Steinberg Cubase 5 Review


One of the oldest sequencers, along with Reasoning (old-timers may remember the fantastic era of Pro 24 plus Notator), Cubase has over the years, enforced numerous ergonomic, technological, and conceptual standards on the competition. Releasing a new version of Steinberg’s flagship application is still an event in itself, although it must be admitted that today, the pretenders to the throne of the king of sequencers are quite numerous. As a result, innovation and excellence are no longer unique in order to Cubase and, without even bringing up other sequencer heavy-weights (Logic, Sonar, Pro Tools, Samplitude, Digital Artist and Ableton Live), the last decade has seen many new challengers, along with varying price tags and popularity, yet packed with great features: Fruity Loops, Melodyne, Tracktion, Energy XT, Reaper…

Inside a market as competitive as this, it’s obviously increasingly difficult to stand out. Cubase 4 had its critics though it launched the VST3 standard, delivered its effects and virtual musical instruments up to date, inaugurated a new media administration system and you could finally move effects from one track to another simply by drag & drop. But it appeared more like they were trying to catch up to the competition rather than really innovating… However, more original innovations, like administration of external hardware (particularly Yamaha’s, since the Japanese manufacturer had lately bought Steinberg) and the emergence of control room targeted features were interesting, but did not effect all of users and therefore didn’t necessarily justify the increased software price: about $879! Fortunately, when the impressive Reasoning 8 came out for around $500 this forced Steinberg to rethink the rates and marketing strategy: you can now discover Cubase 5 for around $500! Along with relatively interesting updates: 4. 1 and 4. 5 (side string management for their effects, better course-plotting management, additional sound banks to get HALionOne, etc .. ), and this fifth version, Steinberg is doing its best to seduce us. Let’s get into information…

When I’m 64

The box can be heavy and that’s a good sign. As well as the USB dongle and serial amount that let you register, it in fact contains 2 manuals: a quick start guide, and a rather large comprehensive manual that does not, however , cover the consequences nor virtual instruments included with the application, but which are covered in PDF files. There are 4 DVDs: the particular DVD to install the program, a DVD with sounds and samples, and two DVDs with a 90-day demonstration version of HALion Symphonic Orchestra. Note that in addition to the manuals, the set up DVD includes a large number of tutorial videos that are very well done and address all the key aspects of the sequencer.
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When you consider that there was a time that will Steinberg was putting out manuals only in PDF format, we can only thank the German corporation for having changed its ways.

The installation went smoothly, and after double clicking on the red icon, I used to be in familiar territory: the project window. The first novelty of this edition doesn’t jump out at a person, because it’s invisible: Cubase right now fully supports 64 bit technology. Wasn’t this already the case? It all depends, because even though Cubase 4 had been compatible with 64-bit operating systems, the code hadn’t really been rewritten for this. It therefore remained essentially a 32-bit application, but capable of running on a 64-bit system, whereas Cubase 5 is now available in full sixty four bits.

What’s the big deal about 64 bits? It’s simple: it increases the addressable memory space. 32-bit operating systems manage at best 3. 2 GB of memory, while a 64-bit OS can theoretically go up to 128 GB (I say in theory, because there presently exists no machine, available to the general public, that has that much RAM). A very important detail at a time when digital ROMplers come with banks of tens of Gigas for rendering a single instrument (BFD, superiorDRUMMER 2, Vienna, EastWest Symphonic Orchestra, Ivory Piano, and so forth ) and simplifying the lifestyles of those who do audio/video plus need to manage huge videos inside their sequencer.

Low Tech Propellerhead!

Although not everything is rosy in the property of 64 bits. Even though Steinberg is committed to supporting Mac OPERATING SYSTEM X, Vista 64, and the forthcoming Windows 7, no support with regard to Windows XP 64 is officially expected (it doesn’t necessarily mean that it won’t work). Don’t forget to check your plug-ins: some developers already feature 64-bit compatibility plus Steinberg proposes, via VST Bridge technology, a way to use 32 little bit plugins in the 64-bit version of the sequencer, but it’s still highly likely that one or two of your old effects that you’ve had for a long time in your VSTplugins directory will drive or refuse to start. Using the VST Bridge also consumes resources in proportion to the use of a true 64-bit plug-in… In addition to these small inconveniences, the main drawback of 64-bit is the incompatibility with Propellerheads technologies: if you use Cubase five 64-bit in a 64-bit OS, you will not be able to use REX file formats, nor the ReWire platform: therefore farewell using Cubase with Reason, Ableton Live and Melodyne, and others… Of course , the Swedish developer will probably not leave the situation as it appears, but currently, no announcement has been conducted on this issue… What do we do in that case? Install the 32-bit version of Cubase 5, which runs smoothly on a 64-bit OS, until Propellerhead makes a move. This really is annoying of course , but it can’t be held responsible on Steinberg. Let’s take a look today at features that will change the way you use Cubase.

Cognito, Ergonomic Sum

There’s no revolution in terms of interface, the particular German developer seems to have opted for, with this release, making the interface simpler and increasing work flow. Take for example the new Automation panel that brings together in a single window the main automation commands. One click now suffices in order to arm all the tracks in Go through or Write modes, while you can choose to display or hide automation information, and engage/disengage playback or recording features by Type: Volume, Skillet, EQ, Sends, Inserts. The time rescued is considerable!

