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Steinberg Nuendo v1.5.2

Multitrack Recording Software [Mac] By Sam Inglis
Published October 2001

PRO CHOICE?

Can Steinberg's professional recording package make an impact in the Pro Tools‑dominated Macintosh market? Sam Inglis finds out.

It's a little over a year since Steinberg released their Nuendo multitrack recording and editing program for Windows platforms. From the start, it was clear that this would be a package aimed at professional users: the software itself featured comprehensive recording, editing, mixing, sync and surround‑sound options, while it was accompanied by a complementary range of high‑quality, Nuendo‑badged hardware. Steinberg's intention was obviously to provide a PC‑based alternative to Digidesign's Pro Tools, and to capture some of the latter's impressive market share in fields such as post‑production, audio recording and sound for picture.

Although Digi have ported Pro Tools to the Windows NT platform, it is still widely regarded as a Mac‑based system, with the vast majority of buyers still opting for Apple machines. Steinberg's decision to make Nuendo available on the Mac as well as the PC thus takes them into much more direct competition with Digidesign. There are, however, significant differences between the two companies' technical approaches and commercial strategies. Custom hardware is fundamental to all Digidesign systems: a typical Pro Tools setup will feature one or more of their interfaces along with the custom DSP cards used to run plug‑ins, and perhaps a dedicated hardware control surface. The basic Pro Tools editing software will only run on Digidesign hardware (although it can use the Mac's own I/O). Digi don't charge for the program itself, but you do have to buy the hardware — and it's possible to spend an awful lot of money on ancillary software such as TDM plug‑ins, file translators, and the like.

Nuendo, by contrast, uses the generic driver and plug‑in protocols designed by Steinberg for their popular Cubase MIDI + Audio sequencer. Although Steinberg clearly hope that many buyers will also pop a Nuendo‑badged audio interface into their shopping baskets, the software will run with any soundcard that has a Mac ASIO driver; and while they'd love to sell you a matching grey Houston controller, you can manipulate Nuendo with any MIDI fader box. Rather than requiring dedicated DSP hardware to run audio processing plug‑ins, moreover, it uses the host‑based VST standard, so the number of plug‑ins you can run simultaneously is limited not by how much cash you give Steinberg, but by how fast your Mac's CPU is. Unlike Pro Tools, you can buy the Nuendo software alone, and the basic program includes features such as OMF import/export and Apogee UV22 dithering, which are expensive optional extras in Pro Tools, as well as a selection of bundled plug‑ins. Since its launch, Nuendo's price has been reduced from £999 to £799, a move which should also bring it into closer competition with MIDI + Audio sequencers such as Logic Audio and Digital Performer.

Overview

Nuendo's MIDI Editor is similar to the piano‑roll editor found in Cubase.Nuendo's MIDI Editor is similar to the piano‑roll editor found in Cubase.

Despite the differences in sales philosophy, Nuendo reflects the extent to which Pro Tools has defined what is 'professional' in a piece of audio software. Like Pro Tools, Nuendo's appearance seems designed for maximum clarity and functionality: 3D representations of virtual studio equipment are out, and smart grey panels are in. Steinberg have clearly taken on board the idea that it should be possible to do almost all editing operations within one window. Nuendo therefore apes Pro Tools' ability to edit right down to single‑sample level within the main Project view, and although there is a graphical virtual mixer, it's possible to manipulate most track‑mixing parameters without using it. All of this is in sharp contrast to Steinberg's Cubase, where it often feels as though you can't do anything without having 17 different windows cluttering up the screen.

Looking below the surface also reveals a number of impressive 'professional' features not implemented in programs such as Cubase. You never get to edit audio files directly: instead, your edits affect Events, which in turn refer to Clips, which are also editable and which reference the audio files. This structure allows the implementation of a proper edit decision list, with unlimited undo and redo and the ability to view the edit history of an entire Project or a single Event. You can have multiple Projects open at once, and use standard clipboard cutting and pasting to move data between them. There's a well‑implemented, comprehensive and consistent automation system allowing any VST Mixer or effects parameter to be automated. Faders and knobs can be automated by moving them with the mouse in the mixer view, or by drawing in the Project window — and unlike Cubase, the same data is generated in each case.

