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  • Sonic "fatigue" when playing a digital organ

    We've not had, to my knowledge, a thorough discussion of the phenomenon of "ear fatigue" that is a factor in the enjoyment of music, particularly, I think, organ music. And it's more than just getting mentally "tired" of hearing certain tones, or not being engaged enough by certain types of music to enjoy listening for long.

    It's more like simply not being able to endure the tone of something for a long period of time. Not sure how to define it any more accurately than that. I know it when I experience it. Sometimes I hear or play an organ that just bores me to death, that makes me want to get away as soon as I can. And this doesn't just happen with "bad" organs, such as some old clunker on which all the stops sound more or less like a clarinet, or with such a primitive generator that all the tones are in lockstep. It can even happen with organs that are modern and sophisticated with good technology and a good setup.

    And it can be surprising what I find "not fatiguing" sometimes. For example, every time I run across an old analog Baldwin 520 I thoroughly enjoy playing it and listening to it, in spite of the relatively poor simulation of pipe sound and the dated technology. Another instrument I've enjoyed often is an old Rodgers 645, which is one of the smaller analogs of the 80's, a model lacking some of the sophistication of the larger analogs, and with only self-contained speakers. But to my ears it is pleasant, and I don't quickly tire of it. Even certain old Conn models seem to bring me listening pleasure, particularly the "Artist" series with their better diapason and string keying.

    I can also remember hearing and playing certain Viscount and Johannus models that really drew me in and made me want to linger. And not necessarily large or elaborate models either, just smallish self-contained models. And of course many of the finest Allen and Rodgers digitals, though even with these two fine brands there are some that I do get very tired of very quickly.

    Hauptwerk setups can also be extremely engaging for me, at least the ones I've heard on the internet. I suspect that part of their sonic charm is in the capturing of the lovely ambiance of the churches and cathedrals in which they were sampled. But I've even experience a similar feeling at times with a simple jOrgan VPO setup, even when the samples were not even "real" but synthetic. So it's not necessarily an authentic sample or genuine ambiance that does the trick for me.

    What do you think accounts for these different reactions? Is there anything one can do to make the sound of a given organ more pleasing and less tiring?
    John
    ----------
    *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birds...97551893588434

  • #2
    Good question. I'll toss in two thoughts for the moment and look forward to hearing more ideas. First, it may help to get some distance between the consoles and speakers. Space requirements often force speaker placements beside or atop the console. I get along much better with speakers that are 10 feet away or more so there's a bit of room acoustic mellowing the sound.

    Second, I like multichannel setups which lessen the intermodulation (not IM distortion) between dissonant intervals, especially major and minor thirds. This improvement is similar to the improvement most of us sense when moving from monophonic sound to stereo.

    There are plenty of other possibilities including poorly recorded samples and harsh speakers so I'm interested in what others will contribute.
    http://www.nwmidi.com

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    • #3
      I find that sounds with a lot of “chorusing” in them do not tire my brain easily. For digital organs with extensive editing capabilities, I think a “looser” tuning between stops will sound better than a tight tuning. That is why I found single computer MOS organs tired my ears sooner than the larger multi-computer models.

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      • #4
        This may be a matter of personal taste, but I find that mixtures, and even agressive 2' stops, tend to tire my ears easily. I play a 90s era digital Rodgers, and I use the mixtures sparingly for this reason.

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        • #5
          One problem could be tuning and temperament. I find that if organ tuning isn't quite right certain intervals can be very annoying, especially if sustained too long. Most modern music has that effect for me, since it always seems to be out of tune.

          A specific problem for me is excessive hum. I just managed to acquire a beautiful Rodgers 321C that's mostly working, but it does have the humming problem that many people have commented on here. It's probably power supply capacitors, so that's where I'll start looking when I'm able to get a service manual with schematics. I can't seem to open the Rodgers 321B service manual PDF in the Gallery and I've submitted a request in the Schematics section.

          The hum is loud enough to be annoying, but it's also a symptom of something wrong which pains and distracts me as an engineer.

