George Reece Interview Part 1:"The Softube ethos is, if you want to do something, do it properly and do it better than anyone else."
With George Reece about TAPE, HARMONICS, CONSOLE 1,Rent to own system, Flemming Rasmussen and his classic Metallica's recording desk emulation, as well as what distinguishes Softube products from other plugins on the market...
George Reece is a Communications Content Producer at the renowned Softube company, known for its ethos of work, quality and overcoming barriers. Their plugins always push the border between the analog and digital worlds.
We will talk about the quality of today's plugins and what distinguishes Softube products from other solutions available on the market today. We will talk about the future of Softube and their cooperation with SSL. We will find out what works best for Softube engineers. George will also answer a number of questions about their flagship software/hardware mixing system Console 1.
Adrian Lucas Witaszczyk: Hi George! Thank you for meeting me!
George Reece: Hi Adrian! My pleasure!
Every plugin developer usually has his own sound character, a kind of delicate wrapper, which more or less but always is present. Your plugins are a nice exception here, they sound more hi fi, their sound is clean and more sophisticated. Where did it come from? What do you think about it as a producer and musician?
Yeah, well, actually, I have a couple of different answers to that question. Softube began by developing software products for other brands. So the first intention was not to develop our own sound, but to be the very best at emulating the great sounds that went before us. That's the first thing. Softube was never about our own wrapper, our own character, but second of all, because that was the case, we really developed a strong team and a strong skill in terms of getting the real thing.
It's never about getting a snapshot of the real thing, like a lot of plugins seem to be. It's all about emulating the behavior of the circuits in question and making sure that the thing is not just a copy but an authentic emulation.
When I look at the VST plugins market I have an impression that today, as strong, as never before, emphasis is placed on creating plugins that should actually start the whole software business... I mean plugins that are the most important for taming and shaping the clean and cold digital sound, i.e. tape emulations and analog harmonics/distortion plugins…
Why did you start so late with your versions of TAPE and HARMONICS plugins?
Well again, two answers. The first is, we have a long history of working with other people, so, as I said, it wasn't the thing for Softube to develop our own plugins for quite a long time, so we came late to that party for that reason. But second of all, we've got a real obsession with getting it right. And speaking on behalf of the development team, you know, I don't have anything to do with this clever work that they do except talking about how clever it is. But, they work incredibly hard to get things right. And sometimes that means waiting to see what other developers do and how we think we can improve upon it and fine tune it. So I think certainly with TAPE, Softube made it a point to wait and see how the users wanted a tape plugin to be comparing to other tape plugins, and then coming along with our own hopefully fine tuned and exceptional take on that.
How do you, as a user, judge both these plugins? What distinguishes them from its competitors?
Well, I joined Softube from my own studio in the UK. I was a recording engineer and a producer in the UK before I came to work here, and I was using Softube plugins. And TAPE came out just as I was arriving at Softube in fact, and it really blew me away because just like all the other Softube plugins I'd used before, it didn't sound like a computer copy of something brilliant. It sounded deep and rich and authentic. And, when you push it to extremes, it reacts in a way that is plausible and analog. So, it's a lot more than just choosing some settings, taking a black box snapshot and making the rough sound so that you can slap it on a record. It really reacts like an real thing!
So I love TAPE for that reason. There are obviously some excellent features as a mastering grade high pass filter in there, and there's all sorts of lovely features that make it just perfect for everyday use. But really the sound quality is what it's all about. And at any setting, both TAPE and HARMONICS just sound more alive, richer and more detailed. HARMONICS is a fantastic thing. It obviously, came a little later than TAPE, and comparing that just in purely in sound terms to other distortion plugins, even multi distortion plugins, the amount of variation in the Softube plugin between the sound distortions is just mind blowing. You would think something is either distorted or it isn't, but of course there's tons and tons of different ways to distort a sound and digitally it can be difficult to reproduce them. But that's one thing that these guys know like nobody else, and they know how to do it. So, there's a tube sound and there's a transistor sound and there's a modern mastering sound and there's a guitar amp sound and they're all very different and they're all sounds awsome.
Yeah, I Agree! A great solution in TAPE is an additional option panel, which allows for additional gain, talkback and very effective high frequency shaping. Here, this plugin really shines!
Yeah, absolutely. As I say these additional features that were just a point of considering what other plugins had already done and how we could improve on it. I'm glad you noticed that.
One of the plugins that caught my attention to Softube at the very beginning was the TRIDENT A RANGE Eq.
I remember I was very pleased by its sound. Did you consult with Flemming Rasmussen while working on your version of this equalizer/channel strip?
