(click thumbnail)In the eight years since its introduction, Steinberg Nuendo has matured into a full-featured, high-end studio and post-production workstation system — one that is increasingly recognized by post and studio engineers as an attractive alternative to the reigning Digidesign Pro Tools. A major push towards the post-production market started in earnest with Nuendo 3, so it is no surprise that it is in this area of Nuendo 4 ($1,799) that the most competitive and impressive strides are made. Ladies and gentlemen, start your audio engines...
Hustle and Flow
Nuendo 4’s default layout and workflow are quite intuitive, allowing new users to get up and running with a minimal learning curve. The program generally follows the traditional DAW layout with a timeline-based Project editor and associated channel-strip mixer. These are augmented by a number of fixed, floating and pop-up tool sets and dialogs. Digging a little deeper rewards users with a tremendous amount of custom control over Nuendo’s look and operations, thanks to its expansive Preference, Key Command/Macro and external Sync/Control dialogs.
(click thumbnail)Main WindowNuendo uses a 32-bit floating-point audio engine, has delay compensation throughout (including external hardware), supports up to 192 kHz/32-bit recording (plus import, editing, and mixing up to 384 kHz.). The cross-platform DAW supports all 32-bit versions of Windows XP, Vista, and Mac Universal Binary. A 64-bit “preview” version is available for Vista 64, and a Mac Leopard counterpart is in the works.
For a complete rundown of general features and specifications, please refer to Steinberg’s website; also check out. PAR’s previous Nuendo reviews, which are available at www.proaudioreview.com.
Natural Scale Enhancement
Nuendo 4 includes a wealth of enhancements that span the gamut from expanded editing tools to a spanking-new, first-class automation system. Composers will be pleased with a new global Transpose track that significantly speeds up the process of roughing-in, rescaling or repurposing cues. Transpose affects all events and parts; though it is easy to exclude elements, and changes can be limited, bypassed or compared. An Arranger track also helps to quickly build up longer composition frameworks — sections of the timeline can be quickly defined and then reordered, repeated, chained, queued and/or triggered in various ways. Arrangements can later be “flattened” to the timeline for traditional editing, overdubs, transpositions, etc.
All users will enjoy the 38 new and generally multichannel-aware VST3 plug-ins. While the previous fare provided utilitarian coverage, I have found the VST3 plugs to be on par with — and occasionally superior to — the best third-party plug-ins. My fav new processing perk is the terrifically improved 4-band parametric channel equalizer that replaces the previous rudimentary model. The EQ — built into every mixer channel — now includes a variety of high- and low-pass, shelf and parametric filter choices, filter-inverse switch, and an excellent GUI.
Studio, post-production, location, live
New in N4: comprehensive automation; extensive media management; 38 new VST3 plug-ins; expanded routing options; track presets; quick controls; unified instrument tracks; dedicated post editing tools; 32-bit Vista PC and Universal Binary Mac compatibility; expanded Euphonix EuCon integration.
Steinberg | www.steinberg.netPost and design editors will appreciate the 20 dedicated editing commands and tool modifiers that N4 brings to the desk, including heads/tails, range-size and positioning and cross-track alignment tools. An enhanced EuCon adapter (optional) further expands MIDI, automation, routing, and plug-in integration between Nuendo and Euphonix consoles and controllers. General post features including MP3 surround support, audio and video pull up/down, replace audio in video, file conforming, split-timeline and personal favorites Edit Mode (video scrubs while moving and resizing events, adjusting fades, etc.) and comprehensive Control Room speaker management/cue/TB section add to the power and speed of posting in Nuendo.
Several of the new items that have topped Nuendo users’ wish lists for some time will also go far to make Pro Tools users feel more at home. Most notable is the ability to copy, move and reorder plug-ins via drag & drop, thoughtfully implemented throughout all relevant sections of the program. Also of note is the native support of plug-in side-chaining that is part of the new VST3 spec, plus a vastly expanded channel routing system that, among others, permits the recording of FX returns and groups to audio tracks for stems. And there was much rejoicing!
Automatic For The People
The richly expanded automation system not only wins the “Best in Show” award, but significantly ups the ante for the competition as well. The customizable control panel at center of the automation system is notable not only for the new features — the majority of which mirror those found in Euphonix’ excellent System 5 series — but also for its clean, touchscreen-like design that provides at-a-glance visual feedback of essential control states.
The range of Fill tools are particularly handy for finding a desired setting and then retroactively writing that value throughout a designated area. Fill To Start and To End writes the “punch-out” value (the last recorded value when a control was released) in the direction indicated; Fill To Punch fills from the punch-out point back to the punch-in point; and Fill Loop uses the punch-out value to fill the area within the L/R “loop” markers.
In earlier versions, all controls related to a mixer channel were affected when its Read or Write button was engaged. A new Suspend section permits seven different control subsets — Volume, Pan, EQ, Sends, Inserts, Mute, and all Others — to be individually excluded from read and/or write operations. A new Virgin Territories mode writes automation data only while a control is actively engaged, and leaves gaps of unwritten, virgin territory in between. Controls simply coast from the end of a written section to the start of the next, and can be freely adjusted within the empty sections. A button is provided to fill in the gaps if desired.
(click thumbnail)Automation PanelPerhaps the most powerful of the new auto functions are found in the Preview section. Beyond the ability to preview, compare (Suspend) and write (Punch) automation changes, punched sections are automatically stored and can be recalled for use elsewhere in the project. A group-select tool with the particularly obtuse name of Touch Collect Assistant writes a data point for all related controls when one member of that group is adjusted (e.g., when an Aux Send is adjusted its On/Off status is also written). This ensures that all relevant control settings, not just the one adjusted, are copied/pasted.
