This section gives a basic insight into my home studio and the current music hardware I am using for my productions. This includes music gear such as sequencers, samplers, drummachines, synthesizers, effect units and other equipment. As years went by, the setup changed on a few indiviual devices, but is constantly growing. The studio itself has its designated area and is part of my living room.
My first synthesizer unit, which I used in a lot of tracks since around 2011. It is a multitimbral digital FM synth module from 1986 with 4 operators and provides really warm and strong sounds. Although fitted with less operators and algorithms, I actually prefer this machine over the Yamaha DX7, because its output seems to have more density and is much easier to program with an open source editor specifically designed for it. Despite that it is a limited machine, the FB-01 is still my favorite FM synthesizer, mainly because of its powerful basses, melodical brasses and its warm e-pianos. I am still a big retro gaming enthusiast not only on the C64, and this unit reminds me of my childhood days when I was playing good old MS-DOS games back in the days, because the sound of the FB-01 is quite similar to the audio of that time, which had a great influence on my music taste.
Commodore 64-II (C64-C)
The greatest homecomputer of all time, so many warm memories are associated with this machine, the blessed gem of my youth. Besides the fact that I enjoyed this computer very much for intense gaming and watching demos due to its unbelievable sound and graphics (which stimulated my imagination in a way no other unit could do), I also used it for programming in the attic after I came back home from school. With the "MSSIAH" module, the C64 becomes a full monophonic all-in-one-synthesizer with complete access to super-versatile functional capabilities of the famous SID soundchip including sequencer, monophonic synth, bassline, drummer and wave player. It is very easy now to integrate every typcial C64 sound possible into the mix by MIDI-connection, live tweakable through continuous controller messages.
One of the greatest synthesizers of all time, which flows into almost every of my tracks since I've owned this device. It was used by many producers in a lot of popular songs since the late 80s, the sound of this machine is still absolutely timeless due to its LA-Synthesis. In some way (and to my ears), this synthesizer was made especially for ambient, the output is really warm and thick, while also very etheric and spacious. The harmonics are beyond deep and you can't get those stellar sounds out of any other synthesizer, just because of its incredible character of the sound engine. I use it mainly for ambient and all kinds of techno productions, because it's a very versatile device which I've always wanted to have.
An extraordinary machine from 1989 with with incredible possibilities, the same unit for example also used by Monolake. The synth is not the easiest to program, but after a bit of training it becomes an unbeatable synthesis monster. It offers incredible parameters for generating, modulating and manipulating sounds, especially for constantly changing pads, drones and evolving textures. It's got 2x6 operators (the DX7 has 6) with advanced FM synthesis (AFM) combined with sampled-based AWM2 technology. It can be considered as a modern successor to the DX series and feels like having a huge all-in-one workstation, massive like a starship. It is possible to create rich, layered and multi-timbral sounds, which further can be mixed and processed with PCM samples and its resonant multi stage Time Variant filter. 45 algorithms, 3 feedback loops and 16 waveforms offer plenty enough room to generate classic synth sounds or something entirely new. The SY77 became my master keyboard due to the excellent playability and sensitivity of its keys.
Without a doubt, this is the best monophonic synthesizer ever. A lot of people might disagree and would, for example, vote for the famous Korg MS-20, but for me the Yamaha CS-15 has the better sound. Especially the mid range has a very unique sound character that cannot be found on any other monophonic synthesizer, typcial for the Yamaha CS series. The sound itself is very creamy in a certain way and absolutely massive, also for the lower frequencies. Many people use the MS-20, and yes, it does have its place, but it is all a matter of taste. The CS-15 is not that frequently used and always a bit beneath the surface, therefore not as famous as others and thus underrated. Everything feels so wonderful on this machine, especially when compared to other monophonic synthesizers: the processing is much clearer, the modulation options are better, the routing possibilities are greater. It took me some time to realize all this, especially since I had already owned an Arturia Microbrute before and then had informed myself more deeply. In a way it was also a search for the right monophonic synthesizer, just as with polyphonic synthesizers. Both oscillators on the CS-15 have their own envelope generators and multimode filters, so three in total, and the oscillators can be routed to both filters and enevelope generators in parallel and cross mode, no other monophonic synthesizer has this feature. Additonally, it's got an external input for leading audio signals (beats, vocals, field recordings etc.) into the circuitry in order to route them to the enevelope generator for triggering the oscillator. The CS-15 is also fitted with standard S-Trig and CV inputs, but using the Ext In is somewhat easier and much more interesting for exciting sounds, as the output can be very different depending on the length of the input signal. Thus, the CS-15 is a very inspiring machine and works great without any patching, you get your desired sounds in no time and with incredible results. This synthesizer offers all types of monophonic sounds, and the multimode filters are the key to the special sound character of the Yamaha CS family, and it is precisely that sound which makes the difference in tracks made with monophonic synthesizers.
