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A Look at Cubase 5
New Features push Cubase towards the top of its game
By TweakHeadz Lab
Tweak peeks behind the Steinberg curtain. Cubase Five-Oh. Wait a minute, Cubase 5 came out in 2001! So did a control surface called Houston (erm..Houston, come in, we may have a problem). And they did have a problem. Cubase 5 2001 was the last of the line before the new rewritten Cubase SX came out. Then there was was Cubase SX2, SX3. Then Steiney dropped the SX for Cubase 4. Finally we have returned to Cubase 5, not to be confused with the 2001 version.
I last went with Cubase SX as an attempt to avoid going Mac. Logic went Mac and I was refusing to go along. I gave Cubase SX and SX3 a shot at becoming my main sequencer, but it was not to be. I eventually did go Mac and moved Cubase SX3 onto my G5, but the results were horrid in terms of performance. (SX3 was fine on my PC). it was like there was sludge under the editors, making everything tedious. Gave up. Then I got a free copy of Cubase 4 AI with my Motif XS and tried it out and the problems were gone. In my hip hop class, I use Cubase LE (3) on a PC, so i have been keeping up with working in the land of cubes. When I saw the new features in Cubase 5 I knew it was time to upgrade SX3.
Cubase has always had a fresh and colorful look to it. I am glad that has not changed. Unlike the drab colors in Apple's Pro App line, Cubase gets high marks for blending color with function. The colors themselves can be modified, which allows for a nice customization of the screen.
Deciding on which Sequencer
If you are wondering which sequencer to get for your DAW, you probably know that Cubase is one of the main contenders. It is the most popular sequencer in the world and has been for a long time. Perhaps Cubase's greatest strengths are in is easy implementation of 3rd party VSTi and VST effects. While other sequencer's my give you more software instruments and effects in their top of the line package, Cubase gives you easy integration of those readily available from 3rd party vendors.
The second area of Cubase's strength is in its manipulation of audio recordings and audio files. Indeed, LoopMash and VariAudio will go a long way to cement Steinberg's position over Pro Tools LE for the crown of audio tweakmeistering. Logic is nowhere close to Cubase's audio finesse. Logic cannot apply effects directly to audio files and as of Logic 8 could not even bounce in place (ed. note: as of Logic 9, Bounce in place was finally added). These are two of Cubase's strengths, and they have only gotten stronger in Cubase 5.
VariAudio Pitch Correction and Transformation
I did my first tests with VariAudio on the screen above. The idea here, basically, is to give a monophonic audio file the same pitch changing ability as a midi file. That is you can move "segments" (or syllables, in the case of a vocal line) to any pitch you want. If you move the segment up vertically, you change the pitch of the note. If you move it horizontally, you change the length of the note. If you zoom in you can make micro-changes to pitch, correcting intonation within a note. Those of us who have used Auto-Tune and Melodyne already know what an important feature this is for correcting vocals, and adding popular effects like those popularized from Cher to Lil' Wayne. The difference here is that Cubase now does these effects natively, without creating files outside the program. Though I have not done enough tests to conclude "which is better", I can say that I found Cubase's new pitch functions so sound smooth and supple. These processes are non-destructive. That means you can always revert back to the original files if you really screw things up.
I'll update this review after a later date. I saw a video where some guy claimed Cubase 5 could get T-Pain auto tune effects using the Straighten Pitch command in VariAudio. We'll see if it can beat my V-synth there.
LoopMash is such a fun feature to use. Its easy to use and interesting because you never know what is going to come out of it. You instantiate it like an audio instrument track. It will show up in your list of VSTis. From there, just open up a file directory that has your acid or apple loops and drag them onto the lanes. Adjust the faders to the left. When you hear what you like record the scene by pressing the red button and one of those lower boxes. As you see in the pic, I found 5 settings I like. Now I can create a performance by clicking the boxes. This feature is going to be loved by those tweaking up club mixes.
Control Room and Studio Monitoring
If your studio consists of 2 rooms or more, or even if you just want to have better control over what your performers hear in their cans, Cubase 5 (full version only) provides plenty of useful functions. You can control and switch between up to four studio mixes, 4 L/R monitor pairs, add talkback, headphones and route a click to any or all of these. From the control room mixer, which becomes more elaborate, the more studios and monitors you add, you can control the level in each studio room, switch in aux inputs, your talkback mic, and the click. In the control room itself you can enable the talkback, set your ideal volume level on your monitors and headphones, check the mix in mono. Though i did not try it, you can also configure your control room for surround. Of course, your audio interface is going to have to have sufficient hardware ins and outs to create all these studio functions. An audio interface with 8 outputs seems ideal here.
Perhaps to take full advantage of its control room mixer Steinberg now has several audio interfaces available at different price points, designed to appeal to the serious Cubase user, Note the Steinberg MR816CSX and the MR816X
Cubase 5 has a convolution type reverb called Reverence. Basically, a convolution reverb differs from typical plugin reverbs in 2 ways. The sound is based on an "impulse" file, a sample of an acoustic space, which provides mathematical parameters for recreating the space digitally. reverence supplies impulse files from a number of halls, cathedrals, studios, even a subway and an interstate highway. If this is your first "convo-verb" as they are sometimes called you'll notice a great increase in realism. The second way the convo-verb differs from a typical plugin reverb is that it can take your CPU out to lunch and leave it there. I have a few other convo-verbs in my library, notably Apple's Space designer and Sony's Acoustics Modeler, both if which I know intimately.
My impression of Reverence is to the positive. Of all the convos, it makes the difficult operations quite simple. Changing presets is a breeze. You get 36 one click locations right in the plugin window. If you are like me you end up using a handful of reverbs for all your songs and do little tweak's on the verb that the song calls for. Reverence is ideal for that manner of working. I counted about 95 impulse files, most with pictures of the source.
Note the 3 band EQ, the reverse button, predelay, time scaling, size, ER tail split, and ER tail mix. Using these functions are WAY easier than in Space Designer. Yet SD, while being more difficult, is more flexible in terms of filter points and waveform modifications. But this is an exercise in splitting hairs, perhaps. I do miss a way to set the stereo "width" that I have in SD. I also think I could build a better drum gated sound in Reverence though. One thing I like about Space Designer I am not seeing here are the FX impulses open spaces, stairwells, bedrooms, and impulses of famous digital reverbs that they don't name but everyone knows...Lexi-who? lol. Of course that is really going on a limb to criticize an impulse verb designed to be more realistic than digital reverbs because it has no impulses of digital reverbs...
Actually the manual is one of the best I have read. Sequencers are extremely complex these days. The authors help by explaining the necessary background.
Problems in Cubase 5
There is a major bug regarding the East West Play libraries on my Mac Pro. Upon instantiation, Play crashes Cubase hard. If you use Play libraries on a current Mac pro I suggest holding off on the Cubase upgrade. This appeared to be a known problem when I reported it to East West. I was unable to try the new feature called VST Expression maps, which are designed to work with large sample libraries that employ key switching. All my libraries that do use key switching will not work in Cubase 5. They all use that "Play" interface.
Getting the first release of a major upgrade is usually known as the unstable version. Cubase 5-0 could have been a lot worse. In the balance, though, I am left with a positive feeling. The new features push Cubase 5 past the realm of sound recording and into sound developing. Lets face it, all sequencers record midi and audio, use plugins, soft synths, effects and allow you to mix and master. But what tools do they give you to create something new and different? LoopMash and VariAudio are a continuation of Cubase's focus on audio manipulation. It appears to be finding its niche.
Read about Cubase at Steinberg's Forum: Cubase Net
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