Steinberg Cubase 7 Review

Steinberg Cubase 7 Review

Cubase 7 BlogheaderI’ve always had a soft spot for Steinberg’s Cubase. It was my MIDI sequencer of choice back when we were all using Atari 1040ST’s to program tunes, syncing up to analogue tape machines via SMPTE code when any audio tomfoolery was required. But then hard disk recording was born, and to my dismay the £5000 Mac system I bought to run Cubase Audio XT, the first audio capable version of Cubase, just wasn’t up to the task. So Cubase was ditched as soon as I could get my hands on ProTools, and I haven’t used Cubase again since.

Until March 2012, when I was asked to review Cubase 6.5 for Computer Music magazine. It was like meeting up with an old friend to find that they’d taken up bodybuilding, learnt five new languages and had four facelifts since you saw them last. Now, less than nine months after causing contoversy with their first ever paid point update, Steinberg have unleashed Cubase 7 on an unsuspecting public, and what’s more are charging £120 for the privilege of upgrading from 6.5. So is the second paid update in under a year worth shelling out for?

Well, after using it solidly for a few weeks now, I can safely say that it doesn’t disappoint.

The new interface has polarised opinion somewhat amongst Cubaserati, but personally I love the look and feel of it. The colours, particularly in the new MixConsole and Channel Settings windows, just pop out of the screen, with solid shiny blacks contrasting with vivid, striking colour which doesn’t distract from, but rather enhances, the use of the program. It certainly makes Logic’s interface look a bit shabby by comparison.

The revised MixConsole with its new, Logic-esque Channel Strip functionality and dedicated Channel Settings window is a revelation. Each channel strip can now make use of five new plug-ins – noise gate, compressor, transient designer, tape saturation and limiter/maximizer. Maybe it’s because I’m a bit old school and grew up with SSL desks, but the retro knobs have a very comfortable feel. The environment, once you’ve figured out how to reveal and hide everything to your own advantage, has obviously been tailored towards the needs of those who know how to work a traditional analogue desk. The signal flow is logical and working the layout soon becomes familiar to anyone with an engineering background. Once you know where everything is, it’s a joy to be able to access the tools and windows you need quickly and easily. While I’m not so keen on the EQ module’s longitudinal green sliders, it’s easy enough to switch the controls to the much more intuitive rotary knob format.

Elsewhere, Steinberg have really done their homework on the musical theory side with the new Chord Track and Chord Assistant. At last, a DAW feature that creates truly useable harmonies that stick to and track changes in the proper scale of your track. I can only imagine the army of musicologists they must have had locked in a windowless room somewhere in Germany for months on end, surviving only on flat food that could be pushed under the door, in order to come up with an intelligent harmonising system of such depth that it actually works with you, rather than against you. Based on my experience, throughout which you could safely say I was blown away by how well it worked, this has the potential to be a truly useful compositional aid, rather than just a tacked-on gimmick.

VST Connect SE promises to be a useful tool for collaboration with remote musicians, allowing you to record their performances across an internet connection. What’s more, your collaborators need not own Cubase themselves to participate in sessions – they just need to download a free app from Steinberg’s website that allows them to monitor a live video feed as well as the audio output from your session. They can even avail themselves of monitor compression, reverb and delay effects as you record their performance, if they so wish. Pretty clever stuff.

Pleasant details abound throughout the program, such as the way that the software automatically creates a Track Pictures folder within your project folder. Any image that you put into this folder will be selectable in the list of user pictures when you come to assign icons to your tracks in the MixConsole. You can have mugshots of your musos on your scribble strip if you wish. Ok, so it’s not the most essential of features, but it is a nice touch, and serves to indicate how much thought has gone into the package as a whole. Other goodies such as ASIO Guard, a system designed to prevent dropouts when playing back multiple audio tracks, MemZap, a workflow enhancer that allows you to toggle rapidly between two zoom settings, and a base-level search window that can be accessed from any area of the interface all serve to round out the package substantially.

