Hands-On Review:Steinberg Cubase 5
Number 5 is alive!
By Darius Van Rhuehl
Musician’s Friend Staff Writer
I’ve used all the major software DAWs and found something of value in each, but not one on which I felt I could compose, sequence, record, and mix with the same proficiency. Then I saw Steinberg’s Nuendo in use in the Nashville studio of a world-class producer and got hooked. I was ready to drop the $1,799 until I was informed that Cubase had the same sound engine, same mixer, and same music production features. I also wouldn’t have to spend more money adding the composer’s package, since MIDI composing and VIs are already part of Cubase—and all for a fraction of that amount. Being a brainer of the "no" variety, I bought Cubase (4.5 at the time) and found that I was finally able to do it all in one system. Now Cubase 5 ups the ante with incredible features and innovative virtual instruments.
Starting with the Cubasics
As I said before, I’ve never encountered DAW software that handles each key element of music production as completely and effectively as Cubase. Regardless of your area of specialization or musical genre, Cubase will feel as though it’s been designed specifically for you, whether you’re recording, mixing, composing, sequencing, or doing sound design.
Show me what you’re workin’ with
In music, we relate to the human voice first and foremost. A great vocal track can make just about any background sound good, while a bad singer can wreck a world-class arrangement. That’s why you want your vocal tracks as good as you can get them, which is where VariAudio and PitchCorrect come in. These tools let you manipulate a mono audio track as though it were a MIDI track. You can actually craft a new melody long after the singer has left the studio.
I had a lot of fun playing with PitchCorrect, particularly with formants, which allow you to change vocal timbre. I took a sweet girl-voice and gave her a sore throat (hmm, that sounds cruel, but it also sounded cool). I was also able to change the pitch of certain notes without destroying the delicate, breathy quality of the voice. The PitchCorrect VST3 plug-in lets you control pitch in real time via MIDI controller. But the real fun was to be had with VariAudio.
Steinberg Cubase 5
I recently finished backing tracks for acapella vocals done by a fairly well-known artist. When mixdown came around, I wanted to extend one word at the end of a phrase since it was cut short and had an interesting timbral quality. I’d spent hours fiddling with delays and reverbs to approximate the effect. Though the song was already out the door, it was a perfect test for VariAudio. I imported the vocal track and let VariAudio work its magic. Once it analyzes the audio, a number of markers and multicolored boxes appear at various points in the waveform graphic. You can make adjustments by dragging on the boxes. I not only was able to stretch the word naturally, but VariAudio also retained the timbral quality. Just for fun, I created a smooth glissando on one word that moved upward in pitch—and it sounded like the singer had done it. Using the time warp function, I was able to slow down and speed up the entire track significantly before I began to hear any artifacts. I found myself wishing I had used VariAudio for that mix. No one would have known that the singer didn’t hold the note out, and I could have used my delays and ’verbs for dramatic effect.
Double-0 ONE; Groove Agent
Cubase 5 also introduces revolutionary tools for creating rhythm tracks and loop manipulation: Groove Agent ONE, Beat Designer, and LoopMash. My mission, which I chose to accept, was to see if I could come up with some realistic and/or exciting percussion tracks with Cubase 5’s new beat creation machines. Though I prefer to work alone, Groove Agent comes with a sidekick; Beat Designer, a grid that syncs to song tempo and lets you create percussion phrases on the fly.
You start by loading a drum kit or percussion sounds into Groove Agent ONE. Though it comes with a complete library of acoustic, urban, hip-hop, and dance drum kits, it also gives you sampling, MPC-import, editing, and 16 virtual performance pads, in case you want to kick it old school. Beat Designer gives you 11 simultaneous instruments and a grid of boxes representing note divisions. With a simple mouse click, you add or remove notes in the row for the corresponding instrument. Clicking on an instrument name brings up a dropdown menu that lets you change instruments. You can also change individual note volumes, resolution, and time signature. BD also gives you convincing flams and rolls. I spent hours playing with GA ONE and BD, and barely scratched the surface of their combined creative possibilities.
I’m not a loopy kind of guy, I tend to make music the old-fashioned way, but I have to admit, LoopMash could easily change that. It analyzes loops for similar elements, allows you to adjust the intensity of that analysis, and lets you create and perform new variations of multiple loops on the fly. LoopMash will let you import your own loops to play alongside its presets, but you could pretty much make a career out of exploring the possibilities of LoopMash presets alone.
Speaking in REVerent tones
REVerence is the world’s first VST3 convolution reverb, and another thing I wish I had for my aforementioned mix. REVerence comes with an exceptional library of 70 IRs (Impulse Responses) and allows you to import your own multichannel IRs as well. Plus, you have hardware-style control over parameters such as early reflections, reverb tail, and decay time. You can also pull up a spectrograph display that lets you know where most of your reverb energy is, while its EQ controls let you lose the mud and keep the sizzle. What can I say? It’s just a beautiful-sounding reverb that alone is worth the upgrade.
But wait folks, there’s more . . .
I’m pretty much out of space, but it wouldn’t be fair not to mention some of the other features that make Cubase 5 a hit, such as a new automation panel that offers a single control point for all settings. VST Expression gives composers a brilliantly convenient way of working with articulations and expression across multiple instruments in huge orchestral libraries. There are also new key signature and tempo tracks, and much more.
I’m gobsmacked by Cubase 5 and very glad I was given the opportunity to take it through its paces. If you’re looking for your first (and last) full DAW software program, your search ends here. If you’re a Cubase user wondering whether to upgrade to 5, wonder no more. I’m far more creative and productive with Cubase than ever before, and Cubase 5 offers new possibilities I couldn’t have imagined.
Features & Specs
- Award-winning 32-bit floating-point audio engine
- Unlimited simultaneous audio track playback
- Unlimited MIDI tracks
- PitchCorrect (VST3 plug-in)
- Groove Agent ONE drum-sampling instrument
- Beat Designer drum step sequencer
- LoopMash VST instrument
- VariAudio note detection/editing
- REVerence convolution reverb
- VST Expression instrument articulation management
- 8 audio channel insert slots
- 56 VST3 audio effects plug-ins
- 256 group channels
- 8 FX send channels
- 64 FX return channels
- Unlimited instrument tracks
- 64 VST instrument slots
- 8 VST3 instruments
- 4 MIDI plug-in insert slots
- 18 MIDI effects plug-ins
- Professional score layout and printing
- 256 physical inputs/outputs
- Extended channel EQ (VST3 studio EQ)
- 1,000 instrument sounds
- External FX routing
- MediaBay and VST Sound support
- Control Room
- 5.1 surround support
- Full MP3 Fraunhofer encoding