Steinberg Cubase 6 Digital Audio Workstation

Intuitive in its classic "analog" aesthetic, CUBASE 6 is both affordable and "top-ofthe-line" in its most powerful incarnation to date.
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Since its reintroduction a decade ago, Cubase has been through a crazy set of name changes. Originally, Cubase SX was the full-blown version, while Cubase SL was the version with a limited feature set. When Version 4 was released, Cubase SX was renamed Cubase and Cubase SL's name was changed to Cubase Studio. Version 5 retained Cubase and Cubase Studio but added the entry-level Cubase Essential. Now with Version 6, Cubase remains Cubase, but Cubase Studio is now Cubase Artist, a somewhat scaled-down version that has limitations regarding track count and various features.

Steinberg Cubase 6 at House of David Studio on Music Row, Nashville. Photo by Konrad Snyder

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Yes, it's all confusing, and, no, the seemingly never-ending name changes probably weren't good ideas, but hey, that's the story.

Today, Cubase 6 is Steinberg's all-inclusive, top-of-the-line music production DAW.

It is clearly more powerful than any Cubase version to date, and its radical approach to MIDI, highly developed multitrack editing tools, new comping feature, VST3 support and all new interface make it very attractive.

Features

While Cubase 6's installation itself only requires a single DVD, the total Cubase 6 package includes six DVDs: the Cubase installation disc, a video tutorial disc and four discs of trial Steinberg software (Halion Sonic, Halion Symphonic Orchestra and the Grand SE 3). I must also note the Steinberg Software channel on YouTube: a super resource for information about Cubase and other Steinberg software.

Cubase 6 features an updated appearance that both improves workflow and is visually appealing. I especially like the way parts are displayed in the Project window. Previously, parts were drawn as solid blocks of color where now they're drawn with linear gradients that make it much easier to distinguish parts on the various tracks, especially at small track heights.

Cubase 6 marks the first time Steinberg has offered both 32- and 64-bit versions of the application for Mac users (Windows users have enjoyed the benefits of 64-bit for some time) and at the same time, support for Power PC-based Macs has been dropped (it's about time to trade in that old Mac anyway). Upon installation, Cubase runs in 32-bit mode; to take advantage of the 64-bit power, you must use Finder to Get Info on the Cubase application and uncheck the "Open in 32-bit mode" box.

Operating as a 64-bit application with Mac OS X 10.6 increases the addressable amount of RAM from 4 gigabytes to an amazingly large 1 terabyte. Plug-in bridging allows the older 32-bit plug-ins to be used in 64-bit mode. It's interesting to note that when using 32-bit plug-ins in 64-bit Cubase, while the plug-in appears to be running inside Cubase, it is actually running in a separate VST Bridge application that automatically runs alongside Cubase.

If you aren't aware, Steinberg is the creator of Virtual Studio Technology (VST), and Steinberg Cubase 6 utilizes VST 3.5, the latest VST version; it includes a host of new capabilities such as VST 3 controller, Note Expression support and VST Expression Maps integration.

Programmers, musicians and remixers who spend substantial time working with MIDI data will love the power that Cubase 6 provides. Never before has a workstation included so many creative tools that make the manipulation of MIDI data both quick and creative. At the top of the list is Note Expression, which works within a graphical interface to provide an easy way to assign, create and edit multiple controller values by allowing controller values to be drawn directly onto single note events in the Key Editor.

Since every individual note event includes its own set of controller data, even polyphonic-sounding notes can now be dynamically controlled. If Note Expression data has been recorded for a note or if you want to create Note Expression data from scratch, double-clicking on the note in the Key Editor opens a mini Note Expression editor for that specific note. If more than one note is selected, then the editor will display the Note Expression data for all of the selected notes. The Draw and Line tools can then be utilized in a way similar to creating or adjusting automation data to create the appropriate parameter shape. Once the Expression Data for a note or notes has been created or edited, you can close the editor by simply clicking outside the window. In addition to being able to visually edit Note Expression data, it can also be manipulated in the Logical editor.

