And now a word from our sponsors: a note from Kris and Stephen at the end of 2021
2021 is coming to a close. As is tradition here on the blog (okay, we only did this maybe once before, but we’ve decided it’s a tradition now), we’re looking back on what we did in the last year. Keep an eye on our YouTube channel in the new year for a big update from the whole team, too.
If you’ve been following Noise Engineering for a while, you probably know who we are, but since the blog is normally Markus’s domain, we’ll introduce ourselves. Way back in (we think?) 2014ish, Stephen started making modules as a hobby to keep himself busy and to get away from the computer. Kris traveled incessantly. And then one day we blew up our lives: we quit our respectable jobs, bought a house, and decided that it was time for Noise Engineering to be a thing.
As 2021 draws to a close, we’re popping in to talk about some of the good, the difficult, and the things we’re so grateful for this year.
We released some things
In 2021, we released four new firmwares for the Versio platform. We released Melotus Versio with the Lacrima autowah. Lacrima wasn’t supposed to be a module, just a freebie… but as we put the finishing touches on it, we were both ridiculously excited about it. Coupled with the surprising number of requests we’d gotten for the other Versios that we had previously released as firmware only, we finally agreed to offer all of them for sale (of course, if you buy one Versio, you can still try them all for free!).
We also released a couple of really fun utilities. Vice Virga, our sequential switch was a long time in the making. Here’s a photo of the hand-collected data Kris took over many moons (and when she learned that testing 8 ins x 8 outs is… a lot). So you were one of those folks waiting on it, thank/blame Markus for the delay and for catching the mistakes and Kris for doing a lot of measuring.
By comparison, Quantus Ampla, our quad VCA, was reasonably simple and fun to design, test, and release (or maybe we’re just blocking out the pain). Including the switches to allow it to both attenuate and amplify made it a ton of fun and we immediately knew we needed to make a patchbook for you to share some of our favorites.
Holy crap 2021 has been both 2 minutes and two decades long. Or…we did a thing with Arturia.
We got the chance to develop three oscillators for the Arturia V3 update to the MicroFreak. As a testament to how time seems to have lost all meaning, that was this year. If you have a MicroFreak, make sure to try out the Bass, Harm, and SawX algorithms.
Software also happened, also still this year
We have been working on software releases for a long time, going back several years to our first release of Rack Extensions in Reason. We have had big plans though and in 2021, we not only finally got more Rack Extensions out, we launched our first plugins. We’ve tried to approach this new world carefully: as a hardware manufacturer, making software brings a lot of unknowns. We’re also working to streamline a lot of processes so that we can share as many pipelines as possible. Efficiency ftw!
We started with a small-scale launch in AAX only, and then did a beta of our Freequel bundle. That went into actual release in October, and helped us iron out a lot of the bugs we couldn’t find in house. We also did a couple of surveys and got lots of responses; these reinforced that we were on the right track with our feature roadmap. We’ve got a whole lot more planned for VST and AU (including the Freequel and yes, Bundle 1 in VST/AU!); watch this space for more on that soon.
Our team grew
This year, Adam, Elana, and Patrick all joined the NE crew. NE started as Stephen gluing things together on a desk in our shared office in our tiny condo years and years ago. Then it was the two of us for a long time. We’ve grown slowly, and now it is at once strange to be six people but also as if it has never been any other way.
We’re spread out across the US, so one of the real highlights of the year was getting the team together in one place in November. We like to sit down as a team each year and talk about company priorities and new module ideas and really just generally hang out. This year was particularly bittersweet though because it was the first time some of the team had met. Zoom and Slack are great tools, but they are not the same as actually meeting and being with people, at least for a bit, and of course, safely. It was beyond joyful to be in the presence of these humans for several days. Adam taught Kris to hold a cello and she got a few notes out of it. Elana brought a guitar over and showed Adam around. Patrick brought a case and demonstrated some of his techniques. We each did a mini lecture and taught each other things. We snuggled George. We went for a hike. We had meals together. And y’all. It was awesome in the true sense of the word.
Oh and we sorted through 120 ideas that we currently have for modules and fought and argued and prioritized. We got plans.
Q: What about those unreleased modules I want?
We spend a surprising amount of time answering this question by email. There are a couple of bottlenecks here: Parts and time, and they are interrelated.
