Steinberg Cubase has a long and storied history in the music industry, first appearing on the Atari ST in the late 1980s before migrating to Macs and PCs. The latest version, Cubase Pro 10, is a powerful, ultra-flexible recording environment. It’s particularly well suited for MIDI composition with virtual synthesizers—and is, in our opinion, the smoothest of the major digital audio workforces, or DAWs at this—although it’s also a capable audio editing and post-production tool. Cubase’s mix console remains exceptional as well, particularly thanks to a new Snapshot feature (which we’ll get to below).
Cubase 10 received a UI refresh across the board, with a Dark Mode look to the proceedings that I prefer; the program also supports 4K and Retina-class displays better than it did previously. The refresh extends to most of the bundled plug-ins, which is always welcome—at least as long as all the controls aren’t rearranged for no good reason!
Cubase Pro’s strong MIDI roots are immediately evident. The Key Editor is simply wonderful. You can do just about anything during playback, including switching editing tools, deleting notes, and adjusting other notes. The Inspector offers transpose, quantize, length, and other useful tools that are easier to access here than in competing sequencers. A lane across the bottom makes it virtually instantaneous to edit volume or other MIDI control data. The floating Transport Bar is fully customizable; it’s easy to pop in or out individual modules as needed. The Harmony Generation and Chord Track help you harmonize vocals and assist in putting together chord progressions, something that some other DAWs have yet to implement effectively.
New for version 10 is VariAudio 3, a revamped iteration of the company’s tool for manipulating the pitch and time of audio. VariAudio 3 now includes the ability to edit at a micro-pitch level for more precise control of a vocalist’s drifts and transitions, and you can adjust the format shift to adjust the timbre of a voice after the fact. You still can’t manipulate polyphonic arrangements this way, but there’s still more on that front. For building complex vocal harmonies, a new Audio Alignment feature helps you sync them all together to a reference track, not just for the start of the audio but for the timing of each phrase. If you find fault with its choices, you can still make manual adjustments.
A relatively new addition is the Lower Zone, which lets you lock the Piano Roll editor, Mix console, or anything else you want below the arrange window. This was something Cubase had needed for a while, and it’s a feature that brings the UI more in line with competitors like Logic Pro X. By switching between cursor tools using the number keys, and by using Cubase’s various shortcuts that make workflow more quickly, I find it easier to play in, lay down, edit, and arrange MIDI clips with Cubase more than any other DAW. Dedicated buttons let you turn scrolling during playback on and off, and even whether you want the view to stop scrolling when you start editing.
Cubase Pro’s Score Editor includes enough notation tools that many people won’t need separate notation software. In addition to comprehensive symbol support, it also supports lyrics, drum notes, guitar tabs, and lead sheets, and it can import and export XML files. The Drum Editor and List Editor make quick work of editing rhythm and MIDI events, respectively, though the main Key Editor is so good that I rarely find myself opening these windows.
Recording audio, either from live instruments or virtual plug-ins, is a pleasure. The 64-bit audio engine supports 5.1 surround sound and 32-bit, 192KHz recording—still overkill for just about everyone—and has no instrument, MIDI, or audio track limitations, unlike the Editors’ Choice Avid Pro Tools. It’s simple to quantize audio material, and even to distribute sound to different musicians with Control Room. VariAudio is good enough to patch up off-key vocal lines at least via the Sample Editor, if not in real time (like Pitch Correct), which is more accurate anyway.
For comping an audio track, Steinberg includes a dedicated, drag-and-drop-based Comp Tool, which speeds up assembling takes and lets you create new tracks on the fly. Combine this with Cubase’s group editing, and you can quickly execute backing vocal edits or even multitracked drums. There are separate track and lane solo functions, plus a Cleanup-lanes command to eliminate event overlaps in one shot. Recording automation moves is equally smooth, with its easily triggered read, touch, write, and latch modes. PreSonus Studio One is also pretty sweet for fast audio editing workflow, although my preference here will always remain Pro Tools (despite needing additional steps for some tasks).
It’s easy to see why Cubase has such a loyal fan base after all these years. Our Editors’ Choice for PC-based recording software remains Avid Pro Tools, which is slightly more expensive than Cubase Pro but features the smoothest audio recording, mixing, and post-production in the business, plus the ability to scale to the largest of professional studios in terms of integrated hardware and service and support policies. Apple Logic Pro X, our Editors’ Choice on the Mac side, is an unbelievable value at just $199.99. And if what you’re looking for is to record podcasts, you may be better served by an audio-only-focused app like Adobe Audition.
Despite those options, Steinberg Cubase Pro remains a compelling prospect. Existing 9.5 users may not feel a pressing need to pull the trigger for a $99.95 upgrade, thanks to the dearth of headlining new instruments, but we usually find UI and workflow improvements worth it in the end. We’ll always balk at intrusive hardware dongle copy protection, because most competing DAWs get by without, not to mention almost the entire rest of the PC and Mac software industry. And the competition has become incredibly strong, including powerful programs at much lower prices like Reaper and the aforementioned Logic Pro X. But Cubase has always been a powerhouse digital audio workstation, even before the latest round of welcome improvements. Now, fans have even fewer reasons to switch away.