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electronic MUSICIAN

STEINBERG NUENDO 1.5 (MAC/WIN)

By David Miles Huber | July 1, 2001

One of the most anxiously awaited computer-based digital-audio workstations (DAWs) is the latest version of Steinberg's Nuendo for Mac and Windows. Aimed at the music, audio-for-film, video, and interactive-media markets, Nuendo 1.5 is a fully professional DAW. It's based on a new native software code for recording, editing, and mixing as many as 500 tracks of MIDI and digital audio at rates of up to 192 kHz with 32-bit resolution (if you have the hardware for it).

In addition to handling large numbers of tracks and channel inputs, one of Nuendo's greatest strengths is its ability to mix in a variety of output formats. With support for mono, stereo, and any surround format with a maximum of eight discrete channels, Nuendo is a great candidate for producing and mixing music, scoring and placing effects into a film or TV show, or creating a surround-sound design for a new video game.

An important aspect of Nuendo is that it works entirely in a native-processing environment. Every function — processing, mixing, routing, the whole works — runs on the computer's host processor or dual processors. Advanced multiprocessor support is included. That approach has the distinct advantage that the software isn't tied down by a preconceived hardware design, but it can be upgraded as computer technology develops and processors get faster. Consequently, the system will grow with you without demanding a massive reinvestment each time your hardware expands.

LAY OF THE LAND

One of the first things you'll notice about Nuendo is its resemblance to Steinberg's flagship audio and MIDI sequencer, Cubase VST(see Fig. 1). I'm not a big fan of German audio-editing software; Cubase is a program that I have never felt comfortable with because I don't totally understand it. Fortunately, enough changes have been made to Nuendo that I immediately had an intuitive sense of most of what was going on. I was off and running in no time.

Nuendo includes four main functional blocks: the Project window, the VST Mixer, the Transport, and the Pool. The Project window is the main area in which waveform data, track-layout information, and the Ruler are displayed. Tracks can include audio, video, and MIDI Events as well as markers, master output automation, and plug-in automation. Once Events have been brought into the Project window, they can be easily moved to other tracks, looped, sliced, diced, and grouped. Nuendo can have more than one Project open at a time, letting you move Events from one Project window into another simply by dragging them.

Double-clicking on an Audio Event pops up a stereo or mono Edit window that offers a simple and rather nice interface for trimming and editing the selected wave file. To select any number of Events to be grouped, moved, and so on, use the mouse's lasso function or hold the Shift key and select individual Events. Once selected, right-clicking on an Event opens a pop-up menu that displays hundreds of categorized edit and processing functions, including Cut, Paste, Splice, Loop, View, and Group.

Extensive support for a mouse with a center scroll wheel greatly simplifies navigating around the Project window. For example, moving the wheel when the cursor is placed over the main Edit window scrolls the window left or right. When the cursor is placed over the Track Zoom bar, the wheel lets you easily zoom in and out. That simple one-finger scroll function works with just about every zoom and viewing function in the program, including faders, sliders, and knobs — very cool.

On the Project window's left side is the Track List, which contains the track names and effects inserts as well as the Solo, Mute, Stereo/Mono, and Lock functions. At the bottom of each Track List is a button that opens any number of tracks that let you automate gain, dynamics processing, or effects by drawing one or more control parameters just below the affected Event track.

The Project window's Ruler displays a timeline that can be set to show time in bars and beats, seconds, samples, and various film and video frame rates. You can also enable a Snap function to quantize Events into precise locations.

The second-most important window is the VST Mixer, which includes as many as 500 channel strips for the audio tracks in the active Project (see Fig. 2). At the top of each fader strip is an input selector that allows any of the active sound-card inputs to be assigned to a strip; each strip can have a mono or stereo input. A button at the bottom lets you assign the strip to a stereo or surround panner or a hardwired output. The Record button and automation Read and Write buttons are directly below the fader and its corresponding input-level meter. Each strip also features buttons for Effects, EQ, Inserts, Solo, and Mute functions.

