Review: Cubase 7.5 by Steinberg

Alex Arsov left Cubase some while ago for another. But in a chance encounter with Version 7.5, his old steady won him back. He tells us all about his change of heart.

by A. Arsov, Mar. 2014

I grew up musically with Steinberg, but because of some money issues I stuck with version 5. And last year I decided to switch to a competitor’s DAW, as they offer some better solutions for some details that bothered me with my old version of Cubase. Obviously the Steinberg team took very seriously that decision of mine, taking a deep breath, rolling up their sleeves and nailing all the issues that bothered me. Not only that, they even implemented some really new elements that I hadn’t expected, and, what’s more, they made me feel like I was being an idiot, as they changed so many things that I didn’t even know how to use the sequencer I knew for so many years. So, it was my turn to roll up my sleeves, take a deep breath, watch various “what’s new” video tutorials…. And a week later I’ve decided to switch back to Cubase. Not that I necessarily had to do that, as at the end of the line I just got it for reviewing purpose, but seeing all the improvements and new additions, I knew that this will not be just a one-night adventure.

The first thing that sold me on Cubase 7.5 was a new mixer: It gives you the impression of being in a real recording studio; actually the whole new version gives that impression, the feel of a really big recording studio. It is mainly a matter of work flow. To be honest, that is the only thing that I’m interested in – achieving the best results in the minimum time. So no more clicking endless buttons to see insert or send effects. Also, the possibility to have a row with a track equalizer where you can quickly fix some settings, or just copy it with a right-click and paste it onto any track, is a real bonus (or maybe I should misspell it as a “boner” as I’m not a native English speaker 😉 ). There is a Q-Link button for temporarily linking the channels, all varieties of buttons for quickly selecting or deselecting various things, and an easy way to add or dismiss parts of the mixer window, along with the ability to hide some channels with just one click. All that makes this part of the sequencer very usable and user-friendly. And almost not to mention is the channel strip where you get all the essential controllers designed in an old-school, classic studio console style: EQ, compressor, noise gate, EQ position, Envelope shaper, Saturation (using Magneto 2 plugin) along with a limiter. You can activate or deactivate them with just one click. Nice and easy.

The new, simple, one-click audio quantisation is a heavenly addition for such a skilled instrumentalist as I am. Every new audio track is automatically blessed with hitpoints (hitpoints are markers separating audio signal relatively to the attack).

Instrument Track 2.0 fixed something that bothered me with Cubase for a long time: Finally I can load multitimbral instruments directly into the arrangement window, adding a new track, selecting the input and using other instruments on other channels, or track lanes, without leaving the main window.

The “good” old VST Channels window is now only for fine-tuning some parameters. I read something about that, but I haven’t opened it too much, as I did that so many times in the past that I have fulfilled my “VST Channel” quota for three next lives.

The View Agent works also in the arrangement window. In the past I always made some folders, calling them “unused” or “already used.” Now I can just disable the track in the View Agent window, and it is not presented in the arrangement window any more. Nice and easy. Suddenly my songs look far less crowded, as I disabled the view for a whole group of MIDI channels.

Track version is another “thank you, Steinberg” solution, as my CPU always went crazy when I copied a track with all virtual amps and effects just to record some new alternative version of the phrase or the whole track. Now you can just click on a track name, adding the new track version on the same lane, using the same effects and instruments. It works for MIDI tracks the same as for audio tracks.

Maybe all those things don’t sound important for you, but finally I’m not a problem solver any more. I can finally concentrate on music production. (With a little help from the new Cubase addition called “ASIO Guard” – “Nomen est omen” or “The name is the sign.”)

There are also big improvements in the Score field. You can now use almost the same functionality there as you have for MIDI: audio arrangement part, quantizing, changing note length etc..

VariAudio 2 allows you to build additional harmonies automatically, adding transposed track versions of your original audio take. We even have the option to make additional harmonies that follow the song harmonies, which brings us to the new harmonisation tool, the chord track. At this point I should tell you that some of these things are added in version 7, while others are added in the newer version 7,5. But for me, as I’ve missed two upgrades, everything is fairly new.

The chord track is a tool that can help you find a new chord or develop your harmonies, leading your song into a totally new direction. Chord Assistant offers you plenty of additional tools, even suggesting to you a chord between two other, taking into consideration only the first one, or alternatively, both of them. Dragging a chord from the Chord track to a MIDI event on any other channel leads to a harmony change according to this dragged chord. Actually you can rearrange the whole song using the Cord track. Err… not that I need this, but err… ah… it is a fantastic feature for all of us that thought that music theory has some sort of an unpleasant smell. This way or another – Chord track has become my good friend.

