Welcome to No Limit Sound Productions

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2005
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Our services include Sound Engineering, Audio Post-Production, System Upgrades and Equipment Consulting.
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Our mission is to provide excellent quality and service to our customers. We do customized service.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Using Outboard Gear

Cubase Tips & Techniques

Technique : Cubase Notes



Matt Houghton



1: Cubase's External FX plug-ins are specified in the VST Connections Window. 1: Cubase's External FX plug-ins are specified in the VST Connections Window.

1: Cubase's External FX plug-ins are specified in the VST Connections Window.

I've compared a lot of analogue modelling plug-ins with equivalent outboard gear recently, and while there's no doubt that some software is capable of great results, and offers superb value for money, it's plain to me that there's still a place for decent outboard in a studio. For example, even the best models from the likes of Waves, Softube and UA seem to me to be incapable of replicating precisely the complex behaviour of gear that uses audio transformers, particularly in the case of compressors and limiters that the user deliberately pushes hard for effect.



Back in SOS May 2010, I wrote an article (/sos/may10/articles/hybrid.htm) about so-called 'hybrid studios' which combine software and outboard gear, and that's well worth a read if you're new to the idea of using hardware with a computer recording system. As I explained in that article, different DAWs offer different advantages and disadvantages when working with outboard gear. Arguably, Cubase has more features dedicated to this purpose than most DAWs, but it also has some frustrating idiosyncrasies. In this article, then, I'll explore how best to integrate your preamps and outboard effects and processors in your Cubase projects, for both recording and mixing applications.

Outboard In

2: Creating a new External FX plug-in and associated MIDI Device.

2: Creating a new External FX plug-in and associated MIDI Device.2: Creating a new External FX plug-in and associated MIDI Device.



Let's start with hooking up your gear and establishing the routing in Cubase. You'll need a multi-I/O audio interface — one with enough inputs and outputs to hook up your outboard and still have sufficient I/O left over to connect your microphones, other input sources, and speakers.



Connect the inputs and outputs of each piece of outboard to outputs and inputs on your interface. In Cubase, go to Devices/VST Connections and select the External FX tab. There are no External FX listed until you create one by clicking on the '+' symbol. Then name the new External FX with a description of the processor in question, and choose whether it's to be a mono or stereo unit. Finally, assign the I/O from the audio interface to which you've hooked up your gear. Next time you go to select an insert plug-in, your gear will be available in the drop-down list under Steinberg/External Plug-ins. You can't reassign the external plug-ins to another folder, as you can with conventional VST effects.



Obviously, you can only use one instance of each External FX plug-in. Frustratingly, though, if you have a stereo/dual mono compressor, you have to choose whether you're going to use it as stereo plug-in, or as two separate mono plug-ins: you can't assign the physical I/O to more than one external plug-in, so you don't have the option of creating both. Or rather, you could create two different versions, but you'll have to redefine the I/O settings each time you want to use the plug-in. There's no option in Cubase to use two mono plug-ins in parallel on a single stereo channel.

MIDI Control

3: You might sometimes need to specify a negative latency, in which case you'll need to create a manual offset in the track's Inspector window. If you then remove the plug-in, remember to change this back to zero!

3: You might sometimes need to specify a negative latency, in which case you'll need to create a manual offset in the track's Inspector window. If you then remove the plug-in, remember to change this back to zero!3: You might sometimes need to specify a negative latency, in which case you'll need to create a manual offset in the track's Inspector window. If you then remove the plug-in, remember to change this back to zero!



You don't need to use MIDI with external processors and effects at all, but some units, particularly reverbs and delays, are automatable to some degree via MIDI. There's provision for creating a dedicated MIDI device (screen 2) when you specify an external effect in Cubase, as there is when creating an external instrument plug-in. You just click on 'Associate MIDI Device' when you create an effect. Despite the terminology used, the MIDI device you create doesn't really seem to be 'associated' with the effect, and you'll need to create a dedicated MIDI track where you can select the device. While I'd love to see the ability to program automation data from the audio channel, it's still very useful to be able to create the external MIDI device when specifying your effect's I/O.

