Steinberg Nuendo

MEDIA PRODUCTION SYSTEM Steinberg has labeled Nuendo its "Media Production System" and with good reason. Open the program, click "New Project," and there's

MEDIA PRODUCTION SYSTEMSteinberg has labeled Nuendo its "Media Production System" and with good reason. Open the program, click "New Project," and there's a list of various application templates ranging from Pro Logic Video Mixdown and 24/96 DVD 5.1 Authoring to 32-bit Stereo Master and Audio/MIDI Music Production.

Designed to run on the Windows 98/NT/2000 platforms, the $1,295 Nuendo software offers a real-time audio engine based on Steinberg's VST and ASIO technology, supporting both VST and DirectX plug-ins as well as ASIO and ASIO2 audio interface (hardware) specs.

Nuendo's capacity for 200 channels of digital audio plus an unlimited number of MIDI tracks is further enhanced by a built-in "window" that can play a local video file, locking picture and audio tracks in sample-accurate sync. The Surround option includes presets for various speaker configurations. Other features specific to video post include an open-framework media asset management system for organizing, searching and archiving media. There is EDL and control surface support (including CM Automation's Motor Mix), loop functions, infinite undo/redo, OMF import, Dolby Pro Logic-compatible encoder/decoder and Timelock Pro.

Priced at $999, Timelock Pro is an optional hardware synchronizer that generates MTC from LTC and VITC, generates word clock or Digidesign Super Clock (FSx256) from video sync or free-running LTC. It supports 44.1/48kHz sample rates including 0.1% and 4% pull up/down rates and has a low-jitter word clock synthesizer for improved audio quality.

TURNKEY WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGSShort of providing a computer with everything installed, Nuendo (as reviewed here) is almost a turnkey system, with numerous hardware I/Os available to accompany the $1,295 software package. Priced at $799, the Nuendo 96/52 for PC provides digital-only, 24-bit/96kHz I/O on a PCI card, with three ADAT Lightpipe connectors, S/PDIF I/O and a 9-pin ADAT Sync port for sample accurate transfers. Included is an expansion board with BNC word clock I/O for continuous resync.

For those requiring analog and digital interfacing, Steinberg offers several choices. The $1,999 Nuendo 8-I/O is an 8-channel single-rackspace breakout box with 24-bit ADCs/DACs, with 8-channel balanced analog I/O (-10 or +4 dB) via balanced 11/44-inch connectors. The built-in 24-bit digital router includes auxiliary ADAT Lightpipe ports and Tascam TDIF I/O (with bit-splitting and copy modes) plus word clock I/O. A more extravagant I/O option is the $7,699 Nuendo AD-8000, featuring eight 24-bit uber-analog channels of conversion designed by Apogee Electronics, which include the renowned UV-22 and Soft Limit features.

Knowing that Steinberg created the popular Cubase sequencer suggests a history of integrating audio and MIDI that should inspire confidence. While many software sequencers have graduated to hard disk recording, Nuendo seems to be a digital audio workstation first and sequencer second. This suits me fine, as I primarily work with real sounds and have concerned myself with learning and using those tools, content that the MIDI would be available when I needed it.

INSTALLAt every possible juncture, Nuendo offers tips and suggestions, recommending a self-test each time I/O parameters are changed. For example, taking advantage of an IDE drive's "DMA" feature ensured digital harmony between audio and MIDI tracks. The program was tested on a 450MHz Pentium II with 128MB RAM running Windows 98. (Nuendo's copy protection scheme requires a dongle on the parallel port.)

With an editing project to do, I started with Mastering mode, although it was confusing to set the Auto mode (which should toggle between Internal Sync for editing and processing and External Sync for transferring material from DAT or other outside sources). The interface could be a little more explanatory about self-diagnosing the erratic behavior.

While I was learning the program, still in Mastering mode, the system was unpredictable and crashed several times. Later, after switching to Multitrack mode, I entered the Devices menu and discovered that the "generic" ASIO driver had loaded during the installation, rather than the driver specific to the card I was using. I was impressed with the system's ability to load the correct driver on the fly without rebooting, yet I wish that Nuendo would have been smart enough to find and load the correct driver in the first place. However, once the correct driver was in place, Nuendo behaved as intended, and I was then inspired by its power and no more crashes.

IN SESSION WITH NUENDOWhen reviewing any product, I use the trial-and-error approach (i.e., how far can I go without actually cracking open the manual) to indicate whether or not the software is intuitive - Nuendo is! Also, by knowing the right questions, I can determine if the manual can actually be of help. I highly recommend the Adobe Acrobat (PDF) version of the manual, which is conveniently hyperlinked and located on the CD-ROM. Additionally, the latest documentation and software upgrades can be downloaded from the Web site, but to skip the homepage intro, enter and click on "Support."

OPERATIONSThe difference between reviewing a product and being a power user should not be lost on readers of this review. Having just crossed the threshold from frustration to the smug satisfaction of knowing my way around, Nuendo has the power to satisfy my needs. That's not to say there weren't any problems; I basically looked in all the closets until I found the tools and tweaks to make it work "Eddie-style."

