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Monday, November 30, 2020

Steinberg Cubase Pro 8

By Mark Wherry

Cubase Pro 8 in all its glory, playing back one of the construction kits from the included Allen Morgan Pop-Rock Toolbox.Cubase Pro 8 in all its glory, playing back one of the construction kits from the included Allen Morgan Pop-Rock Toolbox.

Cubase 8 combines powerful tools from Nuendo with new features such as VCA faders and the ability to render audio in place.

In recent years, Steinberg have been releasing new versions of Cubase on an impressively paced annual schedule, alternating between major and ‘point five’ versions — many of which have nevertheless introduced important new features. With so much functionality being added in the last few years, it’s becoming difficult to think of features that don’t exist in Cubase that are implemented in competing products with longer release schedules. And if you can think of something, the chances are good this latest version of Steinberg’s popular “Advanced Music Production System” will offer the solution.

What’s In A Name?

The first change in Cubase 8 is the name. Steinberg have often struggled in distinguishing the higher- and lower-end versions by name alone over the years, initially calling the senior program Cubase SX, until version 4 when they dropped the SX. This would have been fine, except the junior version of Cubase, which had been called Cubase SL, became Cubase Studio, and you could be forgiven for assuming the ‘studio’ appendage denoted the bigger version. Cubase Studio later became Cubase Artist, making things a little clearer, but in version 8 Steinberg have removed any possible ambiguity: this new Cubase is now called Cubase Pro 8. For the sake of brevity — and possibly sanity — I’ll refer to the program as simply Cubase 8 in this article. The differences between the Pro and Artist versions are noted in the ‘Artistic Differences’ box.

A Darker Shade Of Pale

The first thing you’ll notice upon launching Cubase 8 is that the Project window has received some interface adjustments, and fans of darkness will be pleased to know that the brightness knob for the application’s default palette has once again been turned down. One thing that irked me about this is that everything in the Project window is now the same dark shade of blue; the Inspector is the same colour as the Track List, which is the same colour as the Event Display and other new elements of the window. At least in 7.5 the Inspector was a bit darker and the Track List and Event Display were a little lighter to give some sense of contrast. And while you can change the colour of the Event Display ‘Work Area’, there’s nothing you can do about anything else.

On the plus side, the Project window has been cleaned up and each area is now neatly placed within a rounded rectangle; yet, for some reason, the developers must have felt the scroll bars were too big, so they’ve been made unhelpfully smaller in the quest to look more modern.

Steinberg have also expanded the abilities of the Project window by making it possible to display either the VST Instrument rack or parts of the Media Bay directly in the window without requiring multiple windows to be open. Simply click the Setup Window Layout button, enable Racks, and the VST Instrument rack will appear in a zone on the right-hand side of the window. (Alternatively, you can set up a Show/Hide Racks Key Command.) Mimicking the tabbed behaviour of the left-hand part of the window, where you can switch between the Inspector and the Visibility controls, once Racks are enabled you can toggle between the rack and a Media Bay view. The Media Bay view incorporates the Locations, Filters and Previewer elements of the Media Bay window, omitting Define Locations and Attribute Inspector.

Personally, I didn’t find the ability to see the rack or Media Bay on the Project window that useful. This is partly because I think you always want to have as much of the Event Display available as possible, but also because I don’t use the Media Bay, and I don’t need to see the VST Instrument rack all the time. Even if I did, the integrated VST Instruments section actually takes up a few more horizontal pixels than the windowed version, which was quite surprising. I’m sure some users will find this useful, though, and I couldn’t help be reminded of Logic Pro when looking at this new consolidation, since that application also gained similar functionality (excluding the Instrument rack) in version 8.

Rounding out the changes to the Project window in Cubase is a cleaned-up Track List. The Track Names are bolder and easier to read, and the controls on the track headers are now organised in a way that makes them feel less unwieldy. Whereas in previous versions the default option was for track controls to automatically wrap themselves based on the width and height of the track header, that option has been removed. Instead, in the Track Controls Settings window, you can now set a width for the track header, and Cubase will decide (based on how many controls you have visible) how many rows are needed to lay out the controls. And a nice touch is that a preview area has been added so you can see what the layout will look like in the Track Controls window, although it seems limited to three rows.

Digital Voltage

One very nice addition to the mixing functionality in Cubase 8 that’s perhaps been a long time coming is dedicated VCA faders. Pro Tools, by comparison, has had them since version 7.2 was released back in 2006. Coming from the dark distant past of analogue consoles, VCA (Voltage-Controlled Amplifier) faders allow you to have one fader that controls the relative levels of a number of faders assigned to the corresponding VCA group.

Now you might be thinking that this sounds an awful lot like existing group channels, which also permit the level of multiple audio channels to be controlled by a single fader. But the key difference is that whereas a group channel fader controls the mixed level of the assigned audio channels, VCA fader channels control the unmixed, individual levels of the assigned audio channels. To understand how this might be different in practice, consider post-fader send effects. If you have a number of audio channels that each have sends to a reverb, and you route these to a group channel, the level of the reverb will remain constant when you adjust the group channel’s volume, meaning the reverb would get proportionally louder as you turned the group down. With VCA fader channels, because you’re turning down the individual levels, the amount of reverb would stay proportional overall.Here’s a  very simple example of using VCA faders where, in an orchestral template, you might want to group the high strings (violins and violas) with one VCA group and the low strings (celli and basses) with another, but have an overall strings VCA fader as well.Here’s a very simple example of using VCA faders where, in an orchestral template, you might want to group the high strings (violins and violas) with one VCA group and the low strings (celli and basses) with another, but have an overall strings VCA fader as well.