Pressing the Effects, Insert, or EQ button calls up the Channel Settings window (see Fig. 3). That provides access to a 4-band parametric EQ, four stackable effects sections that can be inserted into the channel, eight effects sends that are accessible by any input strip within the Project, and a duplicate of the channel's input strip. That section has an amazing amount of power. Nuendo ships with 27 effects plug-ins, including panners, dynamics processors, delays, phasers, and a really good reverb, all of which can be automated to change during the course of the mix.

Although Nuendo can run a dozen or more real-time plug-ins on most modern computers, it can also use plug-ins to process tracks or Audio Events offline, without consuming additional CPU overhead. Amazingly, you can process a file using multiple plug-ins and later change or undo plug-in parameters using an Offline Process History dialog box.

In addition to automating effects, the level, pan, and mute settings can be fully automated in several ways. When you place a channel into Write mode, Nuendo memorizes your real-time mix moves and duplicates them during playback. You can also automate complex mix moves by drawing an automation profile with the mouse.

Another important mixing feature is the Master Bus section. When opened, the Project's mono, stereo, or surround master faders show the output levels. Those levels can be fully automated in real time or by drawing automation data into a parameter track. Plug-in effects can be inserted easily into the Project's output mix.

The Transport window displays the basic transport controls and offers quick access to the cursor position, marker points, punch-in and -out points, and tempo. Buttons for punching in and out and looping between marker points are also provided. By right-clicking on the transport, transport displays can be deselected to render more viewing space for the other program windows.

As you work with Nuendo, the Pool feature will become more important. The Pool acts as a reservoir for importing media files from disk and placing them into a Project. During a session, a media file can be auditioned, imported into the Pool, and dragged into the Project window at any location on a track.

MIDI CAPABILITIES

Because Nuendo draws a large part of its heritage from Cubase, you might assume that the program would implement MIDI in a big way — and you'd be right. You can directly import Standard MIDI Files (SMFs) and Cubase Song files into the program. Upon importing either file type, Nuendo automatically opens, names, and sets up the file's tracks in the Project window. New MIDI tracks can be added to a Project at any time. You can name a track and assign a program number and bank, channel input and output ports, and other parameters in the Track List box.

Once you've played or imported a MIDI track into Nuendo, it can be easily edited. In the MIDI Editor's Event window, you can enter, edit, and move notes, ranges of notes, or tracks using a familiar set of MIDI Event editing tools. You can view, enter, and edit MIDI Control Change values in the Controller Display at the bottom of the Event window. That window is really simple because only one Control Change is shown at a time, making it easy to graphically edit or redraw its values.

I imported several complex MIDI files, assigned them to my external synths, and routed them back to Nuendo 1.5's audio inputs using my Mark of the Unicorn 24i audio interface (which has 24 analog inputs) without major obstacles. Version 1.0 had serious problems with importing MIDI files (some tracks would not import completely). After I upgraded to 1.5, Nuendo imported the tracks, but it chopped some off prematurely. I fixed that by grabbing the tail of the chopped-off MIDI tracks and manually dragging the end boundary to the right, revealing the missing measures.

SURROUNDED BY SOUND

One of the most exciting aspects of Nuendo is working in surround sound. I'll admit it: I'm a surround hound. Being engulfed in a sound field really has me hooked. My bedroom has a full-blown DVD/surround system, and my studio is fully equipped for surround as well, so I was excited about putting Nuendo through its paces.

Output formats include stereo, quad, Dolby Pro Logic, three types of 5.1 surround, 6.1 surround, and two types of 7.1 surround. Once you've selected the output format, the next step is to assign those master outputs to the appropriate sound-card outputs in the VST Output dialog box. When I first selected a surround-output format, Nuendo displayed only the first two master-output channel strips. I resized the dialog box to the right, which revealed the rest of the channels. Master-out level or pan adjustments are made in that window. Once the output assignments are made, select the surround panners for each track (or select a surround setup when creating a Project), and you're ready to roll.

