The Elderly Novice Virtual Organist
What is a Virtual Organ?
This page 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.
1 Why a Virtual Organ?
If you want an instrument that serves as a pipe organ, you have three choices:
- A Real Pipe Organ
- An Electronic (Digital) Organ
- A Virtual Organ
1.1 Real Pipe Organs
These are 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 nice, 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. Understanding the Pipe Organ is a prerequisite to becoming acquainted with the virtual organ, as this mimics a real pipe organ.
1.2 Electronic (Digital) Organs
These have been around for many years; they were formerly analog, now digital. 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 giving 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, loudspeakers). The second area also involves issues with the interaction of the loudspeakers 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 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 Organs
The virtual organ is a much more recent development than the electronic organ. Complete virtual organ software was first available only in 2002, and then its capabilities were initially limited by the memory and processing power of computers available at that time.
Instead of synthesizing sounds, virtual organs use recordings of individual pipes from a real pipe organ. 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.
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). These are combined in real time in response to messages from MIDI devices and controls on the computer user interface. MIDI devices include keyboards (manuals and pedalboard), pistons (thumb and toe), and expression pedals. Individual stop controls are typically operated via one or two touchscreens, but some consoles feature MIDI drawknobs or tabs.
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.
2 More on Virtual Organs
2.1 Virtual versus Digital
While a digital organ is limited to a 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, it is as well to point out its drawbacks.
The following properties of a digital organ make it easier to buy and use than a virtual organ:
- Comes as a single package, rather than being built from components
- Uses dedicated hardware and firmware, rather than a general-purpose computer
But there are disadvantages associated with these properties as well as advantages.
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 quality component-based system for much less than a package price. Moreover, turnkey virtual organs have now been available for several years, and it may be possible to re-purpose a complete digital organ (but requiring the addition of a computer system).
Having dedicated hardware and firmware makes a digital organ easy to use. In contrast, using a general-purpose computer is more problematic, especially turning the system on and off. Virtual organ software is far from straightforward, and requires a significant learning curve. But the other side of this is much greater function. The computer can also be used for auxiliary applications such as displaying music, playing audio and video, a metronome, and video capture.
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. There is also a shareware application GrandOrgue, which uses the same data file formats as the first version of Hauptwerk, but cannot use more recent Hauptwerk sample sets. Other applications include jOrgan, Aeolus, and Miditzer, but these are limited in scope.
Complete virtual organ software has been available since 2002, with the introduction of Hauptwerk 1. However, its applicability was initially limited by 32-bit systems able to address a total of 4 GB memory, and processors with only a single core. But 64-bit systems, substantially-reduced RAM prices, and multi-core processors have greatly expanded the domain of the virtual organ to large organs with multiple audio channels.
The other side of software is sample sets, of which there are hundreds available, including a number of free ones. These often provide function that is not available in the real organ. Hauptwerk, in turn, provides function not present in either the real organ or the sample sets. These include numerous playing aids, a comprehensive set of couplers, tremulants, real-time reverberation, adjustment of pitch and temperament, and a MIDI recorder.
RAM requirements tend to be high, but vary considerably; a small positive may require only a few hundred MB, while 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.
Each note of each stop is 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:
- The initial transient (including the chiff).
- The sustained section of the note, which in principle is uniform, but in practice contains irregularities that give the sound naturalness.
- The end of the note, mainly reverberation from the building that may last several seconds.
The fact that a virtual organ uses 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.
To prevent this artefact, good-quality sample sets feature multiple (typically up to 12) recordings of the sustained sound of each pipe (these are known as loop samples). With longer notes, different loop samples of the pipe are used in a random sequence, thus removing any apparent repetition. Good sample sets also include multiple release samples, as the sound varies with the length of time the note has been sustained. There are typically three release samples for short, long, and medium-length notes.