As you might expect, Steinberg have incorporated VCA fader functionality into Cubase’s Link Groups feature, which was greatly enhanced back in version 7. To create a VCA group, simply select the channels you want to be grouped in a Mix Console window, click the Link button, and click the Use VCA Fader tickbox. By default this will create a new VCA fader channel for you, but you could also utilise a pre-existing VCA fader channel, which can be created like any other track/channel type in Cubase. And that’s it. My only small gripe is that while in Pro Tools you can do all this from either the Edit or the Mix window, in Cubase this functionality is only available from the Mix Console window.

In addition to having a VCA fader channel controlling standard, output-producing channels, it’s also possible to group VCA fader channels themselves and have them controlled by another VCA fader channel. This can be useful, as the manual suggests, for submixing drum kits, where you want to use a number of VCA fader channels to control relative levels of different parts of the kit, and a further VCA fader channel for the drum kit’s overall level.

VCA fader channels also play nicely with automation by implementing a new type of automation called combination automation.Here you can see an example of combination automation where an audio track belonging to a  VCA group with pre-existing volume automation (top) is being affected by the VCA fader’s automation. The track’s original automation is shown in grey.Here you can see an example of combination automation where an audio track belonging to a VCA group with pre-existing volume automation (top) is being affected by the VCA fader’s automation. The track’s original automation is shown in grey. If you’re recording automation with the VCA fader channel, Cubase will store that automation on the corresponding VCA fader track as you would expect, but it will also write the relevant automation to the tracks controlled by the VCA fader. If there’s no existing automation on those tracks, the automation is written normally, based on the movements of the VCA fader track. However, if a track contains its own independent automation, combination automation is written instead, where the original automation curve appears in dark and a new curve is superimposed, based on the combination of the original automation and the VCA fader track automation.

If you later want to remove a channel from a group that has combined automation, Cubase will politely ask you if you want to keep the combined automation, or revert back to the original automation.

From Nuendo With Love

Following on from VCA faders, Steinberg have further enhanced Cubase’s mixing abilities by importing some features that, until now, have only been available in Nuendo, their high-end package targeted at post-production environments. Introduced back in Nuendo 4 in 2007, Virgin Territories is a tremendously useful addition to Cubase’s automation system, which makes it possible to have non-continuous automation data. Previously, if you had some volume automation on a track at the start of a project and then some automation at the end of track, for example, the value of the last automation event in the first cluster of automation would be held over to the start of the second cluster. This meant that if you wanted to try out something in between, the volume fader would always snap back to the value of the last automation event on that track once you let go.

Virgin Territories, as the name suggests, prevents this situation by making it possible to have territories on an automation track that contain no automation and are not tainted by previous automation events. To enable this mode, open the Automation Panel, and in the Settings, enable Use Virgin Territories. Now, when you enable read automation on a new track, you’ll notice the automation line has completely disappeared, meaning that the whole track is, in effect, so to speak, virgin.Virgin Territories makes it possible to have gaps in automation.Virgin Territories makes it possible to have gaps in automation.>

If you’ve already written automation to a track without this mode enabled, fear not, it’s still possible to create gaps in automation. The manual way to do it (which doesn’t even require Use Virgin Territories to be enabled), is to select the last automation event before you want to create a gap and set Terminator to Yes in the Event Infoline. This will terminate the continuous line of automation, until you want to start writing again. The easier way to do it (with Use Virgin Territories enabled) is simply with the Range Selection tool: select the range where you want there to be a gap and press Backspace.

If you want to fill those gaps later, the Automation Panel gains a few new commands for filling gaps on selected tracks quicker than a trip to the dentist. In the panel’s Functions menu, you can either use Fill Gaps on Selected Tracks, where gaps will be filled with the first values of new automation following a gap, or Fill Gaps with Current Value (Selected Tracks) to fill gaps with the current control value on each given track. It seems a shame these commands can’t be used on a selection of a track, where you could range-select a given gap and use one of these commands; but individual gaps are pretty easy to fix manually.

Route Master

Another useful feature, this time coming from Nuendo 5 (2010), is Direct Routing, which allows you to route an audio-based channel to up to seven additional outputs. You can assign these outputs in either the Direct Routing Inspector Section or in the Direct Routing Channel Rack on the Mix Console. There are eight slots available for Direct Routing, where the first is the channel’s normal output, and Cubase will automatically handle downmixing if you assign a stereo output on a 5.1 channel, for example.

By default, Direct Routing allows you to pick one of the assigned outputs to be the channel’s output, which you activate by clicking on the appropriate output in the Direct Routing Controls. You can even automate this switching so that the output of the channel is switched during playback automatically. However, it’s also possible for a channel to be output through all Direct Routing assignments simultaneously by enabling Summing mode from the Mix Console’s Function menu.

Finally, another feature introduced in Nuendo 5 that is now part of Cubase is wave metering, where, in place of the Mix Console’s conventional level meters, you can opt to see a scrolling summed waveform view of the audio being output. The audio wavefrom scrolls from the bottom of the meter upwards, and a line in the centre represents the current playback position. This means that anything below the line is to be played in the future, which explains why wave metering isn’t available on anything except audio tracks playing back audio files from disk.

Annoyingly, wave metering doesn’t appear to be mentioned in the operation manual and, on checking, nor is this feature mentioned in current versions of Nuendo’s operation manual (since Mix Console was introduced). However, if we go back to the Nuendo 5 manual, there’s an important point about how wave metering is tied to the Disk Preload setting: because less audio will be preloaded when this setting is under four seconds, the waveform will scroll faster. If you set Disk Preload to four seconds, you’ll see more audio in the wave metering, and setting it higher than this makes no difference.

Render In Place

One of my favourite new features in Cubase 8 is one that Logic users have enjoyed for some time. In Logic, the feature was called Bounce in Place, and its purpose, as you might guess, was to enable selected material in the Main Window to be rendered as a new audio file before being added back to the Project. In Cubase, this similar feature is called Render in Place, and Steinberg have taken the concept even further.

