In the latest version of their flagship post-production software, Steinberg have applied some clever lateral thinking to loudness metering and ADR recording.
When Steinberg announced a new version of Cubase last November, the company did something they had never done before, by simultaneously announcing a new version of Nuendo as well. Previously, despite their shared heritage, major new releases of Cubase and Nuendo had always been staggered, often by as much as a year. And although Nuendo 6 wasn't scheduled to ship until some months after the release of Cubase 7 — presumably to help prevent a division of resources for testing and marketing — the two applications are noticeably more in sync with each other than ever before.
Given that Cubase 7 was covered in some detail in the February issue earlier this year (/sos/feb13/articles/cubase-7.htm), this review will mostly focus on Nuendo 6-specific features, along with some of the general improvements that have been made since the Cubase 7 review was published.
When I first launched Nuendo 6, I felt an immediate sense of relief that Steinberg had decided not to include Cubase 7's Steinberg Hub, the full-screen view that provides the latest news, tutorial videos and new project options. It is annoying in Cubase 7, and would have been out of place in the professionally oriented Nuendo. Instead, depending on your On Startup preference, our old friend the Open Document Options dialogue remains, and the Help menu has become a little plumper, offering easy access to Web pages for community, support, products and more.
Cubase 7 features that are certainly not out of place in Nuendo 6 include MemZap, which enables you to store a zoom factor and location and quickly switch between that arrangement and the current editing configuration. Another welcome workflow improvement is the Find Tracks command, which makes it easy to find a track in the Project's Track List (or on the mixer), although there's still no key command to bring up the search field.
Speaking of the Track List, a useful visual change that's implemented in Nuendo 6 (and the latest Cubase 7 revision) is the ability for track headers to be coloured according to a track's assigned colour. It's surprising how much easier this makes navigating the Track List, and a nice touch here is that it's not simply a switch: you can set the amount of colour that should be applied. Simply open up the Event Display-Track Preference page and drag the Colorize Track Controls fader to taste.
The Track List isn't the only place in the program where the use of colour has been enhanced. As with every major new version, Nuendo 7 has once again got a little darker by default, to point where you wonder if the designers have those three words emblazoned on the office's favourite poster. And this time, as with Cubase 7, there's a bit of a Miles Davis influence as well.
In Cubase 7, and previous versions of Nuendo, you could struggle to tame the colour scheme with a variety of faders, in a process that resembled the experience of trying to balance separate hot and cold water taps in a shower. Those sliders have finally been eliminated and replaced by a more standard colour picker. This is mostly a good thing, in that you can now pick any colour scheme of which your interior decorator might approve for the Project window and other editors, leaving only a few traces of blue darkness.
However, while I don't want to grumble too much on this subject, I really wish Steinberg could provide some useful starting points, maybe with a separate 'preset palette' facility. Just being able to click an option that says "make it look like version 5” (or version 4, or a summer's day, or a Victorian brothel, or whatever) would be helpful. Or, failing that, allowing the user to input RGB values in the colour picker would at least make it easier to reinstate what people might have liked about earlier colour schemes.
Since version 4 of Nuendo, the standard version of the program has lacked some of Cubase's new musically oriented features, which are instead available as part of the add-on Nuendo Expansion Kit (NEK). With Nuendo 6, NEK-only features include the new Chord Track functionality, Hermode tuning, and some of Cubase's more recent instrument plug-ins, such as Retrologue and Pad Shop. Those using Nuendo for audio-related production will probably have no need of these features, but if you want a system that offers the best of both Nuendo and Cubase, you'll need to purchase the NEK as well as Nuendo. And if you're already a Nuendo+NEK user, you'll need to purchase the slightly more expensive Nuendo+NEK upgrade if you want to keep using the NEK features.
Perhaps the most significant feature that Nuendo 6 inherits from Cubase 7 is the new MixConsole window. When I reviewed Cubase 7, I thought the new mixer was something of a, well, mixed bag: on one hand, there were genuinely helpful improvements, such as being able to see inserts and sends at the same time, but there were also some rebarbative design decisions that dented the overall usability of this reimagined window.
