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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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Monday, April 22, 2024

Steinberg Cubase 10

Steinberg Cubase 10

Cubase celebrates a milestone birthday with an update that \makes almost every aspect of the program slicker and easier to use.

It's amazing to think that Cubase turns 30 in 2019. With such a long career behind it, it is naturally a very mature, feature-rich application. It has also built up a huge and very loyal user base, ranging from home-based hobbyists to the upper echelons of the music‑producing world. And to support all these varied users, Steinberg continue to offer Cubase in three flavours — Elements, Artist and Pro — ensuring there is something to suit all budgets and upgrade pathways for those with growing ambitions.

As now seems to be the Steinberg norm, the end of the calendar year sees a new Cubase update and version 10 is now with us. SOS has given plenty of coverage to the core Cubase feature set over the years, both in reviews and in many Cubase workshop columns. This feature set remains intact, so I'll simply focus here on the new elements introduced in Cubase Pro 10. Steinberg's website has a handy comparison chart that outlines which of these new features are included in the more accessible Artist and Elements versions.

I Like The Way You Look

Almost every dialogue box — including the Export Audio Mixdown dialogue shown here — has been refined in Cubase 10.Almost every dialogue box — including the Export Audio Mixdown dialogue shown here — has been refined in Cubase 10.On first start, there are some obvious cosmetic changes in the new version. Cubase 10 now offers support for high-resolution (HiDPI) displays, so things ought to appear crisper on a Retina or 4k monitor. To exploit this, and to bring some workflow streamlining, the interface has gone through numerous detailed changes, and these are apparent whatever monitor resolution you are using. The look is slightly darker overall, with light-on-dark tool icons throughout, as typified by the main Project window toolbar.

Many windows and dialogue boxes have undergone redesigns; there are too many changes to list here, but at the same time, none of them are drastic enough to be disorientating for existing users. The Export Audio Mixdown panel is a typical example: though there are only minor changes in the actual functionality, it has been reorganised and made easier to navigate, while features you don't use regularly can easily be folded away.

Like many of the stock plug-ins, Stereo Delay has received a welcome makeover.Like many of the stock plug-ins, Stereo Delay has received a welcome makeover.Many of the stock plug-ins have also been given a makeover, continuing a process that has been ongoing over the last few update cycles. The results are much slicker in appearance, and also make the controls more logical in use.

Other examples of 'cosmetic but practical' improvement include, for example, the Colorize Palette and the Add Track dialogues, both of which can now be kept open as floating windows. This sounds like a minor change, but actually makes these tools much easier to use: you can now colour-code your whole project without needing to continually return to the main menus, and rapidly add all the tracks/track types required in a new project to get you started. The functionality of this second dialogue has also been enhanced so, for example, if you're creating a new audio track and you assign it to an as-yet unassigned hardware input, that input is automatically added to your Audio Connections configuration; you don't have to do this as a separate operation.

Both the Add Track and Colorize dialogues can now stay open as floating panels: a small change, but a very useful workflow enhancement.Both the Add Track and Colorize dialogues can now stay open as floating panels: a small change, but a very useful workflow enhancement.The Project window's Right Zone now includes drag and drop for VST effects selection, and options for showing image icons for third-party plug-ins.The Project window's Right Zone now includes drag and drop for VST effects selection, and options for showing image icons for third-party plug-ins.Another obvious cosmetic/practical enhancement is in the Media tab of the Project window's Right Zone. You now have the option to drag and drop VST effects as well as VST instruments into your project. In addition, you can also capture an image of the user interface of any third-party plug-in (once the plug-in is open, there is a small camera icon located next to the plug-in's preset browser) so that you see a visual representation of the plug-in within the Media tab browser. Very neat!

As indicated above, these are just examples of the sort of small-but-worthwhile changes made throughout the program that enhance both its appearance and usability. Worth noting, however, is that because of the extensive GUI changes, any user-defined colour schemes or Project and MixConsole window layouts are not carried forward into Cubase 10. These can, of course, be recreated in version 10, and although this will be irritating for some, it is at least a one-time task. Overall I think Steinberg have done good job of further refining the appearance of Cubase.

Vari Able

Audio pitch correction is now a near-universal studio tool, and for me, Celemony's Melodyne has always been unrivalled in the degree of forensic control it allows you to apply to your pitch curve. Unrivalled until now, that is — because, in VariAudio 3 within Cubase Pro 10, Steinberg have really upped the ante, both in terms of the degree of control and the ease with which the different pitch editing tools can be accessed. No, it doesn't offer Melodyne's polyphonic pitch‑correction options, but for working with monophonic melodic lines such as vocals, VariAudio 3 is a very impressive upgrade.

The comprehensive VariAudio 3 Smart Tools collection makes for super-efficient pitch-correction.The comprehensive VariAudio 3 Smart Tools collection makes for super-efficient pitch-correction.Once you have enabled VariAudio on an audio clip, and Cubase has done its pitch analysis, your individual pitch segments now appear with up to 11 different 'smart' controls arranged around the currently selected segment (you can toggle on the display of all 11 using the VariAudio tab of the Inspector panel). This means that all the editing functions are now instantly available. For example, as you hover towards the base of a segment, a horizontal line or glue stick appears so that you can instantly split a segment or join two together without needing to visit the Inspector to change tools.