The surround panners at the top of each surround channel look like stylized pool tables with balls that display the pan position. Double-clicking on a channel strip's panner opens a larger panner dialog box, which can be square or round, depending on your pan-display settings. The larger box lets you fine-tune the surround placement; it's full of configuration options that control relative pan widths within the selected surround-sound field, center speaker level, and subwoofer level.

Conventional stereo effects can be inserted into the surround field in several ingenious ways. A maximum of eight effects sends can be assigned to a Project. Using the master returns, each effect can be assigned to any L/R, LS/RS, or C/Sub output bus. Several reverbs or other plug-ins can be used to re-create a natural, reverberant sound field. Steinberg has released Nuendo Surround Edition, a set of six plug-ins offering as many as eight channels of compression, equalization, loudness maximization, reverberation, and LFE management. TC Works also offers an 8-channel reverb for Nuendo. In addition, effects can be inserted into the master-output section for final mastering. When a stereo effect is inserted into a surround Project, a routing patch bay pops up to assign the stereo outs to any surround output channels.

One of Nuendo's most exciting features is the Matrix Encoder, a Dolby Pro Logic-compatible plug-in that can actually encode a discrete 5.1 mix into a stereo Pro Logic track. That lets you insert the Encoder into the final stage of the master effects outputs (after the master gain stage) and have Nuendo create a stereo mixdown of the resulting file in any of several file formats. That's right: you can end up with a stereo mixdown that's Dolby Pro Logic-compatible.

So what? Considering that serious game surround and the television-broadcast surround standard is Pro Logic, this is your chance to create a stereo music, video, or game soundtrack master that can be heard in surround. On several occasions at major production facilities, I've attempted to transfer a 5.1 discrete mix to Pro Logic using a Dolby encoder and failed miserably. I've tried the same thing with Nuendo, and it works amazingly well; for some users, that function alone is practically worth Nuendo's price tag.

FORMATS, WE GOT FORMATS!

Nuendo supports more formats than you might expect. It can import AIFF; AIFC; WAV (Normal and Broadcast, which includes embedded text with additional file data); REX; Sound Designer II; and MPEG-1 Layer I, II, or III (also called MP3) audio files at resolutions from 8 to 32 bits. Files can be exported to MP3, RealAudio, AIFF, WAV, and Windows Media Audio. You can also extract audio from a CD by importing the track or tracks into the Project window or Pool. Support for Virtual Studio Instrument (VSI) and ReWire lets software instruments and programs such as ReBirth and Reason be integrated into Nuendo's multitrack mixer in a real-time environment.

Additional options include the ability to export and import a Project to and from workstations that support the standard Open Media Framework (OMF) cross-platform FTP. That makes it possible to move Projects from DAWs made by Akai, Avid, Digidesign, Fairlight, Soundscape, TimeLine, and others. Nuendo 1.5 also offers Open TL importing and exporting, letting you read the content of drives that have been recorded with Tascam's MX2424. If you plug the MX2424's hard drive into a compatible PC bay, Nuendo can import the session files and information directly into a Project. You could even edit the session and export the edits back in the MX2424's format.

Video can be imported into a Project using AVI, DirectShow, or QuickTime file types. Once imported, the audio track can be edited, replaced, and then exported back to the source's native format. The ability to import an Adobe Premiere Edit Decision List (EDL) into a Project makes spotting and placement of dialog and effects to time code much easier. In addition, Nuendo can create a printable track sheet that includes SMPTE start and stop times for each Audio Event that occurs in a post-production Project; that is an important feature for placing and keeping track of Audio Events within a video or film.

Nuendo supports hardware mix controllers such as the Tascam US-428, Steinberg Houston, Radikal SAC-2K, JLCooper MCS-3000 and CS-10, CM Motor Mix, Roland MCR-8, and Yamaha 01V. A nifty option lets you use a simple game joystick for surround panning. I've been using the program with the Tascam US-428, which was functionally designed with Cubase and Nuendo in mind. It doesn't have moving faders, but the cost-effective addition has made controlling the program and mixing a lot of fun.