Any of the global write modes (Touch, Latch, Trim and new X-Over) can now also be selected on a per-track basis. While not the most glamorous of the new features, this unexpected gem has boosted the amount I can accomplish per pass by allowing a number of tracks to be placed in “set-and-forget” Trim and/or Latch modes, while the tracks on which I am most focused are in Touch.
Logically Managed & Media Savvy
Two other set-piece additions to N4 are the Project Logical Editor and the MediaBay database system. Similar to Steinberg’s staple MIDI Logical Editor, the new PLE enables the use of logic-based filters, operators and functions to automate simultaneous changes to edit-window elements. Specific tracks, track types, audio events, MIDI events, automation data (and many settings related to the above) can be targeted using a range of filter conditions, whereupon desired editing and transformation operations can be performed. New and modified logical routines can be stored as named presets, and these can be assigned to a key command and/or called directly from other macros.
- First-class Euphonix-like automation and expanded EuCon integration
- Many new post-production tool sets & features
- Comprehensive media management system
- Lacks decent edit- and mix-channel linking/hiding
Nuendo Version 4 is without a doubt the most ambitious and rewarding upgrade to date.When the logical filtering abilities of the PLE are combined with macros (which draw from a nearly full range of program commands), powerful new utilities — such as application-specific conforming, automated ADR alignment or multitrack drum quantizing — can be crafted. As an avid user of custom macros and key commands — in conjunction with a Radikal control surface and a couple of PI Engineering’s excellent X-Keys USB controller/keypads — I am very excited about the timeline-element specificity added by the PLE, and the creative and labor-saving possibilities it affords.
On the utilitarian front, Nuendo 4 includes many new media file and preset management tools. The sheer number and variety of seemingly redundant management features — MediaBay, Loop Browser, Sound Browser, Sound Frame, Search Media, Project Browser and the original Project Pool — was a touch confusing at first, to say the least, but the pieces fell into place eventually.
The first key to making sense of this apparent mess is that the above named are, for the most part, spawned from the same omniscient entity called the Media Management System (managed file types include: MIDI; video; Track, EQ and plug-in presets; sound effects, loops and samples; and all project-related files and data). MediaBay is the primary user interface for organizing, tagging, searching and auditioning system-wide and project-related files/data. The MediaBay has expansive search and sorting options, and supports auditioning of files at project-tempo and in sync with the project transport.
The second key is that Nuendo historically has emphasized user flexibility, especially when it comes to accessing preference settings and menu commands via shortcuts and hardware controllers. To that end, many of the aforementioned dialogs and browsers are simply stripped-down subsets of the MediaBay, which makes access to specific data quicker and more control-surface-friendly.
Sound Frame is the link between the database system and the expanded set of objects and locations throughout the Nuendo GUI that permit the storage and recall of presets. Presets relevant to the selected object type can be stored, tagged, edited, and/or searched using the MediaBay dialogs, or simply browsed, previewed and recalled using a simple list. Portions of presets (e.g., just the EQ) can also be extracted from complete Track presets. A healthy collection of already-tagged and categorized presets for all of the above object types is included.
(click thumbnail)Automation PanelGlad You Asked
On my wish list for Nuendo: expanded implementation of the [Alt/Opt] modifier as used to affect selected tracks (e.g., as it does now when setting multiple-channel I/O’s and automation write mode, but not when adding plug-ins, setting tracks to Read/Write, record etc.); integrated edit conforming/matching for replacing scratch-res files and matching video cuts; allow the tempo track to be displayed in the timeline like the Marker, Arrange, and Transpose tracks; and build the Project Logical Editor conditions and commands into the macro interface (as line items or subroutines).
Lastly, one niggle — please implement the automation write-mode-per-track function on Group and FX tracks — and one old rant: the program’s woeful channel linking and hiding hasn’t effectively improved since N2. Nothing can be added or subtracted from a link group; linking can’t be bypassed/re-engaged; links can’t overlap (e.g., an overheads and an all-drums group); and there is no visual indication of which channels are linked. The barely useful “Can Hide” function (Now Convoluted With Command Targets!) are no more than Band Aids. Still only one group of user-selected channels — those set to “Can Hide” — can be hidden in the mixer display, and there’s no option for this to affect the edit-window track display. Steinberg, please take a moment to look at PT’s elegant, unified linked-channel and channel-hiding section. Rant over.
Nuendo’s speed and exceeding flexibility has been a breath of fresh air, especially following a decade of avid PT use (which I necessarily continue to use when working in area facilities). Integrated features such as networked processing, multi-room and multi-seat project sharing, IP-based collaboration, built-in support for all major project exchange standards and media file formats, and the development-friendly VST plug-in spec all serve to reinforce the open nature of Nuendo. And, of course, as a native application, users’ systems can be configured to specific needs using the wide range of computer components, audio and video interfaces, clocks, and DSP plug-in cards available on the market.
Nuendo Version 4 is without a doubt the most ambitious and rewarding upgrade to date. Though its multitude of new post and management features — including top-notch automation and media management systems — have kept me busy with the books for months, I’m looking forward to see what Steinberg will do for an encore.
REVIEW SETUP: I principally used Nuendo 4 on a quad-processor XP Pro system that also includes two TC PowerCore and two Universal Audio UAD-1 DSP cards, an RME Fireface 800, a DeckLink HD video card and a Radikal SAC-2.2 control surface. I also added N4 to a backpack Nuendo kit comprised of a dual processor Dell laptop, a TC PowerCore Compact, a Frontier AlphaTrack controller and a mini Pelican case to protect the Hub o’ Dongles.