For a number of years sampling technology has been viewed as the best available technology and sound in the digital organ world; indeed, to the average church goer, more or less indistinguishable from a good pipe organ. Put very simply, with this technology a number of notes from a pipe organ are ‘sampled’ (i.e. recorded) and then digitised and stored on the onboard organ computer for playback from its memory when requested.

Of course, as you would expect, with sampled sound there is great variation in the quality, with much being determined by the original quality and length of the recording and the amount of computer processing subsequently involved. In essence, the longer the sample the better, with as little computer processing in use as possible. Makin and Johannus have very much led the way in developments in this area and customers have watched how year on year the sound quality is enhanced.

With both a pipe organ and sampled organs there are three definite phases to the sound: the start of the note, the holding of the note, and the release of the note. In each phase there are definite sound characteristics which play a part in providing a realistic sound, and indeed this is a very complex subject where many nuances can be taken into account, such as fast repetition of notes where wind is already available in the pipe. Makin and Johannus have very much dealt with this particular aspect of sound generation and realism in recent years with many technological advances

However, perhaps the most important aspect to date is that a ‘loop’ of the sample is required for when a note is held. Sample loops are very varied with cheap and cheerful organs only having a sample loop of a second or so, which as you can imagine become very wearing on the ear. For sometime now with the Monarch technology used in Westmorland Custom organs our sample loops have been a minimum of five and in some cases ten seconds. Such samples provide incredible realism and thankfully, since computer memory is now much cheaper, are now within the financial reach of our customers.

Makin organs do not share samples between different stops, indeed for our mixtures we have separate samples for each rank! In the pipe organ world, unless it was an extension organ, you would not expect the Swell Open Diapason to use the same pipes as the Great No 2 Diapason. Therefore, if it is not usually the case in the pipe world, why should it be done in the digital organ world? The answer, of course, is that this will save the manufacturer some money; hence this practice may be found at the cheaper end of the market. But it is the customer that loses out since two different ranks of similar pipes, such as the Diapasons, should not be voiced alike!

One other dubious practice sometimes employed by certain organ manufacturers is to use computer algorithm to convert the sample of one stop to another, for example a Dulciana into a Gemshorn. This can be used to fill in the gaps where a company doesn’t have good pipe samples of a particular stop, rather than taking more samples of the right stop which is expensive to do. From the customer’s point of view this is very much a false economy, since it is so difficult to achieve a convincing sound this way, and a well trained ear will easily be able to spot this.

One subject that is not mentioned by most manufacturers is how many samples are actually used for each individual stop. The reality is that, in most cases, for a 61 note stop such as an Open Diapason, there are only one or two individual notes sampled per octave; so the 61 notes of a rank are probably made up of only 10 or so actual samples, with the other notes being generated by computer algorithm. In the past this was seen as an adequate solution to providing a good sampled sound. However, with the advent of very cheap computer memory, this is perhaps one cost-cutting short cut that is no longer needed; and indeed its removal would dramatically enhance the realism of the overall sound.

In a digital organ, the sound produced is heard by the listener through a number of speakers, each of which is connected to its own amplifier.  Each amplifier-speaker link is often referred to as a “channel” of sound, the obvious example being a normal stereo system which has two channels, left and right.  With an organ producing a great deal of sound, the relationship between the number of stops and the number of channels will have an effect on the quality of the sound; The rationale is therefore very simple: the more amplifiers and speakers you have, the better the sound.

At Makin Organs, individual stops on an instrument are assigned to specific amplifiers, the aim being to have as few stops per amplifier as possible.   For example, the Thirlmere organ has 30 stops spread over 9 amplifiers, creating a ratio of 3:1, while with the Rydal organ the ratio is  4:1 with the 20 stops spread over 5 amplifiers. Compared with some instruments available from other suppliers, where sometimes over 30 stops are offered on only two channels, a Makin has an excellent overall sound.  Moreover, on ourCustom organs the ratio is improved further with even more amplifiers offered for a given number of stops, with our largest public instrument at Inverness Cathedral having only 2 stops per amplifier.

Finally, Makin’s full-range speaker units are built with 3 or 6 drivers (or cones) in each to spread the sound still further for the realistic “feel” of a pipe organ, and the optimum sound quality.  For example, the Village organ mentioned above uses 4 full-range and 1 bass speaker, which means that the sound is actually heard through at least 13 individual drivers.
Now, in contrast to such shortcomings found elsewhere, in a revolutionary “leap forward” in tonal reproduction, Makin and Johannus have introduced new “note-by-note” sampling. This means every single note of every single stop has a separate sound sample. This is unique in the digital organ industry since in the past the maximum number of samples per 61 note stop has been between 4 and 10. 

You can certainly hear the difference, and of course the organ does not become tiring upon the ear as has often been the case in the past. The major benefit is that, since minor differences between the individual pipes are all captured in the sampling process (rather than the computer of the standard system “smoothing out” irregularities) the sound is even more life-like than was previously the case. We use these samples on our Custom range of instruments.
Use the Best Speakers
A promising organ on paper can be disappointing if the correct speakers are not used in an attempt to save money and potentially cut corners. This is a false economy. As a company Makin always suggests the best speaker system for its organs. Indeed if budget becomes an issue we look to reduce costs by for example reducing the overall specification rather than reducing either the number of channels of amplification or by suggesting an inferior speaker system. Getting the right ratio between the number of stops and channels is critical in getting the most out of an instrument.

Makin don't use Hi-Fi speakers. In anything but the smallest chapel or building, Makin recommends the use of our UL speaker system which contains a range of speakers designed to cover all organ sound frequencies from the lowest 32’ C through to the top C of a 2' stop and beyond. After many years of research and development, these speakers work hand in hand with our organs to provide simply the best in sound with all the associated warmth of a pipe organ. Our speakers have multiple drivers per speaker, meaning that whilst an organ may have 13 channels of amplification, with a UL speaker system there will be upwards of 37 individual speaker drivers.

We have had a number of conversations with sound engineers recently who want to put the sound through a mixer desk and play it through a PA system. This is something that we do not support since in doing so, the organ tone would be poor and indeed there would be little point in doing any voicing since this would be undone in a stroke by somebody working the mixer desk! Quite simply the organist should be in charge of the organ.

All these factors together give a Makin organ the warmth of sound through all frequencies that you get from a pipe organ.