Globalism



External FX and instruments are classed by Cubase as 'global', which means they're loaded for every project. The audio I/O for recording and playback, on the other hand, are 'local' settings, stored with each project. That makes sense in theory, but it doesn't work in practice! If you select an input or output for recording or playback that's already occupied by an external effect, the effect will lose its I/O settings, and they'll require resetting manually. Any I/O that are already in use are highlighted in the drop-down list when selecting, but it's still easy to overwrite your 'global' external effects. For example, I've had this happen when opening someone else's project where they'd used the same audio interface as me, but had defined the I/O differently.



Both External FX and External Instruments (another topic) can be saved as 'favourites', for future recall, but these presets only store the name and the latency (see later), and not the I/O settings! That's potentially a lot of resetting if you have several pieces of gear, so when you define External FX, it's a good idea to take a screen grab of the I/O settings you used.



Another consequence of this overriding of I/O settings is that you'll have to decide in advance whether to hook any preamps or channel strips up as insert effects, or simply to your input channels. That could cause confusion if you want the option to use them both as recording front ends and as insert processors. I'd recommend treating them as insert effects. When recording, you simply insert the plug-in on the relevant input channel (not the audio channel you're recording onto, as the signal will be monitored but not recorded). You can then unload the plug-in and load it again later where required in the mix.



When I shared my concerns about the limitations of External FX routing, Steinberg agreed the situation wasn't ideal, and said they'd rationalise the External FX system in a future update (probably in Cubase 7).

Latency Compensation

4: Once created, to use an External FX plug-ins, click on the desired insert slot and go to the Steinberg/External FX submenu. Any external plug-ins already in use will be greyed out and unselectable.

4: Once created, to use an External FX plug-ins, click on the desired insert slot and go to the Steinberg/External FX submenu. Any external plug-ins already in use will be greyed out and unselectable.4: Once created, to use an External FX plug-ins, click on the desired insert slot and go to the Steinberg/External FX submenu. Any external plug-ins already in use will be greyed out and unselectable.



With everything hooked up, you'll need Cubase to compensate for the latency introduced by the round-trip from Cubase, through your audio interface and gear, and back via the interface into Cubase. Most outboard won't introduce significant latency, because it's designed to operate in real time, and all-analogue gear will introduce no latency at all. However, your interface's converters and any USB or Firewire connection inevitably introduce a small delay, and if you don't compensate for that there can be audible problems. If you're performing parallel compression on a vocal part, for example, with a dry part remaining in Cubase and a copy running out through your compressor, latency will manifest itself as a phasey smearing of the sound. Similarly, a small delay on drum overheads in relation to the snare or kick could cause nasty-sounding phasing that robs your drums of impact and sucks the life out of your sound.



With standard VST plug-ins, Cubase's automatic plug-in delay compensation deals with this very neatly: the plug-in declares its latency to Cubase, and Cubase introduces the necessary offsets to compensate. With External FX, Cubase has no way of knowing what the round-trip latency is unless you tell it. There are two ways to do this... or rather there should be!



First, there's a slider with which you can specify the delay manually. That's easy if you know what the latency is, but otherwise you'll need something to measure the latency (the free NAT sampler that comes with Acustica Audio's Nebula, for example), or to use your ears to line things up as best you can. I know it sounds silly, but it is possible for an interface to report a negative latency, and Cubase's External FX can't cope with this: in this case, you'll instead have to enter a track offset in the Inspector, as shown in screen 3 — and if you remove the external plug-in you'll have to set it back to zero.



The second approach is an automatic 'ping' facility, which suffers from a bug on my Windows 7 Ultimate x64 system. It may apply on other OS as well, but I've not had chance to test that. This is supposed to fire a sound out through your interface and your bypassed gear and back, so that Cubase can measure the round-trip latency and compensate for it. You should then be able to take the effect out of bypass and use it. Unfortunately, this doesn't work at all on my system (Cubase fires the signal out, but the compensation remains set to zero), and it still can't compensate for negative latency. Again, I've mentioned this to Steinberg, who recognise that there's a bug, and have said they'll fix it in an update during the current product cycle.    

