“Softube” is a name plastered across both their own third-party plugins and native ones in DAWs like Ableton Live. This Swedish company has made it’s mark through delivering well-received emulations amp, compressors, channel strips, reverbs and more. In order to learn more about the company, I approached their Marketing Manager, Henrik Andersson Vogel, with some question about the company and his role there.
Hi Henrik. Can you tell me a bit about how Softube was founded?
Back in 2003, Niklas Odelholm and Oscar Öberg got to know each other while they were studying digital signal processing at Linköping University in Sweden. According to Niklas, he just happened to look through the window of a lab where a guy was sticking probes into a guitar amplifier, obviously taking some sort of measurement on it. That was Oscar, whose main thesis was about seeing if he could find a better way to model tube amplifiers (which he did). A few months later, the two of them formed Softube in Niklas’ dorm room, and the company took off via the University’s incubator program. So when Sound On Sound called Softube ”the rock n’ roll scientists from Sweden”, they were really spot on. The company is firmly based in the academic world, and to this day several of the professors from the Linköping University are members of the board. But the academic part is just half of our identity – the other half is the love of music and sound. We’re all active as musicians and sound engineers.
And who are the primary staff members at the company, apart from Niklas and Oscar?
Torsten Gatu and Arvid Rosén soon joined the crew after the company’s founding, and Mattias Danielsson followed about two years ago. He’s also a computer engineer and handles customer support, testing, logistics and does some product demonstrations. I was the last guy to join a little over a year ago. I’m also the only one who’s not an engineer. Needless to say, I get constantly mocked over that (laughs). On the other hand, I’m the only one at Softube who has ever run a recording studio for a living, so I can use that to mock the others back.
Can you tell me more about your background, and how you came to work at Softube?
My background is pretty varied. I studied songwriting and arranging at the Stockholm Music Conservatory, and I have a degree in philosophy and political science from the University as well. Before I joined Softube, I was editor-in-chief for Sweden’s biggest magazine for musicians and engineers, called Musikermagasinet. When I left the magazine, I decided to look for a job within high-end pro audio. I had met the Softube guys through my work, and loved all their products. Plus they’re all such nice guys (this was before the mocking began). So I got in touch with them, and they thought it was time to hire someone to take care of marketing and sales. This was mainly done by Niklas before, but it’s a waste of resources to have a skilled engineer spend time on things other than development, so they hired me.
(From left to right: Niklas Odelholm, Mattias Danielsson, Oscar Öberg, Arvid Rosén, Torsten Gatu and Henrik Andersson Vogel)
What does your current job at Softube involve you doing?
My job title is “Marketing Manager”, but since we’re such a small company, I handle pretty much all external communication, which includes contacting our dealers and distributors. So I’m pretty much the “Sales Manager” as well.
My job consists of different things, from making sure that our advertising gets placed to arranging our appearances at trade shows. I also do a lot of one-on-one demonstrations at the trade shows, as well as with our dealers around the world. I’m responsible for making sure our dealers and distributors understand our products and present them to their customers the way we want them to. Keeping an eye on what people say about us in the press and on the forums, as well as what they say about our competitors, is also a part of my job. I make sure Softube gets media write-ups and that the press doesn’t misunderstand things about the products. I write most of the texts on our website, Facebook page and our Twitter stream, and I’ve also just finished writing the Console 1 manual. I make most of the product videos too. And since I probably have the most recording and mixing experience in the company, I’m also part of product development from a user’s standpoint. So as you can see, I do a lot things.
Which came first for Softube, making hardware or programming software products?
It’s a little tricky to say. The very first Softube product was a hardware prototype of a guitar amp emulation. The software from that became the basis for our amp plug-ins like Vintage Amp Room, Bass Amp Room and Metal Amp Room. But the core technology of it also became the basis for the amp we made with Marshall, the JMD:1 series. That was Marshall’s first amp with any digital parts in it, and Softube made both the digital hardware, with the conversion and DSP solution, and the software models.
Softube has made a lot of amp-related products. Why this focus on amplifiers?
