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Interviews - Interview with Studio One inventor Matthias Juwan

For the 10th anniversary, we spoke to Matthias Juwan about the creation of Studio One

When I heard about the "new" DAW for the first time at Musikmesse 2009, I had no idea what would connect me to this software in the next 10 years. Just one year later, in the summer of 2010, I had version 1 on my hard drive and started to produce my first song with Studio One.

Now - almost a decade and hundreds of Studio One projects later - I didn't miss the opportunity to ask Matthias Juwan, Studio One mastermind and CTO at PreSonus Software a few questions about the creation and development of Studio One. I have included both my own questions and questions that have come up in the RECORDING.de forum in recent years.

I hope you enjoy reading the unabridged interview with Matthias Juwan!

Matthias, Studio One is 10 years old this year! In 2009 everyone first asked themselves why a new DAW would be needed. Studio One has become an indispensable part of the DAW market. What was the trigger for you to program the first prototype of Studio One?

For me it all started a few years earlier. When I released my 16-track freeware sequencer Kristal Audio Engine in 2004, it received a lot of positive feedback from the internet community and the trade press, so I decided to work on a more professional successor. The project ran for two years in my spare time alongside my job as a software developer at Steinberg under the code name K2.

The resulting prototype could already record, play and edit audio and MIDI, had a start page, the browser for plug-ins and files and the drag & drop-based workflow.

In May 2006, I founded the start-up KristalLabs Software in Hamburg together with Wolfgang Kundrus and brought my source code there. Back then, PreSonus was the client for two new audio applications, now known as Capture and Studio One. The team has been part of the PreSonus family since 2009. Wolfgang left the team in 2012.

Which development would you have expected least of all at the beginning?

At the beginning, you don't really think about what exactly is in store for you. I am always amazed at what can become of an idea with the right people and a lot of passion. I think we have made many users' everyday work more efficient with Studio One. One would not have expected at the beginning that the big ones on the left and right would copy our features. Software has changed the PreSonus brand significantly and its share in the company is growing steadily. I think everything turned out the way it should be.

Most of them know you as the manufacturer of Studio One - although you have been involved in many more products for a number of years ...

Yes, originally we only worked on Studio One and Capture. That changed after Version 2 when we took on more responsibility within PreSonus. The strategic background was to achieve a deeper integration of hardware and software. It was also important to me that the software team became a central part of the company in order to secure the location and to be able to continue to grow.

In the meantime, all desktop and mobile applications and even parts of the firmware come from Hamburg. In addition to the target platforms Windows and macOS, iOS and Android have been added over time. We also develop Universal Control as remote control and management software for all current hardware products, as well as UC Surface, QMix-UC, Studio One Remote and various plug-ins such as the Fat Channel Collection. For some time now, we have also been taking care of the further development of the notation application Notion, which we took over in 2013. However, we also supply many basic technologies, such as the UCNET network protocol for device control and the cross-platform framework, which is used in the firmware of the digital mixing consoles (AI and Series III) and in the FaderPort family in addition to the applications mentioned.

How many people are currently involved in the development of Studio One compared to the early years?

There were three of us started in 2006. Today we are around 20 people in Hamburg, around half of them developers, the others take care of product planning, quality assurance and UI design. Everyone has their focus, but we distribute the resources as the projects require, i.e. nobody works exclusively on Studio One. About half the time is spent on other projects. We are a small team compared to many of our competitors.

Our advantage is that we have known each other for almost two decades from our time together at Steinberg and we therefore work very well together. The senior development team, which technically sets the direction, consists of Maik Oppermann, Mario Ewald and me. Maik was there from the start, Mario joined us in 2012, together with Arnd Kaiser, who has been our General Manager ever since. In recent years, many young IT talents with a passion for music have also joined them. By the way, we are currently looking for software developers again - so feel free to apply to us!

What is your job developing Studio One? Have your responsibilities changed over the years?

My job title is Chief Technology Officer, something like Head of Development. I am responsible for ensuring that the developers are doing well with us and that everyone has enough (and not too much) to do, and that our projects stay on schedule. In addition, forward-looking technology development is my responsibility.

I have a very close relationship with Studio One, of course, based on history. I originally designed and developed many areas of the program, some of them over the last 15 years. I continue to take care of the software architecture, even if I unfortunately have less and less time to write code. I'm still involved right from the start when it comes to strategic alignment and feature planning.

Do you make music or are you also a user of your own DAW?

