I'm using Cubase LE version 1.0.7 (thanks SoundAsleep) in Windows XP for this tutorial. Your version might be different in some ways.
Setting Up Your Sound Card In Cubase LE In Windows XP
First get your sound card (also called an interface) installed and make sure that it's working. Play some music in Media Player, Winamp, etc. Find the control panel for your sound card and read the product manaul to figure out how it's signal routing and features work. Take the time now to understand the features of your sound card. If you don't, the confusion will only snowball after you start running Cubase. For my sound card, I can connect a mic/preamp to an input of my sound card and test each input. The control panel for my sound card allows me to monitor the incoming signals, adjust monitoring volumes, adjust pan, mute, route inputs to outputs, adjust crossover points, adjust latency, etc. You definitely need to understand how your sound card's control panel works before moving on.
- Ok, once you have a handle on how your sound card works, fire up Cubase LE. At the top of the screen, go to Devices, Device Setup, ASIO Driver, and choose your sound card's driver. If you don't know which one to use, check your sound card's manual to find out what it should be named.
- In the same window (Devices, Device Setup) you will see a check box that reads "Direct Monitoring". Checking this box will allow you to hear your sound card's unprocessed inputs when a track's monitoring button is engaged (we'll get to that later). If the box is unchecked, you will hear your sound card's input processed thru any effects that you may have setup on the track (we'll get to that too). Basically, If you want to hear your dry input with no latency, check the box. Otherwise, leave it unchecked.
- Now we'll setup the sound card's inputs and outputs in Cubase LE. Go to Devices, VST outputs. A window will popup with what looks like a mixer channel. This is your output bus. Select your sound card outputs at the bottom of the bus channel (see image). Cubase LE has four output bus's available. If your sound card has multiple outputs, you can use these bus's for outboard monitoring or mixing by routing your tracks to thru the bus's. You can name your output bus's by clicking in box that reads "BUS 1", "BUS 2", etc. That takes care of the outputs. For the inputs, go to Devices, VST Inputs. Drag the bottom of the window down to reveal all of your sound card's inputs. Use the Active buttons to activate / disable each input. You can label your inputs here by clicking in the Label boxes. That takes care of the inputs.
Next we'll setup an audio track and record something.......
Ok, hopefully you figured out how your sound card works and and got it setup in in Cubase LE. If not, backtrack and get it done. If you have an M-Audio sound card I can likely help you figure it out. Other wise read your product manual, someone that owns your same sound card, or maybe you'll get lucky and someone will chime in to help.
- Connect the device that you will be recording to your sound card inputs and make sure that your getting signal in your sound card's control panel input meters. Adjust gain as needed (well below zero, which is the clipping point). Next, make sure that you have selected your sound card's outputs in BUS 1 and activate the sound card inputs that you will be using.
- Right click in the track area and choose "Add Audio Track" or go to Project (top of the screen), Add Track, Audio. You should see a new track in track area. Familiarize yourself with the tracks controls. To the left of the track area, you will see the track inspector area. This is where you adjust volume, pan, eq, mute solo, automation read/write, etc. The track inspector area has drop down boxes for various controls of the selected track. When you click on a track, the track inspector switches to that track's controls. The track area contains some of the basic controls that are also in the track inspector and the mixer. You can grab the track and pull to reveal more controls.
- Choose your input and ouput bus for the track in the track inspector. the drop down boxes are labeled "in:" and "out:". Only those inputs and output bus's that you have activated in VST IN and VST OUT will be available here. If the in or out that you need isn't showing up, activate it first.
- Now click on the speaker icon (monitor button) on the track to activate track monitoring. It will turn orange when activated. This will allow you to hear anything that is connected to sound card input that is selected for the track such as a mic preamp, direct box, synth, etc.
- After you have your signal coming thru, have your gain adjusted, and are hearing everything fine and dandy, arm the track for recording by pressing the record enable button on the track. It's icon is a circle and the button will turn red when activated. Now press the record button on the transport and your off.........If the transport isn't visible, go to the top of the screen and click Transport, Transport Panel.
Thems the basics to recording an audio track. Next I'll explain basic signal routing in Cubase LE. If you don't know how signal routing works in a mixer, hopefully you will after we're done.......
I'll be using multiple images so this post will be broken up to ensure that they all display (unlike my 'setting up your sound card' post).