The greatest post vintage synthesizer ever released. It came out in 1996 and uses the so-called VA-Synthesis (= virtual analog), which at that time also appeared in synthesizers of other music companies. What makes this synthesizer so great is the handling and the variety of possibilities, and that the entire synthesis is done on the front panel with first level menu editing and without any confusing submenus. The sound is incredibly warm and can be shaped and modified in a lot of ways. Also very famous is the "supersaw" waveform, a waveform consisting of 7 layered sawtooth waveforms (which can also be detuned). The machine also has an equalizer on board, as well as chorus/flanger and delay effects, arpeggiator and motion recording, which allows great filter journeys on dreamy pads to space out for hours. It's been a long decision making process where I had to choose between a JP-8000 or a Juno-60/106. But in the end, the JP-8000 won, simply because it offers more possibilities and can even reproduce patches of the Juno-60/106 almost perfectly (which can sometimes be important if you want to use typical Juno sounds of the eighties). It was one of the best purchases I made, especially as the JP-8000 is only a third of the cost of a Juno-60. The JP-8000 is really a workhorse and very rich in possibilities, it can sound very vintage or modern, but also works great for underground and new age sounds. The sound is basically a bit softer and rounder, and therefore perfectly suited for all my music projects.
The Yamaha low budget keyboards were very well known in the 80's and 90's, consisting of two different main types: the PSS series and the PSR series. The PSS series had the smaller keys and were therefore more intended for children, whereas the PSR series already had larger keys and could be considered as a semi-professional variant of the big and famous keyboards such as the DX7. Now, this keyboard from 1988 is the one with the best and even the most features of all types of the PSR series, especially when it comes to sound creation. It's got 32 standard presets, all of which can be additionally modified with a function called "digital syntheszier", a very basic and rudimentary implementation of FM synthesis to control its two operators. Furthermore, and this was the reason for the purchase, the PSR-36 is equipped with the Yamaha YM3812 (OPL2) sound chip, which is also known as the Soundblaster chipset and which was implemented in the popular Soundblaster sound cards back in the days, making it mainly known for its famous FM sounds in MS-DOS games. Despite the 2 operators, this device has an incredibly strong sound. The higher frequencies sound really sharp and have the typical touch of the 80s keyboards, especially when the "Brilliance" slider is used to change all the usual brass, flute, piano and bell sounds, while in the lower pitches all the rough harshness of grainy low budget FM synthesis unfolds with full power. There are so many music styles this keyboard can be used for, and due to its impressive simplicity, it is always switched on very quickly to capture ideas in a short time. It provides great textures and lovely sounds for both retro-inspired music and modern tracks, it has its own timeless character and still works very well with today's stuff, no matter if it's for computer game soundtracks, dubtechno and detroit chords, ambient pads or cheesy effects.
A powerful multi-timbral hand-held music workstation consisting of a sequencer, a tone generator and a tiny single-octave keyboard in a visually smaller version like from the larger QY models. Although it is a very small device, it still has some advantages and is very easy to program. It uses Yamaha's 12-bit sample-based AWM synthesis technology and it's got 30 presets including two drum banks with typical instruments from that era, perfect for classical productions. The first drum kit offers common 80s pop sounds, while the second kit provides typical 808 techno sounds. This little machine works great with music software through MIDI and is a good solution for fast ideas inbetween. I use it not very often, but when I do it gives nice accents to some of my tracks.
