Johannus ONE review: why it should be on your list

Published on 19 September 2017

Johannus ONE review: why it should be on your list

OKEY Magazine reviews our brand new Johannus ONE organ keyboard.

New: Global player Johannus with its high standards for instruments and quality is descending into the “lowlands” of the keyboard class. The organ keyboard is transformed into another fine Johannus organ while also adding instrumental and orchestral sounds. Is it the ultimate organ keyboard? We tried out the ONE.

JOHANNUS ONE

The move towards its own organ keyboard was clearly the right one for Johannus and a successful one as well, as proven by the gratifyingly high initial sales and positive reports from ONE users on the internet. After playing and hearing it for the first time, I am delighted with the quality of the organ sound, the easy and logical control and the possibility of playing with instrumental and orchestral voices. Its appearance and finish also appeal to me. The keyboard is considerably more robust for this type of instrument than we have been used to. Although the Fatar keyboard is highly suitable for organ playing, it is certainly not meant for virtuoso piano playing. It still provides a suitable playing experience, and an organ keyboard is less commonly used to excel with virtuoso caprices like those found in Chopin and Liszt. They are better performed on a top-quality digital piano.

Instrumental and orchestral voices

The piano sounds of the ONE are also of a very high standard and recorded with duration of up to 15 seconds per sample. That is evident to the ear, and makes the piano sound very lively. The piano sounds of the ONE will be especially valued in accompanying songs from the new spiritual song collection or gospel and spiritual arrangements, or with some jazz and pop versions. It is also very well suited to the current trend at weddings to have piano accompaniment of singers. Unfortunately, neither the piano nor the harpsichord voices can be mixed with the organ stops. I did expect that possibility and would have appreciated it; it would have been a unique selling point. I have played many concerts with original music for piano and organ and find the combination a very exciting sound. This was also recognised early on by the French master organist of the 20th century, Marcel Dupré, who composed works for organ and piano, and played the orchestral sections of piano concerts on the organ to accompany his daughter. The pair gave numerous concerts in this style in the USA, where this lineup is popular and it is relatively common to encounter an organ and a grand piano in one concert hall or church. Why am I stressing this? I find the combination of organ and piano sounds, which seem to be and are so opposing, extremely exciting and interesting. So I had hoped this combination of sounds would also come to light during live performances.

The ONE provides a high-quality, multi-track recorder on an audio basis (there is no MIDI recorder), which allows the playing to be recorded in WAV format (48 kHz, 32-bit floating point) on a USB stick. The recordings can also be played back through the ONE and re-recorded together with one’s own play. This can be repeated to create multiple playbacks. For example, one track can be recorded with the piano and subsequently an organ track can be added. This can then be recorded with the addition of an orchestral accompaniment, etc. Evidently, this is a workstation for a very reasonable price.

In particular, church musicians will greatly appreciate these possibilities offered by the ONE and consider using it in their work. Truly extensive arrangements can be created and “launched” for a choir or soloists while playing another accompanying part live.

The four harpsichord voices go in order, with 8‘ – 4‘ – 8‘+4‘ together and 8‘ lute stop. A second 8‘ (nasal) would have been nice. However, as already stated, the harpsichord cannot be combined with the organ stops, which is a pity, as it would be preferable to combine the two instruments when playing continuo. The audio recorder does not help this situation either as it does not allow a flexible response to agogic accent or tempo changes.

When we stick to the instrumental voices, then the audio recorder is good to very good. The different articulations created by keystrokes make the brass instruments sound beautiful; we hear an occasional aspiration sound without a clear note with the trumpet or contra-trumpet. With a more forceful touch we hear a clearer note up to sforzato. With horns, a gentle note is produced with a light touch of the key, and a stronger note with a harder touch. The sound behaviour is particularly impressive with the woodwinds as well, especially the clarinet and saxophone. The notes are distinguished strongly by the touch-sensitive behaviour of the keyboard. Very lively and dynamic solo parts can be played, which should please jazz musicians in particular. I was also pleased with the Baroque trumpets, i.e. the piccolo trumpet or Bach trumpet, with which wonderful, authentic Baroque music for trumpets and organ can be played. I would almost go so far as to say that the authenticity of the sound is so perfect that when playing hidden in a gallery, the player should pocket the fee for a trumpeter (highest) and organist (lowest) simultaneously.

The violins are also convincing with a sharp stroke and a woody sound. There are two of them; one more suitable for playing spiccato and one more suitable for normal playing, but unfortunately none for longer legato notes. The opposite is true for the oboe, which sounds lovely and softly allows vibrato in the note, but there is no second oboe to play more staccato for rapid Baroque passages. Viola, bassoon (fagott) and English horn meet the relevant expectations, and the fagott profits from the touch sensitivity and thus different blowing behaviour controlled by it. There are numerous other sounds: the strings are unexceptional, the orchestra can magically produce wonderful tutti effects and the choirs are pleasant but will not draw any special attention. In contrast, the harp and celesta are very useful and are often needed in church music in practice, as a harpist can be difficult to find and is expensive to hire. A celesta, moreover, is not only hard to find, but it is extremely heavy to transport as well. Blues and gospel organs are perfect as a substitute for the Hammond organ, if you are using the sustain pedal to change the rotation speed of the Leslie speaker. Excellent! In the pedal or bass section, there is also a cleaner, more woody acoustic bass and also a fingered bass, the bass counterpart to the orchestra, the tuba and tubular bells.