Although for best quality, the sample set should include separate recordings for each stop/note, some sample sets economize by synthesizing notes from others. In some sample sets, stops not in the original organ are generated this way. Not all sample sets include separate tremulant samples; these are sometimes synthesized, as an alternative to using the tremulant provided in Hauptwerk. Many sample sets include the ability to model the wind supply and recreate action noises, to further enhance the realism.
Most sample sets are "wet" (recorded at some distance from the pipes to include the acoustic of the building). "Dry" sample sets recorded near the pipes are also available for use where there is already a lively acoustic, or with separate reverb (which is available in Hauptwerk). Some sample sets offer flexible surround sound, and include both wet and dry samples. Newer sample sets commonly feature three stereo pairs (six channels) recorded at different (close, middle, and far) positions; if all are loaded into memory, they can be mixed as required.
Most sample sets feature only a single instrument; however, some are composite, meaning that they include samples taken from several instruments (often free demos). These tend to be less satisfactory, as the samples will be from different acoustic environments. Moreover, in many cases, it is not clear from where the samples were taken. However, it may be an economical way to get a larger instrument.
2.4 Acquiring a Virtual Organ
There are many ways to obtain a virtual organ, and thus a bewildering range of purchasing options. And in some cases, perfectly-good components are given away.
Buying a virtual organ is hardly like buying a TV; you will not be able to visit your local virtual organ showroom to try out the range of pedalboards they have on offer. Although it is normal now to buy products on spec from online retailers such as Amazon, there will usually be plenty of product information to go on, including customer reviews. This is unlikely to be the case with organ components.
A virtual organ system may be obtained in the following three forms:
- System complete with computer, touchscreens, and audio devices, ready to run.
- As a turnkey system, but requiring purchase and installation of a computer system.
- Assembled from MIDI devices, console furniture, and computer system.
These come with a computer with installed software, usually with touchscreens and speakers installed in a console. A turnkey system offers the greatest ease of purchase and installation, but at the same time the fewest options. And this type of system raises the greatest questions over component quality.
New systems often have touchscreens that give give dedicated access to the functions in Hauptwerk and sample sets via an API. While this is convenient, it tends to 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 piece of furniture (console), the positions of touchscreens and speakers are likely to be fixed. And the speakers themselves are unlikely to be of particularly good quality, as well as being positioned in a way that will not give the best sound.
As virtual organs have now been around for several years, it may be possible to find a used ready-to-run system. This might have been obtained in any of the ways given here; for example, there must be many digital organs around that have been converted to Hauptwerk.
These include the MIDI devices, table, and bench only. However, there will probably be fittings for installation of a computer, and possibly for touchscreens and/or speakers. They will typically be from companies that produce turnkey products or digital organs, mainly targeted at the home consumer, and sold off the internet. As such, like turnkey products, one can expect domestic consumer construction quality, not what would be used in a real pipe organ.
However, it may be possible to get an organ console custom-built from a company that supplies real organ builders. This should offer excellent construction quality, but at a high price. It will also require a lot of interaction to establish the design, and ideally one should visit the workshop several times to check on the work.
This gives you much more freedom of choice, and thereby the potential for a better system for the money you have to spend. Moreover, such a system can easily be changed and upgraded to meet future requirements. Probably the majority of virtual organs are self-assembled from separate components, which may be obtained in one or more of the following ways:
- Buy Used
- Buy New
- Accept Gift (if you are lucky)
For those willing to do some fixing-up, high-quality components such as a pedalboard, manuals, and bench can be bought used. Many pipe organs are being decommissioned in favor of cheaper and more easily-maintained digital organs. In particular, a used pedalboard may be retrofitted with MIDI to enable its use in a virtual organ; however, MIDIfying a set of manuals and pistons may be another matter.
A simpler option would be to buy a used electronic organ, if this has MIDI outputs. However, the quality and suitability of the components should be carefully checked.
Some items may be self-built. Those with access to carpentry and design skills could make a bench and table 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 make manual keyboards.
