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Steinberg Cubase VST 4

Audio Sequencing Software By Martin Walker
Published October 1998

The new MIDI Mixer and subgroup Mixers provide yet more control, as well as bringing MIDI and Audio more into line, with full automation on each.The new MIDI Mixer and subgroup Mixers provide yet more control, as well as bringing MIDI and Audio more into line, with full automation on each.

The upgrade of Cubase to version 4.0 sees the software comprehensively overhauled — and it's available in an optional 24‑bit version for the first time. Martin Walker temporarily changes platform for the next stage of the Cubase journey.

The biggest problem I had when writing this review was knowing where to start. Far from being a spit‑and‑polish upgrade, version 4.0 of Cubase VST for the Mac has undergone a complete overhaul, with a host of new features (sadly, PC users like myself will have to wait for these changes — see the 'What about the PC version?' box). Along with all the changes, Steinberg have also launched another high‑end version — Cubase VST/24, which replaces Cubase Audio XT at the top of the Cubase hierarchy, above Cubase Score and the standard non‑24‑bit Cubase VST. The standard Cubase VST v4.0 was used for the purposes of this review, but see the '24‑bit? Sounds Great!' box for more on the new flagship version and how it differs from the non‑24‑bit Cubase under scrutiny here.

Whether you buy the standard Cubase VST, Cubase Score or the 24‑bit version, you get a CD‑ROM containing all three applications — but the associated Master floppy disk will only contain a licence for the one you've purchased. Two 'authorisation counts' are provided, and they will thankfully survive a hard disk defragmentation. I still personally prefer the dongle protection of the PC version, but most Mac users seem well used to having hard disk installs (whether or not they approve of the protection method).

Through The Arrange Window...

The Controller Editor can be used to edit multiple controllers, or for Automation data. Notice also the alternative Transport Bar.The Controller Editor can be used to edit multiple controllers, or for Automation data. Notice also the alternative Transport Bar.

Despite the changes to the Cubase range and the upgrade to the features within each version of the program, version 4.0 will still seem largely familiar to existing Cubase users, even those like myself who normally use the PC version. The heart of the program is still the first window you see when you launch it — the Arrange window (see main screenshot). Nevertheless, there are lot of significant tweaks to this window. For a start, the restrictive 10‑letter limit for both track and part names has been extended to 26 (no more cryptic abbreviations needed), and the entire dropdown menu structure has been re‑organised. Most people will adjust fairly quickly and find familiar menu options elsewhere, although there are many new ones as well.

The Part Appearance options have been enhanced and rationalised — both MIDI and Audio parts are now treated in the same way. You can view names, events, or both, and you can still decide what types of MIDI data will appear as events. A third and new option is 'Use Track Settings', and this introduces an extra 'N‑E' track column where you can select name and event display independently for individual tracks, entire track classes (all Audio, or all MIDI for example), or every track in the arrangement. This versatility brings Cubase VST a little more in line with Logic Audio.

Tracks can now be resized independently in the vertical direction. You can change all sizes for a certain track class, which is ideal when you want big audio waveforms but small MIDI tracks, for example. Alternatively, you can zoom in on a single track when working on it, without losing all the others off the top and bottom of the screen.

Another way to keep the Arrange window more manageable is to use the new Folder Tracks — a new class of track containing others, just like folders in MacOS (and, indeed, in Emagic's Logic Audio). Once you have created a new folder track, you can drag and drop any combination of MIDI, Drum or Audio tracks into it, which can then be collapsed into a single track (the screen display indicates the number of tracks within a folder by dividing the part displays into a number of horizontal strips). Folders can give a huge saving in screen space, and are ideal for drums, brass or string sections. You can still expand the folder at any time to view and edit each track individually, but the best thing is that you can edit the entire folder instead — all the events will then appear in a single editor window.

Full Marks

The Extended Inspector provides Multiple Outs for a single track, as well as Randomise features. Notice also the Marker Track above the ruler.The Extended Inspector provides Multiple Outs for a single track, as well as Randomise features. Notice also the Marker Track above the ruler.

However, the most obvious new item on the Arrange page is a small button labelled 'Marker'. This toggles a feature that many users have been requesting for a long time — a Marker Track, which appears as an extra full‑width horizontal strip directly above the ruler. At last you can add text such as 'Verse', 'Change to D#minor here', 'This bit needs re‑doing', or 'Start fading here'. You can add Marker Parts by double‑clicking between the left and right locators, or drawing them in with the pencil, and all the normal editing tools such as eraser, scissors and glue can be used. You can enter up to 26 letters in each marker, but even better, if you double‑click on one, another window pops up where you can enter comments. This seems to have unlimited length, so it is perfectly possible to add a novel describing the historical and socio‑political reasons for a particular key change.