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Keyboard Shortcuts

Cubase Tips & Techniques

Technique : Cubase Notes



Mastering keyboard shortcuts makes Cubase easier to use and is good for your health!


John Walden



The Key Commands window allows you to define key combinations for your favourite Cubase commands.The Key Commands window allows you to define key combinations for your favourite Cubase commands.

The Key Commands window allows you to define key combinations for your favourite Cubase commands.

Despite the well-designed user interfaces of modern DAWs, the repetitive moving, scrolling and clicking with a mouse can often feel clunky and sluggish, and in the long run can also cause problems with fingers, wrists, elbows and so on. While I'm the first to admit that defining and learning key commands doesn't sound as exciting as, for example, getting to grips with a new soft synth (or even staying in on a Saturday night to wash your hair!), it's something that will both make Cubase easier and quicker to use and help you to avoid suffering from mouse-related physical problems.

Right On Key



Frequently performed tasks such as project navigation — moving between windows or events, moving the playhead along the timeline, zooming in and out, or something more complex — can be made more efficient using Cubase's key commands, providing you're prepared to invest a little time in setting them up and practising using them. As an example of what key commands can offer, then, let's learn how to 'navigate' using just the keys, and get there quicker.



While there are a lot of useful default key commands in the standard Cubase installation, there are also plenty of additional functions that can be assigned a shortcut via the Key Commands window, which is accessible via the File/Key Commands menu option. By default, access to this window does not have a keyboard shortcut assigned (existing key commands are shown to the right of an item within a menu), so I'll use this as a basic illustration of how to define your own key commands.



At the top of the window, the search box allows you to find specific Cubase commands in the (very!) extensive list of possibilities. In the first screenshot example, searching for 'key commands' found an entry under the 'File' section. Where an item has a key command already defined, this is shown in the panel on the left side. If you select an unassigned command, you can then enter a key combination in the 'Type in Key' box. Usefully, if the key combination you try is already assigned to another command, Cubase politely tells you, and you can choose whether to overwrite the existing assignment or not. Otherwise, pressing the Assign button links the key combination with the command and, once the Key Command window is closed, the key combination becomes available for use.



Key commands defined here are 'global', which means that they will be available in any Cubase project on the host system. Usefully, all the key command assignments that you make on your system can be saved as a preset. This is great if multiple users share the same host system and have different key command preferences. Providing you can find the file (search for it based on the preset name you used), it is also possible to move presets between computers, so you can take your key commands with you if you need to work away from your own system.

Behind The Square Window...

Key commands can be saved as presets to accommodate different needs or facilitate [moving between systems.

Key commands can be saved as presets to accommodate different needs or facilitate [moving between systems.Key commands can be saved as presets to accommodate different needs or facilitate [moving between systems.



Unless you're fortunate enough to use a multi-screen system (and often even then), you'll probably find that you're always switching between a number of the main Cubase windows. The Cubase 'workspace' system — with which you can define a window layout containing any combination of windows and then save them as a workspace — streamlines this process and is accessed via the Window menu. Once your workspaces are configured, the first nine can be recalled by pressing the Option (Mac) or Alt (PC) key and the assigned number key (1-9, but not zero, which is reserved for locking and unlocking the active workspace). The two obvious workspaces you might set up are a full-screen Project window and a full-screen Mixer window, although there are plenty of other possibilities. It's also worth noting that individual workspaces can be 'locked', so even if you then make some temporary changes to it (perhaps opening a further window or resizing a window) while working, the original configuration of the workspace is recalled the next time you open it.



There are other ways to open individual windows, of course. Default key commands will open the Mixer window (F3), the MediaBay (F5), the Video window (F8) and the VST Instruments list (F11), for example. (Mac users might want to check how they have the function-key behaviour configured in the System Preferences, but can still access these function key-based key commands in Cubase if they also hold down the 'fn' function key on the Mac keyboard.) Other heavily used windows also have pre-defined key commands, and a few of these are well worth memorising such as the Pool (Command-P for Mac, Ctrl-P for PC) and Marker windows (Command/Ctrl-M), as well as the Project Setup window (Shift-S).