You can quantise the pitch, adjust the tilt of the pitch curve (from either end and with a user-defined anchor point) and straighten the pitch curve, all without moving away from the segment. However, you can also adjust the formants and (rather wonderfully) the segment's volume using the tools located bottom left and bottom right, respectively. The latter is very useful as an alternative to creating detailed volume automation for levelling an inconsistent vocal take. The left/right 'triangle' tools at the top of the segment allow you to quickly define zones at the segment's start and end where straighten edits are excluded, which is obviously useful for keeping note transitions sounding more natural. Many of these editing options can work across a selection containing multiple segments, and you also still have controls within the VariAudio tab if you wish to adjust settings there.

As before, the actual quality of the pitch correction remains very good indeed, whether you're simply nudging a few cents or rewriting a melody by a semitone or three, and many of these controls existed within the second generation of VariAudio. However, having them all instantly to hand while editing a segment makes them much, much more efficient to use. For monophonic audio, the degree of pitch control is now on a par with that found in Melodyne — and, if anything, the new workflow enabled by this expanded set of smart controls is even better. Oh, and from the VariAudio Inspector tab, you can now pick a MIDI track to overlay in the Sample Editor window as a pitch reference while editing, which can be very helpful. If you do any amount of vocal (or instrument) pitch-correction work, VariAudio 3 is going to save you a huge amount of time.

All Lined Up

For some time, Steinberg's Sample Editor has provided users with all the tools required to tighten the timing of audio recordings, using a combination of VariAudio and Hitpoints. What's missing has been some sort of automated alignment function, and version 10 finally delivers that courtesy of the Audio Alignment panel. This allows you to select a reference track as a timing 'master', and one or more target tracks. One click and these will automatically align to the reference.

The new Auto Alignment feature is a massive time saver for matching the timing of multiple takes.The new Auto Alignment feature is a massive time saver for matching the timing of multiple takes.

For things like backing vocal parts, this really does work very well and, compared to doing the same job manually, it is a massive time-saver. The Alignment Precision setting allows you to specify just how tight (or loose) you want the alignment to get. At one level, this new process is obviously making use of the existing audio‑warping technology, but the Match Words option goes further, apparently being capable of detecting and matching phonemes and syllables in spoken and sung audio. Auto Alignment also seems to work well for tightening non-vocal sound sources such as double-tracked guitar parts, and seemed happy to work with stereo recordings as well as mono.

While Cubase might not be the obvious environment for extensive Automated Dialogue Replacement (ADR) for film dubbing, I did give this a brief try and, providing the live audio (your reference) isn't masked by lots of other 'on-set' noise, the Auto Alignment algorithm does a decent job. The Prefer Time Shifting (as opposed to time-stretching) option is intended for time-aligning multi-mic recordings of the same source, and could be used on, for example, top and bottom snare mics to tackle phase issues.

Of course, Audio Alignment is not completely foolproof, and the options for manually aligning audio are still available. However, one further addition to the Sample Editor makes this manual alignment somewhat easier. If you select multiple clips that overlap on the timeline, the Show All Selected Audio Events means you can visually overlay multiple waveforms within the display. As you warp edit the active clip, you can now see how its waveform shifts relative to the other displayed clips.

You can now overlay multiple audio waveforms within the Sample Editor.You can now overlay multiple audio waveforms within the Sample Editor.

Sharp Shots

The Cubase MixConsole already has a History feature — available as a tab within the Left Zone — and while this is very useful for undoing changes you decide you don't like, it is not saved within your project. You can, of course, save multiple versions of your project if you want the option of experimenting with different mixes but, in Cubase 10, you now also get a further option: MixConsole Snapshots. These are also available from a tab in the Left Zone, while a Snapshots button is available in the MixConsole Toolbar and you can also recall, delete and rename Snapshots from here. You can create up to 10 such Snapshots and these are saved with your project.

The new MixConsole Snapshots system provides a useful tool for comparing alternative mixes.The new MixConsole Snapshots system provides a useful tool for comparing alternative mixes.A MixConsole Snapshot Recall Settings dialogue allows you to specify which settings are recalled from any of your saved Snapshots, and you also get an option just to recall settings for a selection of channels. As shown in the screenshot, this includes the contents of the various MixConsole Racks as well as volume and pan information. You could, for example, use snapshots to compare different effects processing options on tracks or your master bus, as well as simple level changes.

Two qualifiers are worth noting, though. First, any automation associated with MixConsole plug-ins is not stored within a Snapshot. This means that Snapshots might not be so useful if you like to spend ages creating automation data for your compressor or reverb, although at least Cubase can warn you before it deletes all that carefully crafted data as you recall a different Snapshot. Second, as should be obvious from the feature's name, these are MixConsole SnapShots and not 'project' Snapshots. If, for example, you experiment with different virtual instrument sounds, these changes outside the MixConsole are not preserved within the Snapshot system.

