Between the time of FL Studio (reviewed in the previous post) and Cubase, I did use a number of lesser known DAWs, but they won't be mentioned here since I used so many, and for such short times, that I can't give a fair assessment of the pros and cons for our purposes. And on a side note, I have only taken a brief look recently at NCH's MixPad, but it looks like a very viable option in the free department! Again however, as with anything from NCH, you can only use it for free if you are not using it for commercial use, in which case you have to buy a license.
CUBASE – I feel like I could write so much on Cubase that I don't know where to start, and that anything I write here won't truly be saying enough.
Admittedly, when I first started using Cubase I was a little unfamiliar with it (or “green” to insert a pun)**, but now 5 years later, I feel like it's an extension of my arms. That being said there is a ton of features in my Cubase Artist 6 that have never even used. So while I don't know how to do everything in Cubase, I know how to do the things I do quite well.
What I use it for
The areas I mainly use Cubase for is sound design and MIDI music production. I also use it for editing, mixing, Foley art, and recording, which includes voice over projects, acoustic and vocal music, as well as audio for video (both animation and live action). I have used Cubase LE4, LE6 and Artist 6, as well as a little of the AI7 version, and a demo of Cubase 7.5.
VST and Third Party Plug-ins
Honestly Cubase Artist 6 goes above and beyond my needs. I can think of a few minor extras I would like to have, such as OMF import and export, as well as VariAudio (different versions of Cubase have a feature called “VariAudio” which is a MIDI piano roll style editor for acoustic sound, very much like Melodyne). These things are luxury extras however, not necessities, and I can easily purchase extra plug ins to handle these tasks if I so choose (by the way Pro Tools lacks the VariAudio/Melodyne feature as well, unless you buy a third party plug in, and unfortunately Pro Tools is not as “third party plug in friendly” as some other DAWs).
VST plug ins work beautifully in Cubase, and with good reason, Steinberg (the company who created Cubase) also created the VST preset standard. Sadly Pro Tools hasn't gotten on the VST band wagon even though practically every other DAW has. (On the upside the Pro Tools AAX is becoming more common, but still inconvenient if you have a nice VST library). But back to Cubase!
The Cubase Mentality
Cubase boasts that it is “designed by musicians for musicians”. While I am a sound designer first, and musician less so, I do feel it is much more intuitive for a musician than most DAWs! Possibly only to be beat in its intuitiveness and ease for musicians by Studio One (a review will come later for that). But I still go to Cubase almost every time. Cubase just seems to do exactly what I want it too, without nonsense, but it is advanced enough that if I want to do something more complicated, I can easily do so. It has a wide variety of instruments and effects, ranging from useful tools to whacky sounds (for those special occasions in non-literal sound design, which is more often then one might think).
Pro #1 - MediaBay
One of the best features is the MediaBay, which is a really cool browser for all your sounds and audio clips, which is amazingly helpful and efficient when loading sound effects into my audio dramas. To those who have never used Cubase, MediaBay could best be described as something similar to Adobe Bridge, only for audio clips and VST plug ins and presets. Pro Tools and Studio One are the only software I have seen with something similar with the Pro Tools “Workspace” and Studio One "browser". Pro Tools' Workspace and Studio One's Browser are much much much more simple. They are more like Windows Explorer than Adobe Bridge. The MediaBay allows you to tag and categorize sounds in a super efficient way. It's helpful for loop based musicians (although I tend to avoid loops) and amazingly helpful for sound design of audio dramas and videos/animations. I am not sure I can fully express how much a time saver MediaBay has been for me. I know that not having this when I work in Pro Tools, does significantly slow down my work flow, and discourages experimentation for lack of time. In Cubase, I will think something like, "I think I need to layer a cow, with an ostrich and a motorcycle with this" and I can almost instantly search my sound effects library for this. I can even search my effects presets if I want to say, layer some specific reverb settings on my sounds. In Pro Tools' Workspaces, it just isn't as easy. I can search names of files etc, but I can't search for example "all of my clips that are in the key of D" or "all the clips made by Natasha Green" (my sister). There's a super useful meta items that Cubase's MediaBay takes advantage of. Anyway, moving on!