Yeah, as you may know from reading our product page on our website, the TRIDENT A RANGE equalizer plugin that we have is an emulation, not just generally of Trident style Eqs, but it's a specific channel on a specific desk. So yes, we have connections at Softube with all sorts of wonderful professionals in the hard rock and metal scenes here in Scandinavia particularly, but also all around the world, and Fleming obviously worked with all kinds of great artists and he had not only a desk to recommend in his studio, but a specific channel. I think it was channel 15, that was the channel through which he tracked the guitars on a couple of famous Metallica albums...
Yeah! Ride The Lightning and Master Of Puppets...
Exactly! And Ritchie Blackmore who's an absolute guitar hero of mine, he recorded a couple of Rainbow albums through this channel also. So there was something special about that channel. And as we know, the thing about analog equipment is that, no two units are exactly the same and they'd have their special features. So, we modeled this precise channel and again, using this... sort of Softube ethos of getting the whole thing very much right on a component level. And i think it sounds extra special.
Yeah! I love this Eq very much! Ok... How did you get into the Universal Audio plugin team?
Hmm. Now this is a little before my time, but as I understand it, the collaboration with UAD grew out of our collaboration with Marshall. So way back, and we'll talk about this a little later, I think in, in our interview, but, way back in the history of Softube, the big project to begin with was modeling guitar amps, and at the time, Line 6, were doing convolution techniques to try to snapshot the sound of certain guitar equipment. And they did fabulous things that nobody had heard at the time. But our founders thought, "hello, there's something we can improve on here". "There's something we can do a little better". So by taking a lot of equipment apart and measuring individual components and mapping out a component diagrams and so on... They managed to develop something that was more detailed and they took it along to show Marshall and Marshall was so impressed that they brought Softube on board as their software partners.
And we are still to this day at Marshall's software partner of choice. And we do all the software in their code amps, for example. So, I think, those Marshall plugins we made were what helped Universal Audio believe in us as a plugin developer and as you know, UAD use many different developers to supplement their DSP team. So, we've been building a positive relationship with them since we're working with them, We've develpoed lot of things. For ęxample, The EDEN WT800 Bass amp and the OTO BISCUIT plugin and more recently the DYTRONICS things, I mean the panner, TRI - STEREO CHORUS, and many, many exciting projects. We did a VOCODER for them last year.
Yeah, and as far as I know, you haven't said the last word yet!
Okay. You have mentioned the Marshall Amps. Is there a chance, that at least one of them will get a native version available directly on Softube?
That's a very interesting question. And the answer truthfully is that, I don't know. And also that probably even if I did know, I wouldn't be allowed to tell you. It's terribly secretive, all this stuff. But, what I will say is, I'll point out that a couple of our plugins that we've developed in collaboration with Universal Audio have now become Native Softube plugins. So we now have a native version of the OTO BISCUIT. We have a native version of the EDEN Bass amp. So, I would say sort of speculatively, that it doesn't sound impossible, but I have no special information more than you do. I'm afraid Adrian on that.
One of the things I have to ask you about is the so called rent to own buying system. Do you have the plan to introduce such a solution?
This is another slightly unhelpful answer to that question. I think, the first thing to say is that we have a new website that we launched this year for a couple of reasons. One because it looks nicer than our old one. But secondly, to improve all the sales systems and so forth, the experience of shopping with us and buying from us and owning Softube plugins. We're trying to streamline and offer the best options there. And purchase options like rent to own are a part of that project in a sort of long term ongoing sense. We're trying to figure out how do people want to buy plugins, how do people want to own plugins, and... something I didn't realize, not being a developer or a particularly technically minded person myself, is that there are always a thousand complications in the boring details of how these things actually work.
It's very easy to conceive of the idea but then very difficult to implement it. So again, the Softube ethos of, if you want to do something, do it properly and do it better than anyone else. We're trying to figure out the very best ways to offer these options. That said, we have a tentative toe in the water with our new PARALLELS SYNTH, which is available through Splice on rent to own. So through a partnership there, we are testing the waters for rent to own and we will see. If that's a huge success and lots and lots of people find PARALLELS to their taste on Splice, then perhaps it's something that we devote even more resources to than we already are.
Yes. Sounds like a great way to develop and explore new territories. Okay, let's stop for a moment at Console 1.
It's a project that seems almost perfect. Today it has already a few extensions in the form of additional channel strips, it cooperates with many other plugins from your collection and also many of the plugins from Universal Audio…
Who is the author of the Console 1 project concept? What were the beginnings of this system?
It's hard to pinpoint one person who is the author. There are four founders and owners here at Softube, and they are all intimately and innately to be involved and tied to that project because it's such an important special project for Softube.