I suppose Oscar found amps interesting and challenging, which is a little odd, seeing that he’s very much a synth person. Niklas on the other hand is a bass player, so it makes more sense when it comes to him.
What kind of reception has Softube seen for it’s compressors, EQs and channel strips? Do you know of any artists who have found those products helpful?
You won’t believe what an ego boost it is to read about our products and meet the users at trade shows. We get so much love for what we do, and we’re undoubtedly considered among the top-quality brands in pro audio. We have the world’s top names among our users; guys like Andrew Scheps, Michael Brauer, Phil Tan, Michael Wagener, and Tony Maserati. We know for a fact that our products get used on albums that sell by the millions. Andrew Scheps recently told us our Spring Reverb was the only reverb he used on his mixes for Adele’s “21“ album, and that our TSAR-1 reverb is all over Black Sabbath’s “13“ album.
There’s also the respect we get from the industry. I mean, Marshall picked us for the JMD:1, Fender partnered with us for the Runaway Feedback Pedal, Universal Audio included the Softube Amp Room Bundle in their plugins, Ableton picked us to make their native “Amp” plugin, Abbey Road picked us to make their “Brilliance Pack” and Native Instruments had us make their reverbs, compressors and EQs. These companies are huge and could have worked with anyone, yet they picked us. If that’s not a quality stamp, I don’t know what is.
Can you tell me a bit about the TSAR-1 Reverb?
In my personal opinion, the TSAR-1 was our flagship product before Console 1 was released. It was the product that made me fond of Softube long before I started working here.
What makes TSAR-1 unique is the way it blends with the sound source. It’s the only reverb I know of, apart from Bricasti M7, that doesn’t sound like it’s been added to the sound source, but rather sounds like it was part of the original recording – it can be made to sound like the room mics you wish had been there during the recording. The way it treats panned and stereo sources also puts it way ahead of most other reverbs. If you pan a sound source to the side, you’ll hear how the early reflections change more than the reverb tail, which is how a real room would respond. You’d need an algorithmic reverb to do all that properly.
The TSAR-1 uses four separate reverb engines, that feed into each other in quite a complex way. It does take quite some CPU power, but it’s truly a non-compromise product.
After having been around for ten years, what are some of the major changes that have happened at Softube?
Well, I was the last guy to join the company, so my thoughts are only worth so much. But from the beginning, the idea wasn’t to make Softube-branded products at all, but rather to assist other companies in product development. We still do development for others, but now we have our Softube-branded products as well.
It’s funny how things have gone from people not really mentioning our involvement in their products to putting our logo on them; to have Softube develop a product has become a selling point. But other than that, I’d say it’s impressive how many things my colleagues got right from the beginning. Not only when it comes to product development, but in regards to how the business should be run and how to cooperate with others. So my impression is that the core philosophy has been quite intact throughout the years. Softube has always been about making quality products that simply work, and integrate well into the user’s workflow. And of course, we’ll do all that while out-drinking anyone at the trade show parties (laughs). No, but seriously, life is too short to spend it on making crap, and Softube is about making good stuff and being a nice company to deal with.
How did you end up developing your relationship with Universal Audio, Native Instruments and other such companies?
Niklas, Oscar, Torsten and Arvid developed their first prototype product, which was the guitar amp emulator, and went to the NAMM show in 2005. They simply started in one corner and worked their way through the entire convention center, talking to people, making contacts, showing the product and discussing possible collaborations. They did that for trade show after trade show until things started happening. That’s really how those relationships came about. Being nice people with great social skills has certainly paid off well.
Which company have you guys worked with the most?
Probably Marshall, since developing the JMD:1 amp took a while.
After having created plugins for so long, what led you guys to create the Console 1 mixer?
We asked ourselves, “What’s the next step for mixing? How can things be moved forward? “. It came down to a discussion about workflow, as well as why people in this day and age still buy analog consoles. I mean, even cheap consoles are quite costly, so why would anyone spend their hard-earned money on that? The answer is that they do it because of the intuitive and simple workflow, and because not having endless possibilities can greatly enhance the end result. So the idea came up to create a system which provided that, but combined it with the advantages of the digital world. So it would offer the sound and ease of use you get from high-end analog gear, and the mobility, low-cost and low maintenance of digital tools.