As long as you keep these points in mind, Snapshots are very useful indeed. If, like me, you regularly find yourself second-guessing mix moves in the final stages of completing a track, it is a welcome additional tool, and one that I'm already finding myself depending upon.

Clearer Channels

One of the most effective of the visual reworkings mentioned earlier is that received by the Channel Strip within the Channel Settings panel. Visually, things are much more appealing, and each section of the strip's controls now has a fetching graphic panel directly above the controls. In some cases, such as the De-Esser and Noise Gate, these include some graphical editing features.

Within the Channel Settings windows, the Channel Strip has received some very useful visual and functional refinements.Within the Channel Settings windows, the Channel Strip has received some very useful visual and functional refinements.

You can also now reorder the Channel Strip sections by dragging within the central pane rather than just within the Right Zone or the MixConsole itself. In addition, while the Channel Strip already allowed you to see the full EQ display as a tab within the central pane, the dynamics section now includes an 'E' button that opens the full interface of the selected dynamics plug-in. Given that dynamics and EQ are perhaps the most routinely used processing tools in any mix, this is a modest, but useful, workflow addition that helps you get the best from the stock suite of plug-ins.

Seek & Distroy

The new Distroyer plug-in offers multiple flavours of saturation.The new Distroyer plug-in offers multiple flavours of saturation.Talking of which, a new bundled plug-in is included in both Artist and Pro editions of Cubase 10. As the name suggests, Distroyer is a distortion-style effect that adds harmonics to a sound — but as the name doesn't suggest, it can actually do some quite subtle overdrives as well as obvious mayhem. The control set is quite flexible: low- and high-pass filters allow you to constrain the range of frequencies sent through the plug-in, while a Drive control changes the type of distortion rather than just the amount of gain applied and is reflected in the central graphic. The Boost control actually sets the gain, while an interesting Spatial knob changes the character of the distortion separately in the left and right channels for an enhanced stereo effect.

You can shape the tone of the processed signal using the Tone control (a low-pass filter) and a high shelving filter, but perhaps the quirkiest control is the Offset setting. This also changes the shape of the central graphic and obviously influences the harmonic structure of the distortion, but exactly how it does this is unclear, as the description of this control within the Plug-in Refence manual is a little opaque.

Anyway, what's going on under the hood is not really the important bit, and once you start to experiment beyond the supplied presets, you soon discover a remarkably flexible distortion tool that's ideal for adding character to a sound. It's easly to target a specific frequency range in your source, meaning that it can do a great job of transforming an overly polite EDM kick into a raging monster. Equally, applied to a bass, it is easy to get Distroyer to bring out some of the mid/upper-mid frequencies to add a bit of bite.

New Dimensions

With interest in MIDI Polyphonic Expression growing it's good to see that both Pro and Artist versions of Cubase 10 now include MPE support. For mainstream devices such as the ROLI Seaboard controllers, detection and setup should be pretty much automatic, and support includes easy parameter assignment within your VST Instruments. The sound libraries for both Retrologue and Padshop have been expanded to include some MPE-ready presets.

I didn't have access to an MPE controller in my own studio to experiment with this during the review period but, having used a Seaboard RISE on a couple of occasions and been impressed with the additional expressive options if can bring, this is undoubtedly a welcome addition.

Best Of The Rest

What else? Well, amongst a lot of other changes or additions, Cubase 10 also includes some new impulse responses for the Reverence reverb focused on vintage reverb styles, around 5GB of new media content including loops and samples spanning a range of genres, revisions to the audio engine that provide better performance on hosts with higher CPU core counts (as well as getting the engine ready for higher-resolution audio interfaces), enhancements to the Hitpoint detection algorithm, and some improvements for those composing to picture (in particular, editing options for placing events onto exact frame locations on the timeline, which is great for musically 'hitting' visual events).

Cubase 10 also introduces support for Advanced Authoring Format (AAF) both on import and export. Moving complex multimedia projects between systems/platforms can be a challenging process and, while Cubase Pro has had Open Media Framework (OMF) support for some time, for Steinberg, AAF has been a Nuendo-only feature up until now. For those collaborating with other musicians, or working in music-to-picture contexts, its arrival in Cubase will be an important development.

This release also sees some tools added to support those creating audio for VR applications. This is not something I was able to explore during my own testing but, given just how rapidly VR is now moving into the consumer mainstream, developers need systems capable of producing suitable content and, in particular, making audio respond to head tracking in a typical VR experience. Both Nuendo and Cubase can now offer such a platform for audio producers.

Finally, while it's not here quite yet, Steinberg have announced that support for Audio Random Access 2 (ARA 2) — a technology developed between Celemony and PreSonus — will be forthcoming as a free update. This is planned for the first quarter of 2019, and offers deep integration of Celemony's Melodyne pitch-correction software within the Cubase Project window.

