Steinberg Nuendo 5 Digital Audio Workstation: A PAR Feature Review

Ten years after Nuendo V.1, Steinberg releases Nuendo 5, the most comprehensive and powerful version of their audio production platform to date.
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Nuendo 5 Photo: Konrad Snyder

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Ten years after Nuendo V.1, Steinberg releases Nuendo 5, the most comprehensive and powerful version of their audio production platform to date.

By Russ Long

Included in this substantially improved version of Nuendo 5 is a host of new features and improvements that make the platform better than ever -- especially to users regularly working with sound for picture.

Features

Nuendo 5 records at sample rates up to 192 kHz, utilizes 32-bit floating point processing and supports up to 256 inputs and group channels. The platform’s VST Bridge enables 32-bit VST effects and instrument plug-ins to be used in the native 64-bit version.
Nuendo is compatible with Mac and PC computers. Mac systems must have Intel Core processors running OS X 10.5.8 or 10.6 with CoreAudio compatible hardware. PC systems must have at least a 2GHz processor, Windows 7, Vista or XP SP2 (32-bit) systems with DirectX or ASIO compatible hardware. Both systems require 1024 MB RAM, a display resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels, and 4GB of free hard disk space. QuickTime 7.1 and a video card supporting OpenGL 1.2 are required for video playback. Native Nuendo 5 64-bit support under Microsoft Windows 7 increases the addressable RAM from 2 GB to 1 terabyte, translating into more tracks, plug-ins and sound library samples; this makes Nuendo possibly the most powerful DAW platform in existence.

What’s New?

There are simply too many updated and new features in N5 to cover in a single review, so I’ll hit some pertinent highlights. Current Nuendo owners should be aware that this is not just a minor update but rather a completely new build of N5 that is easily worth the upgrade price several times over. The purchase price is somewhat high for new users, but the low upgrade price makes upgrading a must.
ADR (Automatic Dialogue Replacement) engineers can rejoice as Nuendo’s new ADR toolset simplifies the ADR process by providing a workflow that includes EDL support (Nuendo 5 reads CMX 3600 and CSV formatted EDL lists) and improves handling of takes, markers and spotting. Engineers can now comprehensively spot and organize recording takes by using a flexible marker track system that supports up to 32 marker tracks. The new network access and collaboration features allow Nuendo to record, play back and copy files from workstations or library servers, making it easy for multiple engineers to work on the same project.
The new QuickTime-based video engine guarantees stable video playback in SD and HD. Not only does it provide better performance, but also the ability to play videos in real-time via FireWire. Previously available only on Mac-based Nuendo systems, this is now available on Windows systems as well.
The new Clip Packages feature was designed specifically for sound editors as a new way of organizing and handling audio as clusters of files across multiple tracks. Clip Packages can be inserted at any location in a project and can easily be ported into another workstation. The Clip Packages files can be previewed, retrieved and archived via the networkable Media Bay built-in file-management tool. MediaBay includes a graphically reworked user interface that increases usability. Its Previewer allows the user to select a region of a sound event and then drag it into a project. The MediaBay is also helpful for file organization on external hard drives and for indexing and accessing tagged sound libraries. Sound editors can capture a catalog database via indexing the library, containing all tags and metadata and the index will reside on the external drive. When the drive is connected to another Nuendo workstation, the catalog (Volume Database) is instantly accessible. MediaBay is capable of finding all kinds of files for the user; all available audio and MIDI files and clip packages plus loops, VST presets, and more are easily searchable via MediaBay.
The enhanced Automated Batch Export functionality allows multiple files to be exported in one go. Exchanging audio files with Pro Tools is now simple with the ability to convert dual-mono tracks into stereo-interleaved files or vice versa while retaining edits and fades within the audio material.
The updated mixer now includes fully automatable routing for up- and down-mixing (from stereo to surround, and vice versa) and waveform readouts can now be viewed in the mixer window. The new automatable bus-destination routing system allows users to create different mix versions in a single pass and the new automation system is based on an enhanced pass-system that is shown as an undo-tree and enables the user to recall and compare different passes in order to find the ideal automation matching to the material. Nuendo provides seamless support for interfaces and third-party controllers such as Smart AV, Euphonix and WK Audio.
Nuendo is perfectly suited for location recording and has been faithfully used to capture the audio for a wide range of broadcast work ranging from the Grand Ole Opry to the Academy Awards and American Idol. Nuendo 5 introduces several features to expand the workstation’s strength in this area. The large Remaining Record Time display allows the user to instantly check the remaining recording capacity at a glance and, like other popular DAWs, Nuendo users can now simultaneously arm every track by using one of the new key commands introduced to speed up workflow. The Lock Record feature prevents the record button from being accidentally disabled while recording and the Project Backup Function conveniently stores and archives a hardcopy backup of a project.

