I'm afraid that this is an unwieldily long review, and even at its length, I'm only touching on a few of the countless points worth discussing if you are considering Nuendo or its near-identical sibling Cubase as your primary DAW platform. (Although I use Nuendo, most of what I say here applies to Cubase too. Check Steinberg's website for details.) So let me start by listing in one paragraph some of the more readily-graspable reasons why Nuendo 4.2 is my DAW of choice:
Automatic delay compensation throughout, no matter how much delay is required-the only time it's not 100% automatic is when you "ping" external hardware inserts so that Nuendo can calculate and then compensate for the number of samples it takes an impulse to loop back. Non-proprietary project and audio file formats-I can import, export, and archive without worry. 32-bit floating-point audio engine that allows recording at up to 192 kHz, without fear of unknowingly overloading the mix engine; importing, editing, and mixing to 384 kHz. Integrated elastic-audio editing tools for pitch-shifting, time-stretching, and time-alignment to tempo map, video, MIDI, etc. Easy on the eyes-pseudo-3D is used only where it makes sense, and although color and contrast are customizable, the user interface looks fine out of the box; more importantly, it facilitates the user experience instead of hampering it. Mono outputs-you're not forced to feed mono tracks to stereo outputs, where panning-law can inadvertently change levels; this is otherwise a dealbreaker if you're mixing out of the box on a large-format console. Comprehensive tools for managing project and media files, including a powerful renaming scheme that allows you to quickly record a bunch of songs, takes, or sections of a score into one project, and then rename and organize the media files later. (The geek in me wishes the renaming system allowed use of UNIX-style regular expressions.) Built-in workflows for backing up projects without wasting disk space for unused media. Almost everything within the interface-window layouts, key commands, zoom levels, menus, etc.-is customizable, and it's relatively painless to switch between user schemes or even move them between workstations. The ability to open more than one project (and specify which one is active) so you can copy/paste between projects. Cross platform-works on Mac OS X 10.4+ and Windows 32-bit XP and Vista. (There is a technical preview for 64-bit Vista, so you know there's a roadmap for the future.) Works with pretty much any interface-on Mac, anything Core Audio, including built-in I/O; on Windows, anything DirectX or ASIO, although the latter will give you lower latencies. With hardware that supports ASIO Direct Monitoring in Windows, Nuendo-controlled near-zero-latency monitoring, independent of host-buffer size. Okay, moving on to some detail now...
Nuendo's audio interface configuration can be daunting; settings are spread across multiple panes/tabs within multiple windows. On Windows, there's the added complication of driver-specific control panels with buffer-size settings and such. My PC has two interfaces: an M-Audio ProFire Lightbridge (Tape Op #57) with 34 channels of I/O, and an RME HDSPe MADI card (#63) with 64 channels. Because of Nuendo's extremely flexible routing capabilities, initial configuration took quite some time to get right. Even if you don't take advantage of the customization here (renaming I/O ports/buses, setting send/return gains, etc.), if you have many channels of I/O like I do, you are greeted
by an array of scrollable menus popping up from a vast, multi-page, text-based chart of connectivity options; and it takes a good deal of mousing/clicking to create buses and assign ports to them. Surprisingly, there seem to be no real shortcuts to do a sequential range of assignments, like other applications offer you. There are presets, and Nuendo 4.2 attempts to create a bunch of "smart presets" on the fly for your selected interface; but even these presets do not offer total relief because it's impossible to re-order buses (you can delete and add but you can't move) once you've instantiated a preset. Furthermore, there are separate preset banks for input, output, and studio configurations, to which you can save/restore your own settings. But there are no presets for external FX inserts (e.g., I/O loops that you want to make patchable for analog processors) and external instruments, nor are there for Group and FX buses. I wish there were one global preset bank for everything I/O related, which would simplify matters greatly. Furthermore, as you move between projects, diligence is key in making sure your I/O settings are correct for each project because some settings remain unaltered while others get recalled when you open a previously-saved project. MIDI configuration could have been just as daunting if not for an easily-understandable graphic layout (with directional arrows for data flow) for adjusting MIDI, synchronization, and machine-control parameters. But all this about setup complexity is a consequence of Nuendo being highly configurable for your specific preferences, more so than most applications. Also, an added benefit of the multi-faceted I/O scheme is that I/O buses don't disappear when you move your project from one workstation to another; buses-and the assignment of track inputs, sends, inserts, and output buses-travel with the project, no matter what hardware is available. The buses in turn can be assigned to physical device ports. When you change computers or change audio devices, you're not forced to hunt down all the broken connections in the application's mixer as you have to do in a less-configurable application like Pro Tools. Instead, you just reassign your buses appropriately to the device I/O that's available. (It's worth noting here that you can assign multiple output buses to single device outputs. And if this brings up the concern of overloading device outputs, note also that all the i/o buses have their own faders with level control, so again, you don't have to make changes in the application mixer that you'll have to undo when you move between computers.)
