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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Cubase: Real-Time MIDI Effects vs Audio FX

Arpache SX takes arpeggiation to new heights, with an option to use a note list derived from any MIDI part you care to drag and drop from the Project Window.Arpache SX takes arpeggiation to new heights, with an option to use a note list derived from any MIDI part you care to drag and drop from the Project Window.

Cubase SX has a wide selection of real-time MIDI effects that can often substitute for the more processor-hungry audio effects, as well as opening up other creative possibilities.

It's probably fair to say that the majority of computer-based musicians running Cubase SX now use plug-in effects to process their audio tracks, soft synths, and so on, consuming copious amounts of processing power to do so. What many may not have realised is that if they're using software synths and samplers, or even good old-fashioned hardware MIDI synths, there's another category of SX effects that uses scarcely any CPU at all: MIDI plug-ins. As a comparison, while an audio echo plug-in has to calculate a new audio stream for the duration of each echo added to the original sound, you can add MIDI echos simply by placing additional note on/off commands in the data stream at the appropriate moment.

Just like audio plug-ins, Cubase SX MIDI effects can be used as inserts and in send/return loops, and these have dedicated sections in the Inspector for each MIDI track. Each track can use up to four insert and four send effects — although, unlike the audio equivalent, MIDI sends can be different for each track. However, they operate in a similar way to audio effects, with inserts processing the original data and sends generating additional MIDI data that is added to the original track data. Some of the plug-ins are extremely simple to use, while others are surprisingly complex and full of creative possibilities.

Simpler MIDI Plug-ins

  • Compress has a similar function to the Inspector's Velocity Compression parameter, evening out the velocity values in the track, but instead of the somewhat confusing fraction parameter it provides more familiar controls labelled Threshold, Ratio, and Gain.
  • MIDIcontrol lets you perform basic sound editing on your synths using up to eight sliders, each of which can be assigned to your choice of MIDI controller. Since the current settings are saved with the song, this is a handy way to return to an edited sound without saving it in the synth's own preset format.
  • Density is downright weird, muting occasional notes as you drop below the default 100 percent value, and randomly adding extra ones as you raise it above. You could use it to thin out solos or generate new ideas, but if you've found another use, please let me know!
  • Micro Tuner works with synths that accept microtuning information. It comes with a selection of pure, equal temperament, Pythagorean, and experimental tunings. Probably one for enthusiasts only.
  • Note2CC is another strange offering, generating your choice of MIDI controller information from the incoming MIDI note value. You could perhaps use it with Controller 7 so that low notes were quieter than high ones, for instance. It's least confusing if used on monophonic lines.
  • Quantizer is a simple but useful addition to the main Cubase quantise functions, since it works in real time rather than being applied to note timing, and its Delay parameter can be automated for special effects.
  • Track Control is a handy panel of the knobs and sliders that used to appear in Cubase VST 's MIDI Mixer for altering GS and XG synths. Like the Control plug-in, it preserves sound edits when you save a song.
  • TrackFX one instance of this is already used in every MIDI channel of your songs to provide the Inspector's Track parameters (you can see the current TrackFX total on the MIDI Plug-ins page of the Cubase SX Plug-In Information window). However, the stand-alone version adds Scale Transpose options for making notes conform to any key and scale mode. These are wonderful for creating exotic feels. See November 2000's Cubase Notes for more details.
  • Transformer is a real-time version of the Logical Editor, and is also closely related to the Input Transformer (see 'The Input Transformer' box below).

Enter The Stream

Some of the supplied Steinberg MIDI effects are very similar to their audio cousins. Autopan will seem very familiar, with its selection of waveforms, Min and Max settings to determine the swing extremes, and Period parameter for altering the duration of each cycle. It's also deceptively versatile. Two of the waveforms have periodical envelopes whose amplitude varies depending on the position of the Amp Mod control, so you can generate decaying waveforms over several cycles, which is ideal for bouncing effects.

The Controller parameter not only allows controller 10 (pan) information to be sent out, but also any other MIDI controller number — there are presets for sweeping filter frequency and resonance, attack time, expression, and so on, but it's important to make sure that the destination hard or soft synth responds to these, or nothing will happen. 'Density' controls how often a new value is sent out, producing smooth waveforms at one extreme and stepped versions at the other. The latter sound effective with frequency modulation.

Arpache 5 (shown in the opening screenshot) is an arpeggiator. In addition to the normal up, down, up/down and random modes, plus quantise (arpeggio speed) and length options based on the chord shape you play, it also provides an 'Order On' play mode that lets you specify between one and eight notes from your chord by entering them into 'slots'. This is very flexible, allowing the creation of riffs that alter with chord shapes.

