SpectraLayers 9 – Important New User Features

SpectraLayers has incredible power for transforming sound. However, sometimes that power can be frustrating, as you run a process over and over to get just that perfect sound. And often these iterations mean UNDOing attempts that were “close but not perfect”. Users have been complaining and now Steinberg has heard! TWO new features combine to make SpectraLayers 9 a joy to use.

INTERFACE IMPROVEMENTS

First is the PREVIEW button on virtually every process, including VST plug-ins, allowing you to instantly hear the effect of your parameter changes. Finally! Of course there is also a BYPASS button for comparison with the original.

The second half of this power-duo is Non-Modal Process Dialogs, that let you keep working even while a dialog box is open. You can move around the interface, choose sections, make selections, move the playhead, and basically just move around freely.


Both of these are part of of Dynamic Spectral Processing, which shows you the results on-screen in real time. This means that you can change parameters as a sound is playing and hear the change as you go!

ENHANCEMENTS


Both processes and tools have presets, although depending on your specific project your mileage may vary. Still, for most of us these will be quite useful. For larger or recurring projects, you can save your own presets as well,


De-Bleed has been improved so that you can choose several sources, or even all at once. Sensitivity and Reduction Ratio are still there, along with Preview and Bypass, plus of course Apply. The presets here are very good but again you also have the option of saving your own presets, as with the other processes.

Unmix Levels lets you separate out different layers or frequencies of sound. These can then be used separately.

Always Show Scroll Bar is another new feature that you can choose from the menu. This keeps the scroll bar from disappearing when you move your cursor away.


Playback Output Gain Control gives you an independent output control specifically for spectral editing.


Processing power needed? Well, the simple introductory video is done on a 4 GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7 Mac running macOS 11.6.5 with 32 GB RAM, so no need for the very latest machines. Still, it is Apple Silicon compatible, and will run native.

IN SUMMARY: This is the upgrade that many users have been longing for, and it is finally here! Don’t miss this one!

 

 

 

Olde Time Mac – Refurbished Macs You Can Trust

When my lab needed a backup Mac, I didn’t need the latest, just a fairly recent one. I wanted a refurbished one in part to recycle perfectly good computers, and yes I admit, partly for the price.

My first attempt was a partial success at best. Even though it was through an international brand name store via an Amazon seller, the machine has an iffy disk drive and an under-powered CPU. In fairness, the seller did send me a replacement drive, but until the original fails, I’m not opening the case.

My second and third attempts have been real successes! I bought them from Olde Time Mac in London, Ontario. Both computers look and act brand new. With the amount of music software reviewing I do, I didn’t want to lose compatibility by going to the most recent versions of either hardware or OS. PLUS the idea of recycling computers by refurbishing them really appeals to me, as I know it does to many of you.

I can’t say that both were problem-free, but how the problems were addressed is what leads me to this post. Olde Time Mac’s customer service is the finest I’ve encountered!

Only the second Mac had problems, after almost two months. The GPU started throwing kernel panics, meaning that the computer would fail on boot-up. This was intermittent at first but got worse until I finally emailed Olde Time Mac about it. They immediately gave me a return authorization plus a printable prepaid return label, quickly confirmed the GPU problem, procured a new one and installed it, then returned the computer to me in a couple of days. They paid for shipping both ways!

THEN, it turned out that the battery needed replacement. Maybe a problem in transit, or more likely related to the old GPU.  (A shout-out here to my friends at Micromat for their Techtool Pro, that detected the problem!) Again, a quick return authorization and return label, a new battery procured and installed, and the computer returned in a couple of days!

So TWO problems with a refurbished computer and am I angry? NO. Not at all. First, it’s pretty much impossible to predict a catastrophic GPU failure, and I suspect that had a knock-on effect to the battery. But second, and most importantly, Olde Time Mac were quick to fix and return the computer without any problems. If only every company were as responsible and reliable! These people back what they sell! THANK YOU OLDE TIME MAC!

So if you don’t REALLY need the very latest Mac (really), check out the inventory at Olde Time Mac. You will be happy you did! And maybe you will help them recycle excellent computers.

And in case you are new to this blog: I am in no way affiliated with Olde Time Mac nor did I receive anything in any way for writing and posting this. This blog exists to find the best deals for musicians or others interested in music.

