For various technical and financial reasons I’ll be looking into moving my main working operating system from Mac to Windows. As a direct result I’ll have to stop using Logic Pro X (LPX) as my main DAW of choice, so I’ve been looking around at different options. While there are strong competitors in the form of software such as FL Studio, Ableton Live and Reaper (Pro Tools has been excluded since I mainly work with MIDI), I’m strongly considering moving to Cubase, currently at version 8.5 at time of writing.
To give a small amount of insight into the learning curve I’ve decided to do my best to write up my experiences, specifically from a “LPX to Cubase” mindset and perspective. There are so many “which DAW is better” discussions and I figure the best way I can contribute is to give my honest opinion as I go through the learning curve. There is an editorial bias in that I know that I will have to move away from LPX due to the hardware change, but I’ll be as honest as I can be pending the need to actually like the software I’m talking about.
For my trial I’ll be using the most basic version of Cubase, Cubase Elements, as I’m not able to use a demo of Cubase Pro without having a USB-eLicenser. I’ll talk about this a little later. The demo allows 30 days of unhindered access to the program, so I’ll do my best to make the most of it.
Here’s a summary of what I found from the first day of use:
1) Aesthetics - I’ll admit that things don’t look as ‘slick’ as they do in LPX but honestly I think it’s a great looking program. The default colour scheme (as I don’t know at this point how customisable everything is) has a similar dark feel to LPX but not *too* dark (i.e. unreadable, as occasionally happens with LPX).
2) Regions - not only do I think they look really nice, also like being able to make quick gain alterations to the audio regions (fades & gain), and see the result reflected in real time. I think this will lead to a much more flexible use of other volume controls as there’s a better visual indication of what’s what.
3) MixConsole - this looks and feels like a proper desk, with a huge amount of flexibility. Really looking forward to understanding this better.
4) MediaBay - very interested in how this works; from a sound designer’s perspective this looks to be really malleable to needs and requirements, which I personally felt was lacking from LPX. Time will tell!
1) The official forum feels really old fashioned - having spent a short while on the Ableton Help Pages, which I feel are superb, you can feel the difference in attention spent to user support. I'll be getting to know the online resources better during the learning curve so this may be an unfair statement, but it's my first experience.
2) USB-eLicenser requirement for Cubase Pro, EVEN THE DEMO. This feels really outdated and something that could be replaced by an authentication app or similar. For mobile users the need to sacrifice one USB port just to have a program run feels really unnecessary - especially when the mobile user always has to carry around the USB-eLicenser with them *just in case* they might want to run Cubase.
3) Activating the trial run of Cubase Elements 8 was a complete farce and I'm not entirely sure what actually resolved the issue. When the initial installation finished I was told that I’d need to activate it with a registration number, something that wasn’t given at the point of download. After looking through some forums this seemed to be a relatively common issue, which one moderator unhelpfully dismissed as “Then probably you have already used and ran a Cubase Elements 7 Trial license on that computer”. However, after re-installing things and pressing every button I could find everything worked just fine and we were set to go for the next 30 calendar days.
4) Double-clicking the blank area under the tracks creates a MIDI track, and you don’t seem to be able to load a VST into one (a distinct ‘Instrument’ track needs to be created for that); I need to get my head around what MIDI tracks are actually used for.
From day 1, I've got the following questions:
1) What do I use a MIDI track for, rather than an Instrument track?
2) Is there any way to reduce the silence whenever a new track/instrument is created? I don't know if that's just a programmatic thing or if it's down to the machine running Cubase, but it'd be nice not to have.
3) What are some better navigation commands? I’ve got ‘G’ and ‘H’ for zoom in/out, now to find other ones (i.e. view all selected)...
4) What is/isn’t customisable - key commands, colour schemes, screen sets…
5) What things does Cubase do that LPX doesn’t, which I’ve never considered looking for (unknown unknowns, Mr Powell…).
6) What’s the best replacement for the incredible ‘Make Into Software Instrument…’ option in LPX? As there doesn’t seem to be any native sampler I guess I’ll be using Konkakt for everything, in which case I’ll need to learn to get quicker at making a new sampler instrument out of chopped up samples.
7) What’s the Cubase equivalent of LPX’s ‘Bounce In Place’? (there are going to be other ‘Lost in Translation’ moments of terminology that I’m well aware I’ll have to get used to!)
8) Everything about the score editor! Having not seen it yet I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what I can do with it.
All in all it's been really great to try a new DAW and start getting used to how to do similar things in new ways. That’ll be it for day one - if you’ve got any comments/questions at all please email me and I’ll get back to you; if they’re going to be of interest to others then I’ll include them at the bottom of the article.