Review: Cubase Pro 8 by Steinberg

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A new year and a new version of one of the one of the oldest DAWs in the market. A brief example how a good thing can become even better.

by Alex Arsov, Jan. 2015

 

A Brief History of Time

I have a long history with Cubase. I also have plenty of other DAWs on my computer, but there are some specific features that keep me coming back to Cubase over and over. I end up making most of my projects exclusively in Cubase. First of all, Cubase has one of the most detailed MIDI editors in the PC market. Also, so far, at least for me, it proves to be one of the best DAWs for working with large number of big audio clips.

Over the years Steinberg has added many useful functions that make my music-making process much more effective. For instance, there’s the arranger track that can work wonders if you are unsure about the structure of the song, trying various combinations on the fly. It is actually a very interesting alternative to the Clip system that some other, more electro-oriented DAWs have. The arranger track has some advantages, making it easier to see the big picture, especially if you are working with longer structures, or more rock-oriented songs. Additionally, there is audio quantization offered directly from the arranger window. Then there are track versions, suitable for experimenting with different intros, outros or breaks. Of course, there’s the chord track for all of us who slept through most of the classes in music school. VST Expressions 2 allowing you to change attributes, like pitch or modulation, to every note in a MIDI chord separately. And my favorite is VariAudio 2, for taming pitch issues on bad vocals or adapting a melody to the song key when using various trumpet, vocal or other sorts of audio samples that come with sample packs or libraries. And let’s not forget the harmonizer that can automatically add some harmonies to your main track, duplicating the main track and re-pitching it to regular thirds, fifths or some other harmonies. Also, Cubase has always offered a very detailed audio editor for audio clips, one that has covered all my audio needs over the years, eliminating the need for other third party audio editors. All these functions and additions are pretty crucial when you want to do something as fast as possible, achieving best results at the same time. But the truth be told – there was and still is a room for improvement.

Current Time

Old Cubase – what a nice fairy tale, but the Boogie Man part begins when you complete the final phase, finishing the arrangement and preparing everything for the mixing stage – I always lost some quality time adding group channels, routing synths and guitars through group channels, recording channel by channel, since there was no other way to render MIDI or even audio parts. Now Cubase Pro 8 finally offers a render function with a nice selection of options. Now you can finally bounce all those tracks with a single click. I know that Steinberg advertises some other options as the most desired and sexy in this new creation, but trust me, rendering is something that makes this version really special.

Another thing that made me a bit unhappy with previous version is the track equalizer. It was good but not good enough, so I was forced to use third party equalizers on every channel. Cubase 8 has finally added an additional low and high cut filter band with various slopes along with the standard four EQ bands, not to mention a spectral analyzer and a “mouse over” display of note pitch information. Now you can even type a note pitch instead of frequency and the EQ band will jump automatically to that location. I know that many people complain that Steinberg doesn’t listen to their users, but it looks like that this is not the case anymore.

VCA faders are another new addition that can make our life a bit easier. VCA fader is a mix fader that you can add to selected number of channels to control the general volume of the whole group. In a past we had a link option for that task, but VCA faders are much more flexible because they allow you to adjust volume relations between the linked channels without ungrouping them first (as it was the case with Link option).

Talking about groups, it is now finally possible to select more channels and add groups to them. The only thing that I still miss is the ability to route new channels automatically to the appropriate group when the new channel is inserted inside the grouped channel.

I will still continue to use my S-Gear, Amplitube and Guitar Rig, but have to admit that the new VST Bass Amp along with VST Amp rack from a previous version have become truly useful and mature guitar amps with all sort of effects, amps, cabinets and microphones, sounding at least as good as those other aforementioned products (considering that every of the named products has its own color and sound). The new VST Bass Amp is pretty light on CPU and is definitively sounding good enough to end up in my main song template.

The really good news is that we get Groove Agent 4 SE Acoustic Agent with Cubase 8. This is a much more advanced drum sampler than Groove Agent One was, and it contains a very good sounding acoustic drum kit, having a nice number of editing options and it even comes with twenty different sets of a drum patterns. You can change those patterns on the fly with XY editing window, changing the intensity of playing with X scale and adding or reducing some beats in pattern with Y scale. The best part is that you can easily drag and drop MIDI patterns inside the Grove Agent 4 SE pattern window, just as you can simply drag them from Groove Agent 4 SE to the arranger window. The bad news is that there are some problems with 64-bit version of Acoustic Agent, so it is pretty hard to find that Acoustic kit, but I presume this will be fixed with the first update in the near future. More bad news is that you are forced to manually install Grove Agent One if it happens that you have some projects that contain Groove Agent One. It would be a much better solution if Grove Agent 4 SE could load those old Groove Agent One tracks automatically.

