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Steinberg Cubase Lite

For the Atari ST

Article from Music Technology, May 1993

No, it's not a lager. It's an economy version of Cubase with selected features only. Mind, you, that doesn't stop Ian Waugh from drooling at the mouth

It may be light on the pocket, but is this latest Cubase derivative also light on features? Ian Waugh gets heavy...

You can see what your widdlies look like in Lite's Score Edit page

Manfully - or should that be 'personally'? - resisting the urge to get the line 'it ain't heavy' into this copy (...oops, damn it!), I struggle to think of a pithy opening to a review of what must be the Atari ST's three-dozenth sequencer. Not only that, but it's one in a line of sequencers based on Steinberg's Cubase. Do we need another one, even at a budget price?

Well, that's for Steinberg to decide. But clearly, while Cubase and Notator might be the two most common 'pro' sequencers, they do tip the scales at around £300 - even at their recently reduced price. Many home users and semi-pros don't need all the bells and whistles, so it makes sense to offer a trimmed down version at a trimmed down price. Doesn't it?

Lite retains Cubase's superb front-end - the Arrange screen. However, its main claim to budget fame is the inclusion of score editing - something lacking in its bigger brother, Cubeat, and a feature which costs rather more in Notator's baby brother, Notator Alpha, which can only print out four staves at once. Unusually for a Steinberg program, Lite is not copy-protected - a very welcome move although I can't see this policy spreading to the company's other programs. Shame.

The recording system uses traditional tape-recorder transport controls. There's a Cycle mode which many people find useful for recording drum tracks - though personally I prefer to build up a pattern a drum at a time on separate tracks. They're far easier to edit that way and you can merge them later if you want.

An indicator on the left of the tracks shows MIDI activity - I hate sequencers that don't have this feature as you're never quite sure if the thing is transmitting data or not. You can mute and solo tracks, assign them a MIDI channel, Program Change number and Volume level.

For a grand overview of your work you can view the Arrange and Edit pages at the same time - but you don't see much of either

Lite's facilities are well up to the task of creating and editing music. Restrictions only tend to become apparent in comparisons with Cubase or more sophisticated packages. For example, Volume settings apply to the whole track, not individual Parts. You can't assign a MIDI channel to individual Parts, only to entire tracks - although you can make a Part playback using the MIDI channel on which it was recorded.

Cubase has a sophisticated Play Parameter Window which pops up when you double-click on a Part. This lets you assign an individual MIDI channel to the Part along with very fine start and end times. There are also MIDI filters and a range of parameters such as transpose, velocity, delay, lengths, compression, program change and volume. Lite, by contrast, only has Transpose and Velocity parameters which are accessed via the Functions menu.

Quantisation, too, has been limited: only full note quantise is available - there are none of the feels or grooves or percentage quantisations commonly found in other sequencers. Perhaps this is a little too restrictive. After all, even beginners and musicians on budgets have feel.

Primarily, the program appears to be aimed at people who like working with the dots. The Score edit page lets you see and edit the music fairly easily and with a good degree of control. There is, however, no facility to add music symbols - which will, in the main, be a loss more to the academic community than the modern muso - but equally, you can't add lyrics to a score, which I suspect will be a loss to most users.

You can select several Parts for editing in the Score editor although you'll only be able to see about three staves on a standard mono monitor. You can select single or double (grand) staves and specify the split point, and an Auto Clef function will select a Bass or Treble clef according to the notes In the Part.

Arrangements are easy-peasy with Cubase Lite

You can edit notes simply by clicking on them and dragging them around the stave. A Status line shows you the bar and beat position you are moving to - although this does lack Cubase's excellent transpose indicator.

The Score page has its own Toolbox with Pointer, Eraser, Rest and Note tools. Rests as well as notes can be clicked into the score and you can enter notes in step time from a MIDI keyboard. You can even select a note and 're-program' it by playing another note on your keyboard. There are also quantise and Snap functions, the latter limiting note editing with the mouse to prefixed note values.