I play bass, but a headphone amp is usually enough for me to practice at home and I don't even start the computer. On the other hand, I often sit in front of Studio One for a long time in the evenings to look at the new features and workflows that could possibly be improved. That's the price of helping to develop the DAW yourself. You actually always have the memo for the next working day with you. So no, I'm not really into making music with Studio One right now.

Do all Studio One developers work in Hamburg or is development also carried out in the USA?

The core team is based in Hamburg, but we generally work very closely with our colleagues in Baton Rouge. The development department over there is responsible for the hardware design and firmware. We occasionally get support from the USA with plug-ins and UI design. This is no coincidence, but has to do with the fact that we are developing some of the effect algorithms in hybrid form, which can also be used for mixers or audio interfaces with built-in DSP. Marketing for Studio One is also controlled from the company's headquarters. There is also a web team there for services such as MyPreSonus, Exchange and our online shop. We have a location in Ireland for technical support and sales in Europe.

Is there a typical Studio One user? In which areas is Studio One used most often? Are there styles that are particularly represented?

No, I don't think there is. We try to position ourselves as broadly as possible and we know pretty much which use cases we already cover well and where there is still room for improvement. At the beginning with version 1 and 2, audio recording and editing was clearly in the foreground, then with version 3 the focus was on electronic music production. We have expanded that with Studio One 4, also in the direction of composition. The built-in mastering has always been a unique selling point. But there is more!

Over the past 10 years you have expanded all possible areas of the program. In your opinion, which area have you neglected so far?

The challenge is not to neglect any area in a program as complex and diverse as Studio One. Unfortunately, we cannot advance everything at the same time, but have to proceed step by step. There were times when there was a long standstill on the project side (mastering) because we donated a lot of new features to the song side. But I think we were able to make up for that quite well. I am currently thinking of the cloud area in the browser. Once very innovative, it could use an update again. There are also some plug-ins that we haven't touched in a while, e.g. our amp emulation Ampire. In terms of development effort, some construction sites are too big for smaller updates and therefore have to wait for the next major update.

How can you imagine the development of a new feature or part of a program in Studio One (e.g. the multi-instruments, the pattern editor, the chord track or the Mix Engine FX)? Do you have someone on the team who thinks up exactly how a feature has to work?

No, there is no such thing as a super brain, and that's a good thing. A new part of the program requires a lot of preparation and there are always several people involved from planning to implementation, testing and documentation.

It starts with collecting the requirements as so-called “user stories”. Then there is market research because good solutions have already been established for some problems and we do not want to reinvent the wheel. Often, however, as the saying goes, you can make it a little rounder. Other features are so innovative that no one has done it before. We always develop a concept that fits into the existing program structure and takes into account the basic principles of Studio One. This includes a simple, intuitive workflow, drag & drop and, if possible, no dialogs or options that the user needs to understand. Most of the time it works the same way.

Sometimes in-house hardware plays a role and the features are strategically designed so that there is a suitable update from Studio One when the product is released. A good example of this is the integration of the ATOM Pad Controller with the Pattern Editor and the Note Repeat.

As soon as it is fundamentally clear what is to be built, we start with the technical implementation. We do so-called agile software development, i.e. we work in iterations and can check again and again whether the result corresponds to the ideas and possibly adapt the plan. The first feedback comes from internally and from the USA, then from our beta testers and VIP users.

Let's talk about current trends in music production. At the moment, for example, hardware is very popular again, modular synths, Euroracks, effects devices and so on. How do you feel about this trend and the integration of such devices in Studio One?

Yes, the trend away from pure “in the box” production towards hybrid studio solutions consisting of hardware and software is clearly visible. We recently expanded our pipeline plug-in for the integration of external effects devices. The topic will continue to occupy us in the near future. By the way, all newer PreSonus interfaces have “DC-coupled outputs” and are therefore suitable for CV.

On the subject of GUI: Since the beginning of Studio One, you have repeatedly heard voices from users who want complete customizability, including interchangeable »skins«. Have you decided against such extensive customization in Studio One so far?

We introduced the color controls with version 3 and the inverted light theme with version 4. This means that the program interface can be easily adapted to different lighting conditions and also given a personal touch. As we know, there are programs that have a lot more to do with, but that's just not our approach. I think it's also important to leave things out. We attach great importance to a consistent look and consistent user guidance. Together these make up the overall impression, the “user experience”. Small detail on the side: Technically, we actually have a skin defined in XML that is separate from the program code.

