REVIEW: Steinberg Cubase 11

Music technology author and lecturer Stephen Bennett casts an expert eye over Steinberg’s Cubase 11…

What is it?
The latest version of Steinberg’s venerable Digital Audio Workstation

Whats great?
Useful new features, workflow improvements and bug fixes. Multi-platform availability.

Whats not?
It can appear complex for the new user.

The bottom line:
A ‘no brainer’ upgrade

The verdict
Each release of Cubase brings with it, new features and better ways of undertaking those boring administrative tasks that face all composers and engineers. The latest iteration Cubase 11 is no exception, and It comes, as usual, in three flavours to suite budget and application— Elements, Artist and the subject of this review, the full-fat Pro version.

Cubase 11 continues to bundle more features that you would have, until recently, paid good money for from a third-party company. The Imager is a fully featured stereo processor which allows you to adjust the stereo spread of your audio in four discrete, variable width, frequency bands. A Goniometer displays the effect of the processing and each band has a volume control so you can balance the various levels of each band. I used it to narrow the midrange on some stereo drum tracks, which created a decent stereo spread on the cymbals and toms whilst keeping the rest of the kit fairly mono for a punchier sound. It also worked really well on Keyboards, moving the sonic clutter out of the way of the vocals without using EQ. Speaking of meters, the new Super Supervision is a customisable, fully featured audio analyser plug-in that provides you with full visual metering of level, phase, spectral content and waveforms. I’m old enough to remember when you were lucky to get a VU meter on each channel, so this kind of thing feels like luxury to me.

The new Frequency 2 EQ is an 8-band parametric with some interesting extras lurking under its virtual hood. It has all the conventional features you’d expect from a parametric (variable Q and filter slopes, peak, notch, band, high and low pass filters) while each band can be controlled by an external sidechain. The EQ can work as a ‘normal’ or linear-phase EQ and appeared fairly transparent in action in both modes—it’s not a ‘colour’ EQ. What really makes Frequency 2 special though, is the addition of dynamic EQ. This effectivity works as a frequency-based compressor, working dynamically on the frequencies dialled in. There are familiar Ratio, Arrack and Release controls to fine-tune the processing and I find that this type of EQ is really useful when trying to reduce the effects of unwanted frequencies without changing the overall tonal balance of the audio. It’s a more surgical process than multi-band compression and Cubase 11’s version works well and doesn’t damage the audio in any way.

The Sampler track is slowly being developed into a fully-fledged slicing/loop creation tool. You can slice the audio at controllable transient points, while the Fades and Slicing by grid controls are really useful for cutting up your audio—and you can create your own transients too. Slices are spread across the MIDI keyboard for instant playback or you can drop the MIDI data directly into a Project. Slices can be played back at different ‘qualities’, which gives you plenty of sonic options with your loops. The Vintage mode attempts to emulate that grainy sound we love from old samplers and drum machines. The Legato mode supresses retriggering and, in conjunction with the Glide control, is really useful for creating monophonic TB303-type bass lines and leads. You could spend a lifetime creating music in the new Sampler track.

The creation of stems has become very important in music production and dubbing, a situation exacerbated during the pandemic-induced isolation. Bouncing stems in some competitor DAWs, such as Logic Pro X, is extremely time-consuming, so it’s good to see that Steinberg has addressed this process in Cubase 11. You can queue stems—and many more types of audio files—for batch rendering. It’s also possible to export separate cycle marker sections—which is going to be very useful for those that work in post-production.

There are so many new features in Cubase 11 that this brief review just hasn’t space to cover them all, but the ones described here are worth the price of admission alone. The Squasher compressor (think three-band ‘all buttons in’ 1176), improved Key and Score editors, a new Scale editor and the addition of a cut down Spectralayers editor demonstrates that Steinberg continue to innovate. if you’re coming from another DAW, I think you’ll be impressed at how much Cubase 11 allows you to achieve and just how easily it allows you to achieve it.

Available now – Pro: £499 ($660), Artist £284 ($376), Elements £85 ($113). Various upgrade prices from earlier versions.