Cubase 5 includes under-the-hood improvements to performance, but many of the new features – like the unusual LoopMash loop masher upper instrument – come in the form of instrumental add-ons. LoopMash is interesting, but it’s more a bundled instrument than a truly integrated feature.

The big traditional DAW announcement at this NAMM show was Steinberg’s Cubase 5. Cubase as a music software brand is now older than some people who read this blog, but never mind: Cubase 5 certainly doesn’t want for new stuff. And Cubase still claims to be the world’s most popular computer DAW.

Computer Music Magazine has the best coverage I saw of the new release (admittedly, I think Cubase is bigger on their side of the pond than it is here in the US):

Computer Music’s first look at Cubase RC for iPhone

Computer Music on Steinberg Cubase 5

The iPhone app, Cubase RC, is just the sort of thing I expected other developers to do, though they didn’t. It offers basic remote control functionality and even triggers arrangements, both of which ought to be pretty useful, since you can sit an iPhone or iPod touch next to / atop whatever you’re controlling or recording. And major kudos to Steinberg for making this free rather than trying to squeeze extra cash out of it.

Sure, the iPhone and iPod touch are a bit small to make your only controller – but they make a pretty nice remote control.

So, what do you get out of Cubase 5 itself? Just about every area of the program has seen improvement, with the major selling points being optimized performance, vocal editing, and new beat creation tools.

There are some good bits here, but – realizing I’m biased as I’ve never been a big Cubase user – I can’t help but notice they’re lagging behind some of their competitors with some of the items. I was always impressed with the basic editing environment in Cubase, and the way it handles MIDI and soft synths. My disappointment here is that, while there are some nice-looking performance and workflow tweaks, much of the functionality comes in the form of add-ons. That means Cubase has to compete with similar efforts by other tools and (particularly) plug-ins. If you’re using Cubase, this may be great news, but if not, I just wonder if it’s capable of even inspiring an twinge of envy from anyone else. (And, hey, while you can’t convert all other users, it is nice to at least make them a bit jealous.)

The good: optimized performance for existing users, some nice monophonic vocal editing integrated with the program, and an innovative, really musical way of dealing with expressions for instruments.

Less impressive: Tacked-on features for mixing grooves I suspect a lot of loyal Cubase users may simply ignore.

I’m happy to be frank over this just to see if people generally agree or disagree – particularly Cubase users. This is all basically on paper, as well, so if there is a loyal Cubase user who wants to review these features when available, we’d love to hear from you. Here’s my (slightly uneducated) take:

Vocal editing is a big push, in the form of integrated vocal editing and pitch alteration and a pitch correction plug-in. The competition: Celemony just unveiled their incredible Melodyne editor. Cubase works with monophonic vocals, but Melodyne can do other instruments, even polyphonic lines on a single instrument. Still, Steinberg’s offering looks as though it may be more impressive than what comes bundled in other DAWs, and Melodyne is impressive enough that it makes me believe integration in DAWs is the future. (It’s too bad Steinberg couldn’t just license Melodyne for use in Cubase, however.)

Each DAW generation, we get closer to editing audio as easily as MIDI. Cubase boasts some impressive-looking editing features – but their monophonic functionality for vocals has to stand up to the just-released, polyphonic instrumental support from Celemony.

Beat creation is the other story, though oddly it’s spread between three included instruments. They’re supposed to work with each other, but they seem to take slightly different approaches, and they’re not fully integrated with the host. The most interesting of the three is something called LoopMash. The idea: mix up different loop lines, intelligently analyzed and sliced up, as an instrument. Aside from that, you get a more conventional (and possibly more widely useful) step sequencer / pattern editor and drum sampler. The competition: Drum racks in Live, built-in tools in software like FL Studio, trackers like Renoise, plus the likes of fxpansion GURU,Spectrasonics Stylus RMX, Digidesign Transfuser, and the upcoming Native Instruments Maschine and MOTU’s new bpm.

