Page 38



Alistair McGhee takes a look at what adding the ‘pro’ label means to this audio production stalwart.


an on Fire is a standard Hollywood revenge film made watchable by Denzel Washington. As Denzel blasts his way through the layers of corruption every bent copper claims in mitigation: ‘I’m a professional’. But Mr Washington is not impressed by the pro label. What would he make of Cubase Pro 8? Yes, the latest version of one of the icons of audio production has added the ‘Pro’ tag and now you have a choice of Cubase Pro 8, Artist 8 and Elements 7. High on the list of pro features is the addition of VCAs to Cubase mixing. For perspective consider when hardware VCAs arrived on good old analogue desks you were talking mortgage money. And it wasn’t all plain sailing. My colleagues told a story of a live opera broadcast from an OB in Glasgow with our A-Type vehicle 38

February 2015

boasting a desk proudly furnished with VCA groups – cutting edge at the time. All was going well until halfway through the gig when the control volts fell off the VCAs turning everything up to a Spinal Tap-style 11. Never has Wagner’s Ring been more painful. Look how far we have advanced – now in 2015 with the latest release of Steinberg’s Cubase Pro 8 you get VCAs for a few hundred notes. In fact, my review setup, which paired a Prism Sound Lyra 1 to Pro 8 is less than £1,500 all in – now that the Lyra has been reduced to under a grand – and what’s more Cubase Pro 8 has no control volts to worry about. So why the excitement about VCAs? Don’t we already have that functionality in the form of groups and the linking feature? And the answer to that is yes and no and, well, maybe. A VCA (the acronym

standing for voltage controlled amplifier, reflecting the idea’s origin in proper mixing desks) does not sum together a number of inputs to make a new output. So you cannot insert a processor into a VCA group output – there isn’t one. In that sense VCAs are examples of linking. If you want summing to apply uniform processing, then a group works better. But if you have a range of post fade sends to effects processors, for instance, then a VCA group is a better bet. The sound you are working towards is a mix of ‘dry’ audio, direct from the track, and the ‘wet’ contribution coming back from the processing. Now assuming your FX sends are post fade (and mostly they are) then if you were using a group and you nudge the group fader down, the level of your dry drum sound will decrease, but the amount sent to reverb from a given track will remain the same. This is because the

change in level has taken place at the group stage while the individual track fader is in the same place, sending the same amount of snare to the reverb. What to do? Use a VCA. The VCA doesn’t sum the track outputs, it changes gain by ‘moving’ the faders of the members of that VCA group up and down. When you push back

The Reviewer Alistair McGhee began audio life in Hi-Fi before joining the BBC as an audio engineer. After 10 years in radio and TV, he moved to production. When BBC Choice started, he pioneered personal digital production in television. Most recently, Alistair was assistant editor, BBC Radio Wales and has been helping the UN with broadcast operations in Juba.

AMI February 2015 Digital  
AMI February 2015 Digital