Clicking on a marker moves the Song Position pointer (for quick navigating), while simultaneously holding down the Command key sets the left and right locators either side of the marker as well. You can also use Marker parts in conjunction with the new Range Selection tool (more on this later), to quickly select everything within the specified range. It is even possible to use Markers to move and copy entire sections of the Arrange page from one position to another — ideal for quickly trying out different variations of verse, chorus, and middle eight.

Bar Snacks

The Key Commands dialogue provides a huge range of customisations for keyboard shortcuts and your own personal icon bar (bottom left).The Key Commands dialogue provides a huge range of customisations for keyboard shortcuts and your own personal icon bar (bottom left).

The Transport bar now has three size options: two horizontal sizes containing all the usual buttons, and a collapsible vertical one with three options. Useful as these are, more interesting is the new but confusingly named Toolbar, which even Steinberg's own publicity refers to, far more clearly, as a user‑definable icon bar. You can hide or show this from an option in the Windows menu, and it defaults to having five icons for Rewind, Forward, Stop, Start, and Record. However, the Toolbar offers a lot more than just these functions, since the control icons it contains can be chosen from the Key Commands window (which is in turn located in the Preferences menu). Here, arranged in nine submenus, you will find every item from every main pull‑down menu, as well as extensive transport bar options. You can redefine any of the existing keyboard shortcuts, assign them to a MIDI note, or to controller or program change messages, and/or give them an icon that then appears on the Toolbar. Many functions already have unique icons, but even if there isn't one for a function you want, you can choose from a selection of predefined ones. These new options will please everyone who prefers to use the same keyboard shortcuts in several different applications rather than a mouse, but it also means those who prefer mousing around can place all their most‑used functions on the icon bar for one‑click access.

Making An Inspection

The new Selection Range Tool allows you to grab any portion of your song for editing, moving or copying, without having to worry about where Parts start and finish.The new Selection Range Tool allows you to grab any portion of your song for editing, moving or copying, without having to worry about where Parts start and finish.

The Inspector, the section of the Arrange window containing track and part playback parameters, has been made more comprehensive in version 4.0. Partinfo now shows the start and end positions (which can be edited directly), and the Preferences dialogue box now has options to change volume and pan with pop‑up horizontal faders, while another preference allows transpose to be adjusted from a pop‑up mini keyboard. Audio tracks also have these additions (apart from transpose), and the volume and pan controls mirror the positions of the channel fader and pan controls in the Audio mixer. This is a useful way to make quick mix adjustments without having to open up any Mixer windows.

Clicking on the small button at the top right opens the Extended Inspector (see screenshot on page 100), which has extra options for MIDI tracks. Multi Out allows you to add extra Outs so that you can, for instance, play back a track through several MIDI channels simultaneously. Each added output has its own Inspector, so you can choose a different MIDI port or channel, give it a different name, transpose it, and so on — this feature will certainly keep the Arrange page more manageable if you do a lot of doubling to fatten up sounds.

There are two Randomise boxes, which allow you to specify the amount (minimum and maximum) of random variation for any two parameters chosen from position, pitch, velocity, and length. Sadly, for anyone like me who instantly thought of using this feature to 'humanise' sequence data by slightly randomising the pitch of every note, random pitch offers only full‑note transposition rather than pitch‑bend nuances.

Two similar boxes allow Dynamic limits and filters to be applied to velocity or note values — for instance, you could limit note values for a string section so that each instrument only receives the correct range of notes.

Many of the parameters shown in the Inspector can now be added as extra track columns (such as Volume, Pan, Transpose, and so on) which makes it far easier to see the value for every track at once than when using the Inspector. The Volume and Pan track columns also appear for audio tracks, and this does mean that basic audio and MIDI mixing can now be carried out from track columns, without opening up any other mixer windows (which will benefit those whose monitors are suffering pixel fatigue). It is even possible to carry out limited automation from these controls.


Much more use is now made of graphical 'drag and drop' editing techniques; for example, parts or notes can be dragged onto the desktop (where they appear as a Part icon), and then dropped again later at another position. Notes dropped beyond the original end of a part automatically extend the part.

Also making editing easier is an enhanced Toolbox with various new tools. Three of them allow you to change Volume, Pan and Transpose directly by clicking on an individual MIDI Part. You can also apply Logical Edit presets or select a quantise groove for a part with two more tools. The speaker tool now allows you to audition individual parts, while the magnifying glass (which used to perform this function) now acts as a zoom control.