Other features:

  • Better performance: Version 5 has been rebuilt on the Cocoa framework on Mac, adds WASAPI and low-latency support on Vista, and 64-bit support. Of course, Steinberg is at a disadvantage as a cross-platform entrant here: Apple and MOTU have led on native support for the Mac, as Cakewalk has on Windows (with this very features). It certainly will be welcome to existing Cubase users, and interestingly lays the groundwork for a future, 64-bit Cubase on Mac and not just 64-bit Windows.
  • VST Expression for scoring: This one’s more unique – Cubase adds sophisticated instrumental articulations to the Score and Key Editors in Cubase. For people working on better mock-ups of orchestral scores or composing for sophisticated sample libraries, that should be great. The problem is, Pro Tools just added the entire Sibelius notation engine to their editor – so you may have to choose between either easier instrumental editing in Cubase or (arguably) more robust notation in Pro Tools.
  • A convolution reverb: You know, like the ones that have been sitting in SONAR, DP, and Logic Studio (for years, in the case of Logic). Nice to have, I’m sure, but not really news.
  • A drum sampling device: Would likewise be big news if people didn’t already have their choice of plug-ins, or built-in features like Ableton Live’s Drum Racks or a nearly identical-looking plug-in that ships with SONAR 8.
  • A virtual MIDI keyboard. You’ve got to be kidding me – Cubase didn’t have this before? It’s in GarageBand, for crying out loud. Couldn’t there have been something more distinctive about Steinberg’s implementation?

Saving the best for last: VST Expressions look like a really musical way of dea
ling with instruments, marking them the way you’d mark a score. You can build your own custom libraries for these, too. But does this substitute for the richer notation tools in software like Sibelius (now also in Pro Tools) or Finale?

If you like Cubase, I’d imagine the performance improvements alone could be reason to upgrade. But if you like Cubase, wouldn’t you want more tight integration of new functionality, rather than just features as add-ons? (VST Expression being one notable exception, and I am curious how people use that. To me, it’s actually the most compelling feature in the new release, as I can’t think of any direct equivalent elsewhere.)

I write frankly on this blog to trigger discussion and learn something, so I’m happy to hear what you think – including friendly disagreement.

From Steinberg:

Watch the press conference

iPhone Controller Announcement

New Cubase 5 Features

  • 16v

    i love the iphone app – having a remote transport is great for at home recording, being able to lock myself in my voc booth and not have to worry about having someone around to hit record over and over is great. i can comp vocals as i go! being a pro tools guy, this doesn't help me much (the pro tools remote for iphone in the app store is ridiculously overpriced) i think it shows a great direction that things are heading and smart thinking on the part of steinberg. kudos.

  • humblesound

    I adore Cubase.
    In my personal recordings it is what I've used for 5, maybe 7 years now.

    That said, because of dongles, I will never buy it.

    As soon as they move to a copy protection that doesn't involve a hunk of USB sticking out of my laptop during performance, I'll set aside some money to buy a legit copy.

    Having worked with Protools, Live, Logic, Sonar, Reaper, Acid, and probably a handful of other DAWs, I have settled on Cubase and feel like my productivity is crippled when working in other applications.

    Get some real copy protection, or ditch it altogether.

    You're hurting your users!

  • The vocal editing is a pretty interesting development. While other DAWs like Logic and ProTools 8 offer it, the pitch correction is very limited compared to what Cubase 5 is offering. As someone who likes to draw automation curves, the visual editing of vocals is pretty enticing. Sure Celemony has a much more advanced version of basically the same thing right now, but this is free with the DAW which is great value for its users. I just wish that that Cubase came with a full version of the HALion Symphonic Orchestra. That would make me switch from Logic ASAP.

  • ctx

    humblesound – I don't know why you chose to drag out the bloodied corpse of this poor dead horse, but there have been millions of excuses and justifications for piracy and they all suck. It's a sad commentary on modern society that you (and many, many others) feel that bragging publicly about freeloading on someone else's hard work, which you yourself say that you find superior to other available products, is somehow acceptable, honorable, etc. If you want to be a thief that's your business but you can shove the excuses.

    Re: the blog post, I think it's a bit crazy to compare Cubase updates and Ableton updates and the reception that each one receives, 5 vs 8 is just another round of it. Ableton 8's feature list is mostly things other DAWs have done for years, of course, but you didn't hear a mention of it from anybody, only how great all these new features are. Cubase update and it's the opposite, man, other programs have done this crap forever, Steinberg is so lazy…

    Ableton repackages some old plugins as native ones and charges extra for them and "h man these are great. Steinberg throws in a bunch of newly developed stuff at the original price and who needs this crap. (Plus they get bashed for trying to fix up the VST spec with VST3; Ableton of course simply does not make their native format available to external developers and has very poor routing functionality for VST2 plugins…)

  • @ctx: Well, I did ask for disagreement. 🙂

    I just looked again at this post, though. I make exactly one comparison to Ableton Live – Drum Racks. I'm not actually convinced Live *is* really Cubase's main competition; I think there's more pull in the conventional DAW space with stuff like DP, SONAR, Pro Tools, and Logic – and now, increasingly, tools like Reaper or even Ardour.

