Steinberg Absolute 5 review

The latest edition of Steinberg’s über-collection adds new plugins, instruments and expansions, but is it absolute hero, or absolute zero?

  • £429
Steinberg Absolute 5
(Image: © Future)

MusicRadar Verdict

A near-perfect combination of Steinberg’s finest instrument plugins coupled with a vast library of expansions and content.


  • +

    Comprehensive collection.

  • +

    Over 130GB of high-quality expansions.

  • +

    Sensible HALion/HALion Sonic combo.

  • +

    Ace Groove Agent/Backbone pairing.


  • -

    No edition that includes every Steinberg expansion.

  • -

    You may need a bigger hard drive.

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Steinberg Absolute 5: What is it?

Although best known for the venerable Cubase – now well into its fourth decade – Steinberg is, these days, much more than just a DAW developer. Of particular note amongst the company’s current crop of products is its collection of virtual instruments, as well as the vast library of content – expansions, sample packs, patches, and what-not – that Steinberg has curated to complement these instruments. 

Versions of these instruments, and elements of the libraries, come with Steinberg’s DAWs, but all are available as individual products too, and will run on any VST-, AU- or AAX-compatible host (some instruments can run standalone too). Kitting yourself out with all of the fully-featured versions of these instruments, and stocking up on content for them, would be quite painful on the wallet if it weren’t for the Absolute collection, the latest update of which is now available.

Super samplers

A big chunk of Absolute 5 is given over to HALion, Steinberg’s advanced sampling and sound design platform. The collection includes both the fully featured HALion 6 and HALion Sonic 3. 

Steinberg Absolute 5

(Image credit: Future)

While both are built on the same core technologies, HALion Sonic acts only as a host for HALion-compatible instruments, allowing you to play them and work with their control panels, whereas HALion itself allows you to design and build those instruments and control panels too. 

Including both in the Absolute collection makes a lot of sense, giving a phenomenally powerful instrument creation workshop to create sounds, and a more lightweight player with which to create music.

Steinberg Absolute 5: Performance and verdict

The library of HALion instruments included in Absolute 5 includes everything from the previous version of the collection, which includes all of the HALion and HALion Sonic factory libraries, a number of different analogue-style and pure digital synths, the excellent Eagle and Raven grand pianos, and much more besides (the full list is available on Steinberg’s website). 

Steinberg Absolute 5

(Image credit: Future)

New to Absolute are Amped Elektra, sampled from a rare and fully restored Hohner Electra electric piano, and Electric Bass which combines samples and physical modelling techniques to deliver convincing emulations of classic Jazz, Precision and MusicMan bass guitars.

Steinberg Absolute 5

(Image credit: Future)

If beats are more your thing then Steinberg’s excellent drum and rhythm workshop, Groove Agent 5, is for you. Groove Agent is a massively flexible, multi-engined drum sample and pattern player that’s as happy working with contemporary sounds and beats as it is creating realistic articulation-based acoustic drum sounds and grooves.

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All of the Groove Agent libraries and kits that were included in Absolute 4 are here, such as Rock Essentials, Raw Power and Prime Cuts. A new addition to the collection is Future Past Perfect, a collection of house and techno sounds and styles by producer/DJ Dean Coleman.

On the synthesiser front, Absolute 5 includes both Retrologue 2 and Padshop 2. Whilst not based on any specific synthesiser, Retrologue is a distinctly vintage three-oscillator analogue synth that combines the best elements of classic synthesisers with a number of modern features, such as advanced modulation routing, a step-sequencer/arpeggiator, and a flexible FX section. New here is the Sounds of Soul expansion containing more than 400 soul-inspired presets.

Steinberg Absolute 5

(Image credit: Future)

The versatile Padshop specialises in complex, evolving sounds, which it creates via a pair of sample-based engines that can run in either a granular or a spectral mode. Three expansions are included with the regular Padshop factory libraries: Granular Guitars and Zero Gravity are carried over from Absolute 4, whilst new to the collection is Polarities. This moody expansion from sound designer Simon Stockhausen features over 250 patches that explore contrasts, both sonic and conceptual, for an eclectic mix of tonal, atonal and mysterious.

Steinberg Absolute 5

(Image credit: Future)

Last but not least we come to The Grand 3, Steinberg’s ultra-detailed piano instrument. This includes over 30GB of exquisitely detailed multisamples taken from a variety of pianos: Yamaha C7, Steinway D and Bösendorfer 290 grands, a Nordiska Pianofabriken upright, and a Yamaha CP80 electric. 

Various aspects of a loaded piano’s sound can be modified, such as the sustain resonance or damper release sound, although the options available depend upon the loaded piano. In addition there’s a four-band EQ to help further hone the piano’s tone, and an ambience section that lets you choose between using algorithmic or convolution reverb.

Steinberg Absolute 5

(Image credit: Future)

Get some backbone

Absolute 5 includes Steinberg’s fascinating drum sampler, Backbone. This hard-to-define tool allows up to eight samples to be layered together, with per-layer filters, envelopes and modulation available, much like a conventional sampler. 

The clever bit is that Backbone can decompose these samples, a process that separates them into noise and tonal elements, which for most drum sounds equates to the transient and sustain portions, respectively. You can then work to rebalance these components within the sound, use one component without the other, or blend together decomposed components of different samples. 

This all adds up to a tremendously effective way to create utterly original drum sounds; it’s very effective at creating special effects too.

Steinberg Absolute 5

(Image credit: Future)

Although intended primarily for creating drum sounds, Backbone is excellent for creating special effects too. What Backbone isn’t though, is a drum machine. So while you could run multiple instances of it, each hosting a different drum sound in order to build up a full Backbone kit, the idea is that you would export your Backbone creations to audio files that could be then used as drum samples. You can also drag a Backbone sound directly to the timeline, or into a plugin that supports it, as Groove Agent and HALion do.

Absolutely fabulous

The plugins included in Absolute 5 are an ideal blend no matter where your particular focus lies: if sound design is your thing then HALion and Backbone will not disappoint; if you’re into building beats and grooves then Backbone will please you too, as will Groove Agent’s take on the classic drum sample workstation; and if all you want to do is create music then everything in the collection will serve you well. 

The plugins included in Absolute 5 are an ideal blend no matter where your particular focus lies

The asking price would be attractive if Absolute 5 only included the plugins, but of course there’s the huge library of content thrown in on top too – you can check out the full list on Steinberg’s website. The quality of these expansions is consistently high, and they are packed full of exciting and inspirational sounds, beats and textures that cover a huge range of genres and styles. Taken together, Absolute 5 is a mightily impressive and deep collection that will often surprise but never disappoint.

MusicRadar verdict: A near-perfect combination of Steinberg’s finest instrument plugins coupled with a vast library of expansions and content.

Steinberg Absolute 5: Hands-on demos

VST Instruments & Plug-ins

Steinberg Absolute 5: Specifications

  • OS Requirements - macOS 10.14.6 or later, Windows 10 or later.
  • Plugin format: mac VST 3, AAX, AU, WindowsVST 2, VST 3, AAX.
  • CPU minimum: Intel Core i series or AMD Ryzen multi-core
  • CPU recommended: Intel i5 or faster
  • RAM recommended: 16GB
  • Hard disk free space: 131GB
  • CONTACT: Steinberg
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