Online Review: Cubase VST 3.52, Steinberg

Readers of my other online reviews in this site will know by know, that I am a practical user, who wants to get to work as soon as possible, without having to get too technical. Of course, "the thing should contain all gimmicks", but when it comes to working the new software, it demand an acceptable learning curve. Don't wanna read the manual (like most creative people), unless I need it when trying to figure out more difficult actions.

I switched over to Cubase VST 3.52 to record my midi, using Performer 5.5 until that moment. It is not that Performer is a bad midi package (in the contrary), but this new Cubase has something that Performer does not: the combination of midi, audio and audio-effects in one and the same program.

A complete studio in your Mac.

VST stands for Virtual Studio Technology. And that is exactly what this Cubase is: a complete virtual studio in your Mac (and Windows machine, as there is an identical version for Bill Gates toy too). All major functionality in one software package: from recording the first midi note up to the mix down of the final product in 44 kHz audio. Without leaving Cubase, you can hard disk record your midi to digital audio. The whole arrangement directly to one stereo track, or per midi instrument to separate audio tracks. It is the kind of Mac you have, that defines the number of audio tracks you can have. Midi is endless, as it hardly takes any processor power compared to the audio part. Audio as usual puts heavy demands on your Mac, as we will see later on in this review.

The machine we tested Cubase on, is a PowerMac 6100/66, on of the very first PowerMacs ever. Basically that is all this Cubase needs: a PowerMac with standard 16 kHz stereo in and out. Steinberg says a 6100/66 will do for basis performance, but recommends a 7200/90 or higher for enhanced performance. System 7.5 or higher is a must and a 2nd-level cache is required. On a Mac without 2nd level cache, you won't be able to record, but still are able to play audio. On this platform, Cubase will bring you destructive and nondestructive audio editing, plus realtime DSP (digital sound processing). You can effect the incoming audio with e.g. an EQ (equalizer) before it hits the hard disk. Cubase also cooperates with most audio hardware.

On earlier PowerMacs and the "lighter" more recent types: midi: no problems. Audio: on my 6100/66 up to 6-8 tracks, without the effect section. With the effect section activated, this good old 6100/66 hardly manages 2 tracks, but still can do some basic plug-in effect work, one or two at a time. Real time processing of incoming audio (DSP) on a 6100/66: forget it. For this, you will need the later PowerMacs or -even better- a G3 if you wanna do more effects at the same time. On a G3, you will get up to 32 tracks.

When it comes to the more heavy plug-ins on slower Macs, the music stops. The processor gets overloaded and "good old Betsy 6100" (I give all my Macs a name like most Mac-users seem to do) protests loudly and the audio hicks.

  • In the meantime, a 9500 PowerMac, donated by Apple NL for testing purposes, has hit my studio. Now, I was able to test professional (and heavy processor-power demanding) VST plug-ins by Prosoniq (Ambisone, Roomulator, VoxCiter and Dynasone, plug-ins that bring you functionality normally found in the racks in recording studios). The DSP function now runs too! You can find the plug-in reviews elsewhere in this site. The reviews give a good indication of the performance of Cubase VST on a 9500 PowerMac: pretty fast, including working with the heavy demanding VST plug-ins.

For now, we stick to what Cubase can do on my 6100/66. Even then there is already enough to tell and to try. And thus what it can do on other, not too heavy powered Macs. That is what most musicians work with, right?

Oh yes: another very important requirement, no matter what Mac you use. You will need a lot of hard disk space, as digital audio at 44 kHz takes up 10 Mb of storage per minute stereo. At separate 2 gigabyte hard disk (never record on the hard disk where system and software are stored) is no luxury. And if you buy such a big guy, buy a speedy one. This increases the number of audio-tracks you will get.

This is about all technical stuff I will give you here. We are Mac users, remember: don't wanna fight around with too much tech. Just wanna be creative! By the way: in the box, two extra CD's come to you with info. One of these CD's contains an excellent interactive presentation of Cubase VST's main functions and possibilities. Just by looking at this presentation, I got to know a lot about this software and how to work with it. It made me fire up within a few hours.

Sounds nice? OK. Let's have a global look at Cubase VST's main functionality. Is it really that easy to work with?


Within a few hours, you get good grip of the basic functions of Cubase. The arrange window is easy to understand when it comes to straight forward recording, arranging and playing your midi production. Changing basic parameters like volume, attack or pitch-shift, is a peace of cake. Basic editing individual notes in the "piano roll-like" edit window or the "list"-view is as easy as well. The user interface is very nice and clearly designed in tech-looking colors.

The Cubase VST window, where you position the the individual midi recordings to make an arrangement. In this screen shot, we currently record on midi track 8.

Learning curve.