One example of where Render in Place is particularly handy is if you have something on an instrument track and want to quickly turn it into audio for manipulation in that domain. Before, you’d have to set the locators around the part, maybe adjust some mutes and solos, use the Export Audio Mixdown command, check its settings, and click Export. Now, you simply select the part and use the Render command (found in the Edit Render in Place submenu, although you’ll probably want to assign a key command). Cubase will then automatically bounce the selected part into an audio file, and then add a new audio track beneath the source material containing the event at the right position, and finally mute the original source — all in one command!

Pretty much anything on a track that produces audio can be rendered in this way, including entire tracks if no part or event is selected on the selected track. And if you have selected material that spans multiple tracks, you even get the option to render the selection to individual audio files or a single one. The only thing you can’t render are tracks that are either empty, frozen, disabled or muted, which sort of makes sense.

To configure how Render in Place operates, a second command called Render Setup opens a window containing two tabs: Render and File Settings.Selecting Render Setup lets you open this window to configure the settings before executing a  render in place.Selecting Render Setup lets you open this window to configure the settings before executing a render in place. I’m not sure File Settings needed a separate tab, since there are only two options — to set the resolution and path of the resulting audio file — but there we are. Under the Render tab there are various options, starting with how multiple events or parts will be handled. You can create Separate Events, where a separate audio file will be created for each selected event or part, or you can create One Event, where all the events or parts on each track are combined into a single event. Finally, a third option lets you render the output as Block Events where, if multiple parts or events are adjacent in the time line, Cubase will combine their output as one audio file, but create separate events for cases where parts and events are not adjacent.

Next, you can specify what signal routing should be included in the render. You can specify the render to be Dry, in which case Cubase renders the output and then transfers the source track’s channel settings and automation to the new track, which is pretty handy. The default option is Channel Settings, where inserts and any channel strip settings (including EQ) are rendered, and only the routing settings (including sends) are transferred to the new track. And lastly, you can specify to render the Complete Signal Path with or without the Master FX.

If you are rendering events or parts from different tracks, you may also have the option to bounce into a single track if conditions are favourable. This option is normally disabled if the channels are routed to different outputs or if one of the channels has a send, although you can normally overcome this latter condition if you’re rendering the complete signal path.

Last but not least, you can specify a name for the resulting file, although it’s probably easiest to leave this option locked so that Cubase creates a sensible filename for you based on track, event and part names. Tail Size allows you to specify for how long Cubase should keep rendering after the selected events and parts have ended, which is useful if you are rendering big reverbs or soft-synth sounds with a long decay. And finally, you can decide what happens to the source after it’s been rendered: do nothing; mute the source tracks, events or parts; or disable, remove or hide the source tracks.

Render in Place is a truly useful tool that will be invaluable in almost any situation where you want to create new audio files from existing material. However, there are two areas where things don’t work quite as you might otherwise like. Firstly, plug-in side-chaining is currently not supported, so the resulting render will include the plug-in, but the plug-in will not receive the side-chain input. Steinberg recommend users revert back to using the Export Audio Mixdown command in these cases. Secondly, if you’re using an instrument plug-in with multiple outputs, Cubase will create audio files (and tracks) for all the audio outputs even if the selected MIDI part is only playing out through one of them. I’m guessing there’s no way for Cubase to know the intended audio output for a selected MIDI Part; and in the case of a drum kit or layered sound, it’s conceivable that one MIDI part might trigger sounds across multiple outputs. Hopefully this is something that could be added to the VST specification in the future, though, making it possible for a host like Cubase to query a plug-in about what outputs are utilised by a given MIDI port and channel. In the meantime, a potential workaround is to enable the Mix Down to One Track option, assuming conditions are favourable.

Chord Padding

Cubase 8 doesn’t only add audio features. Building on the Chord Track functionality added in Cubase 7, which allowed you to define and explore the harmonic structure of a project, Steinberg have added a new Chord Pads interface that makes it more interactive to work with chords in Cubase.The Chord Pads zone, showing chords from a  well-known piece that have been assigned from a  MIDI input.The Chord Pads zone, showing chords from a well-known piece that have been assigned from a MIDI input.

Chord Pads appears in a zone at the bottom of the project window, and is opened by selecting Chord Pads from the Project menu, or by clicking the Chord Pads button in the Chords section of the Inspector with a MIDI or instrument track selected. Once it’s open, you’ll see a number of pads laid out much like a piano keyboard. Each pad can be assigned a particular chord that plays (assuming you have a MIDI or instrument track selected) when you click a given pad, with the output illustrated on the piano keyboard above the pads.

As you hover the mouse over a pad, a number of arrow buttons appears, and you can assign a chord to a pad by clicking the arrow to the left of the pad to open the Chord Editor, which is similar to the Chord Editor used to edit Chord Events on the Chord Track. You can also assign a chord to a pad by right-clicking it, choosing Assign Pad from MIDI Input from the pop-up menu, and playing your desired chord. The pair of arrow buttons on the right of a pad allows you to re-voice the chord up and down the keyboard using various different inversions and spellings, while the buttons on the bottom allow you to add ‘tension notes’ to the chords such as sevenths, ninths, and so on.

Part of the reason the pads are laid out in a piano-like format is that they can be remotely triggered from your MIDI controller. By default, this range is set from C1 to B1, but it can be easily changed by clicking the ‘e’ button to the left of the pads to open the Chord Pad Settings and navigating to the Remote Control tab. Here, you can also assign trigger notes to adjust the voicing, tensions and transpositions of the chords. This works just the same as clicking the up and down arrows on a pad, with the exception of transpose, which isn’t available via the GUI, and a nice touch is that both notes and controllers can be assigned. Taking the tensions as an example, sending a controller value of 0 would mean the chord has no tension notes, and a value of 127 would indicate the chord has the most amount of tension notes. Transpose allows you to transpose a chord up or down in semitones, and you can even use the pitch-bend wheel to do this, which is perhaps more fun than it is useful.