As for controls, a number of small improvements have been made, like the presence of a virtual keyboard which allows you to play music from a QWERTY keyboard (useful when you’re on a laptop on the highway, and you don’t have a keyboard), or even a free application for iPod/iPhone which will let your remotely control the transport bar via WiFi… great, you might say, but not enough to warrant an upgrade. Except that Steinberg has also taken this occasion to fulfill the wishes expressed by many users, by integrating, firstly, an export of multiple audio files.

Total Move, Hallelujah!

Requested ages ago, the entire Export feature now makes it possible to export multiple tracks in one shot. So far in Cubase, when you wanted, for example , to make a CD of 16 sound files to give to a friend or a business working under another sequencer with no OMF format, you had to do monitor by track, using the Solo and Mute buttons: a waste of time! Now, in the Mixdown window, simply check the little boxes for your results, audio tracks or instruments and effects tracks. The only thing missing in this windows is the ability to enable/disable the effects placed in tracks, so you can easily provide a dry track, although it could be done in the mixer or project view. It would have been nice in case Cubase managed lossless audio types (Monkey Audio amongst others). Anyway, even if Steinberg is catching up with the competition more than innovating on this stage, this simple feature alone will be worth the upgrade from any version of Cubase to this new version…

Up to Tempo

Not so important for some, yet essential for others, it must be mentioned that there are two new types of tracks: Pace track and Signature track which usually let you program changes in beat and time signature in your tasks. Admittedly, Cubase already had a Beat editor in the past, but it was just an editor, which was not very ergonomic. Now, without even leaving the particular project window, you can vary time signatures and tempo with a click of the mouse. Unfortunately, however , you are able to only have a single tempo and unique track per project: you can’t get a 3/4 track and a 4/4 track playing simultaneously, or a track in whose tempo would increase while the other people remained at a fixed tempo, even if such examples are rather rare… The addition of these two tracks should, in any event, greatly simplify work for composers, that will also be delighted to discover the new range of MIDI software.

MIDI Plug-Ins

Let’s take a start with MIDI plug-ins: they’ve been totally overhauled, and two new ones have been added: MIDI Monitor, and Beat Designer (which will be discussed later)

The MIDI Monitor plug-in lets you, as its name suggests, keep an eye on all messages passing through the MIDI sequencer, making it an extremely valuable device when it comes to diagnosing a failure or connection problem, since it allows you to export the particular logs into a TXT file. Very useful for automating complex programming.

Much less esoteric but equally powerful, another MIDI plugins have had significant improvements made to them, either on the visual or functional level: like Chorder, which now has a MIDI Find out mode. Only regret: not having equipment designed to simplify the MIDI development for acoustic instruments to create practical strumming or other techniques. However, in the field of realistic MIDI programming, Steinberg has not been idle, as shown by VST Expression, another major innovation of version 5…

VST Expression: Express Yourself!

So what is it? It’s an interface that lets you intuitively handle and control (from the Piano Roll, the Drum Edit or even score edit) the many articulations which are found in large symphonic sound banking institutions (Vienna, Garritan, East West Symphonic Orchestra, etc . ).. Similar to the method a Drum Map simplifies editing drums, you can now create Expression Maps which will manage continuous controllers (especially important switches) dedicated to a particular playing technique (staccato, glissando, tremolo, etc . ).. Once an Expression Map is created, all you have to to do is program in the adjustments in articulation at the bottom of the Violin Roll (in the same space used for continuous controllers), or use the appropriate symbols in the score editor.

Gowns all it is, but it really simplifies items, as you’ll soon realize using the HALion Symphonic Orchestra demo version (limited to 90 days), or even with the brass, guitars, and striper samples of HALion ONE Expression Place 01. Like all good ideas, a person wonder why nobody thought of this before. In addition to simplifying programming, VST Expression also lets you transfer your own sequences from one bank to another, if you have the corresponding expression maps. Really on this very issue that one might have cause to complain, because despite the fact that Cubase provides Expression Maps intended for HALion One and HALion Symphonic Orchestra, it offers none for the large hitters of Symphonic samples. Therefore you’ll have to roll up your sleeves and do it yourself, through a basic editor, or wait until the brand names themselves or enthusiasts do the job for you, which will probably happen sooner or later. But whether VST Expression becomes a standard adopted by other sequencers will be yet to be seen…

Vari Nice!

The entire Export and VST Expression features may be important additions to Cubase, but the feature that has received the most attention in Cubase 5 is definitely VariAudio, which is basically a Melodyne-like application integrated directly into Cubase. Within the audio editor (accessible by double-clicking any file or audio segment) there’s a new tab named VariAudio. When you activate it, the software begins a process of recognition for all the notes in the audio clip that you can then edit like a simple MIDI series. You can change the pitch as well as the placement and duration of segments, while a curve shows formants. Ergonomically speaking, the integration is perfect: moving the mouse over a note shows its pitch and the difference in pitch compared to the nearest half-step, whilst a piano roll is superimposed to simplify transposition. In comparison to the particular Melodyne Plug-in, its integration will be seamless: it works in full screen rather than in a minimized window, there are forget about worries about conflicting shortcuts among Melodyne and Cubase, and above all, no more headaches with bouncing the audio just to be able to hear the end result. There’s only one thing that it’s lacking compared to Melodyne: VariAudio doesn’t handle the amplitude of different segments, which means you can’t change the volume of each take note it detects. Steinberg makes up for this, however , by incorporating a nice Audio to MIDI conversion feature. You can switch any mono audio clip in to a sequence that can then be performed by any virtual instrument. Naturally , depending on the quality of the audio cut and detection limitations (with or even without taking into account pitch bend), the result will be more or less faithful to the original, but by editing a little to clean up the sequence you get results that are usable…