Today I am going to be talking all about the Lowrey Inspire. This is quite a change in style from their previous ranges, as it has a new way of working and I must say I found it really, really easy to use and this made the Inspire, which has retained the best of the past and added lots of new goodies, a delight to play.
Many people have been attracted to the previous Lowreys because they were easy to use, but they weren’t compared with the Inspire! On the old system you had lots and lots of brightly coloured illuminated buttons, some of which were doing one thing when they were fully lit but something different when they flashed. This made for a very pretty console but, to me, it wasn’t quite as easy as it perhaps first seemed. In contrast, I find the new system to be very straightforward. There are less buttons, so the panel is cleaner and smarter, and these have been replaced by having more things on the screen, but it is a colour touch screen and it is pretty large, so this works really quickly and simply.
This smarter look is carried on throughout the instrument, which is more compact than earlier ranges, which I for one think is a good thing. It is a pleasing combination of traditional and modern, with smart brushed metal panels all surrounded by a real wood cabinet, which you can either have in Cherry Mahogany or Heartland Oak.
The organ measures 47.5” Wide, 27.5” Deep, and 51.25″ high when the music rack is up (43.75” high without it). Being a well built Lowrey it weighs in at 285lbs! It has two 61-note keyboards and 20 Bass Pedals, which are of a different design to those I’ve used before on a Lowrey and I found more comfortable to play.
Whilst thinking of playing comfort, it is worth noting that the controls are on slightly sloped vertical panels, so that when you sit at the console they are effectively all looking at you and with the clear labelling, it is simple to find whatever you are looking for.
The sounds in the Inspire are from Lowrey’s new EY sound engine, and no, I have no idea what the EY stands for! What’s important is that it has given some newer more modern and more authentic voicing but, at the same time, has all of the depth and quality of tone we expect from a Lowrey product.
It is also now much simpler to access all of the sounds, especially if you use the ‘Quick Picks’ option. This is so fast. Press Quick Picks, press the sound you want on the screen, press the stop in the section you want it to be in and that’s it. The Quick Picks come on screen as 3 pages each with 12 sounds, so that’s 36 of the most useful sounds including Piano, Jazz Guitar, Strings, Choirs, Trumpets, Flutes, in fact, most things! On top of those there are another 8 places there for you to save your personal favourite voices. From the Quick Pick voice you’ve chosen, it is also very fast to go through other related stops, for example, to get from the Strings in Quick Picks to perhaps the Pizzicato Strings, Slow Strings, Octave Strings or other members of the family in an instant.
Whilst on the subject of sounds, it is nice that there are buttons to simply move them up or down by one or two octaves, and the lead sections have the option of adding Lead Slide.
One of the reasons the Lowrey makes such a big and full sound is not just that it has high quality amplifiers and nine quality speakers but also that there is a huge amount of voice layering possible. First of all the Inspire has proper organ style stop tabs giving a range of footages in Flutes, Strings and Vocals. On their own these stops give some fabulous sounds and you could happily just play on those and the organ presets that are also there, like Jazz, Pipe, Mellow and Pop Organs. On top of those though, we have a voice-bank with 452 sounds, and these can be put anywhere and layered together ever such a lot!
There are four sound sections, Orchestral 1 & 2, Solo 1 & 2, and you can choose if these play on the Upper, the Lower or Lower Right (using a keyboard split facility on the Lower) or a combination of these, which gives a huge potential for big combinations, which can be superb. Something I don’t recall seeing on earlier models, but that may have been there, is a useful feature to put all of the Upper tabs to play on the (split) right hand end of the Lower manual, which really gives you the sense of three properly voiced manuals rather than just some thin sound on the split as you have on some other products. Of course, sometimes, less is more, and individual voicing is now very strong on the Lowrey as well.
There is a separate volume control for each section, including for the Flute and String tabs, which is a new feature and very useful when balancing registrations against the other sections. The voice sections have individual repeat and effects, things like delay and tremolo, so it gives a lot of flexibility.
There is also a very quick to use Voice Edit facility, allowing you to change things like Attack and Sustain and Brightness. It is nice that as well as including some newer, more modern styles, they have also retained the best of the ones from earlier instruments, some of which have only been available on the very largest model. In all there are 286 fully orchestrated Styles to choose from.
As with the EZ range we looked at a while ago, these have Full Band, Pianist and Guitarist variants, orchestrating backings more as if those instruments were accompanying you. It is easy to find what you want and, as you’d expect from Lowrey, who basically invented the modern sort of styles that almost play tunes for you some 30 odd years ago, they have been excellently thought about and work well.