Arpache SX is even more versatile, adding 'mostly up' and 'mostly down' parameters, plus a new 'Seq' mode that uses a MIDI part as its pattern. Its notes (including those in chords) are then sorted into a list and played according to various Trigger rules and Play modes. Velocities of the arpeggiated notes can be sourced from the original MIDI part or live input, or fixed at a specific value, while a Thru switch allows live chords to be heard along with the arpeggiated notes.

MIDI Echo can do much that audio echos would find difficult. This preset creates a downward cascade of notes for each incoming one.MIDI Echo can do much that audio echos would find difficult. This preset creates a downward cascade of notes for each incoming one.

MIDI Echo can provide between one and 12 standard repeats of input notes, with the Velocity Decay control mimicking the fading or swell effects of a digital delay. However, this plug-in can be far more flexible than its audio counterpart. For example, the Echo Decay parameter alters how echo time changes for each repeat. At 100 percent, each will be the same, but with higher settings each echo is successively longer, while with lower ones echos get faster, like a bouncing ball coming to rest. Length Decay controls the relative durations of each repeat, but for me the pièce de résistance is the Pitch Decay control, which provides MIDI pitch-shifting, with non-zero values causing each repeat to play a higher or lower note. A setting of -2, for example, produces a downward cascading whole-tone scale, while more musically useful values such as +12 will attach clusters of octaves rising into the distance.

As its name suggests, Chorder lets you assign chords to each MIDI note, but it goes a lot further than anything I've tried before. The default Global mode plays the selected chord over the entire keyboard range, as many analogue synth owners used to do by setting parallel intervals on oscillators. Octave mode lets you assign a different chord to each of the notes in an octave, and Normal mode goes even further, allowing a different chord for every note on the keyboard. You can also set up to eight chord variations that play depending on note velocity or note offset, or at random. I've found the velocity switching particularly useful, as you can play more complex chords the more you 'dig in'.

The Step Designer is a flexible, pattern-based sequencer capable of holding up to 200 patterns that can be easily automated in real time.The Step Designer is a flexible, pattern-based sequencer capable of holding up to 200 patterns that can be easily automated in real time.

Step Designer, shown above, is a monophonic pattern sequencer offering up to 200 patterns, each with a length of between one and 32 steps and a step duration determined by the Quantize value. Creating and deleting notes is done by clicking on the appropriate spot in the main graphic window, with note velocity and gate values set in the lower window, as well as your choice of two other controller values — such as, for example, filter frequency and resonance. Tied notes are allowed, and various tools are available to make pattern creation more pleasurable. These include Copy and Paste, plus 'Random' for stimulating new ideas. You can also shift the current pattern up and down in octaves, shift it backwards and forwards in time, reverse it, or apply a Swing feel. It's not mentioned in the manual, but I also discovered that you can use the cursor keys to shift an entire pattern, in single steps, in any direction.

Like most computer-based pattern sequencers, Step Designer can be fiddly to set up, but once you've created a bunch of patterns it's made far more usable via automation, which allows you to easily switch between patterns. Because each pattern loops for as long as it is active, it's also easy to set up complex polyrhythms by setting (for instance) two tracks with loop lengths of 15 and 16 against each other. It's even possible to use Step Designer as a send effect, in which case you can allocate it to a different MIDI output and channel from the main track, to generate complex layered effects.

Rendering MIDI Effects

The easiest way to capture your final tracks complete with all their parameters and effects is to record them as an audio track, but at some point in the proceedings you may also want to convert your MIDI track or tracks into a permanent version. For this purpose Steinberg provide the Merge MIDI In Loop function, which works as the Export Audio function does on audio tracks. Mute all but the track or tracks in question, set up locators around the area you wish to merge, then select the destination track.

There are options to include both send and insert effects, and to erase the destination if you've chosen a track with existing parts as the destination. You can also use the latter function to add MIDI effects to a part rather than to the whole track. Just set up the effects, place the locators either side of the part, and make sure you tick the 'Erase Destination' option. The processed part will then replace the original, and you can disable the MIDI effects so that they don't get used for the remainder of the track.

The Input Transformer

This is a rather special function that you can launch from the Inspector for each MIDI track. It's very similar to both the Logical Editor and the Transformer plug-in to use, but where the Logical Editor works offline, and the Transformer plug-in works in real time on the MIDI output from a track, the Input Transformer lets you selectively filter out or transform data coming from your various MIDI inputs before it's recorded.

The Input Transformer is handy for filtering out specific MIDI data, or, as shown here, you can use it to tweak your keyboard's velocity curve in real time.The Input Transformer is handy for filtering out specific MIDI data, or, as shown here, you can use it to tweak your keyboard's velocity curve in real time.

