended and default "fast startup" is another product of the Microsoft Dirty Tricks Department. Most users are not aware that this also writes the RAM to the hibernate file. Moreover, it does not clear out system memory, as the user would expect; nor does it restore the desktop. So it is pretty much useless from a user perspective (but great for Microsoft!), and should be disabled:

Control Panel -> Hardware and Sound -> Power Options -> System Settings -> Turn on fast startup (recommended)

But either type of shut down means that everything will have to be started up again (including Hauptwerk, and loading the sample set). This will take much longer than the Windows startup time on an SSD.

So, what to do? One approach is to use Hibernate, but buy a spare SSD when you buy the computer, and clone to it the SSD on which Windows is installed. You can then use it to replace the original when it becomes defective. If you do this, keep the additional SSD connected to the power (for example via a USB converter), as data retention of SSD is highly questionable without a power supply.

All this makes clear the importance of buying a system that can be left running 24/7. This also allows practice at odd moments, and the lack of power on/off cycles maximizes system longevity. However, I for one would not want to do this with the type of processor solely recommended by Milan Digital Audio.

4.5 Computer Preparation

One unfortunately cannot completely escape the lamentable fact that a virtual organ is a PC running Windows, whose abysmal standards reflect its captive market. However, the adverse consequences of this can be minimized by appropriate preparation. This primarily involves removing or disabling anything that is not necessary for the execution of Hauptwerk, thus maximizing the likelihood that the system will function efficiently and reliably. This is a more practical way to prevent glitches than purchasing an over-the-top CPU. As you can see, Microsoft does not make this easy; however, I believe that the time spent on the following steps is a good investment.

Microsoft Windows TM 10

4.5.1 Do NOT Connect to the Internet !

As from Windows 10, this is the only way to escape Windows Updates, which apart from being a gross inconvenience, can (and do) change the behavior of your computer without your knowledge or consent. And without an internet connection, you can confidently remove or disable a boatload of humongous impedimenta that Microsoft installs and executes on your computer, again without your knowledge or consent.

Microsoft clearly does not like you using Windows without an internet connection, as then they cannot conduct cell searches (spy on you), or carry out lockdowns (known as "updates"). You are forced to setup Windows 11 with a Microsoft Account, which requires an internet connection. You are also required to provide an email address (give them one that you do not normally use).

However, the current Microsoft Service Agreement allows Windows 10 or 11 to be used indefinitely without an internet connection. This might nonetheless change with a future update; remember there was never going to be a Windows 11. Even offline, there will still be tiresome internet-related nag messages for a while. Thankfully, they appear to go away altogether after a few weeks offline; then you will not just be on parole, but completely free 😊.

Microsoft Windows TM 11

4.5.2 Use the Administrator Account

You can start Windows offline with the Microsoft Account (if you value your privacy, never use it to login online!). However, unless you really want to have to key in a PIN, and be denied full use of your computer, I recommend restoring the Administrator account (this was once the default account, but has long since been hidden from you). Key in the following at a command prompt (run as Administrator):

net user administrator /active:yes

On restarting the computer, the default account is Administrator, with no password required.

If the above does not work, do a Google search to find other ways.

4.5.3 Disable Virtual Memory

Virtual memory (put simply) is the use of secondary storage to extend physical RAM into a virtualized address space. This involves swapping pages of memory between secondary and primary storage.

For Hauptwerk, there should always be sufficient physical RAM installed; as previously noted, the RAM requirement of Hauptwerk is (essentially) static. Virtual memory is then redundant, and likely to be detrimental. Swapping onto an HDD will result in performance issues unacceptable in a real-time system. Swapping onto an SSD will reduce its lifespan.

Open the Virtual Memory window as follows:

  1. Open Settings by clicking on the cog in the taskbar
  2. Click on System
  3. Click on About; in the left-hand pane
  4. Click on Advanced system settings (near the bottom of the window)
  5. In the System Properties window, click the Advanced tab
  6. Click on Settings... in the Performance groupbox
  7. In the Performance Options window, click the Advanced tab
  8. Click Change... in the Virtual memory groupbox

The above is the shortest route I can find; and the search facility cannot find Virtual Memory.

In the Virtual Memory window, uncheck Automatically manage paging file size for all drives. Then select each drive in the list in turn, and click on the No paging file radiobutton. When all done, click on OK.

4.5.4 Optimize - Group Policy Editor

Open using Windows Key + R and type gpedit.msc. Navigate to the following:

Computer Configuration -> Administrative Templates -> Windows Components

There may be other settings here that are worth checking out.

4.5.5 Optimize - Control Panel

Open Control Panel (enter Control Panel in the task bar search box). In the Control Panel search box, key Turn windows features on or off.

Disable any that appear to be unnecessary, including:

4.5.6 Optimize - Settings

Open by clicking on the cog in the taskbar:

4.5.7 Optimize - Services

Open the Services applet (enter Services in the task bar search box). Go through all services, and set to Disabled or Manual startup where appropriate (and possible).

