I have been a dedicated Cubase user since the days of SX. In September of 2009 I wrote about Cubase 5, in March of 2012 I took a look at Cubase 6, and here we are, just over a year later, at version 7.
Last year there was also a mid-year 6.5 update that saw the addition of two new soft synths, Retrologue and Padshop (both of which have become very prominent in my live rig), and two new DJ-style performance effects, DJ-EQ and MorphFilter, as well as some new effects choices in the Amp Rack plug-in which debuted in version 6.0.
So what's new this time around? The big news with version 7 centers on a complete redesign of the program's mixer window, now called MixConsole. Of course there are also some new MIDI features, cosmetic changes and program enhancements.
Here is a quick rundown of Cubase 7's new features:
~ MixConsole: The mixer section of Cubase has been given a complete overhaul with an emphasis on workflow (more on this below).
~ Chord Assistant: The big news for MIDI people in this update is a new Chord Track feature, complete with harmonize and transform functions. What's more, it is intelligent and can help suggest chords if you are stuck!
~ Hermode Tuning: This allows for synthesized notes to be retuned on the fly to fit better with well-tempered scales, and when combining fixed intonation instruments with non-fixed.
~ Voxengo's CurveEQ: A 64-Band Spline EQ with spectrum analysis and spectrum matching (this has been around as a stand-alone product for years and is similar to Steinberg's now-discontinued FreeFilter from years ago).
~ MixConvert: A highly controllable downmixing plug-in for converting multi-channel audio to stereo.
~ VariAudio 2.0: Introduced in Cubase 5, VariAudio is Steinberg's take on auto-tuning, and version 2.0 introduces improved algorithms, the ability to create and stack multiple harmony parts, and integration with Chord Assistant.
~ New sounds and samples: HALion Sonic SE gets a new Hybrid Expansion kit and Groove Agent One gets new sound sets, samples and MIDI construction loops.
~ VST Connect SE: Realtime online collaboration tool with sample accurate sync, video and talkback and even a free stand-alone Cubase interface, downloadable for non-Cubase 7 owners.
~ MemZap: A new advanced A-B system for recalling edit windows and edit position in sessions for quick back-and-forth editing.
~ ASIO-Guard: An advanced buffering system to prevent ASIO overload and the accompanying audio dropouts and spikes.
~ Steinberg Hub: The Project Assistant which launches at the start of each session is now part of the Steinberg Hub which, if your computer is online, offers Steinberg info and updates via an RSS feed.
There is also a new channel and track finder, a remote control editor, online tutorials, visual color changes and enhancements and more...
While all of these make for a full-featured release, it's the new MixConsole that stands out, with a host of new features all its own.
Cubase 7's new mixer has a bolder, sleeker and darker look, more akin to Cubase's big brother Nuendo. Its styling will be a matter of taste for some; I like it a lot, to me it has a slightly more high-end professional look than previous versions. Its layout is similar at first glance to previous versions, but as mentioned, everything has been redesigned from the ground up and its new feature set includes but is not limited to:
~ Full-screen mode
~ The ability to resize and scale the channels with a simple drag of the mouse
~ Improved channel linking
~ Plug-in searching
~ Improved dragging and dropping of plug-ins
~ Improved channel copying, saving and recall
~ Redesigned control room integration
~ Channel zones and View Sets (i.e., customized channel snapshots)
~ Track Icons (i.e. graphic representations of instruments on each channel that can be fully customized with your own full-color pictures; for example you could take a studio snapshot of a unique mic setup and place it right on the relevant channel)
~ Full scale loudness metering on the master bus, compatible with the EBU R128 loudness standard
~ A completely new channel strip setup
~ A new channel window dubbed Channel Central
~ A new look and feel to all of the buttons and controls
I would love to highlight every new feature listed and more, but there is not space here to do so, it's that extensive! Lucky for us, Steinberg has some great new-feature videos and a full list at www.steinberg.net/en/products/cubase/whats_new.html
The new mixer can initially be frustrating to longtime users of Cubase, as you try to coax it into doing what the old mixer did. But once you get the hang of it, it can yield a greatly improved workflow -- the new mixer really is quite customizable and scalable. Not only can you make the fader/meter section taller and bigger, but you can expand and collapse the insert, channel strip and send sections at will and even specify how many slots are visible in them.