2.4.4 General Considerations
When buying any organ products that are not targeted at pipe organ builders, one should be aware that construction quality is likely to be to domestic consumer standards, not industrial strength. The criteria tend to be an atttractive appearance and checks in boxes, rather than lasting quality. However, 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.
Turnkey and ready-assembled products tend to be significantly more expensive than the value of the components involved. And the questions over construction quality are greater with production systems, where one does not get to choose the individual components, and their origin is likely to be unknown.
Lower-cost manuals bought new will usually be designs that can be mass-produced in factories; these use plastic and rubber moving parts that wear over time. Thus the lifetime is likely to a small number of years, rather than decades as with a traditional wood-core design. Some popular pedalboards on the market appear to be made entirely of soft pine, or are otherwise of questionable construction.
3 Virtual Organ Components
A virtual organ requires the following:
- MIDI Input Devices
- Computer Main Box
- Audio Interface
- Headphones and/or Loudspeakers
- Virtual Organ Software
- Table / Console
The computer system should also have the following:
- Wireless mouse and keyboard, to operate the computer
- One or more displays (including at least one touchscreen, unless using physical stop controls)
- A MIDI interface, if there are any MIDI connectors (but this may be povided by the audio interface)
- A powered USB hub
- A UPS, to protect the system from power problems
It may also be preferable to use external Secondary Storage for data such as sample sets.
A rechargeable and dimmable pedalboard light with motion sensor is likely to be desirable, as is a similar type of light over the manuals.
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. Likewise, the 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.
3.1 MIDI Input Devices
These include the following:
Most systems also have Expression Pedals and Toe Pistons, although these might be omitted, especially if one's interest is mainly baroque music. With a component-based system, they can be added later.
Stop Controls are usually operated via touchscreens; however, some virtual organs instead use physical MIDI drawknobs or tabs. Real organists will prefer handling these to poking a touchscreen, and they are also more attractive esthetically. However, 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. Relabeling and providing extra stop controls may help, but is less convenient than a touchscreen. A touchscreen can also be used for many other functions. Physical stop controls are likely to be expensive, especially with a combination action in which they are moved by pistons. But they may be considered essential for those who insist on the closest thing to a real organ console.
An important consideration is what pistons to provide. Traditional use of pistons involves large numbers of divisionals and generals; a common view is that at least 20 are required on each manual. But pistons are very expensive for what they are (switches); the most basic cost from $15 to $25 each. On this basis, the pistons alone would account for a large proportion of the cost of the manuals.
The good news is that the combination stepper requires only two pistons; cueing, as well as setting, can be done on the touchscreen. With the Hauptwerk software, this is probably simpler as well as more economical. As only two pistons are needed, it is reasonable to duplicate them on each manual. As it may be difficult to add pistons later, it is a good idea to also have a few extra for ad hoc purposes. But the touchscreen can be used for some functions usually assigned to pistons on a real organ.
Another type of MIDI control 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. Its main use is likely to be to supplement physical stop controls; it would probably be redundant if the system has an easily-accessible touchscreen.
3.1.1 Connecting MIDI
Connection is either via a MIDI cable, or USB (MIDI over USB). Since PCs do not normally handle MIDI natively, connection of devices using MIDI cable must be done via an interface, which will usually connect to a USB port. However, recent MIDI devices will probably offer a direct USB connection.
A possible advantage using MIDI connection is that it can support longer runs of cable. However, as up to 15m of cable can be used with USB, this is unlikely to be an issue for a home organ console. So MIDI devices should preferably have USB connectors to avoid having to use a MIDI interface.
3.2 Computer Main Box
Virtual organs are based on a general-purpose computer system, usually running Windows (Hauptwerk also supports Mac OS).
Older (32-bit) systems were limited in being able to use a maximum of 4 GB of memory (RAM), and perhaps only a single processor core. High-quality modeling of a sizeable real organ has become feasible only relatively recently, with 64-bit systems capable of addressing an essentially unlimited amount of RAM, falling RAM prices, and multi-core processors capable of handling high polyphony.