5 What I Got

I never had any intention of buying a pretty ready-built package; apart from denying me free choice of the components, it would be highly uneconomic. And I saw little prospect of getting good used organ components here in Mexico (those I have seen advertised do not ship here).

So my system is based on all-new separate components, which I divided into four purchasing phases:

Pedalboard & Bench
30 or 32 notes, to AGO or BDO standard, with bench made to my own design.
Manuals & Desk
A stack of from two to four keyboards, with customized pistons, and desk made to my own design.
Electronics
Computer box, center monitor, touchscreens, audio interface, headphones, etc.
Software
Virtual organ system software (Hauptwerk), and sample sets.

The first purchase was made on 8 November 2021, and I finally got the system working on 15 July 2022. Before then, I had spent a few years looking at virtual organs before finally taking the plunge. This was clearly beneficial; some of the ideas I had then (such as mounting touchscreens into jamb enclosures) I have since rejected.

There are many ways to go when assembling such a system, and I am pleased to have found what for me is the right way. Apart from getting good construction quality at a relatively low cost, this means easy use of computer functions, rather than trying to emulate a pipe organ console. Also, features that are not really needed may be a net liability rather than an asset; sometimes less is more.

Although putting it together was no picnic, the satisfying outcome has made it well worth the trouble and expense. Learning a keyboard instrument again 50 years after finishing with the piano has also given me great satisfaction (as well as many seemingly-insuperable difficulties).

5.1 System Overview

The pedalboard and manuals were supplied in bare wood by PedaMidiKit, and finished by local carpenters. PedaMidiKit (Alessandro Alfieri) puts construction and playing quality at a low price before prettiness; and that is fine with me. Nonetheless, after finishing I think they look quite handsome, and fit well with the rustic room decor. I expect they will last longer than I will, and I am very happy with the way they play. In both pedalboard and manuals, PedaMidiKit offered by far the best deal, and with transparent and thereby lower shipping charges.

The desk and bench were built by the carpenters to my plans. This not only resulted in a considerably more favorable price/quality ratio than for importing ready-made products, it also gave me exactly what I wanted.

The system is perhaps unusual in being dominated by three large screens; two touchscreens to the sides for Hauptwerk use, and a center monitor instead of a music rest for displaying music and general computer functions.

The console layout incorporates audio output devices and computer input devices (the mouse and keyboard are to the left of the manuals, as I am left-handed). The computer system is fixed to the wall behind the desk, out of view, but with an accessible power button (rarely used) and USB ports.

5.1.1 What It Has

The main components in my system are as follows:

Pedalboard
PedaMidiKit AGO 32
Bench
After a model by Laukhuff
Manuals
PedaMidiKit K3 61 W, customized with 16 thumb pistons
Desk
Made to my own design
Computer Box
Minisforum HX90 / Windows 11 Pro / 32 GB RAM / 512 GB SSD
Software
Hauptwerk 6 Advanced
External SSD
Western Digital Blue 1 TB USB
External HDD
Seagate 3 TB USB
Keyboard & Mouse
Jelly Comb 2.4G Wireless
Center Monitor
AOC 27" UHD IPS, wall mounted
Touchscreens
2 x ViewSonic 22" FHD, on Vivo stands
Auto Interface
MOTU M2
Headphones
Beyerdynamic DT 990 PE 250
Speakers
B&W 801 series 2, with Rotel amplification

The computer system is protected by an APC UPS (all backed up, except touchscreens, which are surge-protection only). The bench surface is protected by a cushion (kindly donated), which more importantly also protects the organist's posterior and associated clothing, while facilitating the frequent pivoting required for Bach pedal work. The numerous USB connections and short cables necessitated the purchase of powered USB hubs and extension cables. A long underfloor phono cable connects the audio interface to the Rotel pre-amp. I also bought a rechargeable pedalboard light with motion sensor.

5.1.2 What It Hasn't

Scores of Pistons
I will be using only the combination stepper, as described here. But as well as duplicating these two pistons on each manual, I thought it prudent to have another 10 on the lowest manual for ad hoc purposes, as they would be difficult to add later.
Expression Pedals
For the time being, these are superfluous, as I will be concentrating on learning the works of J S Bach. They will of course be essential for later music, but can be added if and when required (by which time I will have a clearer idea of what is appropriate).
Toe Pistons
I would only ever require two (for the combination stepper), and for the time being this function can be assigned to notes 31 and 32 of the pedalboard. They can easily be added if and when I add expression pedals.
A Fourth Manual
Adding this would be problematic, but I am confident that it will never be required, as described here.
Surround Sound
I was never sold on the original quadraphonics, nor on the subsequent 5:1 and 7:1. Instead, I have stayed with high-grade stereo, thus avoiding speaker placement and matching problems. This gives quite a spacious sound in my specially-designed large listening room, with its 4m-high ceiling. Anyway, like many Hauptwerk users, I will normally use headphones.
Physical Stops
As I have never even been near a pipe organ console, I do not miss physical stop controls. So I am happy enough to prod a touchscreen, which is cheaper and much more versatile.
A Fan Heater
Neither the heat output nor power consumption are wanted here in Mexico, and I expect my cool little box will deliver all the polyphony I ever need. In the future I may well want more than 32 GB of RAM, but this can easily be added.

