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    Tuesday, April 07, 2009

    Pro Tools vs Cubase

    This is a topic I've been meaning to cover for a long time now. So far I have held back because I felt that I was not experienced enough with Pro Tools to make a fair comparison. This is a short post about the differences between two popular pieces of DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software; Digidesign's Pro Tools and Steinberg's Cubase. There are many other DAW software for you to choose from, for example Logic Studio (Mac), Audacity (PC + Mac + FREE), Ableton Live (PC + Mac), Garage Band (Mac + Free), and more. All of these systems are good at slightly different things. The reason I have chosen Pro Tools and Cubase is because these are the two most significant systems new music technicians are likely to come across.

    Cubase is used quite a lot in the education system, this is because it provides a fairly advanced set of features and will run 'fairly' well on a relatively cheap PC (for smaller recording tasks!). Pro Tools is regarded as the industry standard and is used in most professional studios. A few days ago I discussed the differences between Mac and PC for music technology, well both of these systems can be run on either Mac or PC, however Pro Tools tends to be run mainly on Mac, whilst Cubase tends to be run on a PC.

    The interfaces look very similar (Even more so since the Pro Tools 8 Upgrade), as you can see below...

    Pro Tools 8 running on a Mac

    Cubase 4 running on a PC

    In fact the differences can really be summarised in one sentence. Think of Pro Tools as audio recording software with MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) built in, and Cubase as a MIDI sequencer with audio recording functions built in. Whilst this may be changing considerably in the near future with the release of Cubase 5, for now Pro Tools certainly is a more comprehensive piece of software for audio recording purposes.

    Cubase makes it really easy to plug in a MIDI device, and route it through a VSTI (Virtual Studio Technology Instrument) of your choice to create a MIDI track. It comes pre-installed with many different VSTI's as well as other VST plugins, like reverberation, noise gates, compressors, and more. Pro Tools also comes installed with a multitude of VST plugins however these are almost all focused on manipulating audio files, rather than MIDI input. It is worth noting that there are literally hundreds of VST plugins available from third party companies, ranging from thousands of pounds, to free. An interesting point here is that there tend to be less free plugins for Mac users running Pro Tools, as these plugins tend to be geared towards the professional market and are often of a much higher quality than some of their PC counterparts.

    Then comes the issue of cost, and inevitably licensing issues. Cubase requires an external USB dongle to act as a registration key before the software will open. In a similar way Pro Tools will only run when connected to certain sound cards. You can buy sound cards by Digidesign (The company behind Pro Tools) or you can buy a special version of Pro Tools to run on certain M-Audio sound cards. I find Pro Tools is more advanced in this respect because (depending on which sound card you have) it actually uses the sound card to process some of the VST plugins, rather than depending totally on the CPU in the computer.

    If you buy a sound card from Digidesign, you get a copy of Pro Tools LE for free. This is all that most home users and students will require. I personally recommend the Digidesign Mbox 2 Mini as it can be brought for around £200 . Cubase comes with its own protection dongle and will run on almost any sound card, a single licence for Steinberg Cubase 4 Essential will cost around £125, but it is worth noting that this is not the most recent edition. You will pay around £320 for Cubase 5, the latest edition of the software. It is up to you to decide whether you really need the latest and greatest features.

    Essentially, both these systems perform the same tasks. If you are looking to get into the recording industry, then i suggest you get familiar with Pro Tools. If you are just looking to record a bit of stuff at home and play around with MIDI, then cubase is the way forward.