I finally got a chance to swing by and visit Allen's Octave Hall last Friday, on the way home from a concert engagement in western PA. The last time I was there was in 1999. Many of you board regulars know I am favorably inclined toward Allen products, IF they are installed and voiced by competent people. So I'll attempt to filter at least a portion of the partisan gushing. I played 3 different organs- a 3-manual 50-stop Protege L-331, a 3-manual 58-stop Quantum Q370, and a 3-manual, roughly 55-stop custom with lots of audio. As they have always been for me, the folks at Allen were welcoming, very generous with their time, and quite friendly and helpful. All the organs sounded quite nice. Here are the things, for me, that were unique about this trip:
1. I really liked the Protege, better than I have ever liked any Protege. In terms of general tonality, it didn't give anything up to the larger, more expensive organs, except perhaps at full ensemble, where the additional channels of the other instruments make a bigger difference.
2. I found Allen's Stoplist Library concept on the Quantum to be far more useful and attractive than I had ever imagined, not just because of the differences in stops, but because of the differences in scaling, voicing, and finishing. Things like mutations and mixtures and reeds fit in different places in the various schools of ensemble, and the concept of having complete different stop lists with all this worked out is an idea I never fully appreciated until now. In particular, the Allen French specification is stunning. I really enjoyed the Schlicker one as well- kept coming back to those two a lot. With Stoplist Library, I would be quite content with a 58-stop 3-manual for a very long time.
3. The Quantum organ was impeccably voiced, and I could not get it to max out regardless of what I tried- very clear, very powerful. I could play quints in the pedal with every stop pulled, and it stayed clean. I keep wishing Allen would not leave finishing and installation planning to their local dealers- certainly, I would not be surprised at all if the Octave Hall speaker/amp installs are completely optimized with some "secret sauce," but the quality remains so much better overall than what I hear many times in your run-of-the-mill dealer-installed Allen. There were 14 amp channels and two subwoofer channels on this particular organ, and definitely some channelization on per-note basis in each stop and division. Bottom line, these stock models can sound wonderful if put in and voiced well.
4. Allen's convolution reverb does really nice things in a less-than-optimal acoustic space like Octave Hall, especially when not overdone. It doesn't sound like "reverb," which is good.
5. The custom organ was nice enough, and had 20-some amp/speaker channels. Kind of a unique tonal design for Allen, with full principal choruses and cornets in each division. No Stoplist Library. Honestly, I was a little less impressed with it than the Q370. I'm not sure I really heard much of a positive difference with the extra channels. I have to emphasize again that the Q370 sounded GREAT.
6. There were two Elite organs out in the lobby- Opus I and Opus IV. Neither one was hooked up- just on display. Interesting.
7. In talking with the folks there and the language they used, it was clear that Chapel is being positioned as the entry-level competitor to other maker's stock models. Protege seems now to be the "normal" Allen product, with Quantum the "premium" product. In the past, Protege was positioned as the entry-level product and the moving capture organs (then Renaissance) were the "normal" Allen line. I guess the costs of woodworking and moving capture, and the general cheapening of the typical competing product in terms of fit and finish have necessitated this.
All in all, a very nice day, and my Allen factory experience remains a very positive one.
It is nice to hear some positive and encouraging information about Allen's products. I have felt for a long time that their reliance on independent dealers is the major weakness in their business model for precisely the reason you identify--some (but certainly not all) of their dealers are not capable of designing and executing installations that make best use of the organs' capabilities. Most of the Allen-bashing one hears is undoubtedly caused by substandard installations, not by any technical defects in the products. I have heard MOS-1 organs that sound wonderful (believe it or not!) and Quantum installations that were uninspiring to say the least. The most egregious offender of all is Elite Opus VII in St. Andrew's, which disappointed me more than any other organ, pipe or electronic, that I have ever heard.
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Speaking of St. Andrew's, when is one of you gentlemen going to pay a visit to beautiful Roanoke, Virginia? We need another set of musical ears to confirm or deny my impressions--maybe I was too harsh in my assessment back in January.
Thank you Michael for the informative piece.
Time and time again the consistent feedback seems to be that the instruments themselves are capable but the big let down in a lot of cases are the dealer's installation efforts. Allen really need to do something about this by offering more training, quality control monitoring of installs (how about random checks where a factory voicer is present at the install unannounced?) and perhaps more factory voicing.
Interesting to hear they haven't shifted Opus I and IV yet making the total "true" known sales to be 6 to date (one less than M&O).
Being an Allen fan I hope to visit the factory, museum and Octave Hall one day. Their December staff holiday show looks interesting, as is their big hymn sing-along around Easter time.
1971 Allen Organ TC-3S (#42904) w/sequential capture system.
Speakers: x1 Model 100 Gyro, x1 Model 105 & x3 Model 108.
I'm glad you found them welcoming. Evidently, I don't know the "right" people.
Your write-up was excellent. Thank you for the open and honest assessment of their instrument line. Very informative.
Way too many organs to list, but I do have 3 Allens:
- MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DKC / ADC-6000 (Symphony)
- 9 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 4 Pianos
Yes, thanks for the write up. It has been many years since I visited Octave Hall and would love to go again. I'd just be embarrassed about my playing with so many wonderful instruments to try out!
Church: Galanti Praeludium II
Home: Yamaha HX-1 with Content 220 expander for pipe organ sounds
Shop: More organs than I can count.... some working, many not!
Half of an incredible two-man organ service team -- servicing all the major digitals in Arkansas churches