The 10 Experience

As I hope is clear from the above, Cubase Pro 10 is not an update that focuses on a single big feature. Instead, there are innumerable changes and additions that affect almost every aspect of the program at least to some extent. Perhaps the best way to close, therefore, it to provide some brief comments on the overall user experience when compared to version 9.5. Having run both versions side-by-side, for me at least, the first observation to make is that the transition was a pretty smooth one. I like the visual changes but, aside from some minor changes in a menu item or dialogue box, there was only one thing that disturbed my existing practices.

In the fine line between evolution and revolution in established software products, developers tend to favour the former so as not to disrupt the practices of existing users. This often means long-standing features remain even if later updates have essentially rendered them unnecessary: someone, somewhere, uses these long-established features as a core part of their workflow. In the main, in version 10, Steinberg seem to have stayed the right side of that line, but one workflow change has caused some users to complain: namely, the behaviour of the contextual menu when you right-click on an event. This is a method of reaching commands that has become ingrained in many users over many years of working. Of course, all the same operations are available from the main menus, and many using key commands (which, you might argue, is a faster approach once you are accustomed to it), but it is a somewhat odd decision to make this kind of change with no obvious warning to users. I do wonder whether there might be enough user pressure to encourage Steinberg to think again on this specific point.

In terms of performance, I can't say I noticed a great deal of difference on my OS X test system. Having run through a range of projects, from simple to more complex, there were no significant changes in resource demands between the two versions. I also didn't experience any technical issues: on my test system, Cubase Pro 10 seemed very stable.

So, there's nothing about Cubase 10 that should put 9.5 users off from updating — but, without a massive headline addition, does it provide enough positive reasons to update? The new features it does include bring very noticeable workflow improvements with certain key tasks. Top of my personal list is the combination of the dramatically improved VariAudio environmant and the Auto Alignment feature, but even the more modest options to keep things like the Colorize and Add Track dialogues open shouldn't be underestimated, nor the option to add VST effects by drag and drop from the Right Zone, the easier side-chain configuration and the MixConsole Snapshots feature.

All the additions of this sort mean less time spent configuring or editing and more time being creative. So, if I had to offer a single phrase to summarise what Cubase Pro 10 delivers, therefore, it would be 'enhanced workflow'. In my own, somewhat unglamorous, part of the music production world, which often involves the need to create music quickly, 'enhanced workflow' is a big deal: personally, therefore, I'll happily welcome that.

If workflow is not your key priority, is there still a case for upgrading to Cubase Pro 10? Certainly, for anyone who does modern vocal production work, VariAudio 3 and Auto Alignment will be more than enough to justify the cost, and for monophonic vocals, VariAudio 3 is now a pitch-editing environment that is on a par with anything else out there. In this context, I think there will also be users of Elements or Artist, who have perhaps not yet invested in something like Auto-Tune or Melodyne, who might be very tempted to go Pro just to access VariAudio.

For others, the key features that justify an upgrade will be found among the new technologies supported in Cubase Pro 10: MPE, AAF, VR and the forthcoming ARA 2. These are all welcome additions that have never previously been supported in Cubase, and in professional contexts, where time is always money, even the availability of one of these might be enough to tip the update balance.

Of course, when a program has been around for three decades and offers a feature set as rich as that now found in Cubase Pro 10, many users will only routinely use a fraction of what's on offer. One person's highlight new feature in the latest release might be another's 'meh!' moment, and only the individual can decide on the merits of moving up — but Cubase Pro 10 is undeniably impressive. After 30 years in the business of creating premier music production software, as you might expect, Steinberg have become really rather good at it. In Cubase Pro 10, they have created a very worthwhile evolution of their flagship product.

Click to check out the SOS Tutorial video course on Cubase 10.

Groove Agent SE5

Amongst other enhancements, Groove Agent SE5 includes an impressive new acoustic drum set called The Kit.Amongst other enhancements, Groove Agent SE5 includes an impressive new acoustic drum set called The Kit.

Steinberg have recently updated their Groove Agent virtual drummer to version 5 and, as before, the SE version of this is included in Cubase 10 Pro, Artist and Elements. SOS has a full review of Groove Agent 5 in the works, so in this review, I'll just highlight the key changes to SE5. However, I'll preface that with a general comment: despite a somewhat busy user interface, I think Groove Agent is an often-overlooked gem and, even in its SE form, has plenty to offer.

In terms of what's new this time around, there are some notable changes, and some impressive new content for both the Beat Agent (GA's drum machine environment) and Acoustic Agent. For the former, this includes the new Laser Beams collection of electronic drum kits; as well as some very cool new drum sounds, these kits also include more melodic-type samples than previous kits, forming something similar to a sample library loop-based construction kit that lets you easily create complete music beds from just a single kit.

The new Acoustic Agent kit, simply called The Kit, is particularly impressive. Under the hood, Steinberg have expanded the number of velocity layers Groove Agent supports from eight to 32. I'm not sure if The Kit fully exploits this, and it might not offer the same level of realism as, for example, Toontrack's Superior Drummer 3, but The Kit is impressive in its own right and, given the mixing and effects options the Acoustic Agent offers, you can coax a wide range of acoustic drum styles from GA SE5.

