Steinberg believe that now that PCs are so powerful, the days of the dedicated DSP farm for professional computer-based recording systems are over. Martin Walker enters the native processing world of Nuendo.
Well, it's been a long time coming, but Nuendo is finally here. After four years in development, Steinberg's "completely new and professional high-end recording system" has been released for Windows PC computers. Originally intended for Silicon Graphics machines, it underwent various design changes during development, and has now been written from the ground up as a PC audio application. This has let Steinberg developers discard any Cubase VST legacy features that might hold back performance -- remember that VST on the PC was ported from the Mac, and this was itself ported from the Atari where Cubase originally started life as a MIDI-only application.
Nuendo is targeted at the markets of post-production, multimedia development, music composition, and sound for picture. Its main features are a single-window editing environment, unlimited undo facility, high-quality processing, and flexible surround sound options to cope with future demands. As well as the software itself, Steinberg are also making available a range of appropriate hardware components such as soundcards, clock sources and I/O boxes (see the Nuendo Hardware box for details), allowing dealers and buyers to put together complete PC-based recording systems. The intention is obviously to make Nuendo a compe
STEINBERG NUENDO £999
Elegant, easy-to-use interface.
Much cheaper and in some ways more flexible than a comparable Pro Tools system.
Unlimited undo/redo editing.
Open-ended surround-sound options.
Limited MIDI features.
No VST Instrument support in current version.
Much more expensive than Cubase VST.
An elegant and sophisticated digital audio system that can be used on a laptop or a state-of-the-art PC, depending on the size of your project.
Although Nuendo is a completely new application, any musician who has used Cubase will get a distinct feeling of déjà vu when first exploring it, from the identical ASIO Multimedia Setup utility to many of the mixer and effect windows. The similarities will become even stronger once the imminent Cubase 5.0 is launched, since this has undergone a graphic overhaul that brings the two applications into even more cosmetic harmony. Since so many musicians already know Cubase VST well, and will be wondering if Nuendo would be more suitable for them, I'll point out differences between the two where appropriate.
Installing And Setting Up
Like Cubase, Nuendo is supplied with a dongle that needs to be plugged into the parallel port. I haven't ever had any problems using these, and much prefer this type of protection to key disks, but some musicians do feel strongly about them. Since Nuendo is compatible with VST plug-in effects, the CD-ROM install routine pauses to let you select a suitable Vstplugins folder, which can be shared with other applications (I discussed this topic in Plug-In Power Tips in the June 2000 issue). However, a set of Nuendo-specific plug-ins is also installed, and since these are not compatible with any other product, they get installed in a second Vstplugins folder inside the Nuendo one.
The main Nuendo display is the Project window, which is the equivalent of the Cubase Arrange page. It holds a number of horizontal tracks, with a Track List down the left-hand side containing name fields and various settings for the tracks -- the actual controls depend on the track type -- and the main Event Display on the right where you view and edit Audio, MIDI, and Video events, and automation curves.
There are seven possible track types: Audio and MIDI are self-explanatory, while Group channels are used to mix several audio channels together, and are already well known to Cubase VST users. The other four track types are Master Automation, Plugin Automation, Marker, and Video. There can only be one of each of these per project, and I'll cover them in more detail later on.
A Project is saved with an NPR file extension, and is associated with a hard drive folder. When you create a new Project, four sub-folders appear within it: one for its Audio files, the second for Edits created during editing and processing, the third for Fades (holding audio files created by fades and crossfades), and the fourth for waveform Images. The Project file itself contains all the references to the other files, as well as any MIDI data, playback information and settings. This hierarchical structure certainly helps keep projects organised, and if you want to regain some disk space, redundant edit files can be automatically removed by the Disk Cleanup function.
