Version 3.0 Software
Is it still ahead of it's time?
With the upgrade to Version 3 came the promise of new features and easier use. But have unreliability problems tarnished Cubases's crown?
When Cubase first appeared in 1989, the dramatic change from Steinberg's previous sequencer, the Pro 24, came as a surprise to many. The user-friendly Arrange window, from where an entire song could be created, won many converts from the other ST sequencers of the day.
Though regular updates followed, and with them a significant number of new features, the release of Version 3.0, prompted Steinberg's then distributors in this country, Evenlode, to make a charge for the upgrade. With the excellent new features this brought, most users were happy to pay the additional dosh. What they were not happy with was a program "riddled with bugs" (to quote a letter from last month's issue) which is what they got until the problems were eventually put right.
Coming in at the tail end of all this, Steinberg's new distributor in this country, Harman Audio, now find themselves with a fully functioning version of Cubase to sell, but with a somewhat clouded reputation attached to it. Is it justified? Or can Cubase claim to have regained it's standing? Let's see...
The most immediate change (apart from the red dongle) is a visual one; the transport icons have been redesigned and the screen font is rather more Mac-looking. Various features have been moved around, too. For example, there's an extra menu option called Modules from where you load the MIDI Processor, MIDI Mixer (which used to be called MIDI Manager), Score Editor and IPS modules. With the Score editor loaded, Cubase will still run on a 1040 with around 20 KBytes of memory remaining for song data.
But if the Module selection has been moved from the Preferences menu, what has been put in its place? Well, double-clicking on a part now automatically enters one of the three main edit pages - namely Key, Score or List (previously Grid edit) - and the default selection is set from Preferences.
Double-clicking on a part used to bring up the Part Information box (the bane of those trying to work at speed in real time) - but not any more. In version 3, to the far left of the bottom bar of the Arrange window you are provided with access to the Inspector which comes into view on the left of the screen to reveal all the Play Parameters for either the selected part or track. This now includes Bank Select for synths which have this relatively new MIDI feature implemented.
And how many times have you opened a dialogue box and had to close it to see what was underneath? All dialogue boxes can now be grabbed and moved to a convenient place to eradicate this problem. The problem of selecting a menu and having to keep the mouse button depressed while choosing an option has also been addressed: menus now stay down until you make your selection.
As for the other bugbear of changing numbers on-screen using either slow scroll or click-and-type methods: if you use both mouse buttons, scrolling is now lightning fast, while holding down the Control key gives you a virtual slider where you can move the mouse vertically and change values quickly. Welcome additions.
Different kinds of Cubase data can no longer be combined in a single track - MIDI Mixer and normal MIDI data, for example. Next to the Track name is a symbol which depicts the type of track; MIDI, Drum, Group, Mixer or Tape - the latter being for use with tape machines such as the Fostex R8 or E16. Conversion between drum and MIDI parts can now be carried out from here as can the switching of the drum map. And with the Output Port and MIDI Channel being accessed from the Inspector, you should find you rarely have to move the vertical dividing line between parts and track names - another point which speeds up the general use of Cubase.
The Control and Alternate keys are used far more often in Version 3. Take the example of the Alternate key; with the Glue tool in the Arrange window, all consecutive parts are glued together. Renaming a part gives the new name to all parts while opening a second editor prevents any currently open editor from closing, so you can view a particular part on, say, the Score and Key editors at the same time. To help, the new manual starts off with five pages of reference charts for the toolboxes and Control, Shift and Alternate key uses.
The pencil can now extend a part in either direction: no more having to create a new part in front of an existing one and gluing the two together. Other enhancements include the ability to snap to a half bar (previously you had to use either whole bar or quarter note), hiding the transport bar for better access to a larger number of parts and Freezing Play Parameters for writing real time edits into a MIDI File.
One other point; the Reset On Stop command has moved from the top of the Options menu to the MIDI Setup menu. More to the point, you can now turn off Reset On Track Change - an option that was not available on Version 2. Moving from one track to another often caused severe glitching problems because over 240 bytes of reset data were transmitted each time. Not any more.
Both scrolling and zooming in and out on the Key and List edit pages seem noticeably faster and there are certainly more steps available zoom-wise. Also useful is the ability of the Key and List editors to display song positions in terms of time instead of just bars, beats and ticks.
"Version 3 allows you to have up to eight mixer maps resident in memory, and have a specific map allocated to a particular track"
Logical edit has, until now, been one for the mathematicians, but Steinberg have taken a couple of steps to rectify this. There are now two modes: easy and expert - the easy version having fewer alterable parameters. Despite this, I suspect it will still leave musicians cold. Perhaps that's why Steinberg have set up ten presets in the Functions menu which include commonly required edits such as Delete Short Notes and Fade Out Velocity. More of the same, please!
The MIDI Mixer has more than just a new name. If you are using several MIDI sound modules and wish to carry out edits in real time, this entails continuously loading and unloading the relevant MIDI Mixer map. Version 3 now allows you to have up to eight mixer maps resident in memory, and have a specific map allocated to a particular track. For the more technical who enjoy working with this side of MIDI, the MIDI Mixer can now handle Non-Registered Parameter Numbers (NRPNs) which means that you can set-up a map for the various Roland GS synths.
Cubase already had a Remap Controller facility where you could transform, say, a modulation wheel to MIDI volume. But Cubase 3 goes one better with an Input Transformer which lets you convert any kind of MIDI input into something different. For instance, you can convert Aftertouch into any MIDI Controller - MIDI volume, perhaps, where the extra pressure controls the actual level. It's really a kind of logical editor, but one which works on the input.
To say the Score Editing facility has been revamped is something of an understatement. Though the Edit and Page modes are as before, you now have far more control over the layout and use of symbols - you can even freely move staves and bar lines. A double-click on the clef sign now only allows you to edit the clef and key signature; the other edit functions which used to be here having been given their own menus.
But the major difference is in the introduction of Staff Settings. While the older functions of Split Point and Quantise have been transferred here, Polyphonic Voices is a new feature where, by using two staves and tails up and down, up to four MIDI channels of instruments can be shown on a single score. Various flags such as Auto Quantise, Auto Clef and No Beams are also included.
In Page Mode, you have control over the number of bars across a page so that a heavyweight piece of music, for example doesn't end up with notes climbing over one another. The options of Equal Spacing (for clear legibility), and Slanted Beams (which is likely to be turned off if you are using a dot matrix printer), are also here. One very nice feature is being able to zoom in to 200% or out to 75% or 50%.
MIDI Meaning is an attempt to translate certain symbols - drawn onto the page via the pencil tool - into MIDI information by assigning a percentage change to the velocity and length values of the notes. The manipulation of symbols such as slurs and crescendi is similar to that of Masterscore II (reviewed in Music Technology last month) and whilst the appearance of text on-screen is rather jagged, the print out quality is very good, and pretty fast if you use the Spooler desk accessory.
Is it worth upgrading? Most definitely. Steinberg have implemented a range of features which make life much easier and the general handling of Cubase much faster. The Score Editor is still a little clumsy, but the quality of score which can now be obtained really is very commendable for a program of this kind.
There are still a few-minor bugs, but this is to be expected in a program of this complexity - there isn't a piece of software in existence which is 100% perfect. If you're a Version 2 user, I can only advise you to upgrade now and enjoy the new facilities. If you are thinking about buying Cubase for the first time - go ahead, you won't live to regret it. You should remember, however, that Harman are Steinberg's only official distributors in this country so if you want full after-sales service and on-line technical support it is to them you should turn.
Review by Vic Lennard
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