One further cool new feature for the Acoustic Agent is the Export Mixer And Effects To Cubase option. This takes any settings from the GA SE5 mixer and reproduces them as channels within the Mix Console. You could previously have done this manually by activating multiple outputs and copying settings, but to have this work all done with a single click is a massive time-saver if you prefer to do all your mixing in the Mix Console. It is not supported (yet?) for Beat Agent but it would be great to see that added at some point down the line.

Other changes include an improved browser that offers better navigation and auditioning of kits, individual sounds and any of your own samples. This makes it very easy to replace drum sounds on the fly while GA SE5 is in playback. A new keyboard display option is available for easy reference and triggering of any loaded patterns, the interface can now be resized and, if you need them, you now have 32 outputs rather than 16. GA remains a fairly 'dense' instrument but, even in its SE form, this is powerful stuff with an impressive collection of content.

Compensation Payments

Steinberg Cubase 10 channel latency compensation.

For many years, Cubase has automatically compensated for latency induced by plug-ins and other real-time processing. This is designed to operate behind the scenes, so that users can simply ignore the issue and get on with making music. However, if you want more information on where latency is occurring within your project, you can now enable a Channel Latency Overview feature in the MixConsole's Setup menu. This appears sandwiched between the upper racks area and the lower faders zone, and provides you with a figure for the overall latency of each channel. For more detailed information, clicking the drop-down to the right of the latency figure pops open a latency-per-plug-in display.

I have to admit that I found the information displayed a little puzzling at times. For example, some plug-ins on a channel didn't produce any data within the detailed overview. I assumed this might be because they operate at zero latency — but then some third-party plug-ins I tried did show up with a zero-latency value. I presume there is some under-arching logic, but a somewhat expanded entry in the PDF Operational Manual might be useful so users can get the most from what is a potentially useful utility.

Taking Side

Side-chaining is a very common mix technique, particularly when it involves compression, but even for experienced users, it can be a bit of a faff to configure. Steinberg have tried to simplify that initial configuration process in Cubase 10. Let's consider a typical application where a compressor on your bass guitar has a side-chain input fed from the kick drum track. Every time the kick hits, the bass gets a little bit of compression to 'duck' it slightly out of the way and ensure that the kick is always clearly heard.

Previously, configuring this required visiting both the bass track and the kick track, but now it can be done just from the bass track. Once you have inserted the compressor (or activated the compressor within the Channel Strip), if you engage its side-chain input, a drop-down becomes available that allows you to select the required audio input to feed the side-chain. Making a selection here automatically sets up the required audio send from that source track, so you no longer have to go and do that as a second stage of the configuration. This works an absolute treat, and once you see it operate in this fashion, you are left wondering why it wasn't always like this. It's an efficiency gain for everyone, and for those new to the concept of side-chaining, it is a very welcome simplification that will encourage experimentation.

Pros

  • VariAudio 3 and Auto Alignment features are worth the upgrade price on their own if you do any work with vocals.
  • MixConsole Snapshots are a very useful addition.
  • Graphical overhaul makes for a slicker look.
  • New Groove Agent SE5 acoustic kit is a star amongst the additional media content.
  • Many simple, but useful, workflow enhancements.
  • Some welcome technical additions including MPE, AAR, VR and ARA 2 support.

Cons

  • Changes to the context-sensitive right-click menu system not welcomed by some.
  • Distroyer aside, there are no shiny new effects or instrument plug-ins as an obvious selling point.

Summary

Thirty years in, Cubase Pro 10 is a powerful, sophisticated music‑production system that can meet the needs of many types of user. The latest update contains some significant workflow enhancements all round, and particularly for those who do vocal recording.

Information

Cubase Pro 10 $552; Cubase Elements 10 $99.99; Cubase Artist 10 $302; Pro upgrades from $99.99.

www.steinberg.net

Test Spec

  • Steinberg Cubase Pro 10.0.5.
  • Apple iMac with 3.5GHz Intel Core i7 CPU and 32GB RAM, running MacOS 10.13.6.

 



Published February 2019

Friday, April 19, 2024

Pattern-based Sound Design In Cubase

Screen 1: The StepFilter can easily add a cool rhythmic element to even the most basic sounds.Screen 1: The StepFilter can easily add a cool rhythmic element to even the most basic sounds.

Cubase's stock tools offer plenty of creative potential for pattern-based sound design.

Creative use of effects is a great way to inject some sonic interest into many modern music styles, and it can be particularly effective when effect changes are applied in sync with the project tempo. Some brilliant third-party effects plug-ins are designed for just this task (Sugar Bytes' Turnado and Effectrix, for example), but Cubase Pro and Artist users should find that the stock toolset can also be put to very good use.

