Buying Qubase 4

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Cubase Update. September, 11th Mac & Windows: Please note that the original Cubase 4 installation DVD might be requested during the update. Both Cubase 4 and VST3 support Intel Macs for the first time, and it's heartening to see that Steinberg retain a strong commitment to cross-platform compatibility. Only at Sweetwater! ✅ 0% Financing and ✅ FREE Shipping for your Steinberg Cubase 4!

It's hard to believe that Cubase SX has been around for more than four years. Over that time it has developed into a mature, feature-rich application, and the last major release added some unique and innovative features, such as the Play Order track.

Nevertheless, Cubase SX is officially no more. The name change accompanies the most thorough overhaul the sequencer has received since its launch: Steinberg have made fundamental changes to the program, introducing a new version 3 of the VST standard and a radical new approach to choosing plug-in and instrument settings, as well as innumerable smaller improvements. Both Cubase 4 and VST3 support Intel Macs for the first time, and it's heartening to see that Steinberg retain a strong commitment to cross-platform compatibility.

Apparently, VST3 also paves the way for a future bit version of Cubase, but for the time being, it's still a bit application. Older Projects remain SX3-compatible until you save them from within Cubase 4; after that, they can't be loaded in older versions of the program.

Because of some issues with older plug-ins, as we'll see, it's a good idea to keep safety copies of your Projects in the old format. The first thing you notice on booting the program is its new look, the result of a much-needed effort to make the interface cleaner and less cluttered.

It does this pretty well, managing to present all the same information as before in a less busy fashion. On the down side, though, it's pretty dark, and at any sort of distance, it's really difficult to see parameters on non-selected tracks in the Track List. Even track names tend to fade into the background, and although you can adjust global preferences for Saturation, Contrast and Brightness, the options range from sepulchral to merely gloomy.

The de-clutter means that some of the familiar icons that used to dot the Track List are absent. For instance, In-place MIDI editing is now accessed by selecting one or more tracks and choosing a global control, while the little plus and minus symbols previously used to append automation subtracks have gone.

Instead, you can show automation by right-clicking, or hovering the mouse over the bottom left of a track's space in the Track List until an arrow appears. However, there's still no way of displaying multiple automation curves overlaid on a single track, which is something that would help us poor laptop users keep track of everything. And if, like me, you prefer to select parameters for automation in the Project window, rather than by hitting Write and waggling mixer controls, you still have to go through a tedious browsing process to access them.

Elsewhere, you can now right-click on the Track Inspector to show and hide individual panels, and you can edit and store view presets for both the Track Inspector and the Channel Strip.

This isn't something that revolutionised my Cubase experience, but I know it's made a difference to a lot of users. However, Steinberg have implemented one of the most widely requested ergonomic changes, in that it's now possible to drag and drop to move insert effects between channels, or between slots on a single channel. A nice green arrow lights up in the slot you're dropping it on to, and if there's already a plug-in there, the two will swap places. Furthermore, if you hold down the Alt key, the plug-in is copied rather than moved.

At least, it usually is; there were odd occasions when I couldn't get this to work. It's a nice implementation of a simple idea, which works in the Channel Settings window and Track Inspector too, and it's a shame Steinberg didn't extend the principle to sends and channel EQs.

Admittedly, there's not much point in rearranging these on a single track, but it would be very useful indeed to be able to copy send settings between mixer channels. If you do, you'll notice some changes to the way it works. When you load an instrument, Cubase now offers to create a MIDI track for it, which is nice or annoying, depending on whether you actually wanted it to do that or not!

You'll also notice a tiny new icon appearing just to the left of each instrument's name. Clicking on this brings up a drop-down menu allowing you to enable and disable individual stereo outputs for the associated instrument. This is a great way of stopping the mixer from drowning under multiple channels from a multitimbral instrument when you just want a cowbell patch.

However, it's not mentioned in the manual, and it defaults to only activating the first stereo output, so I spent ages wondering why I couldn't access other outputs in Hypersonic, which still thought it was addressing four mixer channels.

