Cubase SX

Steinberg Cubase Tips & Techniques

Published in SOS May 2002
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Technique : Cubase Notes


Cubase SX's MIDI Editors support multi-lane Controller editing, allowing you to view and manipulate multiple types of Controller data simultaneously.
Cubase VST is dead. Long live Cubase SX...


Mark Wherry

As reported in this month's news pages, Cubase users are in for an interesting year with the release of not just a major new version, but a completely different music production application bearing the Cubase name: Cubase SX, version 1.0.

We Built This Cubase On Rock & Nuendo

Although Cubase SX has been rewritten from the ground up, its foundations are taken from Steinberg's flagship product, Nuendo, which was the result of many years of research and development. This is, of course, good news because it means that SX will be a very mature product from day one, and many have yearned for the elegance of Nuendo in their sequencing work since that program was released two years ago.


The new Inspector panel is customisable and allows you to control far more than previously. Note that MIDI Tracks also have insert and send effects now, thanks to a new MIDI plug-in architecture.
One of the immediate benefits that the Nuendo architecture brings is a completely non-destructive way of working, with multiple undo functionality (a feature many Cubase users have asked for) and a powerful Off-line Process History. For example, it's now possible to apply VST plug-ins as an off-line process (in much the same way as Audiosuite plug-ins are used in Pro Tools), and if you process a file with four effects, you can later undo any of that processing, even after quitting and reloading the song. You can also, for example, remove the processing of the second plug-in, whereupon Cubase SX will then reapply the processing of any subsequent plug-ins with your original settings.

This is a pretty amazing feature, and could be especially useful in 'bouncing' dynamics or EQ to tracks where you might not have done so before because of the lack of flexibility. The only down side is that the reason SX is able to retrieve previous versions is because they're never deleted, meaning that the more off-line processing you do, the more hard disk space you'll need. However, if you've ever used Nuendo, you'll be aware of its excellent project-management features. These include a trash can in the Pool (with a corresponding Empty Trash command) and many other intelligent features for cleaning up each song's folder.


The new Track Mixer in 'flat packed' mode, showing surround panning pots, MIDI tracks (in beige), and narrow channel widths.
For The Boy Who Wanted More

In a world where higher numbers seem to be of great importance, SX offers more of everything. Depending on your computer's ability, you can now have a maximum of 200 audio tracks supporting 16, 24, or 32-bit resolutions and sampling rates up to 96kHz. You can also have 64 Group tracks, which replace the old-style Group channels on the VST Channel Mixer, with the same EQ and effects abilities as standard audio tracks, which now include up to eight insert effects per track.

VST Instrument fans can now run a maximum of 16 of them simultaneously, each supporting 16 MIDI channels (that's 256 in total) with multiple outputs. And if you found the fact you could only run four Master effects at a time restrictive (and let's face it, who didn't?), this number has also been doubled to eight.

Old To New

With Cubase SX being built on the foundations of Nuendo, it's not surprising that both applications will share the same *.NPR (Nuendo Project) file format, which raises an important question for existing Cubase users. With the current *.ALL format effectively becoming defunct as the native format for loading and saving songs in Cubase, how will you be able to get your existing songs into SX? As is often the case with this type of 'quantum leap' in a product, there's both good news and bad.

  SX Audio Editing & Recycling  
  The audio editing capabilities of SX are really mouth-watering and, in some respects, surpass those in the current version of Nuendo. Most notably, it's now possible to create and export Recycle (REX) files directly in Cubase, and functions such as creating hit points for producing tempo-independent drum loops are much clearer than in Cubase 5.x.

Although there are still Part and Sample editors in SX, you can now perform sample-accurate editing without leaving the Project window, as with Nuendo. Creating fades and fader-independent level changes is quick and easy: you simply drag different elements (blue triangles for fades, and a blue square for levels) on the desired audio event. Creating a crossfade is a simple matter of selecting where you want it to happen and pressing X. And did I mention that all the keyboard shortcuts are fully customisable?

 
The good news is that SX, like Nuendo, has the ability to import your existing Cubase songs. The bad news is that the data structures used by the original Cubase for storing song information are radically different from those used by Nuendo and now, of course, SX, meaning that certain information will be lost in the import procedure. However, this isn't quite as drastic as it sounds: all your notes, audio files, chosen plug-ins, and so on will survive the transfer. Only where SX has a completely different way of representing something will the information be 'lost', and the most talked-about example of this is automation, which we'll take a closer look at next month.

However, attempting to load your old songs in SX may be less of a problem than actually trying to run SX itself on your old computer. The new Cubase is compatible only with the latest operating systems: Windows 2000, XP, and Mac OS X. There will be no Windows 98/ME or Mac OS 9 version available, despite the fact that Nuendo was (and is) compatible with these older systems. Inevitably, those who aren't running an X-factor OS will cry foul, but since all new computers ship with Windows XP and Mac OS X, it's likely that most of us will be using them in the long run.

