Cubasis for iPad review

Cubsasis is a new iPad DAW from Steinberg. I used to use Cubase as my main DAW on PC before I was converted to Ableton live. It was quite a full featured DAW, and while I have not been keeping up with every version, I have seen that it has been definitely keeping up with the times. It is quite exciting that Steinberg decided to make a version of their DAW for iPad.

The first thing that you will notice when firing Cubasis up is how polished, responsive and intuitive all of the controls feel. It launches and is ready to play in about 5-8 seconds on my iPad 2 (This is very important to me when inspiration strikes). Selecting instruments is done quite easily, and loading them up is very quick and easy. You can really tell Steinberg put a lot of work into making a really great user experience.

Instruments

Everything looks great, but how does it sound you ask? Cubasis comes packed with a lot of instruments, these are sample based Halion instruments, and they do sound great. When adding tracks to the current sequence you can decide if it will be a MIDI (Instrument) track or Audio track. If you add an instrument track, the last chosen instrument will automatically be loaded, and is very easy to change. Tapping on it’s icon brings up a comprehensive list of instruments, sorted by categories represented by icons of the instrument type. I really do wish that Cubasis had a synthesizer also, this would round out the sonic possibilities. Also you can easily change instruments from the track inspector with the plus and minus sounds. Also included in the track inspector are some basic sound shaping controls that let you change the attack and release of the sound.

Effects

Each track can have 3 assignable insert effects and can send a signal to 2 global send effects. The effects in Cubasis sound quite nice, and held up quite well with most of the things I threw at them. They are optimized for little CPU use so there is a little bit of a trade off for quality, but definitely work well for most applications.One of the glaring omissions was that you cannot automate the effects in the mixer. The included effects are Reverb, Chorus, Delay, Phaser, Flanger, Filter, Limiter, Compressor, Amp Sim, Overdrive, EQ. As you can see it gives you quite an arsenal to work with. I have a few more complaints about the effects. You cannot reorder the insert effects, so if you decide you want one of your effects earlier in the chain you have to remove them and re-add them, which brings me to another complaint. I don’t see a way to save effects presets, so in this scenario, there can be quite a bit of reprogramming. One more nit-pick about the effects, some of them just have perentages, for example the attack and release on the compressor isn’t in miliseconds, so it is a bit strange to use, also the ratio seems backwards from most compressors.

Mixer

A nice touch is how the editor screens pop up from the bottom of the screen, allowing you to still keep sight of your sequence when editing. The media browser, MIDI editor, keyboard / drum pads, audio editor, and the mixer all do this. If you have used Cubase in the past, then the mixer should look very familiar. All of the channels are well laid out and they have very intuitive controls for pan, mute, solo, insert effects, gain, and arming the track for recording. Another large omission is a lack of flexible routing, I was hoping to be able to create subgroups for different mixes, and to do some more complex effect routing like side chain compression.

Sequencer

The sequencer is well thought out, and contains nice tools like split, glue, copy, paste, etc. This makes it really easy to work with both MIDI parts and Audio parts. You can snap to a grid that you set. It definitely gets the job done and gets out of your way. If I had any wishes they would be to jump forward in the timeline to the end of what you just copied so you could quickly paste, and to be able to set a loop on the current MIDI or Audio part to be able to drag it out and keep looping it like Ableton live does. It is nice to have a pop out tool bar with all the useful functions, and keeps things nice and clean. The major issue I have with the sequencer is no automation lane of any kind. There are a lot of iOS sequencers now, and almost all of them have automation, this seems like such a glaring omission.

Cubasis also comes with quite a few audio loops to help you get some ideas, although did this bring out another point, that there is no BPM detection or time stretching in the software.

Editors

The MIDI editor feels just like it’s big brother and the touch version of it works very well. The only thing that feels slightly clumsy is when step editing you have to switch between select and draw quite a bit, seems like it would be more intuitive if you could select in draw mode when you touch a note, to change it’s position.

The Audio editor is quite slick, and comes with some basic editing functions including fades and normalize. One thing I want to note is how smooth drawing of the waveform and performance is throughout the app. It really has been optimized quite well.

Touch inputs

Cubasis has two methods of playing the instruments, with a keyboard view, and drum pads, both work very well and are extremely responsive. The keyboard has 10 chord preset locations that makes it great to program some chords and jam with, again the slick interface shows in this implementation, and it just feels great. If you have non drum instrument you are greeted by 16 pads that play these chords as well. If you have a drum kit selected you get 16 pads that feel great, and you also get a mod wheel that pitches the samples slightly too.

MIDI

Cubasis supports virtual MIDI, and allows you to sequence other apps, external instruments, this is all accomplished per instrument track in the MIDI Connections section of the inspector. One thing I did not see, and is especially important to the next section is the ability to send or receive a MIDI clock and sync to it.

Audiobus

The new version of Cubasis supports Audiobus, and it does so with a really great implementation of it. If you open Audiobus and launch Cubasis, any apps that are inputs automatically get Audio tracks assigned for quick recording into a project. I even added an insert effect and took it out, and it dynamically reassigned and named the tracks for me. You can also use Cubasis as an output, but it doesn’t look and it looks like it can be an output and input at the same time.

The one thing that makes the Audiobus experience bittersweet though is the fact that there doesn’t appear to be clock sync in Cubasis, meaning that if you are going to be sequencing other synthesizers, drum machines, or playing them into Cubasis that you will probably be editing the Audio to remove unwanted space, where if clock sync was there it would sync on start for you, and make sure that all of your clock based parameters on the other apps were correct.

Import / Export options

Cubasis comes with a nice set of import and export options. In the media browser you can use the share button to export your project view email, dropbox, or zip. Audio files can be emailed, dropboxed, opened with other apps, audio copied, or sent to SoundCloud. Wow. You can also export your projects and import them in Cubase on the desktop, which I didn’t get to try out since I don’t own the latest version of Cubase. You can import audio via Audiocopy and Paste or iTunes library import. Steinberg really covered all their bases in this department!

Summary

Overall Cubasis is a really nicely polished product, but is missing some essential features. It could be so great, and the best all around sequencer on iPad if Steinberg decides to implement these.