Steinberg have also followed Digidesign in choosing what to leave out. Like Pro Tools, Nuendo is primarily oriented towards audio recording, editing, processing and mixing, and its MIDI features are nothing like as sophisticated as those found in Cubase or Emagic's Logic. Basic MIDI recording and editing is fully supported, with a piano‑roll editor similar to that of Cubase, but there's no groove quantising, specialist drum editors, Interactive Phrase Synths, MIDI mixers, arpeggiators or the like.

Getting Started

Nuendo employs a USB dongle — a convenient form of copy protection, but one which excludes owners of older MacsNuendo employs a USB dongle — a convenient form of copy protection, but one which excludes owners of older Macs

The Nuendo package consists of an oversized box holding two folders. One contains a brace of manuals — the Basics guide and the in‑depth Operation Manual — while the other houses the program CD and a USB dongle. The latter means that Nuendo can only be run on USB‑equipped G3 and G4 Macs; a G4 is recommended, and Nuendo requires a bare minimum of 128Mb RAM to run. I quickly found that this was inadequate for all but the simplest projects, and suggest that the 256Mb Steinberg recommend should be taken as a practical minimum.

When you open Nuendo, the first thing to do is select a New Project. It ships with nine templates bearing names such as '24 Track Recorder' and 'Film Surround Mix', which have plausible default track layouts and mixer settings, and you can add your own templates to this list. Once you've chosen a template you're asked to specify a folder where the data for this new Project will be stored, and then the Project window opens before you. If necessary, you can then visit the Project Setup dialogue to set things such as the Project length, audio bit depth and sampling rate, and the frame rate sent to slaved video gear. Nuendo supports sample rates of up to 96kHz — unlike current versions of Pro Tools — and bit depths of 16, 24, and 32‑bit float. Bit depths, but not sample rates, may freely be mixed within a Project.

The Project Window

The ability to edit right down to sample level in the Project window is one of Nuendo's most valuable features.The ability to edit right down to sample level in the Project window is one of Nuendo's most valuable features.

In essence, Nuendo's Project window is little different from the main window of any other multitrack recording program. As in Cubase, there are two principal locator points which act as recording start/end points or punch in/out points. The area between these two locators is marked by a green line on the ruler at the top of the screen and a grey band across the background of the area where track data is displayed. Above the ruler is a horizontal panel containing tool icons and shortcuts to other Nuendo windows, along with nudge buttons and settings for parameters such as quantise and snap.

Tracks are represented horizontally, and most of the screen is given over to a visual representation of the data they contain, be it audio waveforms, MIDI notes or automation curves. The properties of each track are listed in panels at the left‑hand side of the screen: as well as telling you the track name and what type of track it is, these panels also contain a good deal of other information. In addition to audio and MIDI tracks, the Project window can also include audio Group tracks, automation subtracks linked to audio tracks, and single tracks containing master and plug‑in automation data, video, and marker/tempo information. There is, however, no equivalent of Cubase's Folder tracks.

Editing In The Project Window

The Range Selection tool allows you to highlight any rectangular area of the Project window regardless of Event boundaries.The Range Selection tool allows you to highlight any rectangular area of the Project window regardless of Event boundaries.

Audio Events appear in the Project window as grey boxes containing a graphically depicted waveform. If there's more than one audio Event overlapping on a track, the overlapped area is shown in darker grey, but only the frontmost Event plays back. You can choose to send Events to the back or bring them to the front, and dropping in or recording over existing material simply creates a new Event which sits on top of the original. As well as muting tracks, you can also mute individual Events using the cross tool.

At the highest level of vertical zoom, a single track (and any audio Events on it) can be made to fill about half the height of the Project window, which gives plenty of resolution for making detailed edits. As well as zooming the entire Project view, you can adjust the vertical resolution of any track individually, and you can also zoom in on the central portion of a waveform, which is handy when working on quiet passages or searching for zero crossings. Horizontal zoom is variable between showing the entire length of the Project at one extreme, and individual samples at the other.