The audio terminology has also been carefully thought out. The Event Display, as its name suggests, holds Audio Events, although you can gather several of these into an Audio Part to deal with them en masse. However, rather than simply pointing to an audio file, Audio Events contain offset and length values for an Audio Clip, to determine where the Event starts and ends. The Audio Clip then refers to the audio file stored on the hard drive. The reason for this redirection becomes clearer once you want to edit your audio. If, for instance, you process part of an Audio Clip off-line, the processed section is saved as a new audio file, leaving the original one unc
Bundled Plug-in Effects
Nuendo supports both VST and DirectX plug-ins, but not VST Instruments in the current version. Also bundled with Nuendo is a selection of proprietary effects, comprising Chorus, DoubleDelay, JetFlange, ModDelay, NuendoCompressor (multi-band), NuendoDynamics (with Compress, AutoGate, Limiting, and Routing), NuendoEQ, NuendoReverb, NuendoVerb3 (the same as Cubase's standard WunderVerb3), Phaser, Matrix Decoder and Encoder (for ProLogic surround), NuendoDither, Phase, Scope, and Symphonia (stereo enhancer, autopanner, and chorus/flange).
Along the top of the Project Window are various toolbars. The first group of four tools opens other windows. Show Info enables the Info Line immediately beneath the toolbar, which displays a host of information on the currently selected element in the Project Window, such as its name, start and end time, length, and fade-in and fade-out lengths, and so on. Open Pool shows the Pool, which shows every audio and video clip contained in your Project.
Open Browser is new to Nuendo , and is essentially an EDL (Edit Decision List) that lets you view and edit every project item numerically. It looks rather like Windows Explorer, with each track displayed as a folder in the left-hand Project Structure area, and the contents of the currently selected track in chronological order in the right-hand Events area. Audio tracks hold both audio and automation data, while MIDI tracks contain MIDI parts and events. You can also view and edit Video, dedicated Automation tracks, Marker, Tempo, and Time Signatures in the Browser window. Any event can have its start or end position altered, many of the values changed, and items can also be deleted.
The final button in this section opens the Marker Window, which lets you drop markers at any point in your project to help you navigate more quickly. As in Cubase, the first two are always designated Left and Right locators, and these have the special task of defining playback and looping points. These, along with six more, numbered 3 to 8, have dedicated buttons on the Transport Bar. However, you can add as many as you like by pressing the Insert key at any moment during playback, and you can add, remove, move, and otherwise edit any of these from the Marker Window.
The next group of toolbar buttons are a fairly familiar set of editing tools for Object Selection (arrow), Range Selection for marking any area across one or more tracks for further editing, Scissors, Glue, Eraser, Magnifying glass for zooming, Mute, Draw, and Scrub (at any speed in either direction). The Autoscroll button activates scrolling of the Event Display during recording and playback, and an option in the preferences menu lets you switch from flip-screen scroll to the continuous variety -- far easier on the eye, but more intensive on the processor.
A set of nudge buttons let you move the start or end position of a selected part, or move it backwards or forwards slightly by an amount set by the snap value in a popup menu alongside. Next up is a zero-crossing button that forces all edits to occur at zero crossings to avoid clicks, and then activation buttons and popup menus to set up Snap and MIDI Quantise values. Finally in the Event display is a Time Ruler, which can show one of a wide selection of units, including bars and beats, seconds, samples, 24fps, 25fps, 29.97fps and 30fps with or without drop frame, and 16mm and 35mm for film use, showing the position of the Project pointer and any markers.
Transport Of Delights
The Transport Panel is very similar to that of VST, although it's been graphically improved and generally enhanced in several areas. It has punch in/out and cycle (looping) buttons, left and right locator boxes, a Master button for following the master tempo curve, metronome Click, and Online for sync to other equipment. In the centre area, above the
Nuendo Main Features
Capable of up to 128 simultaneous audio playback channels and up to 64 Group channels.
Supports 16-bit and 24-bit audio files at 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, and 96kHz in AIFF, AIFC, WAV and Broadcast Wave file formats.
Unlimited Undo/Redo and non-destructive editable fades and crossfades.
Four EQ bands and four insert effects per channel.
Eight auxiliary sends and eight global plug-in effects.
Up to eight master effects.
Support for VST and DirectX plug-in formats (real-time or off-line).
Automated mixing of all parameters, with Mix Automation tracks for each audio and group track, and for plug-in effects.
Freely configurable Surround Panning with presets for most common formats such as Quadraphonic, Dolby 5.1 and 7.1.
Mixdown to MP3, RealAudio, Wave with compression, Windows Media Audio.