There are four 'modules', that can be activated in any combination, and two modes: Filter and Transform. The first is used if you want to prevent certain data, such as aftertouch, being recorded on a track, while the second provides more creative possibilities. An example is changing one type of controller data into another, such as aftertouch into breath controller. However, for me the most useful application is changing the velocity curve from my various keyboards to make the most of the 0-127 velocity range. In SX 1.0 you had to enable the Input Transformer and your velocity curve preset for each and every MIDI track, but from version 2.0 onwards there's a Global as well as Local option, so you can apply an Input Transformer effect to all tracks (although it would still be very handy to instead be able to tie an Input Transformer to a specific MIDI Input device). 

Published January 2005

Monday, October 18, 2021

Multi-Channel Projects In Cubase

In Cubase SX 3 you can open and configure three separate Mixer windows. In the example above, one Mixer shows MIDI channels, another shows audio, input and output channels, and the third window displays FX channels.In Cubase SX 3 you can open and configure three separate Mixer windows. In the example above, one Mixer shows MIDI channels, another shows audio, input and output channels, and the third window displays FX channels.

Returning to Cubase 's Mixer window again this month, we take a look at some ways to make it more manageable when working with Projects containing a large number of channels.

Once you start working with large Projects — which is to say, Projects with a large number of channels — you'll find that it can become quite difficult keeping track (no pun intended) of them on the Mixer. To help make life easier, Cubase allows you to do two things: firstly, you can open a second or third Mixer window simultaneously from the Devices menu, to look at different parts of what is the same mixer. Secondly, you can customise either Mixer window to show only what you need to see at a given moment.

As you've probably noticed, the order in which Cubase displays channels on the Mixer from left to right is exactly the same as the order in which tracks are displayed on the Project window from top to bottom. And since Cubase has many different varieties of tracks and channels that can be viewed on the Mixer these days, this window easily becomes overcrowded.

To make things easier, you can configure the Mixer to display only the channel types you require, using the Hide Channel buttons in the Common Panel. This can be useful if, for example, all of your MIDI channels are playing through VST Instruments and you only need to see the channel strips for the VST Instruments during mixing. Enabling the Hide MIDI Channels button (Hide Channel buttons glow orange when enabled) hides all the MIDI channels on the Mixer.

In addition to hiding and showing channels of different types, you can also set up a user-definable hide-and-show group across different channels of any type. Click the Channel View pop-up menu for a channel you'd like to assign to the hide-and-show group, and make sure the 'Can Hide' item is ticked — click to tick if it isn't already. After doing this you can hide and show the channels you assigned as 'Can Hide' by toggling the 'Hide Channels Set To 'Can Hide'' button. That's the lowest icon in the set of Hide Channel buttons.

Linked Channel Tips & Tricks

When you're working with a group of linked channels, it's still possible to make changes to individual parameters without having to first unlink the channels. Simply hold down the Alt/Option key as you adjust the parameter.

Since all the channels in a linked group are automatically selected when one of the channels in that group is selected, you can select just one of the channels in a group by holding Alt/Option as you click the name at the bottom of a channel strip. Note that this only works if the linked channels aren't already selected on the Mixer. You'll have to deselect all of them, by selecting another channel, before you can select just one of them.

Although it's possible to have multiple groups of linked channels in the Mixer, it's worth remembering that a channel can only belong to one linked group. While you don't have to unlink a channel before you include it in another group, bear in mind that a channel will no longer be part of the linked group it previously belonged to once it's been reassigned. The original group will remain otherwise intact, however.

A Channel With A View

Being able to configure what you see in the Mixer is, of course, very useful; but continually reconfiguring the Mixer to see different sets of channels can be rather tedious. To overcome this, you can create what Cubase term Channel View Sets, taking a snapshot of the current Mixer configuration that's saved with the Project and can be recalled at any point.

Working With Multi-Channel Projects

When the Mixer has been set up to display a certain configuration you'd like to be able to get back easily at a later date, click the 'Store View Set' button (located at the top left of the Common Panel in the lowest section of the Mixer), enter a name in the politely-titled 'Type In Preset View' window and click OK or press Return. You can now recall this Mixer configuration at any time by clicking the 'Select Channel View Set' button and selecting the configuration from the pop-up.

It's possible to delete a Channel View Set preset by recalling it and clicking the 'Remove View Set' button on the Common Panel. If you want to overwrite an existing Channel View Set preset, simply follow the procedure for creating a new preset and give it the same name as the preset you want to overwrite. When you click OK, Cubase will ask you if you want to overwrite the existing preset by clicking Overwrite, or abort the whole procedure by clicking Cancel.