I know some of you guys out there don't understand signal routing. Some of you guys (and gals) might not have ever used a mixer and probably don't know exactly what inserts, sends, bus's, and all that other jazz are. I'm going to use a twist on the water analogy from a 4 track book I got with my first 4 track.
Imagine your audio signals as being water. Your cables and device circuits are pipes. Knobs, faders, and switches are valves. Meters are.....well, water meters.
.....it's getting late. To be continued tomorrow.........
Couldn't sleep so I thought I would do something productive. I think I'm dropping the water analogy because it will leave some holes in my signal routing explanation later on. So what we have here is a basic mixer with one mic channel, one pre fader send, one post fader send, one insert, and one mono bus. Good enough for an explanation of signal routing.
Technically, the pre fader send bus and post fader send bus aren't bus's since no signal summing is happening in the picture. We only have one mic channel on our mixer. If we had two mic channels, these effect channels would most certainly be bus's. I hope you can imagine another mic channel in the picture. It makes things easier on my kindergarten drawings skills. (where's dwillis45 when you need him?). If it helps, think of them as taxis instead of bus's since there's only one passenger.
The mic signal comes in at the mic preamp. See that little purple square? That's our mic preamp. It's where the puny little mic signal gets amplified to line level.
See the arrows? Those indicate signal flow. It's flowing more like water than a real ac electrical signal since it's only flowing in one direction. So I worked some water in there any way. (or dc like signal......). Why am I telling you this? I don't know. It doesn't matter. Let's move on!
At the mic preamp we have a gain knob to control the level of amplification. Little signal to bigger signal. From here our signal flows to the channel insert. The insert breaks our signal so that a sound altering device (see the compressor?) can be placed in the signal flow. The signal is 'sent' from the mic channel to the compressor input. It is 'returned' from the compressor output back to the mic channel. When a device is placed in the channel insert, all of the channel's signal passes thru the compressor.
Let's look up a bit further. See that red square. This is where the mic channel signal is split. We have the same signal continuing on up thru the rest of mic channel as the signal that's going to the pre fader send. Why is it called a pre fader send? Because the split is taking place before the channel's level fader. Since the split is occurring before the fader, no matter how high or low we set the channel level fader, the signal going to the pre fader send bus won't be affected. I hope that makes sense. If it doesn't, stare at it for a minute like one of those 3d images in the mall. Or was that like 10 years ago?
Moving on! After the signal split, we have the channel level fader. I know, I know, it's a knob in the picture. Fader, knob, they do the same thing. I couldn't be troubled, or fit it in the picture, or draw one for crap..........pick the excuse you like best. So I think we all know what the channel level fader does.......it controls the level of signal that goes to the master bus where all our signals get summed, mixed, blended, however you like to visualize it. I'm calling it summed. An important thing to notice here is that not only does the channel level fader control the amount of signal that goes on to the master bus but it also controls the amount of signal that goes to the post fader bus. See the next split? It's after the channel fader. Think water and valves here if want to. So the post fader send bus is named so because? I hope you said because it comes after the fader. Other wise you aren't holding your mouth right. 3d puzzle........
Ok, so hopefully you understand the signal flow up to the pre fader and post fader send level knobs. If not, have a balowme samuch. From our send level knobs, the signal is routed to is routed to our reverb processors. We determine how much signal is sent to the processors with the send level knobs. Turn em to zero and nothing passes thru the send channels.....errr. I said channels. If we imagine our second mic channel being in the drawing, the word "channel" would be incorrect. When a channel has multiple inputs, it's called a bus. See how that works? Let me confuse you more. When a channel has two inputs, it's called a stereo channel. You can work this out. I have faith in you.
Why are the reverb processors placed in the sends and while the compressor is placed in the insert? I'm not explaining compression just yet but just know this. If the compressor is placed on a send bus, it's compressing a copy of the the mic channel signal. Look at the signal splits in the channel again. If we place the compressor on a send, we have one copy going to the master bus uncompressed and one copy going compressed. That's not illegal but for now we don't want to do that. We're using the compressor to tame the signal. It has to be directly in the signal path before any splits in the channel. The reverb processors don't need to be in the direct signal path from the channel to the master bus. Say we put a reverb in the insert. From the insert out on, all of the signal will have reverb on it. By placing the reverb in the send, we can go from zero to lost caveman with a twist of the knob and not affect the rest of the channel.
