It must be the season of the DAW. After a bit of a quiet spell, we have DP8 (and moving in on Windows turf), SONAR X2 (announced at about the same time), and Live 9 all coming into relief. And now, it’s Steinberg’s Cubase 7.

The surprise: these audio tools that seem to do everything keep finding more things to do.

Generally speaking, you have to twist yourself into a pretzel to describe all those “it does this new stuff” features. That’s okay – developers and users alike built a list of stuff they want, and getting it, under-the-Christmas-style in a big pile, is nothing to complain about. But Steinberg has a theme for this version: mixing.

So, with mixing as the focus, they have a new MixConsole, with new channel strips, accompanying EQ and dynamics, all finally integrated into one view. (Oddly, they describe it as “transparent.” So, uh, here’s the thing: digital software mixers are all transparent, unless they follow the recent trend of trying to be less transparent by mimicking the character of analog desks. But, it does look cool.) Cubase has always been a deep, reliable DAW; this fixes a glaring UI oversight. I’ll let the press release explain: “the days are finally over when we opened five plug-in windows per track to get the mix going.” Good. Yes. That’s a good thing.

Okay, that and one other theme: chords. Cubase already had a powerful VariAudio feature; while it falls short of Celemony’s latest offerings, it’s one of the more powerful tools for editing audio as easily as notes, inside a DAW. (As pointed out in comments, maintaining the audio pool in the DAW is a big deal.) The new Chord Track now identifies music’s harmonic structure and then provides chord and scale information to VariAudio-processed MIDI and audio tracks. The idea is editing by chord, working with multiple parts at a time. Remixing and vocal harmonization could benefit from this; it’s one of those things we’ll just have to try out. (Those of us who, cough, did spend all that time studying theory shouldn’t necessarily need this stuff, but then that gets interesting for experimental editing.) Steinberg also says it has added: “Hermode tuning technology [that] adjusts flaws of traditional well-tempered scales through dynamic retuning.” Interesting.

Cubase also adds more in the box, from loops to additional instruments.

You’ll get the full version soon, on December 5, so I expect that’ll be a better time to look at it in detail. But here are the features in brief, with images:

  • MixConsole with integrated EQ/Dynamics.
  • Full-screen mode for MixConsole. (Nice.)
  • Channel Zones, View Sets for more mixing view controls, improved tools for linking parameter controls.
  • As before, VariAudio for MIDI-style note-by-note editing. (I’m torn on this. It’s cooler and more powerful than what Ableton Live can do in Live 9. On the other hand, Live 9 feels different because of the Session workflow. On the other hand, Celemony’s tools are more powerful than either. I sense a round-up coming…)
  • New channel strip modules: “high and low-pass filters, noise gate, four-band StudioEQ, three compressors, a spectrum analyzer, tube/tape saturation, a brickwall limiter, maximizer, plus 150 factory presets, created by US producer Allen Morgan.”
  • New Remote Control Editor with support for Mackie Control, Avid Artist Series, etc. (Nice to see Avid hardware support in Cubase – an an interoperable approach here in general. Hope to look into that more)
  • More processing: “Voxengo’s studio-grade 64-band spline CurveEQ, EBU R128 standard compliant loudness metering and the latest version of MixConvert for individual downmixes in unmatched quality.”
  • And all the new harmonic features, described above: a chord track, and chord-based editing.

US$599.99 retail; artist edition US$329.99.
Free downloadable upgrades for anyone who has activated 6.5 since the 25th of October.

(So, then there’s Apple. I really do expect we’ll see a new Logic one of these days.)

Chord analysis offers a new way of seeing tracks – and editing multi-track parts and harmonizations.

The new channel strip, accompanying the redesigned MixConsole.

  • JJ Mitchell

    I think the interface looks very unprofessional and cheap! Terrible fonts and colours…

  • Marc Lorenz

    Funny, I just wanted to say, the UI looks quite nice and clean with the 3d look not being too cheesy.

  • gesslr

    The mixer is butt ugly IMHO. Maybe it will look better on a monitor than in the videos, but it really is unappealing to me personally. YMMV

  • Clyde September

    Beautiful mixer – cannot wait to upgrade! … is that really what a DAW review has come down to..eyecandy?
    Couple of “incorrect” statements in article though

    a) The original integrated Variaudio offers the same functionality as the old Melodyne plug-in, in addition to other host refinements such as not needing to record to separate audio pool
    b)By integrating the midi chord tool with audio capability opens up production techniques other DAWs have yet to even consider.

    Lastly – the world of the Digital Audio Workstations is getting complex, personally I find many articles or writers are not up to the task of doing a thorough job of reviewing the available tools. Let’s see if the full review will be any better…

    • Peter Kirn

      I didn’t have any advance notice on Cubase 7. I’m just reporting on what features they announced today. No idea what you mean about eye candy, though; I didn’t even mention aesthetics.

      Otherwise, agree with what you’re saying. New Celemony tools offering editing of polyphonic audio is substantially different, however.

  • eric

    looks nice to me, too bad I finally switched to logic. the transition was rough enough I probably will not switch back.