Effects and Instruments

Halion Sonic SE brings plenty of new useful sounds and instruments. Due to the fact that Steinberg was bought by Yamaha, Cubase brings a bag of new sounds and instruments from version to version, and most of them are fairly far away from being there just for increasing the numbers. Halion Sonic SE also brings the feature that I’ve missed for years in all samplers, from hardware to software: A sound preview before you use it. Every sound is automatically loaded when you press it, so finding the right instrument is not a nightmare any more. Halion Sonic SE brings a very impressive number of all sorts of instruments, from various drum kits, through some atmospheric ambient sounds, basses, guitars till my favourite, a beautiful collection of electric pianos. Halion Sonic SE also offers some additional functions that are not usual for sample players. Actually it is also a synthesizer, as it offers, for some synthesized sounds, almost all the controllers that average virtual synthesizers have. Secondly, on the sampler side, it offers to you the selection of a playing range, layering some instruments, along with ability to add internal effects on every channel and essential ranks of filter amplifier controllers. Anyone familiar with Yamaha instruments will know what to expect from this big little fellow.

Padshop is a pleasant surprise as it comes with a full bank of inspiring, nice-sounding, evolving pads which can be used in almost any production. As it is a sample-based synth, it offers a big number of additional controllers, so you can even further manipulate those sounds, no matter that they already sound surprisingly good.

The next new instrument is Retrology, a beefy retro synth, nothing revolutionary really, but far from being useless. I found some nice basses, unusual synths and similar retro bestiary.

Groove Agent SE4 brings fresh air, adding plenty of new options for taming every separate bit in every provided drum kit. It is an MPC sort of drum sampler, and with this new version it is absolutely one of the most advanced in the market with new kits and a new editing window on the right side where you can fine-tune drum hits by changing the pitch, shape, filter, amp, ADSR, and layers. The previous version was pretty useful, but was somehow limited in the editing field, while this one proved to be the ultimate MPC substitution.

More and More

There is also a new convolution reverb, ReValation, adding some additional controllers that we’ve missed in the old ReVerence, putting the whole thing on a whole new, more professional level. We got back Magneto, this time coming in an even better shape as Magneto 2, and if you count in the new Re-record mode which allows you to immediately start recording again from the same position as you started before, you’ve got a full bag of tools that makes a producer’s life much easier.

I still haven’t tried VST Connect SE 2, a tool that offers synchronisation between two computers running Cubase, allowing you to cooperate in real-time with other musicians working on the same project in real time, including recording a vocalist on other side of the globe.

More or less, those are only new things that come with this and the previous versions. Cubase had already offered some unique tools: A very advanced option for finding the best take out of various versions of the same recording, extra expressions inside the MIDI editor which allow you to add various expressions only to the chosen note inside the chord, a list editor where you can go into the tiniest detail inside your MIDI track, multitrack audio quantisation, advanced tempo detection, a browser with excellent search options, and an audio editor where you can fix a great number of issues.

Talking about audio, I almost forgot new life-saver issue: Detect silence under the Audio/Advanced menu. I imported audio steams from another sequencer and suddenly got an ugly mess of tracks inside Cubase. (It happens that some sequencers don’t have an option for exporting clips in a compatible format that another sequencer can read. Cubase supports all sorts of formats, so it is not a Cubase fault.) A few googled moments later I found this Cubase option, and after selecting it and applying it to all tracks, I got a very well-structured arrangement in a tiny little moment. It saved my day, as I’ve decided to import the whole new album back to Cubase.

Producer’s Choice

That’s what they say on Steinberg site. It is not far from the truth. Cubase offers all the tools that you need for recording, mixing and mastering your projects. So far, so good, but the problem in the past was that you have to do some workarounds and even use some third-party tools for fulfilling your tasks. Not that Cubase doesn’t have such tools, but they were not on so professional of a level. The main thing that Cubase 7,5 offers is the improved workflow with improved basic tools. It has become a mature professional studio. It gives the impression of big old recording studios. The new instruments could be the ones and only ones that you would need to make a song, and the same goes with effects. Also, it brings more and more things directly to the arrangement window, adding some really exotic but very useful ones to the upper menus.

Is there anything that could be better? Anything that some other sequencers have and Cubase still doesn’t? Of course, but I will not write about that, as I figured out during all those years writing about various sequencers, that all those companies are like those young girls at a party. They are always looking discretely at each other under the skirt, trying to find out what the competition is wearing, so they will figure it out for themselves, implementing those things in future updates. But at the moment, Steinberg convinced me to switch back from “we will not talk about this girl here at this party now,” and I’m back in the saddle. Time is money and with Cubase everything could be done as it was back in those days when we were hanging around in various recording studios. Even better and faster now. When I’m doing my songs, I want to record things and not to browse through the menus, trying to solve the bottomless bag of so called “issues.”

That’s why I like Cubase, and that’s why I like Ableton Live. They don’t cover the same field, and they have very different approaches and intentions, so they could live cheek by cheek, happily ever after without being direct competitors. But when you use them, it is like driving a Cadillac. Pure joy. Everything can be done on a very pro level in no time, leaving you enough spare time to spend with your family instead of sitting in front of the screen repeating nonsense tasks over and over (like doing an old-school audio quantisation, note by note).

Cubase 7,5 is THE recording studio, a workhorse that can swallow the whole symphonic orchestra without making a single hiccup. Making a project with the new version of Cubase is like listening to Ramones album. 1, 2, 3…. Do you want one more? Let’s go 1,2,3….

More info at http://www.steinberg.net/

Cubase 7,5 could be yours for 599 eur  (full version)

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