Selected audio Events acquire a red frame around them, with red boxes in the bottom corners. These can be dragged to adjust the start and end points of Events, and you can also slide the audio content of the Event inside its frame while keeping the start and end points constant. All the usual editing facilities are available, including comprehensive crossfade options, and most are implemented in commendably intuitive ways. As in Cubase, for instance, copying Events can create either real copies, which are separate Events that can be processed independently of the original, or shared copies, which all have the same properties. Unlike Cubase, however, Nuendo always makes it clear which kind of copy you've created. Similarly, there's no messing about with hard and soft delete commands: all deleted files go in the Trash, from which they can be rescued or permanently expunged.

One of the most powerful editing tools in the Project window, and one with which Cubase users will already be familiar, is the Range Selection tool. This allows you to draw a rectangle over any area on the Project window and select only the contents of that area, regardless of Event boundaries and track types. You can then cut, copy or paste that selection, which should be very useful if, for instance, you quickly want to copy or move a whole verse within a song. I say 'should' because there are pitfalls associated with the way in which the Range Selection tool handles empty space. The associated Paste Time function is supposed to insert a cut or copied Range Selection into the Project and shift existing Events to the right to make room for it. Where the resulting operation involves pasting Events or even empty space into the middle of another Event, it works fine. However, if your Range Selection includes some empty space being pasted into an area of empty space, Events to the right of this space aren't moved. The upshot of this is that if, say, you want to use the Range Selection tool to duplicate the entire first verse of your song, and that song has parts on otherwise empty tracks which only play later on, those parts aren't moved back along with the rest of the song and end up coming in a verse too early. This is a very good way of completely messing up a song arrangement, and I feel it's something that Steinberg should look at.

Key Questions

The Acoustic Stamp tool is one of Nuendo's many off‑line plug‑ins, and applies reverb 'sampled' from real environments.The Acoustic Stamp tool is one of Nuendo's many off‑line plug‑ins, and applies reverb 'sampled' from real environments.

Anyone who's ever seen a real Pro Tools expert in action can't help but be impressed by the speed at which they can work. Achieving this level of efficiency depends on two things: the fact that everything can be done within one window, and the fact that all the necessary commands can be issued using keystrokes rather than with the mouse. I've already mentioned some of the ways in which Steinberg have taken the former idea on board, and they've had a good stab at the latter too. Keystrokes can be assigned to every command on every menu, and many editing functions that would require the use of a mouse in other applications can be handled QWERTY‑style. Tracks, and Events on them, can easily be selected using the cursor keys, and it's possible to set up keystrokes for all the various nudge options, so basic moving, trimming and resizing of Events is a doddle, for example. In the three weeks or so I spent with Nuendo, I certainly didn't become a power user, but it quickly became apparent that the interface has been designed with fast keyboard operation in mind, and I wouldn't be surprised if an experienced Nuendo operator could match the speed of a Pro Tools wizard. Those used to Cubase will quickly realise that Nuendo's default key commands are completely different; there's no supplied template to import Cubase's keystrokes, but I found Nuendo's defaults much more logical in any case.

Of course, it's inevitable that some users will find something they need to do all the time which can't be done from the keyboard. In my case, this was the ability to adjust the height of individual tracks in the Project window. There are a number of global zoom options which can be assigned to keystrokes, but they all affect every track in the Project window. I nearly always found that I wanted to leave most tracks at the lowest height, and zoom in only on one or two tracks, either to see the waveform more clearly or to view all the track parameters at the left‑hand side, many of which are hidden at low vertical zoom levels. The only way I could find to resize individual tracks was to click and drag the lower edge of the track panel at the left of the Project window. You have to position the mouse pointer very precisely to do this, and it swiftly becomes tedious: I soon found myself wishing for a keystroke to toggle selected tracks between the global zoom level and the maximum height. It is, however, a testament to the quality of Nuendo's user interface that this was the only feature I found really frustrating.