Nuendo 12 – Steinberg Scores Again!

Every voice professional should know about Nuendo, and they should be clamoring for Nuendo 12, a MAJOR upgrade with truly incredible features. There are also bonuses for musicians and producers that are surprising and very, very welcome. Let’s dig in.

Aimed at “audio professionals”, the first new feature is AI-powered dialogue detection, which can isolate dialogue and remove all other sounds. If you need to make dialogue stand out, this feature is enormous.

Need to align different audio clips? Nuendo 12 provides multiple reference clips for perfect alignment. It also enables you to sync sound effects to audio, reference different objects at once, and even manual groove alignment, all in the Project Window.

Serious sound designers will appreciate both Netflix TTL support and EdiCue V4 support. There is also a new free warp tool for picture matching dialogue. Another big feature is the ability to create binaural downmix of Dolby Atmos immersive sound mixes on headphones with both spectral and spacial accuracy.

Headphones? Yes, and here it gets particularly interesting for me. The new Headphones Match plug-in calibrates the frequency response curve for 387 headphone models from 100 manufacturers! You can now mix on headphones with a confidence never had before. Very impressive!

MIDI is here too, with mapping for any MIDI controller, either automatic or custom designed by you. The API will be familiar to any MIDI user, especially if you are up on MIDI 2.0.

Workflow is really sped up with Focus Quick Controls, which dynamically react to the track, plug-in, or wherever you are, to give you the controls that you need at the moment. No more scrolling through menus to find the right tool; the ones you need are handed to you!

Of course there are new effects, and perhaps the most amazing discrete one is Raiser, a full-featured limiter that goes for beyond merely limiting. I call Raiser “discrete” because FX Modulator is more like a huge suite of effects that lets you create your own custom effects. This is a truly awe-inspiring module that will repay a lot of enjoyable experimentation!

Several of the new features and enhancements were introduced with Cubase 12. These include: randomize parameters for the step filter plug-in; extended ARA support; scale assistant in VariAudio; create chord “events” from audio events; another new plug-in Lin One Dither; import tempo and signature tracks; and, multi-selection phase-coherent audio warping.

I have only just touched on the workflow and productivity enhancements because they would look like a tedious list in print but when using the program, they make you work much, much easier. Both the audio and rendering engines are much speedier. And of course Nuendo 12 supports the Apple M1 chip. Beyond that, the entire program is much sleeker and more useful.

Just like Dorico 4, just like Cubase 12, upgrading to Nuendo 12 is realty a no-brainer. It IS that good!

Relay G30 – Affordable Wireless for the Guitarist

Looking for a wireless gigging solution that won’t break the bank? I have been, and I found it in the Line6 Relay G30. You may know that this is not a new product, but I had put it in the “probably too cheap to be good” category. Until now.

Its specs are good: covers 100 feet, 6 different channels to keep from interfering with your other wireless devices, and most important, crystal clear sound. Also, its reviews tend to be very good. My mind was finally swayed by learning that a good friend had used it on hundreds of gigs, and never had a problem with it.

Well, almost never. At this price, you have to wonder if they cut corners, and it seems they did. Not in the electronics, which are marvelous, but in the cheap plastic parts of the transmitter and receiver, most notably the transmitter’s battery holder, which needs reinforcement by either tape or heavy elastic. Otherwise, the batteries can move enough to slip the connection and drop your signal, likely right in the middle of your best solo ever!

But aside from this admitted annoyance, the unit functions well enough to hang on to it, since you won’t find a comparable wireless set for anywhere close to this price. And if you do run into a problem that you just can’t fix yourself, the warranty replacement is fast and easy. (My friend wanted to replace the transmitter and got a new one the same week, but it had the same battery problem.)

Do I recommend it? YES. I bought the test unit I had and have been very happy with it.

EXTRA TIP: When registering the G30, the transmitter and the receiver have separate serial numbers, since they can be bought separately. If you buy the “set” (both together) use the serial number on the BOX in order to complete registration.

CUBASE 12 – A HUGE UPGRADE

I’ve been waiting for Cubase 12 ever since Cubase 11. Why? Because I sensed there was so much more Steinberg could do with Cubase. Dorico 4 convinced me. It is such a major improvement that Cubase could not be far behind.