To Steinberg's credit, since the release of Cubase 7 — and indeed the initial release of Nuendo 6 — the company's developers have been working to improve some of MixConsole's early deficiencies. In the most recent x.0.3 updates for both applications, a large number of quirks and complaints have been addressed, including many of those raised in our Cubase 7 review. For example, the Appearance-Colors-MixConsole Racks preference now seems to work properly, making it possible for the slots used in the various Racks to be colour-coded to your liking. The number of options here has been expanded to solve another minor issue, namely replacing the almost-invisible pre-fade send triangle with the ability to assign different colours to send slots (and Cues) depending on whether they're pre- or post-fader. Hurrah! Another change is that the Rack's Channel Strip controls no longer eclipse each other when you reduce the horizontal factor. Instead, they simply resize. This means everything can get rather Lilliputian, but it's still a better compromise than the original solution.
Nuendo's MixConsole window also retains and incorporates some specific Nuendo features that aren't available in Cubase. Direct Routing mode is now accessed via a dedicated Channel Rack, just like inserts and sends, and Wave Metering is now selected by right-clicking a Channel in the Meter Bridge and selecting Wave from the Meter Type pop-up menu. A bonus here (if you use Wave Metering) is that, since the Meter Bridge is resizable, you can therefore adjust the height of the Wave Meters to make them larger or smaller than before.
The MixConsole isn't quite perfect, but it's more polished since being introduced in Cubase 7 and, in the words of the Beatles, it's getting better all the time.
Nuendo 6 also benefits from the EBU-R-128-compliant loudness metering (see box) that was added to Cubase 7, and this functionality has been extended in Nuendo with the inclusion of a new track type. Traditional metering is all well and good, but if you want to see at a glance the general loudness shape for a given section of your Project, it's much easier to be able to look at a graph where loudness is plotted over time — and this is exactly what the Loudness track makes possible. The Loudness track is added to a Project just like any other track type, although, like the Video track, it's probably something you'll want to keep at the top using the divided Track List. With the Loudness track selected, the Inspector will show various loudness metering parameters (duplicated from the MixConsole's loudness meter) that become active when the Loudness track's Activate Loudness Calculation button is enabled. If you want to record a loudness curve onto the track, simply enable the Loudness track's record button and a loudness curve, based on the Short-Term EBU Mode analysis, will be plotted as the Project plays back.
However, Steinberg have gone one better than merely allowing you to plot a loudness curve in real time, since, let's be honest, it would be something of a pain if you had to replay the Project every time you wanted to re-plot the curve. So, instead, the Loudness track also has a Quick Analysis button, which lets you plot the Loudness Curve between the left and right locators with just a single click of the mouse. Although this analysis may take a few moments, depending on the speed of your computer and the range of the locators (since Nuendo is presumably performing what is essentially an offline bounce), it's certainly quicker than doing the same operation in real time. Once the curve has been plotted, the Short Term box on the Loudness track will be able to display the short-term loudness at the current position of the cursor. (However, this shouldn't be confused with the Short Term parameter in the Inspector, which only shows the short-term value during playback.)
The curve itself is plotted against a horizontal red line that represents the all-important -23LUFS level for broadcast audio, although if you prefer, you can switch the display, along with the Short Term and Integrated Inspector parameters, to LU (where 0LU is equivalent to -23LUFS). Another cunning trick in displaying the loudness curve is that you can adjust the range over which the curve is plotted by clicking and dragging on the values that appear at the top right and left of the track's header. This flexibility might be helpful in LU mode: by default, the lower and upper limits are -36 and +18LU, corresponding to the EBU +18 Scale, but there's a second scale in widespread use, known as the EBU +9 Scale (-18 to +9LU), and this can easily be configured, as can any other range in either LU or LUFS, by adjusting the range values on the Loudness track.