Those who like using the mouse may appreciate the context‑sensitive menu system, which has survived the port from PC intact. Pointing and clicking while pressing Ctrl, or using the second button on a two‑button mouse, brings up a list of choices appropriate to the place where you clicked. Ctrl‑clicking over a track panel, for instance, gives you options such as showing or hiding the automation lane and selecting all Events on that track.

The Editors

Double‑clicking on an audio Event opens up the Sample Editor, which allows you to do waveform drawing and other drastic forms of editing.Double‑clicking on an audio Event opens up the Sample Editor, which allows you to do waveform drawing and other drastic forms of editing.

I was slightly disappointed to find that although MIDI notes appear in the Events in the main Project window, you have to open a separate MIDI editor to modify the contents of any MIDI Events. This is a shame, because it would be lovely to be able to line up individual MIDI notes with audio in the Project window. The MIDI editor itself is very similar to Cubase's piano‑roll editor, and although Nuendo's MIDI functionality is considerably diminished by comparison with Cubase or Logic, I found it perfectly adequate for everything I wanted to do. You can still carry out operations such as quantising and transposition, and the only Cubase MIDI feature I really missed was its Iterative Quantize function.

There are few audio editing functions that can't be carried out in the main Project window, but Nuendo also includes a separate sample editor which is accessed by double‑clicking an audio Event. A Play icon allows you to audition and loop the audio in solo, bypassing any effects, and the main editing tool unique to the sample editor is the waveform drawing function. Most of the sample editor's other editing functions are duplicates of those found in the Project window, although confusingly, some operate differently — in the sample editor, for instance, audio to the right of a cut section is moved back to close up the gap, while cutting audio from the Project window leaves a hole.

In general, I think those used to most MIDI + Audio sequencers will find editing in Nuendo a breath of fresh air. I can't emphasise enough the difference it makes being able to do all one's audio editing in one window, especially with the aid of a comprehensive keystroke system. Compiling multiple takes in Nuendo is so fast and easy it's almost fun, while the clever audio file structure and unlimited undo level means you never need worry about accidentally wiping your audio files or getting stuck with an audio effect you don't want.

The Pool And Browser

PRO CHOICE?

The Pool and Browser may sound like a bad theme pub, but they're actually two related Nuendo windows. Every Project has an associated Pool of audio and video Clips, which in turn are referenced by the Events you see in the Project window and refer themselves to actual audio files on the hard drive (are you paying attention?). The Pool window is basically a browser, allowing you to audition, import, export and process Clips directly, as well as organising them and generally making sure they don't step out of line. Perhaps its most useful function is Prepare Archive, which ensures (by copying them as necessary) that all audio files in the Pool are actually present in the Project folder, allowing you to back up an entire Project simply by copying this folder.

So if the Pool is actually a browser, what's the Browser? Simple: it's a browser too. This time, however, it lets you browse Events rather than Clips. In fact, the Browser shows you almost all the same information that appears in the main Project window — but in text form. Rather than displaying the start position of an audio Event in terms of distance from the left of the screen, for instance, the Browser displays it numerically in terms of time, bars and beats, frames, or whatever you have selected as the timebase for that track.

Why on earth would you want to do your editing by inputting numbers, when you can do it graphically in the main window? Well, for the most part you wouldn't, but it's not hard to see how the Browser could be useful. It's particularly valuable for editing MIDI data, since it can act like a version of Cubase's List editor, and is in fact the only way of editing SysEx in Nuendo. The ability to force Events to begin and end at precise times or frame positions could also be ideal for spotting effects to film, for example. In truth, I didn't find myself using the Browser much, but it's a clever idea and a nice thing to have available.

The VST Mixer

PRO CHOICE?

Audio and Group tracks also appear in the VST Mixer window, which can be called up by pressing F3. This is a familiar graphical representation of a mixer, and some may find it easier to use for certain operations than the Project window, but there are few features which can't be accessed from the latter. Unlike Cubase, there's a one‑to‑one correspondence between audio tracks in the Project window and channels in the VST Mixer, and they appear in the same order. It's another example of the pleasing continuity between different windows and views which is a hallmark of Nuendo.