3.2.1 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 polyphony can be found experimentally and set in Hauptwerk. It depends not only on the CPU itself, but also RAM accessing, and any other processing by Hauptwerk or 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 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 required polyphony; however, they require added reverb to produce acceptable sound in a normal room.
If the required polyphony exceeds the preset maximum, 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. Glitches are likely to be caused by unwanted activity, such as Windows deciding to do a virus scan during a particularly involved tutti; hence the importance of Computer Preparation.
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 available (currently, an Intel i9 Core is recommended for a PC). This is reasonable advice, provided that having the maximum possible processing headroom overrides all the following:
- high purchase price
- high-capacity power supply requirement (perhaps 800W)
- high base power consumption
- high environmental impact
- high heat output
- high space requirements
- high-output fan requirement, with possible noise problems
- high frequency of powering up/down to avoid high electricity bills and heat
But unfortunately, the Hauptwerk documentation implies that anything other than a top-end Intel processor is substandard.
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. So having a processor whose capacity is never 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 simply accepting 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 is appropriate can be downloaded here.
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 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 this will prevent the system going into any power-saving mode.
3.2.2 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.
3.2.3 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.
3.2.4 Turning the System On and Off
While this is quick and easy with a digital organ, the issues associated with this are likely to 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.
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!).
In contrast, the virtual memory swapper file can even be split over multiple physical drives for improved performance. This should have been done with the hibernate file, and I believe that forcing it to be contained on the Windows partition is deliberate policy on the part of Microsoft.
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)
It seems to be a general rule that, if Microsoft recommends it, don't do it! Conversely, if they're making things difficult, you know you're on the right track, so persevere!
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.
I leave the system running 24/7, which allows practice at odd moments (this is punctuated by system crashes, which occur every two to three months, and on which the event viewer sheds no light). The lack of power on/off cycles may also maximize system longevity. However, it may not be reasonable with a power-hungry CPU, as noted above.
3.2.5 Computer Preparation
One unfortunately cannot completely escape the lamentable fact that a virtual organ is a PC running Windows. 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. I consider this to be 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
a) 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 change the behavior of your computer without your knowledge or consent. And without an internet connection, you can safely 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; bear in mind that 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
b) 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.
c) 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 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:
- Open Settings by clicking on the cog in the taskbar
- Click on "System"
- Click on "About" in the left-hand pane
- Click on "Advanced system settings" (near the bottom of the window)
- In the System Properties window, click the "Advanced" tab
- Click on "Settings..." in the Performance groupbox
- In the Performance Options window, click the"Advanced" tab
- 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".
d) Optimize - Group Policy Editor
Open using Windows Key + "R" and type "gpedit.msc". Navigate to the following:
Computer Configuration -> Administrative Templates -> Windows Components
- Microsoft Defender Antivirus -> Real-time Protection - double click on "Turn off real-time protection", select Enabled, and click on Apply and OK
- OneDrive - go through all options with a view to disabling it
- Cloud Content - select all to turn off
- Search - disallow at least Cloud and Cortana
- Sync your settings - in all cases, do not sync
- Windows Customer Experience Improvement Program - disable
- Windows Messenger - do not automatically start or allow to run
There may be other settings here that are worth checking out.
e) 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:
- Internet Explorer 11
- Media -> Windows Media Player
f) Optimize - Settings
Open by clicking on the cog in the taskbar:
- Privacy -> General - disable all
- Privacy -> Activity History - disable all
- Privacy -> Background apps - prevent all apps from running in the background
- Apps -> Apps & features - uninstall/disable anything not needed
- Apps -> Startup - disable as appropriate
- System -> Notifications & actions - disable "Get notifications from apps..." and "Get tips, tricks, and suggestions..."