Project Prowess

Workspaces can be defined via the Windows menu and then provide instant recall of screen configurations via key commands.

Workspaces can be defined via the Windows menu and then provide instant recall of screen configurations via key commands.Workspaces can be defined via the Windows menu and then provide instant recall of screen configurations via key commands.



For many Cubase users, the project window is where they spend the bulk of their time, and two sorts of keyboard-based 'navigation' tools can make life here a great deal easier, particularly on large projects: those for moving along the timeline and those for zooming in and out.



There are a number of ways of moving along the timeline, each with their own particular uses. If you just want to get the cursor to step forwards or backwards, the Command (Mac) or Ctrl (PC) key and plus ('+') key combination, and Command/Cntrl key and minus ('-') key combinations move the cursor forwards and backwards along the timeline in increments controlled by the Snap setting. So if Snap is set to a bar or beat, each press of the key command moves the cursor by that amount. Unless you have a penchant for working on 30-minute prog-rock epics, this is a very easy way to move around a project.



An alternative approach uses the 'N' or 'B' keys to move the cursor to the next or previous event on the currently selected track. For example, if you have an audio track containing a series of audio events, each press of the 'N' key will take you to the start of the next event, the end of the same event, the start of the following event and so on — again, an easy and useful way to step through the timeline of your project. Incidentally, the up/down cursor keys can be used to step through the used tracks in the Project window Track List, so a combination of these two key commands allows you to move the cursor to anywhere in the project.



A third approach is available to those who use the Marker Track and markers to highlight the locations of key points in the project. Shift-N and Shift-B move the cursor to the next or previous marker. So, for example, if you place markers at the start of each song section in your project, this provides a very rapid way to move along the timeline to the section you want to work on.

Zooming About

Defining key commands for your most used 'zoom' commands can speed up project navigation considerably.

Defining key commands for your most used 'zoom' commands can speed up project navigation considerably.Defining key commands for your most used 'zoom' commands can speed up project navigation considerably.



Aside from moving around the timeline, the other operation repeated many times over in the average project session is changing the zoom level. Key commands provide access to a number of 'zooming' tools. At the most simple level, 'H' will zoom in and 'G' will zoom out horizontally. And if you want to see all of your project at once, Shift-F sets the zoom level to fit it into the current Project window — magic!



If you want to zoom in/out vertically on the currently selected track, the preset key commands Option-up arrow and Option‑down arrow (use Alt on the PC) will get the job done. However, if you want to simultaneously zoom all tracks vertically in or out, you'll need to set up some appropriate key combinations in the Key Commands window, as these are not defined by default. I've set these as Option-G and Option-H on my Mac, so that the 'G' and 'H' keys control both horizontal zoom (without the Option key) and vertical zoom (with the Option key). Of course, you could similarly use shortcuts to increase or reduce the height of the waveform within an event.

Endless Potential...



I've focused on the key commands that help you with the most common Cubase navigation tasks, because these offer the most immediate potential for streamlining your way of working with Cubase, but what's covered here is merely the tip of the iceberg. Almost any operation can be executed via a key command, so if you find yourself regularly repeating a particular operation, learn or set up a key command for it. You don't have to stop at the preset commands, either — you could create Macros (combinations of commands and processes) and assign those to a single key. It should be a simple matter, for example, to use a single key to jump 10 events forward or back on the arrange page.



Learning key commands won't make you 'sound' better, but it will let you capture and manipulate your sound more efficiently, more quickly, and with less chance of physical damage to your all-important hands and arms. John Walden.

Stickers & Keypads



If you're one of those people who finds it difficult to remember which keys control which commands, you should consider investing in a set of keyboard stickers from Editors Keys, which aren't expensive. These have both the standard QWERTY keys and shortcut labels on them. Bear in mind, though, that these will reflect the default shortcuts. The minute you start to reassign or overwrite shortcuts, the stickers will be incorrect!