All editors have some sort of Trim and Fade In/Out features. Nuendo integrates these so Trim is accessed at the bottom of the audio waveform while Fade in/out is at the top. I didn't figure this out by myself (another place where a good manual does help). You can select and group sound files just like computer files using the Shift key. The essential tools are just above the sound files, but you can also click into a more elaborate set of tools. I only wish there was a sophisticated version of QuickKeys for PC so that favorite tools from any workstation could be collected and made transportable - be they icons or keystrokes - independent of software or hardware. Dream on!

One example of a small triumph was finding the transport defaults (in the File menu, under Preferences). One simple click and the most annoying default of Nuendo was banished. When editing, my preference is for the "play head," a.k.a. the cursor, to park when stopped. The default - Return to Start Position on Stop - just about pushed me over the edge. In my humble opinion, this shouldn't be a preference so much as one of many button options in the Locator section of the Transport Panel. Another useful Transport option toggles between Stationary and Moving cursor. Select Stationary and the cursor is always centered, making it easy to zoom right in to audition, scroll and trim audio with enough room to see what's on either side.

SIR HOUNDInitiating a new project via any template does not restrict the user from changing course. A perfect example would be completing a stereo mix, then moving on to the 5.1 Surround version, as seen on page 161. The Devices buttons allow any window to be selected Mixer, Effects, Inputs, Video, etc. The Outputs button opens a dialog box (indicated by the blue arrow) that selects the number of output channels and their formats.

For stereo, the mixer options are simply buses, but once 5.1 Surround is chosen as the output format, additional routing options can be selected from the bottom of the mixer. (The yellow arrow shows dialog box choices.) It is possible to "hard-pan" directly to any of six outputs. Or, selecting the Surround Pan option changes the left-right horizontal panner to a full, 360-degree joystick panner. The properties of the all panners can be manipulated in the Master Setup Box (shown in the circle in the lower right corner).

IN THE TOY BOXPull down the Devices menu to access the primary "windows," such as the Mixer, Transport control and Editor. The VST Mixer window can be simple faders, or via edit button, expanded to reveal the plug-ins (and their options) as well as the Master (bus) section.

Nuendo supports VST and DirectX plug-ins, a diverse selection of more than 400 signal-processing options that are available from both Steinberg and third-party sources. Besides Apogee's UV-22 dithering, Nuendo's built-in effects plug-ins include reverb, dynamics, delay, chorus and flanging - all of which can be automated. I was impressed by the multiband compression plug-in. The default is three bands, but as many as five bands can be added. Nothing could be simpler or slicker (except dual-monitors, and I'm working on that)!

On a more basic level, I really appreciated the horizontal and vertical sliders for quick zoom-in and zoom-out of the waveforms and timeline. There's even a separate menu for third-party DirectX programs, simple and obvious. Normally I save often, but on one occasion, moving a piece of audio while another was playing caused the program to freeze. After rebooting, Nuendo knew that changes had been made, offering the option of saving those changes as a new version, splitting the difference between the last save and where I had left off.

WIDE SCREENWhile the Devices buttons make light work of finding the window you need most, the number of window options shows the obvious need for dual monitors. This is not exclusive to Nuendo: My computer has five PCI slots, with the "sixth" slot taken by the onboard SCSI. (Some PCs are limited to three PCI slots.) That said, it is best to either upgrade to, or specify, a dual-monitor AGP Video card. (The AGP slot is video specific. Windows also supports an additional monitor via video card in a PCI slot.)

CONCLUSIONNuendo is very new software. The minor bugs I caught were mostly spelling errors (one of the drivers), an error message - referring to the program as "Cubase" rather than "Nuendo" - and minor quirks such as the multiband compressor's gain reduction indicator that could barely "get off the ground."

At $2,094 list for the software and 96/52 PCI card alone, Nuendo falls somewhere in the middle of the competition. Its powerful software is potentially enhanced by several peripheral and plug-in options. Buy the entire package or go a la carte. For example, engineers on a budget could save $1,999 for Steinberg's 8-I/O converter/router box, choosing to use the ADAT's converters instead.

Once resolving the driver issue, I really began to see Nuendo as a contender. From a computer standpoint, Nuendo ran perfectly well on my nearly two-year-old PII and didn't mind transferring audio via fast-wide SCSI drive even though most PCs are sold with "enchanted" IDE drives. Surely, it will kick some butt on whatever newer system you choose to run it on.

Sonically, Nuendo delivers what I expect from digital audio - consistency. Like any audio product - real or virtual - Nuendo will be sonically judged by its user's taste in signal processing. I can tell you that one of the built-in reverb plug-ins tested on drums fell quite short of my mark. The important thing to remember is that Nuendo's editing and mixing "toolkit" has the power to get the job done. Your biggest challenge will be auditioning the 400-plus available VST and DirectX plug-in options while saving a few brain cells for creative purposes.