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Another year down in the books: a note from us

As another year comes to a close, we are taking this time to say thank you. We’re closed this week while the team takes a break. We’re each toddling off to do something different, but it will involve music for each one of us in some way. 

Markus, Chief of Destruction

I’m Markus, and I joined the Noise Engineering crew in 2018 back when it was just Kris and Stephen. Originally, they took me on as a tester, and now I’m in charge of module quality assurance and documentation, as well as writing a lot of the blog, and doing customer service and demos on the side. This year was quite eventful, with a lot of learning experiences and new avenues for our technology and product lines. It was also a big year in my day-to-day life: I moved (again), got engaged, and picked up four more coffee makers for a total of eight, ensuring that we’ll have no shortage of lattes for the foreseeable future. They’re all different. It matters, I swear. 

On the work side of things, the release of Xer Mixa was a big highlight. Working on a module with a screen and that many ins, outs, and controls was by far the biggest test undertaking we’ve ever had. We had to implement new test strategies for hardware, firmware releases, and manufacturing QA. XM has been a work in progress since I joined the company, so finally seeing it out in the world is a real treat. I’ve also spent years trying to get tennis into a module, so that was a big win, too. 

Alia was another fun project: we spent a lot of time doing comparative testing between the original and Alia Iteritas, and while a bit tedious at times, it was quite educational and I learned a lot about sound and perception. I’m even more excited for the things yet to come for the platform. Foreshadowing. 

Overall, 2023 was a very cool year, and I’m excited to see what 2024 brings about. Stay caffeinated! 

Kris, Doer of Many Things

I’ve written so many of these things and I feel like I wrote one just yesterday… but it turns out (checks calendar) that it was indeed a year ago. So here we are. These days I still do many things here: if it has to be done in Eagle (the software we use to make schematics and PCBs), I generally do it, though Stephen has been having some fun doing some schematics lately… more on that in the new year. I also do web dev, the money stuff, customer service, and who knows what else. 

This year has been a rollercoaster. We are pleased to end the year happy and healthy (edit: I wrote that before Stephen and I tested positive for COVID for the first time, a not-fun way to end 2023). But business has been challenging across the industry, and that’s been a struggle. Discontinuing Basimilus, etc., was a horrifying choice to have to make. We’re so happy to have been able to put Alia out in its stead, and we have been gratified by the release of a few products we have had in the pipeline for years and have really wanted to get into the world. Seeing your positive responses to these products has buoyed us all in tough times.

Kris and four friends in colorful aerial garb for their Spice Girls performance

Personally, I managed to do my first aerial straps performance and channel my inner Ginger Spice in one of my favorite aerial silks performances ever. Stephen and I also opened up our home to a new pup. He came to us as a foster named Boogie Oogie, but fostering is one place that failure isn’t a bad thing… we call him Eddy, aka Ed the Head.

Ed, a black pit bull, lounging on a blue blanket at Noise Engineering HQ

Professionally… gosh. I didn’t start the year as a web dev, but I’m ending as the person in charge of that stuff, so that’s been fun and challenging and exciting. I still have tons to learn but I have made progress. I have learned a lot about schematics using different power supplies, though not as much as Stephen has. Foreshadowing. I’m also really excited about our first year as official 1% for the Planet members. We’ve already talked about the organizations we committed to supporting, so I won’t rehash here, but it feels good to have that accountability.

We accomplished a lot this year, though a lot is still in the works. I’m proud of what we managed to do as a team, and I’m so excited for 2024!

Shawn, Audio Alchemist

Hello! I’m Shawn, Audio Alchemist at Noise Engineering. I officially joined the NE team back in April of this year, but I’ve helped out in previous years with the NAMM booth, occasionally hosting the Noiseblast Hour, and some beta testing and suggestions along the way. How did I get here? Well, years ago Stephen and I used to work together in the audio realm of the video game industry. For my work as a Sound Designer, I had put together a modular system and Stephen would often critique my purchases, which led me to suggest he build one. Needless to say, I’m glad I did! I’m excited to now be a part of the crew, and in addition to working on modules and plugins, there are some very exciting new things in the works that I can hardly wait to share with you!

Though I’ve been here a relatively short time, a lot has happened. I really enjoyed making videos for the UI and Alia, and while testing the firmware update for Xer Mixa, I learned that running modular in quad is really fun and sounds amazing! I also loved making music for some of our social posts and creating several new presets for the Polydactyl plugin. Additionally, I’ve been building a lot of prototype circuits and perhaps my biggest surprise this year was being able to hand solder SMT parts and to find I actually enjoy the process!