To help with the choosing of voices or styles Lowrey have included many, many preset combinations on this organ, or ‘Setups’ as they call them, and when I say many, there are an amazing 7,200 of them! These aren’t as confusing as that number may first sound, as they are grouped in various places to make them user friendly.
There are General Setups, Category Setups (like Virtual Orchestra, Theatre UK, Broadway and Jazz/Swing), Bank Setups (A, B, C etc), Music Style Setups, 11 for each Style on the organ, Vintage Style Setups, and finally Song Setups linked to song titles. Basically, whichever way you like to find your presets, the Lowrey has it!
I’ll look at some of the Styles and Setups in more detail in a moment but first I want to mention that the Inspire has a couple of the clever Lowrey inventions we’ve seen before that help to make an amateur player sound more professional, plus another new one!
Fake It senses which chord you are playing and then follows the timing of any notes you play on the upper manual, but entirely ignores the actual pitch of the keys you touch, playing its own pitches instead. This produces some really great jazz and blues solos.
The other is their Pedal Magic, which basically senses which chord you play and then helps you to play the correct pedal to go with it. For example, if you play a G chord, the F, G and A pedals will all play a G, so you have help to play the correct pedals all of the time!
The new one, and again it’s pretty clever, is called MCS Plus. This has been created to enhance the harmony side of things, as home organists often say that they can’t work out how to play the fancy chords that some professionals drop in by second nature. Set up by top Lowrey concert artiste Jim Vogelman, MCS Plus provides lots of chord substitutions to give a more sophisticated end result, so play a straight C chord and you might find you hear something like a Cmaj9! You really need to try it to hear what it does, and I have a suspicion it might not be a good result every time, but it makes for something different and is pretty clever.
Thinking of things that vary the chord a little, one of the longest standing of Lowrey’s features to make us sound better, and the one I probably like the most, is the Golden Harp.This gives us harps, pianos, strings, pretty much any instrument you like, playing beautiful arpeggios, Up, Down, Up and Down, and Virtuoso, which varies the chord. You can also choose to vary the speed. Used well it is a lovely effect. So, back to the Styles for a minute. Each has a couple of Intros to get you going. There are the old favourites, like the ever popular Swing Train and Christmas Styles but then there are some great new ones as well, either brand new or only previously seen on the range topping Liberty.
A really nice new one is ideal for Every Breath You Take, or maybe you prefer to stay more traditional with the Vegas Big Band or Broadway. I was fascinated by a Style called Parrot Buffet and have no idea why it is called that!
The Style is a lovely gentle Rhumba and incorporates some nice Strings and Percussion. Perhaps the Parot bit in the title refers to some obvious song that I’m missing but whatever the name, it’s a nice Style!
With the Styles, you can select Alter Style and it makes some sympathetic adjustment, perhaps doubling up the bass part to make a new interest without losing the character you start with. Drum Variation often adds in some Brushes or perhaps a Hi Hat Cymbal. As I said, there are more presets than I can imagine, but many are linked to Styles, so they are easy to use. To give an example, if we take Broadway you have all of these presets instantly available:- Xylophone; Deep Bassoon and Piccolo; Voices and Strings; Glock and Strings; Brass; Low Brass (like French Horns); Oboe and Vocals; Piano and Strings; Full Strings and Tutti.
You can see this is a really wide ranging sound palette to work with and from, as of course having used the preset you can always choose to move away from it. If we move on to Music To Watch Girls Go By) we now have preset registrations including Jazz Guitar; Vibes and Doo Bap singers.
There are still the fun Styles, again with appropriate voicing set up. I love things like the Classic Western, which gives a little of the William Tell Overture and the sounds of a horse to get us into perhaps the theme to Bonanza, and the Whistling Cowboy Style is lovely, really laid back, though I was disappointed that there isn’t a whistle included in the Style Setups to go with this one.
Others I’d ask to hear if you able to include L.I.F.E. which is fabulous for the Frank Sinatra version of That’s Life, a real clap hands Gospel Style or two, Aloha with its Hawaiian Guitars and Birds Whistling, and Slum Doggie for the cross-culture styles of the film Slum Dog Millionaire.
There is so much about the new Lowrey Inspire that is good, so many full sounding voices, so many good styles, but the thing above all I think is that despite having a high quality feel, a very rich sound and a huge specification, it is so very easy to actually sit down and just play, and with this ease of use comes a great pleasure when you make music.