Cubase 5 Review: Easy Enough for Amateurs

My parameters for evaluating home audio recording software are simple: 1) Can I figure out how to use it without being an audio engineer? 2) Does it have the features I need to get quality results?

These parameters are, of course, totally open to debate by purists, who would say that no, if you don’t understand the finer points of audio mixing / EQ, mastering, etc. then it doesn’t really matter whether the software has them or not, because you’re the problem, not the software.

But I disagree. This blog is all about indie musicians getting stuff done on their own. And so for me, the signs of a quality product are the ease with which I can approach it for the first time and create a quality recording. With
Steinberg Cubase 5 DAW Software Standard
, that’s exactly what I’ve done, and I’ve been pleased with my initial experiences.

The Song / Recording Project

Recently tasked with re-recording one of my songs to a video of me playing it, I had to find a new piece of software to use. The song is about my experiences as a helper/translator on a medical mission to the Dominican Republic.

My Initial Impressions

Having spent years using Digital Performer, and then briefly trying a demo version of Cakewalk before it kept crashing my computer, I was a little put off by the Cubase 5 track controls. There are a million different little icons around the recording/editing screens and I usually count on these to be totally intuitive, which in this case they seemed much less so. When trying Cakewalk, it was as easy as 1-2-3 to take a look and figure out how the major functions worked. Also, Cubase 5 didn’t automatically identify my MOTU 828 audio interface and configure itself for it, which I would have liked it to do. Cakewalk did this no problem, and Digital Performer (also made by MOTU) worked with it like a charm. Some of the track editing tools and features were less than intuitive as well, though I was quickly able to find tutorials online to show me the way.

Once I read a few tutorials online, though, I was in business. Here are the highlights of my experiences:

Great Presets for Amateurs

When creating a new project, Cubase 5 lets you pre-select from a couple basic project types if you want. Since I was recording an acoustic guitar and voice, I choice the 2 track acoustic/vocal project. The audio tracks came pre-loaded with a whole setup of EQs and effects that I found extremely useful. While I had to go through them one by one to decide which ones I wanted to keep, the acoustic guitar EQs were far more sophisticated than anything I would have been able to generate myself, resulting in the best sounding recording I’ve ever done of my acoustic guitar. I didn’t use the vocal track presets to the same extent, but I saw that there was some pitch-correction and a few other things that I will definitely explore in the future. In the end I think I chose a vocal plate reverb for the vocals and maybe left the EQ inserts on.

Cubase 5 also has pre-configured mastering project templates, effects and all. So once my recording was done, I loaded the stereo file into the mastering project and started tweaking the presets. The dynamics sounded good to me (though what do I really know about mastering?!), and once I figured out how to add a Limiter to the signal processing chain, I was good to go.

Here’s a link to my final recording if you’re interested in hearing what I came up with. It’s in WAV format so it’s about a 59MB download.

Las Matas by Brian Bourque

By the way, I think the crashes I kept experiencing with the Cakewalk demo were because I didn’t have the proper MOTU PCI card drivers installed, not because of the software. My demo has expired though so I’m going to stick with Cubase 5 for now. Peace.

1 thought on “Cubase 5 Review: Easy Enough for Amateurs”

  1. I should also mention that Cubase didn’t crash on me once! Which was a nice surprise. In my experiences over the past 10+ years, audio software has always had a tendency to crash. So it felt good not to be scared of losing my project at any point. Always save, always backup!

    I’m running Cubase on a PC with an Intel Core 2 Duo 1.83 GHz processor with 3GBs of RAM. I’m sure that helps…

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