Sunday, December 9, 2012

Winamp Lite

Winamp has long since been a favorite for playing mp3's.

This isn't going to be a long drawn out post... just bringing to your attention a great lightweight mp3 player in Winamp Lite (scroll down to see the link to download).

Super fast load times, good and simple interface.. its really the classic winamp that I fell in love with many years ago.  I suggest not installing the winamp agent, I see no reason for it to run constantly just to speed up the load time a bit when I want to play an mp3... especially since Winamp Lite loads lightning fast anyway - about as fast as notepad!

Here's the link again

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Guitar Cabinets - Open Back vs Closed back - A General Discussion

Guitar Cabinets - Open Back vs Closed back
- A General Discussion -

Open Back

An open back guitar cabinet has either no rear panel or a partial rear panel.  The rear sound wave emanating from the speaker driver will be heard.  This has advantages and disadvantages as will be discussed.

Closed Back (sealed)

Closed back guitar cabinets are sealed enclosures, where the rear wave of the speaker will not be heard - as it is trapped inside the box.  Again, there are advantages and disadvantages to this design.

Frequency Response

Assuming the same driver is used, in general terms an open back cabinet will have less bass and a more pronounced midrange, the higher frequencies are less effected, but they can appear brighter due to the lack of bass.

A sealed back cabinet will typically have more bass, and overall will have a warmer tone with the higher frequencies relatively dim.

However, different drivers will exhibit wildly different behaviors.  Some will sit well in a sealed enclosure, some better in an open back.  Typically speakers with a more powerful motor will work better in a sealed enclosure, while weaker motors will have a smoother response in an open back.


Dispersion is the sound radiating pattern.  Open back cabinets will disperse sound nearly in all directions - whereas a sealed box will exhibit a much more directional dispersion pattern.

Stage monitoring is a benefit to open back cabinets, where the sound will radiate out to the crowd and back onto the stage as well.  A sealed enclosure will better direct sound out to the crowd while the sound will not be heard as well by the other musicians on stage.

As open back cabinets radiate sound from the rear, it creates a situation where placement relative to rear walls becomes a factor.  Even tilting the box up will alter the frequency response  The sound becomes more "open" and less direct, apparantly filling a larger area.  Open backs outdoors, however, lose many of their benefits as there may be little to no rear wave reflections reaching the listeners.


Responsiveness can be understood in terms of slapping the strings... a more responsive rig will have a POW sound that is short and percussive, where a very unresponsive rig would have long boom.

While this is incredibly driver dependent, a sealed back enclosure will generally have a tighter sound and will be much more responsive.  The lower frequencies are more affected, but even the upper midrange can gain responsiveness in a sealed box.

An open back can totally lose the definition of individual notes in the lower frequencies, this may or may not be a concern depending on what is being played.  Sometimes a muddy sound is desirable, and some drivers designed for open back cabinets remain quite responsive in their ideal enclosure.

Power Handling

With the speaker supported by a "spring" of air, the sealed box will naturally handle more power.  It will be much more resilient to frequencies that are below the normal operating range of the guitar, as well.  While there may be less heat dissipation - which can be a concern when there is heavy guitar for long periods - this is generally not an issue.

A sealed box will typically have a more linear response through the operating range.  As more power is added, the speaker continues to get louder until thermals and mechanical limits are approached.  With an open back these limits (particularly in the lower frequencies) are easier to reach and exceed.

The increased power handling allows a closed back box to be cranked with less concern, and more power to be sent to the speaker, which will of course result in more output.


The ability to easily transport and easily setup is imperative.  Ideally one trip is made and setup happens in a matter of seconds.

The storage gained by having an open back can be a wonderful thing.  The inside of the cabinet is a great place to store cables, stompboxes, picks, tools, etc.  Care must be taken, however, to not puncture the speaker cone by poking something through the rear.

Open backs are inherently lighter as well, as the strength of the enclosure is less of a concern than a sealed box.

Open back cabinets will cover a wide range of playing situations, where a wide dispersion pattern may be needed, a quick setup/teardown is needed, and weight is a concern.


