Signs of a Quality Mastered Mix (Cubase)

Signs of a Quality Mastered Mix (Cubase)

These are some of the characteristics that I think are pretty true of different types of recordings, for those who are still wondering what all this mastering stuff is really about:

Good final mix, not mastered:

- sounds quieter than commercial recordings.
- songs sound different from one track to the next. The listener frequently adjusts tone and/or volume controls on the playback system to compensate.
- recordings sound noticably different on different playback systems.
- compared with commercial recordings, highs seem to lack "sparkle" and "shimmer." lows sound sometimes dull, weak, or boomy.
- dynamic response may be uneven from one song to the next, or within songs.
- Overall sound of individual tracks is generally good.

Good final mix, well mastered:

- Frequency spread and level is comparable to commercial recordings.
- All songs have a consistent, high-quality "sound" that translates well regardless of playback system or listener's preferences vis-a-vis tone/eq controls.
- highs, mids, and lows are tight, clear, and smooth.
- Dynamic response is natural and musical. Pads are clean and lush, drums are punchy, instrument balance sounds natural.
- Frequency spread is balanced and clear. The "sound" is transparent, it doesn't distract from the musical content. "Depth" and "airiness" sound natural and smooth.

Good final mix, poorly mastered:

- Frequency spread is uneven and distracting. Highs may be sibilant and grating, especially at high volume. Lows may be thumpy or excessively boomy. Mids are noticably lacking.
- Dynamic response is unnatural and over-compressed.
- Sound is generally consistent from one system to the next, and from one track to the next. Listener adjustment of tone controls does not alter the "sound" of the recording.
- Overall, sounds generally more "pro" than the raw mix, but slightly sterile, and possibly unpleasant after extended listening.
- Sound may be gritty or overly "digital."
- Cymbals have a white-noise sound to them. Electric guitars may sound fizzy and harsh. Bass instruments do not seem well "seated" in the track. Drum sounds are weak, boomy, mushy, or inconsistent.

Between the rough mix and the bad master, I'll take the mix every time. Have fun.


Cubase 5 Nudge Tool

Cubase 5 Nudge Tool

If you want to move a track a few milliseconds in any direction, use the nudge tool (+/-) located on the transport panel. First make sure you have snap turned off by pressing the "j" key. Now you should be able to move the tracks freely.Next you need to zoom in on the track for more accuracy, you can do this by pressing the "H" key several times, if you want to zoom out press the "G" key.


Cubase Quick Start Guide to Using Effects

Using Cubase Send Effects

cubase send effects

Reverbs and delays are basically always used as send effects, as this allows you to channel different amounts of different channels to the same effect, while having one fader available to control the entire level of the effect. Compared among using multiple reverbs as record effects, this conserves CPU power and makes it easy to place multiple sources in the same acoustic space. Just remember the send effects should be set to 100 percent wet. To set up a send effect in Cubase, insert a plug-in on an FX or Group Channel —preferably an FX Channel.

Cubase contains plenty of choices for delay, but sometimes it pays to keep things simple and use MonoDelay or StereoDelay.In general, I find that it aides to think of your stereo mix as a three-dimensional space, consisting of a left-to-right stereo field, which you can control though panning, a 'vertical' frequency spectrum, which you can control via EQ (and by writing suitable characteristics for suitable instruments!), and front-to-back depth, which is built mainly with reverb- and delay-based effects (often combined with a bit of EQ).

A useful starting point for a mix (which is worth creating as a Project template in Cubase) is to set up somewhere between three and six FX Channels, for a different delay and/or reverb. For example, I created a template that includes six send effects channels. These include a very brief reverb provided for mainly the first part of reflections or 'ambience', a mid-length reverb and a longer reverb, and a parallel configuration for delays — one very short, with little or no feedback, one more noticeable, maybe with a touch of feedback, and another rather longer one, amidst feedback that I'll change based on information from song to song as required.

I might choose to use some further, 'special' reverbs and delays later, but this is often my basic starting point. I can use these kinds of FX Channels to place sounds at multiple points on the front-to-back axis, by sending varying amounts of the different channels to them. If you haven't tried this approach before, give it a go — it can be really effective and can save you a lot of clock ticking work.

