Steinberg Nuendo 5 DAW Software ReviewUSER-FRIENDLY UPGRADE WITH NEW FEATURES, TOOL SETS, PLUG-INS 10/25/2010 2:03 PM Eastern
I started using Nuendo about 11 years ago, back when state-of-the-art, tape-based digital recording systems like Sony’s PCM-3348 seemingly became obsolete overnight. You had a choice: Use Pro Tools, or die the slow, painful death of becoming an irrelevant recording engineer. There were other DAW options at the time, but computers were slow and not very powerful, so host-based DAWs struggled. Pro Tools offered a complete, proprietary system of software, hardware interfaces and DSP cards that made up for the deficiencies of the computer. There seemed to be little concern about how it sounded, as everyone just bought into the idea that it was digital, so it must be perfect. To me, Digi’s 888 converter was far from perfect, and I was in search of something better.
I heard a demo of Nuendo 1.5 and sonically I was blown away. Everybody wants great sound, right? Well, Nuendo 1.5 had its share of problems, like crashing in the middle of a great take while tracking, but because I always seem to support the underdog, I stuck with Steinberg. Here we are all these years later with the release of Nuendo 5, which is solid and loaded with great new features.
I should say up front that Nuendo 5 caters to the desires of post users, and the post engineer will find many new benefits. A post engineer I’m not, although I’ve found many features like direct busing useful for music production. I’ll touch briefly on Nuendo’s post functions, but will mostly restrict this review to features for studio recording.
Steinberg has always been 100-percent committed to backward compatibility, and V. 5 is no exception. I can still open one of my V. 1 projects in 5 without issues. In fact, I can still use all of the same plug-ins and hardware interfaces that I purchased all those years ago. Installation on my dual-core PC running AMD’s latest 12-core chips (a total of 24 cores) was no problem. My entire plug-in, preference and template sets were automatically brought over.
Reassuringly, I didn’t have to uninstall V. 4 to install V. 5, but I haven’t looked back since doing so. All the great features like Lanes, Folder tracks, unlimited levels of undo, volume handles on each region, drawing volume curves directly on the region and the grooviest of all Zoom approaches have been retained. Many of these features have been copied by the competition.
Version 5 uses a brand-new mix engine. I initially thought this might mean sonic improvement (how could it though?), but what it really means is a lower CPU drain due to better optimization of the multicore processors. There’s a new Native Video engine that works with the new Scrubbing engine for super-smooth functionality while editing. Once you get going, V. 5 is immediately familiar to the V. 4 user and the learning curve is minimal. The most obvious change is a new easy-on-the-eyes look, with softer graphics and fonts that are less “childish”-looking. It’s so similar that I foolishly jumped right into a full-on Nashville tracking session; fortunately, there were no hiccups and no one was the wiser.
Nuendo has always come packaged with a complete plug-in suite and a mixer with highly useful EQ on every channel. Nuendo 5 adds a few new, high-quality VST 3 plug-ins. Most impressive is the new convolution reverb called REVerence. Its presets have all the expected IRs, including Halls, Rooms, Small Rooms and Plates. You can also import your favorite IRs and use them with this interface. Pitch Driver, another new plug-in, is a type of harmony processor with a width control, and last is Pitch Correct, a plug-in that’s similar to Auto-Tune. It has an additional Formant function that can maintain the integrity of the human voice through pitch change or manually be exaggerated to make an older person sound younger, a female voice sound male, or vice versa.
In addition to Pitch Correct there’s also a tuning function called VariAudio. It’s unbelievably easy to use: Double-click on the file region, click on the Pitch & Warp tab under VariAudio, and Nuendo automatically analyzes the track’s pitch. This is very similar to the Celemony Melodyne approach. Each segment can then be highlighted and adjusted with two variable sliders, one for quantizing the pitch and the other for straightening. A judicious amount of either or both can correct pitch discrepancies without dehumanizing and leaving the blue notes intact. And as VariAudio is part of the program, auditioning can occur in solo or within the mix.
BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE
I’ve had a bit of success with surround mixing in the past, and Nuendo 5 has a great new Surround Panner that’s capable of rotating the entire surround field. All Surround Panner functions are automatable. In fact, the automation for Nuendo has been completely redesigned and now has the most complete set of functions found on any software or hardware automation system I’ve ever used. The automation passes can now be saved in a form of a mix tree so that previous passes can easily be identified and returned to, subsequently creating a new stem to branch out from.
Another handy addition is the Waveform view in the mixer. This allows for a visual per-track preview during mixing. It’s also a great way to impress the producer and artist on playback. Oh, how they love flashing lights and visual distractions!
The addition of direct outputs was originally conceived as a way for post mixers to create the different stems required in films like music, Foley, voice, effects and more. In a music-mixing context, the direct outputs are useful for doing parallel compression. You can use direct outputs either in the box with plug-in compressors or using the old tried-and-true analog compressors as an external effect, all without any adverse delay issues. For me, this has been one of the main sacrifices when mixing in the box; while doing parallel busing, I’ve always encountered timing discrepancies that created unwanted artifacts.
Another post-production idea that has a place in the music production world is the desired capability of having multiple Marker Tracks. This may seem insignificant until you do a live recording where you’d like to have a Marker Track for each song, or perhaps you’d like one Marker Track for your MIDI events and another for the song format. If you’ve got a gazillion tracks, it’s nice to have markers dispersed throughout to reduce the need to scroll up and down. Now that they’re available, I’d miss them if they were taken away.
Nuendo’s crossfades always amazed me because of what you can get away with and not have any audible artifact. Without bashing the other guy, crossfades in Nuendo simply work better. Double-clicking on the fade puts you into the Crossfade Edit window. Here, you can adjust the style of fade and even draw a shape to suit the situation. Within the Crossfade Edit window, a new Chaining mode will keep track of all your later edits and automatically bring them along when you do consecutive edits. This saves time and makes you look like a star when everyone’s standing around watching you shorten a track that requires multiple edits.
Network collaboration is not new to Nuendo 5, but it’s improved to include sharing content from the Media Bay. I could spend an entire article on the networking capabilities and potential uses of the Media Bay, but put simply, network collaboration is a great tool, particularly for the post environment, letting multiple operators work on a single project at the same time. Finding sound and project files is super-fast with V. 5’s Media Bay upgrade.
In recent years, the NARAS Producers & Engineers Wing and representatives from record companies have produced comprehensive lists of production guidelines, which have now been adopted by all the major labels. (Go to “Mix Media” at mixonline.com for a PDF of the document.) Steinberg has incorporated features that make it easy to comply with these guidelines, and the company is committed to improving its software to deal with this mountain of metadata archival issues.
For instance, from within Nuendo 5, you can select individual (or all) audio tracks to do a Batch Export. This will automatically “flatten” the audio files, virtual instruments and group outputs to include all plug-ins and in-line processing into the exported file. There’s even an option to create a new project full of stems that can easily be imported into any other application. If all you need to do is copy your session to a new folder and consolidate your audio files, just choose Backup Session under the File pull-down. This will guide you through setting a destination, creating a new session name and options for exporting the audio and video files. Once in the new folder, you can safely range the entire song to create consolidated, contiguous files with a common start and end time. Once done, you can delete the unused original files from the audio pool—and voilá—you’re ready to make multiple copies in the different recommended formats for delivery.
INDULGE YOUR CURIOSITY
There’s so much more to Nuendo 5. I haven’t even mentioned the sequencer capabilities for which Nuendo is famous for, but hopefully some of these new features will pique your interest and you will take a look at it.
Chuck Ainlay is a Grammy Award–winning engineer who wishes to thank Greg Ondo at Steinberg for his assistance.