In the midst of the 2020 DAW updates, Steinberg appears to be uniquely focused on pro workflows and precise editing and sound processing tools. Cubase 11 is looking like a landmark update.
Part of that is, Steinberg is finally bringing together a lot of their tools. They’ve always been “the VST company,” with various instrument and plug-in integrations. But this year, they’re also adding the powerful visual audio editing tools of SpectraLayers and the typography from their excellent Dorico score engraving tool. They also have some audio processing tools that look less like DAW add-ons and more like something that can go toe-to-toe with high-end third party offerings. In short, this is Steinberg firing on all cylinders.
And it’s an important moment to do that. Rivals Apple and even MOTU in this generation of DAW have veered more to the kind of music production tools in Ableton Live. Logic Pro X 10.5 and DP 10 both introduced not only Live-style clips and nonlinear editing, but a number of features that suggest Live is now setting the agenda for the biggest DAWs.
On the flipside, Ableton continue to stay away from anything like real multichannel panning support or surround, asset management that would work for gaming or more complex film/TV projects, or more advanced editing. And now having seen Live 11, we know that won’t change any time soon.
So funny enough – everything old is new again. For DAWs that do everything, including real multichannel support and features necessary to tasks like video scoring, the big rivals are Cubase, DP, Pro Tools, and Logic. Apart from some corporate identity changes, that’s the same four DAWs we might have talked about in 1990. We talk about a lot more DAWs than that because people don’t all need something that does everything, or all the time, but the full-feature DAWs remain the same.
What I think could make you want to look at Cubase is, Steinberg are delivering some really powerful tools for editing, mixing, and finishing big, complex jobs.
Interestingly, some of these (though not all) also trickle down to their budget-priced offerings, meaning you can exploit them without necessarily buying the full-priced package.
- Advanced audio export and queuing with full control over what, how, and with what signal chain
- Precise dynamic EQ, dynamic processing, and stereo imaging and metering tools
- Global tracks that sync with your editor view – ideal for scoring
- New key and score editing tools and nice Dorico score type support
- Spectral editing and advanced source separation
- A MultiTap delay that supports 5.1 surround (okay, I did hear a lot of the USA has legalized weed, so I have … an idea)
- Multiple side-chain architecture
Among other stuff. Plus, there’s Avid Eucon support for their latest consoles. So this is all both good and bad news for Avid.
The Pro version is 559EUR as a download. Artist download is 309EUR. To me, Pro is the one that’s exciting. That’s not a low sticker price, but you get a hell of a lot of DAW for your money there, and could easily wind up spending more with a competitor by the time you add in plug-ins.
And while I realized I hadn’t said anything about Apple’s laptops yet – I mean, I think Cubase (like Live 11 yesterday) is more relevant news this week. It’s still what you do before the underlying hardware architecture you do it on.
Warning: This preview will contain ongoing appearances of a man with a ponytail in a studio somewhere. I’m a musician. I like making music. I do not want to make a bunch of Cubase videos, as I don’t work for Steinberg. So man with a ponytail will do it, and then I can happily disappear with this stuff and make music and sounds. Man with a ponytail also owns more lights than I do and while there’s an annoying music bed and Cubase logo that appears at the start, these videos are informative and possibly you’ll like them better than my Peter-drank-some-coffee-and-wrote-about-a-DAW ramblings. But read through for me to say some snide things about Avid, because I suppose I can hide in Hamburg if they get offended.
For more music, since there isn’t so much about music in this story, Steinberg has a great profile of the lovely artist Deru (and mostly not speaking about Cubase):
Advanced export. Exporting stems is now easier and more flexible, with easy selection, queuing, and precise control of signal path including inserts, group sends, and master bus.
This feature alone makes Cubase worth a look for complex projects, I suspect – especially in massive multichannel projects, TV/film, and games.
But it’s just the thing you wanted in all the other tools – tick off exactly what effects you want or don’t want, choose your export format, choose your range, or set to marker – as you like. (I’m curious if you can also select regions as part of this workflow; I’ll ask.)
Logic’s export workflow doesn’t work this well. DP10 added something similar, but without all the options – particularly signal chain. Reaper’s export options are terrific and include tons of options for what to render, plus queuing and batching, but … nothing matches Cubase’s ability to tick off individual effects in the signal chain.
Even for producers, that’s great – like the time to go disable all the compression before mastering. (Cough.)