This makes it possible for a single plug-in to be usable on mono, stereo and surround channels, automatically adjusting its input and output bussing to suit, while multitimbral VST Instruments are no longer tied to a fixed number of mixer channels.

VST3 also features sample-accurate automation and silence detection, the latter meaning that plug-ins only operate and hence load the CPU when audio is passing through them. This works well in practice, and doesn't seem to stop plug-ins generating sound when no input is present if they're meant to do that!

Meanwhile, the most far-reaching change to the VST standard shows its face in an entirely new preset management system, of which more presently. Steinberg say that the VST3 standard will enable side-chaining to be implemented in Cubase 's mixer. This, along with a new and more flexible mix engine, is planned for some point "within the Cubase 4 generation cycle", but as of version 4. In other words, you can only route audio upwards through the Track List ie.

This is a big disappointment, and I can't be the only user who would gladly have gone without some of the other new features instead. When it comes to backwards compatibility, Steinberg say that any plug-in adhering to the VST2. Interestingly, the new effects and processing plug-ins don't come as DLL files that get installed in a plug-in folder, but seem to be integrated, Logic-style, into the program itself.

One of Cubase 4's many variants on the Sound Frame browser. After verifying that the bundled plug-ins worked, I moved the entire contents of my SX3 plug-in folder to the top level of the Steinberg directory and reloaded Cubase 4 to see what the damage was.

The vast majority of plug-ins were recognised, including the older SX3 bundled effects, and all Native Instruments synths and effects, but unfortunately, some of the big guns were among the casualties. Out of the entire Diamond Bundle, the only Waves plug-in that Cubase 4 would recognise was L3; and Halion Symphonic Orchestra went missing for a while before I experimented with moving the DLL out of its own folder and into the top level of the Vstplugins folder.

A couple of my favourite processors were also lost, including Eliosound's Air EQ. I suspect the Waves problem is something to do with their copy protection, since the Diamond Bundle stopped working in SX3 as well. On plug-ins that did work, I had occasional problems with parameters being wrongly recalled when presets or Projects were loaded. An important concern for some people will be the fact that Cubase 4 no longer supports Direct X plug-ins at all. This is a shame, since Direct X is widely used both in music applications and the wider Windows world, and many people have invested in Direct X plug-ins which either have no VST equivalent or can only be crossgraded at a price.

It may prove possible to work around this using wrappers, but at the very least, Steinberg should have done more to warn users that Direct X support was being dropped. This wasn't trailed at all, and has caught a lot of people out. The bottom line is that if you're coming from an earlier version of SX and you use a lot of plug-ins, your Projects are unlikely to load straight into Cubase 4 and just work.

Cubase Versus Cubase Studio More than once during the course of this review, I found myself wondering what would make the average music-production user buy the full version of Cubase rather than Cubase Studio, and the answer was often 'not that much'. The additional plug-ins and better channel EQ are definitely worth having, but I could live without the extra soft synths. The Details search in the Media Bay is a pretty specialist tool, and if you don't need surround sound, extra automation modes or the Control Room functionality, Cubase Studio really does offer a pretty complete package, and saves you quid over the full deal.

Cubase Studio also now shares its big brother's complement of inserts eight per channel and Group tracks For a detailed comparison between the two, see https: There is, as yet, no news of a version 4 replacement for the more basic Cubase SE. In The Frame The new preset management system I mentioned above is called Sound Frame, and it's just the tip of a very large iceberg in the Arctic Ocean that is Cubase 4 I think I'll abandon this metaphor now, but you get the idea.

Sound Frame is an ambitious concept that brings together effect and instrument presets, media management, a new type of track called an Instrument Track, and a new system of Track Presets. The thinking behind it is not a million miles from Native Instruments' Kore: The Media Bay offers comprehensive librarian features for cataloguing audio and video files, as well as instrument and Track Presets.

For example, let's suppose you want to have some synth strings in your Project. In the dark ages prior to Kore and Sound Frame, you'd have to choose which instrument plug-in to load into the VST Instruments panel, set up a MIDI track pointing to it, and trawl through all its presets until you found a synth string sound — assuming the preset names actually gave you a clue as to what they sounded like.