This space-saving sound module is a fully working synthesizer as well as the Yamaha FB-01, with almost the same dimensions. It uses the so-called AI² synthesis and all sounds can be easily created and modified via freely available editors from the Internet. Although this device is already an older one, it is still somehow timeless and contains 340 multi-sampled waveforms, all of which cover the most basic needs of modern music production. Especially the "combi" section includes a whole range of very interesting and playful sounds that can be used not only for rock or pop, but also especially for electronic variations of ambient, new age or chillout. Plus, there are further 164 drum sounds stored on this unit, all of which are in excellent quality (compressed, equalized, enhanced) and thus already make the basic entry into decent beats possible. In addition, the GM standard (General MIDI) is implemented, although not quite as brilliant as on the Roland MT-32. The Korg 05R/W is mainly used in my studio for setting simple accents or placing instruments that provide a pleasant mood or background atmosphere. Some of the included presets from this device are already familiar to my ears from typical new age and ambient productions of earlier days, and this is where the emotional connection comes from.
This drum machine followed shortly after my purchase of the Yamaha RY30 drum machine, which I sold again in favor of the RX7 from 1988. The reason for that is it sounds much more true to vintage, mainly because of the crispy 12bit quality. Actually, the sound of the machine can be really rough, depending on the genre it is used for. The RX series includes a whole range of different designs, including the most well-known, the RX5. But it was the unmistakable charm of the RX7 that ultimately made the decision. This device is slightly more compact, and another plus is the fact that no expansion cards are needed, as with the big brother. Therefore, it contains 100 preset sounds, all of which are very suitable for different electronic music styles. It is also possible to change the parameters in terms of pitch tuning, audio level, stereo panning, delay start wave and sound decay. The buttons have a nice suspension to trigger the sounds and the programming is astonishingly easy. There is a lot of punch in the lower section and it's got an additional LFO and delay for interesting effects on patterns. A great machine that enriches the studio when it comes to retrospective sound.
Not as vintage as the Yamaha RX7, but extremely versatile because it provides a great range of the most influencal categories such as TR909/808/707, CR-78 and lots of lo-fi sounds and a good bass section. This machine, even if it's from around 2000, is very easy to use and everything works with first level menu editing. It's all very logical and beat programming goes easily by the hand. The audio quality is brilliant and well placed in the mix, all sounds still fit into today's world, especially when it comes to classic techno, house or lo-fi hip hop. The drum kits and preset patterns are already very well thought out and it's great fun to use and adapt them or just develope something new with own kits. Also the implementation of MIDI is quite good and the effects section with reverb/delay (incl. different settings) and flanger for varied beat ideas is a nice thing on top. The sound of the filter is very smooth and allows changes on either single sounds or all parts. It's further possible to individually adjust single sounds on the pads (pitch, decay and so on). Altogether it is a multifunctional device suitable for many music styles.
Kawai R-50 III
Probably the strongest vintage drummachine of all time. And by that it is really meant about the sound, which is incredibly fat in terms of retro factor and expression. As with a lot of drumcomputers from that period, it provides 12bit / 32kHz sound and therefore the output is really solid and compressed, and that's the good thing here. While other drummachines of that era often consist of a whole series of different models, this machine has a total of 3 models with different emphases on a standard kit, an electronic kit and a jazz/fusion kit. There is also the big brother to the R-50, namely the R-100, but the R-50 III (mk3) includes all three EPROMs of the above named kits and is therfore the most versatile of the Kawai drummachines. While, for instance, Yamaha's machines are more related to FM synthesis and are designed to be all-rounders, the Kawai machine has its very own character and really sounds like from the deepest 80s. That is because of the specific sound of the basskicks, drums and snares, which all go very much into the direction of EBM / Electro / Wave and that kind of stuff. It would not be very surprising if this drum machine has gone into a lot of productions of these genres. But it is these sounds that make the difference for a more interesting mix. In addition, all sounds can be bent very well with panning/attack/decay/pitch settings and additionally polished using gate/delay/flanger effects. Creating patterns can be done in no time and everything is very intuitively with this unit, especially because it happens with first level menu editing. All in all, it is a very versatile machine that can be used for a great many styles, especially in electronic music. This device can currently be bought on the second hand market still relatively cheap, and although it is still considered a kind of insider tip and the machine is not excessively well known, prices are rising more and more for it. As long as there is still a chance - get one!
Alesis Nanoverb 2
This small and easy to use digital effect unit is a solid bread and butter machine for the most common effects. It's got 256 creative algorithms and they all sound very pleasant. It was my first multi-effects processor and I use it mostly to spice up the beats of my tracks, because the delays are very clear and they work well with all sorts of percussions.
