New Software Review: Nuendo 8 from Steinberg

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Now in its eighth iteration, Steinberg’s Nuendo is a powerhouse DAW with capabilities that stretch far beyond the traditional demands of simply capturing, editing, and mixing music.

In the world of professional audio, Pro Tools has long been king.

This has been especially true in the U.S., where it has become the de facto standard of music production, much like 2” 24-track tape was from the 70s to the early 2000s.

Today, even the average hobbyist musician is likely to have a Pro Tools license and be somewhat adept at using it. And, if you look around the internet for tips on recording, the likelihood is high that it will be taught within the Pro Tools environment.

That said, there is no end to alternate options when it comes to DAWs these days. They are available at just about any price point, and these competing workstations will usually have most, if not all, of the same capabilities as Pro Tools. (Sometimes, more.)

This proliferation in accessible software has been a big force in the “democratization” of the recording industry. Today, everyone has access to the same tools. The biggest difference in results lies largely in who is charged with delivering them.

But that’s not to say that all digital audio workstations were created equal.

Steinberg’s latest offering of their flagship workstation is Nuendo 8, and I must say, it is a beast. Available for $1,900, the amount of functionality, customization, and power built into it are quite staggering. No matter how comprehensive a review I write, I could never do more than scratch the surface of what is possible with Nuendo 8.

Steinberg has always paid close attention to the workflows and standards of the huge and growing sound-for-picture and game audio industries. In Nuendo 8, they’ve included numerous features that speed up the processes for delivery of assets for TV, motion pictures, video games, and other multimed-related audio.

Although all of this capability comes standard in Nuendo 8 (albeit capability that I may never use in my own work), it also turns out to be an incredibly powerful workstation for music recording, editing and mixing. It’s this fact, that may be more pertinent to the average SonicScoop reader, and so that’s where I’ll focus the bulk of my review.

While glossing over some multimedia-focused features in this review may be a bit of a disservice in describing Nuendo 8’s enormous capability in serving audio post engineers, my hope is that it will make this review of particular interest to others who, like me, work primarily in music.

Nuendo and I: A Brief History

I am neither a lover nor a hater of Pro Tools. It is what it is, I use it, and it can certainly get the job done. However, long before I started using Pro Tools in my own studio on a daily basis, I had a little bit of (ancient) history with Nuendo.

I first started using Nuendo 1.6 around 2002. I had only started recording digitally a couple of years prior with the excellent iZ RADAR system, which proved to be the perfect bridge between my (soon to be) past analog life and my digital future. I found RADAR to be easy, transparent and fast.

While in the midst of my RADAR Love, I was not enamored with the thought of adopting any other particular workstation as my main platform, even though the music industry trends (and client expectations) were pushing me in that direction.

At the time, I had used Pro Tools a little bit, but was never really happy with its sound, which I mostly attributed to the proprietary hardware made by Digidesign—Pro Tools’ parent company at the time.

I wanted to ease into a life in digital audio through a different and more customizable path. When I discovered that unlike Pro Tools in 2002, Nuendo could work on any computer with any hardware, it seemed to be the way to go.

I ultimately set up RADAR as my front-end to Nuendo 1.6, using the program as a supplemental recorder and mixer whenever I exceeded RADAR’s 48 tracks. Not long after, I upgraded to Nuendo 2 and then, around 2006, I adopted Nuendo 3 as my exclusive mixing DAW, and used it until about 2012. With an eye on universal compatibility, I moved over to Pro Tools in 2012 and have used it exclusively ever since.

Considering my earlier positive experiences with Nuendo, and the relative ease of collaborating across DAWs today, when the opportunity arose for me to give Nuendo 8 a try, I jumped at the chance.

Pro Tools vs Nuendo?

When I started thinking about writing this review, my first thought was to compare and contrast Nuendo and Pro Tools, thinking that it may cause a loyal PT user to consider another option.

The problem with this is that, from my experience, a loyal Pro Tools user will almost always be a loyal Pro Tools user, and there is practically nothing I can say about Nuendo that would change that.

I have no skin in the game as to whether people to switch to Nuendo from Pro Tools (just as I don’t care if you use PC or Mac), so why bother? Instead, I will focus on the things that I have found to be uniquely powerful and useful in my experience with Nuendo 8 over the last several months.

I may refer to Pro Tools as a point of context (since most of you know it intimately), but not as a direct comparison, and not in the efforts of trying to inspire a conversion.

Getting Started

Since I had not laid eyes on Nuendo since its 4th iteration, I was pleasantly surprised with what I saw once I completed the installation. It was familiar enough that I (and my mouse) still kind of knew where things were, but I still had to search to discover other features and functions.

I am more of a “change is good” kind of recording engineer, rather than the “tried-and-true” type, so I welcome having to learn something new. I think it keeps me fresh and forces me to think differently, rather than having my approach become stagnant.

Nuendo installed with ease; it painlessly recognized and interfaced with my Avid Artist controllers and my ancient Metric Halo ULN-2 (which still sounds wonderful). Nice.

As with most things in audio, I prefer to hunt and peck to figure out what’s where, and would rather just mix a song to see how everything works before consulting the manual for guidance. By taking this approach, once I do choose to refer to the manual, it has more meaning with the benefit of context. With that approach in mind, I imported some audio files from an earlier PT session and started mixing.

Once I’ve worked for a little while using the defaults, I usually start wondering what I’m missing and head straight to the preferences.

As with any software, you have to know the specific terms and nomenclature to even understand what half of the preferences do, so I made sure that the user manual PDF was open and ready to view. I didn’t find myself referring to if often, and used it as more of a “where’s the…?” locator.

Features and Use

The first thing that really stood out to me was just how much you can customize Nuendo. For some this may be a nightmare, but I welcome this feature with open arms.

You can infinitely change the color scheme of the windows, the default colors based on track type (including the fader caps), the meter colors and ballistics, waveform appearance, along with many, many other functions.

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