Once the buses and device I/O are set up to your liking and you're in Nuendo's main project window or mixer, things are much more straightforward. Per-track bus assignment is easy, and thankfully, there are a number of range-specific shortcuts for making multiple assignments at once. Also, version 4 of Nuendo has vastly improved intra-application routing. For example, you can now route the output of Group or FX tracks to the input of an Audio track; not only is this a crucial feature for mixing out to stems (an absolute requirement for post-production, but also quite handy if your mastering engineer prefers working with stems), but it also allows you to print the result of plug-ins or external processors on groups or effect returns, and then edit them as actual audio events (as opposed to "freezing" the track to free up resources). Additionally, groups can now be routed to other groups via outputs or sends without the previous requirement of destination groups being "to the right" of the source group in the mixer. Plus, Group channels can now be directly routed to FX channels and vice versa, and audio channels directly to FX channels. (Why these limitations existed in previous versions is beyond me.)
Despite all this routing flexibility (or maybe because the physical I/O abstractions are handled elsewhere in the application), Nuendo's Mixer window is easy to grasp. Three frames, each of which can be hidden, show input buses, tracks, and output buses. Unlike those in Pro Tools, input and output buses in Nuendo are just like other audio tracks in that they have a full complement of controls (sends, inserts, panners, faders, etc.). In fact, they are represented as (and operate pretty much like) normal fader channels, with some understandable limitations (e.g., input buses don't have sends). Each fader channel has four parametric bands of built-in EQ (quite handy if you're not doing anything outlandish in terms of sound-shaping), and there are eight sends and eight insert slots per channel. Metering is very well done. As well as the aforementioned Audio, Group, and FX channels, there are MIDI, VST Instrument, and Rewire channels.
Moving on, most operations in Nuendo are completed in the Project window. As with most DAWs, you'll find a two-dimensional track/event work area. Above that is a very useful project overview that contains a zoomed-out image of all the events and parts in the project. You can click and drag on this area to navigate quickly through your project, and depending on what "hot areas" you click, there are different zooming behaviors-incredibly handy. Also very useful (and difficult to give up once you realize its power) is an info line just above the overview that not only displays details about the selected event, but also allows immediate editing of most of the listed parameters right there. On the far left is the Inspector. Click on a track and all of the mixer-channel controls become available in the Inspector, with clickable headers to bring up each section of controls. Version 4 adds Quick Controls, a customizable section that lets you add in and change automatable parameters of your choice. Tracks in the event area can be individually expanded (vertically zoomed) by dragging on track boundaries, or you can use a global track-height menu to change all track heights. There are also customizable hotkeys to handle all forms of zooming. Each track can be expanded to include one or more automation subtracks, and you're not limited to viewing only one automation track at a time. Also, audio events and parts (aggregated events) can overlap each other, and when they do, you have the option of seeing the overlaps (with "highest layer" event regions getting audio playback priority) on a single lane, or you can enable multi-lane view on the track to see each "take" in its own lane. In multi-lane view, the track event closest to the bottom of the screen, at any given time, has playback priority and masks any events in lanes above it. Multi-lane view greatly facilitates comping (compositing many takes into a single master playback edit), but unfortunately, the fact that the bottommost event always plays back can be problematic at times. To silence areas between events or parts in the final comp, you could edit out (or mute) the events/parts in the other lanes during areas of silence, but this workaround breaks down if you want to work with multiple comps on a track or if you're one of many mixers working on a shared project file and each of you wants to edit and save a different comp without affecting the other comps. Similarly, if you slip the bottommost event in time, the playback of the track will of course change, so you'll need to copy that event to an even lower lane if you don't want to move the original event. Effectively, Nuendo's multi-lane implementation pretty much makes it impossible to edit and store multiple comps on a single track. There is a multi-lane Parts Editor that does provide much better comping capabilities, but it's in a separate pop-up window. In the end, I do think that Nuendo's multi-lane editing is better than single-lane-only (Pro Tools), but I'd rather see a simple multi-lane manual-comping scheme like TASCAM MX-View's virtual tracks or the multi-playlist view in the upcoming Pro Tools 8 integrated in the main project window.