If I had one minor quibble concerning the Loudness track, it would be that it's a shame that only short-term analysis can be plotted. This might seem like overkill, but other plug-ins, such as MeterPlugs' LCAST, can plot all three EBU Modes, either on their own or overlaid. (LCAST also, incidentally, offers the option to export loudness data as a CSV file.)
One loudness-related feature I didn't mention in the Cubase 7 review, which is also included in Nuendo 6, is that Steinberg have added EBU-R-128-related analysis to the Statistics window. This is great if you want to quickly know the integrated loudness value of the selected audio, or the two other 128 parameters (loudness range and the maximum true peak level). The Statistics window also shows the momentary and short-term loudness values for convenience, and you even get an image of the smiling 128 logo in the background.
Having such comprehensive loudness metering built into Nuendo has two clear advantages. Firstly, while other solutions are available, both in software and hardware, they entail extra expense. Loudness metering plug-ins tend to cost several hundred in any currency, while dedicated metering hardware will set you back more than the cost of Nuendo. But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, while some other solutions also allow you to see loudness over time, none of them can integrate directly with the Project window. Being able to see the loudness curve alongside the other tracks in a project will make life easier for many engineers, especially those in broadcast who need to conform to ITU and EBU standards.
A new feature in Nuendo 6 that's aimed squarely at the post-production market is the ADR Taker, which aims to make recording Automatic Dialogue Replacement sessions easier than ever before. Building on the enhancements made to the Marker window in Nuendo 5, the new ADR Panel can be used in conjunction with the current Marker track to set up and carry out ADR recording without having to use the usual transport controls or the Project window. Rather than having to switch between the Marker and Project windows to record audio in the usual way, the ADR Panel can take care of the whole recording process for you, which, as we'll see, is rather neat.
The ADR Panel is displayed below the Marker window's Details view when the new Show ADR Panel button at the bottom of the window is enabled, and features three straightforward groups of controls. To the left, there are handy shortcuts to select the previous and next markers, which will represent ADR items to be recorded, and in the middle you'll notice transport buttons for rehearsing, recording or reviewing the selected piece of ADR. In order for the ADR Taker to take control of recording and playback, you'll need to carry out a number of pre-flight checks. In the third group of controls on the ADR Panel, to the far right, is a settings button that, perhaps unsurprisingly, opens the ADR Setup window. The General settings tab offers a number of options, such as pre- and post-roll times, but also has an area called ADR Track Assignment where you specify what tracks to use from your Nuendo project as the Guide, Music/Effects and Microphone tracks. You can even select Group tracks here, which is useful where the Guide, Music or Effects are submixes of multiple audio tracks.
For monitoring, the ADR Taker utilises Nuendo's Control Room, making it easy to configure what's heard in the control room and what you might want the talent to hear via Nuendo's four separate cue mixes. In fact, having control over who hears what is taken to the extreme via a second tab in the ADR Setup window: the Signal Switchboard!
Although it looks initially somewhat daunting — because the ADR Taker implements three different transport modes for rehearsing, recording and reviewing takes — the Signal Switchboard lets you set whether the control-room and cue mixes monitor Guide, Music/Effects, Microphone, and other audio tracks during these three modes. But it actually goes further than that, making it also possible to set whether each track is heard for pre-roll, post-roll and during the take itself. This may seem a little exhaustive, but is of course indispensable where you might want the talent to hear the guide track during pre-roll, but not during the actual take, and for all the other permutations of these types of scenarios; the talent would probably be distracted by music, but those in the control room want to hear everything together... and so on.