Remote control using dedicated hardware such as JL Cooper MCS3000 and CS10, Mackie HUI, Roland MCR8, Yamaha 01V, CM Automation Motormix.
There are new Pre-roll and Post-roll value fields to help you with recording punch-ins and punch-outs, along with the eight dedicated Marker buttons already mentioned at the right-hand end, and a Show button to launch the Marker window.
A dedicated Transport menu is also available from the main title bar, and has various playback options based on the currently selected range, as well as setup options for the Metronome and Sync. Nuendo can act as master or slave, and supports LTC, VITC, MTC, Sony 9-pin, and ADAT Sync timecodes, MIDI Clock, and word clock, as well as sample-accurate sync with a suitable ASIO 2.0-compatible soundcard. Steinberg's optional Timelock Pro synchroniser box generates an ultra-low-jitter word clock signal, and using it you can chase and lock to video, Sony 9-pin, VITC, or LTC.
In the Track List, audio and MIDI tracks display their name, solo, mute, and record arm buttons at their minimum height, along with a tiny vertical level meter display. However, tracks can all be globally or individually zoomed in the vertical direction, and as their height increases other controls appear. In the case of MIDI tracks, these show the MIDI input, output, bank and program numbers, and with audio tracks a second row of buttons appears. Here you can left-click the FX, EQ, or INS buttons to launch the Channel Settings window to adjust the effects, equalisation and insert effects (of which more later), select mono or stereo mode, and activate monitoring if you are going to use a low-latency soundcard (you can instead use ASIO 2.0 Direct Monitoring if your soundcard supports this, or external monitoring using a hardware mixer, just as in Cubase VST).
For fine editing you can zoom in still further to expand a single track to about half-screen height, along with its level meter, and in the horizontal direction the Event Display can be zoomed right in to view i The Nuendo 9652 audio card is a modified version of RME's Hammerfall card, which I reviewed in SOS September '99. This has three ADAT optical digital Ins and Outs for up to 24-in/24-out operation, along with S/PDIF and word clock I/O, and 9-pin ADAT Sync. It can be run at sample rates between 32kHz and 96kHz, and provides latency values down to 3mS. To partner the 9652 there is a choice of two rackmounting converter boxes, which not surprisingly are both capable of 24-bit operation. For those with more modest budgets, the Nuendo 8I/O is another cunningly disguised RME product -- this time the 8-channel ADI-8 Pro. Its spec is excellent, with quoted dynamic range of more than 110dB, along with a super-low-jitter word clock, and this can be used at sample rates between 33kHz and 57kHz. For those with deeper pockets, the Nuendo AD8000 is the popular Apogee product of the same name, reviewed in SOS August '98, and with a user interface designed by Bob Clearmountain. This 8-channel converter can be used at sample rates between 32kHz and 54kHz, has an A-weighted dynamic range of 114dB, and a frequency response flat to within ±0.025dB between 20Hz and 20kHz. It's already used by many Pro Tools 24 and SADiE owners, and its inclusion in the range shows in no uncertain terms that Steinberg intend Nuendo as a professional system. By the way, 24-bit/96kHz operation is possible with both Nuendo and its 9652 audio card for those interested in DVD development, but since the ADAT optical spec only goes up to 48kHz, the card splits the 24-bit outputs between two channels, halving the channels to 12 in and 12 out.
Steinberg have tried to make it easy for musicians who want to buy a complete system without making lots of decisions, by providing a range of optional Nuendo-badged hardware. Although each item has been given a coat of new paint and a Nuendo logo, they are obviously all specially selected products already available from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).
The Nuendo 9652 audio card is a modified version of RME's Hammerfall card, which I reviewed in SOS September '99. This has three ADAT optical digital Ins and Outs for up to 24-in/24-out operation, along with S/PDIF and word clock I/O, and 9-pin ADAT Sync. It can be run at sample rates between 32kHz and 96kHz, and provides latency values down to 3mS. To partner the 9652 there is a choice of two rackmounting converter boxes, which not surprisingly are both capable of 24-bit operation. For those with more modest budgets, the Nuendo 8I/O is another cunningly disguised RME product -- this time the 8-channel ADI-8 Pro. Its spec is excellent, with quoted dynamic range of more than 110dB, along with a super-low-jitter word clock, and this can be used at sample rates between 33kHz and 57kHz.