- Network and Internet - check that there is no connection
- Update & Security -> Windows Security - disable anything possible in "Virus & threat protection", "Account protection", "Firewall & network protection", "App & browser control", "Device performance & health" (disable Windows Time Service)
- Devices - disable Bluetooth
- Gaming - disable
g) 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).
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 $200.
I consider the ability to monitor levels via a color LCD display to be essential. Yet very few units seem to have good level indication.
3.4 Headphones / Loudspeakers
In my opinion, a comfortable pair of headphones is preferable to loudspeakers for individual use. Those at around $250 can give better sound quality than all but the very best loudspeaker systems costing many thousands pf dollars. And this is not compromised by room interactions. Although headphones are not capable of tactile bass, they will give a better impression of deep pedal notes than most loudspeaker 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.
Loudspeakers used with an organ console are likely to 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 loudspeakers 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.
4 What I Got
My system is based on all-new separate components, which I divided into four purchasing phases as follows:
- Pedalboard & Bench
- 30 or 32 notes, to AGO or BDO standard, with bench to my own design.
- Manuals & Table
- A stack of from two to four keyboards, with customized pistons, and table to my own design.
- Computer box, center monitor, touchscreens, audio interface, headphones, etc.
- 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. Although putting it together was no picnic, it was well worth the trouble and expense. Learning a keyboard instrument again 50 years after finishing with the piano has given me great satisfaction (as well as many seemingly-insuperable difficulties).
4.1 System Overview
The pedalboard and manuals are the key (pun intended) components. These were supplied in bare wood by PedaMidiKit, and finished by local carpenters. 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. Do not be put off by the name or relative obscurity of this one-man company; in my view, it should be first on the list for those seeking good honest quality at a low price.
The table 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 featuring three 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 is shown here. The mouse and keyboard are to the left of the manuals, giving convenient access to computer functions (I am left-handed). The computer system is fixed to the wall behind the table, out of view, but with accessible power button (rarely used) and USB ports.
4.1.1 What It Has
The main components in my system are as follows:
- PedaMidiKit AGO 32
- After a model by Laukhuff
- PedaMidiKit K3 61 W, customized with 16 thumb pistons
- Made to my own design
- Computer Box
- Minisforum HX90 / 32 GB RAM / 512 GB SSD
- External SSD
- Western Digital Blue 1 TB USB
- External HDD
- Seagate 3 TB USB
- Keyboard & Mouse
- Jelly Comb 2.4G Wireless (red wine color)
- Center Monitor
- AOC 27" UHD IPS, wall mounted
- 2 x ViewSonic 22" FHD, on Vivo stands
- Auto Interface
- MOTU M2
- Beyerdynamic DT 990 PE 250
- B&W 801 series 2, with Rotel amplification
There are three secondary storage units, including two external. That installed in the box will be dedicated to Windows and installed apps. The external SSD will be used primarily for installed sample sets. The external HDD will be used for downloaded sample sets, and general purposes where performance is not critical (for example, audio and video files, and sheet music).
The system is protected by an APC UPS. USB hubs (one powered) and extension cables were required. A 10m underfloor phono cable connects the audio interface to the Rotel pre-amp. I also bought a rechargeable pedalboard light with motion sensor.
4.1.2 What It Hasn't
- Scores of Pistons
- I will not be using divisional/general/reversible pistons, only the combination stepper. And with two touchscreens to hand, I see no point in allocating costly pistons to function that is not needed while actually playing. Thus only two are required, duplicated on each manual for a total of 6. But 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 redundant, as I will be concentrating on learning the works of J S Bach. They will of course be essential for later music, but can easily 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 do not believe that its absence will ever be a serious limitation. Where the sample set has more than 3 manuals, either two divisions can be combined on one manual, or (if I need to use them separately) additional divisions can be made floating and coupled to a manual as required. And the extra height and depth of a 4-manual console would compromise usability, particularly as the screens would be less ergonomically positioned.