First, let’s talk about parts. Manufacturing is weird right now. We’re fortunate to work with a manufacturing team that spends a LOT of time trying to find parts for us so we don’t have to do it, but chip shortages continue to be a problem (in fact, we are out of stock on several things right now because of this, for the first time in years. We’re actively working to resolve this, but…it’s been a definite issue.). Lead times remain in the 1-year range for many parts and now often arrive with a large non-negotiable price increase. Metal prices have skyrocketed. We remain unable to get certain parts entirely. And as in 2020, Kris has spent a lot of time this year designing out parts that are hard/impossible to find and designing in things that we can source. [Shipping has also been a disaster, both with respect to getting parts to us and then getting shipments out: substantial delays are the new normal. Prices seem to increase almost weekly. Border closings have made this substantially more difficult to get products to customers while we have to find alternative shippers.] We don’t mention any of this as a way of excuse, but instead to offer transparency.
As a result, now is a good time to have a little grace and patience with your favorite companies -- not just us. We’re all struggling under the weight of this. Between not being able to build things, price increases, and shipping delays, it’s a lot.
The second bottleneck is time. We’re the only two here who really know how to do the schematic capture/layout/routing. In a normal year, that’s plenty, but because of the parts shortages, a large amount of hardware time has been devoted to re-designing existing products to work with the parts we can actually get. We meet with our manufacturer weekly to talk about status, and have put a lot of effort into this, but it has slowed down development time on new things.
We’re digging ourselves out of this hole, though, and we’re pretty happy with our plans for the next year. We have no idea what the next year will bring, but we have high hopes for the things we want to bring to you.
We have so much to be thankful for
Our first bit of gratitude goes out to all the people who bought our products, new releases or old favorites, this year. You are the reason we do this, and you are the reason we are able to do this. You have helped us grow our team and offer them fair wages, fair benefits, and good work-life balance: in short, you have allowed us to be the company we want to be. If you have followed us on socials or sent the random note of encouragement, we thank you. It makes our day! If you were a beta tester and sent us feedback, or filled out one of our surveys, thank you!
Just before Christmas, we did a sale. We offered a free mystery module with every purchase. As always, we sent this to our modular mailing list to give them first dibs. We crossed our fingers, knowing that all of the Iteritas were out of stock; we had no idea what to expect. You flocked to the sale and we gave away all 75 modules before we even had a chance to make the sale public. Our hearts are full and we appreciate you so much.
We also added to the Made with Noise Engineering playlist. What a dream job to have people use our products so creatively. The songs on this playlist run the gamut, and knowing that we’ve given people tools that have in some way helped them create something is incredibly fulfilling. So thanks for using our products and for telling us (and the world!) you’re using them!
We have a fantastic contract manufacturer/distributor who has worked their butts off these past two years helping us keep almost everything in stock and get orders out the door while working to keep their team safe. They do so much for us and we are so grateful.
Similarly, all the retail shops who carry our products: it’s been a heck of a couple of years. We thank you for your support!
Thank you to all the artists we worked with (remotely) this year. It’s an unbelievable privilege to do this! We have sample packs produced by a load of cool people (proceeds go to the artists. Check them out!), blog guest posts from incredible artists like Blakmoth (a NE house favorite), Corry Banks, and Broken Circuits, and artists who performed on the Noiseblast. Thank you to everyone who gave of their time and talent to make these things happen.
And most of all, we’re deeply grateful to our team. Markus joined us in 2018 and has grown to be…indispensable doesn’t begin to cover it. You know Markus as the writer of this blog, and the person who answers a lot of your emails, but they do SO MUCH here. Suffice it to say NE would not be NE without them. Adam joined early this year as our senior software engineer. His gentle leadership, kindness, musical prowess, and all around brilliance makes him a joy to work with.
Elana’s sense of humor, intelligence, omnipresent Mr Snoopy, and extremely high “take charge” personality makes her fit right in with us. Elana went on tour for a little while this year and when she was gone, we all looked around and wondered how we ever lived without her. Finally, Patrick. He’s been an unofficial part of our team for so many years, doing videos, repping our products, and just always being around. This year the stars finally aligned, and he’s an official member of the team. We are so happy to have him here.
Our days are spent throwing ideas back and forth and having ridiculous conversations on slack, sharing memes and gifs, trivia, articles of interest, music, and musical knowledge. Some (most) days around 5 pm, we go a little loopy and Elana excuses herself to take Mr Snoopy for his afternoon walkie. We work hard, we play hard, and most of all, both of us are eager to get to our desks each morning and see what the day will bring. And best of all, we get to put these weird little ideas we have out into the world and see what people do with them.
Till next year
We said we’d keep it short but we lied.
It’s been a hell of a year.
The whole NE team is taking the week off for some much needed rest and relaxation and mental health time. We’ll all be making music, reading, cooking, eating, spending time with someone we love, pondering concepts for new products and songs, and crocheting animal puppets. Just kidding, these are way better than we could ever do.
We hope you had a year full of weird and wonderful noises, and that we’ll see you in 2022! Stay safe and happy new year!