Steinberg has spearheaded music software development for over 30 years, and through Cubase, which started as a MIDI sequencer, introduced a whole generation to the blockbased arrange screen now used in the majority of today’s DAWs. Along the way they invented virtual studio technology, developed a classleading audio editor (Wavelab) and survived the dark days of software piracy. However, in the last few years the music software landscape has changed beyond recognition and their flagship DAW, once one of only two or three serious contenders, now finds itself competing in a sea of seriously powerful and yet surprisingly similar apps, many of which of course owe their modus operandi to Cubase. So, how does this market-leading DAW keep things fresh? Existing users already know the answer, and that is the regular annual updates. These are typically paid-for updates, which is somewhat annoying. However, there are usually some good new features to tempt us and Cubase 11 will hopefully be no exception.
In cm290 we provided an extensive breakdown of the new features which include new plugins, SpectraLayers integration, MIDI Key Editor improvements, improved stem exporting, enhanced sampler track options and better score editing, and here we’re going to pick up on that and see how they perform. But first let’s have a recap of what exactly you’re buying into. If you’re new to Cubase, there are three paid-for versions (see boxout), so if you’re not ready to commit to the full Pro version there is some merit in starting at a lower level. Remember, all versions are capable of professional results and you won’t lose out financially by upgrading from one level to the next.
Features-wise, Cubase is a cross-platform DAW and has, over many years, developed a formidable and somewhat daunting feature set. It incorporates audio recording, MIDI sequencing (check our explainer opposite for version-based track limits), track automation and real time and offline audio processing. There are a multitude of processing plugins, including MIDI-specific ones. There is also a multifaceted and rather excellent integrated channel strip with six different processors and an EQ focus panel. Mixing is handled via the MixConsole which can be accessed in the bottom panel. Although to reveal its full analogue-inspired glory it can be undocked, and this is great if you’re using a second monitor. If you need a helping hand with audio processing there are also a multitude of categorised track processor presets that load chains of preconfigured plugins.
From a workflow perspective Cubase combines a core project window with various additional zones and windows, some of which can be undocked and floated. The main project window incorporates an arrangement timeline in the middle with various editing-related panels below. This is flanked by the VST instrument rack and MediaBay browser in the right zone and track or editor Inspector in the left zone. Some editing including automation, clip settings and even MIDI via the In-Place Editor can be done in the main timeline section, but detailed editing is usually done in the specific panels which include the MIDI Key Editor, Score Editor, Drum Editor, List Editor and audio Sample Editor. Finally, the layout of various windows can be saved as a Workspace. Thankfully, this very established workflow remains in Cubase 11.
Finding your way
On the creative front there are eight bundled software instruments including the samplebased workstation HALion Sonic SE 3, virtual analogue Retrologue 2, the granular and spectral synthesis Padshop 2, and the beatboxinspired Groove Agent SE 5. These dovetail with a plethora of categorised instrument presets. Meanwhile should you want more sounds, full versions of the included SE instruments as well as Steinberg’s flagship HALion 6 instrument can be purchased via various add-on bundles. In addition to the instrument-based content, Cubase includes as standard an extensive and varied sample, construction kit and loop library. The amount of content you get depends on which version you buy, but even Elements gets a sizable chunk of sample sets. Packs include their own blend of individual hits, loops and MIDI loops. By using the two support apps – Download Assistant and Library Manager – you can choose which packs to install and where to stick them. One further creative feature is the Sampler Track, an update of which is discussed below. This innovative, sample-specific track provides a quick pathway from audio file to keyboard triggered sample playback and with drag and drop simplicity, even from a MIDI instrument track, it’s incredibly easy to use.
Whether you’re dealing with MIDI or audio, the editing options in Cubase are impressive. Features include multiple take comping, audio warping with quantise, MIDI and audio part in place rendering, group editing, timestretch, monophonic pitch correction (VariAudio 3) and audio alignment. There’s also comprehensive musical notation and score editing. Cubase supports Audio Random Access (ARA), so certain softwares such as Melodyne and SpectraLayers can be used without leaving the Cubase project window. Further handy options include the Control Room, which provides a software-based system for monitoring, cue mixes, talkback and so on. There’s also track import from both Cubase and Nuendo sessions.
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