Digital Igloo (Eric Klein, YGG)

Digital Igloo

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Digital Igloo (Eric Klein)
  • Chief Product Design Architect, Yamaha Guitar Group | Line 6 | Ampeg | Córdoba | Guild
  • Obsessed with music gear and music gear design
  • Chronic overuser of bullets, ellipses... (and parentheticals)
  • Overseer of the two most spoiled muttbags on the West Coast, Bill&Ted (left) and Paddles
Ask Me Anything.

Except that.

And that. Sicko!

Bill&Ted_Paddles.jpg
 
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Now to the less important questions. Regarding this quote, fret or don't fret :LOL:

Hello, any info if we'll be able to bypass the 3.15 "command center per snapshot behavior"?
Or somehow get it better implemented.
While it's great to have different things on the same switch per snapshot, it's pretty cumbersome if you don't want it, and then have to go into every. single. snapshot. and fix the "NEXT".
 
Thanks for joining up and popping in here Eric!

Couple of questions; not sure if they will fly past 3.2, NDA, etc. but I'll give it a go. They're probably ones you could have predicted from me anyway :bag

1. Can't remember if you are still peripherally connected to this. Do you see Variax continuing to develop?
2. How about synth stuff? HX has a great pitch, synth and filter fx blocks. Would love to see that continuing to develop as well.
3. Have you thought some more about that HX Control (Everything)?
 
Now to the less important questions. Regarding this quote, fret or don't fret :LOL:
It's definitely on our radar but unfortunately, it's probably too late to squeeze into 3.20. Reminded Igor just now and he's on it.
If you could go back in time what's the thing you'd design differently in the Helix?
Oh man, how much time do you have?

Line 6 is a completely different organization from when Helix development first ramped up in 2011—different executive staff, different Products team, 90% different development team, and obviously, we weren't owned by Yamaha back then. Over a period of 6-9 months, a massive chunk of the team (Product Manager, System Architect, top three Embedded Engineers, Lead Electrical, Lead Mechanical, etc.) were either sniped by Apple or left to do other things. The org asked me to take over PM duties six months before Helix was to be released (summer of 2014), but I made it clear we needed an extra year to ramp the new team up, finish things that needed to be in 1.0, and fix a bunch of UI problems. Helix was announced on June 11, 2015.

However, if I had a time machine and any pull before hardware was finalized, I would've pushed for:
  • A touchscreen. We'd already done StageScape M20d and Helix is based on its architecture; a touchscreen might've actually been easier to develop at that point. Unfortunately, enough people convinced themselves that customers wouldn't want a touchscreen on the floor, but that a big traditional color LCD might act as a stepping stone, so the next flagship could maybe have a touchscreen. Discussed this publicly years before Headrush.
  • Replacing the 1/4" Aux In with a second, identical Guitar In with 123dB dynamic range and an impedance circuit.
  • Repurposing the CV Out for something else. Almost no one uses it, and removing it might've paid for the second Guitar In.
  • Making the chassis smaller and lighter.
  • A good dozen other things I probably shouldn't divulge. EDIT: Thinking about it, I could probably name 50+ things.
It might sound arrogant, but the only notable decision I regret about Helix/HX is not including variable impedance circuits on HX Effects' inputs. That was dumb. Most everything else that bugs me was outside of my control.
1. Can't remember if you are still peripherally connected to this. Do you see Variax continuing to develop?
2. How about synth stuff? HX has a great pitch, synth and filter fx blocks. Would love to see that continuing to develop as well.
3. Have you thought some more about that HX Control (Everything)?
  1. I sure hope so. It's no secret that Variax is a labor of love. It's really hard to convince dealers to keep more than one Variax body style on the wall, much less more than one pickup configuration, much less more than one color, so they've never represented a big chunk of our revenue. Besides, Yamaha is way better than us at making instruments. Got to visit Hamamatsu a few years ago and holy hell, their facilities are equal parts super high-end tech and old-school master luthiers crafting things by hand; really, really impressive. We have a ton of ideas for where Variax could go, but I suspect we'd want Yamaha to build them instead of a CM. Yes, we'd also LOVE a Revstar Variax.
  2. Our R&D team in Victoria, BC excels at that sort of stuff but we have to share them with YCJ. Thankfully, Yamaha's really good at making synth engines as well, and we're getting better at collaborating with them.
  3. Hmm... Sorry, don't remember the specifics. Controlling external hardware and software from Helix is sort of my thing, so... yes?
 
