Interview – In Tune with Tone2
Tone2 is an audio software design company located in Germany which has been in business since 2005. Soundbytes talks with programmer Markus Krause and product manager Bastiaan van Noord.
by Rob Mitchell, July 2014
Tone2 is an audio software design company located in Germany, and they have been in business since 2005. They are known for their wide range of high-quality plugins, many of which are used by producers and famous artists from around the world. Some of their various synth and effect plugins include Nemesis, Gladiator, Saurus, BiFilter2, and Warmverb Multi-FX.
Markus Krause is the programmer, sound designer and graphic artist for Tone2. Bastiaan van Noord is the product manager for Tone2. He also works on support, sound design, and testing of products.
I recently asked them for a quick interview, and they were kind enough to answer my questions for SoundBytes.
SB: Hello gentlemen! First of all I just want to thank both of you for taking the time out for this, as I know you are always busy at Tone2. To start things out: Markus, when did you first start programming, and what language did you start with?
MK: I started programming in the early 90s. PCs were still DOS based and there was not much audio software available. So I started to write trackers for SoundBlaster cards and tools to create sounds. It was developed with Turbo Pascal and Assembler.
SB: Bastiaan, how did you meet up with Markus, and how long have to you two worked together? Also, how do you handle all those customer support questions?
BN: We’ve been working together since 2006 and met up during the development of Firebird, I did beta testing and later on contributed to the factory presets.
Customer support overall has always been a good experience, you get to talk with people from all sides of the business. We try to keep things on a personal level when it comes to support. I personally dislike the template replies some of the bigger business send out and think customers are entitled to a personal approach when it comes to questions or issues. Of course every now and then you run into an issue that’s not easy to solve, but all in all I think we’ve got a good track record so far.
SB: How did Tone2 actually get started? I had read that before Tone2, Markus had worked with reFX, the makers of Vanguard, JunoX, and Slayer plugins. Is that correct?
MK: I programmed the audio engines for reFX JunoX, Vanguard, PlastiCZ and Slayer. I had some new ideas like the HCM synthesis which is now used in Tone2 FireBird and Gladiator. But Mike (reFX) refused the development of new products. That’s why I was forced to restart another company from scratch.
BN: I remember first hearing about Markus when the original Filterbank (the one with the default host GUI) was released, I knew about Vanguard but was more into hardware back then. I think Filterbank1 was actually one of the first software effects I used in my productions.
SB: Tone2 seems to always have new/innovative ideas, especially with Gladiator, Rayblaster, and your latest synth plugin, Nemesis. Do you guys think up new ideas together, or does Markus get a new idea and just run with it?
BN: We usually bounce off ideas each other for a while. Ideally, this is that we’re each capable of looking at it from our own side, coders look at features in a more technical way whereas sound designers tend to look at features from a more creative side. Each has its advantages since you basically want a combination of both to get a good product.
SB: How long does it take from when the first ideas are started until you have a working alpha version of it?
MK: Whenever we have good ideas we first write them down to make sure that we don’t forget about them later. Only few ideas result in a new product, sometimes years later, since there are many possible pitfalls: too high CPU requirements, a lack of sound quality, bad usability, no musical utility, overlap with other products, and so forth. That’s why I usually start with some basic idea and a prototype.
SB: Looking over the past plugins Tone2 has designed, one I haven’t seen is a modular synth. Is there a chance of seeing some form of a modular synth in the near future? If you did design one, I’m guessing it might not be the usual cables from here-and-there type of design most of them use. Tone2 seems to rethink the overall synth framework, and doesn’t just stick with the status quo. Any thoughts on that?
BN: I agree, a modular would definitely be a nice addition to the current catalog and we would make sure it has something new to offer. At the moment we still have a lot of other projects on our plate but who knows, a modular could be in our future.
SB: All of the Tone2 plugins have a great sound and easy to understand interfaces. Looking at that varied catalog of plugins: Are some of the ideas behind them derived from older brainstorms you may have had, but kept on a back-burner for future use?
BN: Yes, sometimes projects are simply too complex to work into a product or too CPU-intensive to work well on current systems. You have to take into account that not everyone is using the latest CPUs, so we always try to work on projects that offer something new but at the same time will run on older systems, which I admit is not always easy to do, but we think it’s at least equally important to bringing something new or innovative to the table.
SB: You must have such a busy schedule; Tone2 sound sets are being released for different synths at a good rate, while new development and testing continues on with new synths. What is the secret to keeping Tone2 as whole workforce running so smoothly?
BN: Perfect workflow and coffee. 🙂 We’re lucky to have a lot of good people backing us with patch design, demo song writing and beta testing. We sometimes drive them nuts with all these deadlines but I really have to thank these guys for all their help over these years.
SB: On another note (no pun intended) I was wondering what hardware synths you guys like, and if you have any plans on getting any of the new ones released recently. One that I would love to get my hands on would be the new Moog Sub 37.
MK: I really love my Nord Modular. It’s a pity that this one isn’t developed further any more. I also like the Yamaha FS1R, which can do Formant synthesis and FM. But I haven’t used it a lot recently, since I replaced it with Nemesis. Another that I like is the Alpha Juno, because I like the hoover sound.
BN: Akai MPC60, I’ve always loved Akai’s samplers and the MPC60 just was a wonderful piece of kit. The new Moog Sub is nice indeed. I also like the Roland Gaia but use more software than hardware these days.
SB: I know you can’t give away details on any new project that might be in the works, whatever it may be, but is there any chance you can give any hints for the readers out there?
BN: We have been working on version 2 of ElectraX, which will be a very nice upgrade. I’m not sure what we’ll work on after that, but we still have plenty of good ideas to work out.
SB: On your website, I found some more info about others on the team: Anna, Michael and Troels. Do you all work out of an office, or are you situated in different areas?
BN: Most of us still work in different areas. Communication-wise it can be a bit of a challenge but at the same time it does offer some advantages – the fact that we all have our own studio equipment at hand, for example, and we’re not really tied to standard office hours this way.
SB: Finally, I have to ask: Is Pimpel still pulling out the cables? (Pimpel is a pet dog they have.)
MK: After several cables Pimpel noticed that they don’t taste well. I won’t go into detail what she did with the carpet …
SB: I appreciate the time you’ve taken for all my questions, and I’m sure the SoundBytes readers will enjoy hearing from both of you. Thanks so much for all the info, and here’s to a happy and prosperous future for Tone2.
BN/MK: You’re welcome. We hope all the SoundBytes readers enjoy the interview as much as we did.
For more info on Tone2 and their products, you can visit their website here: https://tone2.com/index.html