As a longtime friend and fan of NE, I’m thrilled to be here and I’m beyond excited for what we have to share in 2024.

Adam, Chief Plumber

If you're reading this, you're probably one of our many friends responsible for getting us through the business headwinds of 2023.  It's been uplifting to read your supportive comments in forums and socials, watch your jams, and know that you're having fun making music with our stuff - thank you!  

I'm focused on plugin development at NE, working from home in the midwest: The peak Minnesota winter months saw the release of Librae and Polydactyl, followed by months working with Stephen on new foundational improvements as well as bread and butter code maintenance and restructuring.  Since then, I've been full time on a cool new release for early 2024.

Through all of that, the environment at NE was often intense but reliably hilarious at some point in every day, and that mirrored my personal life pretty well (though my family might not always classify my end-of-day dumb jokes as "hilarious").  It was a good year for hikes with my wife and hanging out with my all-grown-up kids. I continued to play and record music with my cello and electronic instruments, and spent a week canoeing the Boundary Waters.

I hope you all can find a time to relax during the holidays :)

Patrick, Ambassador to the Stars

Hey there! I’m POB, and this past year was filled with producing and editing lots of new demo videos. I really enjoyed traveling to both Superbooth and Knobcon to show off our new products and reunite with lots of module makers, retailers, and customers. Knobcon was a blast. Demoing the Xer Mixa in the day, and by night, sliding it into the performance case for a cinematic techno set. Talk about a full-circle moment.

This year I also pulled off one of those TED talk-style presentations about our company for the sales engineers at Sweetwater. While I was there, I spent time on video highlighting our product line, which you can watch on any of their product pages.

Patrick on stage at Sweetwater with a projector screen that says "NOISE ENGINEERING Patrick O'Brien, Ambassador to the Stars"

Here at my remote HQ in Washington, DC, warm months mean Modular on the Mall shows. We kicked off the season on Juneteenth weekend with performers from four states - good vibes all around. I even had my first collab with Gabe Churray and his didgeridoo. Unforgettable.

Patrick playing his modular and Gabe playing didgeridoo outside surrounded by stone columns at the Modular on the Mall show

It felt great to get some demos out for the new Alia product line. I’ve had Manis and BIA in my case for years, and it was fun to do a proper demo on each of them and to constantly crave tacos with Debel in the house.

Here's to another year of innovation, collaboration, and exciting jams.

Stephen, Chief Noisemaker

2023 saw us finish the most technically challenging work we have ever attempted to some of the tightest deadlines we have ever had to quality standards that I am proud of. The importance of “we” in the previous sentence cannot be overstated. The first group in we are of course the people that are employed by Noise Engineering. Both Markus and Shawn were thrown short notice into some very unique testing situations (hexawhatic?). Second is our super users who help us beta test. Callout to Hans for his continued testing and re-testing of UI firmwares and starthief for finding a really messy set of MPE bugs. And third is our users that give us feedback and report bugs. Without these we would not have gotten these products out the door.

A quick list of products developed this year in chronological order: 

  • Quantus Trajecta (a quad envelope module)
  • Jam Jam (gate delay module)
  • Polydactyl (multiband dynamics plugin)
  • Librae (mid/side dynamics plugin)
  • complete revamp of our customer portal
  • Univer Inter (MIDI to modular interface: first MIDI product, first USB product, first product with sophisticated web interfacing)
  • Xer Mixa (audio mixer module: second MIDI product; first product with screen; largest, most complicated hardware we have ever designed; most complicated power supply of any product we have designed)
  • Iteritas Alias (hardware refresh of the Iteritas platform: porting and validation of 4 previous oscillators, development of two new oscillators).
  • A large amount of time spent working on products we aren’t quite ready to talk about yet.

Some lessons learned:

3 pages of Stephen's notebook, titled "Power WTF" showing circuitry for the Xer Mixa power supply

Screens are crazy noisy in the audio band.

A clear plastic bin full of soldered through-hole components with a label that says "GRAVEYARD"

There are a lot of really good reasons to use op amps.

A 60 HP eurorack case with four Alia voices, two Univer Inter, and a Xer Dualis mixer, patched densely for a four-voice polyphonic patch

Testing MIDI (particularly MPE) is challenging (polyphonic modular is so many cables)

Stephen taking a selfie holding a purple guitar

Guitars are really quiet compared to modular levels.

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