Pro #2 - Labeling system
Another cool feature in Cubase is that things are labeled well. You don't need a degree in sound engineering to figure it out (though perhaps some moderate computer knowledge). For example what most DAWs call an “AUX” track is called a “Group” track in Cubase. "Group tracks" just make more sense since they are used for GROUPING not... AUXING. What would AUXING even mean? I know what it means, but my point is, to a layman, it means nothing, so let's stop calling it that.
As well you can stretch waveforms to specific lengths using a version of the cursor labeled almost the same as what I just said. See how logical the labellings is? You don't need someone to tell you what a button does, because it is labeled by a human being and not an android in a science lab :P
Pro #3 - Automation
The automation in Cubase is amazing as well, I can automate everything! EVERYTHING. So much so that I joke that I could probably automate the project to open and close itself if I wanted to. That automation becomes super handy when working with effects and especially in audio drama sound design (most of the same principles apply to video sound design too).
I am trying to be fair and list some cons, but they don't come readily to mind. Except a few small things. The registration process for Cubase is painstakingly confusing the first time, and I have heard has been enough to put people off the program all together. There are a number of YouTube videos from what I understand that explain the process, and I have a walked a few people through it before. Have some patience, and work slowly. I hate to say it, but don't expect to be up and running the first day you get the software. The registration and installation does take some time.
Also, the higher versions require what is called a "dongle". It's like a little USB stick that stores the software license information. It's good in the sense that it allows you to install on more than one computer (two or three maximum I think), but it can be annoying having that extra step and using up another USB port unnecessarily. I leave my dongle for Artist 6 in my studio computer all the time though, so it's never been much of an issue. Just be aware it should be in a USB 2.0 (or higher) port, and avoid putting it in a USB splitter because it may lose connection with the computer and stop Cubase from working.
Also if you are using any version other than "Cubase Pro" (previously known as simply "Cubase") than you don't get the advantage of OMF import/export (for file exchange with Pro Tools, Studio One, Logic, Adobe Audition etc). But that's generally not a big deal to be honest.
Overall I really really really like Cubase (it case you hadn't noticed), and I would really recommend it. It is a paid software, and there are no free versions. The closest thing is getting the LE (light edition) version packaged with an interface or other device (such as the Zoom H4n, which by the way, is a great product). So there really is no way to "try out Cubase" before you get it. I suggest maybe watching some YouTube previews and tutorials on Cubase to see if you think it is for you, before you buy it. Fortunately they have a good upgrading option, so you can always buy Cubase Elements (the lowest version that doesn't come packaged with another product) and upgrade later to a higher version if you feel the need and desire.
*UPDATE* I just looked at Steinberg's website and you can try out a trial version of Cubase Elements without needing a dongle! :D http://www.steinberg.net/en/products/cubase/trial.html.
I have done so many things in Cubase, that practically anything you can find that I did in audio online was done in Cubase. However, here's some examples:
Audio for Video in Cubase - "Blimey Cow - Big Head Kid and the Alien"
Please note: Kevin McCreary and I worked together on the audio for this Blimey Cow video, and he did his work in Pro Tools. So there was a combination of Cubase and Pro Tools used over all. Cubase has a lot of good features for doing audio for video. Although as I practice with Pro Tools more (self proclaimed king of audio post production for film) I find it may be slightly more adept at this.
Everything from recording, to dialogue editing, to Foley, music and sound design for this episode was done in Cubase (mostly in Cubase LE6, but the music and final mix was done in Cubase Artist 6.
Again, everything you hear in this, was done in Cubase Artist 6.
*"Prologue" is the name of an instrument in Cubase.
**To "be green" is an expression that means "to be naive" or "unlearned". Green, is also my last name.