The organ voices

Now we turn to the intrinsic sound experience of an organ keyboard, the sound of its own organ stops, which is generally the most important aspect to organists, after all. As always, at Johannus, they decided to do it right, and make the sound of the ONE part of the Johannus product range. And indeed, its sound signature makes the ONE truly the missing link, the smallest Johannus organ. But again, the idea was to create not just a one-manual organ with Johannus stops; it can also be played as a complete two-manual organ with a pedal. The ONE also enables a variable manual split and a monophonic bass segment, which can be controlled with any MIDI organ pedal. In total, there are 3 pedal stops, 7 manual stops for the first and 6 manual stops for the second manual. They are displayed on the keyboard as lighted rocker tabs. However, the total number of stops corresponds to five times the basic rocker count as there are five different organ types for each stop position: Default, American, English, French and German. Each of them is a fully self-sufficient, autonomous organ of that type. That is why only the names of the standard instruments are given on the rocker tabs. The stop names of the other styles are also printed on the control panel. Each type has its own relevant disposition for the 16 voices. And in my opinion they are truly harmonious and well chosen. I know from personal experience as an organ expert who has dealt with many organs that the preparation of sensible dispositions of small instruments poses many difficulties. With a sound/level control knob, the sound of the organ can be made harder or softer, which is very practical. All samples are consistently good to excellent, due to the format that is being used (24-bit linear, 48 KHz, internal processing and DSP 32-bit floating point). Digital-analogue conversion (DAC) uses the same values, and the dynamic range is S/N: 106 dB. The maximum polyphony with a 320-voice oscillator is practically unlimited.

Other features

The reproduction in the instrument itself is realised with a built-in amplifier of 2 x 35 W and two specially selected broadband loudspeakers of 8.9 cm (3.5 inches). DSPs built into the amplifier (digital bass boost, Dynamic EQ, 3-band compressor) allow the ONE to create an extremely transparent and powerful reproduction, with the sub-bass 16‘ sustaining a reasonable basis. If you add a small sub-woofer to it, though, it is sufficient for playing in a chapel or for accompanying choirs. Additionally, one may add two high-quality satellites to obtain volumes comparable to a mid-sized digital organ. When a MIDI pedal is also connected to it, there is nothing to prevent two-manual playing. The split point makes the instrument very versatile, as instrumental sounds can be produced on one half, even mixed with organ stops. If used skillfully, for example to play a normal four-voice choral piece with several organ stops, with perhaps a trumpet in the treble range and a deep voice in the bass (pedal) range, a very opulent sound is created. With split playing, the bass (always monophonic) is used for the deepest voice and manual I is automatically set an octave lower and manual II an octave higher. That clarifies the necessity for a 76-key keyboard, aside from the piano playing. The balance between the manuals can be set with a control knob. Aside from a MIDI organ pedal, three other function pedals can be connected for sound regulation: the sustain pedal required for the piano sound, which can be used to switch the Leslie speaker speed for the Hammond organ sounds, a stop crescendo swell pedal (roller), and the normal, familiar rocker panel for the swell. This allows unbelievably monumental effects to be achieved when playing together with orchestral or organ sounds.

In contrast, the setter range is poorly equipped. Given the many possibilities, a more luxuriant setter facility would have been preferable. After all, 4 x 3 stop settings is limited, even if they can be saved and uploaded by USB stick. The alternative is to load the settings repeatedly. There is also no forward/backward sequence switching, which would also need space on the USB stick.

The keyboard’s range of function is complemented by a 4-level adjustable touch sensitivity, 7 different reverb types, 3 different tremulant types, 7 historic temperaments, a fine control for tuning on each control knob, and a transposer with +6/-6 semitones. Naturally, the IN, OUT and MIDI THRU connectors are present. There is also a stereo audio output with two 6.35 mm jack sockets (L mono/R) and an AUX In Stereo-mini-jack. A USB port serving either as a host (MIDI) or a socket for a storage medium (stick) complements the connection options of the ONE. It is also worthwhile to mention that the keyboard has a Bluetooth function and can be used as playback device for music files (audio stream) from suitable input devices (smartphone, tablet).

As a keyboard, the ONE is of course easy to transport. And with a total weight of 14 kg, there is nothing to complain about.

Summary

Anyone searching for an organ keyboard with outstanding organ sounds, good instrumental voices and many features for playing will be happy with the Johannus ONE. In particular, this instrument is highly recommended for church musicians and colleagues required to play at different venues and as an all-in-one solution for all musical purposes in parishes. Well done, Johannus!

Hans-Dieter Karras

OKEY Magazine

 

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