Steinberg Cubase VST 3.7

MIDI + Audio Sequencer

Published in SOS September 1999
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The latest PC version of Steinberg's popular sequencing package incorporates a number of significant new features, including the long-awaited VST 2 and ASIO 2. Martin Walker checks them out.

Version 3.7 of Cubase VST for Windows has been eagerly awaited by PC Musicians for some time. It was first showcased at Frankfurt back in March of this year, but four months is a long time to wait when you've had some goodies waved at you and then been told to be patient. In fact, I was rather surprised when it was announced that 3.7 would be another free update for existing users, since it incorporates far more than most people would expect of an update. Moreover, version 4.1 for the Mac should also be available by the time you read this, and its new features are nearly all identical with those of the 3.7 PC version reviewed here.

Installation

The official URL for the free download is service.steinberg.de/webdoc.nsf/show/updates_e, and a couple of points are worth mentioning about the install procedure. First, version 3.7 gives you the option of installing the new version 4.0 Acrobat Reader. Since the majority of people will already have version 3.01 of this on their hard drives (it's supplied with many applications nowadays to read PDF-format electronic manuals, including the existing Cubase manual) it's best to uninstall this before

STEINBERG CUBASE 3.7
pros
'Zero'-latency monitoring and sample-accurate sync available with suitable soundcards and drivers.
MIDI Automation of VST 2.0-compatible plug-ins.
VST Instruments run compatible software synths on the same soundcard as audio tracks.
Comprehensive dynamics options built-in.
cons
Using dynamics and VST instruments will need a significantly more powerful processor.
No VST Instruments are yet available other than the supplied Neon.
DirectX bug will cause havoc for many people until 3.7 revision 1 appears.
summary
Version 3.7 introduces a host of powerful new features, although you will need compatible hardware and software to take advantage of some of them, as well as a powerful processor. Overall, this free update will be an unqualified bargain once the DirectX bug is cured.

starting the Cubase install, so that you don't have two versions (if you attempt to uninstall the older version afterwards it will probably corrupt the new one). By the way, it's well worth installing the new version, if only because it lets you scroll through a document using just the cursor keys, rather than having to hold down the Shift key as well.

The update also gives you the option of separately installing RealPlayer, along with support for RealAudio. If you don't already have this on your PC, and would like the option of exporting your final audio files in RealAudio format, this is a sensible option.

VST 2.0 And Virtual Instruments

For many people, the most interesting new feature in Cubase 3.7 will be VST Instruments. The new VST 2.0 specification allows plug-ins to receive MIDI data, which lets you automate effects via MIDI commands. However, before you rush off to try it, I must point out that only plug-ins written with VST 2.0 in mind will do this -- existing ones won't magically gain these functions.

If a VST 2.0 plug-in supports MIDI input, it will appear in the list of available MIDI outputs when you activate it, so that you can send it automation data. The ability to automate plug-ins via MIDI may not, of itself, sound like such an thrilling feature, but it's the other uses to which this architecture can be put that are creating excitement. Since you can now send MIDI data into a plug-in, it is possible to create stand-alone software synthesizers, samplers or drum machines that act as complete VST Instruments in their own right. Rather than attempting to run a stand-alone virtual instrument, moreover, VST 2.0 lets third-party developers use the Cubase VST engine instead. For the first time this means that rather than having to run a software synth on a second soundcard to avoid conflicts, you can let VST run it alongside your other audio tracks, all on the same soundcard.

If you have a soundcard with a low-latency ASIO driver then you will have the same low latency when playing a VST Instrument in real time. However, anyone running MME drivers (or indifferent ASIO ones) will find it difficult to 'play' the synth in real time if their latency is greater than about 25mS. This only applies during recording; during playback Cubase takes account of latency automatically.

Steinberg include a taster VST Instrument with version 3.7. Neon is comparatively basic, but certainly illustrates the principle well. It is a 16-voice, two-oscillator 'analogue' synth with triangle, saw, and square waveforms, a resonant filter and amplifier, both equipped with ADSR envelopes, and a variable-frequency LFO which responds to external modulation messages. Neon can produce a range of basic sounds, and of course you can add plug-in effects to them, but I doubt that it will get anyone salivating (especially since it doesn't respond to MIDI control of filter cutoff). You can achieve multitimbral operation by the simple expedient of launching more Neons in other MIDI tracks.