Ok, I forgot to label the send out level controls. You'll have to use your imagination there. Why do we have level controls for both the send in and send out? Think of the send out as the send bus master volume. With the mic channels individual send level knobs, we control how much of each signal goes to the effect bus. With the send out level knob, we control the overall effect volume that reaches the master bus.
We covered the whole mixer except the master bus. The master bus is where everything gets summed together. See that little blue square there? That's the spot where the all the signals from the mixer are mixed. Imagine a huge beer funnel. Ten guys are standing at the big end and each of them has a different brand of beer in his hand. At the little end of the funnel is Dogman with his mouth wide open, happier than Ralphy when he got his Red Rider bb gun on Christmas. Ten different beers in, one mixed beer out. If Dogman's mouth is the master bus input, you can imagine where the master bus output is.
Next will be............you pick. I'm thinking MIDI conroller setup and recording a MIDI track.
Another couple of words on effect send bus's. Or is it buss's? Somebody help me. Don't let me be the guy with a booger on his nose all day and then let me know when it's time to go home. When's grammar checker coming out for Firefox?
A buss ( < mix em up and play it safe) is a channel that accepts multiple inputs. Other than the 'multiple input' feature, you can think of it as a regular channel. An effect bus is called so because normally effects are placed within it's signal path. In reality, an effect bus can be used for many things. It can be used as a regular line input, a place to connect your mic preamp, a headphone mix bus, etc. It's a regular mixer channel with the special feature of accepting multiple inputs. Typically, hardware mixers are hard wired with send knobs on their mic/line channels.
If we want an effect signal that involves multiple signal processors, we can connect them in series like this:
Just imagine that series of effects in place of the compressor or reverb processor in the mixer picture. If you understand that, you understand how the insert and send effect slots work in Cubase.
An effect bus can be called a send bus, a group bus, or auxillary bus. Or, replace bus with the word 'channel' or 'track'. There may be other names.
Depending on the flexibility of your mixer or software (virtual mixer), the effect bus output can be routed to any mixer input. That isn't true in Cubase. In Cubase LE, you can have up to 4 effect bus's (group tracks) and 4 output bus's. The group tracks can be routed to a following group track or output bus. Audio track's can be routed to a following group track or output bus. I'm mentioning this because if you plan to use complex routing schemes, you have to plan ahead in Cubase. You might not understand what I'm talking about until you've had time to play with it. Cubase LE is probably flexible enough for the majority of home recording projects but when your track count and effect count start piling up in a big project, you can paint yourself into a corner without realizing it.
In another popular recording application (plug for Reaper) you have the ability to route things damn near any way you want (and I'm not kidding). If you start to run into Cubase's routing limitations, you might want to use Reaper as your virtual patch bay in conjunction with Cubase LE (if you really like Cubase for some reason or another). I'm not dogging on Cubase LE here but you should be aware of it's routing limitations before starting any serious project. It's a perfectly functional recording app and after you really get the hang of it, you'll know how to not paint yourself into a corner with your routing.
Whoops, almost forgot an important point concerning audio recording. A couple actually. Don't forget to check your sound card latency before recording. If you're getting clicks, pops, or drop outs, it's the first thing to check. 512 samples is a pretty safe bet to start with. Some guys can run stable at 128 or 64 samples but I think they're in the minority. I'm stable here at 256.
This is kind of MIDI related but it can affect audio performance, as I found out. If you have a MIDI device installed, it's driver can show as 'emulated' in Cubase. If emulated drivers are activated, it can cause audio and MIDI problems like timing issues, drop outs, sluggish performance. The work around is to go to Devices, Device Setup, All MIDI Inputs, and activate only the real MIDI driver for your MIDI device. Check your product manual for the correct name. Next, go to Devices, Device Setup, Direct Music, and do the same thing. Also check 'no' for showing any devices that you will not be using. The only MIDI devices you want activated and showing up in Cubase are your devices real MIDI driver.
direct monitoring is kind of messy, software wise. in my opinion, it should be handled in cubase but it isn't. when you enable direct monitoring in cubase le, monitoring inputs thru cubase is disabled. it doesn't matter if the monitoring button is checked or not (the track monitor buttons don't work when direct monitoring is enabled). use your sound card's mixer application to monitor the inputs.
ignore what i said before. i must have been drunk.