For those with deeper pockets, the Nuendo AD8000 is the popular Apogee product of the same name, reviewed in SOS August '98, and with a user interface designed by Bob Clearmountain. This 8-channel converter can be used at sample rates between 32kHz and 54kHz, has an A-weighted dynamic range of 114dB, and a frequency response flat to within ±0.025dB between 20Hz and 20kHz. It's already used by many Pro Tools 24 and SADiE owners, and its inclusion in the range shows in no uncertain terms that Steinberg intend Nuendo as a professional system.
By the way, 24-bit/96kHz operation is possible with both Nuendo and its 9652 audio card for those interested in DVD development, but since the ADAT optical spec only goes up to 48kHz, the card splits the 24-bit outputs between two channels, halving the channels to 12 in and 12 out.
As expected, you can use the mouse and a selection of tools to move or snap Events to new positions, split them, glue them together, slide the contents of an Event without changing its length or position, group them together, and mute them. Once you select an Audio Event four handles appear in its corners. The bottom pair let you change the playback start and end points to re-size the Event, while horizontally dragging the top pair let you apply a non-destructive fade in or out. A Fade Editor dialogue window lets you choose from preset or user-defined lines and curves. If you drag one Event across another an automatic crossfade is created, with similar options.
Another big difference from Cubase when editing is that the right-click menus have sprouted lots of extra commands beneath the tool selection. These include extensive options for Edit, Select, Zoom, Project, Add Track, Audio, Process, Plug-ins, Pool, and Transport.
When you want to view and manipulate audio at the Clip level, double-clicking on any Event opens the Sample Editor, where you can non-destructively cut and paste, remove or draw in new data. You can also create and work with sections of the Clip called Regions. These can be edited separately and dragged into the Project Window to create new Events, and in the case of audio cycle recording each take appears as a Region for later auditioning.
Steinberg don't intend Nuendo as a fully-fledged MIDI application, but you can import and export MIDI files (as well as Cubase songs), record and play back MIDI tracks, and edit them. Many of the menu commands from Cubase are still available, such as Transpose, Delete Controllers, Legato, and Fixed Velocity, and these can be applied directly by selecting the MIDI part and then choosing one from the right-click menu.
There is also a built-in MIDI Editor that is opened by double-clicking on a MIDI part. This has a toolbar across the top similar to that of the project Window, but with a few different options such as an Edit Solo button. Beneath this is the optional Info Line showing the selected note start and length, pitch velocity, and MIDI channel, and then the Ruler. The piano-roll note display is almost identical to the grid-based Cubase Key Editor, as is the Controller display at the bottom of the window, which lets you view and edit one from a selection of options including velocity, pitch-bend, aftertouch, and program change events, using pencil and line tools.
Quantise options are comparatively basic: gone are the Cubase Groove options, although you can choose grid size, triplets or dotted notes, amount of 'swing' on the off beats, and the size of the 'magnetic area' near the beat to specify which notes are affected by quantising. There is no score editor, no list editor to access SysEx data, and no drum editor. VST Instruments aren't supported in the first release either, but this is promised before the end of this year.
Both Audio and Group tracks have corresponding channels in the Mixer, and every mixer and plug-in effect control can be individually automated. You can also add one dedicated Master Automation track per pr However, since I was supplied with a completely preconfigured PC system for the purposes of this review, it's interesting to see what Steinberg UK consider suitable to show off the professional aspects of Nuendo. The supplied PC had dual Pentium III 550MHz processors and 256Mb of RAM running Windows 2000 Professional. It was fitted into a 4U rackmount case, and three hard drives had been installed: a 5400rpm Maxtor 91021U2 UDMA66 boot drive of 10Gb, and two identical 9Gb Seagate Barracuda Ultra Wide SCSI drives (ST39175LW), along with a 50-speed EIDE CD-ROM drive. Display duties were handled by a Matrox Millennium G400 Dual Head AGP graphics card, feeding two 17-inch CTX monitors. Using this twin-screen display made general operation far more pleasurable, since its 2048 by 768 resolution (two 1024 by 768 screens side-by-side) allowed enough space to have the Project page on the left-hand screen, and the Mixer on the right -- a vast improvement on switching between the two.