Any trigger notes you assign get indicated by colour on the keyboard above the pads (blue for the remote range of the pads, and green for any of the other controls). You can also activate or deactivate the remote by clicking a button at the bottom left of the Chord Pads Zone.

Although the pads default to a piano-like configuration, you can change this to a grid formation if you prefer. In the Pad Layout tab of the Chord Pad Settings, you can choose a keyboard layout with either one or two octaves visually starting on ‘C’, ‘A’ or ‘E’, for a total of 24 pads, or a grid layout with up to four rows and 16 columns for a total of 64 pads.

All About The Voice

Where using Chord Pads gets interesting is in a feature Steinberg call Adaptive Voicing. If Show Voicing Indicators is enabled in the Chord Pad Zones Function menu (and, as I found out, if the Project window has enough available width), you’ll see a visual representation of the current voicing in the bottom half of each pad. With Adaptive Voicing disabled on a pad, the pad will always play with the voicing that’s been assigned; but if you enable Adaptive Voicing (by right-clicking the pad and enabling Adaptive Voicing), the voicing of that chord will be adapted based on the voicing of the previously played chord to allow for a more musically grammatical transition.

Once Adaptive Voicing is enabled on a pad, you’ll notice the letters AV appear in the top-right of the pad. Now, as you play different pads, you should notice the voicing automatically changing on those pads that have it enabled. If you want to lock all the pads into the voicing of one particular pad, right-clicking that pad and selecting Adaptive Voicing Reference will give it a yellow border and make that pad the reference for all the others.

While this is more of a reference than a function, Steinberg have also provided a Chord Assistant window that gives you a visual representation of relationships between chords.The Chord Assistant showing the Proximity view for the saddest of all chords.The Chord Assistant showing the Proximity view for the saddest of all chords. You can open the Chord Assistant by right-clicking a pad and selecting Use as Origin for Chord Assistant (or clicking the Chord Assistant button to the left of the Chord Pads zone). The Chord Assistant has two views where the first, Proximity, places an origin chord at the bottom-centre of the display, and semi-circular rings of chords around it. The chords on the closer rings represent simpler relationships with the origin chords, while those further away represent a more complex relationship. The algorithm to figure this out is apparently the same one used in the Chord track’s editor when suggesting the next chord in a progression. And indeed, this Chord Assistant view is also incorporated into the Chord Track Editor as well.

The second view offered by the Assistant is Circle of Fifths, where the origin chord is placed in the centre with two rings of chords orbiting it. The inner ring is the circle of fifths with minor chords, while the outer ring is the circle of fifths with major chords, and the origin chord starts in the 12 o’clock position. The chords are presented so that relative majors and minors are kept together. In both views, much like the chord pads, you can click a chord to play it, and you can right-click a chord to assign it to the next available slot.

I really like the musical nature of features like Chord Pads. It’s clearly not a feature that everyone will use, but it’s there, just like the Chord track, if you want to experiment with different harmonic progressions.

Pieces Of Eight

Cubase 8 is another great release from Steinberg that, despite clearly leaning towards mixing and production-oriented features, still has something to offer for everyone when you consider things like improved audio engine enhancements with ASIO Guard 2, improved workflow for those that make use of Workspaces, and Chord Pads. There are the inevitable teething problems (see ‘Trouble On The 805’), but nothing that makes me think I wouldn’t want to be using this latest version. And if Steinberg keep up with their current release schedule, I can’t wait to see what’s in store in Cubase 8.5.

Set Your Windows Free

The first thing those running Cubase 8 on Windows will notice is that the application no longer uses a parent MDI (Multiple Document Interface) window in which all other windows are contained. Instead, taking a more Mac-like approach, you’ll just see a thin window along the top of your screen containing the menu bar, meaning that all of Cubase’s windows are now free to be placed anywhere on your desktop. This improves the workflow when running Cubase with multiple monitors, makes co-existing with windows from other applications more convenient, and finally makes it possible to maximise the Project window in a useful way. But it isn’t without some quirks.

When Cubase is open and no Project is loaded, the new menu bar contains the traditional three windows buttons in the far right: minimise, maximise and close. However, when you open a Project, the minimise and maximise buttons disappear, meaning that the only way to tell the operating system to minimise all Cubase windows is to right-click on the menu bar and select Minimise All, which seems a bit clunky — the Windows shortcut of pressing Alt-space and pressing ‘N’ doesn’t work. At the application level you could also do it by selecting Minimise All from the Windows menu, or by assigning a key command.

One problem I noticed when restoring a minimised Cubase window is that sometimes it will be restored behind other open windows (like a Windows Explorer window, for example), which is a bit annoying. And I’ve observed the menu window go completely white on occasions, although you can still click and hover the mouse over it to access menus if you have the patience.

A side-effect of the new window management is that each open Cubase window now gets its own Taskbar button unless you set the Taskbar buttons to combine in the Taskbar Properties, which I generally don’t like to do, so the Taskbar can become cluttered with open Cubase windows. However, I have the sense that, in time, I’ll probably see this change as an improvement.

A Guarded Welcome

In Cubase 7 Steinberg added a feature called ASIO Guard, which could be enabled to make Cubase’s audio engine more resilient. Now, in Cubase 8, Steinberg have improved the technology and eliminated some of the drawbacks of the initial implementation, such as its incompatibility with multitimbral VST instruments and instruments that used disk streaming. Also, in addition to being able to turn ASIO Guard on and off as before, you can now configure an ASIO Guard ‘level’ between low, normal and high, which presumably dictates how much buffering is going on in the background.