Conclusions

Because SX is essentially a new product, it represents a big gamble for Steinberg. If you're not already familiar with Nuendo, learning Cubase SX will almost be like starting again with a new music application -- so why not use the opportunity to learn a completely different application from another manufacturer? Well, one incentive will be the highly tempting upgrade prices to SX, especially for VST/32 users (see news pages for pricing structure). The ability to import your back catalogue of songs (at least to a certain extent), and the retention of some familiar Cubase terminology will also keep users in the fold. Perhaps the most positive aspect of SX, however, is precisely the fact that it does borrow much of its approach from Nuendo: anyone who's looked lovingly at Nuendo and been put off by the lack of MIDI functionality will be seriously tempted by Steinberg's new baby.

Seen close-up, SX looks like an incredible product. At the launch, Steinberg's evangelical product demonstrator Rodney Orpheus said with confidence, "we're number one again" -- and it looks as if he may be right.

  Current Versions  
  • Mac and PC: v5.1 r1.  

  Cubase Tips  
  Ever found that all your audio and MIDI Parts have suddenly gone horribly out of time with one another? Chances are you've accidentally pressed the '+' or '-' keys on your numeric keypad, which increase and decrease the Song tempo by 1bpm, or the 'M' key, which toggles the Master tempo track on and off. This is easily done while attemting to hit Record (numeric '*') and Stop (space bar) respectively, and if you find that it keeps happening, it might be worth changing the shortcuts using Preferences / Key Commands.

When you're editing automation data in the Controller Editor, it's possible to display two or more channels by shift-clicking on them in the panel at the left -- if you're working with stereo or Group channels, for instance, you'll need to shift-click to display both the left and right channels. Using the cross-hair and pencil tools you can draw automation data in all displayed channels simultaneously by holding down Command+Option (Mac) or Ctrl+Alt (PC). Sam Inglis

 

  VST System Link: Computer Networking For Music  
  Described as being a quantum leap in music production power, Steinberg's VST System Link enables the processing abilities and hard drives of an unlimited number of computers to be shared over a network, creating the ultimate VST system.

Using a single bit of just one audio channel for synchronisation and transport control (via a standard digital audio cable), VST System Link enables you to run audio tracks, effects, and instruments across all the connected computers, but with sample-accurate timing to lock the entire production together. However, this doesn't mean you simply end up with multiple computers running separately: VST System Link provides a tightly integrated environment where, for example, the MIDI tracks on one computer can be routed to another via any number of virtual channels and ports, with no timing problems and, again, sample-accurate precision. But, perhaps best of all, even when using multiple computers via VST System Link, the digital mixdown (Export Audio) feature is still available, allowing you to bounce the output from all computers into a single audio file with just one command.

An immediate advantage of VST System Link is that you won't have to send your older machines to the scrap heap just yet. While your old computer might have limited processing power compared to a newer machine, even if it manages to provide that extra reverb plug-in, instrument, or a few more audio tracks, it's still worth hanging onto it. In addition, VST System Link is a great way to bridge the gap between platforms and applications. Computers running any combination of Mac OS and Windows, or Cubase and Nuendo, can be used in the same network, providing an ideal solution if a Cubase user brings their music on laptop to a studio running Nuendo, for example.

Although compatibility and the ability to breathe life into older hardware will make VST System Link hard to resist, there are many other intriguing features not seen before in the world of desktop music. With the ability to network workstations, you can also make use of multiple machines for editing different aspects of larger projects. For example, you could be editing a vocal take while guitar parts are being recorded, or three people could be working on the dialogue, music, and effects of the same film on three different machines connected via a VST System Link to manage the whole project. If these collaborative features sound vaguely familiar, it's interesting to remember that these aspects of VST System Link were first announced by Steinberg a couple of years ago for Nuendo, which was then going to run exclusively on Silicon Graphics workstations.

The first question on the mind of every potential VST System Link user is likely to be 'What will it cost?' And this is still something of a grey area, partly because, at the moment, every computer in a VST System Link network has to be running a fully licensed copy of either Cubase SX or Nuendo 1.6, which could mean a great deal of expense to existing customers. It's possible that a simplified (and inexpensive) 'VST Rack' application could be developed, allowing a computer to be used solely for running extra plug-ins, although Steinberg have yet to make any concrete announcements about this.

On the positive side, Cubase 5.x users will see one last upgrade to Cubase 5.2, and one of the key features of this upgrade will be support for VST System Link. This is actually great news because you won't be required to send your original dongles back to Steinberg when upgrading to the new Cubase SX. So, every Cubase user who upgrades to Cubase SX will be able to make use of VST System Link, providing they have two computers with the appropriate hardware.

 

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