However, it is the new Range Selection tool that is the most interesting and useful, and this overcomes a former restriction when editing parts. Previously, you could only delete, move, and copy complete parts, and if for instance you wanted to grab a section of a song, and drop it later on in the arrangement, the entire part would be picked up. The only way to move a cross‑part portion of a song was to make a global cut at the desired start and finish points, drag the cut portions across, and then glue the earlier cut parts back together. Range Selection allows you to draw a rectangle around any section of any combination of parts, and then perform any edit on this highlighted portion — and this applies to processing such as quantisation as well. Overall, this really streamlines editing, and I can't wait for it to appear in the PC version.

A new Controller Editor has been added, and this finally allows you to edit several controllers (such as volume, pitch‑bend, and aftertouch) simultaneously on the same page. You simply select from the left‑hand column the type of controller that you want to edit (holding down the Shift key for multiple selections), and the edit window is divided into a number of horizontal sections showing controller information ready for editing. Although MIDI notes can't be seen, you can edit velocity, which is a useful way to keep track of where the notes are in relation to other controller data.

Cubase's Logical Editor has always been under‑used, and one possible reason for this is that even if you created useful presets, there were only 10 possible storage positions, and storing new ones once these were full wiped out the defaults. Version 4.0 now provides two sets of presets (24 in total), but even more usefully, they can now all be saved as disk files, and unlimited numbers of logical presets can be created, saved, and sorted into folders for global use by any song; so it's finally worth spending time on creating libraries of useful settings for future use.

In a similar fashion, Grooves are now saved on your hard disk, rather than with the song, so you can have unlimited numbers of these available as well (storage space permitting, of course). Another addition which makes life a little easier is the Quantise Groove Box. You can select any combination of MIDI parts, set up a cycle and suitable quantise value, and then once the Groove Box is selected, you can activate Pre‑Listen and then hear the results of applying any groove file 'on the fly'. Timing, Velocity, and Duration sliders fine‑tune the effect of the currently selected groove on these parameters, and once you are happy, you can click on 'Do It' to apply the final values to your data. You also access groove editing from here as well. The Groove Box certainly tidies up groove quantising functions, and makes them easier to access and use.

Setting A Trend

At last! Window sets (known as Screensets to users of Emagic's Logic) have finally been added to Cubase, so that you can save and retrieve the sizes and locations of every open window on the screen. This includes the Arrange page, any open Editor, any Mixer, and the Audio Pool and Notepad. To create a new window set, you simply arrange everything on screen as you prefer, select 'New Window Set' from the Windows menu, specify various options, and then give it a name. Window sets are saved as part of your Preferences, so they are available on a global basis to any song.

You can recall any named set using the Windows menu again, but many people may prefer to enter the hugely expanded Preferences section mentioned earlier, and using the Key Commands window the first 15 window sets can be allocated keyboard shortcuts or even MIDI commands. I started by adding icons on the new user‑definable bar for 'Mix All' (with MIDI, Audio, and Master channel windows open) and 'Arrange' (with just parts showing). Another useful related function is Track Views, which allows you to store and retrieve various arrangements of Track columns (minimal when arranging or mixing to get more parts on screen, and more comprehensive when adjusting play parameters, for example).

Audio & MIDI Mixing

The Audio Channel mixer is largely the same as before, although clicking on the 'FX' buttons now shows eight effects sends (arranged as two columns of four) instead of the previous four. However, there are now eight subgroup Channels as well, as well as an entirely separate Audio Group mixer. I did initially find this rather confusing, since the Audio Group mixer simply duplicates the controls for subgroups that have already been added to the end of the Channel mixer (moving a control on one panel causes the equivalent one on the other to move as well). Presumably this is so that you can quickly get at the subgroups without scrolling past the other channels.

You can route the output of a subgroup to any Output buss — in most cases, you will want to route both 'sides' to the same stereo buss, although each side can be sent to a different output if desired. You can also alter the fader, EQ, and effects independently for each side of the subgroup by holding down the option key. However, this rapidly becomes unwieldy, since you need to open separate Effects/EQ windows for left and right sides, and if you once forget to hold down the option key when moving any control, the equivalent control on the other side will start moving as well. I did notice a tiny bug in the naming of groups — 'L' and 'R' are appended to your chosen name, but if you re‑open the text box, this happens again, resulting in names like 'Grp 5 L L'.

