For those of you on a budget who are looking to get into high-end, cutting edge digital audio... do I have a tip for you! Recently, Steinberg decided to bundle a "lite" version of their Cubase DAW along with "lite" versions of several VST synths, samplers, and beat instruments into a single package called Studio Case. This cornucopia of software includes Cubase SE, HALion SE software streaming sampler, D'cota SE software synthesizer, The Grand SE software grand piano, Groove Agent SE virtual drummer, and Virtual Guitarist Electric Edition SE virtual guitarist... all for the list price of $299!

For over a month, I've had Studio Case loaded onto my laptop and have found that it's definitely not a toy. Cubase SE is a powerful music production system that works on MacOS X and Windows 2000/XP, and offers support for 48 audio tracks at rates up to 24-bit/96 kHz, MIDI sequencing, eight audio inputs/outputs, VST instrument, VST system link, and ReWire. In fact, for all practical purposes, all I could find lacking from its bigger brothers (Cubase SX and Nuendo 2) is support for surround sound, MIDI scoring, and the ability to add EFX-send plug- ins into the Track List window (although up to 8 master EFX sends can be easily inserted into the channel settings strip). I'm sure smaller difference issues exist, however I just haven't found them... To me, this makes the DAW alone well worth the asking price. But wait, there's definitely more!

Like I said, Studio Case ships with an impressive set of "lite" versions of Steinberg VST instrument plug-ins. HALion SE is a software sampler that can work absolute wonders, even when multiple DAW- related applications are running. Although the SE version can import HALion sample-banks and a wide range of industry-standard sample formats (WAV, AIFF, SF2, REX, LM4, LM4MkII formats), it doesn't let you program and save your own banks (a downside that makes the full version well worth the upgrade cost). Although Groove Agent SE has fewer styles and functionalities compared to the full version, it's still a valuable and expressive percussion/groove tool. Simply match the session tempo to the music, call up Groove Agent, select from several drumming styles, and prepare to be amazed! The Grand SE is basically just that: a killer VST grand piano that seems to be just as high-quality and useful as its full-version. D'cota SE is an analog modeling synth that's loaded with various instruments and pads. Maybe it's just me, but I don't really care for the guitar licks in the Virtual Guitarist EE SE. The licks seem contrived and stiff- but don't take my word for it, match the session tempo to the music and take it for a spin yourself.

I know I've been sounding like an advertisement, but for a retail price of $299, this is far more than a deal. It's practically a steal that gets you started with a DAW that has very few compromises. Everything's file compatible with Cubase SL, SX and Nuendo; and any of the software versions can be upgraded at any time. As a suggestion, those on a budget without an audio/MIDI/controller interface might want to check out the TASCAM US-428 USB interface as a cost-effective, yet powerful companion to Studio Case.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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