Sampling in Cubase
It’s fair to say that, unlike some other popular DAWs, sampling functionality came quite late to the Cubase system. In some respects it remains somewhat underdeveloped. This may be as a way of protecting sales of HALion, Steinberg’s flagship sampler, though the Cubase forums still buzz with the hope that a simple all-purpose sampler might be included at some point.
However, there are some ways of mapping, manipulating and playing your own samples without resorting to third-party applications or plug-ins in Cubase. HALion Sonic SE, despite some interesting tweaking and processing capabilities is aimed at the playback of ready-rolled presets. Luckily Groove Agent SE, though laden with a plentiful supply of factory kits, is also able to host user-created samples. As the name suggests, its workflow is largely dedicated to beat creation, though it can be pressed into service for more all-round and MPC-like functionality.
Though often overlooked, Padshop Pro, Steinberg’s granular synthesizer also allows audio to be imported (and it only costs £7 to upgrade from the Basic version included with Cubase 8). This can then be used for both straightforward playback or more nefarious sound design utilising grains and copious modulation possibilities to create something completely new (and often unrecognisable from the source).
Despite its deficiencies, Cubase has included a Sample Editor since audio was first integrated into its workflow. The Sample Editor is accessed by double-clicking any audio event in the project window (or bundled inside an Audio Part). Besides offering a host of processing options, this window is home to AudioWarp and VariAudio (for timing and pitch-correction).
Of more interest to samplists – especially those into custom beat creation – is the Hitpoints tab. Besides being able to automatically detect transients, this also has a button for creating multiple Slices (individual Audio Events starting at each hitpoint). These can then be used as raw material for Groove Agent SE – facilitated through a simple drag-and-drop onto its grid of drum pads.
Groove Agent SE
Groove Agent SE is functionally deep, and though its use is hindered at times by a plethora of small icons and multiple windows, the results can be worthwhile given a little forward-planning. Already bundled with a load of presets split between it’s two guises, Beat Agent and Acoustic Agent, it is best at playing and creating drum parts. Kits consist of samples assigned to pads (Instrument buttons), which are generally triggered by a single incoming MIDI note. However a second set of pads (Trigger notes) can be used to play complete patterns, which in turn are mapped to other MIDI notes.
To complicate things further, the pads may be used to trigger individual hits in a Sliced Loop Kit, which can then be played back via the MIDI Phrase buttons. Slicing can be done in-situ, or imported via the Cubase Sample Editor (see Using
Samples with Groove Agent SE for more). Patterns and Phrases can also be exported to MIDI tracks in Cubase for more detailed tweaking.
Editing is best approached from the perspective of individual pads. Each pad can trigger the playback of up to eight samples – layered, velocity switched, round robin or randomised. It’s also possible, much like NI’s Battery, to choose a Vintage playback engine that emulates the limited sample rate and bit-depth of certain classic hardware samplers. In addition, you will find a series of windows for adjusting pitch, filter and amp envelopes. The built-in sample editor allows fine-tuning of sample start, end and loop points and even real-time Audiowarp (time-stretch). Of more immediate use, there is also the option to reverse playback and select one-shot mode (mainly used for drums, by ignoring note-off messages and playing samples in full regardless of note length). The slicing features of GA SE are fiddly given the small windows size, especially as Cubase itself does such a good job.
See the tutorials on these pages for a more detailed look at working with samples using these tools.