In Use

I received Nuendo pre-installed on an ADK Pro Audio Intel Core i7 3.33GHz PC with 6 GB RAM running Windows 7. I also installed it on my MacBook Pro and, in both instances, it worked perfectly (although it was obviously much faster on the ADK PC). Most of my use on the ADK was in the 64-bit mode and its performance was quite impressive. For example, before working on any music, I created 100 new audio tracks in a new 24-bit, 96 kHz project and put all 100 tracks into record (each recording a tone from the same source). I’m used to a couple of seconds of buffering time when recording only 20 or 30 tracks with Pro Tools at 44.1 kHz, but all 100 tracks went into record immediately and ran for over 10 minutes without a glitch. I suppose it would have run all day but I couldn’t wait any longer to start using Nuendo to mix some music.
I’ve found that there’s something magical that seems to happen when I work with Nuendo. More than any other DAW, Nuendo does an amazing job recreating the feeling, both visual and mental, of working on an analog console. Although Nuendo has never been my primary DAW, I have used it regularly since its inception and I think it’s fantastic. Part of the ease of using can be attributed to its delay compensation, which is calculated automatically and is sample accurate (and it automatically includes any delay incurred by converters and external processors). Nuendo also supports macros, which makes it easy to apply unique and complex command sets with a single keystroke.
The new Wave Meters allow audio waveforms to be displayed in the channel strips in the mixer window. Initially this didn’t sound like a desirable feature but after using it for some time, I found it makes the mixing process more natural than ever before; it eliminates the need, in most instances, to switch to the arrangement window during the mix when I find myself focusing on fader levels and plug-in adjustments.
Although this isn’t new to Nuendo 5, I love that I can have multiple projects open simultaneously. In direct comparison to other DAWs, this makes jumping from one song to another amazingly quick. I also love the folders and how they simplify project organization of even the largest projects.
Nuendo 5 includes over 50 plug-ins, most of which are based on Steinberg’s unique VST3 technology. The already proven Mix 8to2, Mixer Delay, Test Generator and SMPTE Generator plug-ins are now available in the VST3 format sporting the same feature sets but with an updated GUI. I love the sound and flexibility of the REVerence convolution reverb (the world’s first VST3 convolution reverb processor). The only downside is that it’s extremely processor demanding but it works wonders on vocals, drums and acoustic instruments and it includes 70 responses. The De-Esser does a fantastic job eliminating unwanted sibilance and the PitchCorrect plug-in makes vocal tuning a breeze. The Studio EQ and Vintage Compressor are my go-to EQ and compressor. I have yet to find an application where these plugs don’t work.
While I haven’t had a chance to do a surround mix with Nuendo 5 yet, the new Surround Panner offers extraordinary surround panning including parameters for on/off axis movements, 180 degree counter shots and numerous alterations of the surround field, making it easy to create movement within the surround field according to camera pans. Nuendo’s equal power technology allows a signal to be moved between the speakers with no volume variations. It is easy to see why this platform has played a major role in so many recent blockbusters such as Coraline, The Hangover, Sex and the City, X-Men: Wolverine and 2012 as well as dozens of award-winning commercials and video games.
Steve Bishir (engineer for Aaron Neville, Martina McBride, Steven Curtis Chapman, Vince Gill) spent a couple of hours walking me through his own Nuendo workflow, which is quite impressive. He concluded by telling me this: “I’ve worked with all of the [DAWs] and Nuendo is simply the most intuitive platform available.”

Summary

Nuendo 5 sounds great, is highly intuitive and perfectly suited towards work in music and film. If you are already using Nuendo, then upgrading to Nuendo 5 is a no-brainer. If you aren’t, it’s certainly worth your consideration. The N5 release is a milestone that, at $2340.99, is pricey but arguably worth every penny.

Russ Long is a producer, engineer, and mixer. He owns the Carport studio in Nashville.russlong.ws

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Fast Facts

Applications: Commercial Studio, Project Studio, Broadcast, Post-Production, Location Recording

Key Features: New tool set for ADR work; support of EDL lists; supports native 64-bit computing under Windows Vista and Windows 7; VST Bridge allows 32-bit VST plug-ins to be used while operating the 64-bit version; new Surround Panner V5 and more new VST3 plug-ins; reworked MediaBay with networking capabilities; network collaboration for multi-seat projects via LAN or WAN; new trim tool

Price: $2,340.99 list

Upgrade prices: $250 and $500 list (from N4 and N3/N2, respectively)
[Customers who purchased Nuendo 4 between 4/1/10 and 6/30/10 are eligible for a grace period update to Nuendo 5 at a special price. Contact Steinberg for more information. - Ed.]

Contact: Steinberg | steinberg.net

Product Points

Pluses: Fast; track count only limited by computer; intuitive; quality sound

Minus: Expensive (unless upgrading)

The Score: Nuendo 5 is Steinberg’s most advanced and feature-laden DAW to date. This platform will likely see Nuendo increasing its market-share in film and TV production.

Review Equipment:
Apple Macintosh 2.33 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo w/3 GB RAM
Benchmark DAC-1 Converters
Dynaudio BM5A monitors
ADK Intel Core i7 3.33GHz PC w/6 GB RAM
Lynx Aurora Converters
PMC AML-1 monitors
Focal Twin6-Be monitors