5.1.3 What It Cost

The total cost (excluding the HDD, vintage speakers and amplification) was just under $10,000. This may seem high for a basic system, but includes all shipping, taxes, import duties, customs handling fees, and other charges. These add considerably to the total cost, even though my shipping charges were relatively low.

A rough breakdown of gross costs (not sticker prices) is as follows:

Pedalboard & Bench
$2,250 (including $285 shipping, and $285 for the bench and finishing)
Manuals & Desk
$4,000 (including $315 shipping, and $465 for the desk and finishing)
Electronics
$3,000 (including $850 for touchscreens and stands, and slightly more for the Mini PC box)
Software
$600 (Hauptwerk Advanced Perpetual)

I could easily have spent much more on a system with much less good construction quality. I especially saved on the pedalboard, manuals, and their shipping. And with the low labor costs here in Mexico, I also got a substantial custom-made bench and desk for much less than the sticker prices of comparable commercial products. But the touchscreens were more expensive than I had bargained for, and I paid about 50% on top of the shipping charges to have the pedalboard and manuals brought through customs.

For my current purposes (mainly learning the works of J S Bach), I do not believe that additional expenditure would have been productive. To me, the only significant drawbacks relate to the behavior of software, and so would apply to any Windows-based Hauptwerk system, regardless of the amount spent.

5.2 Pedalboard & Bench

This was the first component I wanted to buy, especially as I had never even seen a pedalboard, and was eager to try playing one. A little investigation showed that this would be far too difficult for me to build, even with the help of carpenters. I also saw little prospect of finding a suitable used one to ship here to Mexico. So I was left with buying a new one.

As MidiWorks (based in Canada) seemed to be THE place to buy organ components, I commenced online purchase of their pedalboard at US$1895. However, I was stopped in my tracks by a blanket shipping charge of US$1000 (which they said they would adjust once I had submitted my card details and made payment on this basis). As I was not prepared to do this (I am frankly surprised that anyone would be), I sent an email asking their shipping charge to Mexico. They answered many questions that I did not ask, but would not answer this one, simply restating what was said on the website. So I looked more carefully at other options.

After checking out some AGO pedalboards at around US$2500, and others that were much cheaper but plain and flat, I decided to go with a one-man business in Italy named PedaMidiKit (Alessandro Alfieri). He offered several different pedalboards, and you can also have a design customized to your requirements, as each piece is built to order.

I decided to buy an AGO 32 pedalboard (32 notes, concave, radial) at €970, plus the option of a fast reed switch replacement system. The unit is supplied unassembled and unfinished; I consider this to be an advantage, as it would be more robust to handling problems, and I could have it finished the way I wanted.

Walking away from MidiWorks and approaching PedaMidiKit was the best decision I made, resulting in much better products at a much lower cost. It became clear that the pedalboard I bought is much better built than that from MidiWorks, and at a much lower price. Moreover, the shipping charges from PedaMidiKit are honest and transparent (you pay the shipping agent directly). PedaMidiKit also gave me a far better deal on the manuals than I would have had from MidiWorks.

On 29 November 2021, I received an invoice for €1052, but unfortunately due to government anti-money laundering measures, I was unable to make payment until 5 January 2022. Alessandro wanted a bank transfer via Wise (formerly TransferWise), but it eventually transpired that the Mexican government does not allow such payments, as the true recipient cannot be known. On 20 January, I received an email (including photos and a video showing that all the pedals worked) stating that the pedalboard was ready.

I sent the shipping agent a payment of €240, and finally received the pedalboard (in three packages) on 2 March 2022. This was a result of shipping delays and a number of communication issues involving customs handling and misleading tracking information. There was also some concern that Mexican customs would not accept the items without special treatment, as they were bare wood. On top of the shipping charge, there was a substantial fee for customs handling (otherwise, I would have had to travel a considerable distance to the port of entry to take the items through customs myself).

When the pedalboard arrived, I assembled the frame, but left the pedals separate for finishing. I gave the bench plans and the pedalboard parts to the carpenters, who delivered the finished items on 8 April 2022. After completing assembly of the pedalboard, I was last able to try playing it. However, without any sound, this proved to be of limited benefit, and possibly even counterproductive in inducing bad habits.