For the DIY'ers, an open back cabinet is much simpler to design and build - with a large margin of error.  A sealed enclosure, if too small, may create too much midbass and not enough low end... and if it is too large power handling will suffer as well as weight will increase.

Materials for an open back are relatively not of great concern, construction can be a bit lackluster and great results can still be achieved

In a closed back, however, materials are of great concern.  An air leak can create a whistling sound and alter frequency response.  A weak enclosure can either be blown apart or resonate in very undesirable ways.  A closed back cabinet also needs a method of getting the signal from the amp into the box - which can also complicate things.


It is certainly possible to design an enclosure with a removable rear panel.  This way either can be tested.  This may seem ideal but having a removable rear panel will generally make the enclosure a bit less strong than if the rear panel were glued in.  It, as such, is more likely to resonate and is is not likely this resonance will create desirable results.  Air leaks are also more of a possibility.  A bit of engineering can resolve this, of course.

The enclosure size will have to be designed to favor the closed back, so desirable results can be obtained when the rear is on.  This will likely create a larger enclosure, but it depends on the driver utilized.

This also opens the possibility to create partial blockage, to "tune" the cabinet.  This is certainly the ideal way to prototype a box, and when the greatest results are achieved the final enclosure can be built with the newly discovered information in mind.


Both designs have their ideal situations... with open back being very commonplace in the guitar world as it will cover a wide range of situations and is in general the more practical choice.  Closed back enclosures offer a different sort of tone - the tighter response and greater power handling/output may be worth the extra weight and loss of practicality.

While this post can help you decide in terms of what to look for, you really should listen to both cabinet designs in a few different situations.  Be aware of what your driver is built for and, if possible, build your own convertible box and try all of the above. has a great enclosure design tool called WinISD - this can help you to find the ideal size for your sealed enclosure.  It can also help design ported and bandpass enclosures, although the properties they exhibit are generally undesirable for emanating guitar tones.

Review - Guitar Rig 5 by Native Instruments

Guitar Rig 5 is not only my favorite version of Guitar Rig, but it is also the best method of shaping a great guitar sound that I have found in the digital realm.

Obviously a storage room full of vintage and modern pedals/fx processors/amps/speakers/mics is a tone shapers wet dream - but unless you can swing 100k+ in equipment this just isn't a reality.  Guitar Rig replaces approx ($) worth of equipment in one smooth running standalone app (or VST if thats your flavor).

After some time with it I've come to love GR5 for not only processing guitar, but for processing everything!  The reverbs are excellent, the compressors are as well.  The amp sims are very useful to add character to any and all sounds.  GR5 is really a great mixing tool - perhaps moreso than it is useful for guitar!

The sounds are NOT true to life tube amp full stack stadium quality, not even close... BUT the unique processing options are extremely useful.

The live useability is something I've explored deeply, and frankly its just not realistic.  The inherent delay - the complicated setup - boot times, bugs... etc etc... its just not worth it to run Guitar Rig live.  A good multiFX board (the zoom g3 for example) offers PLENTY of processing capability without the hassle of carrying around a laptop/interface device.  If I had a crew behind me, I'd make them do the work, but I don't so its not happening!

This does not in any way make Guitar Rig 5 less FUN to use though!  The tone shaping options are endless, and amazing results can be had without alot of effort.  The sound remains relatively "digital" in nature, but its not inherently bad in any way.

When I use Guitar Rig on my guitar its typically without any amp simulations - processing the clean sound of the guitar and adding reverb/delay etc as needed.  I like to use it as a VST plugin and combine it with other plugins (like the classic series here).

Mainly, though, I use it to process any and every sound.  The reverbs are very very useful, and the various distortions are useful to add grit and grain to a boring sound.  I like especially to parallel the effect using Reaper's plugin wet/dry mix - or sometimes even automate the mix to make things yet more interesting!

Really, this is one of those desert island programs... give me this and give me Izotope Ozone + Reaper and i can mix some sweet sounds.

I suggest trying it out, get the demo here: Native Instruments

DR Tite Fit JZ-12 - heavy electric guitar strings (with soundclip)

The DR Tite Fit JZ 12's are my string of choice for my electric guitar.  These are the best out of the box sounding strings I know of, and they hold tune exceptionally well.  They also hold tone exceptionally well - while also being pretty durable.