GOODBYE TO DONGLES

As with Dorico, Cubase 12 no longer needs a dongle. Just log in to your Steinberg account and you can use Cubase on up to 3 different computers.

MULTITRACK AUDIOWARP WITH PHASE COHERENCE

Huhn? For live performances, you can now simply drop markers for groups (e.g. drums, guitars, whole band if you like) and quantize these to the grid. Again I’m going to suggest that you listen to Dom Sigalas demo this here to hear the difference.

The “Phase Coherence” is especially important if you are serious about real drum recording, and use both close-up mics and room mics for ambience. Subtly shifting a drum or two onto a beat can cause serious phase issues between sounds captured by different mics. Cubase 12 retains the coherence of all phases to save you this nightmare!

SCALE ASSISTANT IN VARI AUDIO

New in Vari Audio is the ability to move notes, individually or in blocks (or all) and have them snap to the notes of the chosen key! No more fidgeting with single notes and their pitches.

Even better: You can create a duplicate track of your vocal and choosing all just move them up two spaces (a 3rd in music theory) and you have an automatic harmony vocal. Try it!

Hold on! That sounds like Melodyne

Yes, it has some features of Melodyne but doesn’t duplicate it. So if you own Melodyne, or even SpectralLayers you want to know about the new:

ARA IMPROVEMENTS

ARA Extensions can now be used at the track level! That means you can choose to add Melodyne to one of your tracks, and there it is with all its functions. Another track might need SpectralLayers. No problem, just choose it in the drop-down menu.

ADVANCED CROSSFADE EDITOR

This feature is a work of art in itself, and it will allow you to make your own works of art much more personal. There are so many ways to crossfade between tracks from brutally quick to deliciously leisurely and everything in between. You also have the choice of moving the crossfade pattern along the music line, or else dragging the music over the pattern to get the perfect fit.

NEW SUPERVISION MODULES

If you like to keep a tight rein on your mix, the new supervision modules give you several new tools, including histograms, spectrum keyboard, phase balance, but my favourite is the new VU meters, a hi-tech innovation based on a retro classic!

EDITING WORKFLOW IMPROVEMENTS

There are so many improvements in improving your workflow that this upgrade would be worth it just for them. There are far too many for me to try to describe, but I’ll point you to Dom Segalas who will be happy to explain these and more features.

Real World Example Files

Lastly, I have to mention the two excellent example files. You get complete Cubase 12 copies of both the unmixed and mixed versions of two different songs and genres. You can hear the composers themselves talk about recording and mixing or you can just jump in and check them out for yourself. These provide valuable templates for your own work, provided by the pros.

SUMMARY

Cubase 12 is now the ultimate in recording both audio and MIDI as well as adding effects, mixing, and even mastering. This is the Cubase that many of us have dreamed of but here is no dream. The reality surpasses anything you might have hoped for. If you use Cubase, GET THIS UPGRADE! Even if you use Logic, you want check out Cubase 12 seriously. I’ve just passed on my latest FREE Logic upgrade because I won’t be using it. That’s my opinion right there.

 

Dorico 4 is HERE NOW

The much anticipated version Dorico 4 is now available and WOW! it is sure worth whatever wait you might have had. I am thrilled to be able to bring you some GOOD NEWS in the midst of some very bad times. THIS IS A MAJOR UPGRADE TO AN ALREADY SUPERLATIVE PROGRAM!

The NEW LICENSING SYSTEM is probably the first thing on most people’s minds as it has been floating around the internet for a while now. So it’s goodbye e-licenser (dongle or software) and welcome to running on up to 3 computers on one licence.

The Import MIDI Editor is one feature that you may overlook in all the excitement but it has amazing flexibility to split a MIDI file into the orchestra (or other ensemble) that you want. There are so many options here I will suggest that you check them out on the new Dorico Help system, but I have to mention my favourite: If you have multiple parts such as Violin Short Bows, Violin Long Bows, Violin Staccato, etc. you can now merge them into a single part (as they actually SHOULD BE) with all of their appropriate articulations intact! I have been hoping for that for years.