          Edit: Got out the silly-scope. +24V has 1.6V peak-to-peak ripple (120 Hz) typical of insufficient power supply filtering.
          Last edited by johnbeetem; 09-03-2018, 06:38 PM. Reason: Added information

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          • #6
            One area where I have near-professional experience and knowledge is high fidelity stereo equipment, and while every response above mine adds a distinct piece to the answer, I think John Kinkennon comes closest - the not-precisecely-definable but nonetheless hearable distortions: harmonic, intermodular, the beating between dissonant intervals; any and all forms. With even the finest self-contained organs, it starts to become noticeable in "full" registrations, especially. The ear simply tires of the sound faster. It doesn't take much - in high fidelity an amplifier that produces more than one-tenth of one percent harmonic distortion (.01%) is considered a "fail", though in more practical terms the ear will tolerate up to 1% distortion before it begins to really annoy you in the long term. And it climbs much more rapidly with "full" registration, of course. You suffer "listeners fatigue", yet you can't put your finger on why. The answer is all-too-frequently distortion.
            Home: Johannus Opus 370

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            • #7
              In the early days of compact disks I often experienced ear fatigue. I think that was a common experience in the days before the application of digital technology used in audio equipment was fully developed and refined. I still experience it with certain digital sound sources when I listen at high volumes. On the other hand, I rarely experience it with live performances of acoustic instruments, including full orchestra and pipe organs. My analog electronic organs do not create ear fatigue.

              Similar issues have been argued for decades now about tube versus transistor amplifiers and the relative way they act when driven into distortion. The guitar amp community is constantly debating the merits of old (and new) tube amps versus transistors. "Tubes sound warmer" is the often heard judgement. I concur with Melos, it's all about distortion in the tone generation system but even more so in the amplifiers and speakers. Full registrations and the engagement of higher pitch stops and mixtures played at high volume hasten the onset of ear fatigue.

              Age and health of the listener is probably a contributing factor as well. I know that things that sounded fine to me in my younger years are now difficult for me to listen to for very long.
              Larry is my name; Allen is an organ brand. Allen RMWTHEA.3 with RMI Electra-Piano; Allen 423-C+Gyro; Britson Opus OEM38; Steinway AR Duo-Art 7' grand piano, Mills Violano Virtuoso with MIDI; Hammond 9812H with roll player; Roland E-200; Mason&Hamlin AR Ampico grand piano, Allen ADC-5300-D with MIDI, Allen MADC-2110.

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              • #8
                Here's a video (obviously a promotional piece by Johannus, but interesting nevertheless), with a nice digital (not even a hybrid) being played in a lovely and lively cathedral in China. THIS organ tone doesn't seem to "tire" my ears at all. From what I hear in this video, I could listen to that organ all day long. Of course it doesn't hurt anything that this young lady plays with greatest virtuosity!

                https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmys8ercKNE

                By way of contrast, I have listened to certain other demos on very fine high-dollar organs by very prominent digital builders and found them a bit grating. Not really bad, just not as engaging and sweet.
                John
                ----------
                *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!

                https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birds...97551893588434

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                • #9
                  Very good sound, typical of a large church install of Johannus and it is not even their top of the line Monarke model.
                  The massive acoustic in this video also helps avoid any listener ear fatique.

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                  • #10
                    Listening to a digital organ in person versus a recording of one adds significant complications to judging the sound and how fatigued you might be listening to it for long stretches. The whole A to D and D to A recording and playback chain is now part of the process. I have a high end audio card, 120 Watt per channel amp and some rather good speakers connected to my PC so my listening can be fairly loud (I usually don't use headphones). Even admitting some age-related high frequency hearing loss, I don't detect a whole lot of very high frequency stops and mixtures in this recording.

                    Interestingly, a D-570 was installed in a nearby 350-seat Episcopal church recently and when I went to the dedication recital I was highly disappointed with the sound. Yes, the cubic volume and surfaces of the room play a big role and the reverb time of the space can make a huge impact. But just comparing the sound of that organ live to the same model recorded in a highly reverberant space is quite a different experience. I'm tempted to haul out the spectrum analyzer to see if there is a significant high frequency roll-off on that recording.
                    Larry is my name; Allen is an organ brand. Allen RMWTHEA.3 with RMI Electra-Piano; Allen 423-C+Gyro; Britson Opus OEM38; Steinway AR Duo-Art 7' grand piano, Mills Violano Virtuoso with MIDI; Hammond 9812H with roll player; Roland E-200; Mason&Hamlin AR Ampico grand piano, Allen ADC-5300-D with MIDI, Allen MADC-2110.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by AllenAnalog View Post
                      Interestingly, a D-570 was installed in a nearby 350-seat Episcopal church recently and when I went to the dedication recital I was highly disappointed with the sound. Yes, the cubic volume and surfaces of the room play a big role and the reverb time of the space can make a huge impact. But just comparing the sound of that organ live to the same model recorded in a highly reverberant space is quite a different experience.
                      The space-reverberation indeed adds a lot to the sound experience. Nevertheless, there may be other factors contributing to your disappointment.
                      I.e., is that Episcopal organ righltly voiced (or may be, the taste of the voicers is not your taste)?
                      Is there a sufficient audiosystem (and that means not only power or many speakers, but also placing of the speakers an so on)?
                      In the China recording I don't hear or mixtures, as you already mentioned, maybe in that Episcopal church they are frequently used and harshly voiced?