With the tracks assigned, monitoring configured, and the ADR Markers created or imported via CSV or EDL files, as with Nuendo 5, you're ready to rehearse, record, and review ADR items with the ADR Panel's dedicated buttons. Clicking Rehearse runs the take as though you were recording, but without actually recording, while Record carries out the recording (assuming your Microphone track is record-enabled on the Project window), and Review lets you hear the take back. One particularly nice thing about the Record mode is that you can keep recording different takes by pressing the Record button, and Nuendo will make use of the Project window's Lane feature to organise each different take.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the ADR Taker is how well it has been integrated into the Nuendo workflow, from working with Markers to using the Control Room, and Steinberg's developers didn't stop there. Nuendo 6 also adds the ability to overlay information to the video player, such as timecode and other visual cues that might previously have been generated by a separate streamer box. In the ADR Setup window, there are a number of overlay options, such as whether you want a bar to swipe across the screen during the pre-roll or for a simple countdown to be displayed, and it's even possible for the current line of dialogue to appear at the bottom of the video player.
These features are great, but it would be interesting if Steinberg considered taking video overlays further. Unlike the core ADR Taker functionality, which is very specific, video overlays (like streamers) have uses beyond just ADR sessions and the ability to display timecode on the video — which is most often burnt into the video file anyway. If it were somehow possible for additional, streamer-like functionality to be tied into standard markers, with the range of colours and pops and options offered by other software and hardware solutions, this would be the icing on the cake.
After years of Steinberg trying to separate Nuendo and Cubase into two distinct applications for two different markets, Nuendo 6 and Cubase 7 seem, at least superficially, closer in terms of general appearance and functionality than the two applications have been for some time. So my first thought was to wonder whether Steinberg had added enough Nuendo-specific functionality in the new version, in addition to bringing all the improvements from Cubase 7, to keep hardcore Nuendo users happy.
However, in the same way that the core new features in Cubase 7 were deep and pervasive, Nuendo 6's Loudness track and ADR Taker are similarly (and comprehensively) integrated in a way that I think users will appreciate. And it's perhaps easy to forget the long list of Nuendo-only features that still define the program's ambition in the world of post-production: Direct Routing, Clip Packages, enhanced automation and markers, Wave Metering and Nuage support (see 'Nuage' box), to name but a few. So Cubase is still Cubase, and Nuendo is still Nuendo; and, as I said in the introduction, if the two have seemingly become a little closer, that could prove beneficial in terms of updates and feature compatibility for everyone.
Accompanying the release of Nuendo 6 is a new initiative from Steinberg and parent company Yamaha called Nuage. In essence, Nuage is to Nuendo what Avid's Icon is to Pro Tools: a complementary range of hardware control surfaces and audio I/O options that creates a single, integrated audio production system.
The control-surface hardware consists of two basic modules: Nuage Master and Nuage Fader. One of the main features of Nuage Master is a touchscreen with eight touch-sensitive, multi-function knobs underneath. These controls make it possible to adjust EQ settings, plug-ins, surround panners and other parameters, although not everything is done via the touchscreen. There's a jog wheel, of course, along with transport controls, Control Room controls, and even dedicated buttons for the new Mem and Zap commands.
Since the Master module has no faders of its own, the actual channel strip controls are provided in the Nuage Fader module, which offers 16 faders. This can be used with Nuage Master to build a large surface (with up to 48 faders) or simply on its own. Each Nuage Fader module also includes a utility section, providing common controls for setting what mixer parameters are being shown on the surface, as well as general automation, Control Room, Workspace parameters and more. But one of the more curious aspects is the way each module's metering system is implemented. For each Nuage Fader module you buy, you'll also need to purchase a 24-inch 1920x1200 display, because, when the system is configured correctly, Nuendo will show MixConsole-like displays that line up perfectly with the Channel Strips. This looks pretty neat in Yamaha's marketing literature, and I look forward to being able to check it out in person.
For audio I/O, Yamaha offer the Nuage I/O interface, which is particularly interesting since it uses Audinate's Dante network audio technology to connect to your computer (meaning you'll also need a Dante Accelerator card in that computer). Although Dante offers 512 inputs and outputs, the Nuage system supports only 128 ins and outs of 24-bit audio; and since each Nuage I/O box supports 16 ins and outs, this means you can connect a maximum of eight interfaces per system. Three flavours of Nuage I/O are available, depending on whether you want analogue connectivity, digital connectivity, or half and half. And each box apparently includes onboard DSP to ensure the lowest possible monitoring latencies.