To use Neon, you click on the 'VST Instruments' option in the Audio menu, which launches an identical panel to those used by the various effect options (such as Send Effects, Insert Effects, and Master Effects). You can then select from any installed VST Instruments in the drop-down list; once you do this, an additional entry appears in the list of available MIDI devices in the Inspector. Operating a VST synth is exactly like using a plug-in effect -- you activate it using its Power switch, and can laun

"VST-compatible plug-ins written for VST 1.0 are still fully compatible with VST 2.0 (although they won't have any new features unless their developers provide updates)."
ch its front panel by clicking on the Edit button. It is even supplied as a similar single DLL file, and gets installed in the VSTplugins folder.

By the way, you needn't worry about your existing plug-ins -- those written for VST 1.0 are still fully compatible with VST 2.0 (although they won't have any new features unless their developers provide updates). No doubt some third-party developers are already modifying existing plug-ins and dreaming up new ones as I write this. As far as other Instruments are concerned, Steinberg have a virtual version of the famous Minimoog in development, but we will have to wait and see what other instruments emerge: at this stage, other developments seem shrouded in secrecy.

Along with this new-found freedom to use MIDI commands for plug-ins comes MIDI control of other VST parameters such as volume faders, pan settings, and EQ, all from the comfort of external MIDI hardware controllers. Only a few devices are currently supported: the JL Cooper CS10/2, JL Cooper MCS3000, Yamaha 01V (this will be a popular one), and Roland MCR8. The exact capabilities of each vary, but where motorised faders are fitted, these can also be controlled from Cubase. A full list of supported features for each device is provided in the new manual, and on the Steinberg web site. Apparently the support is 'hard-wired' into VST, so theoretically any generic MIDI controller (such as the Peavey PC1600X) could be configured be send the same MIDI data as one of the currently supported units, although the actual commands have not yet been made generally available.

Feeling Dynamic

Another exciting new feature for a lot of musicians will be the Channel Dynamics. Every standard audio channel now has built-in dynamic processors which appear as an extension of the existing effect send window when you click on a channel FX button (although sadly this doesn't apply to VST Instruments, Rewire Instruments, or Groups).

The AutoGate has Threshold, Attack, Hold, and Release controls, and works very well at removing unwanted background noises. You can specify the 'Trigger Frequency Range' (using a band-pass filter, which you can tune in 'Listen' mode) to make sure that only desired sounds trigger the gate. Using this feature, I even managed to use the AutoGate to extract just the kick from a drum loop.

Second in the chain comes AutoLevel, which has only a Threshold control and three switchable 'action responses'. The idea, apparently, is to smooth out the volume of a recording that varies in level without bringing up the noise floor -- any signal below the Threshold setting is left alone, while higher-level signals are gently massaged. No doubt there are circumstances in which this will be useful, but I usually found the effect so subtle as to be virtually inaudible.

Next up is the Compressor, which displays a standard gain-reduction meter and a graphical readout of the transfer characteristic. It has Threshold, Ratio, Attack and Release controls, along with Make-Up Gain. This manages a good basic variety of treatments, although when you first start playing the track with it activated it does tend to emit a rather alarming 'thwack'.

SoftClip -- a feature formerly only provided on more upmarket (and expensive) plug-ins -- provides a simulation of gentle analogue clipping at levels above –6dB to add warmth or dirt, depen

  The Finer Points  
  As well as the major changes covered in the main text, there are a host of smaller improvements in Cubase VST 3.7:

Most obvious is that the background to the track titles has now reverted to the grey of Cubase 3.0 from white (apparently lots of users asked for this).

As SoundFonts continue to assume greater importance in PC audio, Steinberg have made them much easier to manage. A new 'Manage...' entry in the Bank window in the Inspector opens a new window that allows you to Load, Edit, Clear or Reload Banks, as well as loading and saving Bank Sets that belong to a song. This is a lot easier than using the old AWE Control utility. The Edit option opens your default SoundFont editor (such as Vienna or Wien).

Those of you with Mixman Studio or Studio Pro can now import its TRK files into VST audio tracks, and ReCycle users can now audition REX files before importing them.

Double-clicking the Click, Sync, or Master buttons on the Transport bar now open up the relevant windows for the Metronome, Synchronisation, and Graphic Mastertrack.

Steinberg have also placed a variety of web site addresses in the Help menu -- if you are on-line, a click on one of these will launch your browser and go to the selected web page for more information or an update.

 
ding on how hard you drive it. If you're using it in conjunction with the Compressor, you can drive it harder by using the Make-Up Gain control for really 'nasty' sounds. The final device in the chain is a Limiter, which has both Threshold and Release controls.