So to see how ASIO Guard performed, I created a simple test project in Cubase 7.5 containing 64 identical instrument tracks. Each instrument track was fuelled by an instance of Halion Sonic SE playing the ‘Yamaha S90ES Piano’ patch, with three insert plug-ins: Revelation, Vintage Compressor and Studio EQ. On my system (detailed in the ‘Test Spec’ box), Task Manager reported that Cubase was using approximately 61 percent of the CPU during playback with ASIO Guard off, and the same 61 percent with it on. This is no surprise, since Halion Sonic SE wouldn’t be supported by ASIO Guard in Cubase 7.5.

Loading the same project in Cubase 8 with ASIO Guard turned off, Task Manager reported that Cubase was now using around 60 percent CPU, which is roughly the same. Enabling ASIO Guard at the lowest level caused Cubase’s CPU use to increase to 62 percent, but setting the ASIO Guard Level to normal brought CPU load down to 53 percent, while at the high level it fell to an impressive 48 percent.

Just for fun, I decided to run the same test on a quad-core Mac Pro running Mavericks. Going from low to normal to high, Activity Monitor showed that Cubase was using around 756 percent, 666 percent (really!), and 615 percent of the CPU resources (where 800 percent is the maximum). The real shock came when I disabled ASIO Guard and the project stopped playing back completely, making me come to the conclusion that, in general, ASIO Guard seems like a good thing. However, I know of others who are getting different results with different systems, especially those running more complicated setups with Vienna Ensemble Pro. So at the end of the day, it’s probably worth playing around with the settings to see what works best for your particular system.

Artistic Differences

In addition to updating Cubase to version 8 and renaming it Cubase Pro, Steinberg have also updated the junior version of Cubase, Cubase Artist, to version 8 as well. Although Artist users get much of the functionality described in this article, some of the higher-end mixing features have been omitted. The list includes VCA faders, the enhanced functionality from Nuendo (Virgin Territories, Direct Routing and Wave Meters), the multi-band envelope shaper and expander plug-ins, and the VST Connect SE3 plug-in.

Problems On The 805

As with all new software releases, there were a few initial problems with the first 8.0.0 version of Cubase at the end of 2014. But Steinberg released version 8.0.5 early in January just as I was finishing this review, which caused me to have to rewrite a few parts. For example, initially Cubase 8 didn’t play nicely with high-resolution scaling on Windows 8.1. This was improved in 8.0.5, although it’s still not perfect and causes the program to look a little blurry. A few other visual glitches were also fixed, including an amusing one where the Project Cursor Line would stay visible when you minimised the Project window.

Other problems I’ve noticed in 8.0.5 include a small issue with the Set Timecode at Cursor command. Previously, after you’d typed in a new timecode, you could click OK and that timecode would be assigned to the cursor position. However, now, the newly typed timecode doesn’t always stick unless you press Return before clicking OK (or pressing Return again). And, while on the subject of this particular command, I’ve always thought it would be great if the timecode field could be highlighted for you when the window opens. That way, you can start typing in the timecode immediately without having to first click into the field.

A slightly more annoying issue concerns the metronome, which has become somewhat temperamental in deciding whether or not it will play the click or not when recording. Sometimes the click will play, sometimes it won’t, and other times it’ll splutter its way in, which is frustrating to say the least for something you rely on all the time. Steinberg are aware of the issue and offer two solutions: firstly, make sure you set the cursor to an exact bar position before starting to record; or, secondly, use the MIDI Click option rather than the Audio Click. This second solution seems to work most of the time, although you’ll occasionally miss the downbeat in a count-in.

Workspace Is The Place

Steinberg have revamped the way Workspaces function in version 8, with two different categories of Workspace — Global and Project — replacing the previous model that offered Workspaces and Workspace presets. As you might imagine, Global Workspaces are available to any Project you open in Cubase, whereas Project Workspaces are available only in the project in which they were saved. Workspaces are now accessed via a dedicated Workspaces menu on the menu bar,The updated Workspaces Organizer shows both Global and Project Workspaces. Notice that because my Less Useful Workspace is the 10th entry in the list, it doesn’t get assigned a  key command.The updated Workspaces Organizer shows both Global and Project Workspaces. Notice that because my Less Useful Workspace is the 10th entry in the list, it doesn’t get assigned a key command. rather than from a submenu in the Windows menu, and this new menu heading now displays the number of the current Workspaces with a ‘G’ or ‘P’ prefix, depending on whether the Workspace is a Global or Project one. If no number is visible, it means there’s no active Workspace, because, where previously there was always an active Workspace in which you worked, Cubase now has the option of having No Workspace, which is the default.

The workflow of Workspaces has also been simplified, in that where Workspaces used to be updated automatically as you changed the arrangement of your windows (unless they were locked), this is no longer the case. Now, instead of having a lock feature, you have to expressly tell Cubase to update a Workspace with the new Update Workspace command. I think this change makes Workspaces much easier to deal with, although I did have one instance where the window I wanted in the foreground simply refused to be restored in the foreground no matter how many times I pressed Update, but I’m sure this is the sort of minor glitch that will be fixed in an update.

The Organize Workspaces window has been renamed the Workspaces Organizer and has received a facelift, taking cues from the modern Cubase design language and shedding some of the options that used to reside there. The Activate button is gone, but it’s now redundant as Workspaces are automatically activated when you select them. Workspaces are now listed with the Global ones on top, followed by the Project ones below, and key commands are assigned based on the order of Workspaces in the list. For example, if you have four Global Workspaces and one Project Workspace, the four Global ones will receive the first four shortcuts and the first Project one the fifth. In previous versions of Cubase you could adjust the order in which Workspace key commands were distributed by assigning ID numbers to each Workspace; however, in Cubase 8, you can simply drag the Workspace to change the order of the assignments. This makes life easier, although the lists are independent so you can’t drag a Project Workspace into the Global list.

