Steinberg Cubase 6 Review

Jul 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Troy "atom" Frank

UPGRADE OFFERS MANY ESSENTIAL FEATURES AND NEW GUI

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Drum quantizing in Cubase 6 offers great results without large gaps between slices.

Drum quantizing in Cubase 6 offers great results without large gaps between slices.

TEMPO DETECTION
I’ve had a serious need for tempo detection due to authoring songs for Rock Band. I’ve tried everything on the market, and nothing works as well or as accurately as Cubase 6. Cubase 5.5 only offered the Time Warp tool where users manually defined the tempo, which was tedious.

Inside Cubase 6

Inside Cubase 6

To try it out, I loaded a cover-song session where the band used the original as the click track; I felt this would be a good attempt at creating a usable tempo map and giving me a click in time.

The key was deciding which track to use as a reference. I would have liked to select both kick and snare, but I am only allowed one. So I decided on the kick because it usually hits once on the first beat of every bar. With this kick track highlighted, I selected Analyze from the Tempo Detection window. This 6-minute song took about 25 seconds to analyze on my MacBook Pro. So I had a tempo map; however, when played back, the metronome was playing on the offbeat. (I tried this on several other songs and half were on the offbeat. A bit of sleuthing determined that it was songs with a pickup note.) No problem. I selected the “off beat correction” in the Tempo Detection window, and it was fixed. I then noticed my whole song was in ¼ so I created a time signature track, found the first beat of the song and put in my time signature on the first beat of the first measure. Cubase 6 instantly set up the whole song—it’s that easy. If you have multiple signatures, it’s as easy as going to those bar/beats in the song and inserting your time signature.

DRUM REPLACEMENT
First, this is MIDI conversion, not “sound replacement” or real-time trigger conversion. You have to take each track into the wave editor and set hit points. (This would be a good thing to do before using “multitrack drum quantize.”) Once you feel that your threshold looks correct, select convert to MIDI. You are prompted with a window to select note, dynamics and destination. Transcription, layering and the flexibility of using MIDI make this feature a real winner. But remember, it’s MIDI. If you use external modules, you will have MIDI delay. And while this isn’t the fault of Cubase itself, V. 6 does a good job of compensating for this, but it’s not perfect. If you use anything other than virtual instruments, you will need to manually compensate for the delay after recording. I have tried this similar feature in several other programs with marginal success. Cubase 6 is extremely accurate, but it still comes down to the threshold setting. One setting rarely works throughout an entire song. Again, my best results were separating song sections with more dynamics and converting the MIDI from those. Better yet, Cubase 6 has VST Expression: Use this, and you will have an incredibly accurate and dynamic MIDI drum track.

VST EXPRESSION
We audio engineers and producers are all skeptical when it comes to demonstrations, so I decided to test Steinberg’s. The company’s demo converts a sax solo into MIDI and then applies the new VST Expression. The song I used for drum quantizing has “real” saxophone and flute, so I used that.

It’s a very quick process. Open the track in the wave editor and select Vari-audio. Then use Send MIDI to a track. I selected the best HALion sample I could find for playback. The notes were surprisingly accurate, but the feel was very sterile. Apply VST Expression, which incorporates controller data, per note, giving the MIDI an incredible similarity to the original. It is a sample, but I can see that by using an excellent multisampled VST instrument it will become hard to tell the original from the MIDI version. (Think layers, effects, lead sheets.) After trying it on other parts like flute, bass and vocals, it was amazing. However, this works well on monophonic material only. When using Vari-audio, you can also clean up pitch and quantize notes before converting it to MIDI. The demo is real.

Also, VST Expression allows you to add controller data to each individual note rather than a linear controller progression. Your MIDI becomes more expressive than you ever thought possible.

WRAP IT UP
I am, and always have been, a fan of Cubase. From great customer service, a huge user base, incredible features and mind-blowing MIDI operations, Steinberg always seems to pack in a few more options that ease the creative flow. The question you may ask is, ‘Do I really need it?’ And the answer is yes. Cubase 6 adds the last few things needed to make it an all-in-one package. The app didn’t skimp or throw a bug at me once: I never had one crash while running it for nearly a month every day. If Steinberg’s goal is to keep you in its DAW, the company is succeeding.


Atom Troy is a professional recording and live front-of-house mix engineer, recording artist, and director for songwriting and development at Full Sail University.

Click on the Product Summary box above to view the Cubase 6 product page.

Click on the Product Summary box above to view the Cubase 6 product page.






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