Each of the five sections can be activated separately (a global on/off switch is also provided), and setting up is also made easier by providing all Release controls (AutoGate, Compress, and Limit) with an Auto option. All sections have the characteristic Steinberg graphic polish. Some users have reported pops and clicks when opening the Dynamics window or activating some sections, but this problem can apparently be cured by increasing the audio buffer size. Finally, don't forget that although Dynamics are built into each VST channel, they are still essentially plug-ins and take significant processor overhead when activated -- to give you an idea, each Compressor took about the same as the Wunderverb3, and the AutoGate about half as much again.

Mix And Match

One of the problems faced by most Cubase VST owners at one time or another is to find a way of working with the multitude of individual mixer windows, which sometimes seem to have a life of their own. It's often difficult to fit what you want to see on a single screen, and no doubt even those taking advantage of Windows 98's dual-monitor capability would still appreciate more screen acreage. Thankfully, the new Channel Views allow you to decide just what you want your mixers to display.

The View button on the left-hand side of the Channel and Group mixers allows you to select from a variety of preset combinations (such as Tracks Only, Tracks+VST Instruments, or Groups+Rewire). You can also create, name and edit your own Views, enabling or disabling any individual channels from those currently available, including Channels, Rewire, VST Instruments and Groups. So if, like me, you haven't yet had the occasion to use the Group Channels, you can now remove them from your channel mixers. You could even set up different Views for the entire rhythm, brass or string sections in a song and switch between them.

A Reset button (complete with 'Are you sure?' double-check) allows you to return all faders to 0dB, centre all Pan positions (or pan stereo channels hard left and right), disable Mute and Solo buttons, remove all EQ and effects, and return all output routings to the Master channel -- a bit like being an assistant engineer, really! Another welcome addition is the ability to copy settings from one mixer channel to another: you click on the channel number (just below the fader) and then use the standard Ctrl-C command to create a copy, select another channel and press Ctrl-V to paste th

  Return Of The Mac  
  There is potential confusion in the fact that this latest upgrade to the PC version takes it from version 3.65 to version 3.7, while the imminent Mac release, though incorporating the same new features, will update version 4.03 to version 4.1. The explanation is that although version 3.7 for PC incorporates the major changes described in the text, it still lacks many of the features which were new in version 4 for the Mac, described in our review in October 1998. Some of the most important are:

The addition of a separate Marker track.

The Range Selection tool, which allows the selection of any portion of a song irrespective of where Parts start and finish.

Closer continuity between treatment of MIDI and audio tracks, including the addition of a MIDI Track Mixer.

Improved automation editing.

A new Controller Editor.

 
ese settings into it. Everything is copied apart from Insert effects.

If you already have a Channel Settings window open (showing EQ or FX send settings), holding down your Alt key before selecting one for another channel will replace the current one rather than launching yet another window -- this greatly reduced clutter on my 17-inch monitor. The effect windows have also undergone a bit of streamlining: they now only show a single 'No Effect' window until you choose a plug-in to use. When the new panel appears, an extra 'No Effect' window is appended beneath it, and so on, up to the maximum number of effects available. This avoids having a sea of unused panels on view, and helps to reduce unwanted clutter.

When selecting effects, if the size of your plug-in list exceeds the screen height you now get a scrolling list. This avoids problems for those with hundreds of plug-ins, but does unfortunately slow down the process. You can also organise your effects into folders, but this isn't as elegant as the system used in Wavelab, since you have to do it manually by creating folders and moving the DLL files using Windows Explorer. In addition, it only works for plug-in files inside the existing VSTplugins folder. Although you can make it work with DirectX plug-ins as well, you will have to

"Since you can now send MIDI data into a plug-in, it is possible to create stand-alone software synthesizers, samplers or drum machines that act as complete instruments in their own right."
uninstall them and reinstall them inside your choice of subfolder inside the VSTplugins folder -- not a prospect that will encourage many people to try it.

Finally, effects that result in audio delays can be compensated for by ticking the new 'Plug-In Delay Compensation' box in the Audio System Setup window: if you're going to take advantage of the new Dynamics features you'll certainly need this on.

Direct And Accurate

The new ASIO 2.0 specification allows those with soundcards that have special features such as 'zero-latency' monitoring to take advantage of them from within Cubase VST, rather than having to switch back and forth to a dedicated utility provided by the soundcard manufacturer. When you look in the Audio System Setup window, a new option in the Monitoring area is 'ASIO Direct Monitoring' -- this tick box will be greyed out unless your soundcard driver supports this feature. If it does, you can still choose between Tape or Record Enable monitoring as before, but with 'zero' latency. Depending on the individual soundcard driver, you may also be able to control monitor level and pan from the VST mixer. However, since the audio is looped back directly on the soundcard, you won't be able to use any VST real-time effects or EQ.