There is much joy in a "heavy" set of strings for the electric (this gauge of strings is "light" for acoustics)... MUCH more tone comes out - significantly more of the guitars character can shine with the heavier strings as they produce much more tone acoustically.  This means more acoustic vibrations and of course more output from the pickups. 

BUT in addition there is more metal for the pickups to pick up, and this helps greatly with dynamics - allowing soft passages to still remain full and delightful where lighter gauge strings can start falling short.

Truly the only disadvantage is the heavier strings are more difficult to play - and the DR JZ-12's are no exception,  Even with a well setup guitar with low action fast barre chord changes are much more difficult to smoothly accomplish than even with a set of 11's.  The big difference is the wound G string, which changes the feel dramatically.

The wound G is really the highlight of this set of strings though, its all personal preference but my ears love the wound sound.  Non-wound G strings are much more "quacky" sounding, and for chords that use the top 4 strings the non-wound G can stick out like a sore thumb.  Style comes into play, but for my style its would G all day.

The JZ-12's sound great right out of the box, definitely bright as new strings are - but not annoyingly so.  The bass is full, and the sound very clear and articulate.  People say often its all about the player, but there is a reason a tuba doesn't sound like a bike horn - even though they are both horns.  Different guitars/different strings just plain sound different, and the search for what works for us as guitar players can go on indefinitely...

But I am 100% satisfied with the JZ-12's.  The 1st string has enough body while not being at all dull, and the 6th is good and bassy without being muddy.  All in between are equally great, with the wound G in particular sounding more articulate than other sets I've used in the past.

One very important thing to note, though!  These strings are MUCH bigger than what comes with most electrics, and the nut is not necessarily going to fit the top 4 (eadg) strings at all.  So it may not be as simple as slapping these on old reliable and enjoying the tone.  Going heavy can be a commitment, you might have to get your nut cut to fit properly.  I did, and I'm never looking back.

Check out this soundclip - using a yamaha g50-112 and a mic to pickup the guitar's acoustic sound.:

Plenty of my projects include sounds from  This site is dedicated to linking recording enthusiasts with those who require sounds of all sorts in their projects.  Filmmakers, DJ's, Music Producers, people creating presentations... etc.

If you need a sound, this is the first place I suggest checking.  Most sounds carry the attribution license, which means you can use the sound for free as long as you offer the author credit.

When I say "sound" in this context it can mean anything from a snare drum hit to the sound of wind howling to the sound of a Tibetan Singing Bowl .  These sounds may be actual field recordings or synthesized.  There are packs of sounds as well, and one excellent sound pack is this acoustic drum pack . 

If you produce any sort of music I strongly suggest becoming a member of .

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Review - Low Impedance Oxygen Free Silver Cable - UK Made

YES cables matter!  Particularly when dealing with the low level broad frequency signal passive guitar pickups put out.  A cables impedance and capacitance will dictate the frequency response and overall impact of the tone.  A higher capacitance/higher impedance (which is measured per foot) will mellow out the tone, cutting out the high end.  This may or may not be desirable.  Typically with this loss of high end comes a loss of punch and overall dynamics, again, not necessarily a bad thing.

GFS Stock Photo

As well, silver is a better conductor than copper, and copper is a better conductor than gold.  In the case where the metal is exposed to air, though, gold trumps both as it is more resistant to deterioration.

Is the difference dramatic... from one extreme to another, sure, a "bad" cable can totally ruin your tone with hum and total loss of high end and dynamics... but if a cable does not introduce hum it is "good" and the differences are certainly more subtle than going from a humbucker to a single coil pickup... although the overall effects are relatively similar.

With the prerequisite knowledge out of the way we arrive at the meat of this review - how performs the GFS Low Impedance Oxygen Free Silver Cable (its labeled Rosetti, apparantly a UK company)?

For comparison purposes I have here a 10 foot run of the GFS "noiseless" value cable (a great deal as well!) and a 20 foot run of the typical big box sort of 1/4 "instrument" cable.

