Finding a professional DAW isn’t easy. Not because there are too many options, no, but because each of the few options seems so close together. For many, Pro Tools is a go-to as it has been a standard in the audio world for nearly 20 years. However, as that grip begins to slip from Avid, some other options become far more attractive.
Two such options are Steinberg Cubase Elements 9.5 with Free Upgrade to 10 and Logic Pro X 10.3 - Apple Pro Training Series: Professional Music Production, both of which are strong contenders to the DAW king. A larger and faster-growing feature set is a sure sign that these may be the better choices going into the future, especially as more and more engineers make the jump from their costly Pro Tools rigs.
Once you’ve decided to step away from Pro Tools, though, you need to make the distinction between the two. It’s a bit difficult as both Logic Pro and Cubase show great upsides in their respective areas. While price point and operating system is certainly a contributing factor, it’s hard to sniff out which is better for you.
We tried out both of the DAWs to give you a little more insight before making a decision. We’ll run down a bit of history and basic information about each and dive into the strengths and weaknesses. With all that out of the way, let’s dive into these two pieces of audio software.
CubaseSteinberg Cubase Artist 8.5 Recording Software, released by the German company Steinberg, released all the way back in 1989. Originally, the software was intended only as a midi sequencer, running on the Atari ST computer. It came pre-bundled with a variety of different midi instruments from Yamaha which helped spearhead the software as an audio staple.
Eventually, this grew into a full DAW, released a few years later as Cubase VST. It added Virtual Studio Technology (VST) support, opening the gamut of third-party effects and plugins to be added to the software. However, as home computer hardware began to catch up, VST performance was found lacking in comparison to Pro Tools’ DAE. This caused Cubase to pivot.
This pivot came in the form of Cubase SX, based on Steinberg’s flagship post-production audio software, Nuendo. It vastly improved VST performance and added professional sequencing and automation tools to the lineup. Really, it was the first iteration of the Cubase that can be seen today. Once Steinberg got ahead of the curve in terms of technology, it stayed there.
Nuendo was meant to be the “professional” tool out of the lineup and, to this day, very much holds up that name. However, as more and more small and home studios popped up with basic computers, Steinberg dumped more and more resources into growing and improving Cubase.
The software is currently in its ninth version, pushing the boundaries of what a DAW can do. Its 64-bit floating point audio engine is one of the most advanced on the market, providing top-tier performance without the high cost.
Additionally, lifted restrictions on track limits, sequencing options, and plugin selection has pushed this DAW over its Pro Tools competitor in recent years. Practical features such as keymap editing and drum map editing have become small, but significant, changes to show this DAW is at the top of its game.
What Cubase is Good at
Because the options are so vast on Cubase, it does a little bit of everything well. Without divulging too much into the specifics of each area, you should just know that Cubase can accommodate nearly any audio need you have. However, some areas are done a bit better than others.
Recording, at least in Cubase’s current iteration, is one of the strongest areas of any DAW available. Unlimited track support means you can continue to add and layer without risk of running out of the room. You continue to create and Cubase worries about the rest.
This is reflected in the exceptional audio engine as well. 64-bit floating point means that, once your audio is recorded, it’s next to impossible to clip it. The headroom is simply too high, leading to clearer recordings once you go to export.
However, recording is not all the software is good at. Cubase began its life as a midi sequencer and many of its strengths still lie there. It’s wonderful for controlling virtual instruments and sequencing new pieces into the software.
The base piano roll works like any other. You have options for color of tracks, velocity, different midi controls such as bend, etc. However, the extras Cubase includes are far more special. Drum plugins, for example, pull up a grid-based version of the piano roll, automatically labeling the cells based on the drum map you input.
This is huge for sequencing virtual drums. Instead of memorizing the proper keys and awkwardly dragging lines on the piano roll, drums can be programmed by simply clicking in the proper cell. The drum map editor is pretty extensive, too, meaning you can adapt this grid to fit almost any software.
For writers, the sequencing is great. However, not all writers know their way around a piano fluently. For this, Cubase includes chord tracks. You simply load up the virtual instrument, type in the chord you want, pick a phrasing for the chord, and you’re on your way.
This is only a small cross-section of all that Steinberg Cubase Pro 9 Recording Software, Professional excels at. Giving this software the praise it deserves would require a separate article alone. Sure enough, Cubase is good at just about everything.
What Cubase is Bad at
Just about everything, yes, but not everything entirely. While Cubase is far from “bad” at most things, there are some areas that feel pretty mediocre in comparison to other pieces of software. Mainly, this is seen when editing live audio.
Drum editing, for example, is a nightmare. While it still holds the same process of cutting the transient across all tracks, aligning, and then condensing the track, there are a ton of bugs during the process. Many times, clips would disappear entirely, or fades would be cut from the final compile.
It’s not just with drums, though. Cutting and conforming any piece of audio is quite the hassle and often leads to unnecessary artifacts and an inconsistent sound. All the tools are there to do it; it doesn’t feel like a streamlined process.