You could also keep your QWERTY keyboard clear of clutter by using a second, dedicated keyboard for the task. For example, I use a USB numeric keypad, to which I've assigned different shortcuts. By default, a lot of transport controls are assigned to the numeric keypad, but there can be more than 20 keys and two modes on such devices, giving a possible 40 separate commands — and that's before adding Ctrl, Alt, Shift or other modifiers into the equation. This keypad even includes a couple of USB ports that enable me to keep my Cubase dongle and a USB pen drive with my Cubase preferences on it, so it's easy to plug into another machine and be up and running quickly! Matt Houghton    


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Multitrack Comping


Cubase Tips & Techniques

Technique : Cubase Notes



John Walden



Audio tracks placed within a Folder Track ready for basic drum recording. Note that the Group Editing button has been engaged for the Folder.Audio tracks placed within a Folder Track ready for basic drum recording. Note that the Group Editing button has been engaged for the Folder.

Audio tracks placed within a Folder Track ready for basic drum recording. Note that the Group Editing button has been engaged for the Folder.

Now that there are generations of recording musicians who've only ever worked with digital multitrack recording facilities, it can be difficult to convey just how much easier it is to 'comp' a vocal track (compile it from sections of different takes) in a typical DAW than when working with multitrack tape. Those days were truly painful! Some DAWs, though, including the full version of Cubase, offer more sophisticated comping facilities than others.



As described in this column back in August 2011, Cubase 6 added some useful improvements to streamline the comping process for lead vocals or solo instruments. Not all performances are captured using a single microphone, though, and what I didn't explore in that article were the tools that Cubase 6 offers for comping using takes from multitrack recordings.

Multi Vs Mono



When it's time to assemble the final 'master' performance from a number of takes of a multi-mic recording, such as you might have when recording an acoustic drum kit, a group of backing vocalists or a small string section, you're inevitably faced with challenges that aren't presented by single-track recordings. The key one is that sound intended for one mic is likely to be picked up by other mics as well. In other words, the sound 'bleeds' or 'spills' into these mics. For example, a kick drum may be picked up by the snare-drum mic and overheads, and the snare might be present on the kick and overhead mics. While you can, to an extent, reduce the amount of bleed using dynamics processors, it's almost impossible to eliminate it completely. When you're comping a master performance from multiple takes, bleed makes the process a little more tricky.



Imagine you've recorded several takes of a drummer playing an acoustic drum kit. You've placed close mics on the kick, snare and hi-hat, and have used a stereo pair of overheads to pick up mainly the toms and cymbals (though they'll have plenty of bleed from the snare and hi-hat) as well as a stereo pair set further back in the room, to capture an image of the whole kit. This configuration gives us seven mics, which we're recording to three mono tracks and two stereo tracks in Cubase.



Unless your drummer is the human equivalent of a drum machine, each take will contain lots of variations, some subtle, some less so — and the whole point of comping is to identify the best bits from each take to create the final 'master' performance. The presence of bleed can make it tricky to combine, say, the kick from take one, the snare from take two and the hi-hat from take three, because in each case the timing of the hits will be different (there may even be additional or omitted hits, intentional or otherwise). Thus the snare sound that appears as bleed in your preferred kick-drum take might not match the snare in your preferred snare take. This will create undesirable artifacts, such as smearing of transients or phase-cancellation, which at best will make things sound oddly inconsistent, and at worst will rob your drums of their power or character.



To avoid this, always compile your master performance using the same takes from each mic. In other words, if you like the first bar of take two best, use all the mics for take two for this bar. If you prefer take three, use all the mics from that take... and so on, even down to the level of individual hits.



You need to be able to synchronise the selection of the required sub-sections from each take across all the tracks (which doesn't arise when you're comping takes from a single lead vocal or instrument track). In previous versions of Cubase, you had to do this by hand, which (although better than working with tape!) was a laborious task. Thankfully, Cubase 6 has changed all that...