MY TWO CENTS

Combined with its editing, mixing, and real-time processing power, Nuendo's sleek design is reminiscent of having an SSL console on your computer screen. My Pentium III/800 MHz PC has yet to complain, even when I'm working with more than 24 tracks, lots of EQ, and several real-time plug-ins. I'm not used to having so much processing and effects power and such robust capabilities in terms of platform crossing, importing and exporting, and surround sound.

On the graphic-display side, Nuendo definitely benefits from having lots of monitor real estate. I have a 21-inch screen, and I don't think I'd be comfortable with less than 19 inches. Nuendo addresses its need for viewing space by offering support for dual monitors. For example, that feature lets you put the Project window on the left screen and the Mixer on the right.

Nuendo is fairly bug free, though no newly released program is totally free of problems. If the system crashes (as it occasionally did for me), Nuendo has a crash-recovery feature that saves your unsaved moves within a projectname.crs file. At the outset, it's a good idea to name the current Project. If you open a new Project and begin a session without having saved it under a file name, you'll have to start from scratch if your system crashes.

Nuendo isn't meant to be an all-in-one music-production tool. Nonetheless, it comes so close that I really wish it included features to humanize MIDI timing and the ability to record and transmit SysEx dumps. It's packed with so many other features that those additions would have made it a one-stop program for music and mixing production.

Two pieces of printed documentation are included with the software: Basics and a complete Operation Manual. Copy the PDF version of both books from the program's CD-ROM to your hard drive. They're conveniently hyperlinked in an outline form for quick access to many features and functions. In addition to reading the manuals and help files, occasionally browse the Nuendo Web site, which provides program updates, features, and tips. If you use Nuendo 1.0, go to the Web site and download the free version 1.5 upgrade, because it's functionally better and far more stable.

I've really fallen for Nuendo. It's fairly easy to use, and it has a sexy GUI that makes you feel like you're sitting in front of a big-boy console. It has impressive processing and plug-in power right out of the box, and it works in almost any stereo and surround production and mixing environment. If you want a cost-effective powerhouse that will grow with you into the age of surround sound, give Nuendo a long, hard look.


David Miles Huber has finally finished the update of his best-selling book Modern Recording Techniques, 5th ed. (http://focalpress.com). His musical explorations can be found at www.51bpm.com.

Minimum System Requirements

Nuendo

MAC: G3/233; 128 MB RAM; OS 9; MIDI interface

PC: Pentium II/266; 128 MB RAM; Windows 98/2000/NT 4; stereo, 16-bit, 44.1 kHz sound card with ASIO, DirectX, or Windows Multimedia-compatible driver; MIDI interface

OPTIMIZING YOUR ENVIRONMENT

Working in a native environment (with the computer's CPU doing the number crunching) is wonderful, but only when it works. You need a reasonable amount of power, but you also need to run your computer like a tight ship.

  1. Optimize your computer as much as possible; get the fastest processor, hard drive, and memory you can afford.

  2. Native systems don't like to obtain access to EIDE hard drives that are connected to a controller port as slaves (that is, drives that share a ribbon cable with another hard drive). That seriously affects the slave drive's speed and performance, causing a loss in disk-access speed, which results in fewer tracks and processing sputter. I use an extra PCI controller card for my CD-ROM and CD-RW drives, so only one drive is connected to each port.

  3. If you use Windows, be sure to resolve IRQ conflicts. The Device Manager displays the IRQ settings: open the System control panel, click on Device Manager, and double-click on Computer. If your sound card shares an IRQ with anything other than an IRQ Holder for PCI Steering, it might not work at peak performance or at all.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

Steinberg
Nuendo 1.5 (Mac/Win)
digital-audio workstation
$1,295

FEATURES 4.0
AUDIO QUALITY 5.0
EASE OF USE 3.0
VALUE 4.0

RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5

PROS: Simple, straightforward layout. Plenty of processing and mixing power. Comprehensive surround-mixing capabilities. Wide range of importing, exporting, and control capabilities.

CONS: No features to humanize MIDI timing. No support for SysEx transfers.

Manufacturer

Steinberg North America
tel. (818) 678-5100
e-mail info@steinberg.net
Web www.nuendo.com

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