Like most hardware and software manufacturers, Steinberg quote a fairly basic minimum PC spec for their product: a Pentium II 233MHz processor and 128Mb of RAM, running either Windows 98, NT 4, or 2000. However, Nuendo has various built-in optimisations for Pentium III processors, so I suspect that this will be the best option. Users of Windows NT and 2000 get multi-processor support, but Steinberg admit that Windows 2000 is not yet ideal for MIDI use. You can use any soundcard that has either MME or ASIO drivers, although as usual ASIO ones are recommended for serious users. Those with suitable ASIO 2.0-compatible cards will also get sample-accurate sync and Direct Monitoring.
However, since I was supplied with a completely preconfigured PC system for the purposes of this review, it's interesting to see what Steinberg UK consider suitable to show off the professional aspects of Nuendo. The supplied PC had dual Pentium III 550MHz processors and 256Mb of RAM running Windows 2000 Professional. It was fitted into a 4U rackmount case, and three hard drives had been installed: a 5400rpm Maxtor 91021U2 UDMA66 boot drive of 10Gb, and two identical 9Gb Seagate Barracuda Ultra Wide SCSI drives (ST39175LW), along with a 50-speed EIDE CD-ROM drive.
Display duties were handled by a Matrox Millennium G400 Dual Head AGP graphics card, feeding two 17-inch CTX monitors. Using this twin-screen display made general operation far more pleasurable, since its 2048 by 768 resolution (two 1024 by 768 screens side-by-side) allowed enough space to have the Project page on the left-hand screen, and the Mixer on the right -- a vast improvement on switching between the two.
Each Audio and Group track has its own set of automation tracks in the Project Window, and you can Show/Hide these using the tiny ± button at the bottom left of each track, or by right-clicking on the Track list and using the Show Automation or Hide Automation commands. Rather than overlay these vector-based automation curves on the existing waveforms, Nuendo displays them beneath the associated audio data, and each automated parameter appears in its own lane. This lets you automate dozens of parameters on a single track if required, without the data becoming cluttered, and global Hide/Show Automation commands also let you get at it relatively quickly.
Unlike Cubase VST, moving an effect or mixer control with Write automation enabled or drawing a curve in an automation track create exactly the same data, so you can pick and choose your technique -- sometimes it will be easier to drag a control and automate by ear, and at others it may be preferable to draw smooth level changes by drawing a straight line in the appropriate track. All the normal tools including the arrow, pencil, and eraser can be used, and I found this very intuitive. Nuendo even thins out redundant data (where adjacent automation points have the same value) using a user-defined Reduction value.
Just as in Cubase VST, each Audio and Group channel has its own strip in the main mixer. From the top down, this comprises an Input source selector, FX, EQ, and INS buttons, Solo and Mute buttons, pan control, peak and clip indicator, level fader and meter with input switch, automation controls, channel selection button, and channel output routing. Most of these will be familiar to VST users, apart from the automation controls (Write and Read automation can now be enabled/disabled for individual channels) and channel selection, which lets you open a single Channel Settings window and then view the settings for any channel simply by clicking on the mixer 'Sel' buttons.
The graphics are 50 percent larger than those of Cubase, which makes the mixer much easier to read and use with a typical 1024 x 768 screen resolution. Stereo tracks have a dual meter but only a single fader, which keeps them the same width as mono ones, and only enabled tracks appear in the mixer, which is a far better arrangement than in Cubase, where you choose the number of channels in a separate window, whether you end up using all of them or not. The only downside is that only 16 mixer channels can fit across a 1024 x 768 screen, compared with about 24 using Cubase.
Clicking on any of the FX, EQ, or INS buttons launches the Channel Settings window. As in Cubase, there are eight channel sends, each with On and Pre fade buttons, rotary level controls, and output selector box, but the four Insert effects are now integrated into a vertical strip to the left of the main sends, and include a global bypass button, plus On, Edit, and selection boxes for each insert.