Filter Lane

The humble filter is always a good bet for this kind of task. The old favourite Tonic plug-in (see SOS November 2004) is sadly now long gone, but Pro and Artist users do have access to the StepFilter plug-in, which can achieve similar things. Considered purely as a filter, StepFilter is perhaps better described as 'minimal' than 'cutting edge'. At its core, you get three simple filter types (high-, low- and band-pass) plus two 'modes' (classic and modern), and controls for the filter cutoff frequency and resonance. But its two step-based pattern grids allow you to sequence changes in the cutoff and resonance, and combining this with some of the other controls allows you to conjure up some very interesting rhythmic filter effects.

Let's consider an easy example to illustrate the possibilities: using StepFilter to liven up an otherwise static synth pad. In the first screenshot, I've selected HALion Sonic SE's Humble Analog pad sound, which is a perfectly useable but somewhat undramatic pad. Insert an instance of StepFilter on the channel, though, and things can be made much more interesting. For example, the Synced Step preset is shown in Screen 1 (above). This uses a low-pass filter, with the cutoff step sequence set to simply alternate between extremely high and low values relative to the Base Cutoff setting. In this case, with the transport running (you'll only hear StepFilter working when Cubase is in playback), when you play a MIDI Note in HSSE, the pad plays back with a steady, tempo-sync'ed 'pulse'. But you can create more interesting rhythmic results by editing the cutoff step pattern, and its tempo-sync rate can be adjusted via the Rate knob.

By adjusting the Base Cutoff setting (this is the cutoff value around which the step pattern will add variations), you can change the timbre of the sound, while the Mix slider allows you to make the effect more subtle by adjusting the wet/dry balance. In addition, with this sound source, the Glide knob — which smooths the transitions between each step — can take you from a wah-like effect at high values, through a really smooth pulse at intermediate values, to a more percussive, 'clicky' sound at very low values.

Screen 2: In Modern mode, the Hard Clip control can be used to drive the filter into some useful distortion.Screen 2: In Modern mode, the Hard Clip control can be used to drive the filter into some useful distortion.Despite the modest-looking control set, StepFilter is capable of creating much more dramatic effects than this simple rhythmic pulse. Using the same HSSE pad, Screen 2 shows a different StepFilter configuration, and a couple of things are worth noting. First, I've switched to the Modern filter mode, which activates the Hard Clip knob. With higher settings, you can use this to push the filter into a distortion that responds to both note velocity (volume) and the step-pattern settings. This can yield some very dramatic timbral shifts. Second, I've set the pattern length to 15 steps, and the Rate to 16th notes. Why? Well, for example, in a conventional 4/4 project, this means that the pattern continuously shifts against the timing of other elements in your project, and this can result in some cool evolving rhythmic effects. Or you could use the same approach to to create something quite unsettling; the choice is yours.

Of course, pretty much everything in StepFilter can also be automated. This includes the pattern selection (each instance can store up to eight different step patterns), Mix, Base Cutoff, Base Resonance, Rate, Glide and Filter Type parameters. Right-click on any of these and you can assign them to a Quick Control slot (for hands-on control via an external MIDI control surface) or display an automation track ready for editing. Considering it has such a simple control set, StepFilter really is a surprisingly powerful tool. Of course, the synth-pad cliché is just an example — you needn't limit yourself to such sources, as the approach holds potential for processing any sound source; you could even try using it as a spot effect on your master bus.

Filter Out

For something a little more colourful, Artist and Pro users can try LoopMash FX. As I described in SOS November 2015, this plug-in provides a selection of 19 DJ-style glitch effects that can be sprinkled at key spots in an electronic or pop track. You can trigger these effects in real-time via MIDI input. But one of the attractions of some of the better creative multi-effect plug-ins such as Effectrix is the option to use step-based patterns to control how the individual effects are triggered. There are a number of ways to emulate this effect in Cubase, but perhaps the most interesting one is to create patterns in Cubase's BeatDesigner MIDI plug-in, and use these to trigger LoopMash FX's effects. The initial configuration requires a few steps, but once done the BeatDesigner interface is great for rapid pattern creation and editing, and there's lots of fun to be had.

Screen 3: The combination of LoopMash FX and BeatDesigner can deliver some very creative pattern-based effects.Screen 3: The combination of LoopMash FX and BeatDesigner can deliver some very creative pattern-based effects.First, instantiate LoopMash FX on the track whose audio you wish to 'mash'. This could be a VSTi (for example HSSE) or an audio track. It's a good idea to match the LoopMash FX triggering interval (indicated by the note icons in the middle of the display) with the step interval of your BeatDesigner patterns. Setting both to 16th notes works best but feel free to experiment, as mismatched intervals can create some very happy accidents! Second, create a separate MIDI track and load BeatDesigner into one of the track's MIDI insert slots. The MIDI output of this track should be routed to the instance of LoopMash FX via the Inspector. (This MIDI destination becomes visible once LoopMash FX has been inserted on a track.)