    Now, I certainly think one Ableton is enough for the industry — I would want Cubase to be Cubase, not Live. But that particular comparison I think is pertinent. When Ableton did Drum Racks, they fully integrated them with the host – it doesn't function like a plug-in, it integrates with the interface and mixing engine and the whole way you work in the program. If Ableton does get cut extra slack, I think it's because there's a sense of consistency to the way they do things, and a real sense that these parts will go together.

    (Incidentally, more openness on the Live Devices would be great — and we'll have to see how Max for Live distribution goes — but that's a separate discussion.)

    Anyway, my question is, what makes Cubase Cubase and not other tools? I think there probably are some good answers to that. And then, does Cubase 5 add all of these features in a Cubase way? (The vocal editing, articulations, I'd say yes — not as sure about the other features; we'll see.)

    But yeah, if anyone's making this about Ableton, it isn't me. Ironically, the Ableton crew had recently been defensive because many people had been saying they weren't Cubase. Ideally, you'd judge these tools on their own merits.


  • Machines

    I like the idea of the iPhone controller and would love to use it myself, but am I the only guy on the planet who gets horrible GSM noise whenever my iPhone so much as blinks next to my monitors? Until that doesn't happen, I'll continue to keep my phone at bay.

  • @Maschines: that's unfortunately a "feature" of GSM phones in general. Then again, it's an excuse to turn off your phone during a recording set…. and you only need wifi for the controller features.

  • ctx

    Sorry Peter; I should have been more clear. I didn't intend to pick out this blog post as particular offender or something of that nature. It did remind me of my thoughts re: perception of Live and perception of everything else. Rather than any specific statements you made, this was because I interpreted your recent posts about Live as generally positive, and this one about Cubase as generally negative. Anyway, I only intended it as general commentary on (my perception of) the opinion of the internet.

    I actually intended to sum my comment up and forgot to do so. Actually my main conclusion is that this situation is a good reminder of how important "looking pretty" (my bad choice of words…) is in every sense; good PR, ease of use, of course the actual visuals. Even the integration you are talking about I think is in many cases more about the initial impression rather than the end result expert workflow.

    I disagree that Live is "consistent." I think it is easy because there are all sorts of specialized tools and shortcuts. They have done a good job of making those features live together nicely. But in Ableton you have drum racks on one hand and normal racks on the other and the normal track routing on a third and… In Cubase you route it yourself but always in the same way.

    Anyway I do agree that I would like to see more core improvements to the host portion of Cubase rather than plugins and what have you. On the other hand I think there are fewer obvious roads for them to take, as opposed to Live where you can just say ok, version 8 and we can finally access more than 128 VST parameters, now maybe in another year and a half we'll get linear recording of automation… 😉

  • All good points.

    Actually, this is really interesting. I mean, to me Live *is* more consistent, and I don't find myself bothered by the difference between Drum Racks and Instrument Racks. It's certainly more than skin deep for me, because I've spent a lot of time with Live – but then, it may also be that because I've spent a lot of time with Live, I see it differently. I certainly know from having spent some time teaching how something that's immediately intuitive to one person is just completely backwards to someone else.

    Then again, it's marketing people who try to claim one tool fits all — I'm really relieved that's not actually the case. My bias is definitely toward certain things. I can either pretend that isn't the case, or figure that I should go ahead and be biased and we'll learn more from that.

    But you're absolutely right — they're on very different upgrade paths. Ableton does tend to add these things slowly, but on the other hand, you usually get a sort of perfectionist approach to implementation. And there's a real sense of taste to it. Some people are actually going to hate the way it's done, but it does have a point of view.

    I still put Cubase in a different category for the same reason — the "do-everything" DAW, Ableton is not, and there are invariably holes you forget about until you have to do something specific. It's part of what draws people to Live specifically – but also part of what may drive them to Pro Tools / Cubase / DP / Logic / SONAR for the things those tools do.

    I don't think Ableton has a monopoly on this approach, however. See also: FL Studio (which really *isn't* Reason and really isn't just a toy), Numerology the Mac MIDI sequencer, Renoise, Reaper, etc., etc., all in their own way.

    Anyway, that gets off the topic of Cubase, but it does explain how we get into these apples/oranges discussions. I am still interested in hearing how Cubase 5 and Cubase in general compare for folks; I think ctx gets it to a good start.

  • Peter, while I like the fact that you were upfront about not being a Cubase user, the post sort of comes across as if this update isn't good enough. And you asked for our feedback so here's what I think:

    This is a huge update i'm so excited to get my hands on it!

