KRISTAL Audio Engine

Back in 1999 when I was about to finish engineering school and first saw Cubase VST 3.5 while recording music my initial thought was “I can do it better”. Clearly, it’s been the arrogance of youth and not knowing what it takes to build a DAW. It took me three attempts within the next ten years, an extraordinary team of smart people and a company with faith to realize that vision.

The first attempt (to warm up) was part of my diploma thesis on realtime digital signal processing. The original name Crystal Audio Engine stems from the song "The Crystal Ship" by The Doors. This version had 4 mono tracks and the audio engine was using 16 bit fixed-point math. Since I didn’t like MFC or anything else that’s been around at that time, I started my own C++ application framework named CCL. A primary reason was the graphical user interface which I didn’t want to look like a typical Windows application. It's been the time of irregular window shapes and while everyone else was into Winamp (which always had too many options for me) I liked the Sonique media player much better. You can tell that Crystal was inspired by it graphically. I even added support for their visualization plug-ins but it’s never been released.

Fast forward to 2003, I decided to build a more sophisticated version of Crystal Audio Engine as a hobby in my spare time. The name with C was already taken meanwhile by another audio product so it became K from the German word "Kristall". I used the reworked version of the CCL framework that I’ve created for another personal project (the Cash Manager) as the foundation.

The project got surprising traction and a couple of developers - some of which I’ve never met in person - contributed plug-ins like the EQ and the reverb. The user manual was done by a professional writer for free (whom I also never met). KAE had 16 stereo audio tracks, a 32 bit floating point processing engine, and VST2 plug-in support, but no MIDI. I tried to add ReWire but that’s not been possible legally because Propellerhead didn’t license the technology to individuals.

KRISTAL Audio Engine 1.0 had over 1,000 downloads within first 48 hours and it’s been published on cover-mounted CD-ROMs by several magazines with praises like “...a dead sexy interface...” (thank you, Computer Music). A very active and self-organized community evolved around it with the help of several volunteers on the KRISTAL user forum - I see you Combobob! Until this day I occasionally meet people from all over the world who tell me that they started recording music with KAE which makes me feel honoured.

Everything has its time, though. After more than 15 years working on the successor (the third and most successful attempt so far) I hope everyone understands that I had to let go, closed the forum, and ceased commercial licensing. There’s no more download of the program installer hosted here but you might still be able to find it somewhere on the Internet. Alternatively, everyone is welcome to try Studio One. Each version - including the free Studio One Prime - supports the .kristal file format so you can continue to work on existing KAE projects.

See also: Wikipedia article on KRISTAL Audio Engine