George Reece Interview Part 2:"It's not our job to tell anyone what they need. So we try to keep our eyes and ears open and listen to what our customers want and think about the best way to give it to them..."
In the second part of the interview with George Reece we will look at the new products in the Softube catalogue, we will find out what changes await us in the Mk II version of a very successful and valued Softube Tube-Tech collection, but most of all we will talk about a great, native carnation of one of the best mastering processors in the world, the WEISS DS1-MK3, which is much more than just a plugin...
Today, the second part of the conversation with George Reece, Producer, Mixing Engineer and first of all, Communications Content Producer in the well-known and respected Softube Company.
Very intelligent, gifted man who despite of his professional position still can look at the plugins from the fan's perspective. When I was thinking about how I should start this introduction, almost from the very beginning I was sure of one thing...
No introduction would reflect the passion that this man has for his work. During this interview (the first part can be found here) I quickly realized that being a part of Softube team gives him a lot of real joy.
He also helped me to to understand the essence of this Company... how much attention they pay to quality and to the fact that every user can be sure that every time they receive a product refined in the smallest detail...
Thank you for that answer George. I would like to stop now for a moment with a very special plugin, a very specjal compressor... I mean the Weiss DS1-MK3, tell me something about it. Where did you get the idea to take this device to the workshop?
Now this again is just a story of excellent quality, I think. So, it's pretty much accepted in top mastering studios, the world over for a number of decades that the DS is a special piece of Kit. The algorithmic compression and limiting in the DS1-MK3 is a sound that nothing else can do. It becomes something of a mainstay for a lot of mastering engineers with a lot of wonderful credits. So, we thought if we're going to make a final stage mastering dynamics plugin of any kind, it ought to be the very best thing. You know, the thing that everyone wants to reach for. And the Weiss just was that for us.
And it's interesting to me, as a sort of a relative outsider to the development process and the engineering side of things.
And you know Adrian, Softube has this wonderful reputation for analog modeling and plugins based on analog equipment. And yet here we are, developing, emulations of digital software based compressors and plugins. So, it was an interesting, brave departure, but I think ultimately the results have been pretty astounding. People, first of all, hardly believe that they can get something that sounds literally like the real thing in plugin form. But of course with a digital code port, there's less signal loss so to speak. It's also incredible to look at the prices because, we won't pretend that DS1 isn't an expensive plugin, but compared to the cost of owning a hardware unit and the versatility that having it in plugin form gives you, you can run as many instances as you want. The price situation, the way that a studio spends its money now is just so remarkably different. And I'm pretty excited about that as a user.
There are not many such hybrids on the market. I mean… Plugins with exactly the same interior as the hardware. This is a phenomenon...
As I say, it's a special thing to do, especially for a plugin manufacturer who's always been known for a analog systems.
But I think the opportunity was too exciting to turn down. So we've been developing our sort of code porting and digital crossovers for awhile with our Modular Synth platform and we have a few modules in that, which are based on digital hardware. So, it's been a project that's ongoing and that's becoming a part of the Softube story as well.
As far as I know, you've been working on this plugin for quite a long time. Why it takes so long? What was your cooperation with Daniel?
Yeah. Now this is something I don't honestly know that much about because it wasn't me cooperating with Daniel, but yes, it's certainly been a long time in the works. And, I mean, you know, four, five years since the first point of contact between that time and the release of the plugin and some people on forums say, well, what takes so long? You just copy the code and you paste it into a plugin, and... Of course, it's a lot more complicated than that because, having code set up to run in a certain hardware system using SHARC chip DSP is very different from running it in a plugin framework. And there are lots of loose ends to solve their, as it were and details to tie up. But I think more than anything, the reason it takes so long is because Softube is a small team dedicated to doing things right.
So, there are obviously other projects going on here at Softube and we always want to dedicate the right amount of time and resources to all of them. And equally we don't hire by volumes. So, it would be I think quite easy for the management at Softube to say, okay, we're doing well, let's hire a hundred developers cause we want to make lots more plugins but we don't want to hire bad developers. We only want to hire the very best ones and these things take time. So I think what happened with the Weiss project was that we wanted to do it and we want it to do it well. So we allowed ourselves to take as long as it took to make it right. So we set aside the right resources over the right period of time to make it happen.
Yeah, and as we all can see, the effort has paid off. In my opinion, this is one of the best (if not the best) software mastering compressors ever made, but its also one of the most expensive plugins on the market... Of course, the price suggests its purpose ... Professional engineers, they are the ones who undoubtedly are the target of this plugin, despite everything, aren't you afraid it's too expensive?