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Cubase 6's integrated Score Editor simplifies notation implementation and includes full support for lyrics, remarks, drum notes, guitar tablature, lead sheets and comprehensive scoring features making it ideal for composers. The VST Amp Rack is a flexible and quality-sounding convolution-based guitar amp and effect suite that provides tons of options for recording guitars direct.

Cubase 6 has several powerful tools for the beat producer. The Groove Agent ONE drum machine combines ample sound design capability with powerful drum sampling while allowing users to import sliced loops and MPC kits. It also includes several acoustic and electronic drum kits. The Beat Designer step sequencer makes groove programming quick and easy, allowing the quick and intuitive programming of individual drum patterns, and LoopMash 2 lets you creatively work with loops and create constantly new, seamless groove variations of available audio material. Steinberg's MediaBay is a wonderful way to organize and store samples and loops; it is also ideal for users that frequently jump from one computer to another, as MediaBay data can be stored on an external drive, making it easy to carry sample content from studio to studio.

While Note Expression is likely the most significant function of Cubase 6 (at least from a programmer's standpoint), there have also been improvements in the area of working with multitrack audio that will put a smile on any engineer's face, the first being Group Editing. The new Group Editing mode makes it easy to edit multiple tracks within a folder. Once Group Editing has been enabled on a folder, if a part or event on a track within that folder is selected, all parts and events on every track in that folder that share the same start and length times will be automatically selected regardless of any other group settings that have been defined.

As long as the tracks are from part of a true multitrack recording, edits that are applied to one track within the folder will be applied to all of the corresponding tracks within the folder. If the folder includes parts and events that aren't part of a single take, Cubase informs you, "The tracks in this folder are not completely in sync. Group editing could fail." Once a part or event within a folder is selected, Group Editing can be toggled on by pressing "K." The "Move Selected Tracks to New Folder" command simplifies the Group creation process.

Cubase 6 makes comping easier than ever. When recording in the Cycle mode, Cubase instantly creates a Lane Track for each take. After recording the desired number of takes, selecting Show Lanes displays all of the lanes below the track. Every overlapping event is displayed in a separate lane with the first pass on lane one, the second on lane two, etc. — very much like Pro Tools' playlist view. Events that don't have playback priority will be grayed out, making it clear what sections of what take comprise the composite take. Playback priority can be changed between takes by simply clicking on a grayed-out section to add it to the comp. If you only want to use a small portion of a take (even a syllable or two), the Range Selection tool can be used to select the desired portion of the track and double-clicking moves only the highlighted portion into the comp.

Cubase provides two ways to correct pitch during the recording process: the PitchCorrect plug-in allows intonation problems to be corrected in real time, and the VariAudio plug-in goes a step deeper by allowing a monophonic vocal track to be edited as if it were a MIDI part by adjusting the pitch, note length and timing position of each note. Detailed drum editing is possible with a special toolset that provides the ability to tweak the rhythm and feel of live drum tracks by incorporating new transient and tempo detection, phase stable audio quantization, and drum replacement functions.

The toolset does an admirable job of detecting single hits, rolls and ghost notes faster and more accurately than ever. The actual drum performance can be quantized and used in the session and/or the Hit-point-to-MIDI function can be used to replace or double the live drums. The new tempo detection algorithm makes it easy to accurately determine the tempo of any rhythmic audio material, thus making it possible to create a tempo map from a performance that wasn't recorded to a click track. Working from a tempo map allows rhythmic audio material to be quantized just like MIDI data.

Cubase's Control Room function is a software-based monitoring system that includes four studio busses for individual submixes, full talkback and metronome integration, and four monitor setups. It allows the selfrecordist to set up headphone mixes, toggle between monitors and connect external playback devices without a console.

Automation has been greatly improved with Cubase 6, which includes a dedicated automation panel for easy access to all of the automation functions, making it quick and easy to automate a mix. Cubase 6 allows up to 128 physical inputs and outputs, eight inserts per channel, 64 effects sends, 256 groups/busses, and unlimited routing between audio channels, busses, groups and FX returns. The program's systemwide automatic latency compensation automatically synchronizes every audio stream in the system.

