Uses This

A collection of nerdy interviews asking people from all walks of life what they use to get the job done.

A picture of Steve O'Hear

Steve O'Hear

Tech journalist (TechCrunch)

Posted in journalist, mac, musician

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm a tech journalist at TechCrunch, focusing on European startups, companies and products. It's my second spell at TechCrunch after trying my hand at startup life to co-found a VC-backed company back in 2012.

I've also written for numerous other publications, including ZDnet, Macworld, The Guardian, and ReadWrite. In 2006 I wrote, directed and edited the documentary 'In Search of the Valley'. Prior to journalism I was an e-learning consultant, web developer and digital arts teacher.

Outside of my day job I write and produce music, and this is a big part of my setup. I'm currently finishing up an album with friends that I plan to release later this year. This will hopefully include a run of vinyl, and possibly a crowdfunding campaign to help finance the mastering process and album's release.

What hardware do you use?

At the heart of everything I do is a MacBook Pro (2.6GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 with Retina display) in Space Grey. It has the 'Touch Bar,' which I rarely use, and is undoubtedly overpriced for the spec. However, I've always preferred Macs -- even sticking with Apple through the mid 90s when things weren't good -- and my home recording studio is built around the music software Logic Pro X, meaning I'm somewhat locked into Apple hardware.

The MacBook is also my writing tool of choice in my job as a journalist, although, apart from the need to run Skype and a few other bits of software, I could happily get away with a Chromebook or any laptop that can run a modern browser.

The rest of my studio is made up of a very old 'Firewire' audio interface (the original MOTU 828), a pair of now discontinued HHB Circle 5 passive monitor speakers, a cheap Cambridge Audio amp, an outboard valve compressor (the original TLA Ivory 5021) that I mainly use as a DI box for guitars, and a Rode NT1-A microphone. Notably, I don't have an outboard mixer (I ditched my digital 16 channel mixer years ago) as I prefer to mix 'in the box' (ie in software).

Most recently I added an Avantone MixCube Active mono speaker. It is a modern take on a so-called 'grotbox' -- a speaker designed to mimic lower‑quality, consumer‑style speakers so that you'll have a better idea how your mix will sound when heard in typical real‑world listening situations. Or, put another way, a speaker that sounds so crap it will make you work a lot harder to get your final mixes sounding good, even on speakers that have little or no bass response and tend to really overemphasise midrange frequencies.

I'm a keyboard player so I have a few musical instruments and effects. This includes a basic USB MIDI keyboard (IK Multimedia iRig 37), a tonewheel organ simulator (Ferrofish B4000+), a Leslie Speaker simulator (Neo Instruments Vent II), and an analogue synth (Arturia MicroBrute). I also have an analogue drum machine with a step sequencer that I bought in a sale and have hardly touched since (Korg volca beats).

The other crucial tool for my day job is my trusty iPhone SE. Despite being a Mac person, this is only my second iPhone, having previously used phones by BlackBerry, Nokia, and Handspring/Palm because of my then preference for a physical keyboard (I write a lot of emails). I've also recently invested in a Gemini PDA, a new smartphone with a keyboard that is inspired by original devices by Psion.

And what software?

To do my job as a journalist, I rely almost exclusively on the cloud. Things like WordPress, Google Docs, and Gmail. For communications, I use Slack, iMessage, WhatsApp, Skype, and Convo, for both internal and external chat with colleagues and subjects/sources. I spend a lot of time on Twitter, too, as a way to track news, talk to other people in the tech industry, cultivate sources and promote the articles I publish. LinkedIn is also quite useful when researching people or reaching out for comment. And Spotify keeps me company throughout my working day.

As mentioned, my studio is built around Logic Pro X. I've also invested in a huge amount of software effects, including tons of plugins from Waves. I also purchased Native Instruments Komplete 10 a while back, mostly for the acoustic piano virtual instruments and to compose horn parts. Most recently I added Toontrack Superior Drummer 3, which is hands-down the best software for powering an electronic drum kit or programming your own natural-sounding drum parts (honestly, it sounds amazing).

What would be your dream setup?

I don't have a lot of gear-lust left these days. But if you had a gun to my head, I'd always buy the most powerful MacBook possible and/or possibly an iMac Pro. I would also like to upgrade my ageing audio interface to Thunderbolt 3 with a higher sample rate (recording quality). And I'd probably replace my HHB Circle 5s with active speakers from Adam Audio. My dream setup would really be to have my studio relocated to a more spacious room and one that has been acoustically treated and has a separate live room and/or vocal recording booth.