One of the few aspects of recording that can't be handled without visiting the VST Mixer is assigning audio inputs to tracks, and tracks to output busses or groups. I can't see why this too couldn't have been implemented in the Project window, but it's only a minor inconvenience.

Conclusions

Nuendo's surround support is freely configurable thanks to its VST Master Setup dialogue. Templates are included for all common surround formats, and you can create your own to reflect any special features of your own speaker layout.Nuendo's surround support is freely configurable thanks to its VST Master Setup dialogue. Templates are included for all common surround formats, and you can create your own to reflect any special features of your own speaker layout.

If I had to pick one word to describe Nuendo, it would be 'elegant'. It allows clear, transparent access to all the information in a Project from a variety of perspectives, and provides powerful and intuitive tools to edit that information. It supports a wide range of control and interface hardware, offers excellent automation facilities, and ships with a lot of effects and features that would be expensive optional extras in other applications, while its open‑ended surround support means buyers won't get left behind when they need to upgrade. The only absent features I can think of that Steinberg might want to add in due course are support for surround effects on channels and/or groups, and integrated CD‑writing — neither of them disastrous omissions.

There is no doubt in my mind that Nuendo does pretty much everything a professional audio editor, multitrack recorder and mixing utility should, and that it does it well. However, one might question whether the Mac market really needs another piece of multitrack recording/editing software. Software companies in all spheres have found to their cost that no matter how good their programs may be, it can be difficult to tempt users away from more established alternatives, and Steinberg may have a fight on their hands if they hope to carve out a significant market share.

At the professional level, the cost of buying a fast Mac plus a copy of Nuendo and a generic audio interface is certainly much lower than that of buying a Digidesign system with Mix Farm cards, 888 I/O units and sundry TDM plug‑ins. The latter, however, gives you a guaranteed track count and number of plug‑in slots, as well as access to many high‑quality professional plug‑ins not available in VST format. Nuendo has the advantage over current versions of Pro Tools of supporting 96kHz recording, which may become increasingly important in these days of Super Audio CD and DVD‑Audio — but of course, recording at high sample rates makes even greater demands on the host computer. Nuendo's chances in the professional arena may, therefore, be influenced by the success or failure of third‑party products such as TC's Powercore and Universal Audio's UAD1, which provide high‑quality DSP‑fuelled plug‑ins in a VST environment. If these cards attract sufficient support from plug‑in developers, which remains to be seen, systems comprising Nuendo plus one or more of them could provide powerful and affordable competition for Digidesign.

At the other end of the market, Nuendo has much in common with Steinberg's Cubase, and the company clearly see it as an upgrade path for those using VST or any other MIDI + Audio sequencer. The fact that Nuendo can import Cubase songs makes it an obvious choice for Steinberg software users looking to upgrade and, indeed, Cubase users wanting to do surround mixing will have no choice but to switch platform. Provided they don't mind the cut‑down MIDI environment, they won't regret moving to Nuendo.

The situation is not so clear for users of Emagic's Logic Audio and MOTU's Digital Performer, because there's not much Nuendo can do that they can't. The latest versions of both now have support for surround mixing — DP3 even includes full provision for surround effects — and still undercut Nuendo on price. My experience of Logic and Digital Performer is limited, but it seems to me that Nuendo scores over them both in terms of intuitiveness, ease of use and speed of operation, and that those who do a lot of audio editing will find Nuendo a liberating experience. On the other hand, Logic and Digital Performer have much more sophisticated MIDI features, and in a professional environment, both are also capable of running with Digidesign hardware, including the Mix Farm cards used to run TDM plug‑ins.

In short, the biggest problem facing Nuendo has nothing to do with the quality of the program itself, which is excellent: it is one of finding a niche in an already crowded market. Those to whom money is no object will probably continue to buy Pro Tools TDM systems, while those who do a lot of MIDI work may prefer the sophistication of Cubase, Logic or Digital Performer. For multitrack audio recording and editing, however, Nuendo is the best attempt yet to create a professional environment without resorting to hardware DSP assistance, and should not be passed over.