- 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 living room, with its 4m-high ceiling, and speakers over 2m away from the front curved wall. Anyway, like many Hauptwerk users, I will normally use headphones. So it would be nice to see binaural sample sets, which would offer far better surround sound than any number of speakers.
- Physical Stops
- Being dominated by three screens, my system is hardly the height of elegance, and makes no attempt to disguise the fact that it is a computer. Instead, it is designed for easy access to all Hauptwerk and auxiliary functions. As I am not a real organist (only an elderly novice virtual one), I do not miss those nice physical stop controls.
- Indicator Lights
- For me, these would be intrusive and distracting, as indeed would large numbers of knobs and buttons (I am not used to a real organ). They are again made redundant by easily-accessible touchscreens, which I can easily turn off if not needed.
- 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 provided.
4.1.3 What It Cost
The total cost (excluding the HDD, vintage loudspeakers 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 & Table
- $4,000 (including $315 shipping, and $465 for the table and finishing)
- $3,000 (including $850 for touchscreens and stands, and slightly more for the Mini PC box)
- $600 (Hauptwerk Advanced Perpetual)
I consider my system to be economical for a quality one with all-new components. 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 table for much less than the net cost 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.
4.2 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.
After looking at some consumer products in the range US$1900 to over US$2500 plus high shipping costs (it seems MidiWorks was going to charge me US$1,000!), and others that were 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.
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.
To get the item shipped, I sent a payment of €240 direct to the shipping agent (this transparent separate payment probably explains why the shipping cost is much lower than elsewhere). I finally received the pedalboard (in three packages) on 2 March 2022, after 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).
While waiting for the pedalboard, I found a pipe organ construction site that gave me the design for the bench, which is based on a Laukhuff model. I estimated the measurements as they are not given; however, these are not critical, apart from the height. I made no provision for adjusting this, but as I am of plain average height, the AGO standard should be fine for me. The seat is hinged with storage space underneath. The plans I created comprised a cardboard template for the legs, some of the photos, and some measurements. When the pedalboard arrived, I gave these to the carpenters, together with parts of the pedalboard for finishing.
On 8 April 2022, the carpenters delivered the finished pedalboard pieces and bench, so I was able to try playing the pedalboard. However, without any sound, this proved to be of limited benefit, and possibly even counterproductive in inducing bad habits. It did at least confirm that the height of the bench was just right, and all the pedals were easy to reach. The bench was reassuringly stable and solid, and will take considerably more weight than mine.
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.
4.2.1 Assessment (Pedalboard)
I am very pleased with the construction quality. 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 real 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. I do not believe that a "better" pedalboard would 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.
4.3 Manuals & Table
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 (buttons) in a substantial shipping crate (extra). This unit came assembled, but in bare wood. I was attracted by the fact that these manuals are built using traditional methods, and in particular, have wood-core construction.
At this price, the only other type of organ keyboard I saw was mass-produced in factories. These contain internal parts of plastic and rubber, which are likely to last only a small number of years, rather than probably decades. This durability issue has been reported by a number of people, some of whom have had to do multiple repairs. This would be especially unacceptable for me here in Mexico.
Another advantage of PedaMidiKit is customization. With other products, I would have had to buy a mounting frame and thumb pistons separately, and fit them myself. My unit was customized with 16 pistons (well, small black buttons, but I didn't get them to look impressive). Each manual has a pair 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 divisonal/general pistons, nor with the various ways of using numerous pistons to cue combination stepper frames described in the Hauptwork user guide.
I was rather surprised to be told (before purchase) that he used silent red Cherry computer gaming keyboard switches (his website indicated that he used reed switches). However, reed switches work less well in manuals than in pedalboards, due to the shorter distance between the keys, and consequently greater risk of problems from stray magnetic fields. As these mechanical switches are rated at 5 million keypresses, and should be easy to find and replace, they seem like a good idea.
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.
While waiting for the keyboard stack, I created plans for the table 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. It was also important that it was very stable and sturdy; I have seen a number of tables wobble when the manuals are played.