Using a powered USB hub, I subsequently did some tests with the pedalboard by checking its indicator LED, as a result of which I adjusted all the speech points to the midpoint of the range of travel. On 22 June 2022, I was finally able to get some sound from the pedalboard; the consequences of practicing without sound then became clear.

5.2.1 Bench Design

While waiting for the pedalboard, I found a home pipe organ construction website that gave me the bench design. This is after a Laukhuff model, with doglegs that add a touch of elegance to an otherwise plain console, and would be easy enough for the carpenters to make. The narrower seat also makes it easier to mount than a regular bench, as one's feet can go over the side rather than having to clear the top surface. The seat is hinged with plenty of storage space underneath that could be used for paper music.

The original bench would have had a height adjustment mechanism, but this will be omitted from my design, as only I will ever use it. Apart from being difficult to provide, it would compromise robustness and stability, unless of the best quality. Being of plain average height, the AGO standard (20.5" above the middle pedal) is fine for me; I will not even bother with blocks to adjust the height.

As my bench is specifically for a radial pedalboard (narrower at the bench end than a parallel one), I reduced the size accordingly. The plans I created comprised a cardboard template for the doglegs, some of the website photos, and some measurements (mainly estimated but non-critical).

5.2.2 Assessment

I am very pleased with the construction quality of the pedalboard. The frame is of oak, and screws together in a way that, while less esthetically attractive than dovetailing, is very sturdy. The pedal upper parts are of (I think) maple, with pine underneath (I have seen this dual-layer construction in some pipe organ pedalboards). There are both sprung heel plates and wire toe springs. The latter provide most of the resistance, which can be changed by an alternative way of fitting them. Resistance of the heel plates can also be changed by loosening or tightening them.

As I have never played any other pedalboards, I am perhaps not best qualified to comment on its playing qualities, but find the action to be firm, smooth, and responsive. It makes very little noise when played. As I assembled it, resistance may be slightly greater than the AGO specification of 2.5 to 3.0 pounds, but this can be adjusted. The current resistance works fine for me, and in all other respects the pedalboard appears to conform to the AGO specification. A more expensive pedalboard might look prettier, but I do not believe that it would be more robustly constructed, or enable me to play any better.

The electronics are based on an Arduino Leonardo controller with built-in USB. This is housed in a small wooden box that is screwed to the back of the pedalboard. Connection to the computer is USB-A via a very short wired-in cable, so you will probably need an extension. There is also a MIDI connector (5-pin), but I did not check this. An LED indicates both power and reed switch activation.

The bench has a very pleasing appearance. It is also reassuringly stable and solid, and will take considerably more weight than mine. Its height is just right.

5.3 Manuals & Desk

Given my experience with PedaMidiKit in offering no-frills but well-built products at a low price with honest shipping costs, on 21 April 2022 I transferred €2325 for a 3-manual keyboard stack with 16 pistons in a very substantial shipping crate (as recommended for shipping to Mexico). This unit came assembled, but in bare wood.

I was attracted by the fact that the keyboards are made by Schwindler with wood-core construction. The only other affordable organ manuals were by Fatar; the issues with servicing such keyboards would be especially unacceptable for me here in Mexico.

Another advantage of PedaMidiKit is customization. My unit came ready-made with 16 pistons (well, small black buttons) with a specified layout. All I had to do was plug the USB connector to the computer. I would otherwise have had to buy a mounting frame, side cheeks, rails, thumb pistons, and electronic components separately, and assemble the unit myself (including all the MIDI connections).

The basic Fatars were sold as bare keyboards by MidiWorks at that time for at least US$500 each. The total cost with their prices for mounting hardware, pistons, and electronics would certainly have exceeded the cost of my ready-built keyboard stack (without taking into account what they would have added for shipping). PedaMidiKit again wins hands down over MidiWorks!

Each manual has a pair of buttons for the combination stepper, and the lowest manual additionally has two groups of 5 for ad hoc purposes. I have no intention of getting involved with divisional/general pistons, nor with the different ways of using numerous pistons to cue combination stepper frames described in the Hauptwerk User Guide.

In mid-May 2022, I received notification that the manuals were completed. Again, there were attached photos and two videos showing that all keys and pistons were functional. I sent a payment of €294 for shipping. This time the process went more smoothly; there were no delays, and I was aware of what to expect.

The shipping crate was very solid and offered excellent protection from major impacts; I consider the price I paid to be very reasonable. However, I was rather surprised to see that there was no padding to cushion the unit. This might have led to some speech points going out of adjustment.

Having extracted the keyboard stack from its crate, I disassembled it so the carpenters could finish it. This involved removal of the base, and was a daunting task, as the two lower manuals were connected by ribbon cable and could not be separated. These parts (the two connected manuals taped together as best as I could), together with the plans for the desk, were given to the carpenters. On 5 July 2022, the carpenters delivered the desk and finished keyboard stack parts.