It's worth noting that the Channel View Sets you create are available independently of each other in both Mixer windows, enabling you to view two different Channel View Sets simultaneously: one in each Mixer window. Usefully, Channel View Sets are stored globally with the application, meaning that any Project you open will be able to use the same Channel View Sets.

Little & Large

One way to identify all the channels on the Mixer is simply to display more channels. For those who can't justify a bigger monitor, Cubase offers two different widths for displaying each channel strip: narrow and wide. Wide is the usual setting. Although the narrow view limits the number of parameters visible for each channel, it's a useful way of cramming more level faders and meters on to the screen when you're concentrating on balancing levels, for example.

To view a channel as either wide or narrow, click the Narrow/Wide toggle button above that channel (the button is located just above the selection strip, which is above the Channel's pan control). Alternatively, to view all the channels on the Mixer as wide or narrow, click either the 'All Wide' or 'All Narrow' button at the top of the Common Panel to the far left of the Mixer. If you have the input or output channels visible on the Mixer, you'll notice that clicking the 'All Wide' or 'All Narrow' buttons makes no difference to input or output channels. To include these channels in the 'All' operation, Alt/Option-click the buttons instead.

The Weakest Link

When you're working on large and complicated mixes involving many channels, making manual adjustments to faders individually can become impractical. A common approach to large mixes is to get the balance right within specific sections, such as the balance of a drum kit or string section, and then start mixing these sections together. Since you want to be able to adjust the volume of a section in one go, rather than having to go along and move each fader for the section individually, Cubase provides two options. One way in which you can group channels on the Mixer is to link them together. Wouldn't it be great if you could move one of the faders for an audio channel containing part of the drum kit, and have the faders for the other audio channels containing the drum kit adjusted proportionally? This is exactly the kind of thing you can do by linking channels on the Mixer.

  • In the Mixer window, select the first channel you want in the selection, by clicking its name at the bottom of the channel strip.
  • Then Shift-click all the other channels you want to link in the same group.
  • Right-click in an empty part of the Mixer (on a level meter, for example) and select 'Link Channels' from the pop-up menu. Now, when you adjust one of the faders on a linked channel, notice how all the faders on the other channels that were linked move proportionally with the fader you're adjusting.

It isn't only faders that are linked when you link channels together; other parameters are too, including the Mute, Solo, Monitor and Record Enable buttons. To unlink a group of channels, select one of the channels in the group you want to unlink and all the others should become selected too. Now right-click in an empty part of the Mixer and select Unlink Channels from the pop-up menu. Unlinking any channel that's part of a group will unlink all channels in that group since it's not possible to unlink one channel and keep the rest of the linked group intact.

Sub-mixing With Group Channels

Linking channels can be a useful way of handling the mix in sections, but there's another useful technique for audio-based channels (which can be used in addition to linking channels, incidentally): sub-mix them through Group channels. For example, you could route the individual audio outputs of the channels containing drum-kit sounds to a Group channel, which would enable you to treat the output of the drum kit as a single stereo channel with one fader. It would then be easy to, for example, use a plug-in as an insert effect (a compressor, for example), across the entire output of the drum kit.

To create a new Group channel, select Project / Add Track / Group Channel and choose a suitable channel configuration (mono, stereo, 5.1, and so on) from the 'Add Group Channel Track' window. Click OK. Notice how a new Group channel track is added to the Project window within a newly created Group channels Folder track. Cubase will automatically add all Group channel tracks created subsequently into this Folder track. (It's worth noting that the Group channel appears as a track on the Project window for automation purposes only — you can't drag any audio onto it directly.)

The Groups/FX page in the VST Connections window provides another way of configuring Mixer Group channels.The Groups/FX page in the VST Connections window provides another way of configuring Mixer Group channels.

As a side note, since SX3 you can create Group channels in the Group/FX page of the VST Connections window (Devices / VST Connections) by clicking the 'Add Group' button, setting its channel configuration and clicking OK. From here you can also set which output buss the Group channel's audio is routed to.

The next step is to route the outputs of audio-based channels to the Group channel, which you can do by clicking the output selector of an audio-based channel (either in the General Section of the Inspector or above that Channel in the Mixer's Input and Output section) and selecting the Group channel from the pop-up menu.

And that's basically all there is to it — channels routed to a Group channel are processed through the latter before being sent to the Master channel, or indeed another Group channel. You can use Group channels to create sub-mixes of sections such as drum kits, keyboards, and so on, allowing the final mix to be carried out by mixing a few stereo audio channels. 