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 very worrying 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 table, were given to the carpenters.
On 5 July 2022, the carpenters delivered the table and finished keyboard stack parts. I was relieved to see (that after an error that was noted and fixed during construction) all the measurements were accurate. Moreover, it was satisfyingly stable, being very difficult to move.
4.3.1 Assessment (Manuals)
Like the pedalboard, the keyboard stack is not super-de-luxe, but it is well built. The keys are of acrylic, and perhaps a bit slippery with my dry skin (my previous experience was in pounding the ivories). Spacing between the keys is somewhat uneven, but this issue is only cosmetic; overall measurements are very accurate. The side cheeks are of oak, with some detailing to take off the squareness. It was well worth getting the unit finished, as it vastly improved the appearance, and made it much more appropriate for my living room. Staining and polishing alone gave a very pleasing result; no preparation of the woodwork was required.
I am very pleased 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 USB-A cable to connect to the computer (again, you will probably need an extension cable).
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.
4.4.1 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 HX9 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 4 cores 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.
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). 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).
And 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 the drop of a hat (I often practice while making a coffee).
As indicated above, 32 GB is insufficient for other than a small organ if 6 channels are to be loaded; however, 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 instrument mentioned above 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.😁
The capacity of 512 GB is dedicated to Windows and installed apps, which occupy only around 40 GB. I will rarely use hibernate, and so this amount of storage is more than sufficient. The external units (SSD and HDD) are used for everything else.
4.4.2 Center Monitor and Touchscreens
As all my organ music is in PDF format (I have no legacy of paper, as I have for the piano), I got a center monitor to display it. This has a 27" UHD IPS display, but there is no elegant way to turn pages (I use the mouse wheel). This monitor is also used for computer administration and auxiliary applications.
Many organists use forScore on the iPad for displaying music. This allows pages to be turned via gestures, and has rather better annotation facilities than my arrangement. The downside is that it can only display one page at a time, and with a lesser size and quality than on my screen. But there is always the possibility of adding this in the future.
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. There seemed to be no point in having less than FHD resolution (1920x1080), especially as they would display content other than the jambs. I saw no touchscreens with higher resolution; however, this would probably be superfluous, due to the limited resolution of images in Hauptwerk and sample sets.
I initially considered having two touchscreens with a view to displaying the two jambs of a real organ. However, many sample sets have simplified stop layouts that occupy only a single window, 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 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.
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.
I took some care to fix the screens in the most ergonomic possible positions. 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. I previously considered mounting the touchscreens in wood enclosures; while this might have looked prettier, it would have impeded adjustment, and have made the console more cumbersome (I prefer simple functionality to prettiness).
4.4.3 Audio Interface and Headphones
For me, the MOTU M2 is an excellent choice. Unlike most audio interfaces, it has good volume level meters (which I think are essential). 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 headphones, which offer both excellent sound and comfort. Although they are high impedance, I am able to achieve satisfactory volume levels from the MOTU without a headphone amplifier.
My first purchase was actually Hauptwerk 6, which I bought on 8 November 2021, well before I had decided on a pedalboard. I was worried that (following Adobe, Microsoft, and others), the next release of Hauptwerk would be available only on subscription (this already applied to the Basic version of Hauptwerk). It does not take Albert Einstein to discern that, as only 30 months subscription would cost the same as a perpetual license, the total cost on a subscription basis would vastly uneconomical. Indeed, I would not consider using Hauptwerk on a subscription basis.
I frankly fail to see the attraction of a subscription license; those imposed by the gigantic bloatware merchants clearly work in their favor, against the interests of the consumer. And while at US$599, the cost of a perpetual license for Hauptwerk Advanced Edition is not trivial, it is likely to be a relatively small proportion of the total system cost (about 6% in the case of my low-cost setup). However, the total cost of a subscription license could easily exceed the hardware cost in the longer term.
