Michael Romanowski, Alan Tubbs, and I reviewed the December 2018 release of Cubase 10 [Tape Op #131] last year. On time with its annual half-point release schedule, Cubase 10.5 was published at the end of 2019, and this version includes a number of new features that have been at the top of many wish lists. Let's talk about some of my favorite.
Cubase Pro is my primary DAW, and I prefer recording, editing, and mixing in Cubase over Pro Tools. In discussions with Cubase-curious recordists, I'm often asked how I handle transferring track settings between projects. Pro Tools has a comprehensive (albeit clunky) Import Session Data function that lets you choose which tracks and settings you want to copy into your current session from another session – and what portion of those settings you want to apply to existing tracks. Before Cubase 10.5, duplicating settings from one project's tracks to another project's tracks required various workarounds, which were very tedious to implement for mix engineers working on songs with dozens or even hundreds of tracks. Cubase Pro 10.5 introduces a vastly reworked Import Tracks from Projects feature that eases your workflow when you move from one finished song to a song that's only partially complete. Import Tracks is not as granular as the corresponding function in Pro Tools, but I found it crucial in a recent remixing session for Chris Brokaw Rock Band. We made a number of drastic changes to how the vocals and bass tracks were being treated on one song – track EQ, inline plug-ins, auxiliary effects, and groups – and it was much easier to duplicate those changes onto the corresponding tracks of other songs. I know that the lack of an easy-to-use, auto-mapping, track-import feature was a showstopper for many mix engineers who were considering a switch to Cubase or Nuendo [Tape Op #133] from Pro Tools. Cubase Pro 10.5's Import Tracks improvements might be persuasive enough for many of these reluctant engineers to make the move, and I can only assume that Steinberg will continue to improve the function until it eventually rivals what's available in other DAWs.
Another feature that Pro Tools users have taken for granted that is now in Cubase 10.5 is Combined Selection Tool mode. Previous versions of Cubase required you to explicitly choose between various tools, including the Object and Range tools, to make edits in the timeline view. In 10.5, with the new mode enabled, the cursor switches its functionality by context. For example, regardless of whether the last operation used the Object or Range tool, if you hover over the upper corners of an audio event, you can edit the fade-ins/outs with the Object tool (arrow cursor). Hover over the bottom corners, and you can change the bounds of the event, also with the Object tool. If you click and drag along the top half of an event, part, or track, you make a Range selection (caret cursor). Do the same along the bottom half, and you move or select events. Unfortunately, things can get dicey when you're mousing quickly and the automatic tool selection doesn't seem to be keeping up, and you end up selecting a Range even though the arrow cursor is seemingly active for Object selection. With that said, I've gotten so accustomed to hitting the 1-7 keys on my keyboard to manually switch between tools, that the new Combined mode requires me to think too much about upper and lower halves of a track. But if you're a regular user of Smart Tool mode in Pro Tools, you'll appreciate the Combined Selection Tool in Cubase 10.5.
For as long as I can remember, Pro Tools has allowed you to color/shade the track controls so you could more readily differentiate between tracks visually. Previous versions of Cubase offered track-control shading, but only in the Project timeline view. In Cubase 10.5, you can now see track shading in the MixConsole window, which eases visual identification of tracks and groups, especially when toggling between timeline and mixer views.
I don't want to make anyone think that Cubase 10.5 is just playing catch up to Pro Tools. On the contrary, I think that Steinberg is ahead of Avid in offering innovative and useful built-in tools that make our recording and mixing tasks easier to accomplish. For example, Cubase 10.5 includes a spectral comparison EQ; if you're familiar with iZotope Neutron [Tape Op #121], you'll appreciate how visual renderings of the frequency content of two competing instruments/sounds in a mix can facilitate how you EQ those elements to reduce frequency-domain "collisions" that can muddy or blur the mix. Furthermore, if you've used third-party plug-ins that offer LUFS (Loudness Unit Full Scale) metering, you'll love how Cubase 10.5 allows you to normalize audio events and tracks by LUFS versus peak level, especially if you do a lot of post-production for video and film. Exporting to time coded MP4 video is also new in 10.5.
If you find yourself auditioning a virtual instrument and then realizing you should've recorded the part, you'll appreciate the improvements to Retrospective MIDI Recording. There are now track-specific MIDI buffers, so you can immediately insert what you performed onto the corresponding instrument track. Or, if you were jamming while looping in Cycle mode, you can easily insert the parts you liked best from the cycled takes, even though you weren't officially recording. Moreover, the Retrospective Recording function can now be accessed directly from the Track Inspector and the Transport Bar.
Speaking of Cycle mode – I've always appreciated the ability to navigate the timeline by clicking and dragging on the ruler to jump and zoom fluidly, but every now and then, while interacting with the ruler, I would inadvertently trigger Cycle mode. Cubase 10.5 lets me easily disable Cycle mode, which solves that problem!
MultiTap Delay is a new plug-in that's included with Cubase 10.5, and it's become the first delay effect that I reach for. At the center of the plug-in's window is an intuitive chart-like grid (somewhat reminiscent of a step sequencer's) that lets you add, move, and pan delay taps. Surrounding the grid are the basic time, signal level, and feedback controls you'd expect, plus various expandable sections to access advanced controls for saturation, modulation, sample-rate-reduction, damping, filters, ducking, and stereo width. Adding to the creative potential are insert effects, including an envelope filter, pitch shifter, reverb, chorus, etc., that you can apply to the delay input, any individual taps, and/or the overall output. All this means that you can use this plug-in as a basic multitap delay, or you can go all out and design other-worldly sonic textures with it.
Speaking of other-worldly textures, also included with Cubase 10.5 is the new Padshop 2 virtual instrument, which adds a spectral oscillator with advanced pitch/time stretching to complement the granular synthesis engine of the previous version. Just going through the presets, I was amazed at some of the beautiful and haunting sounds that Padshop 2 can render. Additional improvements to Padshop include drag-and-drop sample import, comprehensive arpeggiation, two polyphonic LFOs, a third envelope section, and new filter shapes.
There are many more new features throughout Cubase 10.5: enhancements to the Score Editor; new key commands; efficiencies in many of the dialog windows; easier access to track control and project window settings; and so on. As I mentioned earlier, Cubase Pro is my first choice for recording, editing, and mixing; and I'm glad that Steinberg is continuing to add requested features and improve workflows. Each winter, I've happily paid the sensible fee to step up to the latest version, and this year's $60 upgrade to Cubase Pro 10.5 was no exception. You can download a free trial and try it for 30 days, without any feature restrictions.