The LoopMash effects are mapped from F2 to B3 and, if you create a BeatDesigner pattern that triggers notes in this range, they'll activate the appropriate effect in LoopMash FX (Screen 3). During playback, the pattern will loop and if you activate the Jump button (top-right of the BeatDesigner interface), you'll enable pattern switching via MIDI (notes C1 to C4), so you can easily switch between different patterns (including a blank one for when you want no effects to be applied). Note that different patterns in a single instance of BeatDesigner can have different settings for step numbers/divisions, so you can do some interesting things in terms of timing and also create extended patterns (up to 64 steps in length).

Used in this way, LoopMash FX can do all sorts of interesting things to spice up even the blandest source. That said, there are a few catches! First, by default, BeatDesigner only shows 11 rows. Clicking on the '+' icon on the far-right of the bottom lane will add a lane and you can simply expand the pattern grid until it shows 19 rows (one for each of the LoopMash FX triggers). Second, BeatDesigner's grid shows drum labels alongside its MIDI note numbers rather than labels for the LoopMash effects. However, if you add a Drum Map via the Inspector of the track containing BeatDesigner, you can create a custom Drum Map containing the LoopMash effect names (Screen 4). These will then be displayed for ease of reference.

Screen 4: Creating a LoopMash FX-friendly Drum Map makes BeatDesigner patterns easier to follow.Screen 4: Creating a LoopMash FX-friendly Drum Map makes BeatDesigner patterns easier to follow.

Third, notes in a BeatDesigner pattern are of a fixed length, set by the step division. This doesn't stop you creating cool effects, but some of the LoopMash FX options produce interesting results when triggered for whole beats or even bars. There's no way to 'tie' notes in BeatDesigner. But having used BeatDesigner to create a collection of a patterns, you can drag and drop each pattern from its small virtual MIDI keyboard onto a MIDI track routed to LoopMash FX's MIDI input (you need to turn off the Jump setting for this drag-and-drop process to work). You can then use the standard MIDI Key Editor to edit the pattern further, including extending the length of some note triggers if required.

For those of a particularly experimental bent, a final thing to try is a second MIDI track with a further instance of BeatDesigner routed to the MIDI input of the same LoopMash FX plug-in. If you create patterns with slightly different step numbers in the two different BeatDesigner instances and run them at the same time, your effects triggering will evolve as the different step counts cycle through. This can (sometimes!) create some wonderful results. 



Published March 2019

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Cubase: Exporting Different Mixes From A Project

The Arranger Track now allows you to construct multiple Arranger Chains — alternative arrangements of your track — in a single Cubase project.The Arranger Track now allows you to construct multiple Arranger Chains — alternative arrangements of your track — in a single Cubase project.

Need to export different mixes from the same project? Cubase Pro 10 makes it easy…

Engineers often need to create alternative mixes of a project. It's common, for example, for a professional engineer to be required to provide a 'vocal up' version of a mix, but there are various reasons any of us might want to create alternative versions of a project — different arrangements that extend or shorten a song, different effects options, or perhaps broadcast-friendly edits to disguise expletives! Whatever the reason, Cubase has a number of tools that can help, and in this article I'll explain how the Arranger Track and Cubase Pro 10's MixConsole Snapshots can help you create alternative mixes and arrangements more easily. Most of what Cubase offers is good, but I'll also discuss workarounds for a few 'cons'.

Power Arrangers

I looked at the Arranger Track (in Pro, Artist and Elements) in SOS July 2010 (https://sosm.ag/cubase-0710), when considering how to create advert-friendly, 30-second cues from a longer project. It basically provides a way to move the playhead to different points in your arrangement on playback, so it can be used for any kind of timeline-based re-sequencing of a song's structure. Having created an Arranger Track (in the same way you create any other kind of track), creating a new arrangement requires just a few simple steps.

First, create some events on the Arranger Track. Each one defines a time/bar range, and they can be played back by the Arranger Track in any sequence you define. Events can be given unique names to replace the defaults (A, B, C etc.), and it's fine for events to overlap — for instance, you could create separate four- and eight-bar events starting at bar 12, beat one. Next, in the Arranger Inspector panel or in the Arranger Editor window, create a chain of these Arranger events; add and move them into the sequence you want to hear on playback. For each instance of each event, you can choose the number of times it should loop before moving to the next event in your chain. Finally, toggle on the Activate Arranger Mode button (next to the 'e' edit button for the Arranger Track in the Project window's channel list). Now, on playback, instead of playing in linear fashion along the timeline, Cubase will follow the nonlinear sequence of events specified in your Arranger chain.

This is all super-easy to do, but it's a really powerful feature because it allows you to experiment with all sorts of timeline-based variations of your musical arrangement without dragging parts around your arrange page. There are a few more detailed considerations though...

Since I first wrote about this in my SOS July 2010 article, Steinberg added the ability to create multiple Chains via the Arranger Track's Inspector panel. Individual Chains can also be duplicated and renamed. So, assuming your Project contains all the necessary materials (audio tracks, virtual instruments, etc.) for all the different mix versions you wish to create, you can now keep all your arrangements in a single master project, simply switching between the different Chains to choose which you'll hear on playback.