Group Work

In this example, three drum takes were recorded and split into bar-length sections using the Object Selection tool. Clicking on any bar in a take automatically gives playback priority to that selection for the same take on every track. Here, this has been done for bar one, take one.

In this example, three drum takes were recorded and split into bar-length sections using the Object Selection tool. Clicking on any bar in a take automatically gives playback priority to that selection for the same take on every track. Here, this has been done for bar one, take one.In this example, three drum takes were recorded and split into bar-length sections using the Object Selection tool. Clicking on any bar in a take automatically gives playback priority to that selection for the same take on every track. Here, this has been done for bar one, take one.



There are a number of ways to group items in Cubase, and for this task we need to use Group Editing (which is only available in the full version of Cubase 6, not the 'Artist' or 'Elements' versions). Group Editing operates at the level of a Folder track, so prior to recording it's a good idea to create a single Folder track (Project/Add Track/Folder) and then populate that with the audio tracks required for each of your mics. The first screenshot shows an example where I've configured a folder to contain three mono and two stereo tracks suitably labelled for the drum-recording example described earlier. Tracks can, if you prefer, be placed into a suitable folder post-recording.



Located beneath the Folder track's mute button is the Group Editing button (the icon with two short horizontal lines, which is shown in orange on the screenshot, as it's already turned on). With this mode engaged, editing tasks performed on one track are automatically matched in the equivalent event on all the other tracks. As we'll see in a minute, this makes comping multitrack recordings almost as straightforward as comping a single-track recording. I'll offer one word of caution, though: if you edit an individual track in the folder without Group Editing engaged (perhaps changing the length of an audio event), when you come to apply editing at the group level, Cubase might not be able to work out which is the 'equivalent event' on all the tracks, scuppering your easy route to multitrack comping. It's best, therefore, to avoid the potential problem and engage the Group Editing button at all times if your folder contains a genuine multitrack recording!

Multitrack Magic



The Range Selection tool allows you to select sections of a take for one track. With Group Editing engaged, the same section of the same take on all other tracks is automatically selected.The Range Selection tool allows you to select sections of a take for one track. With Group Editing engaged, the same section of the same take on all other tracks is automatically selected.The Range Selection tool allows you to select sections of a take for one track. With Group Editing engaged, the same section of the same take on all other tracks is automatically selected.



With Group Editing engaged, you can start to identify the best bits of each take. The basic tools available are identical to those discussed in the SOS August 2011 column on vocal comping — so, for example, with the standard Object Selection tool (the arrow) active, you can split a take at a particular position by holding down the Option (Mac) or Alt (Windows) key and clicking. Not only will this split all the takes on that audio track at the same point, it will also split the equivalent takes on the other audio tracks in the folder.



Having split the performances into suitable-sized chunks, if (as shown in the large screenshot) I then click on the first bar of the first take for the kick drum, something wonderful happens... As with standard single-track comping, bar one of the other lanes for the kick drum is muted, giving take one playback priority for that bar, but the same change also happens automatically for all the other tracks. In this case, bar one of take one is also given playback priority for the snare, hi-hat, overhead and room tracks. Magic!



If you prefer to select sections of takes using the Range Selection tool (the square icon next to the Object Selection arrow tool in the Project window toolbar), selecting part of a take on one track automatically also selects the same time-section of the same take on all the other tracks. As with single-track comping, once the Range Selection tool has been used to define a time range of a take in this way, double-clicking on the selected area will set playback priority for that range of that take on all tracks. A friend of mine who does a lot of multitrack drum recording in Cubase literally bounced around his studio the first time he saw this working, as it's such a time saver. You simply repeat the action as required until you have your 'best of' drum performance.

Bonus Track



I've focused largely on how Group Editing can help with comping multitrack drum-kit recordings, but exactly the same techniques can also be applied to other multitrack recordings, such as backing vocals, or anything recorded with complex multi-mic arrays. Of course, the Group Editing facility has plenty of other potential applications for editing and even quantising multitrack recordings — which is something we'll return to another time.

Let It Bleed!