To the left of the channel strip is the Common Panel (also displayed in the main mixer), where you can globally enable Write/Read automation, copy and paste settings between channels, globally switch off all Mute or Solo buttons, and (in the case of the VST mixer only) show the Master Buss fader. You can also change the meter characteristics using two further buttons: Fast switches the ballistics between 'VU' (off) and peak-reading (on), while the Hold button displays the highest peak levels as horizontal lines in each meter display if activated (this facility will be available in Cubase 5.0).
The channel EQ section is completely new, and sounds noticeably better than previous Steinberg offerings. It has four parametric modules, using dual-concentric rotary controls for gain and frequency, with a further rotary control beneath for Q (bandwidth). Each module can be separately activated and tuned between 20Hz and 16kHz, with up to 24dB cut or boost. Turning the Q controls of the Lo and High bands to minimum switches them to a low and high shelving response, while turning the Q to maximum switches them to high-pass and low-pass respectively.
You can also set up your EQ using the curve display beneath the knobs, where you can click and drag in one of four frequency areas to allocate the frequency and gain of the appropriate band, which makes 'drawing' standard EQs a doddle. For those who need surgical precision, you can also activate multiple modules in the same band if you really need them. You can Store and select EQ presets using a drop-down list, which is handy, and there is a global bypass button, along with a useful Reset button to return all controls to their neutral positions.
You Are Surrounded
Many studios must be alarmed at the prospect of having to choose between all the different surround sound standards that are available, and Nuendo neatly side-steps such problems by supporting all possible options in software. As long as you have a soundcard with a suitable number of outputs, and enough speakers, you can implement any current or future surround format. The VST Master Setup window is available from the Devices menu, and lets you choose any number of channels from two to eight, name them, and type in their azimuth (angle) and radius (distance) settings. Presets are provided for stereo, quadraphonic, Standard 3/2 (similar to Dolby 5.1, but without the sub channel), Dolby 5.1, 6.1, 7.1, and LRCS (Left Right Centre Surround), and a graphic window shows how the surround channels are positioned.
Once you click on the OK button, the relevant number of output meters and clip indicators appear in the mixer Master channel, along with a master fader, and you can then choose a suitable destination for individual channels in the mixer from any of the currently enabled soundcard busses, any single surround channel, or surround pan. This latter option replaces the normal left-right pan graphic with a Surround Pan plug-in (see screenshot). You can position each channel using a mouse (and apparently a Windows joystick), and double-clicking the plug-in launches a larger Panner window with further options such as position or angle mode display.
You can export an audio file in 'Multi-channel Split' and 'Multi-channel Interleaved' as well as mono and stereo modes, but Nuendo also includes Matrix Encoder and Decoder plug-ins for converting t
Nuendo uses the built-in Video for Windows playback routines to ensure compatibility with a wide range of video hardware, or you can simply use the computer CPU. Video files are imported just like audio files, and to play them back you need to create a video track, which displays its contents as a number of thumbnails. If you dont have a dedicated video screen then you can open a Video Player window from the Devices menu, and if the video file contains audio, this can be extracted. You can also reverse the process and add your Nuendo audio mixdown to a video file. Tying audio and MIDI to video can be done by using the Snap to Events function, and you can use time stretch to adjust audio to fit a video clip.
Nuendo has been written from the ground up as a PC audio application, rather than ported from another machine, and this shows in its stability and performance -- I didn't have a single crash during the entire review period. If you mainly want to record audio, most musicians will find Nuendo a huge improvement on Cubase, largely due to its flexibility: being able to view and edit audio and automation data right down to sample accuracy in the Project Window is a truly liberating experience. I can't help thinking that some Cubase users will see Nuendo as the product that Cubase should have become, but it's not possible to design a completely new product and keep it backwardly compatible with an older one, and Nuendo and Cubase are intended for different markets. For those with professional studios and an eye to the future, Nuendo seems to be one of the most versatile audio-based systems available that is also specifically designed to integrate with video and surround sound.
If you do a lot of MIDI recording then you might manage with Nuendo, but not half as well as with Cubase VST -- in fact, wher
Nuendo software £999.
Surround Pack (available shortly) £999.
Nuendo 9652 audio card £499.
Nuendo 8 I/O £1249.
Timelock Pro Sync £729.
Nuendo AD8000 £5899.
All prices include VAT.