5.3.1 Desk Design

While waiting for the keyboard stack, I created plans for the desk (in Spanish) using AutoCAD (this was not worth using for the bench). This required a considerable amount of care and attention, to ensure that all measurements met the standards, and that there was sufficient clearance for playing. For example, the AGO standard requires a distance of 29.5" from the top of the pedal middle D to the top of the middle D on the lowest manual.

It was also important that it be very stable and sturdy so it does not wobble when the manuals are played. Another important criterion was that it must be simple for the carpenters to make, with no complex shapes. I went for a desk design with a kneeboard, supported by thick side panels on feet, and with a good amount of surface workspace. It is braced by elements with a 5cm square cross-section that hold the kneeboard panel, and an arched element under the manuals. Should I ever progresss beyond Bach, holes can easily be cut in the panel to accommodate expression pedals and toe pistons.

I perused several products on the internet before arriving at this design. Many seemed to have features that take up valuable space, but add no value (except perhaps make it look more for advertising purposes). It is significantly different from any that I saw, but to help the carpenters understand the overall shape (few people seem to be able to work from plans), I also gave them a photo of that most similar.

5.3.2 Assessment

Like the pedalboard, the keyboard stack is not super-de-luxe, but it is well built. The side cheeks are of oak, with some detailing to take off the squareness. It was well worth getting the unit finished, as this vastly improved its appearance, and made it much more appropriate for my listening room. Staining and polishing alone gave a very pleasing result; no preparation of the woodwork was required.

The keys are of acrylic plastic, and perhaps a bit slippery with my dry skin (my previous experience was in pounding the ivories). But as this issue can be addressed by a light sanding, this glossy surface is hardly a problem. And they have a solid, quality feel to them (not plasticky). Spacing between the keys is somewhat uneven, and they are not perfectly level. However, there are no serious discrepancies; these issues are purely cosmetic.

What is most important (together with construction) is the playing quality, and on this I have absolutely no reservations. I am delighted with the responsiveness of the keys, having been worried that I would be dissatisfied with the action. From 1961 to 1973, I played both a Steinway piano at home, and some old Joannas on which it was impossible to deliver a proper performance. The action noise appears to be moderate and normal. The only shortcoming is that some of the speech points were not very well adjusted (there are instructions on how to change them, and I will get round to doing this sometime). With the exception of one problem shallow speech point combined with my short fingers, I have no reason to blame the keyboards for any shortcomings in my playing.

Like the pedalboard, the electronics are based on the Arduino Leonardo, and there is a fixed short cable with USB-A connector (again, you will probably need an extension cable).

The desk is satisfyingly stable, being very difficult to move. Although an error occurred during construction, after correction all the measurements are very accurate.

5.4 Electronics

These were mainly purchased from Amazon USA, with some from Amazon Mexico. In contrast to the expense and difficulties in buying and importing the pedalboard and manuals, buying from Amazon USA was a breeze. The amount of customs duty payable was estimated by Amazon, and included in the amount to pay; any excess duty paid was refunded. Lower-cost items were free of duty. Shipping was fast (a very small number of days), and inexpensive.

The basic components were purchased by 18 June 2022, and set up in another location from the pedalboard and manuals (with an internet connection as required to setup Windows 11). The computer system was then moved to the location of the organ console to connect the MIDI devices. After a period of misery, it was finally up and running on 15 July 2022. Now all I had to do was learn the organ oeuvre of J S Bach.

5.4.1 Computer Box

As I wanted three screens, I needed a computer that would drive them, which limited my options. Probably most will drive two screens, but not three or more. The Minisforum HX90 will drive four; two DisplayPort, and two HDMI. I put the center monitor on a DisplayPort, and used HDMI for the two touchscreens.

I already owned a Minisforum PC; this has half the number of cores (4) and runs at half the clock rate (1.8 GHz). Nonetheless, everything I do happens very quickly (it is very noticeably faster than my all-in-one). The additional cores are important for Hauptwerk; this with the faster clock should give around four times the performance.

It comes with mounting hardware that enabled me to fix it directly to the wall, along with the UPS and other items.

CPU

This is (dare I say it) an AMD processor - the Ryzen 9. Although it is in a small box without a fan, it has 8 cores / 16 threads, and runs at a base 3.6 GHz (clockable up to 4.7 GHz).

Yet it produces a barely discernable amount of heat and thus clearly uses little electricity. This enables me to leave the system actively running 24/7, so I can use it at odd moments (I often practice while making a coffee).

And the least of my worries with Hauptwerk is running out of processor power; the CPU load so far has been very light indeed (and I have tried drawing lots of stops, playing rapidly, and with fat chords without getting near to approaching its limits).

RAM

While 32 GB is insufficient for other than a small organ if 6 channels are to be loaded, quite a large instrument can be loaded with only two channels (which is all my stereo system can reproduce). For example, the 85-stop Laurenskerk Rotterdam organ by Sonus Paradisi occupies 25 GB with only the two front channels loaded (20-bit, all stops).

