Review: Cubase 9.5

In many ways, Steinberg’s Cubase is the grand-daddy (or-mammy) of all Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) and it’s hard to believe that the first iterations of this pioneering software were developed for the Atari ST in the techno-prehistory days of 1989.

Each new version brings improvements and new features and Cubase 9.5 is no exception. As usual, the programme comes in several flavours that meet various requirements and price-points.

We’re looking here at the full-fat Cubase Pro in this review.

The headline change in version 9.5 is the move to a double-precision 64-bit mixing engine. I can’t say I’ve noticed any issues with the old worn-out 32-bit Cubase, but the extra headroom available should mean that you can stop worrying about the bits and more about the whole. The number of VST insert effects that you can use has doubled and you can instance these pre- or post-fader – but you can also dynamically adjust the mix between the two settings. I’m not sure how useful this will be yet, but you can’t fault Steinberg for giving you all the possible options! Automation gets an update with some easy-to use curve facilities and a new range tool that improves automation editing workflow. I’ve been waiting for something like Direct Offline Processing for a while as it allows you to non-destructively render plug-in chains – or events – to help de-stress your CPU, something that’s sorely required on my ageing Mac Pro. There are some new Zones as well – the Right Zone features a new file browser with preview facilities and the Control Room Zone that covers cue and monitoring mixes. There’s also a useful new section that displays information about the levels and loudness of your mixes.

One of the most important parts of a DAW is one that is often overlooked or difficult to use – or even find – yet one that is especially important for those of us that write music that strays beyond the one hundred and twenty beats, four-four norms. The new metronome in Cubase is brilliant and comes with its own accent editor, making it a doddle to get useful rhythmical assistance no matter what the subject matter of your concept album. As you may expect from the inventors of the Virtual Studio Technology, some of Cubase’s VSTs have been updated in version 9.5. The Vintage compressor and Tube compressor have received visual and sonic overhauls as has the Magneto tape saturator. I haven’t used the latter for a while, but I was surprised how useful it was to help ‘glue’ elements of a mix together. The compressors are easily as good as most third-party software offerings now, and lose little sonically in comparison to my UA 1176 hardware unit. They just sound different, is all.

The bundled HALion Sonic SE synthesiser plug-in is supplemented with the FLUX wavetable library. I had quite a bit of experience with early wavetable synthesisers, especially the PPG Wave, and Yamaha’s (and Dave Smith’s) Wavestation, but the wavetables available here and the processing offered are, compared to those veritable machines, akin to what Concord is to the Wright Brother’s Kitty Hawk. If you’re a film composer or sound effects editor, the library offers rich-sonic pickings that easily stands up in quality to some libraries costing the same as the upgrade to 9.5 alone.

One of the nice things about Cubase is that in each iteration, they appear to have listened to their user base in a way other competitors sometimes do not. An example of this is the new Adapt to Zoom feature. If you are – as I am – constantly zooming in and out during a session, it’s incredibly frustrating when you have to deal with different levels of resolution when moving things around. If you zoom in you want fine movement – zoom out and you want it more grid-snappy. Happily, this all happens automatically under the hood in version 9.5, and it has improved my editing workflow to no-end. There’s a new video engine that appears to be part of an ongoing project to improve video support for the ‘music with visual’ composers amongst us and tweaks to the Sampler track that was introduced in version 9. Support for the Softube 1 console hardware controller will be added in the next maintenence update, alongside a brace of ‘production presets’ you can use as jumping off points for your own work.

As Apple appear to be approaching the ‘no wires or ports’ paradigm for their computers, the day may soon come when many of us are forced to move to the Microsoft Windows platform. To those I say “do not be a-feared”. Cubase will be awaiting you with open arms, oodles of power and a familiar workflow.For those already using Cubase, the upgrade is essential, and for those using competitor DAWs or thinking of moving platforms, the unique features of Cubase will delight you. I suspect that version 10 will appear on the 30th anniversary of the software in 2018 and I’m looking forward to the undoubted surprises that Steinberg will have in store for us.

Key Features

  • 64-bit mixing engine
  • Direct Offline Processing
  • Updated video engine
  • New Automation range tool

RRP: £459.00 ($635)

Stephen Bennett has been involved in music production for over 30 years. Based in Norwich, he splits his time between writing books and articles on music technology, recording and touring, and lecturing at the University of East Anglia.