I’ve always had a soft spot for Steinberg’s Cubase. It was my MIDI sequencer of choice back when we were all using Atari 1040ST’s to program tunes, syncing up to analogue tape machines via SMPTE code when any audio tomfoolery was required. But then hard disk recording was born, and to my dismay the £5000 Mac system I bought to run Cubase Audio XT, the first audio capable version of Cubase, just wasn’t up to the task. So Cubase was ditched as soon as I could get my hands on ProTools, and I haven’t used Cubase again since.
Until March 2012, when I was asked to review Cubase 6.5 for Computer Music magazine. It was like meeting up with an old friend to find that they’d taken up bodybuilding, learnt five new languages and had four facelifts since you saw them last. Now, less than nine months after causing contoversy with their first ever paid point update, Steinberg have unleashed Cubase 7 on an unsuspecting public, and what’s more are charging £120 for the privilege of upgrading from 6.5. So is the second paid update in under a year worth shelling out for?
Well, after using it solidly for a few weeks now, I can safely say that it doesn’t disappoint.
The new interface has polarised opinion somewhat amongst Cubaserati, but personally I love the look and feel of it. The colours, particularly in the new MixConsole and Channel Settings windows, just pop out of the screen, with solid shiny blacks contrasting with vivid, striking colour which doesn’t distract from, but rather enhances, the use of the program. It certainly makes Logic’s interface look a bit shabby by comparison.
The revised MixConsole with its new, Logic-esque Channel Strip functionality and dedicated Channel Settings window is a revelation. Each channel strip can now make use of five new plug-ins – noise gate, compressor, transient designer, tape saturation and limiter/maximizer. Maybe it’s because I’m a bit old school and grew up with SSL desks, but the retro knobs have a very comfortable feel. The environment, once you’ve figured out how to reveal and hide everything to your own advantage, has obviously been tailored towards the needs of those who know how to work a traditional analogue desk. The signal flow is logical and working the layout soon becomes familiar to anyone with an engineering background. Once you know where everything is, it’s a joy to be able to access the tools and windows you need quickly and easily. While I’m not so keen on the EQ module’s longitudinal green sliders, it’s easy enough to switch the controls to the much more intuitive rotary knob format.
Elsewhere, Steinberg have really done their homework on the musical theory side with the new Chord Track and Chord Assistant. At last, a DAW feature that creates truly useable harmonies that stick to and track changes in the proper scale of your track. I can only imagine the army of musicologists they must have had locked in a windowless room somewhere in Germany for months on end, surviving only on flat food that could be pushed under the door, in order to come up with an intelligent harmonising system of such depth that it actually works with you, rather than against you. Based on my experience, throughout which you could safely say I was blown away by how well it worked, this has the potential to be a truly useful compositional aid, rather than just a tacked-on gimmick.
VST Connect SE promises to be a useful tool for collaboration with remote musicians, allowing you to record their performances across an internet connection. What’s more, your collaborators need not own Cubase themselves to participate in sessions – they just need to download a free app from Steinberg’s website that allows them to monitor a live video feed as well as the audio output from your session. They can even avail themselves of monitor compression, reverbanddelay effects as you record their performance, if they so wish. Pretty clever stuff.
Pleasant details abound throughout the program, such as the way that the software automatically creates a Track Pictures folder within your project folder. Any image that you put into this folder will be selectable in the list of user pictures when you come to assign icons to your tracks in the MixConsole. You can have mugshots of your musos on your scribble strip if you wish. Ok, so it’s not the most essential of features, but it is a nice touch, and serves to indicate how much thought has gone into the package as a whole. Other goodies such as ASIO Guard, a system designed to prevent dropouts when playing back multiple audio tracks, MemZap, a workflow enhancer that allows you to toggle rapidly between two zoom settings, and a base-level search window that can be accessed from any area of the interface all serve to round out the package substantially.
There are, of course, one or two niggles. Mine doesn’t seem to like it if you put the computer to sleep while it’s running, or you’ll get an eLicenser error message on reawakening. Sometimes when moving a control, a handy tool tip will pop up, usefully identifying the parameter you’re about to change but totally obscuring its value so that you can’t tell how much you’re altering it by. In the face of everything that’s positive about the new version, however, these are not significant worries. Whether you’re new to the world of Cubase, an accomplished and seasoned user, or an old hand returning to the fold like myself, I really can’t recommend it highly enough in its current guise. Throw in the excellent video tutorials accessed via the new Steinberg Hub intro screen, and I can’t help but feel that with Cubase 7, Steinberg are onto a winner.
Cubase 7 is available in two flavours from http://www.steinberg.net:
Cubase 7 (Full Version) at £488
Cubase Artist 7 at £244 (limited to 64 audio / 128 MIDI tracks, no VariAudio 2.0 or AudioWarp functions)