Close-up: Steinberg Cubase Essential 4

How does this new entry-level DAW shape up?

Launched at the 2008 Winter NAMM show, Cubase Essential 4 is the new entry-level, cross-platform DAW from Steinberg. If you want something a bit more accessible, the company also offers Sequel, but if it’s a full-on DAW you require, this is now the German company’s most affordable solution.

As you might expect, the software is based on the full version of Cubase 4. This being the case, it offers plenty of that application’s functionality.

HALionOne is a General MIDI compatible sample player with patches that are derived from Yamaha MOTIF waveforms, while MediaBay is Steinberg’s sound management utility. Instrument Tracks make it easier to call up and use virtual instruments, while Track Presets can be employed to store complete track/channel settings.

One Cubase 4 feature that you won’t find in Essential, though, is the Control Room, a system that gives you a great deal more monitoring flexibility.

Thankfully, there’s plenty of other new stuff to offset this disappointment: a comprehensive set of VST3 plug-ins; the guitarist-orientated (and self-explanatory) Amp Simulator; real-time timestretching and pitchshifting courtesy of AudioWarp; and the Arranger Track, which will suit people who like the concept of pattern-based music creation.

Cubase Essential 4 is certainly significantly better than Cubase SE 3 – the application it replaces – and at $149/£120, it’s also pretty affordable. It’ll enable you to get a feel for how a ‘real sequencer’ works, and its feature-set is rich enough that you should be able to create productions from beginning to end.

Of course, there are other options available at the entry-level - Cockos’s Reaper, Cakewalk’s Sonar Home Studio 6 and Mackie’s Tracktion 3 should also be considered – but advantage of Cubase Essential is that the skills you’ll learn from using it are easily transferable to other, more powerful software. This isn’t a deal-breaking issue, but it’s certainly one to keep in mind.

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