Published February 2005

Friday, October 15, 2021

Creating Cubase Device Panels

Here's a Device Panel (far left) for the A1 VST Instrument, that allows you to control its most common filter parameters in the Inspector of a MIDI Track assigned to the A1. And yes, Device Panels can even be coloured orange...Here's a Device Panel (far left) for the A1 VST Instrument, that allows you to control its most common filter parameters in the Inspector of a MIDI Track assigned to the A1. And yes, Device Panels can even be coloured orange...

Device Panels were introduced in Cubase SX 3 to enable the creation of on-screen interfaces for controlling MIDI devices. Here we look at how you can create one to control plug-ins.

When I reviewed Cubase SX 3 back in November's issue, one of the points I made regarding the new MIDI Device Panels feature (user-definable interfaces featuring controls such as knobs, sliders, and so on) was that it was a shame you couldn't use such panels to control internal devices, such as VST Instruments, in the same way you could now control external MIDI devices. While VST Instruments already have some kind of panel or editor window for adjusting parameters, the great thing about MIDI Device Panels is the fact that they can be displayed in the Inspector or in the extended section of the Mixer. Wouldn't it have been great if you could have put certain parameters from VST Instruments in the Inspector or on the Mixer?

Steinberg obviously realised that the answer to this question was 'yes', since the newly released SX 3.01 update, which can be downloaded from www.steinberg.net, features the ability to create Device Panels for VST Instruments and effects. Unfortunately, Device Panels (for either internal or external devices) is a feature that's not available for users of Cubase SL.

Creating A Device Panel

Creating Device Panels for internal devices is, in some ways, easier than doing the same for external devices, since Steinberg have removed the need for entering controller numbers or system exclusive data during the process of assigning on-screen controls to VST plug-in parameters. The only thing that's initially confusing is how you actually create a Device Panel for a plug-in, since the list of plug-ins used in your current Project isn't available from the MIDI Device Manager window, where you would normally work with Device Panels. Let's work through an example, then, to illustrate how it's done.

Start with an empty Project and add an A1 plug-in in the VST Instruments window. In the Project window, Cubase will add two tracks automatically in the VST Instruments and A1 Folder tracks, to represent the VST Instrument Device itself (the uppermost track, by default) and the Audio Output from that VST Instrument. This latter track is also represented as a channel on the Mixer.

On the A1 's VST Instrument Device track, note the Edit VST Instrument button, which is the circular button located at the top-right of the track. Normally, you'd click this button to hide and show the editor window for that particular VST Instrument; but now if you Ctrl/Command-click the Edit VST Instrument button you'll get a pop-up hierarchical menu showing the Device Panels accessible for that plug-in. (Note that the Edit VST Instrument button is also accessible from the Inspector, on the far right, when the VST Instrument Device track is selected.)

When there are no Device Panels created for a plug-in, the Device Panel menu will show 'Set Up' as an available Panel, and you should double-click this entry. The Device Panel manager window will open for A1, and to create a new Panel start by clicking the Add Panel button. The Add Panel window lets you name the Panel you're creating and choose one of three sizes: General Size, for working in a dedicated MIDI Panel editor window; Inspector Size, with boundaries set for creating a Panel that can be displayed in the Inspector; and Channel Strip Size, for creating a Panel to be displayed in the channel strip of an Extended Mixer. General Size is largely unnecessary for plug-in Panels, as plug-ins already have their own dedicated editor windows, so for this example choose Inspector Size and click on OK.

Say It With A Reverb Plug-In

What did you get for Christmas this year? A pair of socks? Some chocolate, maybe? SX 3 users received a new reverb plug-in as part of the pre-Christmas 3.01 update, which Steinberg Senior Product Manager Arnd Kaiser described as "a Christmas gift for all our Cubase SX 3 customers." Roomworks is possibly Steinberg's best-ever bundled reverb, which perhaps doesn't say too much coming after such classics as Wunderverb and Reverb A! But seriously, Roomworks is surprisingly good, and the plug-in follows the same aesthetic style as the three most recent plug-ins to join the Cubase family, Tonic, Monologue and Embracer, which were discussed by John Walden in November's Cubase Notes. One extra-nice touch to the user interface is that when you hover the mouse over the plug-in's controls, a description appears in the lower part of the window to explain the application of that particular control.

Roomworks is a free reverb plug-in included with Steinberg's recent 3.01 update to Cubase SX.Roomworks is a free reverb plug-in included with Steinberg's recent 3.01 update to Cubase SX.

