From KRISTAL to Studio One

At the time of writing in September 2019, we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of Studio One - a good opportunity to look back. Studio One was announced at Musikmesse Frankfurt in 2009 and launched in September that year. At the same time the team working on it became part of the PreSonus family. There’s obviously a lot of public information available on what happened after the launch and how Studio One evolved as a product over the years so I’m going to focus on the earlier part of the story from my angle.

In 2004, when I released KRISTAL Audio Engine (KAE) as freeware the response on the Internet and in the press was overwhelmingly positive. It’s been a clear winner (in its own field) simply because there wasn’t much out there for free for multi-track audio recording on Windows. Written in my spare time, the software had many limitations feature-wise and in the code underneath. Some musicians said that being limited to 16 tracks helped creativity, though. I decided to start from scratch with a new code base with the intention to build a more professional successor of KAE and I announced the project to the community code-named K2.

I’m used to working on the Windows platform since I started programming as a kid. K2 was primarily developed using Visual Studio. The project file name used to be “studioapp” and it is still named this way today for Studio One. The majority of the code was written in a platform-agnostic way from the very beginning. I bought a used Power Mac from a co-worker and started porting my underlying application framework CCL to macOS with XCode.

Meanwhile, a few well-known companies in the Pro Audio space approached me to discuss business opportunities. Behringer for example bundled KAE and other free software for a while with some USB audio interfaces. However, all of them were hesitant to take risk and invest enough money in the project. Fortunately, this changed later with PreSonus. I’ve spent two more years working on the foundation at night besides my day job before co-founding KristalLabs Software Ltd. in May 2006 and bringing in the K2 source code and licensing the newest incarnation of the framework to the new company.

Initial check-in of the K2 source code to the repository that’s still active today for Studio One.

The K2 application prototype was pretty sophisticated and it had some of the fundamental designs people know and love today from Studio One already laid out. The app was capable of recording and playback of audio and MIDI. It had a start page and a browser for plug-ins and audio files. Inserting plug-ins and files was done via drag & drop. Why? Because it's intuitive... and it’s the easiest way for a programmer to connect two parts of an application without them knowing much of each other. It takes more time to write code for dialogs and menus than to implement drag & drop. We’ve kept this design philosophy in Studio One - simplicity.

Here are some early screenshots of K2 taken in 2005 that I’ve used to present the project to potential investors. The GUI was still MDI-based like KAE and not yet in a single window.


The accompanying PDF was titled “KRISTAL 2 - A Next-Generation Sequencer/DAW” saying it should be a “new approach to PC-based music production” and “easy to get started, fast and intuitive”. Funny to read this in retrospect.

Over the years many people have contributed to the evolution and success of the project that ultimately became Studio One. I’m thankful everything turned out the way it did.