There are, of course, one or two niggles. Mine doesn’t seem to like it if you put the computer to sleep while it’s running, or you’ll get an eLicenser error message on reawakening. Sometimes when moving a control, a handy tool tip will pop up, usefully identifying the parameter you’re about to change but totally obscuring its value so that you can’t tell how much you’re altering it by. In the face of everything that’s positive about the new version, however, these are not significant worries. Whether you’re new to the world of Cubase, an accomplished and seasoned user, or an old hand returning to the fold like myself, I really can’t recommend it highly enough in its current guise. Throw in the excellent video tutorials accessed via the new Steinberg Hub intro screen, and I can’t help but feel that with Cubase 7, Steinberg are onto a winner.

Cubase 7 is available in two flavours from http://www.steinberg.net:

Cubase 7 (Full Version) at £488

Cubase Artist 7 at £244 (limited to 64 audio / 128 MIDI tracks, no VariAudio 2.0 or AudioWarp functions)

MacBook Pro 13″ Ivy Bridge 2.9GHz i7 (Mid 2012) – A Real World Review

Somewhat overshadowed by the Retina MacBook Pro, the refreshed, original case-design Ivy Bridge range of Apple laptops, released simultaneously with the Retina MBP at June’s WWDC Keynote, doesn’t seem to have received a great deal of attention in the media. So, having had to make the difficult decision this month to put my ailing, late-2007 Santa Rosa MacBook out to pasture for one of the new models, I thought I’d share the experience. Of the reviews that do exist, most will undoubtedly have focused on how the new hardware compares to the version that came directly before it. Yet who in the real world buys a new computer to replace the one that came out merely months before? Surely more people are going to be interested in how much of an improvement the new machines are over a four or five year old MacBook that’s nearing the twilight portion of its operating window and thus needs to be replaced.

First impressions
After much soul-searching, I’d chosen to replace my late-2007, 13″ white MacBook 2.1GHz Core 2 Duo with the new 13″ Ivy Bridge MacBook Pro, with the snappy 2.9GHz i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and 750GB hard drive. The first thing I noticed on removing the MBP’s box from its cardboard Continue reading

Editors Keys SL300 USB Mic Review

After my recent disappointing experiences with faulty Blue Snowball iCE and M-Audio Producer USB mics, I found myself in a bit of a tight spot the other week, when I needed to make some audio examples to accompany a vocal recording article. Having returned both the faulty mics to the retailers on the Friday and with the copy deadline for the article on the following Tuesday, I needed a replacement mic, and fast!

A quick Google search for ‘best USB mic under £150’ returned a swathe of glowing reports and reviews about a mic I’d never heard of before – the Editors Keys SL300 Studio Series USB Condenser Mic. Looking exactly like a scaled-down Neumann U87, it came with shockmount, carrying case and USB cable for £98 inc VAT. Suitably impressed, I rang the UK distributor, Inta Audio of Coventry, at 4.30pm to see Continue reading

Blue Microphones Support System – All System and No Support?

A little over four weeks ago I bought a Blue Snowball iCE USB mic, just to have knocking about on the desktop for the odd bit of audio recording and to help out with videosong duties. Initially it worked fine, although I wasn’t as impressed by the sound quality as I thought I’d be. However, due to my having a soft spot for the brand, I was prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt.
I really wanted to like this mic and was looking forward to using it, but sadly this has proved to be impossible. It stopped working after ten days, and refused to show up on either of my Macs. I duly emailed Blue tech support and heard nothing for three weeks, so I emailed them again with a complaint. I received a lame excuse for the zero response and still no answer to my query as to what the problem might be. Their support system appears to be made up of all system and no support – the lack of communication is frankly laughable. So I heaved a resigned and heavy sigh, put the mic back in its original packaging and will be returning it to the retailers today for a refund.
My point in posting this sorry saga is this: I used to have the utmost respect for Blue Microphones as a company. I revered their products and hoped to own a few of them someday. After this experience, where their customer support has shown itself to be as lousy as their product, I doubt I will ever be able to recommend their products, and I certainly won’t be purchasing any Blue mics in the future if this is the level of customer support that can be expected should things go wrong.
So if you’re considering purchasing a Blue mic, be warned: if you have a problem with it, and on this showing the chances are that you will, you’re on your own.