One of Steinberg's feature highlights for Roomworks is an efficiency slider to let you scale the CPU resources consumed by the plug-in. An efficiency setting of zero percent gives the most natural sound, but uses the most power, while a setting of 100 percent gives a somewhat unnatural sound (which might be useful for sound-destruction purposes) and uses very little power. Another neat feature of Roomworks is that when it's used on surround configurations it can output four channels (front left and right, plus rear left and right), and an extra set of surround controls is displayed to let you set both the position of the listener and the balance of the sound from front to rear locations.

Adding Control

The Device Panel editor window is vertically divided into three sections. The first section, to the far left, is split into two parts (see screen overleaf). In the uppermost part is a hierarchical list of parameters that can be assigned to various controls you will create in the Device Panel, while the lower part is a duplicate of the Device Panel management controls that were part of the previous window. The second, middle section is where you actually create the Device Panel and assign parameters to controls. Finally, the section to the far right is where you see the palette of available objects you can add to your Device Panel.

Just above the selection of objects, in the top-right of the window, is the Object pop-up menu, where you can select different categories of objects to add to a Device Panel. Let's start by adding a knob: select Knobs from the Objects pop-up menu. Now drag the middle knob in the top row into the main Device Panel editing area. A light-blue outline indicates the boundaries of the Device Panel, so that the one we're creating will fit neatly inside the Inspector.

Once you've created a Panel for a VST Instrument, you can view it in the Inspector of a track assigned to that VST Instrument. Just click the small triangle in the title bar of the User Panel Section, then double-click the Panel in the menu that appears.Once you've created a Panel for a VST Instrument, you can view it in the Inspector of a track assigned to that VST Instrument. Just click the small triangle in the title bar of the User Panel Section, then double-click the Panel in the menu that appears.The Control Parameter Assignment window will appear, but for now click Cancel. The reason is that, in this case, you'll notice that only the basic plug-in management parameters for automation, program selection and so on are available. And again, since these parameters are easily available for a plug-in anyway, there's really not that much point in adding them to our Panel. Instead, once you're back in the main editor window, select the new knob by clicking it once (so that a green outline appears around the object's border). Let's say we want to assign this knob to the filter cut-off parameter in the A1. To do this, open the A1 / Filter / Parameters folder in the hierarchical list of parameters in the editor and select Cutoff. Now, in the lower-part of the middle section of the editor window, click the Assign Parameter button and notice how the text fields above change from 'a1' and 'Not Assigned' to 'a1/Filter' and 'Cutoff'. You can give a name to this particular knob by double-clicking the word 'Title' underneath it, typing the name into the Enter Text window and clicking OK. (Double-clicking the actual knob rather than the word beneath it opens up the Control Parameter Assignment window again.)

Now that we've created a very simple Panel for the A1 plug-in, let's try it out. Close the Device Panel editor window and Cubase will ask you if you want to save the Panel, so click Save. In the Project window, create a MIDI track and assign its output to A1. Now open the User Panel section in the Inspector, click the small triangle in the title bar of the section and select the Panel we just created, from the A1 / Panels folder. You can now use the Cutoff knob in this Panel to control the cut-off frequency of the filter in the A1 without having to open the editor window.

And that's basically all there is to creating Panels for plug-ins. In the case of A1, you might be thinking that it would be easier to create a Panel that basically sends Controller values to the plug-in, since A1 can be remote-controlled by incoming MIDI Controller data. However, the advantage in the way Steinberg have implemented Panels for plug-ins is that these Panels are tied to the plug-in internal automation system, which offers two-way communication. In other words, the Panels are updated to reflect the current state of the plug-in, and this would not be possible (or at least not quite so easy to achieve) using Controller data. You can see this for yourself by opening the A1 editor window alongside the Panel and noticing how the A1 's cut-off control is adjusted when you work with the Panel, and vice-versa.

Closing Words

Once you've created a Panel, you can edit it again in the same way by Control/Apple-clicking the Edit VST Instrument button in the VST Instrument Device track and choosing Setup from the pop-up menu. This time, once the Device Panel manager appears you'll need to select the Panel you want to edit and click Edit Panel. Alternatively, underneath the Setup entry in the menu you'll notice a folder with the name of the plug-in for which you're creating a Panel, and you can open this folder to select the Panel. Double-clicking the Panel name opens the Panel for use in its own window, detached from the Inspector or a Channel Strip, and you can edit it by clicking the 'e in a circle' Edit Device button on the toolbar of the window.

The Device Panel Editor window allows you to create Panels for both plug-ins and external MIDI devices. Here you can see the A1 VST Instrument's Cutoff parameter being assigned to a knob object.The Device Panel Editor window allows you to create Panels for both plug-ins and external MIDI devices. Here you can see the A1 VST Instrument's Cutoff parameter being assigned to a knob object.

