Years ago saw Cubase making the leap from the old 5/32 platform to be rebuilt upon the fresh code of Nuendo 1.0. Since that time the two have flip flopped in receiving new additions. Now at version 4, Cubase has a fairly major upgrade in the way of 4.1. Some important new features are included amongst the usual maintenance type fixes and updates. As is the case with most of Steinberg’s Cubase releases it pays to wait until the initial problems are ironed out and the current 4.1.3 is no exception. Bug fixes aside, let’s look at some of the new features the 4.1 update contains.
Cubase’s track inspector is well known and is a major part of the workflow when working with MIDI and audio tracks. The idea is that many of the everyday functions are consolidated into one specific area for greater efficiency. A second inspector now exists, this time in the sample editor. All audio functions now exist under one roof making it easier to manipulate audio without searching around various menus.
This includes the controls for editing the timing of looped material either by warping or a few slicing options. Tempo information can be detected automatically or manually. At that point timestretching can be applied to fluidly adjust timing. Slices can also be generated which would then be quantized to the grid. Steinberg has included enough methods to accomplish the same basic goal which means you can choose one specifically suited to the application that fits best. 4.1 takes advantage of the new VST3 specification in two major ways, both of which will find a lot of use when it comes to mixing duties.
The first is the ability to natively perform side chain with the included compressors. Appearing on the stock compressors is a side chain engage button. When pressed a new routing path will emerge in the effect sends area of any audio channel. Sending some level from an audio track into this path will then direct signal into the compressors’ key input. The advantage of this method is that multiple audio tracks can all contribute to the key signal which allows some freedom and experimentation to develop. Most people will just be using a standard kick drum and of course it works fine with this as well. The only small problem I could see is if more than eight source tracks needed the kick drum.
“Cubase 4 introduced the new Media Bay which ties together all the presets and raw material you would use during production”
As there are only eight sends on a track some kind of work around would have to be performed to get over this limitation. In most cases though eight should be enough and I haven’t personally run into this situation, but it’s something to be aware of. Not only do the compressors have sidechain inputs but some of the other effects sport them as well. Things like flangers and the autopan can also be ‘synced’ via a key input making the response of their effect modulate from another audio source. This is a welcomed surprise and puts the new functionality of the sidechain addition in even better use. All in all it’s about time that sidechain has been added to the Steinberg line as it has been a much requested feature for quite some time, especially in light of Logic having it for years now. Cubase users don’t have to suffer anymore though and with the ability of being able to modulate other effects the wait is more than worth it.
The second big advance with the arrival of VST3 and 4.1 is the ability to freely route audio to and from anything essentially and in any order. This allows sending fx returns to busses and busses to fx returns. Previously the order in which groups were instantiated affected how they could be routed, only top to bottom order, now this is no longer a limitation. Obviously this makes mixing more enjoyable as not as much thought has to be placed on preplanning the order of routing around Cubase’s architecture. It’s never a good thing to come to a stumbling block when in the middle of trying to achieve a certain effect. Now you can enjoy the peace of mind that if a need arises later on in a sessions’ completion that flexibility still remains for any setups that might need to be put into place. What’s even more enticing than the free routing itself is the ability to now record directly from a source such as groups and effects returns.
This opens up a whole new way to get audio into an audio track directly and with some benefits not possible otherwise. For instance many plugins will sound different every time you play some audio through them due to a random nature of their particular effect. This can be troublesome if there is a specific alteration of the sound you are going for. You might hear one thing on live play back but capturing it through an offline bounce might leave you with something else, requiring you to try again and again until the specific randomness you desired is recorded. In addition it might be beneficial to be able to control the interface of the plugin as it is being recorded which is not possible during an offline bounce. This is where realtime recording comes into play. Now you can directly hear the output of the plugin as it’s being recorded to a separate audio track.
While it’s being recorded you can of course move any of the parameters available that are connected to the sound you are working on. What you hear live is what you will get on the recorded track, eliminating the mystery that sometimes surrounds an offline export. In order to tap into the audio of another source you will find any available output in the list of inputs for a particular audio track. Select the one desired, record enable, make sure the output track is ready to play the way you’d like and then record. Just continue recording until you hear something interesting develop to which you can then easily chop out the parts that weren’t satisfactory. Cubase 4 introduced the new Media Bay which ties together all the presets and raw material you would use during production including plugin settings, samples, loops and midi files.