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It's definitely on our radar but unfortunately, it's probably too late to squeeze into 3.20. Reminded Igor just now and he's on it.

Oh man, how much time do you have?

Line 6 is a completely different organization from when Helix development first ramped up in 2011—different executive staff, different Products team, 90% different development team, and obviously, we weren't owned by Yamaha back then. Over a period of 6-9 months, a massive chunk of the team (Product Manager, System Architect, top three Embedded Engineers, Lead Electrical, Lead Mechanical, etc.) were either sniped by Apple or left to do other things. The org asked me to take over PM duties six months before Helix was to be released (summer of 2014), but I made it clear we needed an extra year to ramp the new team up, finish things that needed to be in 1.0, and fix a bunch of UI problems. Helix was announced on June 11, 2015.

However, if I had a time machine and any pull before hardware was finalized, I would've pushed for:
  • A touchscreen. We'd already done StageScape M20d and Helix is based on its architecture; a touchscreen might've actually been easier to develop at that point. Unfortunately, enough people convinced themselves that customers wouldn't want a touchscreen on the floor, but that a big traditional color LCD might act as a stepping stone, so the next flagship could maybe have a touchscreen. Discussed this publicly years before Headrush.
  • Replacing the 1/4" Aux In with a second, identical Guitar In with 123dB dynamic range and an impedance circuit.
  • Repurposing the CV Out for something else. Almost no one uses it, and removing it might've paid for the second Guitar In.
  • Making the chassis smaller and lighter.
  • A good dozen other things I probably shouldn't divulge.
It might sound arrogant, but the only notable decision I regret about Helix/HX is not including variable impedance circuits on HX Effects' inputs. That was dumb. Most everything else has remained outside of my control.

  1. I sure hope so. It's no secret that Variax is a labor of love. It's really hard to convince dealers to keep more than one Variax body style on the wall, much less more than one pickup configuration, much less more than one color, so they've never represented a big chunk of our revenue. Besides, Yamaha is way better than us at making instruments. Got to visit Hamamatsu a few years ago and holy hell, their facilities are equal parts super high-end tech and old-school master luthiers crafting things by hand; really, really impressive. We have a ton of ideas for where Variax could go, but I suspect we'd want Yamaha to build them instead of a CM. Yes, we'd also LOVE a Revstar Variax.
  2. Our R&D team in Victoria, BC excels at that sort of stuff but we have to share them with YCJ. Thankfully, Yamaha's really good at making synth engines as well, and we're getting better at collaborating with them.
  3. Hmm... Sorry, don't remember the specifics. Controlling stuff is sort of my thing, so... yes?
It's the old HX Midi Controller wish list item. You know the drill :bag :rofl Thanks for the detailed breakdown!
 
@Digital Igloo thank you for your detailed answer.

I love the helix as is and I never really felt the need for a touch screen but I'm sure would have been a great tool at user and developer disposal.

I agree the aux in and the CV out are a weak spot. I, for example, would have loved to have one more amp control out because some modern amps (like enlg for example) have a lot of switching options.

I hope the team will find the time to add more and more quality of life (I believe that's how you call them) features.
 
It's the old HX Midi Controller wish list item. You know the drill :bag :rofl Thanks for the detailed breakdown!
I have no doubt we could make a really killer dedicated MIDI floor controller, and I'd be lying if I said we don't have the design docs lying around. For better or worse, Line 6 needs to sell tens of thousands of units to make any project worth pursuing, so we have to pick our battles very carefully.

