Steinberg Cubase Pro 8
Cubase has a superb track record in our reviews, and the 7.5 update a year ago was one of its best updates, not least because Steinberg only charged £40 inc VAT to upgrade. It’s asking for slightly more this time around, but £68 from version 7.5 is still reasonable.
The flagship version is now known as Cubase Pro, giving it a clearer distinction from Cubase Artist and Cubase Elements. There’s still a persistent problem whereby the Help command can’t locate the PDF manuals – if ever an application needs a manual, it’s this one – but the PDFs aren’t too tricky to find on the hard disk, and they’re mostly well written.
In version 8, there are welcome cosmetic and workflow improvements. The new Workspaces menu makes it easy to save and recall interface layouts, while a docked Racks panel houses virtual instruments and media assets more neatly. EQ frequencies are now shown as note values, helping to tune resonant frequencies more musically.
The redesigned plugin manager allows multiple custom lists of plugins, perfect for picking out subsets of favourites for specific tasks. A new Direct Routing module allows mixer channels to be sent to up to eight destinations and switched quickly between them. It’s a niche feature, but it could be useful for flipping between processing chains.
Steinberg Cubase Pro 8 review: performance boost
The headline feature for version 8 is a significant boost to performance. Steinberg cites a “massive engine rebuild”, with faster load times and the ability to run more plugins and lower latency settings. Apparently, lower latency is only used on tracks that demand it, such as those that are being recorded. There’s also better buffering of virtual instruments that use disk streaming.
Testing such performance claims is tricky, since there are so many contributing factors, but Steinberg’s assertions proved well-founded in our investigations. We loaded a project in version 7.5 that used lots of virtual instruments and demanding effects, with a mixture of Steinberg plugins and and third-party ones. This project was already prone to drop-outs in version 7.5, but we added some extra effects and virtual instruments for good measure to guarantee lots of playback glitches.
Loading the same project into Cubase 8 Pro saw the glitches disappear completely. The software has a performance monitor with three meters for average load, real-time peak and disk. In both version 7.5 and version 8, the average load meter hovered at around 50%. However, the real-time peak meter fell from a highly volatile reading in version 7.5, with regular overloads, to a steady reading of around 15% in version 8. For the sake of experimentation, we duplicated every track in the project, almost doubling the demands on the system. This introduced some drop-outs, but not significantly more than we experienced in version 7.5 before the tracks were duplicated.
This is tremendous news, not only for playback reliability but also for reducing the headaches involved in managing system resources. Whereas effect plugins place a steady load on resources, virtual instruments vary greatly depending on the number of notes played. In the past, this has often lead us to grapple with the Freeze commands to render virtual instruments in order to free up resources. These performance improvements appear to make playback performance not only more efficient but also more predictable, making the program less likely to encounter the occasional drop-out.
Steinberg Cubase Pro 8 review: VCA Faders
Cubase 7 introduced Linked Channels, a method for synchronising mix settings across multiple channels, covering everything from channel volume to EQ, effects and routing settings. However, Linked Channels didn’t work well alongside automation, with automation data overriding any other changes.
The new VCA Faders feature in Cubase 8 overcomes this, adding a virtual channel with a volume fader that offsets the volumes of linked channels. Automation data is handled appropriately, with the VCA Fader value superimposed onto the automation envelope. The VCA Fader can be automated, too, whereupon the two automation envelopes are multiplied. It’s even possible to nest VCA Faders for brain-numbingly complex automation layers, should the need arise.
VCA Faders are well implemented, but most projects will be better served by the existing Groups channels, which are used to create submixes of related channels for further processing. However, we can’t fault Steinberg in its quest to accommodate every conceivable working method.
Finally, there are the new sonic toys – not quite as impressive as those in version 7.5, but still extremely welcome. VST Bass Amp does what the name suggests, and makes for a useful companion to VST Amp Rack. Quadrafuzz V2 is a four-band distortion effect with five distortion algorithms and gate and delay effects on each band. It’s capable of anything from a gentle scuff to total annihilation, and it’s tremendous fun to experiment with.
There’s a Multiband Envelope Shaper and Multiband Expander for sculpting frequencies and timing with incredible precision. The DeEsser for reducing sibilance in vocals has been overhauled, with much finer control and a boost in the quality of results.
Steinberg Cubase Pro 8 review: verdict
As usual, Cubase has no time for passers-by. These are tools for people who delight in having meticulous control over the music-production process, but they’re a disaster for those who want a streamlined, jargon-free interface. Regardless, this is another superb update, and Cubase’s place in our A-List isn’t in any doubt.