A review of the Orla GT8000 Sport by Michael Wooldridge
The GT8000 Sport is more than a keyboard, it is really effectively designed to be a single manual organ and has facilities that we expect on both keyboards and organs. My first impression was that it was a delightfully smart instrument. I viewed it with the optional Home Pack, which, to the basic keyboard and swell pedal, adds in a stool and a keyboard stand with built in 5-channel amplification. It also has a 13-note pedal board for those who want it. The cabinet is finished in a lovely Cherry Wood finish, with a silver top-panel housing the colourful selector buttons. There is a very nice music desk and this quality appearance is further enhanced by the smart strip of red felt over the 61 keys. There is a loose keyboard cover that slips over the top of the whole thing.
You also have the option of having this Organ with a Home Pack and I would say that it is worth having in this form. The stops are arranged in colourful groups, all set on the smart brushed metal panel and clearly labelled. I like the assortment of blue, gold, green, grey and white buttons, as they make it so much easier to distinguish between the different sound sections.
There are four voice banks for the upper keyboard, Orchestra 1, Orchestra 2, Orchestra 3 and Upper Flutes. The Upper Flutes gives access to the full set of 9 FluteBars and a range of preset flute combinations, which you can change with the Flutebars as you play.
The organ feel is further enhanced by having 5 more Flutebars for the Lower Organ (8’, 4’, 2 2/3’ & 1’). As always with an Orla product, these provide a warm and friendly organ sound and come with the usual range of organ percussion, tremolo and slow attack. Within the other sound sections, you can select one stop at a time and, whilst the GT8000 Sport boasts 421 voices, a goodly selection of the main ones has been provided on the stop panel ready for quick use. This makes the Orla a very easy instrument to just sit and play. If you want the Trumpet to play, you push the button marked Trumpet. Because this is in the Gold section, you then also select the Gold button in the Right Conductor section, and there it is! It really couldn’t be much easier.
Besides the sounds on individual selectors, there are some extra sounds displayed between buttons. These voices are accessed by pressing both buttons at one time. Besides this array of stops, including all of the basic sounds like strings, brass, piano, vibraphone, flute and trombone, each section has a ‘user’ button, which turns these sounds, at first, into their alternate, similar voices. I say ‘at first’, because you can actually set each of these ‘users’ to be whichever sound you choose and, if you can cope with remembering where you’ve put them, there is no reason at all why you shouldn’t have the bagpipes as the user voice for the clarinet stop!
I especially liked the Guitar sounds. There is a huge range of them, including various jazz, acoustic, electric and distorting variations, and they all seemed really superb. Some of the theatre organ sounds are also good and certainly do give the feel of a tremulating tibia! One stop I did find particularly useful in the sound banks is the ‘octave’ button, which immediately moves voices one or two octaves, up or down. This is so much easier to use than when other brands offer the same facility hidden away in an on-screen menu.
I’ve already mentioned the conductor, with the stops colour coded to match the corresponding sound groups. This is definitely the best way for selecting sounds, as you can prepare the next sound you want to use in a different sound section and then bring it in at the touch of a button. This contrasts very favourably with other systems with which you either cannot choose the next sound until it is on (by which time it is too late!) or have to work around it by continually turning section volumes on and off.
Because the 8000 Sport is ‘an organ’ in a single manual box, you can mix orchestral voices with Flute Bars for the ‘Left’ end of the keyboard and choose pedal voices. When you have set up a sound you enjoy, it is wise to save it into one of the 16 memory buttons (1 to 8 in groups A and B), which are just above the treble end of the upper keyboard. On the subject of preset sounds, the GT8000 Sport has an enormous range and these seemed to give me virtually a complete tour of the instrument. There are 106 ‘Automatic Set Ups’ on offer, which are rhythm based, and then 16 each of Organ and Combo Presets, which are sound based. We’ll look at those a bit more in a moment. Turning to the rhythms and styles, like the sound buttons, these 16 buttons give a rhythm each, plus a clearly marked ‘something different’ if two adjacent stops are selected together. That’s not quite the end of the story though, as there are three rhythms for each button, always of a similar style. For example, the Waltz stop gives ‘Slow Waltz’, ‘Standard Waltz’ and ‘Viennese Waltz’; the Foxtrot gives ‘Foxtrot’, ‘Sing Along’ and ‘Barn Dance’. The rhythm titles are clearly displayed in the monochrome screen, which is small for this day and age but is very clear to read and quite big enough, since most things on the Sport are out where you want them, rather than hidden in a screen menu.
I tried out much of this organ by using the Automatic Set Ups offered with the rhythms. In each case, these seemed to give just the perfect sound combinations to go with each style. Each have two Intros and Endings, with the choice between a short one bar introduction or a lengthy musical one; the latter option often being quite different when a minor instead of a major chord is first keyed. On that subject, the Orla is remarkable in that it can recognise every other manufacturer’s system of single finger chord playing so, whatever make you’re coming from, you will have no problem at all in making music straight away.
