It Ain't Half Cubase
It sounds like a cliché, but Cubase 10.5 really is one of those updates where there really is something for all users. While some of the new features — notably the revised Import Tracks from Project window, the ability to colour MixConsole strips, and perhaps the Combine Selection Tools mode — are, shall we say, 'inspired' by competing products like Pro Tools, this is no bad thing. Sometimes the wheel is worth rethinking, but equally there isn't always a need to reinvent it, and I think in this latest update Steinberg have achieved a good balance in observing the competition, meeting the needs of users, and keeping Cubase true to itself.
Cubase Pro's Import Tracks from Project feature has been dramatically improved in 10.5 compared with its previous incarnation in version 10.0.50 (which is the same one still featured in Nuendo 10.2). Firstly, its appearance is more elegant, with the list of source tracks in the Project to import now presented hierarchically based on the folder structure of the source Project. As before, you can select of deselect all of the tracks, but now you can click on a folder to select all tracks within that folder (before deselecting individually as required), and folders can be individually expanded or collapsed.
It's possible to filter the display of source tracks with a new search field, which is handy when importing from a large Project. But one of the neatest additions is a new way to manage how source tracks are assigned to destination tracks in the Active Project. Previously, you could select New Track (which is still the default), whereupon a new track is created for the imported track, or you could pick an existing track from a pop-up menu. However, this process can now be automated with the new Select Matching command. For example, if you have a source audio track named Accents, and an audio track in the Active Project also named Accents, you can enable that track to be imported, click the Select Matching button and Cubase will automatically assign the source track to the destination of the same name. This works for all tracks enabled for import, although the track configurations need to match.
As before, Project Settings are displayed for the source and Active Projects, and you can select whether media files should be copied to the active Project folder (and sample-rate converted if necessary) to keep everything in one place. But Cubase Pro 10.5 now lets you choose what types of track data are imported, if any (as opposed to everything, as before), and these include Events and parts, channel and inspector settings, and automation. It's also possible to set the position at which Events and parts are imported, either as an absolute or relative value, or at the position of the Project Cursor.
You could argue that this command is still missing a few tricks, such as the ability to distinguish audio and video assets rather than copying both types of media files to the Active Project Folder. Still, to be fair, Cubase Pro 10.5's updated Import Tracks from Project feature represents, as I wrote in the first paragraph of this box, a dramatic improvement over what came before.
MultiTap Delay & Padshop 2
What would an update to a music creation application be without a new plug-in or two? The Pro and Artist versions of Cubase 10.5 include a new multi-tap delay effect called, well, MultiTap Delay — Steinberg marketing have done it again! — which, despite the prosaic name, is a useful, fully featured, and decent-sounding addition to Cubase's included arsenal of plug-ins.
Each MultiTap Delay preset can be assigned one of five different delay characters: Digital Modern, Digital Vintage, Tape, Crazy and Custom, which is selected automatically if you adjust the parameters of another character. You can create and manipulate up to eight taps, and there are three separate effects sections — Loop, Tap and Post — each with slots for six effects modules. Loop effects feed the output back into the delay input, Tap effects allow you to apply difference parameters for each of the six chosen effects modules, while Post effects apply to the output of the plug-in.
Cubase Pro and Artist 10.5 also include the new Padshop 2 (shown above), which merges the original Padshop bundled in earlier versions of Cubase with the stand-alone Padshop Pro and adds a few new tricks. Padshop can create complex, evolving sounds that, as the name suggests, are particularly useful when performed as pads. Padshop 2 adds a second synth engine (a spectral oscillator) and over 100 new presets and samples, and you'll also get a new arpeggiator, filter, and other effects, enhanced modulation, the ability for Cubase users to now import custom samples, and the obligatory darker, 'refreshed' design, although it still looks pretty red to me.
I rather like Padshop and its sonic aptitude in facilitating the creation of performable, evocative sounds, despite the dangers of cranking up the reverb and venturing into the land where dairy produce is combined with rennet and a dash of bacteria. The interface could possibly use a less utilitarian approach, because while access to the controls is undoubtedly direct, the addition of a 'simple mode' wouldn't go amiss if you're lazy or new to the instrument.
Like Padshop Pro, Padshop 2 is also available as a plug-in for any host supporting VST, AU and AAX instruments from the Steinberg online shop for £110$129.99 — updates from Padshop Pro are priced at £25$29.99. Therefore, it should be pointed out Steinberg state this update is incompatible with the version of Padshop previously bundled with earlier Cubase releases. So, for existing Cubase users looking to update to Padshop 2, the company recommend updating to Cubase Pro or Artist 10.5.
Cubase Elements users haven't been forgotten, though, as 10.5 of this iteration now includes three effects previously only available in versions higher up the product ladder: Stereo Delay, Roomworks (a reasonable algorithmic reverb with flexible controls, although Steinberg's more recent algorithmic reverb, REVelation, included in Artist and Pro, is considerably better in terms of quality), and DeEsser.