If that instrument didn't work for you, you'd have to insert a different one, change the output on your MIDI track and go through the whole messy business again. In Steinberg's glittering Sound Frame future, the process is completely different. All the presets for all your effects and instruments will live in a unified database, which contains not only the preset names, but metadata telling you what they sound like.

With a few mouse clicks, you can bring up a list of all the synth string sounds anywhere on your computer, and choose whether you want to try out, say, the 'glassy' ones or the 'reedy' ones. It won't matter which VST Instrument is making each of those sounds, because Cubase will take care of creating a new track and loading the appropriate plug-ins automatically.

You choose the end, Cubase takes care of the means. Unlike Native Instruments, Steinberg have had the opportunity to integrate such a system at the host level, and as a result, Sound Frame is far more than just a preset management system for plug-ins. For instance, imagine you're mixing an album. You're working on the first song, and you hit upon a vocal processing chain that really suits the artist's voice. Naturally, you want to make this the starting point for the vocals on the other songs.

Before Sound Frame, you would have had to save individual presets for every plug-in in the chain, before laboriously loading them one by one into all the other Projects.

Give your processing chain a name, add any other info that might come in handy, and it'll be on tap in all your other Projects, where you can apply it to existing tracks, or select it when creating new tracks. Further flexibility is afforded by the ability to load, say, just the inserts from a Track Preset, or just the EQ settings. Making Instrument Tracks The Sound Frame system brings with it a sea change in Steinberg's philosophy when it comes to virtual instruments.

The old approach was based around the idea that soft samplers and virtual sound modules would adopt the same multitimbral approach as their hardware counterparts, accepting MIDI input from multiple tracks on multiple channels, and outputting different sounds on different tracks. This was tidy, but restrictive in some ways, and the new arrangement is conceptually much simpler: To this end, Cubase 4 introduces a new kind of track called an Instrument Track, allowing Sound Frame to be integrated at the track level when it comes to MIDI and virtual instruments.

A selection of Cubase 4's new effects and processors. When you want to use an instrument plug-in, you no longer have to visit the VST Instruments panel though this has now been improved — see box below , or go through the rigmarole of creating a MIDI track and pointing it at the appropriate instrument. Instead, you just browse for the sound you want and Cubase will create an Instrument Track to host it.

As far as the Project window is concerned, Instrument Tracks are MIDI tracks, but from the viewpoint of the mixer window, they're audio tracks, with EQs, inserts and sends. Instrument Tracks can be saved as Track Presets, which is great for those instrument sounds that depend on insert processing for their character.

Unlike in Pro Tools, say, the instrument itself doesn't appear in one of the insert points. A limitation of Cubase 's Instrument Tracks is that they can't receive MIDI or audio from another track, which makes it difficult to create Track Presets for layered sounds, stops you using them for vocoders and so forth, and prevents you from keeping controller data on a separate track from note data.

Steinberg say that Instrument Tracks aren't supposed to reproduce all the functionality of the VST Instrument Rack, but I did find this restrictive in practice. You can, of course, still use the old system, and if you want to use multitimbral soft synths, you'll probably have to. The same applies if you want to have multiple synths triggered from a single track, or multiple tracks triggering a single synth.

The icing on the cake is the Multi Track Preset. As the name suggests, these save the settings for two or more separate tracks, and can include any combination of audio, MIDI and Instrument tracks.

Browsing Away Track Presets and so on are accessed using the Sound Frame browser, which has three main areas. At the top left is a Windows Explorer-style folder tree showing all the locations where relevant presets are stored. A Text Search field separates this from the Filter, which consists of a series of columns displaying the various metadata Tags that are appropriate to the sound you're browsing.

The supplied Track Presets and patches for the bundled VST Instruments are heavily Tagged using attributes such as instrument Category bass, drums, percussion and so on and Sub Category acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar and so on , musical Style and Character.

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