While bleed between microphones can be an issue when comping, it's not all negative: bleed or spill between mics often adds cohesion to the sound so that the listener gets a sense of the real space in which the kit was recorded. Indeed, the whole purpose of the room mics is generally to enhance this spatial sense, when you blend their reverberant sound with the overall drum mix.    



Saturday, February 6, 2016

Control Room

Cubase Tips & Techniques

Technique : Cubase Notes



John Walden



The Studio tab of the VST Connections window allows you to configure the Control Room Mixer. The Studio tab of the VST Connections window allows you to configure the Control Room Mixer.

The Studio tab of the VST Connections window allows you to configure the Control Room Mixer.

Most sophisticated pieces of software include functions that remain mysterious to most users: you're not quite sure what they're there for but, as long as they don't get in the way, you can happily ignore them and get on with your work. However, if you spend the time really getting to grips with what such functions offer, they can make life so much easier! One such feature in Cubase (there are plenty more to explore!) is the Control Room, and that is the focus of this month's column. Get to know it well and the Control Room can become very useful, not least when it comes to creating monitor mixes for the various artists you're recording.



As many of you will be aware, in traditional recording studios, the hardware mixer was the main tool used to create and manage monitor mixes that could be sent to the headphones of each of the musicians in the recording session. In the more upmarket systems, you could also adjust the relative levels of the different tracks, allowing you to emphasise the elements that each artist needed to be able to give their best performance. Cubase's Control Room allows you to replicate this functionality in software. If you record your own music as a solo musician in a small domestic studio, the ability to create a monitor mix might seem less critical than on a pro session recording a full band or orchestra, but monitor mixes can also be really useful for the one-person-band — as I'll explain later in this article.

Building A Control Room

The Control Room Mixer.

The Control Room Mixer. The Control Room Mixer.



The Control Room is activated (and deactivated) via the Studio tab in the VST Connections window. Once it has been activated, a number of different channel types can be added using the Add Channel button. In the example screenshot, four stereo outputs have been specified; the main monitors, the control-room headphones, and two 'studio' outputs. The Studio channels are the ones used to create your artist monitor mixes, and up to four of these are available. A single input channel has also been added, to which you can route a talkback microphone. Each of the virtual outputs created in this process can be assigned to a different hardware output. (Note that this does, of course, require you to use an audio interface with multiple hardware outputs!) These physical outputs would, in turn, feed monitor speakers or, via suitable headphone amps, various sets of headphones.

Studio Sends in the main Cubase Mixer allow the monitor mixes to be created.

I'll come back to the issue of benefits for those with more modestly endowed hardware later. Meanwhile, if this is you, just make the Main Monitor connection active and leave everything else 'not connected' for the time being.



Any channels created in the VST Connections dialogue will appear in the Control Room Mixer. This is a separate window from the standard Cubase mixer, though, as we will see in a minute, the two are linked. In the screenshot example, the upper portion of the Control Room Mixer is set to display level meters, but it can also be toggled to show insert effect slots. One obvious use for these is to add limiting to your headphone monitor mixes, giving a little extra protection to your artist's eardrums.

Mix To Taste



Studio Sends in the main Cubase Mixer allow the monitor mixes to be created. Studio Sends in the main Cubase Mixer allow the monitor mixes to be created.



Having set up a Studio channel, you need to get some audio into it, and the eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed the star icons beside the Studio channels in the VST Connections window. A similar star icon exists in the upper-left vertical selection strip of the main Cubase mixer. Clicking on this one displays the mixer's four Studio Sends for each mixer channel (although in this example, only the first two sends can be activated, as I've only created two Studio channels in the VST Connections window).



If you wish to feed audio from a track to one of the headphone mixes, you simply switch on the send's power button and adjust the level and pan of the signal being sent. You can, therefore, create any balance of the various tracks that you wish in a particular Studio channel — it doesn't have to reflect the mix you hear in the main studio monitors at all, and each Studio channel mix can be different from the others. Usefully, pan positions can also be set independently for each instrument, and each Studio Send features a pre-/post-fader switch. Pre-fader means that changes made to the levels in the main mixer during your mix do not alter the balances in the headphone monitor mixes. Of course, if you want the headphone mixes to follow those balances, then the post-fader option is also available.



