Steinberg GRM Tools VST Plug-In CollectionTo quote right from the packaging, GRM Tools is a collection of four unique and creative plug-ins for PC and Mac VST. Because the collection is marketed by Steinberg, it integrates quite effortlessly with Cubase VST.
GRM Tools goes beyond the stock VST plug-ins that come with Cubase. These allow the producer to depart from the effects normally used in music production (such as reverb, limiting etc.) and experiment with tools used in elaborate sound designing. Many audio effects in motion pictures and science fiction television can be realized using GRM Tools.
Because GRM Tools is VST-based, it will work in any host program with VST-compatibility, not just Steinberg software. I used GRM Tools in a SAWPro session utilizing the Innovative Quality Software VST Linker found in the SAW effects patcher.
The four GRM plug-ins are Bandpass, Comb Filters, PitchAccum and Shuffling. In Cubase, all can be applied as mono or stereo processors, accessible from the Windows pull-down menu. All can be stacked in any order in the Cubase effects rack.
Three of the four programs have an interactive window with a sphere floating in 2-D space. You may quickly change several parameters by mouse-clicking the sphere around the window, while listening to the changes occur in real time, or reasonably close to it.
The first effect, Bandpass, consists of linked (or unlinked), sweepable high- and low-pass filters. A pair of horizontal sliders at the bottom of the window set the filter cutoff points. A button switches between Pass and Reject, converting the plug-in into a notch filter, if desired. The stereo version of Bandpass allows different filter blends on each channel.
The Comb Filters take some practice to nail down. Try a few of the presets first to hear what happens and why. Fifteen sliders on-screen determine the center frequency, resonance and low-pass rolloff for five frequency bands.
I found that setting the resonance controls to full made the filters ring slightly, adding an almost autoharplike effect to source audio. Pulling down the master low pass slider resulted in a choked harpsichord sound. And when a frequency slider is centered on a drum sample in a loop, the pitch of the drum really jumps out.
PitchAccum is what a turntable would sound like if Sybil ever got her hands on one. It transposes, delays, crossfades and modulates whatever goes into it, and what comes out the other end, much like Sybil, has 40 distinctly different personalities. With two pitch transposers and a feedback delay line, PitchAccum will ramp audio up or down in speed and pitch, feed it back into itself, change phase and mix it back into the original audio.
The Shuffling plug-in is reminiscent of the Time Scramble function found on Eventide Harmonizers, Shuffling is a random micro-splicing algorithm that grabs signal fragments and drops them into definable points along the timeline. The overall integrity of the time sequence does not change; a two-second sample remains at two seconds.
In small doses, Shuffling will flange. In large doses, it carves out some sizable fragments and reassembles them into unworldly audio, thanks in part to transposition, delay and feedback settings. Sliders for fragment size, envelope and density determine how much audio gets chopped up and where it goes.
GRM Tools is a remarkable and relatively inexpensive set of plug-ins for VST. The new avenues for creativity it offers within a host audio program are striking. Plus, it can be dropped in alongside the stock VST effects now found in the Mac or PC versions of Cubase for added texture.
GRM Tools for VST is right for broadcast effect creation, film and TV post production, as well as electronic/experimental music creation. Use it to develop your own CD of special zings and zaps for radio promos, or to just mess with drum loops for your next techno CD.
—Alan R. Peterson The most recent incarnation of Cubase by Steinberg — Cubase VST Version 3.7.1 for Windows (and its Mac counterpart, Cubase 4.1) — includes the same powerful MIDI sequencing, printing and audio recording features found in earlier versions, while adding a clever feature called Virtual Studio Instruments.
The digital equivalents of classic analog synthesizers and drum boxes can be patched into tracks as desired. Cubase then generates some meaty bass lines, very retro arpeggiated passages and drum grooves.
Traditionalists may not like computers trying to overthrow their precious MiniMoogs and Linndrums, but it does bring the world closer to one-box solutions for sequencing, mixing and sound generation on the PC platform.
Product PointsApplications: Integrated audio and MIDI recording and editing for musicians, multimedia authors, sound designers and broadcast/jingle production.
Key Features: Internal virtual music synthesizers, extensive VST plug-in effects, integrates with other music software.
Contact: Steinberg North America at 818-678-5100
+ Mixer screens emulate full console
+ Stackable VST effects
+ In-depth MIDI and audio editing features
– Windows latency issues
– Full manual is on CD-ROM
The Score: An extremely versatile, stable and powerful MIDI sequencer/ audio editor for both PC and Mac platforms.
I reviewed Cubase VST 3.7 ($399) along with GRM Tools, a separate set of VST plug-ins from Steinberg and the Institut National de l’Audiovisuel (INA) of Paris. For the purposes of this review, the two Cubase versions are essentially identical.
The combination of Cubase VST and GRM Tools (see p. 32) caused some happily warped audio to pour forth from my mad basement workshop.
Running Cubase VST requires a software key (dongle) to be connected to the computer’s printer port. The small plastic block is packaged with the software and the dongle must be in place to run the program.
Cubase VST offers up to 64 digital audio channels, as well as unlimited MIDI channels. You may insert four EQs per audio channel (thanks to Steinberg VST plug-in technology), along with four insert effects, eight global effects and eight auxiliary sends. Its bigger brother, Cubase VST/24, provides 96 channels of audio, as well as support for 24-bit/96 kHz operation and TC Native reverb. Both versions have notation editing and printing as well. VST Score ($549), adds some tasty professional-level scoring and layout. VST/24 ($799) has the same pro level scoring as VST Score. Cubase VST, however, does not have scoring features.