New Plug-ins

Cubase 8 introduces a few new effects plug-ins, including Quadrafuzz, which makes a return to Cubase after being absent for some time. Quadrafuzz v2 is an enhanced version of the original plug-in (itself based on a hardware design by Craig Anderton) which offers four bands of distortion. Each band offers five distortion modes — tape, tube, distortion, amp and decimation — and provides an optional delay for a multi-band delay effect. It’s a lot of fun, and works great on drum loops.

Steinberg were obviously keen on multi-band effects in this release, as Cubase 8 also includes Multiband Envelope Shaper and Multiband Expander, taking their cues from the existing but updated Multiband Compressor. Multiband Envelope Shaper, like the enhanced Multiband Compressor, features a side-chain input, which can be used on a per-band basis.

The new VST Bass Amp plug-in does for bass guitarists what VST Amp Rack does for guitarists, providing a choice of six amplifiers, four cabinets, 21 effects pedals, and a mix of two microphones pointed at the cabinet. Unlike Amp Rack, Bass Rack also lets you choose which two microphones to use from a choice of eight models.

Quadrafuzz makes a  return to Cubase in version 8.Quadrafuzz makes a return to Cubase in version 8.On the instruments side, since virtual drummers seem to be all the rage these days, Steinberg have added features from the Acoustic Agent virtual drummer in Groove Agent 4 to the bundled Groove Agent SE4. Twenty drum-style patterns are provided, and the easiest way to find these is to look in the many subdirectories contained within the VST Sound / Acoustic Agent SE folder in Media Bay. On the Instrument page you can adjust the sound of each drum, while on the Pattern page you can choose what you want the drummer to play (intro, main, fill or ending), and there’s even a vector control allowing you to set the intensity and complexity of the playing. Overall, though, I found Acoustic Agent SE somewhat underwhelming compared to Apple’s Drummer offering in Logic Pro X.

In addition to new plug-ins, Cubase 8 also gains a dedicated Plug-in Manager window for VST effects and instruments (previously they were listed in the Plug-in Information window). Effects and Instruments are listed on separate tabs, but the big new feature is that you create your own collections of plug-ins that appear in the pop up when selecting plug-ins. You can create collections to show only certain plug-ins, create and modify the folder structure, as well as the order in which plug-ins are listed.


  • New mixing functionality with VCA faders and some previously Nuendo-only features.
  • Render in Place is fantastically handy.
  • Depending on your system, ASIO Guard 2 can squeeze the last drop of performance from it.


  • A few known issues need resolving.


Cubase Pro 8 offers enhanced mixing functionality as well as a host of other significant new features that make it one of the strongest music and audio applications for those creating and producing music.


Cubase 8 Pro $549; Cubase 8 Artist $299. Pro upgrades: $99.99 from Cubase 7.5, $149.99 from Cubase 7. Artist upgrades: $49.99 from v7.5, $99.99 from v7.



Test Spec

  • Steinberg Cubase Pro 8.
  • HP Z800 workstation with dual Intel Xeon X5690 processors, 48GB memory, and Nvidia Quadro 6000 graphics, running Windows 8.1.

 Published March 2015

Friday, November 27, 2020

Steinberg Cubase iC Pro

 By Mark Wherry

Cubase iC Pro, showing the Project and Key Command pages.Cubase iC Pro, showing the Project and Key Command pages.

Cubase iC Pro is a remote app that can control Cubase from either an iPhone, iPad, or Android-based device. Once you’ve downloaded the app — for the purposes of this review, I’m using an iPad Air 2 with Cubase running on Windows — you’ll need to download Steinberg’s SKI Remote for Cubase iC Pro from the company’s web site. For iOS users this is a free download (because you pay $16.99 for the app on the App Store), whereas for Android users it’s a purchase of $16.99 (because the app is a free download on Google Play or Amazon’s Appstore). The advantage Android users have with this arrangement is that Steinberg offer a 30-day trial version of the SKI Remote so you can try before you buy.

Once you’ve downloaded SKI Remote, you’ll need to add it as a device in Cubase’s Device setup window, where you have the option of setting up authentication so that a password is required when establishing a connection. In a disconnected state, iC Pro will show a list of systems running Cubase, and you can manually enter your system’s IP address if it doesn’t show up.

iC Pro consists of three control pages: Project, MixConsole, and Key Commands, and each have a corresponding Settings view. Two of these pages can be visible simultaneously, and you can also have two Key Commands pages on screen at once. A transport bar runs along the bottom, and a tool bar is provided at the top with buttons to access settings, help, and to disconnect from the current system. The current Project Time is displayed, and tapping it alternates between the primary and secondary Project Time Display modes. The current tempo is also there, and tapping this lets you set a new tempo, which you can adjust manually or by tapping the Tap Tempo button, although this only affects the fixed tempo, not the Tempo Track.

The Project page shows a neat overview of your Project, much like the Overview Line in Cubase, and you can swipe left and right to scroll through the Project — the Project Cursor stays in the middle just like when Stationary Cursors is enabled in Cubase — and you can pinch to zoom in and out horizontally. Bizarrely, the ruler seems only to show minutes and seconds, and I couldn’t find a way to change this to bars and beats (even if the current project time was displayed in bars and beats), which was slightly annoying. The left and right locators are displayed on the time ruler and can be dragged around to change their positions (although this would be easier if they snapped to a bar). Also, unlike in Cubase, where the locator range is displayed in red when the locators are reversed, this doesn’t happen on the remote.