The Studio Sends are also available via the Project window's Inspector, but they're not visible by default. Right-click on the Inspector, and you'll then be able to toggle them on/off, along with any of the other standard Inspector sections.

Ready Mixed



Studio Send levels can also be accessed via the Project Window's Inspector panel. For a complex mix, setting up four such monitor mixes from scratch in this way would be time consuming. Fortunately, the process has a short cut that allows you to use the mix balance of the main mixer as a starting point. In the Project window, first select all the tracks that you wish to create sends from. Leave them selected and switch to the Control Room Mixer. Then, right-clicking on a Studio channel will bring up menu options to 'Use Current Mix Levels' or 'Use Current Pan Settings'. These options do exactly what you'd expect, and once selected, all you then need to do is adjust the send levels of a few key tracks to meet the needs of each musician.



Each channel in the Control Room mixer also features a Click button, and pressing any of these passes Cubase's standard-tempo click-track to the channel (although note that it needs to be engaged on the Transport Panel first). Usefully, you can choose to send it only to the outputs that require it. So for example, you might feed the click to a drummer but not to the vocalist or through the main monitors. Click level and pan can be set individually for each Control Room Mixer channel, which allows you, for example, to send the click to one ear and the musical elements of the monitor mix to the other.

Do Talk Back



Studio Send levels can also be accessed via the Project Window's Inspector panel. Studio Send levels can also be accessed via the Project Window's Inspector panel.



The main mix balance can be used as a starting point for building your monitor mixes.In a studio, the talkback mic allows the engineer to communicate to the musicians via their headphone monitor mixes. That's obviously useful if the artist is in a different room, but even within the confines of a single-room home-recording setup, the approach can save a lot of hassle. If you've set up a Talkback channel in the VST Connections window and have a mic connected to your hardware, the Talk button engages this option (it turns green when on). Immediately beneath the button is a level control, which allows you to reduce the overall monitor mix level reaching the musician's headphones while you are trying to talk to them.



Talkback can be engaged for individual Studio channels via the TE buttons (which also glow green when engaged). So if you want to talk to the guitarist, drummer and bass player about how dreadful the vocalist is without the vocalist knowing about it, this can easily be achieved! Different levels of talkback can be specified for each monitor mix using the level control beneath each TE button (for example, perhaps the drummer can't hear you but you don't want to deafen everyone else).

Playing With Yourself



The main mix balance can be used as a starting point for building your monitor mixes.The main mix balance can be used as a starting point for building your monitor mixes.



All this is great for those with lots of audio outputs and lots of musicians, but how does it help the solo artist with an audio interface that only has a single stereo output and a headphone socket that gets the same mix as the main monitors? Well, even solo artists can benefit from an alternative mix balance when tracking. It might be useful to have more drums and bass, to help you lock more tightly to the groove, for example, or even just 'more me' — whatever you feel might help you achieve the best performance of the next track to be laid down. You could just adjust all the levels via the main Mixer window to create this alternative mix, but then you have to reset them to return to your 'proper' mix balance.



A better option is to set up a Studio channel, which you can temporarily assign to your main outputs via the numbered 'S' buttons in the Control Room channel of the Control Room Mixer (these buttons glow orange when engaged). You can then create your required alternative mix via the Studio Sends as described above and monitor this while tracking. To then return to the 'proper' mix balance, you simply select the Mix button (blue when engaged). Essentially, what you are getting here is the ability to create different mix balances: one via your main Mixer, and others via the Studio Sends, and you can switch between them as required.

And There's More...



There are a few more monitor mix features that I haven't had space to describe here, such as the ability to reset the Studio Send levels globally, but the Control Room also has other features up its sleeve. For example, it can be used to switch between multiple monitoring systems, and it offers a 'listen' mode (where you can hear a single channel at normal volume but with everything else at a lower volume) and the ability to monitor external audio sources — all of which are a topic for a future column.