    One of the biggest problems i've had with Cubase in the past is I was never satisfied with the bundled plugins. I've always found that the more 3rd party crap I use in any DAW, the more problems I run into. Cubase is my favourite DAW, and i always have been yearning for more beat tools.

    This year I went around the block, starting with Guru and then Battery. I usually settle with ReDrum but hopefully that will change this year.

    Pitch correction, awesome! i've always been too lazy to get into Melodyne, so they're serving it up right on my plate for me.

    i'm also looking forward to some new Export functions as well that were never present.

    Sure, people can look at Cubase as sort of slow to develop, but all Cubase users have something in common: we all find this program to be the most comfortable to use for making a complete track. We share a lot in common with Logic users, both often looking at Ableton and Reason as simply add-on tools to fill in the gaps in a ReWire setting.

    Slowly but surely they are filling those gaps in.

    Now i'm wondering if the iPhone app causes GSM noise in monitors? Or all iPhone apps in general?

  • oh and just to add if i haven't before this month, bravo on all the great NAMM coverage this year. stellar work as usual my friend.

  • Thanks!

    Okay, fair enough — I think I was mostly responding to the beat generation stuff, which to me just seems weird and gimmicky (though having a basic instrument with pads that you can drag-and-drop onto is never a *bad* thing). But yeah, if you ignore LoopMash for a moment, the other stuff does round out some areas of the DAW nicely, I agree.

    And in fairness, most updates to all of these tools are about pleasing existing users more than winning converts – the recent Live 8 and SONAR 8 certainly fitting into that category. There isn't always a way to do some earth-shaking (and even when you do, as with Sibelius showing up inside PT8, it isn't always enough because of our necessary loyalty to certain ways of working).

  • Rafael Bonilla

    i have reason 4, cubase 4 and ableton 7. i use them all, and i love them in each way that a single tool can provide diferent solutions for the same problem.

    like instruments there is not a guitar perfect for all styles, also no amp can sound right for any song. any program solve perfectly any problem. i love the fact that steinberg mantains an aproach , but i hoped to get some of this features in the 4 version, or a free upgradefor 4 version users (the ones that payd 500 dollas for the program) because i dont see a great improve in this version 4 besides the sx. If you use a lot of tools you can have more documented opinion about good or bad approach to something and in the end you will find that no one program fits all needs and has all solutions. Conclusion.. a little expensive and poor update, i belive that this should be a 4.6 version free for 4 version users!!!

  • haha no way Rafael, i've seen people complain about upgrades before, but this is one of those things that if you don't like it then you'll have to stay on v4.5.1 until v6 comes out.

    And Peter, i must say though that this year for Ableton is probably one of those releases where a lot of live performers and DJs are going to see the need to switch, but not so much studiophiles. So it will probably gain some converts i think, but just not in traditional recording.

    And that's probably a good thing, because Ableton originally set out to be performance software and they got caught up in trying to be a normal DAW

  • Yeah, I agree with that, generally Mr. Tunes… of course, there's definitely some overlap between those areas. That is, some people will be perfectly comfortable using Live as a production tool and never using it in performance. But they are different, and that's a good thing. And it's easy to lose sight of less-known tools (energyXT, Renoise, Numerology, Samplitude, FL, and so on) that also provide some different ways of working – can be equally good end results in the right hands, but different approaches.

  • the new features in cubase 5 look really awesome. the in place editing of vocals (pitch) and the multi export functionality can really cut it.

    i will be upgrading cubase 4 asap.

  • TZA

    This upgrade is giving me the x64 support I've been craving. I can turn the PC into a true powerhouse (just add RAM) and get the reward of better performance in my DAW.
    It's giving more purpose to my MPD24 and my MPC programs can now be used inside my DAW.
    Couple the improvements in 5 with the availability of hardware design specifically for Cubase and that should raise it far beyond comparison from the other DAWs except for ProTools and DP.
    Consider Vista basic and home premium and x64 PT8 is not supporting…won't put them out of the league but it makes them less attractive. DP Mac only (but is powerful as heck) so PC users can't cash in on the Motu and DP combo.
    Dant dant da daaa! Cubase 5 updates are awesome!

  • Fancy Harmonic

    SONAR was the first DAW that supported 64 bit audio and that was like in sonar 3 or 4, cubase just nomw blag.

