Steinberg’s flagship Cubase SX is a complete solution for composing, editing and mixing multitrack audio or MIDI via an array of powerful built-in tools. Be warned, though, it has hefty recommended system requirements and a good sound card is essential, preferably one with a dedicated ASIO (Audio Stream Input/Output) driver to keep potential latency issues in check. The package comes with a dongle — a hardware key that ensures SX can only be set up on one PC. It fits into a USB port, so check you have a spare port on your PC.
Cubase SX is a complete system overhaul for Steinberg, from the friendly graphical user interface right down to the engine itself (See here for a screenshot example). Rather than use the previous Cubase engine, Steinberg opted for its own audio-based Nuendo engine, providing superior audio capabilities. The MIDI engine is also new and comes with a 32-bit mixer plus a wealth of plug-ins to enhance composition.
What we really appreciated about the package, though, aside from the superior engine and support for high-quality 24-bit, 96KHz audio, was the added feature set. SX offers some important functions that were missing from previous packages and it is hard to see how users ever did without them. The unlimited undo/redo function is absolutely fundamental when creating music and it works brilliantly in conjunction with the offline process history. This means you can navigate the entire history of a track to any point in time and revert to the saved track. If you don’t like the result of your tinkering, you can always return to the source recording.
One of the most serious problems with all sequencers is that it’s easy to overload your PC, which can result in pops and clicks on the tracks you create. Cubase SX overcomes the problem with offline audio processing. Usually when you mix down audio with plug-ins it is processed in real time, which strains the processor, but the Cubase SX method frees up processor power. You can use the built-in audio editor to add plug-ins much more quickly than mixing down in real time.
Cubase SX does have a slightly steep learning curve, so a little patience may be required before you can fluently move around the software. We were impressed with the sensible addition of user-definable shortcut keys: navigating the software’s various menus and options with a mouse and keyboard is only so fast, and once you are comfortable with SX you will want to use a speedy setup.
The abundance of pop-up windows means the display can get confusing, and Steinberg has not offered support for Windows 98 — but these are small detractions from what is an excellent buy. Some may baulk at the cost, but compared to hiring a professional studio it is worth every penny. Windows 98 users will need to contact MusicLink Australia to obtain the Windows 98 compatible installer. As Cubase SX is designed for Windows XP and 2000, no support will be provided for 98 users.
In brief: Cubase SX
Cubase SX is an incredibly powerful and intuitive sequencer package with superb functionality. It comes loaded with virtual instruments and extras so users won’t need any other software to produce high-quality recordings.
Distributor: MusicLink Australia
Phone: (03) 9765 6565