Beneath the overview is a Marker bar where you can jump to specific Markers by tapping them, or add new Markers or Cycle Markers by clicking the buttons to the right of the bar. Markers can be created even if the Project doesn’t contain a Marker Track (they will show up when you add one), although it would be nice if there was an option to automatically add a Marker Track the first time you create a Marker in a Project not containing one.

Finally, the Project Page Settings offers a few additional options for setting whether Auto Quantise, Precount, Punch In, or Punch Out are enabled.

The MixConsole view looks exactly as you would expect, although there are quite a few ways to configure what you see in the settings. You can set whether to see Record and Monitor buttons on each channel strip or Read and Write automation, and you can also set what channel types are displayed. Changing which Channels are visible on iC Pro has no effect on any open MixConsole windows in Cubase. You can also switch between seeing the MixConsole view or one of the Control Room’s four Cue Mixes, which is a nice touch. Since it’s possible to connect multiple devices running iC Pro to Cubase, you could have a situation where people were controlling their own cue mixes.

One feature at the top of my wish list would be a Track page containing Quick Controls and (where applicable) Expression Maps...

The only feature that had me reaching for the online help was when trying to set a fader back to 0dB, since I erroneously assumed double-tapping might do the trick. Instead you have to tap and hold the fader and drag horizontally away from it, whereupon a ‘magnetic’ 0dB point becomes active, making it possible to move the fader back to 0dB. Similarly, when you tap a pan control, a larger pan control is presented, and tapping the control and moving your finger vertically shows a host of magnetic points, enabling you to centre the pan or pick from other positions on the grid.

Last but not least is the Key Commands page, where you can have up to seven pages of buttons on a five-by-five grid, giving you the potential to assign up to 175 Key Commands. To configure the Key Commands, bring up the Key Commands Settings screen, and you can assign a Key Command by simply tapping the button you want to employ. A list of Key Command categories will appear, arranged in the same way as the Key Commands window in Cubase. You can either navigate the hierarchy of commands, or, if you know the name of the command you’re looking for, you can search for it by typing in its name. Buttons can be coloured or renamed via the Color and Rename buttons at the bottom of the screen, and you can also load and save page templates, which can be backed up via iTunes File Sharing.

My only two small gripes with the Key Commands page are that, firstly, in the settings, it would be nice if you could drag the buttons to reassign Key Commands; and secondly, I would have preferred Steinberg to use a tab bar to switch pages rather than a page view control. It would be nice to see the names of the pages and be able to, for example, switch to your Edit page or your Mixer page without having to swipe through the other pages.

I really hope Steinberg expand on the capabilities of iC Pro because there’s a great deal of potential for a remote app that can integrate directly with a sequencer, as Apple have shown with Logic and the free Logic Remote. One feature at the top of my wish list would be a Track page containing Quick Controls and (where applicable) Expression Maps, where you could see the Expression Map for the currently selected Track and switch articulations directly from the screen.

All in all, if you’re looking for an app to control Cubase remotely, and you want something that doesn’t involve smoke-and-mirror-type workarounds for Key Commands and controlling the mixer, Cubase iC Pro is probably the way to go, despite a few quirks. And if you’re using an Android device, there’s nothing to lose by checking out the 30-day trial.

Published April 2015

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Spot The Reverb

 By John Walden

Published April 2015

Use your Cubase reverbs as spot effects.

Ambience effects such as reverb and delay can obviously be used to give a sound a sense of ‘real’ space, but you don’t have to confine your use of reverb to the ‘natural’ — and it doesn’t have to be a set-and-forget effect either. In this workshop I’ll take you through some examples of ‘spot’ reverb effects, and explain how you can create them in Cubase.

I’ll use Cubase’s REVelation algorithmic reverb plug-in for the examples, but you could use any reverb plug-in you wish. I’ve also created some audio examples (which you can find at http://sosm.ag/apr15media) so that you can hear the sort of thing I’m describing.

Hit Me Baby

A classic and very effective spot reverb effect is to create either a reverb ramp or a reverb ‘hit’, both of which are placed to fill an obvious pause or stop in the arrangement. For example, if you have a stop at the end of a song section and a few beats of silence, a big splash of reverb to mark the transition, perhaps applied to a synth sound or a final kick-drum hit, can be very effective. Any number of approaches may be used to achieve this, but let’s focus on two simple examples, each of which can easily be created using Cubase’s automation system.

First we need to add an FX Channel with an instance of REVelation. For this kind of ‘notice me’ effect, it’s easiest to choose a preset that’s based on a large space, and which has a long reverb time — the Large Natural Hall preset makes a decent starting point. REVelation has some controls for adjusting the tonality of the reverb (high- and low-pass filters for instance) and it can be a good idea to roll off the bottom end of the reverb to avoid things getting muddy. Your Cubase FX Channel also features high- and low-pass filters before the reverb, of course, but I often insert an EQ plug-in before my reverb plug-in. That way, I know I’ll have more versatile filtering options to hand should I require them later.

REVelation provides some excellent reverb treatments that can be used for spot effects and, because it is fairly CPU efficient, you can run multiple instances suitable for different tasks within the same project. For spot effects, you can also generally use one of the bigger hall-style presets as shown here.REVelation provides some excellent reverb treatments that can be used for spot effects and, because it is fairly CPU efficient, you can run multiple instances suitable for different tasks within the same project. For spot effects, you can also generally use one of the bigger hall-style presets as shown here.Automating the send levels to REVelation can be used to create some big splashes of reverb for special effects; feel free to go over the top with the send levels as shown here.Automating the send levels to REVelation can be used to create some big splashes of reverb for special effects; feel free to go over the top with the send levels as shown here.Next, you need to pick the target track (or tracks) to which you want to apply the effect. In the screenshot (above) and audio examples, I’ve used two different tracks. On the main synth part, I’ve drawn an automation curve to ramp up the reverb send level in the two bars preceding the ‘stop’. In addition, on the first beat of the ‘stop’ itself, where a kick drum hits and everything else stops playing, I’ve used automation to apply a short (one-beat long) but very large dollop of reverb to my drum track.