Steinberg continue to enhance Cubase Pro's Score Editor, and version 10.5 introduces some nifty new tricks that wouldn't go amiss in other score editors. For example, you can now transpose selected notes using the scroll wheel on a mouse if the appropriate preference is enabled. This feature also works with a trackpad's scroll gestures, although I found it to be considerably less precise and harder to control. It would be even nicer if you could move notes horizontally by holding down the Shift key whilst scrolling, similar to how the Event Display can be scrolled horizontally in many of Cubase's windows. But that's me being picky.
One improvement when moving notes or inserting a note in musical time, though, is the optional ruler that can now appear above the stave when performing these operations. Enable the Show Bars and Beats Positions When Inserting Notes preference, and you'll see a ruler with the current destination position indicated by the appropriate division line coloured in red.
An Event Movement Restrictions button has been added to the Score Editor's toolbar, providing easier access through a pop-up menu to three options previously available as preferences: Keep Notes within Key, Snap Slurs to Notes and Keep Crescendo Symbols Horizontal. These are joined by new a Snap Rests and Repeats Vertically option, which pretty much does what it says on the tin.
System Requirements & Catalina Compatibility
It's worth observing Steinberg's requirements when upgrading to or purchasing a new Cubase 10.5 licence. The company state that Windows users should be using 64-bit Windows 10 version 1903 or version 1809, while Mac OS users need to be running Mojave (10.14) or Catalina (10.15). Mac OS 10.15 is named after Santa Catalina Island, located about 30 miles off the coast of Long Beach in Southern California — and, arguably, Mac OS applications are becoming more like islands, due to increased security measures such as what Apple refer to as the Hardened Runtime.
In order for an application not distributed via the App Score to be executed on a Mac running Catalina, it needs to have the Hardened Runtime enabled and be submitted to Apple for Notarization [sic] where it will be automatically vetted for malicious content. Once an application has passed this notary process, a developer will receive a notarisation ticket to be included with that application for distribution.
Notarisation is but one factor of the Hardened Runtime, which aims to protect both system and application integrity using many different techniques, such as restricting access to certain runtime capabilities and resources. The latter, for example, would include access to Location Services, Apple Events and a user's Address Book, Calendar and Photo Library — more pertinent to Cubase users would be access to Audio Input via Core Audio and the built-in camera. Should an application want access to these resources, they can be enabled as Entitlements within the settings for the Hardened Runtime. That's why Mac users will be required to give permission for Cubase to access Audio Input the first time the application is launched on Catalina, or to use the camera in VST Connect.
As you might expect, the introduction of Hardened Runtime brought compatibility issues with music and audio applications, plug-ins and drivers, with most developers initially cautioning users on upgrading. However, this situation has greatly improved since Catalina's release last October and Cubase 10.5 is fully compatible. For more information, Steinberg offer a support page with a detailed breakdown on Catalina compatibility with the company's products.
As before, Cubase Pro and Artist also require a USB eLicenser and thus a spare USB port in which to insert it. Disappointingly, the design of the USB eLicenser hasn't really changed in the years since Steinberg acquired Syncrosoft, the company responsible for the copy protection technology in question. It's always been a bit flimsy for my liking compared to, say, the original iLok and the latest one-piece metal iLok 3. Strength aside, such devices still use USB-A connectors, and it seems about time Steinberg offered a USB-C eLicenser. I'm singling Steinberg out here only because this is a review of a Steinberg product, but it's a minor pain some users will have to factor in the use of USB-A to USB-C adaptors — remember to pack one in your laptop bag!
In terms of hardware, Steinberg recommend a minimum of 4GB memory (with 8GB or more being preferable), and 30GB of free disk space — the download itself requires nearly 22GB.
- The ability to export audio to video is restored.
- A much-improved way of importing tracks from other Projects.
- Everything you could ever want from MIDI Retrospective Recording.
- Improvements to Macro creation, selection tools, working with the built-in EQ and more.
- More advanced options when exporting video could be useful.
It could be argued that the x.5 updates in Steinberg's roadmap are designed more to keep existing Cubase users satisfied than to tempt new users. However, Steinberg's Advanced Music Production System remains at the top of its game, facilitating many unique cross-platform workflows.
Cubase 10.5 Pro £480; Artist £265; Elements £tbc. Prices include VAT. Upgrades and crossgrades available.
Cubase 10.5 Pro $559.99; Artist $309.99; Elements $99.99. Upgrades and crossgrades available.
Steinberg Cubase Pro 10.5.0.
Microsoft Surface Studio with 2.7GHz i7 processor and 32GB memory, running Windows 10 Pro version 1903.
Tested with RME Babyface Pro.