The Write Mode can now be used with a “lower zone” that can hold different views of the data represented by the notes. One example is the Key Editor, where you can use the “piano roll” style along with the MIDI cc controller data to make subtle changes in the notes without losing sight of the score. The Link button allows the editors to jump to position changes in either one so that they stay in sync. In short, it’s like having Play Mode as well as Write Mode open together. VERY handy.

Also available in this lower zone are instruments: a piano keyboard, guitar and bass fretboards, and drum pads which you can use to input notes if you like. Guitarists will be happy to hear that capos are now supported here. (See below)

The Mixer (now F3) can appear in the lower zone or free-floating. It is re-sizable. Instruments can have inserts, and of course there are amp simulators (heads and cabinets) as well as stomp boxes and other goodies.

Play Mode has been re-written to include more information. Once again the lower zone can show the Key Editor. Each track can show its routing information, with the ability to edit the instrument’s host (e.g. HALion). There are also the channel effects and fader on the left side, so yes, some have moved over from the right side.

Filters allow you to edit a sub-set of your score, but still hear the entire ensemble during playback. A nice way to fix up or ornament a part without creating clashes within the whole. There are even pre-set groupings that you can call up with numbers assigned to these.

The Jump Bar combines all sorts of previous features with a few new ones, but all in just TWO options: GoTo and Commands. For example, you can GoTo to Flows, rehearsal marks, specific bars, and all sorts of other places. Command is very similar to setting a shortcut, but with a few more options.

You have more freedom in creating your own templates, ensembles, etc. One subtle change in adding players is that you can distinguish between single players and soloists, which can be critical in concerti and similar types of music.

A wonderful addition to Insert Mode is the ability to create a Stop Line beyond which changes will have no effect, so adding notes won’t move others out of alignment. A second option moves everything for the player being edited (up to the Stop Line), while a third moves everything for ALL players. A fourth option lets you add music to the end of one bar, extending it (with the time signature changing, or not). Most of this is based on  user feedback and it makes Insert Mode much more user-friendly so thank you to the folks who requested these!

Transform now contains all sorts of compositional tools like inversion, retrograde, rhythm options, changing scales into others, and all sorts of things that only a composition major would love. I have to point you to the Version History file, which I recommend reading in any case, but specifically there is a lot on this type of “musical manipulation”.

Even basic things like Copy & Paste have new uses via Paste Special where you can choose to paste only articulations, or other information rather than the whole bar (or more) as is. There are all sorts of new options for display of music, such as showing how many bars are just repeats of the first bar (like a drum pattern).

The Library Manager function can compare the options that you have set that are different from Dorico “factory settings”, or it can show you the difference between two different scores or projects. You can also import some of these, or all if you like. This may be most useful to publishers or anyone else with a “company style”.

The Power Button now actually DOES something. If it’s on, your sounds are loaded; if off, they are not. There is an option in Preferences to ALWAYS load sounds, which I plan to have ON. You can also have Dorico ASK you if you want the sounds. I guess that might save some time in loading. I guess. Maybe if you are comparing two scores or just don’t need sound in one.

Guitarists can now use Capos! Chords can show the sounding chords as well as those used with the capo (e.g. a capo on the third fret playing in C will sound in Eb). There are options for how to show the chords and distinguish between them. Many more options are available in Engraving options.

If for some strange reason you have “Finale envy” over the ability to move a bar to the previous system (or the next one) you can now do that in Dorico as well. A simple thing that was overly complicated in previous versions but is now simple.

This is just a PARTIAL list of some of the new features in this MAJOR UPGRADE! There are so many new options that it will take a while for you to get used to them. I would suggest that you learn those that fit into your common workflow, and gradually add to them.

This whole post is based on John’s LiveStream at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2_ij8vYk-s

There’s lots more information at https://blog.dorico.com/

What a great start to the new year! Thank you Steinberg!

A Jazzy Season Thanks to Stelios Panos

It has been a while since we’ve heard from Stelios, but he has arrived with great news: 2 new collections from two of the greatest jazz guitarists ever. Get ready to fire up Band-in-a-Box for the full experience of over 100 songs / solos by George Benson and over 70 by Kenny Burrell! As usual, these transcriptions are note-accurate with all the expressiveness that BiaB is capable of — and that’s a LOT!