Although the subscription would include updates, Hauptwerk is now a mature product, with recent releases featuring only very superficial enhancements. And there is always the option to pay for an update. I purchased Hauptwerk 6, but Hauptwerk 7 was available only a few weeks later at the same price. Nonetheless, this is of no concern to me as there is absolutely nothing in Hauptwerk 7 that I would find useful.
Another option, of course, would be to try the free GrandOrgue software. I have no experience of this, but it is clear that a big limitation would be in the availabilty of sample sets. Nonetheless, the earlier sample sets by Piotr Grabowski are available for GrandOrgue as well as Hauptwerk (and are free!). But (bearing in mind that even US$599 is likely to be much less than the hardware cost), I think most people will want to go with Hauptwerk.
This section is intended to complement the Hauptwerk documentation (what they don't tell you!). Its purpose is to point out certain problems I have had that are likely to affect other people, and may lead to serious problems such as lost registrations.
But before I do this, I want to make plain that Hauptwerk is a great piece of software. We should all be very grateful for the hard work and talent of Martin Dyde, who originated it in 2001, primarily for his own use in practicing the organ. This was pioneering work, that led to the release of Hauptwerk 1 in August 2002. It preceded jOrgan and Miditzer, which were released in 2003 and 2004, respectively. In 2006, a product called myOrgan was released; this was essentially a rip-off of Hauptwerk, and used the same organ definition file (ODF) format (thus enabling it to use sample sets developed for Hauptwerk). In the same year, Hauptwerk 2 was released with a redesigned ODF format, incompatible with Hauptwerk 1 and myOrgan. In 2009, myOrgan was released under the Creative Commons license as the current GrandOrgue, which still uses the Hauptwerk 1 ODF format.
MIDI Devices Window
a) Improper Handling of Multiple Devices with the Same Name
Two or more MIDI devices with the same name appear only as a single line, giving the impression that Hauptwerk has recognized only one of the devices. In fact multiple devices with the same name 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, both pedalboard and manuals have the name "Arduino Leonardo". 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. So, even though many MIDI devices run over USB (and one would therefore expect them to be hot-connectable), this is not the case.
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 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 device name conflict described above, was responsible for a lot of the misery I had in getting the system working.
Control Panels and Toolbars
These use Creative Commons code named qt (Quick Toolbar). This will have saved a great deal of development effort, especially as it is multi-platform (so the same user interface code would serve for both Windows and Mac). There would be a strong motivation for using this code in the early stages of development, as it would otherwise have taken much longer to develop core Hauptwerk function. However, using third-party code has its problems when it comes to maintenance, design changes, and fixing bugs.
The use of this code is responsible for the most serious usability issues in Hauptwerk; in addition to the following bugs is its generally non-standard and quirky behavior. Now the product is mature, I do wish Milan Digital Audio (Martin Dyde) would write code in-house to handle dialog windows with standard Windows/Mac conventions, and throw this stuff in the bin.
a) Improper Scaling
Although the qt documentation states that it supports scaling, its behavior is nonsensical. My center 27" 4K monitor requires 150% scaling to render at a size comfortable for viewing; however, scaling is not used with the touchscreens, as they have much coarser dot pitch.
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, that would be fine for me. But opening a qt when the Hauptwerk main window is on a touchscreen displays it scaled to 67%! This is the inverse of the 150% scaling of the center monitor - WTF?. The result is illegible, as there are insufficient screen pixels to render the information properly.
On the other hand, if a qt is opened when the Hauptwerk main window is on the center monitor, it is not scaled at all (it is at 100%). Now, although there are sufficient screen pixels, the scale makes the rendered information difficult to read. But if I drag the qt from the center monitor to a touchscreen, it appears at its proper scale (100%). Opening a qt from the center monitor and then dragging it to a touchscreen is the only way to render it satisfactorily.
So 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.
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.
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) 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 annoyed.
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.
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.
c) 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 on playback, to find which I prefer.