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STEINBERG Cubase SX 2.0.1 (Mac OS X/Win)

May 1, 2004
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Minimum System Requirements Cubase SX 2.0.1

MAC: G4/867 MHz (dual G4/1.25 GHz recommended); 384 MB RAM (512 MB recommended); Mac OS X 10.2.5

PC: Pentium or Athlon/800 MHz (1.4 GHz recommended); 384 MB RAM (512 MB recommended); Windows 2000/XP

With the release of Cubase SX 2.0, Steinberg has responded to users' requests for a number of features; the company has also revamped its VST audio engine. New in this version are major enhancements such as the Time Warp Tool, convenience upgrades such as the redesigned mixer, and under-the-hood improvements such as full latency compensation. With over 100 new features, this is an easier-to-use, better-performing, and better-sounding Cubase. In this review I'll concentrate on the changes since Cubase SX 1.0. For a full review of the major upgrade from Cubase VST to Cubase SX, see the October 2003 issue of EM.

To take full advantage Cubase you'll need a fast computer with a large, fast hard drive and lots of RAM. Steinberg recommends a dual G4/1.25 GHz Mac or 1.4 GHz Pentium-class machine; the minimum requirements, however, are somewhat lower. In practice, performance was severely limited on a G4/800 MHz PowerBook. A 2.0 GHz dual G5 machine, on the other hand, was easily able to handle a large number of audio tracks and plug-ins.

Cubase also requires a good bit of screen real estate — a 1,152 × 864-pixel, dual-monitor setup is recommended. I felt somewhat graphically constrained on a single 20-inch (1,680 × 1,050-pixel) Apple Cinema display, mainly because minimum window sizes for the mixers, editors, and Project window are quite large. I also had frequent redraw problems, with buttons disappearing on the Track list, the Inspector, and the Transport. Toggling some element of the display would bring them back, but it became a bit of a nuisance. However, that only occurs with Mac OS X 10.3.x (Panther), and Steinberg is aware of the problem and is working to correct it.

UNDER THE HOOD

SX 2.0 sports a new audio engine with 32-bit floating-point resolution and a multichannel audio path throughout. The new VST 2.3 audio engine includes a VST Connections window for managing input and output buses. That allows you great flexibility in matching Cubase SX to your audio hardware and to specific project requirements. Because the bus setup is saved on the Project level rather than globally, you can either create a single template with a maximal input and output configuration or create templates for different Project types. For example, you might have one setup for Projects that involve live recording and another setup, without input buses, for Projects using only audio files and virtual instruments.

The whole audio signal path is now multichannel. Individual audio tracks can play separate or interleaved audio files containing as many as six audio channels — accommodating 5.1-surround processing, for example. Multichannel processing applies to send and insert effects buses as well.

Effects plug-in handling is better in two ways. Automatic delay compensation (see Fig. 1) adjusts for any delay introduced by VST effects plug-ins — delaying all other audio by the same amount. Delay is most often introduced by plug-ins that have a look-ahead feature or that rely on a DSP card for their processing. The Plug-in Information window shows the amount of delay and lets you toggle delay compensation on and off for each plug-in. The new audio engine also allows plug-in processing of incoming audio to be recorded.

The other improvement in plug-in handling is the introduction of effects return channels (see Fig. 2), which replace the cumbersome and counterintuitive VST Effects window. Effects buses are now created like any other Project track and are automatically allocated a mixer channel strip for inserting plug-ins, applying EQ, and managing return level, pan position, and so on. All plug-in parameters can be automated in the Project window just like audio and MIDI tracks.

The new audio engine supports freezing of individual VST-instrument plug-in tracks. The VST Instruments window now has a freeze button for each plug-in. Clicking on it creates a temporary audio file with the instrument's output and all subsequent processing. As long as freezing is active, the temporary file is played instead of the instrument, which generally saves a significant amount of processing. Freezing can be turned off when changes need to be made to instrument parameters or MIDI data. Level and pan can be adjusted while freezing is active. If you face CPU limitations, the freeze function can be a lifesaver.

PRODUCT SUMMARY
Steinberg

Cubase SX 2.0.1
digital audio sequencer
$799
upgrade from SX 1.0 $149

FEATURES 4.0
EASE OF USE 3.5
DOCUMENTATION 3.5
VALUE 4.0
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5

PROS: New audio engine with multichannel routing throughout. Easy tempo matching with new Time Warp Tool. Improved effects handling. Enhanced custom layout options. Individual freezing of plug-in instrument tracks. Cycle recording on multiple lanes per track.

CONS: Requires a lot of screen real estate. Redraw problems in OS X Panther. No Audio Units support. No copy and paste for tempo changes. Help system is inoperable on the Macintosh.

Manufacturer

Steinberg
tel. (818) 973-2724
e-mail info@steinberg.net
Web www.steinbergusa.net

BELLS AND WHISTLES

Many of the new features and enhancements in Cubase SX are designed to streamline the workflow, and they do make life easier. You can now edit multiple parts in both the MIDI and audio editors. In the MIDI editors, you can choose to have one or all open parts be active. When only one part is active, lasso-selecting is restricted to events in that part, making it easy to edit data in a single part while viewing its relationship to events in other parts.

A new Ruler track class has been added that allows you to place rulers at any position within the track list. Each ruler can have its own display format (Bars:Beats, Seconds, Samples, and so on), so you can easily place markers or locate video snapshots on a timeline while arranging MIDI parts and events by bars and beats.

A number of windows have been improved. The Transport and the Project-window toolbars can now be customized by toggling view options in a context menu that opens when you right click in an empty area of the display. You can also customize the display, arrangement, and grouping of buttons for each track type. You can now have three mixer views (as opposed to two in previous versions), each with its own configuration. More is better here because considerable clicking is involved in setting it up the highly flexible mixer display to show exactly what you want the way you want to see it, and it's handy to then be able to save that work as one of the mixer views.

WRINKLING TIME

The new Time Warp Tool (see Fig. 3) allows you to quickly adapt the Tempo track to specific audio or MIDI events as well as video hitpoints. In the various editors as well as the Project window, you simply drag lines of the bar:beat grid to the desired audio, video, or MIDI events. Tempo events are automatically added as needed to make the bar:beat grid positions match the time of the selected events. If you are warping to audio or picture and you have MIDI on adjacent tracks, the MIDI timing changes to match. If you are warping to MIDI events, their timing won't change, but their bar:beat alignment will. That is a better solution for scoring rubato playing than quantizing, which actually removes the time variations.

The Warp Tool would be even more useful if there were a convenient way to copy and move tempo changes. If you Warp to an audio loop, for example, you would naturally like to be able to copy or move the tempo changes with the loop. The only way to do that is to select the related tempo events in the Tempo Track window and drag them to the new location — a process that becomes tedious with repetition.

A new Stacked Cycle Record mode greatly facilitates recording multiple takes. When enabled, each cycle of audio or MIDI being recorded is placed on its own lane on the record track. You can then edit the lanes individually as needed and invoke the Remove Overlaps option to collapse all lanes to a single take.

In the scoring department, you can now assign MIDI meaning to dynamics symbols, resulting in more accurate MIDI playback of scored parts. Other MIDI enhancements include drag-and-drop importing of Standard MIDI Files, chord recognition in the MIDI editors (select a chord and the appropriate chord symbol will appear in the Info display), and automatic scale correction during transposition.

Those are just a few of the many new features in Cubase SX 2.0. Taken together, they significantly improve the work flow. Beyond that, the new audio engine results in a noticeable improvement in performance. If you're a Cubase user, you need it.


Len Sasso can be contacted through his Web site at www.swiftkick.com.

 

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