It's a great question. Well yes. I mean I personally would be terrified that it was too expensive. One of the features of my time here at Softube has been learning how wrong I am about many things though. And there are some incredibly smart guys here at Softube who know the wider music making world better than I ever will perhaps. And they bravely thought this is the right plugin at the right price. And I would have said, wow, that's a lot of money to spend on a plugin, but we have seen incredible sales results. And again, of course shrouded in secrecy. I couldn't tell you because I simply don't even know.
They won't even tell me how many exactly we've sold, but more than we ever expected is the answer and the sales of the plugin continue even a year and a half after the release of the DS1 and its component pieces continues to be incredibly strong. So that suggests to me that not only the top level mastering engineers who own the hardware have bought a copy, but that perhaps younger engineers like myself who never used the hardware or new mastering engineers who are just getting into the top end of audio are viewing this as a viable option at that price. And that's the proof being in the pudding, isn't it?
Yes! And what do you think about this compressor? I mean the original hardware, how did it happen that a fully digital device has such a huge reputation and impact... and such a great sound?
Yeah. Well, again, I think it's the quality. This is why it was such an obvious partner for Softube because we're obsessed with the very best sound quality and so was done in vice. So, the prevailing wisdom at the time I suppose would have been that you can't beat analog and it will always sound better and more real with analog. And there's an awful lot of interesting conversations to be had in that area. My Dad's still listens to vinyl records because they sound better than CD's or MP3's and I agree with him completely. But, the challenge to that prevailing wisdom that Daniel Weiss and his team put forward was that if you have the right algorithms for the right job, you can create the right sound. And I think simply the amount of complexity and detail and the amount of attention to detail in that a set of algorithms in that code is what makes the difference between a cheap digital emulation of a hardware concept and a completely new concept, which does what it aims to do incredibly well, which is completely transparent and fast. Impossibly fast mastering compression.
Okay, let's go back to the beginning… How much has Softube developed since 2003? How has the sound of the plugins and your approach changed over the years?
Oh, now this is a great story and I think I touched on it a little earlier on, but the company grew out of a university project for our founders. They're sort of a masters, or thesis projects were to do with DSP engineering and modeling of analog systems in computer code. So, the sort of the story is that I'm looking at a guitar amp... One of our founders thought we could do a better job of this than what the professionals are currently doing, as I say. And there were technologies at the time which aimed to emulate guitar amp sounds in digital format and some of them were quite good. But, by taking the whole thing apart and measuring voltages and currents and whatnot, I suppose, the guys figured out that they could build a system from scratch in code that properly mapped the behavior of that system, rather than simply input, output snapshots.
And so, a toolbox built from that codes and systems and ways of representing certain filter types or whatever. So the logic base or the code base grows and grows as the company gets bigger. But basically the theory has remained the same ever since and remains the same to this day that, if you are prepared to look at a system component by component and make accurate measurements and detailed representations of those components in code, then you can make something that's better than what is out there. I think that's one of the reasons our old plugins are still well loved and used because they were built along the same idea... If you take your time and you do it properly, you can make something that's really alive, even in code.
You were lucky because you started in good time, there was no such competition then....
How does it look today? Do you feel the breath of competition on the back off your head?
Oh, well, I think, even in 2003, there was, a competition I expect. It's just that it looked rather different. I mean, digital audio has been with us for 30, 40 years now. And, so the idea of making music in a computer was certainly not Softube's idea and we entered the marketplace that was beginning to become mature at the time, I think. So, Softube's game has always been to stay ahead of the competition by devoting itself to quality and it's a perfectly legitimate business plan that many other companies have, which is to provide some quality, but for a lower price for example, or some quality, but quicker and Softube's plan is something slightly different, that we offer in our own time and that the right price, we offer the best quality that we can possibly offer. So, in terms of competition, the same situation exists now as I imagine did then.
The competition will always be there, but you have to offer something slightly different and you have to commit your story and your goals as a company and Softube does that still to this day. And I hope we'll continue to do it.
What do you think about today's marketing strategies? I don't mean Softube, but a more general impression on the whole market... you know what I mean by these aggressive forms of communication today... The fact that the consumer often doesn't know what he actually needs, that he has too many choices and stimilations and as a result he doesn't mix or develop his skills....
Absolutely. Well, as a user initially, you know, I came to Softube as a customer first before I was an employee. And I continue to obviously think about these things in my capacity in the marketing department here that, the choice paralysis on offer is remarkable. If you want to, you can lose yourself in the thousands of digital audio processing options out there and you could spend your whole life doing nothing but comparing one Eq plugin to another, one compressor to another and building a whole mix using Softube plugins and then throwing it out and trying again with UAD or any other. So, this is, as I said earlier on, one of the reasons why a product like Console 1 is important and special because it offers the user the option of throwing out a lot of options.