My current sample sets either only have 2 channels, or else give a satisfying sound from the two channels recorded in a central position. In these cases, I see no need for more than 2 channels. I personally see mixing channels as a remedy; as it does not represent a single listening position, it could be considered artificial.

Nonetheless, I do see myself upgrading to 128 GB in the mid to long term, to be able to load large instruments to handle a wider range of styles (although the Laurenskerk organ would serve well). But as I intend to concentrate on Bach for a few years, there is no hurry. And the memory should be cheaper by then.😁

Secondary Storage

The 512 GB internal SSD is dedicated to Windows and installed apps, which occupy only around 40 GB. I will rarely use hibernate, so its capacity is more than sufficient for a long lifespan.

External USB-connected storage comprises a 1 TB SSD and a 3 TB HDD. The SSD is used primarily for installed sample sets; in the unlikely event that more space became necessary, it could easily be replaced with a higher-capacity one. The HDD is used for downloaded sample sets, and general purposes where performance is not critical (for example, audio and video files, and sheet music).

5.4.2 The Three Screens

As all my organ music is in PDF format (I have no legacy of paper, as I have for the piano), I got a 27" UHD IPS monitor instead of a music rest. Apart from displaying two pages of music with excellent quality, it is also used for computer administration and auxiliary applications.

I took some care to position the screens in the most ergonomic way possible, considering both position and angle. The touchscreens are particularly close to hand, and very convenient for both viewing and operating. And all three screens are easily adjustable by purpose-bought stands and a wall-mounting bracket. The stands give plenty of accessible workspace underneath the touchscreens for audio output devices, computer input devices, and also a mug of coffee.

Page Turning

I use the mouse wheel, which requires that the mouse pointer be located within the window that displays the sheet music. While this is not ideal, I have not been able to find a solution that is. I have also considered USB pedal page turners that emulate the keyboard (generating scancodes for Page Up/Down or Arrows). However, keyboard input acts on the focus window; this is a problem, as using Hauptwerk functions often gives a Hauptwerk window the focus (it would steal focus from the sheet music). So it seems better to work with mouse input.

Many organists use forScore on the iPad for displaying music, which in principle allows pages to be turned via gestures. However, as organists move the head frequently, nods are a non-starter, so winks or similar gestures are required. These are likely to be unreliable, and it may be necessary to touch the screen.

Another issue I would have with an iPad is that it can only display one page at a time, and then with a lesser size and quality than my screen. At least one organist has solved this problem by using two of them, but even if gestures would otherwise be useful, this would require page turning by touching the screen.

Touchscreens

I decided to have two touchscreens, expecting these to be easily available at low cost. But, unlike with the center monitor, there was a disappointingly-limited selection of touchscreens at fairly high prices; many small, and low-resolution. I saw no point in having less than the maximum resolution I could find (FHD, or 1920x1080), especially as they would display content other than the jambs. I also chose about the largest size I saw (22"), as smaller touch controls would be more difficult to operate reliably.

I initially considered having two touchscreens with a view to displaying the two jambs of a pipe organ console. However, many sample sets have simplified stop layouts that occupy only a single window (even for a large organ), and which are easier to use than the photo-realistic ones. Smaller sample sets have only a single stop layout window. Thus the stops can usually be accommodated on one screen, and the other can be used for other purposes.

So I dedicate the left-hand touchscreen to registration. This includes not only the stop control layout of the sample set, but also Hauptwerk control panels and toolbars involved with registration. The right-hand touchscreen is used for other Hauptwerk control panels, including Audio and MIDI, Pitch and Temperament, and the MIDI recorder. It is also used for auxiliary apps, such as a metronome and video capture.

Suspending and Resuming

When I finish with the organ, I turn off all three screens with a Ctrl/Alt PowerShell shortcut, and power off the touchscreens using a touch-sensitive control on the front (to save power, and avoid insects activating them). However, I leave the computer running, so that if no screen is required the organ can be used immediately. Clicking and moving the mouse turns the screens back on, with initially only the center monitor active (the touchscreens are powered off). If I need to change registrations, I turn on the left-hand touchscreen; if other functions are required, I turn on the right-hand touchscreen.

5.4.3 Audio Devices

For me, the MOTU M2 is an excellent audio interface. Unlike most, it has good volume level meters, which I would not want to be without (I have the unit angled inwards, so I can easily monitor them to avoid clipping).

There are MIDI input and output ports, which may come in useful if and when I get expression pedals and toe pistons. It also offers phono output for my legacy hi-fi system. Performance and sound quality are top drawer.

I am also very happy with the Beyerdynamic DT 990 headphones, which offer both excellent sound and comfort. The Hauptwerk system allows me to hear much more than in commercial recordings (the processing of which clearly masks a lot of important detail). Although they are high impedance, I am able to achieve more than adequate volume levels from the MOTU without a headphone amplifier.