Device Panels are automatically saved with the plug-in, so the Panels you create are always available to other Projects and to different instances of the same plug-in within a single Project. While we've looked at creating a Panel for a VST Instrument in the above example, it's also possible to create Panels for VST effects, as mentioned at the start of this article. Unfortunately, this only works for Audio tracks in the current version of SX, as opposed to Group or FX tracks, since only Audio tracks have a User Panel Section in the Inspector.

To create a Panel for an insert effect on an Audio track, Control/Apple-click that track's Edit Channel Settings button, in either the track or the Inspector, and choose Setup from the appropriate sub-folder for the track and insert you want to work with. After this, the Panel can be displayed on that Audio track's Inspector in the User Panel section, or in the User part of the Extended Mixer. 

Published March 2005

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Cubase: Using Non-Real-time Processing

While processing 100s of channels with effects in real time has increasingly become the norm for most of us, there are still occasions when not processing audio in real time can be useful. We look at how to achieve this in Cubase SX.

In the days of old, studio engineers would usually 'print' effects to tape, meaning that they would record the output of an effects unit on to a new track to free up a particular effects unit for other tasks. These days, one of the advantages of software effects is that you can run many copies of the same effects processor simultaneously, so you don't have to 'print' an effect before you start experimenting with the same effect on another track.You can process any event in the Project window in real time, with any plug-in you would normally use, by selecting the event and choosing the appropriate effect via the Plug-in sub-menu of the Quick menu, as seen here.You can process any event in the Project window in real time, with any plug-in you would normally use, by selecting the event and choosing the appropriate effect via the Plug-in sub-menu of the Quick menu, as seen here.

However, while computer studios aren't limited by the number of effects that can be used, in most situations they are still limited by the power of the computer, which can only cope with a finite number of real-time effects. Although most modern systems can handle a fairly staggering number of effects, it's still useful to know how to 'print' effects with Cubase, especially if you're working on larger projects, for example. It's inevitable that the time will come when you'll need every bit of power your computer can summon.

The 'Freeze' function, wherein the output of a plug-in (such as a VST instrument) is bounced to an audio file was, of course, implemented in modern software to provide a simple way of freeing up processing power — but that feature is actually a discussion for another column. This column is about the powerful off-line processing functionality of Cubase SX ­ off-line as opposed to on-line, which would be real-time. Off-line processing can actually be more useful than on-line processing in a number of situations, both creatively and functionally, such as when working with plug-ins that use large buffers for longer look-ahead times (for example, many noise reduction and mastering tools).

Working With Off-line Effects

To apply an effect to an audio event in the Project window, select the event and choose the required effect from the Audio/Plug-ins sub-menu. Alternatively, you could right-click the event and select the effect from the Quick menu's Plug-In sub-menu. Change effect settings as required. To audition what you're doing, click the Preview button. Preview mode works in real time while you tweak the parameters. If you want to simply process the audio, click the Process button. To gain more advanced control over the way the effect will be applied to the audio, click the More button.

The plug-in process window allows full control over how an effect is applied to an audio clip, especially when you click the 'More' button to reveal additional parameters, as I did for this example.The plug-in process window allows full control over how an effect is applied to an audio clip, especially when you click the 'More' button to reveal additional parameters, as I did for this example.

The Wet and Dry mix controls that are revealed when you click 'More' are inversely linked, so that the amount of dry signal increases proportionally as you reduce the amount of wet signal. Dragging one of these faders to 50 percent, for example, means that the processed result will contain equal amounts of the original and processed signal (the best way to understand the effect of these faders is to have the Preview button activated while dragging them). You can drag the Wet slider independently of the Dry slider (and vice-versa) by holding down the Alt/Option key. However, this destroys the wet and dry balance and means you could distort the audio, since it's now possible to have more than 100 percent of the signal playing back — an option best used with care! The moment you click the Wet or Dry fader without the Alt/Options key, the faders snap back to their original, balanced link.

Activating the Pre- and Post-Crossfade sliders can produce some interesting effects, as they allow you to crossfade between dry and wet versions of the audio over a period of time, at both the start and end of the audio you're processing. The maximum wet value for the crossfade will, incidentally, be the balance you've set with the Wet and Dry mix faders.

The final slider is for adding a 'Tail'. Normally, the processed version of the audio is exactly the same length as the original, which in most cases is just what you want. However, if you're processing a section of audio with an effect that continues to die away after the normal length of the section, such as a reverb or delay, the processed result may end too abruptly. For this reason, the Tail slider allows you to add up to an extra 10 seconds to the end of the audio you're processing, which should be enough for even those vast reverb settings. Simply activate the Tail slider and set the time. You can use the Preview button to check and adjust the Tail setting, as the result is included in the Preview. Clicking 'Less' hides the extended settings again, although any changes you've made will remain active when you click Process.