  • Fancy Harmonic

    Cubase 5 ins't worth upgrading, how can Steinberg introduce feater7 that wcou

  • Fancy Harmonic

    Cubase 5 ins't worth upgrading, how can Steinberg introduce features that could have been added a löng time ago. They add a step sequencer because they saw SONAR doing it, then start supporting 64 bit audio now, that's wack. The problem with steinberg being late with their features is beause they don't care what the users of cubase say and want improved on the software, they add what they want. They can learn a lot from Cakewalk, A LOT. This is why sönar will always, and i mean always lead when it comes to new features and of course dope unique once. Im sticking with Cakewalk till the end of my hearing. GOOD LUCK TO steinberg SUPPORTERS.

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  • michael

    dear Peter Kirn,
    i don't know how old you are, but i've started to use cubase on my atari in 1992 and it was the first sequencer with visual feedback which later all the other sequencers copied, then i bought an atari falcon with 50mb hard drive and the first cubase audio (8 tracks only and 8 bit recording only), again this was the first sequencer featuring audio recording, brilliant! then by 1996 i bought my first apple mac and cubase 2 which featured internal vst/fx and vst/instruments, great, it is steinberg which were the first to develop this and all the other companies copied it again. my point is, steinberg is one of the most important developers for computer musicians up to date, the software is very reliable and has always been one step ahead of the others.

  • Subgrounder

    I intend to upgrade to Cubase5. People should use what works for them. If Cubase is your DAW & you like it use it. If you love Sonar, DP or anything else use that program. If you feel you more than one DAW or DAE then use it. This ragging on what people use by others is pointless. The question isn't what somebody else did but how they did it. Has it ever occurred to anyone that maybe Steinberg attempted to add such a feature but failed maybe they got it right who knows & cares. I want to create music I like some features in LoopMash & Groove Agent One such as Rex file support but I found my own solution:

    Can't beat free it supports audio files besides Rex it's not perfect but it gets the job done.

  • Subgrounder

    Another thing companies copy each other as they attempt to outdo each other. Cakewalk uses the Acid loop format right after Acid came out. They just starting supporting VST sans wrapper two or three prior releases if I'm mistaken. I tried Sonar I didn't like it plus I like to be cross platform with my applications as much as possible.
    I heard ProTools isn't the first come out with freeze tracks its was in Traktion first. ProTools supported audio first so everyone else got on the bandwagon. Propellerheads is not the first to come up the studio suite rack system. Arturia released Storm before Reason but Reason proved more popular.
    Acid came up with a reliable way to manipulate loops so did Propellerheads Recycle & Ableton Live. Look at the mini van Crystler introduced this auto & everybody from Ford to Nissan has ripped it off. So that's life.

  • Subgrounder

    Presonus is releasing Studio One which is cross platform & supports the VST 3 format. Only Cubase & Nuendo support this format:

    It looks like they supporting the same logic as Steinberg more fx then instruments. It might be what I'm looking for but maybe it suits someone else so check it out.

  • Johnsinter

    I stopped upgrading after version 2 of sx. At that point, I didn't believe the new program would be bug free, and already had the features I needed to make music. People who look for 'new' features all the time are just substituting gear lust for real intent to create music.

  • Shintek

    Just need to say Cubase 5 is awesome. I use cubase with Reason 4 and Madtracker 2.

    For the most part the VST instruments are awesome, the only down side is that it doesn't come with any manuals on how to use them. After watching all the tutorials online I finally got a hold of some of the functions. And yes they are pretty good once you know how to use them.

    Note: It's sad when you have to watch video's in German to try to figure things out.

    Unfortunately, I had some compatibily issues. I run Windows 7 64bit and Cubase 5 64bit. There are many bugs that have not been fixed yet such as Re-wire not working, you can't audition sounds, you can't export an audio mixdown when using the VST instruments. Giving that it is still in beta testing it is understandable but dang!! Why can't things just work.

    Note: The disk comes with 32bit and 64bit install, and Yes!! you can load the 32bit Cubase on a 64bit system with no problems. I'm just one of those stupid guys where bigger is better.

    That being said Cubase is probably the best recording software for the Home studio user. Has all the processing power, and then some, to do great mixes with minimal effort. I've had it for a month now and have realized how much this software actually does. I have to say it's amazing how some of the functions work.

    However, I don't see how this compares with Ableton Live.

    Ableton live is probably the best software for live concert applications. The loop controllers are amazing and the midi controllers such as YounFX Ability is unmatched in live control. If you question me watch Matt McCoy use it on Youtube.

    Cubase 5 is probably the best for studio applications. The vocal editors are very easy to use. The insert effects are awesome, Groove agent with the Beat designer is very impressive to say the least.

    Sure they are both like $600 dollars but why try to get a car to float on water? Cars are good on land, and boats are good on water. Same principles apply.