One of the biggest advantages of Cubase VST is the ability to patch full, independent processing across all 64 audio channels. This means I don’t have to save up for that elaborate mixing console that I don’t have room for downstairs.
The plug-ins let the user hang a nice limiter atop a dynamics-impaired vocalist, as well as perhaps drop a noise gate into that hum-filled guitar track and then soak the whole thing in a reverb bath. Cubase lets you add what you want to individual audio tracks or the entire master mix, all in software.
Naturally, this kind of processing requires a considerably robust PC to support all the processing decisions going on. Minimum system requirements on the box show a 200 MHz Pentium; a bump up from the P-133 version 3.6 needed to run.
My evaluation was done on a Pentium II-333 with 64 MB RAM, but I would opt for a faster processor yet, with a RAM cache of 128 MB or greater, and some peppy hard disks as well. Do not try driving this much audio off that old 850-megger in your 486. Make the leap to an affordable 450 to 800 MHz PC or look into a Mac. Cubase runs great on both.
Like many MIDI/audio sequencing programs, Cubase VST records and edits in tracks. The Arrangement window is where you lay your audio files and MIDI parts, then go ahead with your copy/cut/paste/punch-in decisions.
The only time a track isn’t called a track is when you open the Audio Editor window, which has you dealing with lanes. Each lane represents an audio channel and its accompanying waveform. Do your edits here then bounce back to the Arrangement window to place the audio back in the mix.
Click open the EQ and Effects window to modify the tonality of each audio track. Again, you get four bands of parametric EQ per audio track, along with the four insert effects and eight effect sends for reverb, chorusing or other desired effect. There are also the VST dynamics, which include auto gate, auto level, compressor and soft clip. These are included on every audio channel.
Cubase VST uses a slick feature called ReWire to sync patterns and audio created in external audio programs such as ReBirth, Propellerhead’s killer techno-toy software that emulates bass-line synths and classic drum boxes. Run ReBirth with Cubase VST for added texture to your music compositions.
Cubase also comes packaged with Neon, the first in a line of Virtual Instruments for the Steinberg product line. This is a cute little virtual two-oscillator synthesizer with a resonant low-pass filter and full ADSR controls. It can be patched across any of the MIDI tracks from the Windows pull-down menu.
By and of itself, Neon sounds pretty plain vanilla, with only a few tweakable controls accessible from the on-screen panel. But remember, its output can be sent through any VST effect you can patch into the channel. A pile of distortion, some reverb and flanging made my Neon sound like a monster killer. Other virtual instruments are now available, such as the Model-E synthesizer with a very MiniMoog-ish appearance, the LM4 24-bit/96 kHz drum module and the Native Instruments Pro-Five synthesizer fashioned after the Prophet 5 by sequential Circuits. Your appetite will be more than whetted for now with Neon.
There is an issue of latency to be concerned about, but this is more a soundcard and Windows concern than a Cubase one. For proper audio playback and mixing, Windows needs to buffer a certain amount of audio and MIDI data. This amount of buffering is scalable, depending on the performance of the computer.
With all the background activity going on, Neon may not be heard in tick-accurate real time during recording — you may notice a considerable delay if you try to record a MIDI part with the Neon synth patched in as your instrument. According to Steinberg, the way around that is to try a more modern soundcard with ASIO compatibility, which should reduce latency to a couple of milliseconds. The on-line help could stand freshening up in Version 3.7. I had some difficulty understanding the Arpeggiator, and the Windows “What’s This?” question mark icon should have come to my rescue. When held over every element of the Arpeggiator, it returned the message that there was no Help associated with the item. (According to Steinburg, a PDF file in the documentation explains everything one needs to know about the arpeggiator—Ed.)
Steinberg enclosed a 280-page “Getting Started” mini-manual with the CD-ROM and dongle. If you want the big book, go to the CD-ROM. An entire operations manual is published on the disc as indexed Adobe PDF documents. You may either print it out in its entirety or just refer to it as needed.
I am not sure how I feel about the dongle or the PDF manual. The software key assures that Cubase VST will definitely run on only one PC at a time, but when a PC contains several programs requiring dongles, the tail hanging off the back of the PC gets ridiculously long. Plus, I’ve never been able to run a PC that has more than three software keys for very long without locking up.
The PDF manual files keep publishing and shipping expenses down — no printing costs for a book and a lighter box to ship — meaning a more affordable software package. A printed manual, however, generally means faster look-up time. I finally had to read up on how that Arpeggiator worked, and would have preferred to flip pages rather than refer to the CD-ROM.
Overall, Steinberg deserves a tall tip of the hat for this latest version of Cubase. My evaluation proved it will run on a generic, run-of-the-mill computer, but for peak performance it should be installed on a dedicated computer, fine-tuned for audio performance with all the nonsense Windows extras turned off. Fast Ultra DMA or SCSI hard drives are needed for glitch-free access and playback, and a high-quality soundcard should be chosen for good S/N specs.
For Mac aficionados feeling ignored about now, Steinberg makes Cubase 4.1 for the Mac as well. With it, you can expect a 64-channel virtual mixing console with 16 groups, and internal resolution as fine as 1920 PPQN.
Cubase VST puts a lot of features and creative control in the hands of the musician/performer with a PC-based studio. The entire project never leaves the computer until it has to, and now a few synthesizers have even been invited inside to the party.