More good news is the dockable MediaBay, which offers a much faster approach to using VST instruments and all the presets, sounds, loops, MIDI files and similar “Search and you should find” trumpery. After a while I found a way how to browse through the directories in the docked MediaBay, but as soon as I selected audio file, the docked MediaBay switched view back from “Local Hard Disks” to “Samples” or “Rhytmic Loops”, therefore I should have selected Local Hard Disks in the drop down menu again, pressing the “Deep Results” button at the right and browsed through all the disk until reaching the next directory. The only shortcut is to press the “Browse Containing Folder” upper arrow in the left corner several times to arrive back at the root directory. If it sound complicated – it is complicated. OK, I’m running version 8.0.0, having had the privilege to use the very first release, so I presume this should be also fixed in the near future.

Quadrafuzz 2 with four band distortion, Multiband Envelope Shaper, Multiband Expander and a very updated Multiband Compressor are tools that make a difference. I already blessed some tracks with Quadrafuzz 2, which adds nice strong distorted color to a clean or already-distorted clip. It avoids sounding annoyingly cheap and too aggressive in the high frequencies like many other digital fuzz and distortion effects often sound. Also, the Multiband Compressor has become my new best friend. It looks somewhat different than the previous version. Actually the whole of Cubase Pro 8 looks somehow more up to date, more modern. I know most of the audio geeks claim that the sound and not the appearance is important, but if you are sitting in front of the program for several hours, day after day, then I presume it is not so unimportant to feel good and comfortable, not staring in something ugly and dated.

More and More

A new MIDI tempo detection capability is something that will definitively make my life much easier. It was really much too time consuming to find the right tempo before starting to record a new song. I was always concerned time that I would forget what I had played previously, thus improperly setting the wrong tempo for the upcoming recording. Chord Pads are also a welcome new addition for all those producers that are not particularly skilled with harmony. I don’t have many problems with harmony, but find this addition useful anyway, as it brings me some new ideas.

I forgot to mention a Constant Delay Compensation button, a very useful one that will compensate all plug-in delays when you are recording new material. It works fine with keyboards and guitars, but what is most important is that I will finally be able to record a vocalist using all effects without listening to constant complaining about they are so dry during the recording session and if there really is no way to record with some effects. So, switch on effects and then be prepared to listen to a new set of complains that they can’t record anything with a ten millisecond delay. Never-ending story. Thanks Steinberg for this one. You have made my day.

VST Connect SE 3 looks like a great addition. I haven’t tried yet, but I presume that VST Connect SE 3 will become my best friend. I live in a small city 50 km out of capitol, while most of my vocalists are from the capitol or even further. In the past, Dropbox was my VST Connect SE 3, so can’t wait to work on my first vocal song in Cubase 8 to try this feature.

Far from unimportant is the news that Steinberg rewrote the whole sound engine. The new version of Cubase will use significantly less CPU than the previous version. At least some well-known mastering plug-ins will not kill your machine anymore. More tracks and more effects for everyone – liberté, égalité, fraternité!

There are also a few other new additions aimed to improve the work-flow – the new tuner. And then there’s the plug-in manager with which you can save various combination of plug-ins in groups and then select which groups are to be viewed as default in your track inspector whenever you are looking for a new effect or instrument. Wave meters, an option for displaying upcoming events in a shape of a wave forms inside the Cubase Pro 8 mixer.

Cubase Conclusions

Steinberg has released several implementations in last few years which make this program feel more and more like a real sound-recording studio. Also from version to version, they finally tamed some things that users have complained about for a long, long time. Cubase 8 brings some essential improvements, adding some additional tools that make this DAW totally self-sufficient. So it is definitively worthwhile to upgrade.

Optimization of CPU usage, render in place, VCA faders, improved channel strip EQ, direct routing for group of tracks, effects or VCA tracks along with new Groove Agent 4 SE plus three new multi-band plug-ins along with a new dockable MediaBay have made this update pretty essential. They did it again.

Of course, there is still room for improvements. It would be nice if additional MIDI outputs in multitimbral instruments could be directly linked with additional audio outputs. I hope this is just overlooked by Steinberg and will be fixed soon.

Also it wouldn’t hurt if we can have an option to stretch just one or two hit-point lanes directly in the arrangement window after the quantization. Sometimes it happens that in a whole take only one beat was stretched to the wrong lane, and I’m not really keen to slice the whole track for taming just one beat. And my last wish – that “Automation follows Events” comes as a default option, not making me poke around on Google trying to figure how to set this simple “one-click” solution.

But in spite of all my complaints, this update is a true life saver. An excellent program has become even better, offering drastically improved work-flow options along with adding some great specialized tools that are usually available only through third party vendors. You can update from previous version for €99.99 EUR or buy a new one for €549 EUR. There is also a Cubase Artist 8 for €299 EUR, a streamlined but still very powerful version.

All you need is love… and Cubase Pro 8, of course.

More info about Cubase Pro 8 can be found at:

http://www.steinberg.net/en/products/cubase/start.html

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