capsule review

Cubase SX 3.01

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Many long-time Cubase users were disappointed with the features and stability of version 1.x of Cubase SX (   , March 2003 ), but with versions 2 and 3, Cubase SX has matured.

Song creation is significantly faster in Cubase SX 3.01, thanks to enhanced warping and arrangement features. With the Warp Tool, you can drag the tempo grid of your song to accommodate audio directly on the main window. Cubase SX has enhanced its Hitpoints, a way to automatically identify audio rhythms and let you slice up audio you’ve recorded. With Hitpoints, you can easily manipulate beat markers, quantize audio, quantize other tracks to a groove you’ve pulled from an audio track, and align MIDI events and audio beats to that groove’s rhythm. Using a new Play Order track, which lets you draw in basic song structures to make quick arrangements, it’s exceedingly easy to change the structure of the overall mix. None of this is quite as easy as adjusting beats, loops, and arrangements in Ableton’s Live (   , January 2005 ), but if you already like the Cubase way of working, it’s definitely a boon.

If you want to use your digital audio workstation as a virtual studio for integrating other software and external hardware instruments and effects, Cubase is a strong option. It’s unparalleled in its seamless integration of VST instruments and effects, other applications such as Live, Glaresoft’s iDrum, and Propellerhead’s Reason (via Propellerhead Software’s ReWire), and external MIDI hardware (via the updated MIDI Device Manager). You can even integrate external audio hardware with the External FX plug-in (for inserting hardware effects as though they were software), Panels (for easy, customizable access to hardware parameters from inside Cubase), and Yamaha Studio Connections (for deeper hardware-software integration, currently limited to a half-dozen Yamaha products). Taking advantage of these features involves a significant investment of time, and if your studio is mostly software-based, you probably don’t need them. If you do use a lot of external hardware, though, no other app offers quite as much control for power users.

I am disappointed that Steinberg supports only its own VST format for plug-ins and not Apple’s Audio Units (AU). There’s no way to wrap AU plug-ins so they work in Cubase, even though third-party VST wrappers are available for Digital Performer and Logic. Also, unlike Logic and Digital Performer, Cubase does not support Digidesign DAE (Digidesign Audio Engine).

Macworld’s Buying Advice

SX 3 is likely to please Cubase devotees, but in a number of respects, it’s playing catch-up to its competitors. Cubase’s included instruments and effects can’t begin to compete with the wealth of offerings in Logic. Cubase’s ability to edit MIDI in the arrangement is a welcome addition (and one still sorely missing from Logic), but it still relies on multiple windows for many tasks—a far cry from Digital Performer’s new integrated window. Cubase’s interface can also be uneven, with quirks such as hard-to-identify toolbar buttons and awkward on-screen knobs that require you to move your mouse in a circular motion to turn them.

If you’re in a cross-platform environment, though, Cubase is a strong choice, with Windows and Mac discs included in the same box. And when it comes to robust studio integration and MIDI power features, Cubase is still unbeaten.

[ Peter Kirn is a composer, musician, and educator. He teaches computer music at Hunter College of the City University of New York and runs the daily music-technology blog]

Cubase SX 3 combines powerful MIDI features like an extensive arpeggiator and quantize options (center) with arrangement tools like the Play Order track (top).
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