The first hardware product we produce and It's a very central concept in our ideas of how people work in studios these days. So, there's couple of guys I'd highlight...
Niklas Odelholm who's the product owner and the vice president of products here at Softube, it's his job to collect all the great ideas for what kind of products we should make and choose and develop those product ideas and bring them to life. There is Arvid Rosén, who's the VP of research and development here at Softube. So when Niklas says "we want to make this product", Arvid has to go and do it. So he deals with all of the technical manufacturing questions, the development of the electronics and the product itself and the logistics of how it gets made. And so those guys are central to the concept.
Now, Console 1 is, as I say, central to Softube's thing because we're all about trying to help people make their best music in home studios, in professional studios, in whatever modern digital environment they're working in. So Console 1 was a great concept. It was actually what switched me on to Softube in the first place because I was working in my small studio in the UK and I was spending an awful lot of time clicking and dragging and mousing and trying to learn keyboard shortcuts to save time and using lots of plugins. And they all sounded great, but it just took forever. So I thought, how can I speed this up?
In the olden days you'd just reach out and grab a few knobs and you'd get your mix cooking. But I didn't have any way of short-cutting that. And with a mouse, you just have one click at a time. You can only twist one thing. And as soon as you finished with one thing, you have to close that plugin, go to the menu, scroll down, open, and it's just terribly slow.
I got ahold of a Console 1 and I found that it cut my mixing time in half because I was simply able to slap a desk across my mix, and it was a great sounding desk of course. So I just found that if I wanted to Eq my various vocal tracks, I could quickly scan through them, do a little bit of pushing, a little bit of cutting, a bit of moving around and very quickly the bare bones of my mix would start to come together and that energize me, creatively allowed me to spend some more time and some more brain space thinking about the finer details of my mix. So that is invaluable when you're a working musician or a producer mix engineer, you, you can save some time. And that means money of course, but also brain space creativity.
Yes, I also have Console 1, I usually use it with an analogue summing mixer. This gives really great results. All this equipment doesn't take up much space, and the speed of action you mentioned. It is incredible, a big facilitation.
Yeah, the possibility to have hands on all the buttons and the knobs and having the same setup per channel right in front of you. That's a real timesaver.
Console 1 comes with a great SSL 4000 E emulation. Was the Console 1 project created with SSL in mind from the very beginning or was this concept born later?
My understanding of this is that in fact, we always knew here at Softube that the SSL 4000 desk was the central option for Console 1. It was a great, versatile, well loved desk that would sound great with anything.
But, we weren't officially partnered with SSL until after we produce the entire system. So we, I think initially called it something different. it was some kind of British-related name that unfortunately, I don't remember anymore. Anyway, we showed it to some guys at SSL and they liked it enough that they got a dialogue going and we got some access to their engineering team and did some further fine tuning and SSL helped us to develop it further and decided they wanted to partner with us officially. They liked it so much. So we were delighted by that of course. And now it's a big part of the Console 1 story that it is not only the workflow advantage but it's the great real sound of a top quality desk.
One of the question that immediately arises is: when will Console 1 system open to other plugin developers? Are there any plans for this?
This is a bit of a difficult answer because I understand why that would be appealing to a lot of people and I think it would be appealing to me too, in a way... You know, one of the things that's special and important and brilliant about Softube in general, but Console 1 specifically though is that, it's not trying to be all things to all people. So the limitations of Console 1 are very important part of why it's brilliant because it takes away choice paralysis. It presents you with a limited set of very important options and allows you, as I say, to save time in your mix by cutting to the chase. And so, you know, for example, why not have a fader attached? Well because it would be more expensive and more complicated and more difficult to work with and so on...
So there are lots of things that would make Console 1 bigger but not necessarily better. So in terms of allowing third party developers into the party, I think Softube wants to be very careful about how that works, both from a sound quality perspective because we want everything that goes through this to sound absolutely wonderful, but I think more importantly from a workflow point of view. So these sections of the hardware laid out very specifically to be Eq, Compressor, Gate section, Drive section. And as soon as we start opening things up beyond our immediate control, the question gets asked, well, why, why not just use it to throw a bit of reverb on something? And it becomes a generic Midi Controller, which there are tons options of out there and they are good at doing that job. The job of Console 1 I think is to provide a really focused, sort of a tunnel vision mixing solution and to give you the very best pathway to the best mix you can make.
.I really like the compressor on this one. I have to admit that you did a great job capturing the sound, character and the essence of hardware SSL Compressors, but the real star here is the drive knob! It make wonders! Congratulations!