    “uh, hereโ€™s the thing: digital software mixers are all transparent”

    one thing I have to argue with, there is no such thing as a transparent mixer, anything you run your audio through will color its sound, software is no different. the same track will sound different in each DAW if you have the monitors and the ears to hear it. admittedly, they are good enough these days that you have to have a pretty good audio chain to worry about this.

    but really, that’s like saying digital audio processing has reached perfection, when it most likely never will.

    • PaulDavisTheFirst

      i think you’re confused. there is no doubt that the A/D and D/A process will “color” the sound (though there may be room for a legitimate argument as to whether you can hear the differences). there is no doubt that the speakers and analog amplification used for listening will “color” the sound.

      but you can run a digital signal through an infinite series of digital processors without any requirement that the signal is changed in any way at all. its perfectly possible to construct an incredibly complex digital signal route that still obeys the “bits in equal bits out” rule. and this is what peter was referring to.

      now, if the digital side actual does any actual processing on the sound – you know, changing it somehow – then sure, it will “color” the sound in ways that could be specific to the designof the code used to do this. that’s hardly a surprise – that’s why you’re using the processing elements in question. but as far as simple mixing going, the idea that adding several numbers together (which is all that every current digital mixing process does) changes the signal in any way (unless you clip) is wrong.

    • Peter Kirn

      Right, exactly. Now, they were talking in a related context about EQ and Dynamics, but then the question of what transparency means becomes muddy.

    • Tom Maisey

      Uh, when all a mixer does is pass through a series of 1s and 0s, I think you can say it is perfectly transparent. Any difference you hear between DAWs if you were playing, say, a WAV file without any processing, is much more likely to be due to your own bias.

      Btw that’s not a slur against you, ‘audio placebo’ is a perfectly natural and well-documented phenomenon, that, like medical placebo, can be as ‘real’ any real audio effect.

    • C.LYDE

      Just a quick comment, you cannot argue transparent evaluation and the “tools”you using are your ears and monitors. Think logically – have you ever had your hearing evaluated? Are your monitors identical?…equal impedance per driver and cone wear?

  • Peter Kirn

    There’s a consensus emerging in comments, that the interface either looks brilliant or s***. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • iOS Musician Blog

    I think the mixer looks awesome. of course, that’s the most important part. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • rumdrum

    I was waiting for this upgrade, and especially the new mixer as the “old” one needed redesign. Among many things I was hoping for a better solution on how to add and rearrange busses. Alas it is the same solution as before, exept for FX busses that now can be generated directly in the mixer. Why all the space for CB’s built in pluggs? They are normally inferior to the ones I already own from 3. party suppliers. I would like to see a mixer GUI where THEY are displayed better. Now the mixer has moved in the opposite direction, less focus on 3 party software, perhaps inspired by Logic? The new GUI is NOT to my liking. What is the use of a picture of a drumset in the mixer? What kind of child have they listened to? Seems like Steinberg is more concerned with colors and lame graphics than functions usable to produce music. Let’s make round corners on the events, let’s make the colors fade. Does that really matter? I did not like CB 6 very much as I thought is was a wrong turn from SX, CB 4 and 5. CB7 seems to take the wrong turn even a step further. Do Steinberg really have contact with the customers/users that knows production or have they grown big with R&D dept. on another planet? Guess I’ll change to Protools now. I just downloaded the demo for PT 10.

  • John Baker

    I hope you’re right about Logic. I’m getting tired of looking at all these nice, new DAWs and not hearing peep from Apple. I hope they don’t pull a Final Cut X…

  • E K

    I think it looks great! :)

    Now just have to decide on which to upgrade – Ableton or Cubase? hmmm….not enough $$$ around this time of year….

  • Attic

    I dont care about the paint job but the chord tools have my attention.

  • Henry

    Haha, the never ending dispute about whether a piece of software looks great or, well, not so great is amusing me every time. This one here is no exception. However, what I find rather interesting is that I never made friends with Cubase to an extent that I do read all these reviews with great interest, but never even think about trying it. There must be something to it e.g. with that VariAudio thing, but the whole package seems so unappealing – I can’t even really tell how and why.
    In fact, I never really made friends with Live either. I’m a so long term Logic user that I even remember those good old days, where the guys that later became Steinberg were in the same team at Emagic. Or was it the other way round? Anyway, my point is: I recently switched to Reason and I miss gazillions of small nice features and details from Logic. But it is so unrivalled intuitively inspiring (for me) that I’ve never looked back ever since (only to move some demo tracks from Logic into Reason and actually finish them as songs in there).
    And no, I don’t like the idea that you can do *everything* with a DAW. I sold my Virus, because it was overwhelming. I simply lost focus. And what I see here is the same.
    Well, it’s a blessing that there ar so many alternatives out there.

    And PS: I never understood that black/charcoal-grey look. I think it’s rubbish – also in good ol’ Logic.

  • JK

    Looks like we are going back to the analog Poti-battle? Why do we still try to emulate Poti knobs in Software? In my opinion it’s the most difficult GUI-element to control by mouse. Things that works great in real life, doesn’t have to be the first choice in virtual world…..