A good feature is the handy ‘lower balance’ control, which adjusts the volume of all the bass and lower sounds, the automatic accompaniments and drums at the touch of one button and will stay at your chosen level even as you move through different presets. Similarly, you can use the ‘Lock’ button to lock the rhythm pattern as it is whilst using the rhythm presets for sound changes and, even more clever, you can choose for it to lock all of the ‘Lower manual,’ the Left end of the keyboard and the bass.
Anyway, enough facts for the minute and back to those styles and sounds. With my love of music from the 40’s and 50’s, the first I tried were some big band styles and the first of these, Dance Band, turned out to be ‘the dance band,’ the sound of the Glenn Miller Orchestra, automatically set up with the One Man Chord feature, which fills out a simply played right hand with full chords. I also enjoyed the Slow Band, which gave a super intro featuring first the saxes, then building up to the brass, then giving a super lead trumpet sound with doo bap voices to sing the chords in the left hand.
Samba Pop is a really happy rhythm, very much carnival time with its cheery introduction and then a nice basic samba pattern so that you can play whatever tune you like over the top of the backing. This is an area where I think Orla score very highly: they have provided backing styles which are interesting and enjoyable to hear but that are not so over-embellished as to dictate which tune you have to play with them. Some of the intros do very much sell you an intended tune, for example the March 2/4 introduction as good as plays the RAF March Past, but, if you want to play a different march, you can select the short intro and then use the very acceptable backing style. Staying with 2/4 rhythms for a moment, I loved the Tartan Band, which is perfect for recreating the sounds of Andy Stewart and the White Heather Club (am I showing my age now I wonder?!). Other goodies for me include a whole range of country styles which use steel guitars, an excellent harmonica, organ and strings. Another nice one is Joplin Time, which sets the piano everywhere, even the pedals, so is great for all sorts of rags.
Whilst trying out the various introductions and endings, I found that some of them have very musical Rallentandos included – that is to say, they slow down a bit: I found this very refreshing when compared with the rigorous time keeping of earlier styles.
As well as being very useable, I felt that the styles on this organ had been particularly well arranged musically and, when I actually queried this with Paule, he explained that they had been programmed in by a half a dozen different players, so that each specialist could concentrate on their areas of interest to do what they are good at, and it shows!
Something else very special about the Orla system of presets is that, when they set them up, any sound sections not actually used in the preset sound offered are preset with good, complementary sounds, so you know that if the preset uses the Gold section, you can change to the Blue and get another suitable voice for the style in which you are playing. If for any reason you are not 100% satisfied with the presets provided, you can overwrite them with what you would like them to be. This can be by making subtle little changes to what they have preset, or can be a total change.
The User Rhythm buttons come loaded with mainly Piano based styles and backings, including Cockney Stride, which is a very nice, basic pattern to work with; Saloon, which is ready for Russ Conway’s Side Saddle; 70s Ballad, which is ready for Imagine; and 60s Organ, which has been prepared for A Whiter Shade of Pale.
Besides these Rhythm Based Presets, there are also another two banks of 16 other presets each under the headings of Organ and Combo. These include some very pleasing Theatre Organ settings, some traditional Jimmy Smith style jazz organs and some electronic theatre organs, like the sounds of the old Lowrey Heritage. Moving on through the various presets, Shear Magic, as you would expect, is the piano and vibes combination made famous by the great piano master; Hot Club Jazz gives the great violin sound of Stephane Grappelli; The Shadows mixes jazz, hawaiian and steel guitars to recreate the sound of that fabulous band; 30s Band is very Victor Sylvester with a heavy vibrato on the lead saxophone.
Incidentally, this instrument has a built in Equaliser for very quick adjustment of the Bass and Treble, so that the organ sounds correct in your room and for your ears. This is brilliant, as so often an organ will sound totally different in different environments and, at last, here is a straightforward device that allows you to alter the whole thing to suit within one simple manoeuvre. The GT8000 Sport is a very well specified, easy to use organ that makes a very big and appealing sound, even when played very simply, or without the bass pedals as a stand-alone keyboard. Although it is simple to use, this belies the fact that in many respects, and if you choose it to be, it is very advanced. Each sound has its own individually preset sustain and reverb level, the touch sensitivity is adjustable, and the foot switches can be user set to do all sorts of functions (rhythm stop/start, fill-ins, tremolo speed etc etc). It also has a healthy MIDI specification, inputs and a disk drive which automatically gives your settings new numbers when you save them, so that you can’t erase something by accident. There are two sets of outputs, which can be particularly useful to professional players to use one for their speakers and the other as a feed for a sound engineer, or at home to spread the sound through a Hi-Fi.
There is a Pitch Bend Wheel and, next to it, a Modulation Wheel. The latter one alters either Filter or Resonance and, in effect, allows you to quickly and easily edit a sound just by turning the wheel. This can be useful to make a piano a bit brighter or a trumpet have a greater rasp to it.
All in all, I found the Orla GT8000 Sport to be very simple to control and to give a delightful, rich sound, especially through the luxurious speakers provided in the Home Pack. Orla are proud to be doing something different to other manufacturers and, from what I saw, they have every right to be pleased with this model.
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