Between the 3 cables the 20 foot run of big box stuff has the least high end and dynamics out of the bunch -  somewhat to be expected from a longer run of cable, I'm talking the difference between tone knob @ 10 and tone knob @ 7.  The GFS noiseless cable is slightly better, I'd suspect the 20 foot run of noiseless would be slightly better than the big box, if not the same.  A note, I have an older "noiseless" cable that has developed a bit of hum, but I've used it heavily for about 6 months and no cable is indestructible.

The GFS silver cable (Rosetti), on the other hand, blows the other 2 out of the water.  The difference is ASTOUNDING!  Not only is the high end clearer and extended, the entire range of the guitar seems to be cleaner and more punchy.  Noise rejection is as good as any 1/4" cable I've used.  Its not a total game changer, I could certainly "get by" with the 20 foot big box run, but for just a bit more $ the silver cable is absolutely worth it.  Actually the silver cable reviewed here is cheaper than alot of 10 footers out there that are only copper and do not have gold plated connectors.  Most silver cables start at a much higher price.

The increased high end is in no way undesirable.. in fact I find myself rolling UP the tone knob now to get yet more of the new found "crisp" high end into the picture, whereas with my other cables the high end is relatively harsh and annoying.  I draw comparison to speaker crossovers, where the difference between an elecrolytic capacitor and a metal film capacitor is the difference between a smooth high end and a harsh one.

The build is pretty solid, but I'd really love to have a strain relief.  The insulation is pretty tough, though, which is both a good and bad thing as it makes the cable relatively stiff.  The connectors will probably last forever, extremely solid 1/4" plugs.

Really I don't see a reason to buy the cheap stuff, this cable is noticeably better and doesn't cost that much more.  Once signals get to a higher output the differences fade, but if your connecting your guitar to that first pedal/straight into the amp this cable will absolutely transfer more of your tone.

You could pay more for a cable that will muffle your tone, or just go straight to silver, which I am convinced absolutely is a better choice for guitar cabling.

Go check it out, definitely worth the investment.
Link to GFS Website

Monday, August 6, 2012

Gaining the Illusion of Width in a Stereo Mix

 Finding the limits of width

To gain great perspective upon the width possible within a stereo mix, take your stereo speaker setup (which you hopefully have positioned ideally for a good stereo image) and switch the polarity of one of the speakers.  That is, take the + and - wire on ONE speaker and switch it.  This will put the speakers out of phase with each other.  Basically, as one side projects a wave out, one side pulls a wave in (compresses/decompresses).  Also make sure any processing/subwoofers/additional speakers are turned off.

It is also possible to separate a stereo recording to 2 mono tracks - pan them hard left/right and invert the phase of one track to achieve the same results.

Play material that has otherwise a very solid center image - say an intimate vocal recording or perhaps even AM radio - the once center image will now appear to come from as far left and right as your speakers will allow you to perceive.  You may also notice significantly reduced bass response.  Switch phasing back and forth with various program material to hear the whole of differences.

Its possible your speakers were out of phase previously, and switching one now puts the image in the center/improves bass response.  This is a very common problem that many people don't realize.

This should present you with a very clear idea of what is possible regarding the width of your productions.  Beware, though, 2 tracks out of phase will cancel eachother out entirely when summed to mono.


Wikipedia explains the phaser effect as
"The electronic phasing effect is created by splitting an audio signal into two paths. One path treats the signal with an all-pass filter, which preserves the amplitude of the original signal and alters the phase. The amount of change in phase depends on the frequency. When signals from the two paths are mixed, the frequencies that are out of phase will cancel each other out, creating the phaser's characteristic notches. Changing the mix ratio changes the depth of the notches; the deepest notches occur when the mix ratio is 50%"

The best way to understand a phaser is to just use one.  Any DAW will have a phaser plugin, just mess with the settings.  Often the plugin will have a "width" setting that will get the ball rolling on widening your sound.

Multiple phasers can be layered to create some really wild effects, but phasers can also be used in a subtle way to add interest and "phatten" a sound.


