10/09/2013
Producer’s Corner: Logic Pro vs. Cubase

by Matthew Hiscock

Most producers in the Turbo vib-o-sphere use Ableton Live. It’s certainly a great program; in terms of sheer simplicity, intuitiveness and of course live performance, it can’t be beat. But what if you want something with more options?

In this second edition of Producer’s Corner, we’re going to look at the two main competitors for full-featured DAW: Cubase and Logic Pro. While it’s true that the more time goes on the more Apple, Ableton, Steinberg, etc. find ways to steal each others’ best features, there are nonetheless some things that are much better implemented in one over the other.

Advantages of Cubase

Cubase has in some quarters been unfairly ignored. Dance music producers are a pretty Mac-heavy bunch. Because of that we tend to use Logic because Apple makes it and it’s cheap.

Here are three big advantages for Cubase:

Parts and Lanes

Ever want to quickly change a tune’s drum pattern without re-copying every single sample? If your arrangement uses Parts (called Folders in Logic) you can have the beat sit within a folder that you just copy to where you want the beat to be. Just click and edit any of the aliases of that folder and they all change as one.

Cubase’s Parts and Lanes are similar in functionality to Logic’s Folders and Take Folders but Cubase implements them in a much more intuitive and robust way, prompting you with fewer popup windows and without any of the odd bugs that, amongst other things, cause audio to jump around when editing.

A *real* sample editor, including offline processing

Cubase’s sample editor is solid and doesn’t feel tacked-on like Logic’s equivalent. Plus, here’s one feature that is a BIG plus for speeding up workflow: being able to process your samples off-line, and assign those processes to a keyboard shortcut. For example, you can hit a single key to bring up offline Waves eq, another to add AltiVerb, etc. etc.. In other words, you can move incredibly fast and reduce unnecessary clicking.

Heavyweight metering and monitoring options

Cubase’s Control Room offers both very flexible routing for setting up monitor mixes and some truly impressive metering options for keeping an eye on your master output levels, with a bunch of different mastering-grade viewing options and meter that are nicely responsive and HUGE.

Advantages of Logic

Not to be ignored, Logic, especially Logic Pro X, also has some very distinct advantages. Here are three:

Easier navigation of presets

Create folders for your presets and navigate through them, or use the Library to search, as you prefer: both are done in a very “Mac-like” fashion, using keywords and/or very sensible groupings, which can really speed up workflow. Plus, while most of them go overboard with effects – what engineers call “showroom fluff” – at least there’s a ton of them, and some real gems. Cubase has no built-in presets out of the box; you have to assemble your own from scratch or from Track Presets, which is a drag.

Logic’s built-in sampler

Sure you can find any number of third-party sampler plugs but there is something to be said for a standardized sampler that everybody has. Nobody who’s used a decent hardware sampler is going to be blown away by the ESX24mkII’s user interface but Cubase still has no built-in sampler… in 2013. It’s insane. Bonus points as well for Logic’s Convert Regions To New Sampler Track, which lets you easily turn any chunk of audio into an EXS24 sample with just a few clicks.

Logic feels like an Apple program.

It’s a definite plus when an OSX program feels like an OSX program. Like much of what Apple does, Logic feels like it was designed by genius nerds who’ve never actually worked in a recording studio. It causes equal moments of “ARG!” and “Oh, wow!”, so bear that in mind. Take a look through the things you can map to keyboard shortcuts for some impressive “Who would ever think of that?” moments.

The big picture

When learning either Cubase or Logic it’s hard not to think that they’re both still a throwback to the time when you needed to know how to engineer in order to produce electronic music. In other words, they’re not dumbed-down at all, which can make it a touch scary for those just trying to sound like Swedish House Mafia as quick as possible.