One big operational change is that MIDI channels now also have their own MIDI Track mixer. This looks very similar to the Audio one, and sports Fader (with meter alongside), Pan, Mute, and Solo buttons. These simply reflect the Inspector values (with the meter indicating MIDI velocity values), and send out MIDI controller values when changed. Ironically, this can cause confusion, since the MIDI Track Mixer is connected to Track Info in the Inspector, but not Part Info. If you make volume and pan changes for a single part using the Inspector, they will not be reflected in the Track Mixer — Steinberg recommend setting all Inspector Part parameters to Off, removing any existing controller messages inside the parts, and then using the read/write automation facilities of the MIDI Track Mixer to record and play back all changes. A global Audio Mute button is also provided, in exactly the same way that the Audio mixer has a MIDI Mute button.

An Expand button for each MIDI mixer channel provides some extra functions: a selection of Yamaha XG and Roland GS controls are available (such as effects sends, attack, release, filter cutoff, and so on), and these send the appropriate SysEx messages. Once again, you can change these controls in real time for automation purposes.

Speaking of automation, there is one huge improvement for Audio as well as MIDI. In previous versions of Cubase VST, although clicking on the mixer 'Auto Write' button generated an Audio Mix track containing the automation data, there was no way to edit this except by grabbing a control and overwriting existing values. Now, not only does activating MIDI Auto Write generate a separate Track Mix track, but you can double‑click on either the Audio Mix or Track Mix tracks to directly edit existing data, using the previously mentioned Controller Editor. Once again, by holding down the shift key when choosing what to display and edit, you can view multiple channels and parameters. When editing an Audio Mix track, the data appears as waveforms, so that you can clearly relate it to the superimposed controller information.


You really need at least a few weeks to fully explore the new options available in Cubase v4.0, but most things fall into place fairly quickly at a basic level. Although the reorganisation of the Menu structure does initially make it more difficult for long‑term users to find things quickly, it doesn't take long to adapt, and functions do now seem to be in more logical places after the many rather piecemeal additions of the last few years' updates.

Users have been clamouring for some of the new features (such as long names, screensets and the automation editor) for ages, and these do make day‑to‑day operation a lot simpler. The Key Commands window and Icon bar will please many people, since they allow you to customise Cubase to suit your own personal way of working. In fact, flexibility seems to be one of the biggest features of version 4.0.

Overall this is a huge step forward for Cubase VST, and it will no doubt make a lot of people very happy. I have to say though that my favourite new feature is the Window sets. When the mixers disappear behind the Arrange page again I will no longer curse in frustration — well, not until I return to Cubase on the PC, anyway!

The Cubase Range — Selected Highlights

  • 15360 ppqn internal resolution
  • 24‑bit/96kHz capability with Cubase VST/24 and suitable hardware
  • 64 audio channels — 96 in Cubase VST/24
  • ASIO support for additional outputs
  • 16 group channels with effects and equalisers
  • 8 auxiliary sends per channel (and 8 audio send effects)
  • 4 insert effects per channel
  • 4 master insert effects
  • Non‑destructive audio clips editor
  • Folder tracks
  • Complete marker navigation system
  • Long track names (now up to 26 characters)
  • Variable Transport display options
  • User‑definable Toolbar
  • User‑definable key commands
  • Extended Inspector
  • Improved drag and drop facilities
  • Enhanced Toolbox (including Range Selection tool)
  • New Controller Editor
  • More Logical Presets (now savable to disk)
  • Savable Grooves
  • Savable Window sets
  • Dedicated MIDI Tracks mixer
  • Advanced score notation and printing (in Cubase Score and Cubase VST/24)

24‑Bit? Sounds Great! Tell Me More...

Cubase VST/24 is Steinberg's new flagship sequencing package, and as the name suggests, it supports up to 24‑bit audio recording at 96kHz — as long as you have suitable 24‑bit audio I/O hardware to accompany it, of course. Initially the Sonorus STUDI/O card (reviewed in last month's SOS) and Korg 1212 provide such hardware support for the 24‑bit Cubase, and drivers for the Lexicon Studio system should also be available by the time you read this. However, the 24‑bit software is only available for Macintosh at present, and use is really only recommended on a high‑performance G3 Mac — although Steinberg do not discount the use of non‑G3 Macs, they do euphemistically state that Cubase VST/24 is 'optimised' for the G3 — and reports abound of fairly sluggish performance on less well‑specified Macs. Of course, you can buy the 24‑bit version of the program and use it in non‑24‑bit mode if you wish. Although you might think this defeats the object of buying VST/24, because it is the top‑of‑the‑range Cubase, the 24‑bit version does offer two major advantages over the standard version, even when you're not using its 24‑bit capabilities. It has the same more advanced notation and score printing functions as Cubase Score, and it also offers 96 audio channels, rather than the 64 of the standard Cubase.