It takes at least a month to understand all other possibilities of Cubase, when you start digging deeper into the large amount of possibilities that Cubase has to offer. And digging through the (clearly written) handbook for a few weeks more if you wanna know it all. But it is worth it: there are no borders to the level creativity you can put into Cubase. The software comes with two handbooks: one to get started, and one to dig deep. Plus a bunch of Acrobat PDF-files on the CD-ROM with even more additional info. If you have Acrobat Catalog and Acrobat Exchange software installed, you can index these PDF-files and search for keywords to find broad information on almost each and every single item in the huge package. If you do not have this software, it is still very easy to find your way using the indexes in the PDF-files.

In this window, you can edit the individual midi notes. Parameters like Start, Length, Pitch and Velocity can be altered. There is also a set of tools in a toolbox (upper right corner). With e.g. the pencil, you can change the length of a midi note in stead of typing a value.

Using the list editor, you can get access to all kind of midi-information recorded. Individual notes, program changes, system exclusive messages. You name them, Cubase offers them for an edit. There is a whole bunch of quantizing options to make your midi music more lively. Realtime processing of midi info is possible too. There even is a generator, that let's you create completely new notes arrangements out of previously recorded events. It comes with more parameters then you probably will ever use, but hey: didn't we want all the gimmicks? You will need some time to know how this thing drives, but then you can make the most crazy music midi arrangements with it.

The number of midi-tracks you record on is practically only limited by the RAM in your Mac. Let's face it: did you ever need 128 tracks? Perhaps a little more tech here: while working with Cubase, your screen gets filled with a lot of windows. A 17" screen might be a good idea...


Working the audio in Cubase is smooth when arranging. In fact, it works the very same way as with midi. In the arrange window, you can position blocks of audio like you would arrange blocks with midi info. Arranging your music is more or less like drawing a painting in Photoshop. You drag around, mix and match, just as long as you need till it sounds the way you want. A whole load of additional functions can help you to fine tune your arrangement.

Audio in the Cubase environment is kept in the Pool. Let's say a drawer, where all audio is stored. In fact, the Pool contains pointers to the actual audio files that are on your (separate!) audio hard disk. When you start recording the first audio track, Cubase lets you determine where you ant the audio files to be stored.

The audio Pool. All audio files are listed individually with according info. You can preview the audio here, and the three drop down menus in the upper left corner give you all options to manage the files.

When you hard disk-record your midi arrangement to audio, the audio tracks appear in the arrange screen, and the actual audio screen presentation goes into the Pool. Here, you can e.g. preview the files. You can also import external audio files into the Pool. For example a nice sound effect from a library CD, that you wanna mix with your own music. It takes a few clicks to get the audio where you want it, but when you've done this a few times, the way to the Pool is no longer a secret. The Pool itself has commands to household your audio files, e.g. deleting audio files you no longer need.

From the Pool, you can drag the audio directly into the arrange screen. Once the audio is there, a complete effect section can be activated to post produce the audio.

The mixing console (Monitor) gives you all tools to manage the audio, just like a real mixing console does. The LR windows is the Master. The CHN 1 window is the effects section for channel 1. You can add even more effects per channel.

Cubase comes with a collection of basic effects like EQ, Echo, Reverb and Chorus. They can be applied to individual tracks, and/or to the master output. There is also a complete mixing console and a master control. As mentioned before: more professional effects from e.g. Prosoniq with it's VST series give you much more control. But for basic purposes, the basic plugs will do fine. Of course, if your demands are of a higher professional level, you can also temporarily leave Cubase, fire up e.g. sonicWORX Studio, enhance the audio files, and then return to Cubase using the enhanced files. And: Waves plug-ins can be used through a WaveShell for VST. Well, if that does not give you enough horsepower to work, I will eat my mouse pad. And: the later to be reviewed VST plug-ins by Prosoniq give you high level professional quality without leaving Cubase at all.

Try before you buy? There are several CD's around with trial versions of almost all Cubase products, including VST. Your local dealer probably will have one. Or get connected to the Steinberg site to find out more.


If you want to have all (and I really mean all) possibilities midi gave to us musicians, don't hesitate and just buy the package. I am pretty convinced that you will come to the same conclusion as I did: Cubase VST 3.52 has it all. In our country (the Netherlands) we have school ratings from 1 (very bad) to 10 (excellent) in steps of 1. On this scale, I give Cubase VST a fat number 9. The strongest argument to do so is the smooth integration of midi and audio within one software package. It opens wonderful creative possibilities in a very elegant and easy way. This does not exclude the need of additional use of other professional audio software when it comes to very specific and high-quality tasks. When you're the lucky owner of a fast Mac, you can even perform a lot of these tasks within the Cubase environment. But: for most musicians and smaller studio owners,Cubase VST in it's basic and complete form will do perfectly.

Also read the online review of Prosoniq's VST plug-ins for Cubase VST (see Index page). When using a 6100/66 or the like, some of the plugs won't work, others (the lighter ones) will. As of a 9500 and higher all plugs work fine. In the horsepower G3's you really blast off at high speed level.

All reviews in are written by Peter J. Bloemendaal. All rights reserved.

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