Regardless, and no matter which you choose, read the manual! Sure, both Cubase and Logic’s manuals total out over 1000 pages each, which will send most people packing right off the bat, but they’re largely readable and worth getting stuck into, especially when it comes to using keyboard shortcuts. Bear in mind that you’re going to be using this for many, many hours, so reading a few pages of the manual per day is a great investment. Also, watch every tutorial you can get your hands on, and not just ones teaching you how to sound like Blawan.

TWR72 on Logic

When we first started with producing on Logic we tried to use a lot of plugins from different manufactures because we thought that would be the most professional and best sounding. We didn’t use a lot of Logic plugins. Which was a shame because we found out the Logic plugins can be very amazing. Especially the ‘Space Designer’ and the ‘Delay Designer’ are amazing for our sound. The Space Designer, if you use it correctly, can add subtle unique reverbs on elements we use in our production while the Delay Designer works as a great tool to create subtle rhythmic grooves for our beats and sometimes even our melodies.

The most important plugins we use from other manufactures are the Waves GTR3 stomp where we chain the Tone effect to boost some mid-range frequencies. Furthermore we love the Fabfilter Pro-Q for equalizing and the Fabfilter Saturn for some crunch on our busses to spice things up a bit.

We are still a bit anxious to use Logic Pro X because we are not sure every plugin will work and  because of the minimum system requirements. It’s terrible that you need to update to OSX 10.8.4 while not every plugin is compatible with it. So unfortunately we have to wait a bit longer.

– Two-headed Dutch techno behemoth TWR72 will be releasing their Endless remix set September 23rd. More about them here.

Jori Hulkkonen on Cubase

My relationship with Cubase is one of the longest relationships in my sad 40 year old life: I’ve used Cubase over half of my living years. It’s certainly the longest with any software, and only my Hohner Stringperformer – which I very rarely use anymore – comes even close when it comes to music technology.

When I started making EDM (“erilaista diskomusiikkia” as it was incidentally called in Finland at the time) in the late 80’s there were basically two computers that made sense getting if you were interested in making music (budgetwise, I was 15): an Amiga or an Atari. I ended up getting both. Whereas the Amiga was not that great with MIDI even with the right accessories, it was a very flexible and lowcost introduction to sampling. And Atari exactly vice versa, mainly because of its integrated MIDI-capabilities complete with in/out ports.

Later, in the 90’s, there was a period where both tasks were taken over by the AKAI MPC, and it was great for liveshows as well. Also, I loved the idea you didn’t have to stare at a computerscreen while working. Later though, when I wanted to expand my musical palette and start working more with vocals and acoustic instruments, it was clear I needed to go back to computers. By that time Cubase had evolved into something quite different.

I remember working with Alexi Delano in New York at his studio when I first had the chance to see some real VST action. We recorded vocals, trumpets, percussion, worked with FX -all at a workflow that was something new and exciting for me at the time. So by the time I got back home first thing I did was got a proper PC and Cubase, mainly because I was already familiar with the platform.

I’ve tried many other platforms too, the usual ones; Logic, Pro-Tools, Ableton, etc. And while there’s nothing wrong with any of those, for me it really is a question of how quickly can I nail down an idea. And since I know Cubase inside-out, I can say it’s pretty damn quick. It’s all about knowing your tools, and using them to maximize the potential payoff your musical idea has. I also love their fully integrated controllers, the CC-series, as they really speed up the workflow especially when working on the mix.

I’m currently running the latest version of Cubase, 7, which I really love mainly because of the totally revamped mixer. For me that’s quite important as I use Cubase mainly for two things: sequencing and mixing.

Most of my sounds I get from outboard gear, as I have quite a bit of vintage analogue and digital synths, a reasonably sizeable modular system (eurorack and Roland 100m series), and sampling (Emulator II, although not using it THAT much). So what I usually do is I sequence stuff on Cubase, and also use the Cubase as an audio recorder, and then mix the audio files in the box. I rarely use softsynths, although the big exception are the drums. I’ve been using Native Instruments Battery now for a few years for nearly all the beats, as it enables me very swiftly to use my some 15000+ drumsound library I’ve been collecting through the years. Before mixdown I usually run the beats (or any other softsynth for that matter) through some outboard gear to get a bit of warmth and saturation, and to have them as audio as well. Basically it means routing via my late 70’s Studer mixing desk, perhaps the modular system, and sometimes some outboard FX too.

