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This article was originally published in issue #47
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Much of the work in Cubase is done in the Project window were we have tracks laid along a timeline.
Very comprehensive features
Mixer History Undo
New Frequency EQ
Takes a while to learn
Different ways to do the same things can be confusing until you learn to ignore them
Andi Picker welcomes the latest version of a very old friend.
For those of us who record onto computers, our DAW is pretty much the centre of our studio world. I’ve used Cubase since 2002, and over the years I’ve learned some parts of the product really well, some less well, some pretty much not at all, and I’ve doubtless forgotten all about dozens of great features that could save me hours every week. What I do know for sure is that there’s far more to it than a single article can cover in any sort of depth, so for this review I’m going to skim over the major components of Cubase Pro and look at some of the new features that have been added in V9.0.
Much of the work in Cubase is done in the Project window were we have tracks laid along a timeline. Some hold audio and MIDI information, others are buss and effect tracks or control tempo, time signature, automation and arrangement details. The optional Inspector allows direct access to routing, plugin slots, EQ and more, and each track has controls for automation read/write, mute/solo, effect and eq bypass and other options. Individual tracks can be shown, hidden, coloured and put into folders which helps manage large projects, audio, MIDI, timing and automation data can be edited, and you can arrange and re-arrange song sections, directly in the project window. Double-clicking an audio or MIDI channel in the project window opens a dedicated editor, and there’s even a Score editor for producing and editing notation.
The other 'main' view in Cubase is the Mixer where channels are presented as a console, with easy access to level faders, panning, insert and send plugin slots, EQ, routing and various grouping options including Group channels and VCA faders.
Most views are highly customisable; windows can be floated, and Workspaces allow us to save views of our project and jump to them as needed, so we might have a full screen Project Window, a full Mixer, a combined short mixer overlaying a Project Window, and so on. Multi-option loudness metering is available and can be floated over any of the other windows, and the Control Room lets us control outputs independent of the main mix-buss, so that switching between different sets of speakers, balancing them, and adding plugins such as room-correction software can be done in the monitor chain without effecting the actual mix – it doesn’t sound very exciting but it’s fantastically useful in practice!
One thing that can be a little confusing with Cubase is that there is often more than one way to achieve a goal; new features are added that make certain tasks easier (grouping channels for example), but there were often older methods that allowed a similar result. Users of software tend to moan, a lot, if our favourite tricks stop working, so they get left in place and can lead to a product that doesn’t seem to be as slick as some younger programmes.
Certainly, Cubase’s long history plays both for and against it; on the one hand it can seem as though different parts of the product work in different ways (and sometimes actually look quite different), but on the other hand it has a very comprehensive set of features. Some years ago users of certain DAWs, including Cubase, suffered from 'Plugin Envy' where some competitors seemed to have better sounding native plugins. As things stand today, Cubase’s effects and virtual instruments are complete enough and sound good enough that I have a number of rather expensive third party plugins suites that I simply don’t use any more, and some of the performance features for creating natural sounding parts with virtual instruments are literally first-class.
Recently, we’ve had a new version of Cubase every two years, with a x.5 release in between. This can make some users feel as though they’re on a bit of an upgrade treadmill, but it does mean that the developers have to keep finding ways to make the “new” version better than the previous one, and there’s usually a flagship feature or two to be found in a new release.
What’s new in V9.0?
Lower Zone – some DAWs have had something similar to this for a while now, but new to C9 is the ability to open a docked lower zone on your monitor that can show editors, mixer, chord pads or controls for the sampler track – depending on configuration. This is one of those new features that overlap with what you could already do with workspaces, but it’s a simple and elegant addition.
Mixer Undo – for me, this THE big one – undo history for changes to plugins, eq, levels etc. made in the mixer view. A massive plus!
Sampler Track – drop an audio sample onto the sampler track, open the editor in the Lower Zone and add spice. Again, you could already do this, but this is easy, and it’s right there in the Project Window
Frequency EQ Plugin – the Frequency EQ plugin is a new favourite – highly configurable with M/S and linear phase options and auto-listen (to let you a particular band in isolation) for each band. I’m pretty sure this is retiring a bunch of my plugin EQs.
Stability – not very exciting, but Plugin Sentinel scans plugins at startup to help protect your system from 3rd party problems; goes hand-in-hand with the divisive decision to run a 64 bit only environment.
….plus Multiple Marker Tracks, extended cloud collaboration tools, updated Maximizer plugin, Audio In to VST3 instruments supporting side-chain for advanced sound mangling, new Autopan and updated control panels for several older plugins and more.
Any modern DAW has so much going-on that a single review can barely touch it. Cubase Pro 9.0 is a major step forward in some ways – Mixer History Undo is a massive feature, something that we simply could not do previously. Other updates make life easier, the Lower Zone and Sampler Track streamline workflow for those who use them, and the plugin updates are most welcome. There will always be a few 'why didn’t they?' questions, like 'why didn’t they' remove the nonsensical 8-insert limit? And someone’s sure to mention the continued use of the dongle, but I guess we need something to look-forward to in C9.5.
I’ve used other DAWs that have impressed me, but I use Cubase day in and day out, and for me this is well worth-while upgrade. Overall, a well worthwhile update to a world-class DAW.
There are three versions of Cubase 9.0; Pro (skimmed-over here), Artist and Elements. The differences are quite detailed, so check here for a full comparison.