The result is a very noticeable but quite short ‘hit’ of reverb as every other instrument drops out. And, for good measure, as the snare roll builds up to the next song section, I reversed the reverb send ramp trick, this time starting with lots of reverb and quickly returning back to almost none over the course of the one-bar roll. Note that this is just for demonstration: any one of these effects would have been fine on their own, and you’ll probably want to exercise some restraint when adding ‘fairy dust’ effects like this.

Chain Gang

Another ‘spot reverb’ effect is more about removing spots than placing them, and as much corrective as creative, but it’s a neat trick that can help your drums punch through in a busy mix.

First, place an instance of the Compressor plug-in after REVelation in the FX Channel, and activate its side-chain input so the compressor can be triggered from another audio source. Then, configure a send from the drum track to trigger the compressor. Used with fast attack and release settings, a low ratio (try 2:1 for starters) and a threshold setting that only triggers the compressor for the main kick and snare hits, this gently lowers the reverb level present in the mix every time the drum tracks trigger the compressor. The effect is subtle but allows those drum hits to be heard more clearly. You can create a more deliberate and hopefully more interesting effect, whereby the reverb ‘breathes’ a little more noticeably in time with your drum track, by winding up the compression ratio (Cubase’s bog-standard Compressor plug-in offers a maximum ratio of 8:1).

Starting Gate

A variation on this approach is to replace the compressor with a gate. Gated reverb became a bit of cliché in the 1980s but when used for occasional spot effects, rather than being plastered across the whole track, it can still be very effective. Most reverb plug-ins — REVerence included — include a few gated reverb presets, but if you want more control, you’re better off placing Cubase’s Gate plug-in on your FX Channel in an insert slot after your reverb. Not only does this allow you to fine-tune the operation of the gate but, as with the compressor, you can also trigger the gate from another audio track via its side-chain input.

Using the side-chain input on both the Compressor and Gate plug-ins allows you to create some interesting reverb effects if you insert these effects alongside the reverb in your FX Channel.Using the side-chain input on both the Compressor and Gate plug-ins allows you to create some interesting reverb effects if you insert these effects alongside the reverb in your FX Channel.There are lots of possibilities here but, as an example, how about a sort of ‘delayed reverb effect’ on a vocal? To achieve this, create an FX Channel with REVerence and choose a fairly ‘big’ reverb sound — you want something noticeable, as this is a special effect — and configure sends to this effect from your vocal track, and from any other elements of the mix to which you want to apply this effect. Then insert the Gate plug-in after REVerence and enable its side-chain input. As shown in the screenshot, adjust the Gate’s attack to something other than zero (the 150-200 range is a good place to start).

Next, set up another send from your vocal track to Gate’s side-chain input. In essence, we’re getting the vocal to ‘self-trigger’ the gate controlling the reverb effect that’s applied to the same vocal. However, because we’ve set a slow attack for the gate, it only opens (letting the reverb be heard) after the initial attack of each word has passed. If you adjust the balance of the threshold and attack settings to suit the volume and tempo of the vocal, you end up with a splash of reverb on any audio source that’s being sent to the FX Channel towards the end of each word. If you ‘overcook’ the reverb level sufficiently, the reverb adds a kind of ghostly volume swell that, as a spot effect, can be very effective. Oh, and try adding an instance of Auto Pan after the Gate and listen to your reverb effect add some stereo interest too.

Once activated within the plug-in, you can select the side-chain input of the Gate or Compressor plug-in as a send destination from any audio source via the Track Inspector.Once activated within the plug-in, you can select the side-chain input of the Gate or Compressor plug-in as a send destination from any audio source via the Track Inspector.There are plenty of other gate-related options, but a favourite of mine is to use the Cubase MIDI Gate instead of the standard Gate plug-in and then create a MIDI track to drive the gate’s open/close state. Used in this way, you can easily create a rhythmic MIDI part that controls when the reverb might be heard. I find that this can be very effective on vocals, drums or synths.

Tonal Tweaking

Another nice spot effect is to create a tonal change to the reverb that’s applied to a specific sound. This can work well, for example, in a breakdown section, where you have a solo synth or drum part carrying a few bars of the arrangement on its own. It makes a nice change from applying the EQ/filter to the source sound itself.

If you want to create a more noticeable tonal effect to your reverb sound, MorphFilter provides an efficient way to do it and the controls can, of course, be automated.If you want to create a more noticeable tonal effect to your reverb sound, MorphFilter provides an efficient way to do it and the controls can, of course, be automated.REVelation has a number of controls for changing the tone of the reverb output and automating these is one option. For a more dramatic effect, though, I like to insert an instance of Cubase’s MorphFilter (the Juicy Sweeps presets make good starting points) after REVelation. Again, for this to work well, apply a slightly higher send level from the instrument track concerned to make the effect more obvious and then automate your adjustments to MorphFilter’s X-Y panel. This trick can spice up a short breakdown section very nicely.

Reverse Gear

Once you start experimenting with these more creative, ’spot’ effects for reverb, it’s easy to think of all manner of possibilities. Something I haven’t mentioned so far, though, is reverse reverb. In all honesty, it has become something of a cliché, but used sparingly it can still be effective — so I’ve included two short vocal examples in the audio examples provided along with this article. These include a more ‘traditional’ application, where the reverse reverb simply provides a riser effect into certain words in the vocal part, but also a slightly less conventional example that can serve to create some rather spooky ‘harmony’ backing vocals. Enjoy!

Published April 2015