Arranger Chains can be 'flattened' into a traditional linear arrangement prior to audio export.Arranger Chains can be 'flattened' into a traditional linear arrangement prior to audio export.

At some stage, you'll want to render your various arrangements using Export/Audio Mixdown, and there are three steps to this process. The first requires you to use the Flatten Chain option (in the Arranger Editor window or the Arranger Track's Inspector). This lays out the current Arranger Chain as a conventional linear project on the timeline. You can choose in the Arranger Editor to create this flattened version in a new Cubase project or, if you prefer to keep everything in a single master project, you can select the Current Project option as the Destination. Once flattened, you can use the Export/Audio Mixdown command, as usual. A third step is to visit your project's History panel and move back to the step where you flattened the project — this will return you to the un-flattened version in the Project window while, critically, retaining the audio mixdown you just created via the export process.

Even if your Arranger Track sequence plays back smoothly, listen carefully to the flattened version prior to the final export. Problems can occur, for example, where audio or MIDI clips have elements that are cut at the start or end of any Arranger Events, and you might find that some minor editing tweaks are needed to address this. If the flattened version requires any major surgery, this is perhaps one occasion when flattening to a new project is a more sensible choice, since it would otherwise require you to undo a lot of steps to move back to another arrangement.

Snap To It

Cubase Pro 10's new MixConsole Snapshots system makes it easy to experiment with different level, pan and processing options, amongst other mixer settings.Cubase Pro 10's new MixConsole Snapshots system makes it easy to experiment with different level, pan and processing options, amongst other mixer settings.But what if you're happy with the arrangement and simply want to create and recall different mix versions? This is where Cubase Pro 10's new MixConsole Snapshots feature comes in to play. You can create up to 10 MixConsole Snapshots in a single project, and these are saved within the project file. They're set up via a dedicated tab in the main MixConsole's left zone (alongside the MixConsole History tab, which can also be useful when experimenting with different mix options). The MixConsole toolbar has a button (the small camera icon) for creating Snapshots, and there's a dropdown menu for other Snapshot tasks, such as selecting, updating or renaming. In the main MixConsole tab, you can add notes to each Snapshot too, and that's a great habit to get into, as it's easy to lose track of lots of specific mix changes in different Snapshots.

Cubase: Exporting Different Mixes From A ProjectThe key thing you need to note if you're to get the best from this new feature is what information is and isn't stored as part of the Snapshot. Obviously, basic volume and pan settings are stored in a Snapshot, so typical mix-variation tasks (eg. vocals up, guitars panned wider, drums down) can all be managed using Snapshots. More impressively, though, all the main insert, EQ, Channel Strip and send settings are also included. So you can easily audition different send levels to a reverb/delay, different EQ settings or different combinations of insert effects on any tracks. The last of these is a great way to try out different compressor plug-ins on, for example, your drums or lead vocals, or for exploring different stereo-bus processing chains.

What's Not To Like?

It's important to understand that Snapshots recall settings of the MixConsole only, not of the Cubase project as a whole. In particular, note that you can't try different automation moves on, say, a track's volume or send levels and store each version in a Snapshot. And for every track that remains Read enabled, any automation data in your project will override the static settings of your Snapshots. The exception is if you've created automation for an insert effect and then load a Snapshot that doesn't include that instance of the insert effect — in this case, the insert's automation data will be deleted. Cubase can warn that this is about to happen, but it's well worth being aware of! The workaround is to use and save the bypass status for insert effects, sends and the main Rack sections, rather than actually removing the plug-ins. If you want to retain the sort of detailed level automation you might use for a lead vocal, but still create a 'vocal up' mix, then another strategy is to use a VCA Fader to boost/attenuate the vocal track — store the static VCA Fader setting in the Snapshot.

The status of the channel Mute, Solo, Read and Write button are not (yet?) stored/recalled by Snapshots, something which would have been really useful. Taking the Mute buttons as an example, storing the mute status would be handy if you wished to experiment with alternative tracks. Say you had two completely different lead vocals, or perhaps a guitar solo and a sax solo to choose between — you'd be able to simply mute the required combinations of tracks in different Snapshots. Of course, you can achieve the same end result using fader settings and insert/EQ/Channel Strip/send bypass buttons, but that's a little more fiddly.

The MixConsole Snapshot system doesn't include automation data. This is only an issue for insert effects, and then only if you add/remove insert effects via Snapshots when those inserts already have automation data created for them.The MixConsole Snapshot system doesn't include automation data. This is only an issue for insert effects, and then only if you add/remove insert effects via Snapshots when those inserts already have automation data created for them.

Make Your Mind Up

While creativity and experiments are good fun, we all have to exercise a little discipline eventually — you do actually need to declare a mix 'finished' at some point! But having the ability to keep some fairly major mix and arrangement options open until the very end can be incredibly useful in some projects. Despite a few limitations, the Arranger Track and the MixConsole Snapshots facility are incredibly powerful tools that make this possible with a minimum of fuss, and without littering your drive with different project files. 



Published April 2019