This is true with the audio warp as well. While you can get away with a bit of stretching, the audio quickly becomes unusable if taken too far. Of course, that’s the case with any audio warping, but Cubase’s system seems to be a particularly hard offender.
It’s not entirely broken, though. The editing system still works, and works quite well, in fact. However, it’s not adaptable, easily broken when pushed outside of its boundaries. If you’re working with exceptionally recorded sources that require little technical editing, then you should be fine. However, for the majority of cases, Cubase’s system simply can’t meet every demand of modern audio in this area.
See how Cubase compares to others:
Logic is an Apple-exclusive DAW that originally released in the late 1980s under the name Creator. Much like Cubase, it was a midi sequencer designed for the Atari ST but quickly grew into a different implementation of a DAW.
Creator quickly became Notator, adding digital notation applities. It was a mainstay for composers as trying to sequence with midi was a far different process than simply writing out the musical notation. It was one of the most powerful sequencers of the time, building on a 16-track pattern grid.
However, with Steinberg’s rise in popularity due to unlimited tracks, Notator quickly fell off the bandwagon. Programmers from Notator created the company Emagic, writing a new piece of software that combined track and pattern operation: Notator Logic.
It was available for Mac and PC from 1993 until 2002. It became simply known as Logic and was used by many PC users who were jumping from Atari system. Some 70,000 users, in fact, that invested in a PC for recording purposes.
Ironically enough, Emagic was purchased by Apple in 2002 with an announcement that Logic would no longer be produced for PCs moving forward. It caused quite the rift in the audio industry, dividing users on the platform in which they chose to record music, an issue that has continued to do this day.
Despite that, Emagic grew in revenue after the Apple acquisition, improving Logic and its feature set as time went on. Even with the setback, Logic is one of the top DAWs on the market today, with many engineers using a Mac simply to have access to the software.
The most current version, Logic Pro X, completely overhauled the software and caused many engineers to jump ship into the Apple world. Combine that with dirt cheap $200 price point, and Logic is a great choice for any engineer.
What Logic Pro is Good at
Perhaps the price point in the best place to start with this piece of software. Logic is incredibly inexpensive and that’s a huge plus when considering which DAW to go with. While the initial investment in an Apple computer is far higher, the price of the software itself is hard to contend with.
What’s so great about Logic is that it can simply be downloaded without any fuss with hardware. A quick search on the app store and you’re on your way. It’s great for beginners because of the low price, providing a fully-featured DAW that can be used by newbies and professionals alike.
You get quite a lot for the money too. Apple includes a surprising suite of plugins that are high performers across the board. One of the most impressive in Logic Pro X in the Drummer plugin that allows you to not only pick a style of drum kit, but pick a style of drummer when programming.
However, the mixing plugins are quite good as well. The EQ, for example, is one of the best we’ve seen come out of a stock plugin lineup. You’re getting 10 bands of equalization, with the options to create incredibly narrow Qs. It’s on the quality level of an EQ that would cost as much as the DAW itself which is difficult to argue with.
Unlike Cubase, Logic’s editing tools can be pushed to their absolute limit before breaking. Smart tempo will automatically line up any tracks that deviate from the grid, with options for how much quantizing you want there to be.
Its flex audio system works well too. You have options for both pitch and time, each which can be pushed pretty far before breaking. While a tool like Melodyne works far better, it’s quite the valuable inclusion when the DAW itself is only $200.
What Logic Pro is Bad at
However, Logic can feel a bit awkward, especially when coming from another DAW. When compared to Cubase, the mixing portion of the software feels pretty mediocre, even with the great list of stock plugins.
For example, Cubase gives you a small channel strip on each track by default. It’s pretty limited, sure, but you can do basic EQ and compression without opening up a single plugin. Logic doesn’t have this feature. You instead have to navigate to the plugin, load it up, and then make your adjustments.
However, this is a problem that many other DAWs have as well. Something that no other DAW has, though, is support for only Audio Unit (AU) plugins. Logic only supports this line of the plugin, making some choices not even possible in the DAW.
Pro Tools historically has had this same problem, using RTAS and now AAX plugin variants. However, unlike Pro Tools, Logic doesn’t have quite as large of a hold on the market, making AU plugins a bit more difficult to find.
It isn’t impossible, though, and most major plugins will support the DAW. However, niche options are almost always off the table and, while it’s not the end of the world, it should certainly be considered before buying the software.
Both Steinberg Cubase Pro 9 Recording Software, Professional and Logic Pro X 10.3 - Apple Pro Training Series: Professional Music Production are cutting-edge DAWs that provide an incredible amount of efficient power. Both can stand up to nearly any task, with Logic pulling ahead in terms of editing and Cubase stealing the crown in terms of mixing.
If you don’t have a Mac, then there isn’t much to pull you towards Logic when Cubase is on the table. However, if you are on a Mac, the choice is a bit more difficult. Much of it will come down to personal tastes and what your budget dictates as Cubase is more than twice the price of Logic.
The choice is ultimately up to you, so which DAW are you going with? Let us know in the comments below and, as always, thanks for reading.