I also have B&W 801 series 2 speakers driven by a Rotel pre-amp and four mono power amplifiers, but these are some distance away and for the main room. Even though they give top-notch sound quality in an excellent acoustic environment, I find it much better to use the headphones for practicing. The speakers are mainly for demonstrating the organ to others, and I also sometimes use them to listen to recordings I make (in an armchair, not on the bench).

5.5 Software (Hauptwerk)

5.5.1 Purchasing

My first purchase was actually Hauptwerk 6, which I bought on 8 November 2021, well before I had decided on a pedalboard. I was seriously worried that (following the gigantic bloatware merchants Adobe, Microsoft, et al), the next release of Hauptwerk would be available only on subscription. This already applied to the Lite edition of Hauptwerk 6, and I was afraid that this was just a stepping stone to a subscription-only product.

As one could buy a perpetual license for only 2.5 times the price of a yearly subscription, it does not take a mathematical genius to discern that the long-term cost on a subscription basis would be vastly uneconomical. For me, this would rule out Hauptwerk, and I would have to use GrandOrgue (my criterion is the total cost of ownership, not what it costs for the moment).

Hauptwerk 7 was released in January 2022 with a perpetual license at the same price. Nonetheless, I do not regret purchasing Hauptwerk 6, given what I knew at that time. There is nothing in Hauptwerk 7 that I would ever use, never mind have any need for. And there is always the option of paying for an update, should it prove necessary.

5.5.2 Issues

In this section, I point out some basic shortcomings that pervade the product, and will affect many other people. It is important that Hauptwerk users be aware of these issues, to avoid problems such as lost registrations, difficulties initializing MIDI devices, or excessive power consumption. Forewarned is forearmed! I have also checked the Hauptwerk Forum, but these issues are either not mentioned, or glossed over without clear explanation. But I have provided links to any relevant material on this forum.

Notwithstanding, Hauptwerk is a great piece of software. It has a very rich feature set, and I will probably never use many of its functions. It is also able to work with a wide variety of hardware, including old instruments that have MIDI outputs, or have been converted to MIDI. It also has to deal with many different sample sets. We should all be very grateful for the pioneering work of Martin Dyde.

On my system, crashes occur every two to three months of continuous running, on which neither the Windows Event Viewer nor the Hauptwerk Activity Log sheds any light. And from time to time, one or both of the MIDI ports ceases to work. Most, if not all of these problems appear to be due to flaky Windows MIDI support, and require a Windows Restart. So when your manuals and/or pedals suddenly stop working, don't despair over how to fix them; instead, reboot (with Doc Martens) and curse Micros**t!

MIDI Ports Dialog
a) Improper Handling of Multiple Controllers with the Same Name

Two or more MIDI connections having controllers with the same name appear as a single port on one line, giving the impression that Hauptwerk has recognized only one. In fact, they coexist just fine. But they should surely appear as multiple entries in the list (with perhaps a suffix comprising an ordinal value in parentheses to distinguish the names).

In my system, the controllers for both pedalboard and manuals have the name Arduino Leonardo (and it seems that it would not be possible for PedaMidiKit to change them). This, combined with other problems that conspired to cause maximum confusion led to several days of misery; only after a complete reset of Hauptwerk that appeared to be unnecessary (see below) did it transpire that both manuals and pedalboard were indeed functional. I was particularly worried about the keyboard stack, as I dismantled this and gave it to the carpenters for finishing with dodgy wired-in connections.

b) Misleading Information

MIDI devices are only initialized by Hauptwerk when it is started; any connected while it is running will not be recognized. This applies to MIDI devices that run over USB, which the user would expect to be hot-connectable. And even if audio and MIDI devices are restarted (which they are at various points), new devices will still not be recognized.

There may be a good reason for this, but what is clearly a problem is the misleading information at the top of this window. It not only fails to make this matter clear, but even implies that this is the point at which MIDI devices should be connected. Instead, it should have stated that if MIDI devices are not already connected, it is necessary to close Hauptwerk, connect the devices, then restart Hauptwerk.

This, together with the apparent MIDI controller name conflict described above, was responsible for a lot of the misery I had in getting the system working.

Control Panels and Toolbars
a) Improper Scaling

The Qt documentation states that it supports scaling, claiming that Qt uses the Windows display scale settings automatically; no spesific(sic) settings are required. For example, if a display is configured for 175% scale then Qt apps will see a device pixel ratio of 1.75 on that screen. In reality, Qt scaling is bananas.

My center 27" 4K monitor requires 150% scaling to render at a size comfortable for viewing. However, the touchscreens are scaled at 100%, as they have much coarser dot pitch. But Qt leaves the center monitor at 100%, while scaling the touchscreens to the inverse to that of that required for the center monitor (67%)!

