Steinberg’s pedigree for professional music-production software is unrivalled, with Cubase dating back to 1989 on the Atari and still going strong today on the PC and Mac. Various cut-down versions are available, but Steinberg has created Sequel from scratch specifically for home users. First launched in 2007, this second release brings a handful of minor improvements while keeping the focus on simplicity and efficiency.
Installation and copy protection is more streamlined than before. But while the installer emphasises the serial codes can be used only once, it should be made clearer that users must both activate and register the software to protect their purchase against hard disk failure.
Sequel shares a few traits with Cubase, but looks and feels quite different. Multiple floating windows are rejected in favour of a single-screen interface with a tabbed lower section. The main arrange panel is devoid of toolboxes or right-click menu options, which makes arranging MIDI and audio recordings neat, intuitive and efficient. The tabs below reveal a simple mixer, more comprehensive mix settings for the selected channel, the Media Bay for choosing sounds, an audio or MIDI editor for the selected object, pads for triggering sections of an arrangement and general preferences.
This isn’t the only software to use this tabbed approach, but its execution here is first-rate. It looks elegant and distils a range of complex functions into a digestible format for inexperienced users. The only area where they might come unstuck is in the global effects section; aside from the name, there’s nothing to suggest that editing settings on one channel will affect those on all others.
The downside is that Sequel’s mixing capabilities are limited, even compared with most low-cost software. The fixed signal path includes compression, EQ and just two other effects per channel, plus two shared global effects. There are only a few basic controls for each effect, with presets providing a simplified front end for advanced parameters, and there’s no support for third-party VST plug-ins. Such limitations rule out advanced mixing techniques and experimental sound design, but there’s enough here to produce in a conventional manner to a high standard.
VST instruments aren’t supported either but the bundled Halion One instrument provides a comprehensive sound palette for those composing with a MIDI keyboard. 600 presets cover a wide range of acoustic emulations and abstract sounds, and while editing potential is limited, quality is fairly high.
Meanwhile, the Media Bay browser elevates Halion One beyond most bundled virtual instruments, sorting its presets – and the bundled library of 5,000 samples – by instrument type, musical style and acoustic character. Version 2 adds a numerical readout of the number of matches in each category, so it’s easy to isolate suitable sounds.
The other new features are pretty uninspiring. Graphics for each channel liven up the mixer and make it easier to navigate at a glance, but the Halion One presets don’t have appropriate graphics assigned to them by default. A new Virtual Keyboard turns 13 keys on the Qwerty keyboard into an octave of MIDI keys, which is useful for step recording but pretty hopeless for live playing.
A Track Freeze option renders a mixer channel as a single audio file, freeing up processor cycles for use elsewhere, but Sequel’s simple mix architecture and lack of VST support means it’s unlikely this feature will be necessary. Similarly, the ability to reverse a section of audio and adjust its timing in a Free Warp mode is useful, in theory, but largely redundant in practice.
These features will appeal to electronic music producers, but little else in this package will. We like the ease with which mixer settings can now be assigned to MIDI controllers, though, allowing automated mixer changes to be recorded in real time.
Sequel isn’t recommended for producers, but its simplicity will allow songwriters to concentrate on composing without being bogged down with recording techniques, though useful features like Cubase’s Stacked Recording mode and audio crossfading are missing. The lack of support for time signature or tempo changes is equally regrettable.
Still, these omissions don’t cripple Sequel. As an affordable, friendly introduction to music production, it’s a decent choice.
This Review appeared in the November, 2008 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine
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