Here’s what Stelios himself has to say about these collections:

“Transcribed for Band in a Box, with Chords, Score / Tablature, Fretboard, at the correct positions with the Ornaments and completely editable!

 Of course synced with the Real Recordings, and all the BB abilities like slow down to learn fast passages or Transpose the Key of Midi and Real Audio, also multi track Backing Tracks for Jamming with the famous “Real Tracks” styles, and many other features that only Band in a Box offers, just tune your guitar and get ready for Hot Sound!”

Of course I have my own favourites, and I’m sure that you do too. But a lot of the fun of these big collections is exploring tunes you don’t know, or haven’t heard by these artists. Take advantage of the included audio of the original versions of the transcribed parts to hear those new to you and discover some real gems!

As always, I give Stelios Panos’ work my highest recommendation because he delivers terrific value for low prices. Considered at a per song rate, they are incredibly inexpensive, especially given the accuracy that only a truly dedicated professional with a phenomenal ear could deliver. You are benefiting from the work of a master!

Whether you are purchasing a gift for a jazz guitar player or enthusiast, or treating yourself, this is one gift that will be loved and used over and over again for years!

Steinberg’s Great FREE LoFi Piano

Forget those winter blues with Steinberg‘s free gift: their great new LoFi Piano. This HALion instrument starts off with a beautiful upright piano that you can transform with 6 dazzling effects that can take it from mildly retro to virtual tape meltdown! As wild as you want to go, LoFi Piano can get you there, and farther.

Bravo Steinberg for giving us a truly useful and fun instrument, not a shoddy product that was deemed unsaleable! If you want an instrument to shake up a dull arrangement or just a piano that can stand out in a mix, this FREE LoFi Piano is for you.

The LoFi Piano comes with 6 easy-to-use effects that can radically change the sound, either singly or in combination. These are: Flutter, Compress, Saturate, Reduce, Filter, and Reverb. Most of these hark back to the days of tape recording on home tape machines. Flutter takes the inconsistencies of those machines to a whole other level, from mild to outright distorted. Compress can go from a judicious compression to the seemingly unintentional signal compression from an overly loud input or incompatible source. Saturate is all too familiar to anyone who remembers, or still uses, tape — especially cassette! You can push this to levels that outdo even the cheapest tapes at insane volumes. Reduce gives the opposite effect, as if there were insufficient input. I prefer this one in conjunction with a few other effects for its greatest impact. The Filter is sort of a low-pass combined with loss of fidelity. This is one of the most obvious effects on the overall sound. It’s hard to call Reverb “an effect” because there are 20 types of reverb! Several are obvious: spring, short plate, living room, hallway, and overlong;  while others are more suggestive: little crib, backstage, shiny and many more.

Of course there are presets, instantly usable combinations of effects. BUT there is much more. Each preset comes with a series of chords, laid out in a logical progression. You can even assign these chords to individual keys which will trigger them. At the same time, you can play freely on the other keys, above and below them!

As you would expect, Dom gives a great demo of this piano, so you can get to know the instrument even as it is downloading.

This is a wonderful gift from Steinberg, and I hope you have downloaded it before you even got this far. Thank you so very much Steinberg!!!

 

Dorico says Goodbye to E-Licenser!

 

open lock

DORICO 4 …

You may already have heard that Steinberg is changing its licensing system to drop the need for a dongle. This is already good news, but the first program to use the new system is Dorico 4! Yes, it’s coming.

If you are waiting for version 4 before you buy Dorico, be assured that “any Dorico 3.5 license that is first activated on or after 25 August 2021 will be eligible for a free grace period update to Dorico 4 when it is released.” This is directly from Daniel Spreadbury’s announcement from November 10. So don’t wait! Start getting up to speed on using this great notation and playback program.

… and MORE

More good news: This is just the start! Steinberg will be adding this feature to upcoming versions of Cubase, Nuendo, and HALion. However, note that this licensing feature will ONLY be available for the Mac or Windows versions. From the FAQ:

 

“Steinberg Licensing is only used by our software products for Windows and macOS. Our apps for iPad, iPhone, Android and Chromebook devices will continue to use the standard licensing terms and systems of the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.”

HOW?