The Cubase surround architecture makes it easy to mix in 5.1 surround from the ground up or easily take a stereo mix and convert it to surround (unfortunately, 5.1 is the only supported surround format). All of the Cubase 6 VST 3 plug-ins support surround and intelligently adapt their I/O configuration as necessary for mono, stereo or surround.

In Use

I loaded Cubase 6 onto multiple computers: the ADK Pro Audio Intel Core i7-2600 3.4 GHz PC with 8 GB RAM running Windows 7; an Apple MacBook Pro 2.33 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 3 GB RAM running OS X 10.6.7; and a Sony Vaio 2.27 GHz Intel Core i3 Laptop with 4 GB RAM running Windows 7. In each instance, installation was a breeze, and all three systems were able to handle sessions with large track counts (64+ tracks) without any problems.

I found the VST Amp Rack to be a great tool for recording guitar. I'm a real amp die-hard, so I'd never replace real amps altogether, but there are often times during a mix when someone decides that we need one more guitar part in the bridge, last chorus or something like that; the VST Amp Rack is a great way to get a killer sound without hauling a bunch of guitar gear into a mix session. I found that having the ability to choose from 16 classic stomp boxes, seven distinct amp models, six speaker cabinets, and two microphones provided enough sonic flexibility to adapt to any situation.

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Repairing a drum performance in a minimal amount of time is always a challenge, and I was anxious to see how Cubase's new tools would stack up to the task. I took a rough (rough is an understatement!) drum take from a demo I recorded several years ago and went through the process of creating Hitpoints, then quantizing the audio. The Quantize Panel has an extra set of controls to set the Slice Rules that specifies how slices are created from the Hitpoints. This is where Cubase shines as it allows different sets of Hitpoints to be created on different tracks, and then a master set of Hitpoints can be created by setting Priorities for the different tracks. The audio slices truly do quantize as if they were MIDI data, and the Crossfades section did a fine job of smoothing over the gaps ensuring that the end result sounds like an actual performance, although there were a couple of instances where gaps weren't resolved and I had to do some manual tweaking to make it work.

I found Cubase's overall feel and workflow to be natural and intuitive. Project compatibility is seamless between all of the Cubase 6 derivatives, meaning: Cubase Artist 6 songs can be opened with Cubase 6 and vice-versa. This is true between Mac and PC platforms as well. I experimented moving songs between Cubase 6 on Mac and Cubase 6 on PC and the transition was immediate and flawless.

Integration between Nuendo and Cubase song files was also flawless with one exception: I wasn't able to open a Mac Nuendo song using Cubase on a PC. Steinberg has assured me that this is theoretically supposed to work; however — evidently as is so often the case — PCs and Macs don't always play nice together, even when they are supposed to. Interestingly, I was able to open a Mac Nuendo song with Mac Cubase and I was able to open a PC Nuendo song with PC Cubase.

As is the case with Steinberg's Nuendo, I've found that Cubase does a wonderful job visually and mentally re-creating the feeling of working in the analog realm. It's no surprise that so many analog die-hards have found themselves using Cubase and/or Nuendo. Like Nuendo, Cubase allows you to have multiple projects open simultaneously. Clicking the Activate Project button in the desired project makes that project active (only one project can be active at a time). This makes jumping from one song to another amazingly quick in comparison to other DAWs.

Summary

Cubase 6 is a perfect tool to take a song from its initial creation through to the final mix. It includes a plethora of virtual instruments and sounds, making it easy to create professional-sounding accompaniments. Quality EQ, reverb, compression and de-essing plug-ins provide the tools to easily manipulate audio performances. The user interface is more polished than ever before, the Key Editor is amazing (leaps and bounds beyond what either Logic or Pro Tools have to offer) and with the stable performance, 64-bit support and new features, Cubase 6 should be a top consideration to any studio in the process of selecting a DAW.

Russ Long is a Nashville-based producer, engineer and mixer as well as a senior contributor to PAR.