As a long-time Cubase user, I was excited for the opportunity to try out the newest Cubase 6.

Installation was smooth, and as of this writing there was one update (6.0.5) available for download. My first impressions were very positive. The new darker GUI was much easier to work with, (especially at night) and many context/menu improvements made the overall experience feel more polished and enjoyable.

The Media Bay has been improved allowing better organization of all sounds, samples, and loops in your collection. Your Media Bay can now travel with you on an external drive. So if you use multiple computers (work, studio, home) it won’t have to re-index for each one. A highly welcome feature for Sound Designers, and Remix Artists with large sound libraries, as it keeps all user properties, assets, and ratings synced and searchable between workstations.

The new Amp Rack is of special interest to guitarists (and bassists) desiring the ability to change and alter the tone and combination of the amp simulation. It opens up large degrees of tonal flexibility, without breaking the bank. It sounds as good or better than multi-effects hardware, but is much easier to program and tweak. It doesn’t quite have the same ‘mojo’ factor as dedicated stand-alone stomp-boxes, but costs significantly less, and has the benefit of being able to be automated during a song or solo passage for dramatic shifts that aren’t possible when re-plugging hardware.

The new Lane Track feature makes comping vocals takes and solo punch-ins a breeze, while still allowing flexibility and a fast easy way to compare takes. Simply splice, and click on which take you want to hear. You can almost ‘play’ individual takes on-screen along with the song in real time. Not only will engineers and performers enjoy this editing feature, it’s also excellent for ADR recording in a post setting when you need accurate lip-sync.

A welcome feature for Mixers will be the phase-accurate drum quantization. This allows an entire multi-tracked set of drums to be edited and quantized as one group, without strange artifacts or glitches. It allows for priority settings per track, so you can force the snare to be rigidly quantized, while leaving the high-hats or toms a little looser. It also gives the ability to select the root or target track. Meaning it can perform a phase-accurate quantization of the entire multi-tracked drum take to a separate piece of audio (say a 2-track reference, or earlier drum groove).

Hit-point detection has been improved, and the new threshold control makes it easy to see exactly which beats will trigger the slice. It can have trouble if you want to slice on low volume ghost notes, but even on complex stutter or break beats, it was able to do a good job. Additionally hit-point slices can be exported as a specific MIDI note with either dynamic or static velocity. So that awesome accidental groove you managed to capture while noodling around can be exported, looped, and manipulated to be played by your favorite sampler or drum replacer as the basis for a new song. (And it’s not limited to only drums .. guitarists can tap out staccato beats on their axe, and use the hit-slice MIDI data to generate drum triggers if they don’t happen to have a kit handy).

But Guitarists and Mixers aren’t the only ones who will be happy to see the new Cubase. Sound Designers, and Film Composers will be equally excited. Because Steinburg’s new VST 3.5 opens up the possibility of easier programming and more nuanced playing with Note-Expression. Individual expression data can be added note-per-note right in the Key Editor simply by double clicking! No longer do you have to enter list-view to do he heavy lifting. And what’s more, expressions follow each note individually. So instead of multiple controller lanes, you have all the expression built ‘under the hood’ into each note played. You can even alter the modulation, volume, or pitch-bend of a single note in a complex chord.

The only gotcha is that the VST instrument being voiced must support the VST 3.5 standard. As of this writing, those pickings are slim, but Cubase does include a new trial version of HALion that will let you play with this massive power, (and it sounds really good to boot).

There are many additional improvements that make working in this newest version of Cubase quicker and more intuitive. Automation has new features and functions, including allowing ‘transposing’ of the selected automation section without having to re-draw the entire curve. Vari-Audio can export to MIDI with pitch-bend info, Project Tempo can auto-analyze and map itself to an existing audio track (with better or worse results depending on complexity), and of course there is a dedicated iPhone remote, which makes wireless session management possible. As if all that wasn’t enough, there is also a new Loop Mash 2, which allows remixing, and real-time creative playing for ideas and mash-ups. It’s really fun to use, and sounds smoother/more natural than the previous version. All-in-all this is a good upgrade, with a number of useful features for artists serious about making music. With a 3 tiered price system (Elements, Artist, and Full), there’s a Cubase version for all musical creators and designers. – Tim Boyce