When you use the sends to route a signal to an FX Channel, it defaults to sending the signal post-fader — that is to say, it's only the sound source as it sounds following EQ, insert effects and the volume fader that goes to the effects. But you can opt to send the signal before any of the processing or volume settings, which means that you get the unprocessed signal going to the FX Channel. To do this, you just click the pre-fader button.


Using Cubase Compressor to Create Pumping effect

How to use Cubase's compressor to get that pumping effect

First find your song's (BPM) beats per minute, then calculate your attack
and release times.

Heres one way you can use a compressor to artificially pump an 1/8th note bass line on every quarter note. First set the attack to a 1/16th note and the release to a 1/4note-1/16th note. For a BPM of 95 in this case set the attack to 158 ms and release to 632-158 = 474 ms. This should let the 1st transient through (approx 1/16th note in length) then clamp down on the rest of the 1st eighth note and the 2nd eighth note and then be fully released by the time the 3rd note starts. Basically what you get is the 1st half of every other 8th note goes through untouched thus creating a pumping effect. This is a great way to add ear trickery and take your mix to a whole new level.

Cubase 4 Tutorial: Editing Audio (Part 2 of 2)

Cubase 4 Tutorial: Editing Audio (Part 1of 2)


Cubase 5 Ducking Vocals Using the Side Chain Effect

Cubase 5 Ducking Vocals Using the Side Chain Effect

Vocals are often the most important element in a song, and their place in the mix should reflect that. Compression and limiting of the vocal track can help make that easier to achieve,
but another trick is to slightly drop the levels of other mix elements when the vocal is present, and raise them again when the vocal drops out. Good candidates here are rhythm guitar
and keyboard parts.
The volume changes can of course be achieved via volume automation, but the recent addition of side-chain facilities to some Cubase 4 plug-ins means you can also do
this via ducking, without having to draw all that automation data in. Inserting a compressor in the track to be ducked, activating its side-chain input and specifying the lead vocal track
as the source for the side-chain input will allow the compressor to gently squeeze the level of the instrumental track whenever the vocal is present. Even a drop of 1 or 2dB in some instrumental
backing elements in this way can help give the vocal a little more space to work in the overall mix.


Cubase Panning Control

Cubase Panning Control

When it comes to audio channels, the pan control is, in theory, pretty simple: if it's set to centre, an equal amount of the sound comes out of both speakers to give the illusion the sound is centered, while if the pan control is set to hard left or right, the sound only comes out of either the left or right speaker. By default the pan control for audio-based channels is set to centre, and for MIDI Channels it's set to 'off', meaning that no MIDI pan information is sent.

Cubase SX 3 and up offers additional flexibility for configuring the behaviour of the Mixer's VU meters via the VU Meter Settings sub-menu, available based on data from a pop-up menu if you right-click on the Mixer window.

Sounds straightforward. However, the pan control isn't that novice since without some form of compensation it's possible for sounds to sound unnaturally louder when they're panned centrally — there is output from two speakers, compared to when a sound is panned hard left or right, when there's only output from one. The solution, is to attenuate the signal as it passes through the center. This behaviour is known as pan law in recording.

You can adjust the amount of attenuation with the Pan Law Mode setting in the Project Setup window (press Shift+S to open). Cubase offers 3 choices.

0dB suggests there may be no attenuation in the center. As explained above, this can cause an unnatural stereo image, making sounds usually panned center (such as bass and bass-drum sounds) appear louder than they really are.

—6dB is, in theory, more natural sounding, but can be unsatisfactory for people who need tons of punch in instruments panned centrally (such as a bass line), so it's best to use this setting for stereo music where mono compatibility is important, as when producing audio for TV or other broadcast work.

—3dB is a compromise between the two settings, and Steinberg recommend its use for the majority of stereo music.

The default pan control in Cubase, where you can pan a sound from left to right in the stereo field, is known as the Stereo Balance Panner, while in the case of stereo audio tracks, if you right-click on a pan control you'll notice quickly Cubase provides a choice of two additional types of pan control for each channel. The Stereo Dual Panner gives you two Balance panners in the space of one, so now you can control the panning for each side of a stereo signal separately. The Stereo Combined Panner puts both left and right controls in the same field, with a filled blue area between them to show the width of the field. The left and right controls are linked by default, but you can move them independently by Alt/Option-dragging. The filled area between the two sides become red if left and right channels are reversed.