 In your DAW record a mono track - the track can be any sort of melody/rhythm.   Now duplicate the mono track.  Grab the audio file on the duplicated track and scoot it over a bit so it begins playing a bit after the original track.  Duplicate this track yet again and repeat the process so all 3 tracks begin at different times.

Now, the track that begins first keep panned center - the other 2 pan one hard left one hard right.  When you press play on the transport you will hear the illusion of a space, something akin to a reverb sound.

This is just the tip of the iceberg regarding delay and the illusion of width.  Delay plugins can be used on 3 seperate tracks to take the above example yet further.  Include feedback/saturation/filtering and even phasing and an otherwise mono signal can appear to be emanating from a swirling and mesmerizing space.


Reverb is perhaps the most common thing folks go to when they want to create the illusion of a space.  Some reverbs are better than others - and while all sounds can certainly be used creatively - when it comes to truly giving the illusion of a space the one reverb that does it best is convolution.

Convolution reverb plugins use impulses (a gunshot, clap, etc recorded in a space) and utilize the information to create a very realistic replication of the properties of the space.  There are many fine plugins that will be reviewed here in time.

Reverb would appear to be a "one stop shop' when it comes to creating a space, but its really not.  Reverb can muddy up a track - similarly to how actually playing certain things in a concert hall will create a muddy mosh of reflections that make no sense.  Reverb mud is compounded yet still if the system reproducing the sound is in a space that has alot of natural reverb!

Reverb certainly has its place, but it must be used carefully.  A trick I like to use is to mix the reverb in mono - it becomes easier to hear if things are getting muddy when all the reflections are literally on top of eachother.


Chorus alters the pitch and introduces a bit of delay on the altered signal - in order to simulate the natural variations that occur when a human tries to create the same sound twice.  When mixed in with the dry signal some really interesting things happen. , and many plugins will offer a "width" or "spread" function, which can add some great width to the sound.  If not, a mono chorus can be panned hard left, and another hard right to produce a similar (and truly more controllable) effect.

Chorus with the addition of a phaser can get very interesting, but of course it mixes well with many techniques.


Wikipedia has a great explanation:
"Flanging is an audio effect produced by mixing two identical signals together, with one signal delayed by a small and gradually changing period, usually smaller than 20 milliseconds. This produces a swept comb filter effect: peaks and notches are produced in the resultant frequency spectrum, related to each other in a linear harmonic series. Varying the time delay causes these to sweep up and down the frequency spectrum. A flanger is an effects unit dedicated to creating this sound effect."

A flanger produces something relatively similar to a phaser effect, and is similarly interchangeable.

Mid Side

A method that can be used in conjunction with any/all of the above is to encode the audio in Mid/Side (rescue is free and does a great job).  Once the audio is in mid side (assuming its a stereo recording), the levels of the middle and side information can be adjusted to create the illusion of the source being farther away than it truly is.

Mid side processing has many uses, used with a reverb it can help keep the center clear while still offering the sides plenty of spaciousness - again this is best checked with mono.  Delay generally does not benefit from mid/side encoding, but it depends on how you are laying out your track.  Phasing and mid side can yield some very interesting effects indeed.  Compressing the sides seperate from the middle is another great width adding technique.


Automating the parameters of any/all of the above will truly create a unique space that does not muddy up.  Bringing in reverb at the tail of a sound (particularly a long vocal note) while cutting it down for the attack part of the sounds works wonders.  Manual pan automation opens up alot of possibilities as well, autopans can be more rhythmically accurate and easier to manage but they are not always the way to go.

Automation is the key to making a section really get BIG, or small, whatever is required.  Big width on a chorus is a typical technique - backing vocals also benefit greatly from the aforementioned methods.  Automation allows for temporarily muddy parts that can be cleared up to polarize dryer spaces and make each yet more appreciated.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Rough Rider - VST Compressor With Some Color!

There are lots of subtle compressors out there, whether they be as transparent as possible, or emulation of great analog equipment - typically the results are relatively subtle colorations of the sound (aside from the obvious effects of compression)  For the most part, this is preferred, compressor pumping/heavy saturation is typically undesirable - especially for a track that would be called "smooth".