Watch for forthcoming articles to describe the Nuage system and Dante technology in more detail.
Nuendo has always been pretty respectable when it comes to working in surround, and Nuendo 5 improved things even further by introducing the new and dramatically better v5 surround panner. Nuendo 6 again offers a new surround panner; but this time, rather than developing something new in-house, Steinberg have decided to bundle Iosono's acclaimed Anymix Pro plug-in, which normally retails online for €299.
Anymix Pro integrates directly with the Nuendo mixer and can be selected (from one of now three available panners) on a per-channel basis, although it shouldn't be considered straightforward replacement for the v5 panner. One of the reasons why Steinberg have included Anymix Pro is that it offers sophisticated distance controls, which can perform both EQ and loudness adjustments as your input is panned, and also very simple and effective upmixing facilities.
Along with the newly improved MixConvert v6 downmixing plug-in, the addition of Anymix Pro means that Nuendo 6 arguably has some of the most flexible out-of-the-box surround mixing functionality of pretty much any audio workstation.
Loudness metering has become increasingly important in recent years, particularly since the introduction of the ITU-R BS.1770 recommendation in 2006. Whereas peak metering is relatively straightforward, quantifying loudness in a universal way has been much trickier, because loudness is subjective: people perceive what is loud in different ways.
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) recommendation for loudness measurement is based on a fairly simple frequency-weighting curve known as a K-Weighting (not to be confused with Bob Katz's K-System), which can be thought of as a high-pass filter of sorts. Channels are summed (LFE channels are omitted) with a weighting for any surround channels, and gated to prevent low-level signals skewing the measurement, which is output in LKFS (Loudness, K-Weighting, Full Scale).
The EBU decided to extend the ITU's recommendation in 2010 by releasing their own recommendation, R128. This suggested, amongst other things, a target level for broadcast audio: -23LUFS. You might be wondering why this level isn't -23LKFS, and, in effect, it is. Initially, there were some differences between LKFS and LUFS (the LU simply stands for Loudness Unit), but these have since been ratified so that LKFS and LUFS describe the same thing. The EBU also proposed a relative scale, so you can describe one programme as being, say, 6LU louder than another. A difference of 1LU is the same as 1dB, but it saves confusion to talk about LUs rather than dBs, since the loudness scale (LUFS) is different from the peak scale (dBFS).
To supplement R128, the EBU worked with manufacturers to develop a recommendation for loudness metering: EBU Mode. This comprises three modes for loudness metering: momentary, short-term and integrated. Momentary uses a 400ms window without any gating (so you can see a low-level reading) and makes it possible to see the loudness level for any given 'moment' in the audio, such as might be required for displaying an LU meter. Short-term uses a 3s window, also without gating, and is the mode Nuendo uses to plot the curve on the Loudness track. Finally, Integrated gives an integrated measurement with gating between start and stop times, for obtaining a loudness figure for a full programme. For more detail, Google the two recommendations or visit the ITU and EBU web sites.
- Includes all the new features from Cubase 7, including the new MixConsole window.
- The Loudness track neatly makes it possible to see loudness metering within the Project window.
- The new ADR Taker provides a seamless user experience to simplify the recording of Automated Dialogue Replacement.
- While the MixConsole has improved since debuting in Cubase 7, its design may still hinder established working methods.
Nuendo 6 combines the best (and the rest!) of Cubase 7 with some impressive new and specific functionality that, for certain applications, could make post-production professionals using other systems a little envious.
- Steinberg Nuendo 6.0.3 with the NEK.
- HP Z800 workstation with dual Intel Xeon X5690 processors, 48GB memory and dual Nvidia Quadro 6000 graphics, running Windows 7 SP1. (Note: with the release of Cubase 7 and Nuendo 6, Steinberg have officially "quality-tested” their software for use on HP's Z-series workstations.)