I want to confine the Hauptwerk windows to the touchscreens, as the center monitor will be occupied with display of music. So if Qt did no scaling at all on the touchscreens, that would be fine for me. But the 67% scaling done when the Hauptwerk main window is on a touchscreen causes the content to be illegible, as there are insufficient screen pixels to render it properly.

On the other hand, if a Qt is opened when the Hauptwerk main window is on the center monitor, the lack of scaling makes the rendered information difficult to read. But on dragging the Qt from the center monitor to a touchscreen, the scale remains at 100%. This lack of scale change on dragging to another screen is a further defect, but here is fortuitous; dragging a Qt from the center monitor to a touchscreen is the only way to render it satisfactorily.

But not only do I have the chore of dragging each Qt I want to open from the center monitor, I am forced to have the Hauptwerk main window open on it at all times. As I want to keep Hauptwerk off this monitor, I reduce its impact as best I can. However, this can only be done by reducing its size to the minimum possible (which is not very small). I cannot do this by minimizing the main window, as this also minimizes (makes invisible) all the Qts (but not Hauptwerk standard windows).

b) Mysterious Disappearances

The burden of having to drag each Qt from the center monitor is aggravated by the fact that it does not work reliably. On numerous occasions, the window being dragged has vanished suddenly without trace. This is not reflected in the corresponding pulldown menu item, which remains checked. One must then deselect it, and select it again in another attempt to open and drag the Qt.

Miscellaneous Issues
a) Autosave Does Not Save

Despite the text on the Save menu bar item stating that Hauptwerk autosaves anyway, I have never known this to happen. On more than one occasion, days after changing registrations, the system has crashed, and when restarted lost the changes that I had made.

So, notwithstanding this advice, I strongly recommend saving manually whenever significant changes are made to registrations. I personally never rely on autosave for my work on other applications, as saving can be done by simply keying Ctrl/S. Unfortunately it is not so easy in Hauptwerk; saving causes the audio and MIDI devices to be reset with a general cancel, which is a deterrent to its use. Nonetheless, I am compelled to save manually. A simple safeguard to enable one to re-create a lost registration, is to record it by taking a photo of the stop layout screen.

It is surprising that there is such a basic issue, so if Hauptwerk does autosave, the question arises as to when this is done. Perhaps only when the user does something significant, such as closing or loading another organ? This is no good for me; I like to leave things running as they are as much as possible. I would have expected use of a timer, started when volatile changes are made, and running at a low priority to avoid pre-empting sample processing.

b) Continuous Execution with no User Input

Applications do not normally execute continuously; they carry out limited processing (typically in response to user input), and then re-enter a wait state. But Hauptwerk executes endlessly. This prevents the system from sleeping or entering any other power-saving mode, as I found when when investigating why my Hauptwerk computer would not sleep.

While this may not be a bug per se, I see no good reason for this behavior, which will clearly be responsible for guzzling a lot of electricity (especially since MDA appears to believe that only an Intel i9 Core is satisfactory). Although my processor consumes low power actively running, it would be even more economical when sleeping.

Assuming that continuous execution is necessary in order to process keys and other MIDI input, there should be a user-adjustable timeout period; if there is no user input within this period, execution would cease. It would then restart on response to MIDI input (any Hauptwerk control, piston, or whatever). Windows has the ability to go to sleep or turn off the monitors after a selectable period of inactivity - why not Hauptwerk? Setting the time-out period to Never would maintain the current behavior.

c) Inappropriate Default Setter Behavior

By default, Setter mode remains active even after the piston to be set has been pressed. Thus pressing another piston will overwrite the combination assigned to that piston. And so on for each further piston pressed, until one eventually realizes that Setter mode is still active and becomes extremely pistoff.

Thankfully this can be changed, so that Setter mode is reset when a piston is pressed. I strongly recommend doing this at the earliest opportunity.

Although I have never played a real pipe organ, my understanding is that the Setter piston must be held down while the piston to be set is pressed. This is a safe procedure, which has no correspondence with the default behavior in Hauptwerk.

d) Audio File can be created from MIDI File

This is a positive feature; the issue is with the documentation for not mentioning it.

A MIDI file can be used to create an audio file. This is done by playing the MIDI file, then pressing Record at the appropriate moment with Audio armed. Thus the initial whitespace (for example setting the registration) can be skipped over. One can also pause the playback to make changes to such things are registration, pitch, and tempo. The recording can be stopped in the usual way. Thus it is not normally be necessary to arm Audio with MIDI.

I am generally very happy with the Hauptwerk recording facilities, which should be used as soon as one is able to play a piece to a reasonable standard. I find particularly useful the Record button with a line through it; this stops the recording and tosses it. I also find it useful to experiment with different tempi and registrations on playback, to find which I prefer (it is necessary only to pause after the registration is set, change it as required, then continue the playback).