Thankfully, a lot of our boxes have that MIDI controller stuff built in. :giggle:
@Digital Igloo thank you for your detailed answer.

I love the helix as is and I never really felt the need for a touch screen but I'm sure would have been a great tool at user and developer disposal.

I agree the aux in and the CV out are a weak spot. I, for example, would have loved to have one more amp control out because some modern amps (like enlg for example) have a lot of switching options.
Touchscreens can be immensely helpful, but IMO no one's doing it well right now. Assuming our GUI wouldn't change, the only advantages we'd see are:
  • Faster selection/moving of blocks, but only while building a preset. Touching a switch to jump to the page > assigned item(s) is way faster and more familiar to pedalboard musicians, but that's assuming you've already built presets
  • Naming stuff
I hope the team will find the time to add more and more quality of life (I believe that's how you call them) features.
Yep, quality of life. I've been an Apple Logic user since the Emagic days (3.5 in '98), so I generally err on the side of "small bit of learning curve at first, but you'll do everything at the speed of thought" over "super easy to get up and running, but after a while, everything becomes annoyingly clunky and slow, so you bother less and compromise more."
 
Whoa, is this really the number?
How do the smaller ones make a profit (Mooer, Flamma Nux, Hotone and similar).
I'd be surprised if Mooer, Hotone, et. al. didn't sell tens of thousands of units. Their primary market is in Asia, however. Lots of guitarists over there, where Helix Floor isn't considered exactly affordable.

Every project the Products department pitches needs to have projected run rates, gross margin, per-year revenue, per-lifecycle revenue, a competitive matrix, a detailed ROI study, etc. We know what engineering resources we have, and depending on the projections/scope, it'll either be approved, rejected, or shelved to be revisited later. On rare occasion we'll approve a project with advantages more... strategic than financial, but if it doesn't smell like a slam dunk, we mercilessly kill it.
Boss has an interesting approach to renaming stuff on a touchscreen.
Gotta give it to BOSS. Other than GT1000 Core clearly targeting HX Stomp's sandbox and their B£h®!ng£®-level copying of G10T Wireless, they generally do their own thing and follow a consistent design language. Plus, their mechanical and electrical engineering are world-class.

Will admit I was working on a GUI that had a few hexagonal blocks. Changed them when I saw the GX100's home screen; didn't want to be accused of copying anyone.
 
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Stomp: pondering about the past…

Did the team have in the “back of their mind” or plans ready for the 8 block change?

Did they also know or counted on that there may be a bigger number of users obstinate with the thought of the Stomp as a standalone modeler? And was there a plan to mitigate that with extended features in the software.

I guess, keeping stomp as a part of the “core” and getting everything the other big units get, was a tactical move to make the stomp larger than its appearance.

And finally, the XL: were there uncertainty if that really was necessary and then it became like a “let’s just throw it out to them, nothing to loose on that” (or check off the last “low hanging fruit” as you once said yourself ;) )
 
Stomp: pondering about the past…

Did the team have in the “back of their mind” or plans ready for the 8 block change?

Did they also know or counted on that there may be a bigger number of users obstinate with the thought of the Stomp as a standalone modeler? And was there a plan to mitigate that with extended features in the software.
The goal was to expand our multieffects to the pedalboard market, which is much larger than the floor modeler market. Yeah, we knew we could've stretched to 8 blocks at launch (and might have had to go there eventually) but purposely kept it at 6—didn't want our kid to grow up too fast. The cast aluminum chassis and sparkle black paint aren't cheap either, but they helped cement the stompbox story.