BUT, there are times when that snare drum needs to EXPLODE, or the kick needs to PUMP!  That vocal needs to be undeniably IN YOUR FACE!  The bass needs to be ATOMIC!  Whatever the need, when you need a big big sound that sounds louder than our 0db digital limits allow, its time for some saturation and compression.

In comes Rough Rider - a 32/64 bit FREE compressor plugin from audio damage.  The controls are standard, save for "sensitivity" which is threshold.  I'll not explain compression here, I'll get right to the sound this compressor can help you to create.

Below is a clip with a drum track with Rough Rider applied and the dry signal for comparison.  Rough Rider is especially useful to add "grit" to drum tracks, as you can hear here.  The default settings were used for this video, except the makeup gain was reduced to equalize the volume level between dry and wet.

Available for FREE @ audiodamage.      

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

AfterShockDelay by AcmeBarGig

 Delay is extremely useful in the sound shaping/production stage and the mixing stage.  A good delay goes a long long way to phattening up your sounds, and expanding your stereo image.  Delay is also a good way to create "reverb" and "space" without the mud typically associated with most reverb plugins.

Whether your going for the canyon type long echo or a short delay panned wide to give the illusion of space - perhaps to "stereofy" a mono signal.... this delay definitely delivers.

AfterShockDelay combines 3 independent delays - left/center/right, each with there own volume control, feedback control, and time control.  And what I love about this particular plugin is the tap tempo feature.  Tapping the tempo allows for more "feel" with the delay, and makes it easier to try odd delay times that feel right.  The 6 second max delay is way beyond practical uses, so there is plenty of headroom in the time department.

The clip below is with all 3 delays set to tap - the center delay is very short, the side delays are a bit longer and not exactly the same.  The automation changes throughout, from wet to dry, and the levels of each delay are altered as well.

Check the AfterShockDelay product page @ AcmeBarGig and try it out - its free!.

Review: CAD MH310 Studio Monitor Headphones

The CAD MH310 Studio Monitor Headphones deliver a great sound at a good price.  They accurately cover a large frequency range and are fun to listen to.  They bring out subtleties that are hard to hear in most situations - great for mixing, superb for general listening purposes. 

Not your typical bass booming over-the-ear headphone - the CAD MH310 headphones have a very smooth response.  There is a great extension to the low end with a nice tight response.  One oddity is the VERY resonant metal structure bars that hold the headphones together.  I used some green duct tape to dampen the vibrations.  Very subtle difference, but I suggest doing this if you buy these headphones.

My Modified CAD MH310's

The list price of $100 puts them at a pricepoint with many lesser quality headphones - I put them in AKG K271 MKII territory, but the CAD MH310's are 1/3rd the price.  Beats are no comparison - they have the typical boomy bass response associated with these type of headphones, and to my ears and for my purposes - Beats is unusable.

The connection is made with either a 1/8" jack or a 1/4" jack - the 1/4" adapter screws onto the 1/8"to ensure proper signal transfer.  The connectors are gold plated.  The wiring is of good quality, some months of pulling/stepping on/running over with chair wheels have not phased the wire in any way.

The plastic enclosures for the 50mm drivers are adequate.  I've experimented with various enclosure fill and nothing improved the sound - these are very well designed enclosures.  They are "ported" into the ear pad area - making these aperiodic enclosures, very well tuned.  I may at some point reinforce the external part of the enclosures with either fiberglass resin or a bedliner like material to help eliminate the ever so subtle "plasticy" resonance in the 800hz range.  Its VERY subtle, though.

The closed back design offers good isolation, enough to help concentrate, not enough to totally remove the outside world.  Bleedthrough into mics is not a big issue, these definitely can (and have been) used for tracking.

They are definitely not the loudest headphones, though, and this is where they fall short of their pricier brethren.  The CAD's may compete with AKG 271 in overall response, but once you turn em up there is no comparison.  The CAD's get loud enough before distortion to be plenty satisfying, but in some mixing sessions I've run out of headroom - especially on heavy bass music.  This is an issue, but the reality is loud music does hearing damage and should be avoided anyway... especially for those of us that enjoy/are required to perform extremely critical listening.  What I'm speaking of is the drivers themselves running out of steam - it is not a headphone amp concern... my ipod runs out of gas before the MH310's do, but this level is past "too loud" to my ears.