The secret behind this is signing into your Steinberg account at the start of the session. And you can have Dorico active on TWO computers at once. Need to switch to a third? Just inactivate one computer and activate the new one. Once again, Daniel Spreadbury covers this and much more in his announcement and there is even more information in their licensing FAQ here.

WHEN?

OK, Dorico 4 was “supposed” to be released at the end of 2021, but it was delayed to “early 2022” to help make the transition as seamless as possible, which I have no doubt is worth the wait. I would also be surprised if the team didn’t sneak in a few new features given the extra time!

Stay tuned for more Steinberg news as it happens.

 

Absolute 5 — Simply Amazing!

Whether you are tired of using your same old sounds, or just want to be fully up to date  Steinberg’s Absolute 5 gives you the latest versions of their core VST engines with a huge variety of superb sounds. The possibilities of integrating these presets with your own tweaking of them is virtually limitless, with the only boundary being your imagination. Even there, the parts suggest possibilities even as you learn the new aspects of some old friends. Absolute 5 packages a bundle of VST instruments, many upgrades, lots of new presets all EXCELLENT.

More than ever, you want to hear these sounds on your best available sound system, and probably on headphones. The sounds tend to be complex, thick, and lush, designed to stand out in any mix, whether center stage or as a perfect background.

As always, a good starting point to learn and hear Absolute 5 is with Dom Sigalas. And he found an excellent starting point with Amped Elektra. This incredible electric piano is “deeply sampled” — besides a DI sound you get three very different amps, each with its own set of controls. The instrument’s own controls let you emphasize the electric or more “acoustic” sound, or mix them as you like. This in both sound and touch. This is the modern evolution of the electric piano.

Amped Elektra is also used in this video by Xantoné Blacq, showing you how he created an entire soul track using Absolute 5.

With my recent immersion in the world of electric bass I was very interested in the Electric Bass in Absolute 5. I should say basses: you can choose between J-bass, P-bass, MM-bass (MusicMan), All pickups, Neck-only pickup, Bridge-only pickup, and Stereo Rick. You can choose DI or amp sound, or my favourite – blending the two. Already an extremely wide range of bass sounds is further enhanced by five slots for different FX to add to the amp. I found it really handy to mix a clean DI sound with an amp loaded with FX, since no matter how far out there I got with the FX, the notes were always clear on the DI channel. And of course there are a variety of articulations, as well as natural and artificial harmonics. Listen to Dom using the muted P-bass at the 7:00 mark of the video.

The Player drop-down menu gives you styles (blues, country, funk, jazz, metal, pop, rock, R&B) as well as playing styles like avoiding open strings for a more even sound, walking bass, and finally octaves. The Stereo Rick gives you the Rickenbacker two-output capability so that you can blend up to four different signals from the two DI’s and two amps. I spent a LOT of time playing with these sounds and I’m sure I just scratched the surface!

The next VST instrument is Backbone, which is called a “Drum Re-Synthesizer” but of course it has expanded far beyond just drums. While it is still great for generating drum tracks and original sounds, its presets cover all sorts of instruments. If you are new to Backbone, check out Dom’s earlier video on Backbone 1.1 to see the vast collection of instruments in the presets. In his Absolute 5 video, you have to see and hear what Dom does with a sample of an 808 Kick to get an idea of the re-synthesis power that Backbone brings to bear on any of your samples.

PadShop 2 is included in Absolute 5 along with a fantastic new library of sounds: Polarities. This library contains both electronic and acoustic instruments which you can use as the presets but which you have all of the functionality of PadShop 2 to work your own magic on.

Sounds of Soul is an expansion of Retrologue 2, and along with the incredible library of new sounds you can pick out some presets taken from very famous songs. Retrologue 2 has become my go-to synth, and Sounds of Soul has expanded my sonic palette immensely, including some of my favourite sounds from Motown!

Future Past Perfect brings very modern sounds to Groove Agent 5. The genres covered here are neo-ANYTHING. These are so modern-sounding they are probably tomorrow’s hits. This upgrade would be worth it just for the grooves, but it includes so much more, including the ability to edit the grooves in Groove Agent 5 to your exact specifications.

Steinberg’s Absolute 5 is an enormous collection of fabulous sounds with some of the best sound design tools ever. You owe it to yourself to watch Dom’s overview.

VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!