Enhanced synchronization – watch global tracks as you edit in the key editor. Basically the idea here is that you have all your tempo changes and markers and editing (and video) in one window
Meanwhile, yeah, Ableton Live 11 still doesn’t address any of this, so great as Live is – and it is great at a lot of things – it cedes film scoring to tools like Cubase and DP. And looking at how well Cubase 11 works, I begin to think that just having to support Avid file formats may not be enough to keep composers and editors using Pro Tools.
Precise editing and processing stuff
So we have tons of plug-ins and tons of editors available now, and they’re all getting better. But I think Cubase leaps ahead of a lot of those offerings with really complete metering and processing – the kind of thing that normally means buying FabFilter and WAVES plug-ins or iZotope Ozone (on the mastering side).
That is, if you want a really complete visual view of metering and lots of control of your sound via spectrum and dynamic envelope control, it’s all here. (You control the horizontal, you control the vertical – that whole drill.)
The irony of this of course is that the people who best know how to use these tools also don’t particularly need it, because they’re better by ear. Those of us who aren’t as good by ear may actually make more mistakes by misinterpreting visual feedback. But – bang for your buck is still excellent, and it’s exceptional having a single package that delivers the extras so they’re there when you do want or need them.
There’s SuperVision for multimeter analyzing. I just looked at Logic’s tools, and they’re solid, but not this extensive.
Multiband Imager gives you terrific controls over a mix with stereo width and positioning, with a correlation meter on at all times so you don’t accidentally just create phase cancellation problems. (Translation: sometimes these tools that do great stuff in your headphones will make your mastering engineer come back and scream in your face because it all cancels when you go to mono. Steinberg have put in some controls that make sure you use this responsibly.) Again, this is better than what’s in Logic, in that there you juggle multiple windows and you have both less visual feedback and less control.
There’s also a nice new Frequency 2 dynamic EQ. Dynamic equalization is all the rage these days. It is absolutely one of those things that can make a bad mix worse if you don’t know what you’re doing. But used precisely on a good mix, it’s useful and even creative. And it makes sense to get it from your DAW maker, because Steinberg were able to build in their multiple side-chain architecture in VST3 and Cubase 11 so you can feed those dynamic controls with whatever signal you want.
Man with a ponytail really went to town with this.
SpectraLayers, the lovely spectrum editing tool from Steinberg, is now integrated (in its One version). Basically, see a pretty spectrum, edit directly on it, and do some advanced source separation – so useful for everything from audio cleanup to remixes.
When you want to look at things as a score, the Score Editor now has a Note Editing Overlay and support for fonts from Dorico. I’d still make my scores in Dorico – it’s great, more on that soon – but it’s nice to see this stuff work together. And, again, I think Steinberg’s Dorico/Cubase combo is far more in touch with users than what Avid has done with Pro Tools and Sibelius.
Not everything here is for Hans Zimmer. There are some producer-focused things, too:
Sampler Track. Everything is an MPC now, it seems, but Cubase has gotten better in that category, too. There’s a slicing mode for the Sampler Tracks – with quality modes to emulate different vintage hardware. And there’s mono legato glide and LFOs. I think anyone who loves Cubase but went to something like Maschine for sample slicing will be really happy with this.
Scale Assistant. Funny enough, Live 11 also just added scale support, but as usual, Steinberg’s implementation is obsessive and has the ability to constrain as you play live.
The most Cubase-y part of this is an obsessive ramp and curve implementation of pitch bend, which you can also tune via semitones in Key Editor:
There’s also a new Squasher that they say is for EDM people. (Ewwww.)
It actually has some precise and interesting tools in it, though, so let’s just ignore the EDM mention and give it a chance. Multiband up and down compression with lots of exacting envelope controls is a good thing in a number of contexts.
Also there’s a bunch of sample sets and 80’s Synth Wave I guess is still a thing and there are still vaporwave graphics for it. No idea. I haven’t been out of my house since March much, so people could be listening to Klezmer-Tech House-Fusion for all I know.
Let’s look at this another way – it’s not been the best week for Avid.* Ableton Live does comping now. Cubase – like Logic and DP – continues packing on features users want.
But Cubase does look really strong. I suspect the value of this update is really down to whether you already have tools that work with editing, dynamics and EQ processing, and even things like sample slicing – because you may or may not need Steinberg’s versions. But Cubase still lives – and the leading DAWs continue to endure for 20-30 years.
(Disclosure: I was probably scarred for life in the 90s dealing with Pro Tools expansion chassis things. Kids, ask your parents.)