Hands-On Review:Steinberg CI2 Advanced Integration USB Studio


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Integration Defined

By Alan Macpherson
Steinberg North America’s Director of Marketing

Ever since audio and MIDI hit the computer in Steinberg’s revolutionary Cubase VST software back in the 1990s, we musicians have had a love-hate relationship with the gear that acts as the middleman between our musical ideas and the computer. The wondrous great democratization of our music production age (the ability to do unbelievable things in our low cost personal studios with software) has often been accompanied by a very frustrating user experience. And even when the hardware connected did ‘plug and play’ (without requesting divine intervention), the sometimes-kludgy way the hardware worked with the software was less than inspiring and often audio quality was like, "meh, whatevs..."

Who’s your daddy?

Steinberg’s software innovation and leadership has long made Cubase the most popular Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) on the planet and the company has always made it a point to offer the best standards-adhering product in the market. Connect almost any device to our software and chances are that it will work really, really well. Cubase 5, just launched this year to great acclaim, advances this friendly usability and wide compatibility even further. However, Steinberg saw a great opportunity to push the boundaries of what the world expects from compact, affordable USB audio devices. We knew that we could offer up über-tight Cubase integration along with very sweet control functionality built right into a single device. The creation of such a product was really only possible via a partnership with Yamaha, the world’s best and largest manufacturer of musical instruments and musical production products. It’s good to have powerful friends!

USB hardware perfection—the Steinberg CI2

Let’s document the things we’d really like an affordable piece of audio hardware to do for us. That is for us musical types who are looking to record with an absolute minimum of pain, right from the get-go:

 

  • Record 2 inputs at one time with very high quality Neutrik combo jacks

  • It must be Mac- and Windows-compatible with included Cubase AI5 software ready to go for either platform

  • Monitor with near-zero latency directly or from Cubase at very low latencies with Core Audio and ASIO/WDM drivers included

  • One of the inputs should offer a Hi-Z input for guitars, basses, etc.

  • The hardware must be well designed, rugged, and compact enough to carry to remote recording sessions

Already this is impressive but our customers might aim a little higher:

  1. "What about adding the AI Knob from the CC121 controller and have it automagically grab virtually any VST3 or VST2 function and allow for quick editing as you hover over it with your cursor?" Check.

  2. "How about a press switch on this AI Knob to select things contextually (like open the Media Browser)?" Check.

  3. "I’d really like to be able to lock the AI Knob to a specific editable function while I mouse somewhere else . . . possible?" Check.

  4. "OK, I’d love some better way to operate my transport controls, like say, start Cubase running, then hit the same button again to record, then once more to leave record, once more to return to the top . . . kind of an Interactive Recording function?" Check.

  5. "I’m a guitar player and would love to plug in a simple FC5 momentary switch to do all that fancy Interactive Recording stuff . . . is this doable?" Check.

  6. "I know it’s a lot to ask, but could a USB bus-powered device fire up 2 phantom-powered mics at the same time"? Check.

Warning: computer audio bliss can be addictive!

In addition to meeting all of these requests, the CI2 dishes up astounding audio quality, as you’d expect from a Steinberg-specified piece built by Yamaha. 24-bit converters operating at up to 48kHz sampling rate provide pristine audio quality to and from your computer. The brand new Cubase AI5 is included in the box along with new USB audio drivers and a USB cable, guaranteeing a painless and quick installation. Once these components are installed, Cubase will immediately "see" your new hardware (the "AI Ready" light will tell you all is good) and audio in and out routing will be automagically setup for you. Pressing the AI Knob after first opening Cubase will then launch the very handy Project Assistant that is loaded with lots of really useful, ready-to-go templates. The revolutionary Interactive Recording feature will no doubt change the way we all work and having up to six steps that can be set to do almost anything is truly magical. And yes, the CI2 has European super model good looks too.

 

The CI2 revolutionizes the user experience in this entry level price zone and heralds the utopian audio future we’ve all been promised for so long—a promise that’s been as elusive as the four-day work week! It’s time to start making music with gear that doesn’t require your own IT Department, that is smart-sized, and can also become your mobile recording and production studio with any Mac or Windows notebook.

 

Steinberg CI2. Integration Defined.