If you happen to have selected an audio event that's used more than once in the Project window, Cubase will display an alert to ask you if you want to process the clip used by all the events, or create a new clip-and-event pair. If you choose the former, by clicking 'Continue', all the instances of that clip and event in the Project window will also feature the processing you've applied. If you click 'New Version' instead, only the selected event will feature the processing, as Cubase will create a new version of the clip and use it exclusively for the event you selected.

Manual Freeze: Converting Insert Effects To Off-line Effects

If you've already set up insert effects on an audio track and want to 'print' them using the method described at the end of the main text, first bypass the insert effects on the audio track and open the editor for the first insert effect. If you've used the effect's built-in Programs without any additional editing, make a mental note of which Program you've used; otherwise, if you've performed some editing on a Program, you'll need to save a copy of it to disk, using the Store Preset function in the plug-in's toolbar.

Close the effect's editor window, select the audio event you want to apply the effect to in the Project window, then choose the same plug-in you used in the first insert slot from the Plug-ins sub-menu in either the audio menu or the Quick menu. Set the plug-in's parameters to exactly the same values as they were when the plug-in was used as an insert. Click the Preview button to make sure you're happy with the sound and click Process when you're happy. After you've finished, you can either leave the insert effects bypassed (which uses only a tiny amount of memory, but no processing) or remove them altogether.

Using The Off-line Process History

One of the most useful audio-related features in Cubase is the Off-line Process History, which literally provides a history for all off-line processing and allows you to remove or alter any of it at any point. Unlike the multiple undo functionality in Cubase, the Offline Process History is always available, even after you've reloaded your song the next day, month, year or century — depending on whether you can still find a computer that can run Cubase, of course!

To open the Off-line Process History for a given audio clip, select the audio event in the Project window for a particular clip, or select the clip directly in the Pool, and open the Off-line Process History window (Audio / Off-line Process History). The History displays a list of all the off-line processes, in the order in which you carried them out. If the Status column is clear, you can select any process you like and remove it from the audio clip by clicking the Remove button. Pretty neat. However, the really clever thing is that if you remove a process that's in between two other processes, Cubase will re-process the clip so that any processes following the process you removed are carried out again.

The Off-line Process History allows you to change any of the usually destructive processing applied to an audio clip at any time, even after you save and re-load a Project.The Off-line Process History allows you to change any of the usually destructive processing applied to an audio clip at any time, even after you save and re-load a Project.

There is, however, one drawback when you remove processing with the Off-line Process History, because the remove operation cannot be undone — it's impossible to retrieve the processing you remove without carrying it out again as before, manually. For example, say you have a clip processed by plug-ins A, B and C, in that order, and you removed plug-in B's processing; if you decided you wanted plug-in B back again in the same place, you'd have to remove the processing from plug-in C as well and re-do both plug-in B and C's processes again in the original order.

You might have noticed that, in addition to the Remove button, there are also Modify and Replace By buttons in the Offline Process History window, which do exactly what you'd expect. If you select a process and click Modify, the off-line effect's editor window will appear with the exact setting you originally used to process the audio. You can make adjustments (although, unfortunately, you can't use the Preview function this time) and click Process to make the alterations. Again, any subsequent processes will be redone automatically to reflect the changes made.

If you'd like to replace one process with another, simply select the process you want to replace and choose a different one from the pop-up menu underneath the Replace By button. Now click 'Replace By' and process the audio as usual.

History Lesson

The Off-line Process History function is very useful, but it isn't magic, and is made possible by Cubase keeping all of the audio files from all stages of the processing in your Project folder — meaning that a Project folder can grow really big if you start to do a great deal of off-line processing. For this reason, if you want to commit processing (such that the Off-line Process History feature can't be used) to a clip, you can do so. Select the appropriate event in the Project window and choose Audio / Freeze Edits. This feature allows you to either replace the original audio file with a version containing all the processing you've done, or create a new file with the processing in place. The latter keeps the original intact but deletes all of the intermediate files that would be used by the Off-line Process History.

Tip: Using The Pool To Apply Effects To Clips

If you want to process a complete audio clip so that every audio event playing that clip plays the processed version, it can often be easier to simply process the clip directly, rather than selecting an Event (or many Events) in the Project window.

To process a clip in the Pool, open the Pool by selecting Project / Pool, or pressing Control/Apple-P, and select the clip you want to process. Choose the required plug-in from either the Audio / Plug-ins sub-menu or by right-clicking the clip to select the effect from the Quick menu. Process the clip as described in the main text of this article. 

Published April 2005