Cubase 13 may be light on headline features, but its raft of small improvements makes it a worthwhile upgrade.
In a world where version numbers have become largely meaningless, serving more as an expression of marketing than engineering, it’s perhaps unsurprising Steinberg are continuing to follow what might be regarded as the Spinal Tap approach to enumeration. And why not. If Cubase 12 was one better than Cubase 11, then Cubase 13 will be... well, one better again.
The first thing seasoned users will notice about Cubase 13 is the vast number of user interface modifications, both in terms of appearance and functionality. And if you’re a Windows user, you’re probably in for a eureka moment when opening the new version for the first time, since Steinberg have finally ditched the cumbersome, seemingly orphaned window that hosted the application’s menu bar. This is a very welcome change, since the same window made tasks like minimising, maximising and restoring windows needlessly difficult. Instead, each Cubase window now implements a relevant instance of the menu bar, making life easier especially when working with multiple displays.
Over the course of 20 years of updates, windows haven’t always been modernised at the same rate. This has sometimes led to an inconsistent user experience, especially for those new to the application, so it’s good to see Steinberg have made a serious effort with Cubase 13 to ensure the application looks and feels both more congruent and contemporary. Upon opening your first Project, you’ll notice a not‑insignificant change to the general appearance of the familiar Project window. The Track List immediately stands out, thanks to a better use of contrast, with Track Controls now being displayed in white rather than black. And although the MIDI Channel Control is now much more readable than before, it now requires at least three units in Steinberg’s sizing scheme, which seems rather greedy.
Switching our attention to the Project window’s Left Zone, the design of the Inspector has once again been refined, with a crisper appearance requiring fewer vertical pixels; but there are also some crucial usability improvements. For instance, where Inspector Sections previously opened and closed exclusively, such that clicking a different Section’s header would close all other Sections without the use of a modifier, they now simply toggle between open and closed states independently.
Should you wish to revert to the older, established behaviour (and I can’t really imagine you would), you can simply right‑click a Section’s header and select Expand Sections Exclusively from the pop‑up menu. Perhaps regrettably, though, the modifier keys have been rendered impotent, having no effect with either the new default behaviour or the older method.
Previously, you could also toggle the inclusion of different Inspector Sections from the same pop‑up just mentioned, in addition to accessing a Setup window with the ability to configure presets. However, this slightly awkward combination of controls has now been consolidated into the new ‘Set up Sections’ dialogue, which is the other option available from the Section header’s pop‑up menu.
Joining the existing Left Zone is a second Left Zone known as the Channel Zone, which finally makes it possible to access a conventional channel‑strip‑like view for the selected track in the Project window. It was already possible to configure the Inspector to show different Sections pertaining to channel‑related controls such as inserts, sends, or indeed a fader, but such an approach could be disrupted when selecting different track types or accidentally closing the necessary Inspector Sections. Therefore, being able to display a streamlined channel strip for any track with an audio output independently of the Inspector is one of those small but useful additions.
The appearance of the channel strip used in the Channel Zone reflects the updated design of the Mix Console window, where the Racks section is no more. This is frankly a relief, since it means the different components of a channel strip — routing, inserts, sends, and so on — are now sensibly revealed through independent toggles in the appropriate ‘Set up Window Layout’ dialogue.
The only aspect of the Channel Zone I found a little incongruous, which is why I referred to it as a second Left Zone, is that the button used to show and hide the new Channel Zone in the Project window’s toolbar has the same icon as the button used to show and hide the Left Zone containing the Inspector. I can’t help thinking there should be a better way to pictorially distinguish these two Zones.
In what seems like a flashback to the early days of Nuendo and Cubase, it’s now possible for audio, group and effect channels to be switched between mono and stereo configurations by clicking the Channel Configuration button on the corresponding track. This is undoubtedly handy, although one can’t help but imagine how being able to switch between other configurations might also be rather convenient, despite the can of worms that would inevitably be opened in practice.
Cubase’s Key Editor is arguably the most comprehensive piano‑roll‑style MIDI editor available in any modern music production application, and this window has been further enhanced in version 13, particularly for situations where you want to edit multiple MIDI parts simultaneously.
In prior versions of Cubase, several parts could be edited at once by selecting the desired parts in the Project window and opening the Key Editor, either in the Lower Zone of the Project window or in its own window. And, assuming the Editor Content Follows Event Selection option was enabled in the Editors page of the Preferences window (which it is by default), the parts displayed in the Key Editor would reflect the currently selected parts in the Project window.
By setting the Part Editing mode (from the Key Editor’s toolbar), you could specify whether the events for all displayed parts were available for editing simultaneously, or whether editing was focused only on the Active Part. In the latter case, the Active Part could be changed by simply clicking on an Event contained within a different part, or by selecting the desired part from the Activate Part for Editing pop‑up menu. Cubase 13 maintains this behaviour and improves it.
Clicking the Part Editing Mode control now reveals a dialogue with brief descriptions of the options provided: All Parts and Active Part, as before, plus a new All Parts on Active Track mode. And, to make selecting the Active Part more convenient, the Part Edit Mode control now opens a panel containing a clearly organised tree view. This displays the available parts grouped by the tracks on which they’re located, sorted by start time, making it easy to navigate a large number of tracks selected in the Project window. And, if that wasn’t enough, the panel also features a search field at the top, much like...