Another digital multi-effects unit in my setup for sweetening up the tracks. It's a very warm sounding processor for guitar and synthesizer sounds and it's also a very affordable unit which is mostly famous for its 'Soft Focus' patch. All standard presets offer great modulations, but it's also possible to configure them or even create own routings. The FX500 is easy to use and provides Yamaha's typical enriched sound. I use it mainly to widen the pad sounds of my synthesizers.
The next multi-effector in my collection. This machine offers the great possibility to connect 6 digital effects in a chain, of which 3 are shown in the display for live tweaking. The knobs are linked to the parameters in the display and it is possible to combine almost every effect. Live tweaking is a lot of fun with the knobs and firmware updates brought new effects into the machine. As for the quality of the sound, it is very strong and adds power to the source, especially because of the large selection of all common and adjustable effect types. If you don't want to buy dozens of different effect pedals - this one combines them all.
A modern 16-channel mixer from Yamaha, which replaced the little brother Yamaha MG10 XU. This mixer is a solid working unit with lots of nice functions and routing options including send channels and effects section. Over the past years, the number of external hardware units grew continuously up, so it was necessary to buy a bigger unit with more channels in order to lead all synthesizer signals to the computer soundcard.
A vintage 4-channel mixer from Yamaha, made around the early 80s from the 'Producer Series', the same line that gave us both the analogue Yamaha CS-01 synthesizer and MR10 drum machine, which is also visible by the matching color-scheme. The interesting idea with this mixer is the tone control, which allows the modification of the sound depending on the controller position, meaning that it is possible to change the output between a brighter sound with boosted high frequencies or a more rounder sound with mellow components - separately for each of the 4 channels. It becomes even better when using it together with the included seven-band graphic equalizer, which amplifies the tone curve and gives a tremendous sound shaping control for virtually unlimited possibilites. Another great feature is the echo function and its associated control fader, which adds some kind of a combined delay/reverb effect to channel and that is actually a bucket bridge device. Another benefit of this device is that it is very portable and that is allows, for example, the relocation of the studio to the living room table for faster productions with minimal setup. And last but not least one of the most important facts, which also played an important role for purchasing this unit: any sound that comes out of the mixer gets a certain warm and analogous note.
A beautifully designed and stable 4-track cassette recorder from Yamaha that has been on the list of important devices for my studio for some time. For a child of the former GDR, cassette players were always present, and with it the typical sound and the warm quality of analog recordings on tape. For me, cassettes are still my favorite medium for music, and it was only a matter of time before I returned to them to process music with them. It's especially about producing releases in the future, whose pre-mastered pieces will be recorded on tape and then given back to the computer from the tape. The tracks thus receive that wonderful shaping of the waveforms by the analogue warmth, which gives the sound something that can not be reproduced even with the best plugins in the DAW. Of course, the device is also used to enjoy purchased music.
Creative Inspire 5.1
This is the sound system I am using since 2003/2004. It is a 5.1 system and it survived all the computers from the past until today and I am still loving and using it in combination with a soundblaster card. A lot of people might say a musician should use a better sound card and stereo monitors, but there is honestly no reason for it, because the sound is fantastic and it is possible to switch between stereo and surround sound. The most important reason is I know the sound best and what to expect from rendered tracks on headphones. There might be a change in the future, but I'm still firmly convinced that a carefully thought out mixing process with simpler equipment is more decisive than greater expensive hardware.
Acer Aspire Notebook
Since the Forest Roots label was founded in 2012, it became necessary to have a portable computer especially for live sets, which I mainly purchased for that purpose. This laptop is also used for quick ideas and as additional sequencer device in slave mode controlled by the main computer in order to add further layers of sound into the mix.
The very first and easy programmable USB/MIDI-Controller in my studio, mainly used on the desktop computer for the majority of all productions. It is also used for my live acts, but will we replaced with a bigger Novation controller at a later point.
MOTU Micro Lite
This MIDI-Interface with 5 MIDI ports connects the main computer in my studio to the synthesizers around. One port is reserved for the laptop which works in parallel mode via USB MIDI.
Miditech MIDIface 4x4
Another MIDI-Interface with 4 MIDI ports for additional channels and variable options. I use it for hybrid units such as the Commodore 64 and other devices and non-synthesizier stuff. This interface will be replaced later by a bigger unit with more ports as the studio is continuously expanding.