However, before you rush out in haste to purchase the 24‑bit version and hardware in a bid to stay on top of the heap, there are a few things you should know about 24‑bit audio. As you might imagine, when compared to what's needed to handle a 16‑bit file, 24‑bit processing will take longer and 24‑bit audio files will require around 33% more hard drive space for storage. In theory, perfect 24‑bit audio should provide a dynamic range improvement of around 32dB over the maximum 96dB of 16‑bit, but in reality, the limitations inherent in the analogue part of any analogue‑to‑digital converter means that the very best resolution available is just a little better than you might expect from a perfect 21‑bit system. Most affordable 24‑bit hardware has a dynamic range more comparable with a theoretical 18‑ or 19‑bit system, though this is bound to improve as new converter designs appear. However, the extra dynamic range does mean that low‑level signals sound much cleaner than on a 16‑bit system, especially quiet classical instruments or reverb tails, so you can afford to leave a few dBs of safety margin when recording, unlike 16‑bit where you have to ensure peaks are virtually at full scale to get good results. Using more bits also reduces the side‑effects of truncation errors when signals are changed in gain, processed or mixed, which is a significant benefit. If you're making dance music with a 3dB dynamic range and you're putting everything through a vinyl simulator, then the regular 16‑bit version of Cubase VST will sound every bit as good as the 24‑bit version, but if you are working with natural instruments that have a wide dynamic range, the 24‑bit option is well worth considering. Matt Bell & Paul White

Smaller Tweaks

Along with all the major changes, improvements, and additions to version 4.0, I came across lots of smaller new features that will nevertheless be extremely useful:

  • Convert to Groove takes the selected part and converts it to a Groove template, which is then immediately available as an option in the Groove Quantise menu.
  • Ears Only initially had me baffled, since it completely blanks the screen display. However, it dawned on me that this is intended for use when you are playing back music, and don't want to be distracted when listening. Pressing any key returns everything to normal.
  • Key Caps Play opens a small window showing a graphic computer keyboard with notes allocated to different keys. You can transmit MIDI data directly from the computer keyboard while the window is open.
  • Muting of individual notes is now possible using the new Mute tool that appears in the key editor.
  • Optimise Arrangement scrutinises all selected parts for empty sections of a bar or longer in length, and will then cut and re‑size them. This makes is far easier to see where your data actually is.
  • Restrict Polyphony (1 to 32 notes) ensures that a MIDI part does not use more than the specified number of notes, which is extremely useful if you are getting occasional note‑stealing problems. It works by shortening notes as required before another starts that will exceed the chosen polyphony.



  • 601/120MHz Processor
  • 32Mb of RAM
  • 256K Second Level Cache
  • MacOS System 7.6.1 or later


  • 604 or preferably G3 Processor (the latter is virtually a prerequisite for 24‑bit operation)
  • 64Mb of RAM

What About The PC Version?

PC users will have to wait for a while before they can get their hands on Cubase VST v4.0, though how long exactly is not currently clear. The latest word on the subject is that the PC version won't appear all at once. Version 3.6 will probably arrive in August, and then 3.7 later on this year. Quite which of the Mac version 4.0 features these interim PC updates will incorporate is hazy at present, and there is still some doubt over whether a full version 4.0 will appear for the PC at all. I'll keep you informed in PC Notes, but in the meantime, Mac owners have got something to gloat about again...

Manual Moan

I know all the arguments about not cutting down any more rainforests, but sadly only a Getting Started manual is provided with Cubase v4.0; the other extensive remaining documentation is in on‑line Adobe Acrobat format. To offset the inevitable murmurs of protest, Steinberg have bundled a tutorial CD‑ROM with Cubase v4.0. This is in two parts: Getting Started (with 16 topics) and Working with Version 4.0 (with 14). Foolishly, I waded in at the deep end for this review, reading through the Getting Started manual for the new bits, and then exploring all the menu options within Cubase itself. However, I subsequently discovered a lot of previously undiscovered ways to use the new features in the CD‑ROM tutorials. I wish there had been an equivalent when I first started with Cubase VST!


  • Huge number of new features.
  • Much more consistent features for handling both MIDI and audio.
  • Extensive user‑definability.
  • Sideways upgrades are only £79.


  • PC version is lagging way behind.


A major leap forward that adds many of the features that existing users have been asking for, along with many others that should make day‑to‑day operation much more pleasurable and productive.