Plug‑ins: VST Versus TDM

Perhaps the most important difference in design philosophy between Nuendo and Pro Tools concerns plug‑ins. Both provide a selection of off‑line effects and other processes which can be previewed and applied to audio parts in the main window, but it's when it comes to real‑time effects that the two diverge. Pro Tools is based around Digidesign's proprietary TDM system, which requires you to buy one or more of their DSP Farm cards. Nuendo, on the other hand, is designed to use plug‑ins powered by the host computer's CPU (although you could augment these with a VST‑compatible DSP card such as TC Works' Powercore). Steinberg seem to be gambling that as computers become more and more powerful and thus able to host more and more simultaneous plug‑ins, users will see dedicated DSP cards as an unnecessary expense. And superficially at least, Nuendo looks like an effects bargain when compared to Pro Tools: not only do you not have to shell out for a DSP card, but it's bundled with a selection of 23 VST plug‑ins. These include the very nice but rather CPU‑intensive multi‑band Nuendo Compressor along with conventional dynamics plug‑ins, mediocre modulation and distortion effects, and a reasonable Nuendo Reverb. Digidesign, by contrast, bundle their TDM systems with a Mix Pack of commercially available plug‑ins which changes from month to month. You're more likely to get three than 23, but the ones you do get are better: apart from the UV22 dithering and, perhaps, the dynamics, few of Nuendo's bundled plug‑ins justify the adjective 'professional'.

In fact, I think Nuendo's host‑based plug‑in format will prove a limitation in the professional market. Host‑based systems can't offer a guaranteed number of plug‑in slots, and user‑interface performance suffers as more plug‑ins are opened. Moreover, although TDM plug‑ins for Pro Tools can be frighteningly expensive, their standard is generally much higher than that of VST plug‑ins, and some of the most popular have never been released in a VST version. As yet there is no good‑quality VST equivalent of Line 6's Amp Farm, for instance, and the VST version of Auto‑Tune is severely cut down by comparison with its TDM original. While there still exist serious piracy problems with host‑based plug‑ins, many companies will be unwilling to make their professional TDM effects available in formats such as VST.

One area where Nuendo definitely scores over Pro Tools, however, is in support for software instruments. Although the Pro Tools application can run RTAS‑format host‑based instruments, only the Access Virus is available in TDM format. Steinberg's VST Instrument protocol is more widely supported than RTAS, and though it wasn't initially part of Nuendo, has now been fully implemented. VST Instruments such as Native Instruments' B4 and Steinberg's HALion sampler are fast becoming industry standards, and many Pro Tools users will doubtless be envious of the range and quality available.

Surround Sound

One of the professional Nuendo features Steinberg are most keen to trumpet is its comprehensive support for surround mixing. Rather than simply offering one or more stereo output busses, Nuendo's Master buss is freely configurable for any number of output channels. Presets are supplied for all the common surround formats, and you can create your own custom layouts in Nuendo's VST Master Setup window. This makes Nuendo's surround support nicely flexible, allowing users to cope both with real‑world speaker layouts that don't quite match the theory, and any new surround formats that might happen to appear (because, obviously, the world doesn't yet have enough of these...).

Any audio channel can then be panned either between any two speakers using the standard stereo panner, or across the whole speaker array using Steinberg's surround panner. In the VST Mixer itself, the surround panner appears as a simple box with a dot representing the pan position, but double‑clicking opens the panner in a separate, much more detailed window. Here, you can view the surround field in three different ways, and control such parameters as the way in which stereo signals are mirrored within the surround field, and the attenuation curves used to determine the relationship between a signal's distance from a speaker, and its level in that speaker.

Nuendo's Master Effects window also supports true surround plug‑ins, that is plug‑ins which can input and output more than two channels, though the program only ships with three: a matrix encoder for exporting your surround mixes in a variety of consumer formats, a matrix decoder for playing back surround‑encoded recordings, and Mix8To2, a simple mixer designed to allow you to hear every part of your surround mix on a stereo output. Also available are an optional Surround Pack offering surround reverb, EQ and dynamics plug‑ins, and TC Works' TC Surround Reverb. You can also use standard stereo in/out VST plug‑ins as inserts in the Master Effects section on a surround mix, choosing which channel or pair of channels you want to process. At present, there's no provision for surround channel/group insert or send effects in Nuendo, which is a shame, especially since these are available in other formats such as TDM and MAS.