So it's easy to think a product is better, the more options it gives you. But I think the opposite is true. I think the real benefit of a lot of our products is that they make a lot of choices for you and that's to say that we don't respect our customer's ability to make good choices themselves. But it is that the products should offer you acurated set of excellent options rather than a totally open playing field because the customer is not the developer. The customer is not the hardware engineer. The customer is a musician or producer or an engineer of some kind or a composer. And so, as interesting as they might find it to delve into every single detail of what's possible, really, they just want to get on and make music.
So, I think it's very important to offer products that meet those kinds of needs. And we're really trying to do that. That said though, as you say, that sort of marketing, environment out there is saturated like crazy. So, it's something we're very aware of. We don't want anyone to buy our products just because they want something new. You know, we want to give them a clear and compelling reason to own anything that we make. And that starts way before marketing. It starts with you know, with research and development product manufacturing.
Yes, you know, in the past a man used to buy a newspaper, or maybe watch three, up to five reviews from trusted editors and make a decision... Today, just a few hours after the new plugin comes out, when you go online, you will see dozens of reviews with catchy titles... How can such an indecisive user make a decision?
Yeah, well, I'll say something that's very anti-marketing, if I may, I think every customer has to stop listening for a moment and think about what they want to do and that will lead them to the right answer. So, if a customer wants the best mixing solution available because they want to mix records and make the best records, they can, then hopefully they don't need to watch adverts and read reviews. They just find Console 1 and decide they want to use it. Or for example, if you're a creative composer or producer, you want great synth sounds, of course there's a million options, but if you know that that's what you want, perhaps you discover that the best quality available, the best sound you can get is from a Softube product like PARALLELS or MODULAR or a new MONUMENT BASS SYNTH for example. So there are things that people need and it's up to them to decide. It's not up to me to tell anyone what they need.
And one more aspect... can the review that appears a few hours after the release of the plugin be really reliable?
That's really fascinating. I mean, I'm often impressed by how quickly people can form really thoughtful, interesting opinions on new products. I think there are an awful lot of journalists and creators and bloggers out there who do really make an excellent work, and who are very focused. They do something that I certainly couldn't do, which is assess a plugin or a new product very quickly and very thoroughly, but that said, I've never been somebody who needs to have something new the second it's available. So I certainly wouldn't mind reviewers taking their time, if I were a customer considering my options. So, perhaps that's why I'm not a music producer professionally anymore because perhaps the secret is to be ahead of the curve and to be faster than anyone else. So perhaps there's advantages there, but I don't know.
Your favorite Softube plugin? The plugin you think is the best and why?
Hmm. That's a wonderful question! In truth, my favorite may not be in any objective sense the best, but I find a terribly romantic and wonderful, the TUBE DELAY, which is based on some tube circuits from an old guitar amp and then a digital delay line with a really ugly, dirty decay. And I just find it so fascinating and it's such a wonderful sound...
And the truth of the matter is that sound quality is about what you like the sound of. So offering plugins like this, that give people the option of making their sound filthy is part of the Softube ethos very much. And again, it's very rich, special, detailed, deep sound. I use this TUBE DELAY all the time on vocals, on guitars, on a percussion... I even use it on a bass and things just to saturate or a way of warming things up. So I would say TUBE DELAY is my favorite.
Wow, I must admit, I didn't expect you to choose this particular plugin! By the way, I have to tell you that you are talking about all these plug-ins with such passion that I now have goosebumps!
Thank you Adrian! Well, I really believe this stuff. You know, I come from a background of making music cheaply. I was a garage band kind of guy. Not that the DAW garage band, but literally I used to practice in a garage with a band and you know, we would just use whatever equipment we could find in dumpsters and you know, whatever we could, it's such an exciting game to try and make the best sounds you can with what you've got, And Softube does a lot of great work, I think,
to bring the really top quality sounds of the recording world and the mixing world to people who wouldn't have been able to afford it before.
I know it's a typical question, but I'm really curious... What are your plans for the future? What are you going to do now?
Well, again, I apologize for not being able to be more specific because this is a very secretive and vague world. But, I can tell you in general terms that Softube's plan is to keep doing the same, to keep doing the best sounding products that we can do. And too meet the needs of the audience. As I was saying, it's not our job to tell anyone what they need. So we try to keep our eyes and ears open and listen to what our customers want and think about the best way to give it to them, even if it's not the way that perhaps they would want their thing given to them themselves. I think the old quote is that, if you ask someone in 1880 what he most wanted, he'd say faster horses, but someone thought, no, I'll make a car, you know. So, Softube, I think is all about figuring out what the need of the customer is and then finding the very best sounding way to offer it.