                      And last but not least, keep in mind that nowadays one can hardly say this or that orgel model sounds nice or bad (in one's own ears, of course), because nearly every modern digital orgen can be voiced in nearly every way you want. With appropriate voicing and the right audio nearly every digital organ can sound nice to nearly any ear.
                      IMHO.

                      Regards, D.

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                      • #12
                        Cool topic, John.

                        The things that wear my ears (and head) out are: lack of variety, incessant hums, and music that is excessively loud or quiet.
                        I really like contrast (tempo, key, registration, dynamic, etc. changes). A song over ten minutes with minimal changes is really hard for me to pay attention to. I will admit that my definition of what "variety" is shifts as I learn more about different genres and pieces (mainly after I learn what to listen for). Hence the reason I love organ music now and didn't didn't care for it when I was younger.
                        Hums wear me out quickly regardless of the pitch or volume. High pitch aliasing defects in MP3s, light, or fan hums are particularly frustrating. The 60Hz hum in the spring reverb on my organ is one of the reasons I don't use the reverb much. Eventually I'll replace it and/or find the cause and get it taken care of.
                        Sounds above 80dB get tiring after a while without ear plugs. I can handle short tuttis that exceed that but if it's more than a minute, I stop enjoying the music.
                        Music that is so quiet that I have to strain to hear it (especially if it is competing with other noises) gets old. I very seldom listen to classical music in the car because I can't hear enough of it over all of the other driving noises to enjoy it.
                        Sam
                        Home: Allen ADC-4500 Church: Allen MDS-5
                        Files: Allen Tone Card (TC) Database, TC Info, TC Converter, TC Mixer, ADC TC SF2, and MOS TC SF2, ADC TC Cad/Rvt, MOS TC Cad/Rvt, Organ Database, Music Library, etc. PM for unlinked files.

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                        • #13
                          I certainly don't have a good answer for this question, and can't put my finger on exactly what it is about some organs that makes them tiring for me. Today I was at the shop for a while waiting for a customer to bring in a keyboard, and I decided to practice a bit. The only organ in the shop ready to play at the moment is an old MOS Allen self-contained, so I turned it on and played it a while. Not a really "bad" sound -- the stops are as always with a MOS organ, fairly "pipe-like" in tone color. But not very interesting either, and of course "gritty" as MOS organs always are up close. It didn't completely turn me off. I practice on it for a half hour, but I wasn't enjoying the sound of it, just tolerating it.

                          To be honest, I don't totally enjoy the sound of even my Renaissance Allen at home or the MDS at church, though they are certainly much more tolerable, varied, and engaging than the old MOS. But now and then I play something that I find really pleasant and sweet, having some quality that I just can't quite quantify.

                          Believe it or not, certain relatively cheap self-contained models from Viscount and Johannus are among those I find remarkably "sweet" and non-fatiguing. I think that was my impression of the very cheap Viscount I had for a home organ for several months a couple years ago. There were a lot of faults with it -- as stops were added to the ensemble it suffered from obvious compression, and after four or five stops you really couldn't hear much change in volume, just timbre. And a friend has an old "Britson" organ (built by Johannus, pre-2000 I think) that has no reason to sound very good, but the times I've played it I've been amazed at how endearing the tone quality is. It may not be as authentic as a modern digital or even as the older MDS at church, but there's just that something...

                          I think my Allen here at home probably needs more voicing. I really haven't done much of anything to it since I brought it home nearly a year ago, though I'd spent several days with it at the shop going over the voicing and balancing and such. So technically I think it's in good balance, but perhaps the tone is a little edgy on top for an intimate home setting.
                          John
                          ----------
                          *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!

                          https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birds...97551893588434

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                          • #14
                            I have certainly experienced this, and for this reason I missed out on a lot of organ practice in the past. Most of you know that I recently bought/installed a Baldwin D422 organ in the church I work for. The previous organ was a 70’s Baldwin C720t, a dreadfully dead-sounding, bland instrument. No serious organ literature was possible on it anyways, although it was fun to use the simulated Leslie for casual gospel playing once in a while. I would go to the nearby Methodist church to practice the pipe organ instead, when I could get in. I tried practicing hymns and pedal technique on the c720 a few times, and the suffocatingly dull, one-dimensional sound simply shut me down, every time.

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                            • #15
                              John,
                              the topic is very interesting, and perhaps should be evaluated, in general, not only on digital organs.