You can also easily select which channels are visible in your mixer, with a simple drop-down menu. Then they can placed into zones and you can even weight your favorite channels to the left or right of the mixer, like always having the master fader on the right, the lead vocal on the left, and so on.
Each channel now has a full-fledged channel strip like you would find on a full-scale console, and each element can be viewed or hidden so you can make use of only the sections you need. Each channel starts with the Input Routing followed by a full-on Pre section with high- and lowpass filters, gain and phase.
The redesigned eq section that follows will take some getting used to, as the sliders are visual rather than descriptive. Numeric values like frequency and attenuation only show up when you hover over them. My favorite eq feature is that if you click in the graphic eq field it launches a momentary pop-up window where you can drag and alter the curves, and then it shrinks back down once you are done. This eq window also sports a real-time FFT representation of the audio. Nice!
The next part of the channel strip takes some Cubase plug-ins which would previously have been available only as inserts and makes them an integrated part of each channel. You get a Noise Gate, a Compressor with a choice of Cubase's vintage, tube, or standard comps, a Transform section with an envelope shaper for altering transients, a Saturation section with a choice of tube or tape saturation, and a Limiter with choice of standard or brick-wall limiting or a maximizer.
This is rounded out by the sends section, the track icons, and a channel-by-channel note pad, where you can make notes of what mics, instruments, preamps and such were used on each track. This is a huge boon to hurried engineers who must take notes as they go but haven't had a centralized place to put them! Lastly your favorite settings, plug-ins and configurations can be stored, copied, and recalled.
The improved Channel Linking can now be momentary. For instance, if you want to adjust all your guitar tracks down equally by 3 dB, and you can now choose via a drop-down menu what parameters of each channel are and are not linked.
Oh, and speaking of plug-ins: Cubase 7's organization of third-party plug-ins is vastly improved. Now plug-in lists are grouped seamlessly in arrow-based collapsing folders of brand and type that are scrollable, no longer the sideways expanding drop-down style menus of past versions. There is also a plug-in search window to save you time in sifting through your hundreds of choices, if all you want is a tape delay for instance.
Channel Central is the new Channel view, and as with MixConsole, there are many visual improvements with regard to send levels, the graphic look of the eq (which is kind of a hybrid SSL-meets-Neve VR series look), and -- my favorite new feature -- it allows you to see a channel's signal flow. Now when you pull up your snare drum track, for instance, you can also choose to see all the channels in its signal path, like the drum-bus fader and the master fader. This is handy to see how adjusting one channel affects its subsequent routing.
Also as with MixConsole, all of the mute, solo and other buttons have been simplified and share a common look. This is easier on the eyes and on the brain over long sessions.
Install, performance and support
Cubase 7 now comes as an optional download, eliminating the wait for the arrival of a boxed copy. If you are expecting a bug report -- sorry, but I have experienced no bugs or crashes in my workflow, although I should note that I did not install version 7 until it had two maintenance patches under its belt.
Steinberg needs to be commended for the level of support, care and transparency the company now offers. Yes, there was a list of bugs upon Cubase 7's release, but a quick look at the support forum shows that over 70 of them (most were not life threatening) have been acknowledged, addressed and fixed.
I have been running Cubase 7 on my Windows 7 PC and my Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion MacBook Pro, both with 8 GB of RAM, with zero issues. I have no clue what has been done under the hood in version 7, but I do find Cubase 7 to be smoother and faster on my Mac than version 6.5 was, and I am able to run at lower latencies. This was most noticeable when running live synths and realtime effects with external instruments in live performance, and remote tracking with a Motu 4pre audio interface.
In my Cubase 6 review I stated "best Cubase ever"! My reason at the time was not new plug-ins or bells and whistles, but the then-new workflow improvements of drum editing and improved take comping.
In version 7 I am happy to see that trend continue. The new MixConsole with its myriad features is a big deal, and once mastered it can yield a much more intuitive way of doing things. Add in the workflow enhancement of Chord Assistant and VariAudio's harmony builder, and composers should see an improved workflow as well. Until version 8 rolls out, I will once again shout, "Best Cubase Ever"!
Price: $499.99 (Cubase Artist 7, $249.99 -- see Steinberg website for feature list)
More from: Steinberg, www.steinberg.net