With the upgrade to Cubase 11, Steinberg has made some major improvements to an already excellent product. If you have followed my JJG columns or this blog (or my previous blogs) you may remember that I have been a long-time Logic user (since the Atari ST days, with Notator being the reason that I bought an ST). So I admit right up front that I am looking at Cubase with a background in Logic, but for this post I will stick to Cubase. I’ll do a comparison of the two in my next post on Cubase.
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So first, what are the standout features of Cubase, and how does Cubase 11 affect them?
The easiest one is that Cubase 11 is still multi-platform, running on PC and Mac. As of this writing, Cubase 11 will not run on any tablet that I am aware of but you can check the system requirements by clicking here.
Cubase has had outstanding MIDI capabilities pretty much from version 1.0, but these have been expanded to truly amazing heights. With the exceptional plug-ins alone you can make powerful tracks to back up vocals, stand on their own, or make stems for all sorts of projects.
Drum tracks are insanely easy to create, with studio-ready sounds from single hits to complex beat patterns that are simple to edit. While Cubase has a reputation for its steep learning curve, this new iteration of Groove Agent is as intuitive as any drum program I’ve used. You will recognize the presets from many of your favourite songs, no matter what genre you are into. It has its own mixer so that your drum kit sounds like you want before even adding it to the full song mix, and yes it has its own FX.
The editing features have been expanded across the board, and this is especially evident when working with MIDI. The Key Editor lets you start with a partial melody or even just a few chords, and build it up to a full arrangement all in an intuitive environment. Traditional songwriters will spend a lot of time here. The Chord Editor lets you tweak your harmonies and load the chords back to the Key Editor. Chord Assistant and Scale Assistant help you out if you are in need of some help with theory, or if you want to take that theory into a different dimension — there are no barriers to your creativity here.
The Arranger Track gives you a terrific way to design your arrangements in a non-linear fashion, eliminating the need for constant cut-and-paste to get the music flowing. Many of the usual additions to recording are given new lives, such as using lyrics as Markers when working with any MIDI Editor tracks to keep your place in the song.
Global support is provided for some great new features, my favourites including the two LFOs that will give underlying motion to any track and keep them in sync using time or musical note values. The Frequency EQ plug-in has been expanded to 8 dynamic bands, each with its own side-chain. That’s right, 8 side-chains! These come out of the expanded Sampler Track 2, which lets you make virtually any sound or chunk into a “sample” and use them as you would with any sample, enhanced with the new Frequency EQ and LFO effects. Note that Frequency EQ is only available in the Pro version, one of the few new features that are exclusive to Pro. Another is the use of fonts from Dorico in the Score Editor, which also adds Properties that let you instantly access options and notation settings as easily as the Key Editor.
If this so far all sounds like things can get lost with overuse of EQ and other FX, the new Squasher comes to the rescue! Another of my favourite additions, this is “a tool that combines upward and downward audio compression for up to three bands, making it extremely flexible for adjusting the dynamic range.” So in case you get carried away with Frequency EQ, or just want to compress a section or an instrument, you have the most innovative compression unit yet.
When we come to features only available on Pro and Artist, a few stand out. Most impressive is SuperVision “a fully customizable, multi-meter audio analyzer, providing up to nine module slots for level, spectral, phase and waveform analysis.” This includes Imager, a multi-band plug-in to keep your mix clean, with four bands in which to place your tracks in the stereo image. Also included is SpectraLayers One, a compact version of SpectraLayers Pro 7 that lets you visualize and edit your audio in the spectral domain. You can find rogue frequencies easily, as well as dead spots in the spectrum that your ears, or speakers might miss.
Everything else mentioned, and much more, is included in all three versions of Cubase 11, Pro, Artist, and Elements. As a fully cross-platform program, Cubase 11 has to be a serious contender for every musical artist, pro or hobbyist. I already have several projects in mind just from exploring and discovering.
So is Cubase a problem-free, heaven-sent environment. What is? Let’s take a look at some of the issues with Cubase 11.
First and possibly foremost, the infamous dongle is still there. As a copy-protection scheme this is getting pretty long in the tooth, but at least Steinberg lets you keep all of their products requiring one on the same dongle. Still, if you lose it, there goes your software, and your work! And unfortunately one of its strengths is its greatest weakness: a dongle lets you have your software installed at different working areas, so that you just need to carry your dongle with you, but be careful not to lose it on your travels.
All of Cubase 11’s power requires a pretty powerful computer for best results (and I don’t include my dual-core Macbook Pro test machine in that league). It also requires a LOT of disk space, and I’ve finally been forced to do the housekeeping I’ve been putting off in deleting unused files and programs. A fast internet connection is a real help too, although you will probably still be downloading overnight at least once.
And yes, I admit that Cubase 11 lives up to its reputation for a steep learning curve. However, significant progress has been made on many of the plug-ins as well as many of the specific editors. Compensating for these is the addition of powerful new features such as SpectraLayers One.
Now, how do those “problems” stack up against the power of Cubase 11? They are minimal, at most. What powerful program doesn’t require a lot of space on a powerful machine? As for the dongle, be very careful!
Given the time I have had to work with a program that is new to me, I don’t feel that I have given Cubase 11 its full due, so I will give you a list of the new features from the Press Release so that you can see what Steinberg considers its important new features. I rarely quote a press document but I have found everything I was able to test from this one to be true, so I have no reason to suspect that these are in any way exaggerated.
•Advanced Audio Export: Save time with new export queues [Pro]
•Sampler Track 2: New creative features including slicing, LFOs and legato glide[Pro, Artist, Elements]
•Scale Assistant: Follow, quantize and play live to a set scale[Pro, Artist, Elements]
•Advanced Key Editor: Create perfect pitch bends and more[Pro, Artist, Elements]
•Global Tracks: Stay in sync more easily[Pro]•Frequency 2: Amazingly precise dynamic EQ for better mixing[Pro]
•Squasher: Improve leads, tame bass and enhance reverb for EDM[Pro, Artist, Elements]
•Score Editor: Workflow improvements and beautiful new fonts[Pro]
•New Samples: Six freshsound and loop sets[Pro, Artist, Elements]
•SuperVision: Super-flexible, customizable metering[Pro, Artist]
•Imager: Multiband stereo placement for perfect panning[Pro, Artist]
•MultiTap Delay Surround Support: Delay in up to 5.1 surround sound[Pro]
•Windows 10 Variable DPI: More scaling settings[Pro, Artist, Elements]
•Cubase Artists/Elements Upgrades: More bang for fewer bucks[Pro, Artist, Elements]
•Multiple Side-Chain: Improved input architecture[Pro, Artist, Elements]
•Eucon Support: Latest Avid console compatibility[Pro]
•VST Connect SE 5: Resizable HiDPI-ready interface for remote recording solutions[Pro]
•Workflow and UI Improvements: Refinements to make your working life easier[Pro, Artist]
•Apple Metal Acceleration: Enjoy maximum Mac performance[Pro, Artist, Elements]
•SpectraLayers One: Remarkable visual editing and audio source separation[Pro, Artist]
SUMMARY: Cubase 11 is the best music creation environment on the market today, in my opinion. I have barely scratched the surface of its new features, and remember that version 10.5 came out not long ago, so some it its features may be new to many users as well.