Otherwise, editing in Nuendo is a very efficient process. Events and parts have overall-volume and fade-in/out handles, so you can just grab them and reshape the event's volume envelope; when you do, the rendered waveform changes accordingly on screen. Crossfades are easy too; just butt up two events, swipe the area for the crossfade with the range-selection tool, then hit the X key. Because the actual crossfade is computed in real-time during playback, you can time-slip the events, and the crossfade will self-adjust. No awkward deleting and recreating of crossfade regions required. If you want to get all geeky, there's a crossfade editor window with a ton of parameters. Generally speaking, even though I've spent less time with Nuendo than Pro Tools, I find editing in Nuendo to be more intuitive, more precise, and faster.
Automation in Nuendo 4 is drastically improved over previous versions, and it better supports the use of external control surfaces. Coming from the world of automated recording consoles, when I first saw the automation in version 3, I thought it was a joke, to put it bluntly. Arming a track for automation would arm all the controls, so even if all I wanted to do was ride a fader level, I'd find yourself inadvertently flattening whatever automation was written for other controls, like send levels. Thankfully, Nuendo 4 fixes this misdesigned malfeature and many others too. You can now arm individual controls for automation. Another critical newly-implemented feature is Fill (Fill to End, Fill to Punch, Fill to Start, etc.) so that when you "let go" of a control, the control level is held appropriately. Moreover, version 4 correctly implements the concept of "virgin territory" where no automation has been written yet. You can also assign different automation modes to different tracks if desired, instead of being limited to a single global mode at any given time. My favorite new automation feature is Preview mode, which allows you to preview a control move (as the name implies) with the transport running, without actually writing the automation data. Plus, there are a number of powerful options associated with Preview mode. Furthermore, setting up automation is much easier now with the floating Automation panel. Nuendo went from having quite possibly the worst automation of all major DAWs in version 3 to arguably the best in version 4. Suffice it to say, if you have a control surface or even a single-fader controller like the PreSonus FaderPort (Tape Op #59), or if you're doing post-production, you'll really appreciate the automation features in Nuendo 4.
Mixers working in post-production will also appreciate that Nuendo has great machine control and synchronization options. It supports two 9-pin devices (one of which can be your timecode source), and synchronization modes are comprehensive. There are multiple formats for surround sound, and the entire application is "wired" for surround; every bus, channel, send, group, etc. is capable of handling up to twelve channels-even the many included VST3 plug-ins. For video, Nuendo 4 handles QuickTime (Mac and Windows) and DirectShow/DirectX (Windows only) with a variety of popular codecs. Multi-seat network collaboration features allow multiple editors to work concurrently on the same project. There's even a built-in chat system.
Still, there are numerous major features that I haven't touched upon. For example, Nuendo's virtual Control Room emulates the master section of a large console, with multiple monitoring/headphone buses, external source/recorder inputs, talkback, and a separate click-track bus. Tight integration with Steinberg's just-released FireWire interfaces (MR816-series) allows for latency-free monitoring (in Mac and Windows), even with built-in effects. Also, the VST3 plug-in architecture new in version 4 has significantly expanded functionality, including multi-source side-chaining (unique to VST3 as far as I know), dynamic allocation of I/O, and sample-accurate automation (finally). And speaking of plug-ins, a wide assortment of plug-ins is included; all of the ones I've tried (so many are supplied that I haven't had a chance to use them all!) sound great and are easy to use. The EQs are especially well implemented. And one more feature worth mentioning is Project Logical Editor; it allows logic-based filtering with macro execution. If you have a programmable input device like the Cherry SPOS QWERTY keyboard (Tape Op #56), or even if you just assign normal key commands to macros, you can automate very complex editing behaviors.
I could go on and on about Nuendo's capabilities and usability. But I'll end here by reiterating that Nuendo is my primary DAW. It's the software engine that runs my personal recording studio. Additionally, I use it on my office Mac Pro when I'd rather not power up my big console and racks of gear; and it hums along fine on my 1.7 lb ultraportable laptop when I'm editing on the road. To learn about all the different editions of Cubase and Nuendo, check out Steinberg's website. ($195.99-$2,340.99 MSRP; www.steinberg.net)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.