This page is useful not only for those who like to work with the dots, but also for creating a good layout for printing. Using the quantise options here help display the score correctly - the way you want it to sound is not always the same as the way you want it to look - although if you want to hear what you're doing as you edit, you can set up a playback loop to do so.

It's also possible to display syncopated notes in the 'correct' fashion and enter a key signature. If you make a complete pig's ear of things, you can cancel every change you've made since you last entered the page. Excellent.

You can resize the Arrange and Score windows so both appear on screen simultaneously (this is very useful when working on several Parts at the same time, though it does reduce the number of staves you can see in the editor at the same time). You can also format disks from within the program, though, again, the formatting functions are limited.

Toolin' around with Lite's Toolbox

If you're not a notation type of person then, frankly, Lite is not for you. You see, notation is the only way of editing music - there's no key editor, no grid editor or event list, even. And this also means you can't edit other types of MIDI data - not even Program Changes (other than setting a Program Change number on the main Arrange screen).

Unlike Cubase, Lite can only store one song or arrangement in memory at once. Cubase can load and save eight types of file. Lite only supports '.ALL' files (Cubase's Song file format) and standard MIDI files (although you may not be able to edit out any unwanted data). Neither can you save individual Parts or tracks, so there's no prospect for combining sections of different songs.

The manual is clear and helpful and has a whopping five pages of contents, but no index. And for those fast workers, most functions and operations have keyboard shortcuts.

On reading what I've written so far - which is more than some of you 'conclusion readers' will have done - it may seem as if I've been rather critical of Lite. But apart from a few wishes and wants I've only been pointing out the major differences between Lite and Cubase proper - my assumption being that you'd want to know what you're losing by not buying the biggy.

Comparisons aside, Lite stands up well for a budget-priced sequencer, especially one with score writing and score printing facilities. In fact, there's really nothing at this price which will handle those jobs as well as Lite. However, you must make sure that you aren't going to miss any of the other features and that score editing alone is enough for you.

Price: Cubase Lite £99

More From: Harman UK (Contact Details)

Coming to an arrangement

One of the reasons why Cubase has become so popular among musicians is its superb Arrange page. Lite's Arrange page works in the same way although it only has 16 tracks. However, most users, especially at this level, will find this more than adequate.

Essentially, you record a number of music patterns or Parts which appear on the screen as rectangles and you use the mouse to move, cut, copy and paste these among the tracks to create your arrangement. With Cue Points to help you move through the song, you'll find it a very intuitive way of working - you can see at a glance how the music is constructed.

If you press and hold the right mouse button, a Toolbox appears. Move the mouse to a tool and release the button to select it. It's very quick and easy - far easier than accessing menus. The Toolbox has four tools - Pointer (the default). Scissors, Eraser and Paste. You can use the tools during playback and edit your music 'on the fly'.

It's possible to merge Parts, place one Part on top of another (to create upbeats, for example) and create Ghost Parts which use the data from the original part and automatically take on any changes you make to the original - useful for creating layers, MIDI delays and so on.

Getting into print

Cubase Lite uses one of a range of drivers to enable it to print to the printer of your choice. It is supplied with drivers for Epson, Atari, NEC, Seikosha, IBM 9-pin and HP Laserjet printers. The drivers can't be edited from within the program, although they are essentially in ASCII format so the way is clear for programmers (or, of course, Steinberg themselves) to release drivers for other types of printer.

You can also adjust the margins, select Best or Fast print options and specify the range of pages you want to print.

Also featuring gear in this article

Featuring related gear

Previous Article in this issue

The Collector

Next article in this issue

Touching Bass

Publisher: Music Technology - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

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Music Technology - May 1993

Gear in this article:

Software: Sequencer/DAW > Steinberg > Cubase Lite

Gear Tags:

Atari ST Platform

Review by Ian Waugh

Previous article in this issue:

> The Collector

Next article in this issue:

> Touching Bass

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