After indexing specific folders (a new feature in 4.1) you can ‘tag’ any of the material in order to find it easier at a later date. Tags can be as simple or complex as you’d like, multiple attributes such as “dark, warm, evolving, key of C” could all be used for a single sample to help narrow a search for such a piece of material later on. With large sample libraries common this is a great time saver, once the initial setup time has been completed. Now you can get the most out of your sample libraries by actually being able to find what you’re looking for!
Another great feature of the Media Bay involves the use of synth presets. Not only can they be saved and tagged like other material but you can also preview them live without having to manually load them into a track. Even more useful is the fact that a chain of plugins can be loaded with them, and then saved, for instance some eq and effects. In this way you could place some initial treatment to a patch for later use, and be able to temporarily call it up based off of tags. A typical scenario would see you flicking through bass presets, which are all derived from different plugin synths, all with their own custom eq and effects without having to load and setup each one into the project. There is a slight delay that takes place when a new preset is chosen, as the plugins all have to be loaded into the background. But overall it’s much quicker and more convenient than doing it manually. As a side note loops can be previewed in time with the project inside the Media Bay somewhat similar to Ableton Live’s feature, although in my experience it wasn’t quite as tight as the former but still good to have on occasion.
“…all of the major things I had wished SX3 to have are now present in 4.1 ”
Track Quick Controls are a new feature which allows easy grouping of commonly modulated parameters residing on the current track. Any effect whether audio or midi contained on a track (both audio and midi) can be setup into one of eight slots in the quick controls panel. Although somewhat useful in this regard the feature really takes shape when used with an external MIDI controller. The included .PDF with the 4.1 update states this is accomplished via MIDI learn. I did not find mention of how this is actually accomplished though and experimenting with the Quick Control panel itself did not reveal a way to directly learn a specific controller number. What I did find though that was with my controller, the Korg MicroKontrol set to the Cubase preset, was the eight sliders on this device corresponded to the eight controls on the Quick Control panel. Exactly how one would go about learning specific knobs or sliders on their controller is something that must be taken up with Steinberg’s support it seems.
To facilitate certain arranging needs two features have been added to affect the contents of the project. Firstly is the Global Transpose which allows you to raise or lower the whole tone or key of the project in steps. Both audio and MIDI is affected here and provision has been made to help keep audio within a certain allowable range as to not introduce artifacts that would be unmusical. The previously named Play Order Track is now known as the ‘Advanced Arranger’. Beyond sounding a little more special a few helpful features have been added to the old spec. With this new incarnation parts can be triggered live which helps flesh out ideas for arranging more intuitively than just laying them out manually as was the case with the previous version.
A few playback modes have been added as well.
“Normal” simply plays for a certain amount of pre determined repeats, “Repeat Forever” does as the name implies and the loop will repeat indefinitely until the enter key is pressed. Finally “Pause After Repeats” will see the part stopping after the predetermined amount of repeats until a press of the enter key starts the chain back up at the next point. Once you are happy with the results achieved within the Advanced Arranger process a “Flatten” command is also included which will take the created chains and turn them into actual arranged parts. These new enhancements take the initial idea of arranging a track via preset sections of your session further and I hope that Steinberg continue to develop it into something as fluid as Ableton’s scene to arrange method.
Last stop in this review is the new Logical Editor functions. Previously limited to just MIDI parts, now pieces of the project itself can be processed through the same IF/THEN statements that the MIDI Logical Editor uses. For instance all parts with the name “Drum” could be muted, or all tracks that are ‘audio’ might be chosen to be deleted. Creating your own presets will take a little time to get used to, especially if you haven’t used the Logical Editor much before. But some handy time saving functions can be performed here and there are presets to get you started. Lastly the ability to load multiple projects is now enhanced with the “Activate Project” dialog. Upon loading a second or more projects you are asked if you would wish to activate this project or keep the current one active. In this way you can still open a project for copying parts over without having to wait for all of the plugins to load which would be an unnecessary wait.
After having skipped Cubase 4 update myself, due to the older SX3 still doing the job, 4.1 has brought in enough new features to finally pull me away from that workhorse and step up into what is a very capable and flexible work environment. I would have to say that all of the major things I had wished SX3 to have are now present in 4.1 and I am very curious to see what Steinberg has up their sleeve for the next major update. At this time I cannot think of anything that important I would like to see added to the current version of their Cubase sequencer. The inclusion of side-chaining, free routing, and recording has made a big difference in my day to day audio mixing operations. The rest of the new features all help to really round out this package into something that makes getting the job done during a typical session a real breeze.