Basic Compressor Controls

INPUT........To set the level going in.
THRESHOLD........This sets how high the signal must go before the compressor kicks in.
RATIO.......This sets how much compression is applied in ratio to the Db rise in signal level above the Threshold.
ATTACK.......This sets how fast the compressor kicks in once the Threshold has been breached.
DECAY........This sets how fast the compressor lets go, once the input signal has dropped back below the threshold.
LINK ......Links the two sides for stereo operation.
OUTPUT......Sets the output signal level.


This form of compression kicks in as soon as the threshold ceiling is reached.

Let's say you have set a RATIO of 4:1......Once the threshold is passed, the compressor allows only 1db of signal level increase at the output,
for every 4 db in input signal level rise above the threshold setting......

On a Hard Knee compressor, this full amount of compression (as set by the Ratio) is applied in full, as soon as the input level rises above
the threshold.....This is a standard type of compressor.


Some compressors, such as the Alesis 3630, allow you to switch between PEAK...and RMS operation. Practically, a compressor listens to the input signal
through the "SIDE-CHAIN" circuit, and then tells the VCA (voltage control amplifier) to apply compression when needed according to the adjusted setting.
The compressor will respond differently depending on whether it is monitoring the input signal in either Peak mode or RMS mode...

The PEAK setting makes the compressor crush any signal rising above the threshold, no matter how fast the transient.....This is an ideal mode to use
for something like digital recording, where you need to absolutely stop any signals from overloading the input, because digital cannot be "saturated"
in the way tape can, and you get terrible digital distortion......Peak compression however is not very smooth or natural sounding, & can produce very
un-natural noticeable results unless you use a low compression ratio .....However, it can work well on fast attacking sounds like drums, working fast
to maintain a more even level for each drum hit.

The RMS mode setting is a more natural sounding mode, and responds similarly to the human ear...(Oh yes...human ears do have compression !!).......
RMS mode doesn't bother too much about quick short peaks that might cut through above the average signal level....even if you set a fast attack time..
RMS mode works on a wider average than PEAK mode, thus allowing some fast transients through, but closing down more when continuous loud peaks start to appear.

Using Automation in Cubase

Cubase Automation

When you are working using a mixer, such as the one constructed into Cubase, there will come a time when you find yourself moving the mixer controls. Cubase gives you the ability to record and play back the movements of various mixer parameters, which we refer to as automation.

The novice operation of working with automation in Cubase is quite straightforward. For example, say you have an audio track and you want to automate the volume fader. To do this, just click the track's [W] Write Enable button, hit play, move the fader to taste, and then push stop. Once a track's Write Enable button is active, any parameters that can be automated on that track will be 'armed' for automation so that when the transport is active (which is to say you either pressed play or record), any adjustments to armed parameters will be stored at the appropriate time location.

Cubase represents mixer channels that do not play back Audio Events as Automation tracks on the Project window's Track List, and automatically organises them to folders by path type.
Once you've written automation info to a track, it's a good underlying thought to deactivate the Write Enable button to hold off any accidents, and then, for the automation info to play back, you need to make sure the track's [R] Read Enable button is activated. You can toggle the Read and Write Enable buttons for all tracks simultaneously by clicking the 'All Automation to Write/Read Status' buttons at the very top of the track List (labeled [W] and [R]).

So once a track is armed for automation, parameters are actually recorded? In the case of audio-based tracks, you can automate Volume, Pan and Mute, the built-in EQ parameters, and Level and Enable parameters for each send. Any parameters for insert plug-ins you're using on the track that is being enabled to write automation are also included. You'll realize that plug-in windows also include Read and Write Enable automation buttons, and these can be used independently of the track or channel on which the plug-in is used. For example, if you have an insert plug-in on an audio track and enable the track's Write Enable button, the plug-in's Write Enable button will also become active. However, the reverse isn't true, so enabling a plug-in's Write Enable button doesn't activate automation for all the parameters on the appropriate track.

As an aside, it's major that in the current version of Cubase, when a track's Write Enable button is active, the movements of all automatable parameters are recorded.