We recently discussed in the RECORDING.de forum how you are doing with the further development and improvement of plugins. Can you make a compressor plug-in or a reverb plug-in even better?

Definitely yes! The expectation of a DAW today is that, in addition to the basic program, the sound content and plug-ins supplied are of high quality. We have collected a lot of wishes and ideas for our plug-ins and we will implement them as the schedule allows. Building a good-sounding algorithmic reverb that is easy to use is an art in itself and accordingly takes time.

In the last few years you have built several emulations of analog hardware devices, starting with the Console Shaper, CTC-1, VT1, the Rotor plug-in, etc. How do you approach such a development? Will there be further innovations in this area in the future?

For us, Kristjan Dempwolf, who has been on the team for several years, uses so-called state space models, also known as “State Space Modeling”. He typically starts by looking for circuit diagrams and studying them. Then the device is opened and measured at various points during operation. Kristjan creates mathematical models that are later converted into program code. Depending on the complexity of the electrical circuit, this can be correspondingly time-consuming.

Compared to other modeling approaches, the digital copy behaves exactly like the original when the controls are turned. In terms of sound, we are only satisfied when you can no longer hear a difference in the A / B comparison and this has also been confirmed with the oscilloscope.
Not to be neglected is of course a chic GUI, because the eye can finally hear! Yes, even more is possible in this area!

You have opened many of your interfaces and formats to external developers so that these technologies can also be supported by 3rd party developers. Mention should be made here of audio loops and music loops, ARA, which you developed together with Celemony, or in a certain form the Mix Engine FX. You are pursuing a different strategy than many other manufacturers who prefer to keep their technologies under lock and key ...

We are very open when it comes to technical cooperation with other companies. Maybe it's because we're a small shop and we don't even want to try to invent everything ourselves. We have good contacts with many plug-in manufacturers and also with other host manufacturers. We benefit indirectly if a new interface is also supported by other hosts, as this results in more compatible plug-ins. Many people probably don't even know that we worked with Bitwig to define a multisample file format that is supported in both applications. Another example was the Console 1 integration in Studio One together with Softube.

Personally, I just enjoy creating new opportunities and working with creative minds from other companies. You are reminded that your own internal view is not the only possible one. This then applies to both sides. At ARA, Maik and I still meet regularly today with Stefan Gretscher from Celemony.

With Mix Engine FX you have developed an interesting new plugin interface. However, to this day it is not entirely clear to many why Mix Engine FX are not "something like HEAT, Harrison Mixbus or Slate Digital products" and why no normal VST plug-in can simulate what Mix Engine FX do. Can you summarize it again in a simple form?

Yes, it's actually very simple. Plug-ins usually work as insert effects that can only process the signal of the respective mixer channel - unless you work with tricks and interconnect the plug-ins internally without the knowledge of the DAW. The Mix Engine FX get officially access to all individual sources of a bus from the host before the total is added. This allows you to create special effects such as crosstalk between channels, which is not possible with normal inserts.

You have just released the 4.5.3 update, which, in addition to many bug fixes and small improvements, "just" fulfilled the top 1 wish in the feature voting area in your Answers-Base: The support for NI Komplete Kontrol Mk II. Otherwise it is often praised on the internet that you let the users have a say in this way. How does this voting platform influence your decisions?

The Answers base plays a crucial role. Indeed, requests with many voices are given priority by us. We had been in talks with Native Instruments for a long time about the Komplete Kontrol integration and when it finally became technically tangible in June of this year, we didn't hesitate and used the next update for it.

There are of course many other factors that influence when we can deliver which features. We set thematic priorities for updates. It is clear that we cannot always make every user happy, even if we would like to.If you weren't there, there might be something for you in the next iteration.

As a rule of thumb, the further back in the version number the number has changed, the less we have rebuilt or rebuilt in order not to endanger the program stability. Specifically, this means that 4.5 was a lot of new stuff, 4.5.1 to 4.5.3 were actually “only” small maintenance updates.

Lastly, the inevitable question: what could Studio One fans look forward to in the future?

Yes, the question was to be expected - and it is also a nice way to end it. Unfortunately, I can't reveal much about that. Certain things may be predictable, such as version 5 coming after version 4 ... and yes, we are already working on it! The aforementioned Answers Base is also a good reference point. With this in mind: You are welcome to choose features!

Thank you for the interview, Matthias!

With pleasure, Lukas! Again for the next anniversary, right?

Lukas Ruschitzka conducted the interview in September 2019.

Photos: Jörn Gehrlein