Off‑line Processing

As well as chopping up audio Events and moving them around in the main Project window, you can also process them. Any VST plug‑in can be applied off‑line in this way, and Nuendo also includes various other effects and processes which can only be applied off‑line (though they can be previewed in real time). As well as obvious processes such as normalisation, removing DC offset and imposing fade‑ins, the armoury also includes Acoustic Stamp, a convolving reverb tool that imposes impulse responses 'sampled' from real rooms, plates or whatever. Only half a dozen impulses are supplied with Nuendo, but used with care they yielded good results. Pitch‑shifting and time‑stretching are also available as off‑line processes. I was impressed by the latter, especially with rhythmic material, but I found the pitch‑shifting virtually unusable.

Power And Performance

During the time I spent with Nuendo, I recorded several Projects, each containing between 10 and 20 tracks of 24‑bit audio plus two or three MIDI tracks playing back on VST Instruments; and when I got to the stage of mixing these Projects down it was clear that the 450MHz G4 I was using was reaching the limit of its powers. The user interface became sluggish and unresponsive, I began to experience dropouts on playback, and I found myself having to be careful about how many of Nuendo's bundled plug‑ins I had running simultaneously — the impressive multi‑band Nuendo Compressor, for example, took up a whopping 30 percent of the Mac's CPU power.

This level of performance is perfectly respectable compared to other host‑based systems, but underlines one of the advantages of their DSP‑augmented rivals: however many plug‑ins you load, the responsiveness of the user interface never suffers. A Pro Tools TDM system, moreover, guarantees the user a certain number of plug‑in slots and a certain number of simultaneous audio tracks. While Nuendo is certainly able to allocate its DSP resources more flexibly, as it doesn't have to divide them into 'slots', the downside is that it can't offer firm guarantees about what it can do. A maxed‑out Pro Tools system with four DSP Farm cards will cost far more than any Nuendo system, but at least it exists as an upgrade option for Pro Tools users. Without DSP help, by contrast, even the fastest Mac currently available will have real trouble running a big mix such as a heavily multitracked pop song or film soundtrack in Nuendo.

Test Spec

  • Steinberg Nuendo v1.5.1 and v1.5.2.
  • Single‑processor G4 450MHz Mac with Stealth serial port and 256Mb RAM running Mac OS Server 9.04.
  • MOTU 828 Firewire interface.
  • Roland ED SCD70 USB sound module/audio interface.

Nuendo Hardware, Bundles & Accessories

Nuendo Surround Pack £799.

TC Surround Reverb £499.

9652 ADAT‑format digital I/O card £399.

8I/O (24‑bit/48kHz version) eight‑channel analogue I/O card £999.

8I/O (24‑bit/96kHz version) £1349.

Timelock Pro sync unit £649.

Studio system bundle comprising Nuendo, 8I/O, 9652 card and Surround Pack £2649.

Prices include VAT.

Pros

  • Most work can be done in one window, and quickly.
  • Excellent user interface.
  • Unlimited undo/redo.
  • Flexible surround mixing features.
  • VST Instrument support.
  • Many features bundled as standard which other manufacturers sell as optional extras.
  • Works with any ASIO‑compatible hardware.
  • Supports 96kHz recording and mixing.

Cons

  • Even the fastest current Macs will struggle to handle a big mix.
  • Some would argue that its commitment to host‑based processing and the VST plug‑in standard compromises Nuendo's claim to be a professional package.
  • Surround effects available only as inserts over the Master buss.

Summary

Nuendo is a pleasure to use, especially for audio editing, and will prove ideal for those who find existing MIDI + Audio sequencers cumbersome yet are daunted by the cost of Pro Tools systems.

Published October 2001