                              Generally speaking, ear fatigue is caused by distortion.
                              There are many types of distortion (linear, non-linear, cross-over, thermal, magnetic distorsion, etc.).
                              I hope to correctly translate technical terms.
                              Now I try to simplify.
                              In electroacoustic systems refer two type of distortion:

                              Stationary distortion;
                              Distortion of form.
                              Stationary distortion can have multiple subgroups (harmonic distortion, sub harmonic, intermodulation, doppler: for speakers, etc.).

                              Distortion of form involves alteration of signal peaks. An immediate and limited distortion over time is called a hard clipping.
                              When the distortion is progressive and dilated in a longer time, it is soft clipping.
                              (Typically, a distinction is made between solid-state and valve amplifiers clipping: solid-state amplifiers generally produce hard clipping PLUS a harmonic distortion that emphasizes odd harmonics.
                              Tube amplifiers generally produce greater but more gradual distortion over a longer period of time (soft clipping), with a prevalence of even harmonics).


                              At this point we need to make a further consideration: the ear itself, in the presence of sound stimuli (natural or electroacoustic) produces "aural" distortion (harmonic distortion) and intermodulation distortion (in the ear and in the brain).
                              It increases proportionally with the increase in stimulus.
                              The brain does not distinguish the distortion produced by the source from that produced in the ear, and always associates an increase in stationary distortion (harmonic and intermodulation) as an increase in SPL.
                              This is a system of compensation and correction of the brain (which evolved when the electro-acoustic systems did not yet exist).

                              A fundamental point: the distortion can be: inaudible, tolerable, not tolerable.
                              The condition of inaudibility is the least problematic: what you do not feel is as if it did not exist.
                              The most problematic condition is tolerable.
                              This is because the limits of audibility of distortion are subjective and vary in each individual.
                              It is therefore deduced that even listening fatigue is subjective.
                              Even the environment can introduce reflections, exaltations, normal ways, which can tire the ear.

                              This is an interesting article by Dr. M. Bon, a italian physicist who deals with hi-fi speakers design:

                              "The organ of hearing is not linear, a part of distortion is produced in the brain (intermodulation, the third sound of the Tartini) and a part is produced by the ear (harmonic and intermodulation) which increases with the level of acoustic pressure.
                              The natural sound do not produce distortion (not even the pneumatic hammer ... it's what it is). The organ of hearing was formed when the instruments of reproduction did not exist and, recognizing its distortion, learned to compensate it. Today, that sound can be recorded and reproduced, the organ of hearing does not distinguish the distortion produced by the reproduction system from the aural distortion that it produces itself. Thus the brain attributes to the organ of hearing all the distortion it perceives in the sound signal and associates it with a higher sound level (and this is a psychoacoustic effect of the first order). So the brain associates a rate of distortion that increases with the level of the acoustic stimulus to a greater sound level. This occurs when the distortion gradually increases in the typical way of speakers and tube amplifiers.
                              The clipping of a solid state amp produces a sharp increase in distortion that goes from a value that is also inaudible at two-digit rates and is perceived by the organ of hearing in a very different and not very tolerated way.
                              With a tube amplifier the distortion rate increases with the signal level. The brain does not know that distortion is produced by the amplifier and believes it is produced by the ear, so the "compensates" self-convincing that it is perceiving a higher level sound. [...] ".

                              I add that the pleasantness or not of a sound with a given harmonic content is a consequence that we take from evolution, when the ear was used to pick up signals of danger to primitive man. From here it is likely that sounds containing a composition of odd harmonics is less appreciated than a prevalence of even harmonics.

                              Clearly, in electronic organs everything is more complex, because they have, besides amplifiers and speakers, a sound generator that can produce other phenomena: aliasing problem, etc. Even the stored samples may contain distortion.

                              So I fear that it is very difficult to understand the real reasons why a digital organ produces ear fatigue.

                              The problem, however, may be of another type: is it a ear fatigue, or... acoustic boredom, dissatisfaction?
                              When playing a musical instrument there are other factors to consider: the total satisfaction that can return an instrument, and this is produced by the gratification of the ear, the body comfort during the performance and many other factors. The act of playing is very complex and recalls the perception of numerous nervous stimuli from the whole body.


                              You can try to do an experiment: if the organ that produces listening fatigue has midi inputs and outputs, you can record your performance, until you perceive difficulty listening.
                              The following day you re-played the same performance with midi, with the same volume, sitting on the console. Another day you play the same midi file, and you listen away from the console.
                              The results of this test could be interesting ..
                              Last edited by ahlborn; 09-05-2018, 03:59 AM.

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