Yeah, This is what I was talking about earlier on. The detail in the analog systems modeling that Softube does is incredibly special. The kind of subtle desk distortion inherent in analog mixing is a very important part of the sound of all of our favorite records, but you can't achieve that by just slapping a saturation plugin on the mix bus. You need to build it subtly and intelligently through each channel of your mix. You need a little bit of drive at the right stages and in the right amounts per channel. And it needs to sound just as it would per channel to build up to the effect in the final mix. So, I think it's a really wonderful addition and the fact that it's just a single knob and you can reach out and grab it rather than having to do lots of calculations about gain staging is helpful for a guy like me who never mixed on a large scale analog desk. So I get the benefit of the sound without having to figure out the maths and the geometry of it.
You have recently launched a new extension to the family of C1. I mean of course the AMERICAN CLASS A channel strip. Is this channel strip was based on one specific equalizer and one compressor or, as in the case of British Class A, is it a kind of hybrid ?
Hmm. I actually think, and again, I'm not 100% certain this is true, but I think that, in the case of the AMERICAN CLASS A, it was based on one specific compressor and one specific Eq, although not perhaps the specific eqs and compressors that you, one might guess, but they were selected very deliberately, for the sound that we wanted to achieve with this particular channel Strip and to make,the right outcome.
How would you describe it to someone who didn't have the pleasure of getting to know its sound. Why is it worth to reach for this specific channel strip?
That's a great question. I think I'm comparing it to the BRITISH CLASS A, is the way that I find most useful. So I always thought that the sound of the BRITISH CLASS A that really impressed me was the way that, particularly in the Eq and the compressor, you could clean up the low end without losing weight. So it was big, but not muddy. I would say was the sound of the BRITISH CLASS A, and that's a really sort of a supernatural power as far as I'm concerned, is remarkable.
But the AMERICAN CLASS A does something, equally exciting, but I think it's kind of the opposite. It can make things bright and crunchy and clear, but without being brittle. So the sum total of the distortion, the Eq, the compression in the AMERICAN CLASS A to my ears is very forward, very aggressive, but without being a brittle and sharp. And some bright sounds can be terribly kind of abrasive to the ear. But these sounds are well-rounded, but they're very forward.
Question about the C1 hardware controller… is it true that for long time you made it by hand in your HQ kitchen?
Yes! Simply put, I'm not certain that it was the kitchen, but certainly yeah, we made these units by hand to begin with. Softube as a small Swedish company, it's growing now, but it's a small company based in a small city here in Sweden, Linköping. And, the team built these Console 1 units by hand to begin with because we had an idea and we executed it,
I think brilliantly, but we are not Universal Audio and we aren't a global market leader in hardware products. So we had to start small. So we did a small print run as it were, and made them, we built them ourselves, and they sold so well that we were able to get another one going and we made them ourselves again. And then after a while we realized that we were onto a winner. And so we finally were able to outsource the manufacturer, which led to many, many good things.
So, what are the differences between the original design and the so-called MK2?
There are a couple of simple differences in the hardware, but they're very unimportant really. So just the materials are slightly different, the layout of the printing is slightly different. On the original unit, along the top you can see those numbers printed, 1 and 21, 2 and 22, and so on, just to let the user know that there's a page up the function. But we slightly re designed the layout of that. Basically it's the exact same product. And the big difference in the relaunch was the price.
So about that time was when we were able to outsource the manufacturing because the first print run was selling so well. Some time later we were able to sell enough to have the experts build them rather than doing it ourselves
Today we are able to put it at the price point we always wanted it to be at, which is, really accessible to all studios rather than just top pros. And, so now it's sitting there I think around 500 US dollars, or 500 euros, and it's a price for both, the hardware and the software environment. So the combination of the two for that price is something quite special.
Are you planning another update? Something like MK3?
No, is the answer I think because it's going so well basically. So, it would be very possible that we'd be making a mark three if there were things that we wanted to improve about it, but at the moment we're very happy with it. We are thinking of course at all times about what is next, but I don't think it will be a new edition of Console 1. I think it will be something altogether, special and new.
So, which way will this project go now? Will we see Console 2 in the future?
Yeah. Well... watch this space. There are lots of things that people say to us at trade shows and in e-mails that they would like to see from us. Certainly in terms of hardware specifically, we have a really good idea of what our customers are wanting from us next. And so we're looking forward to bringing it to them.
I'm sure I'll be watching you on this matter...
The second part of the conversation with George Reece can be found here soon. We will talk about the second generation of Softube Tube-Tech Collection, modern marketing, the future of Softube and the amazing WEISS DS1- MK3 mastering finalizer, which is now available natively thanks to Softube.
For more information about Softube products please visit www.softube.com
Here you will find Softube's PARALLELS plugin in the rent to own system.
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