Anything that lets the recording process become more transparent is certainly welcome, but ASIO 2.0 goes further than this by also providing sample-accurate audio transfers and continuous resync with external devices through its Positioning Protocol. Sample-accurate sync has always been a bit of a kludge in the past, and plenty of people seem to have run into problems with it. The problem is that only soundcards with external word-clock facilities can adjust themselves to the fine variations needed to keep in sync with an external unit such as an ADAT machine. In addition, timecode sync needs to be maintained so that the position is maintained accurately.

In order to ensure that digital material can be transferred from an ADAT machine (for instance) to VST for editing, and then transferred back again to the same sample-accurate position, both sync types must be maintained. Timecode for ASIO 2.0 can come from 9-pin ADAT Sync, LTC (SMPTE), or VITC, and you can also enable MMC (MIDI Machine Control) to control the transport of your master device.

The first ASIO

  Bug Report  
  Given the number of new features in this release, there were bound to be a few bugs that escaped the net, and one has already been discovered that affects DirectX plug-ins. If an effect has stereo-in/stereo-out capability (and all DirectX ones do) the effect output in 3.7 will only come from the left-hand channel. Thankfully most VST plug-ins are based on mono-in/stereo-out and are therefore not affected, and neither are Insert effects, but this bug will cause major problems for anyone using DirectX plug-ins.

Using a lot of automation data can also potentially crash slower machines (those based around Pentium I, Cyrix, and AMD K5 processors), and when recording audio, the Disk Performance reading may constantly rise. I also personally had a few problems with certain plug-ins, such as the Hyperprism HyperVerb, which sometimes worked fine, and at others crashed Cubase. However, I suspect that version 3.7r1 will appear very shortly to cure these problems.

 
2.0 drivers I've tried this with are for the new RME 9652 Hammerfall card (see review starting on page 122), with which I also managed a latency of 6mS with my Pentium II 300MHz machine, though 3mS is possible. Sonorus have also released ASIO 2.0 drivers for their StudI/O card, and if you have their Sync Backplate option you can achieve sample-accurate sync. I stress again that soundcard drivers must be rewritten for the new ASIO 2.0 standard if they are to take advantage of these new features -- let's hope that new drivers appear for most popular soundcards shortly.

Final Thoughts

As I said in the introduction, although this is a free update for existing users, it offers so many new features that I'm surprised that Steinberg didn't charge for it. Most of them will win many admirers, although I suspect that VST Instruments may disappoint some people until more of them appear, along with more super-low-latency ASIO soundcard drivers -- as it is, any latency over about 25mS will make the Instruments very unresponsive to play, although as with audio tracks there will be no problems during sequencer playback.

The built-in VST dynamics section will also be popular among users, and MIDI control of plug-ins is bound to result in a flurry of new third-party releases, and a lot more music with synchronised effects. Although vers

"With the arrival of VST instruments, along with Rewire, you can finally run everything from a single soundcard. I'm already thinking of upgrading my processor to cope!"
ion 3.65 took more resources than the previous 3.5 (apparently due to added 'zipper noise suppression'), it's worth pointing out that unless you use the new features, you shouldn't need a more powerful PC to run 3.7 -- it should take exactly the same resources as 3.65. However, if you intend to take advantage of the Dynamics and VST Instruments then you will need a powerful PC: a Pentium II 300MHz processor and 128Mb of RAM are now recommended, although you can still scrape through with a Pentium 200MHz and 32Mb RAM.

Cubase VST on both platforms has undergone a subtle shift in approach since the last versions. Although you could view many of the new features as evolutionary, VST Instruments are potentially revolutionary, since they finally provide a way to run sequencing, sampling, and synthesis using the same VST engine. While musicians have been struggling to run several simultaneous applications, with all the associated conflicts and possible glitches, the all-in-one PC studio has been a frustrating dream for most of us. With the arrival of VST instruments, along with Rewire, you can finally run everything from a single soundcard. I'm already thinking of upgrading my processor to cope!

 information
Cubase 3.7 £329;
Cubase 3.7 Score £499; Cubase 3.7/24 £649;
Cubase 3.7/24 Producer Pack £699. Prices include VAT. Upgrade for existing version 3.6 owners is free.
Arbiter
+44 (0)181 970 1909.
+44 (0)181 202 7076.
gh
www.steinberg.net

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