3.0's DSP-heavy polyphonic pitch shifting was exacerbated by expanding the block count to 8, so the timing sorta shot us in the foot. I don't lose sleep over it; it's been wildly successful for us because of its limitations, not in spite of them. So the next guy who comes out with a self-professed "HX Stomp Killer" with crazy DSP, 40 blocks, and a touchscreen will totally miss the point. Strymon, Walrus, and Universal Audio get it.
And finally, the XL: were there uncertainty if that really was necessary and then it became like a “let’s just throw it out to them, nothing to loose on that” (or check off the last “low hanging fruit” as you once said yourself)
Yep, if HX Stomp XL was any more difficult to make we would've focused on something else. IIRC, only one embedded engineer worked on it for any length of time. It was purely opportunistic, but so was POD HD500X, and that turned out to be a best-seller, so...
What are your thoughts on where the audio tech world is going? What do you see in the pipeline, industry-wide?
YGG has an internal email thread where we'll send each other industry and tech-related updates. YCJ is deeeep into that stuff and share their findings with us; we'll get a new patent update every month and they hold innovation contests with dozens of designer and engineer submissions, some of which are really incredible (but the vast majority never see the light of day). I mean, Yamaha makes the machines that place ICs into iPhones for Apple. And wood inlays for Lexus dashboards. It's nuts.

On rare occasion we'll get some inside information from Cupertino, but alas, I'm not allowed to talk about it. Super exciting times ahead.

Love me some TNBD, by the way.
 
Hey Eric, I see Ampeg in your title and two questions come to mind...
  1. I was curious if you fine folks at Ampeg are aware of the cult like status the Ampeg VH-140C has become to metalheads worldwide?
  2. Was there ever any talk of rereleasing a VH-140C either as a retro amp or maybe even an updated version aka MKII even?
With all these mini solid state amps hitting market like the ones from boutique amps (Frieman/Bogner/Soldano) I can TOTALLY see the nostalgia for a mini Ampeg VH-140C... Just saying... :idea
 
The goal was to expand our multieffects to the pedalboard market, which is much larger than the floor modeler market. Yeah, we knew we could've stretched to 8 blocks at launch (and might have had to go there eventually) but purposely kept it at 6—didn't want our kid to grow up too fast. The cast aluminum chassis and sparkle black paint aren't cheap either, but they helped cement the stompbox story.

3.0's DSP-heavy polyphonic pitch shifting was exacerbated by expanding the block count to 8, so the timing sorta shot us in the foot. I don't lose sleep over it; it's been wildly successful for us because of its limitations, not in spite of them. So the next guy who comes out with a self-professed "HX Stomp Killer" with crazy DSP, 40 blocks, and a touchscreen will totally miss the point. Strymon, Walrus, and Universal Audio get it.

Yep, if HX Stomp XL was any more difficult to make we would've focused on something else. IIRC, only one embedded engineer worked on it for any length of time. It was purely opportunistic, but so was POD HD500X, and that turned out to be a best-seller, so...
Thanks for the look back into stomp history :) appreciate it.

Admittedly i was one of those that were very stubborn and intentional on going against the “intended purpose” of the stomp, before it even was released. But i also already knew it’s intended purpose and what it was designed to be, having in the back of my mind that I like pedals and I can choose different ways to utilize the Stomp.

During these years I’ve used the stomp in all possible ways. On its own, on a pedalboard, audio interface (it’s always my audio interface btw), as an effects box with an amp. There were times I wanted to try other stuff, and did so, but luckily I never sold it or gave up. I’m just to attached to this box. Admittedly I also prefer small things that pack a punch. If I had been in a serious band during these years I would probably had an LT or Floor just because.

But as a home player, that sometimes play with friends, stomp has just been so damn good. And I love the fact that I can expand it with 2-3 cool pedals now and then, just because there’s always 2-3 really cool pedals out there to be inspired by, while still staying under the line where one would feel forced to go LT/Floor but give up the form factor and dabble with pedals thing.

It still is, to me, in my opinion the best guitar pedal on the market today.
 
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