Can you tell me what makes Console 1 unique, in terms of what you just described?
Console 1 is a mixer that controls what happens in your DAW; the processing takes place in the computer, but you control the entire mix with a well-built piece of hardware. Nobody has done that before. When a lot of people see it for the first time, they think it’s a plug-in plus a controller. What they miss is that you can you access all your DAW channels through the hardware, without ever having to use your mouse. You can select each channel with its dedicated button on the mixer, tweak the mix, then move on to the next channel. It’s so much faster than mouse mixing, and it removes all the left-brain type of thinking from the mix process. If you hear a problem in your mix, just reach for the right knob and fix it. You have the entire channel strip laid out before you at all times, and you can use both hands to do things like compensate your EQ changes with the Output Volume. You don’t have to open separate windows for a gate, EQ, compressor and distortion effect.
First and foremost, with Console 1 you have the sound of a well-maintained $50,000 analog console, which very few people have; this device sounds better than the vast majority of analog consoles out there. Furthermore, you get total recall and automation of every parameter, programmable in real time with the knobs. You not only get EQ and volume as with most analog consoles, you also get a compressor, distortion, gate, a transient shaper and two filters on each channel.
There’s also the low price. As anyone who has ever owned an analog console knows, the costs don’t stop with the initial purchase, which is expensive enough. Just the cabling needed to hook up a 24-channel console is probably half the price of Console 1. Add in the price of a decent patchbay, and now you’re paying the full price. Also, you won’t need to install a cooling system in your studio to use Console 1, which you would for a large console.
There will be other console models coming out for the Console 1 system, so if you’re not happy with the $50,000 dollar console that’s included in the purchase, you can get another one. You can also use any Softube EQ and compressor within the system.
What price will Softube sell Console 1 for?
The expected street price is $999 in the US. In Europe, it’ll probably be €799, including sales tax.
Is there a particular group of people that you’re targeting with Console 1?
I think it’s for serious amateurs, semi-professionals and upwards. I mean, even the guys with big studios often have a small setup at home, so I can easily see it there too. I think the people who will be buying Console 1 are those considering an analog console to integrate into their DAW, and realize this is an option; people who know that a smooth workflow not only makes your life easier, it actually helps you to achieve better-sounding mixes.
You’ve been showcasing Console 1 at conventions and schools around the world. How has it been going?
People are simply loving it. At the recent AES conference, we had a constant line of people wanting to check it out. We’ve already sold out the first production batch before they’re all manufactured. Sure, some people are critical, but only up until the moment they try it themselves.
There’s a great Henry Ford quote that applies really well to Console 1: “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse”. He realized the customers didn’t know what they wanted before they saw the car he presented to them; only then did they understand what it could do for them. It’s really the same thing with Console 1. Right before you try Console 1 for the first time, you may think you want all the flexibility in the world. Two minutes later, you realize what you really want is less flexibility, because that means a faster workflow and better results.
What’s next for you guys? Will you be taking a break from making new products, now that you’re promoting Console 1?
Certainly not. 2014 will be the year when Softube will really start making noise. There’s so much new stuff in the works: new channel strips for Console 1, new plug-ins of the more traditional kind, and more collaborations with other companies. And we’ll see if we can make something out of Arvid’s wackier inventions: the Geiger-to-MIDI converter. “Geiger”, as in measuring radioactivity. So if you hold the device close to something radioactive, such as a smoke detector, the MIDI signals intensifies (laughs).
In the eyes of the public, I think 2013 was a quite slow year for us, since it’s been eighteen months since our last product launch. But we’ve been working on porting our guitar amps to the UAD platform, porting stuff to Reason Rack Extension format and of course developing Console 1. It also took a while to take over the Brilliance Pack from Abbey Road. So we’ve been working like mad but haven’t had much to show for it. But that is about to change – you’ll be hearing a lot from us in 2014.