I should also point out that even though I am a sponsored Cubase artist these days, it was never my intention, rather more like destiny.

– Jori has released a ton of great records on Turbo including most recently Trust Your Body with Tiga. You can find him here.

Iron Galaxy on Logic

I was a long time Logic user, but made the switch to Ableton Live over a year ago after getting frustrated with timing issues.  Often I would compose by looping a section and building up parts. However old hardware like 909s and 303s would lose sync every time Logic would loop around.  Since Apple purchased Logic from Emagic they seem to have stripped down midi clock functionality and focused solely on upgrades to plugins.  An example of that, for the one nerd out there who cares, is the fact that Logic will no longer send “Midi Start” messages at any point in the song, but bar 1.  A bummer if you decide to use an external sequencer to work on the chorus midway through your song.  Since moving to Live, external sequencers and drum machines slave quite well.

While Logic’s focus has become an “in the box” model, they’re still slow to keep up on that front.  Flex Time (the retiming of audio) was a wonderful addition in Logic 9, but had been standard in Live for some time.  Now in Logic X they’ve introduced Flex Pitch, which looks like a convenient, built in way of repitching the notes of recorded audio.  Non-Logic users will have to purchase a copy of Melodyne to add similar functionality to their setup.

Other commendable upgrades in Logic X are the addition of midi plugins like arpeggiators and scalers and the ability to “stack tracks”, which is similar to “grouping” tracks in Live.  As with Flex Time, these are more examples of Logic keeping up instead of innovating.  Logic remote is cool if you have a larger studio, but touchAble and TouchOSC can give you similar functionality with more flexibility.

Since making the switch, Live’s session view has become invaluable in the way I compose music.  It’s great, not having to drag things into an arrangement until a large number of parts have been composed and recorded.  The things I do miss however are Logic’s ability to work well with most plugins.  There are a handful of 3rd party effects I’ve had to abandon or limit my use of because they take up too many resources in Live.  I’ve also noticed that my mixes had a bit more depth in Logic.  That means I now have the extra step of bouncing down my tracks and mixing them in Logic or Pro Tools.  Another method would be sending everything out of a multichannel audio interface to mix into a proper desk.

If I was still a Logic user I would be very excited about the new version, but I won’t be running back any time soon.

– Iron Galaxy, remixer of Locked Groove and maker of great melodic acid tracks, can be found here

Florian Senfter a.k.a. Zombie Nation on Cubase

I have been using Cubase for a while now. In the beginning more as a digital tape machine to record  my outboard processors and synths. Nowadays it´s the center of my production. The change mainly happened once I started working in airplanes and trains. I keep my projects in Dropbox and open them from home, in the studio and on my laptop.

Here are a few tips how to really make Cubase work for you and improve the workflow:

− Assign your custom keyboard shortcuts – it´s essential. You will find yourself working way faster with 2 hands instead looking for your mouse on the screen.

My most frequently used standard shortcuts: F3 (Mixer), F11 (VST instruments), GH (zoom in/ out), at+x (cut all tracks at cursor), p (selection on marked bar), num 1 (go to selection left), / (loop on/off)

− take the time to create your own presets, for example track Effect Racks, that you can drop in fast when needed

− Creating different ‘Workspaces’ is very useful if your don´t have 3 monitors. (you can switch between these views with alt+num1, alt+num2)

− Last but not least: get a good keyboard and a good mouse, these are your main controllers to connect to your creative work

– Florian has been a part of the Turbo family for ages and is a certifiably chill dude. Check him out here.

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Matthew is Turbo’s business manager and makes music as Hissy Fit. He’s been recording music since J Tijn was a fetus.