So we're working on instruments, virtual instruments. We're making synths and wonderful sound generating environments that aren't always exactly what you've seen from other companies, but they hopefully over the course of time come to be known as very innovative and exciting... Things that sound phenomenal. We're also working on more mixing solutions and hardware ideas, as I say. So Console 1 it's been such a wonderful success for Softube and we're thinking about how else we can combine hardware and software to make things easy and wonderful for people in ways that perhaps they couldn't have imagined.
Thank you very much George! It was a really special time for me, I wish you and all the Softube team all the best, you are a very interesting and important link in the Vst plugin market. I will be watching you closely and look forward to new products, stay safe and thank you for your time and conversation.
Thank you Adrian! It was a pleasure to talk with you! See you next time!
Adrian Lucas Witaszczyk: Since the last time I mentioned your compressors, I must stop at the new version of your Tube-Tech CL 1B - which now has the nickname Mk II... This compressor also works inside the Console 1 system, right?t?
George Reece: Yes, exactly. Like so many of our other plugins it's available to be used inside the Console 1 system.
How different is it from its previous version? What did you manage to improve?
Well, when we reworked the Tube-Tech range, we also do a couple of Tube-Tech Eq's as you maybe know. We were able to reassess the code, because this was one of the earliest projects that we worked on here at Softube. I think more than ten years ago, we started working with Tube-Tech on the original plugins. So it was a good opportunity to have a look and the guys looked at the model of the Eq's and they found that they pretty much couldn't improve upon it.
It was just what they wanted it to be. So they pretty much left it alone. There were a couple of very minor additions and updates to the sound that happened in the process of making Mk II, but basically the Eq's are the same.
The story was not quite the same with the compressor though because, compressors are, as I understand it, slightly more complex systems model in a computer code. The certain sort of analog characteristics of them are a little bit less tangible and more detailed. So, in 2006 when we began working on this, the computer processing power available to the team here was just so much. And they were delighted to find when we reassessed for the new versions that there was a bit of space to improve upon what model they were able to put together at that time. Now, that's not to say that it's necessarily a better in the sort of absolute sense, but it is a brand new model built from the ground up with more detail and more precise modeling of the entire system. So I think in the Softtube ethos again that means better because we want to be creating the most dynamic and the most alive versions of these things. So it's a brand new ground up plugin model and it does sound somewhat different from the original.
In my opinion, this is "the"ultimate Softube plugin, the compressor that defines you as a Company to a large extent. It shows all your capabilities and the quality of your plugins. Do you agree with this opinion?
Well, it's of course my job to love all the Softube plugins, but I really do love this CL 1B plugin. It's a special thing in all sorts of ways and the hardware and the Tube-Tech brand is such a special partner for us also. Partly I think there's a degree to which we're just all proud Scandinavians, but, it's also been a very special piece of hardware for a lot of studios over the last few decades. So it's got a special place in a lot of people's hearts and for good reason because it's a special sound.
So I think the thing about the CL 1B is that it's become a part of our story, but it's also a part of so many other wonderful stories in the music world.
Yes, and although it is an optical compressor, its sound is different from the typical LA-2A....
Yeah, absolutely. I am non engineer myself, but having learned about it a little bit since I came here to Softube, the specifics of components are so important to analog systems. And when designing the original LA-2A compressors, the Teletronix guys were absolutely obsessed with the very fine details of their optical receptors and so on because the tiniest changes made huge changes to the sound and the performance. So it stands to reason that, a design that looks similar in blueprint would produce totally different sounds with simply different components involved. And that again is very important for us at Softube to not just model the sort of vague shape of a system, but to model the very detailed specifics of what the contribution of each individual component is to that system. And of course it's a slightly different user experience, the CL 1B
from the LA-2A, So the results are going to be different because you have control over different parameters.
In which mixing scenarios do you reach for it?
Hmm. It's such a versatile thing! It's a really hard to make the CL 1B sound bad, but I tend to find that for obvious things like vocals and bass it's a great warmer. I'm also kind of obsessed with its capabilities to produce punch in percussion on snares. For example, a slow attack time with the CL 1B can really turn something, tame into something exciting and aggressive.
And that I guess is just down to quality. You can set a slow attack time on more or less any compressor, but that doesn't mean that the resulting, shape of your wave will be an improvement. It just might be a very different, and this is like I'm saying with the American class A earlier on, you can make something bright but it becomes brittle or you can make it bright and it becomes sweet and vibrant. So, I think the CL 1B is wonderful at producing that punch by a slow attack time, for example, but then, compensating with its gain staging for a better sound the more went in.
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