These headphones are very revealing, and as far as mixing with headphones go these are plenty adequate to zoom into those subtle noises otherwise missed.  Listen close and hear the whole of the music in a way that only tiny lightweight drivers can reproduce.

These really do compete with headphones costing much more, and with some modifications get even better.

Whether your in a studio, or are a music lover who wants to REALLY hear the music, the CAD MH310's are a great choice.  I wouldn't DJ with these, and I wouldn't hand these to a drummer or a LOUD musician of whatever walk, I also wouldn't walk around with them on (too much isolation).  But I would and I do listen to all my favorite music on them, and these help shape the sounds I love to create.

A great value, excellent 'phones.

CAD MH310 Closed-Back Around-Ear Studio Headphones


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

DAW Comparison - Reaper 4.x vs Cubase 6

Choosing a DAW (digital audio workstation) for audio production purposes is a big decision.  There is much to learn and understand, and each DAW option has benefits and drawbacks.  The specific decision is up to your personal needs.

Here is my personal experience with the Cockos' Reaper 4, and Steinberg's Cubase 6.  This will hopefully help you to get what is just right for you.


I've worked for a few years and mixed/mastered many songs in in collaborative and solo environments using both Reaper and Cubase.  This experience is limited to a few home studios - but includes many many hours with both programs.  This includes many versions, Cubase 3/5/6 and Reaper 3.x on to 4.x.  I've in depth utilized the routing options of each program to obtain interesting sounds - tried many VST fx/instruments with both - and worked extensively with the native plugins of both platforms.
The Old Setup

1 - Cost Effectiveness

If money is your main concern, absolutely hands down the choice is Reaper.  Reaper is significantly cheaper ($60 or $225 depending on the income of your studio) than Cubase ($500).  Cubase does have the "artist" version for around $250 - but I have no experience with it.  Reaper has an "extended" free trial that never ends - a heck of a business model... this may offer the illusion that Reaper is a lesser software than the others, but trust, it is not!

2 - Ease of Use

Some of us just wanna install the program, hit the record button, and get the sounds we make recorded.  Why make life complicated?  Here Reaper wins again - its super easy to create a track (double click!) and perhaps the *best* part of Reaper is the structure of the track itself.  Whereas Cubase limits you to mono/stereo/group/fx tracks - and imposes restrictions upon what each of those tracks can do... Reaper has just one track format - one that encompasses all of the above!  Reaper also has no limitation on the number of FX you can have on a track, along with the number of sends (or at least the limitation is beyond even the most complicated of my projects).  This makes life SO MUCH easier when doing creative sound shaping.

In cubase there are a limited number of FX inserts (8) and sends available (8), if you want more you can route the audio through a group track.  This is not only more complicated but it eats more CPU.  Also, audio tracks cannot send to other audio tracks - so if you want to route your vocal through your guitar FX chain you need to duplicate the chain (OUCH CPU!!!), or create a group track - copy your FX (not copy and paste like reaper, in cubase to "copy" an FX you need to save the settings of the effect as a preset, and then open the same effect it in the track you want it to be on - then load the preset - TEDIOUS!!!) - you can then send the vocal and guitar through the group track as either a send or route the tracks audio outputs through the group track.

Setting up the hardware is pretty straightforward in both DAW's, cubase can create stereo busses from any 2 inputs, whereas Reaper can only utilize 2 inputs that are numerically next to eachother for stereo.  This is an unnecessary limitation in Reaper which can cause some issues - but its very very typical to route stereo devices to inputs that are next to eachother, its never presented an issue to me.  With that said, it can be time consuming to setup alot of inputs in Cubase, whereas Reaper uses a range of inputs that takes seconds to configure.

Although someone who is unfamiliar with how DAW's work will have to read the manual either way - Reaper has a much more efficient workflow that allows common operations to be done much more quickly than cubase.

3 - GUI (Graphic User Interface)

Depends on the size of your project - although reaper is more cpu efficient and actually handles bigger projects better than Cubase - Reaper falls short on organization and the amount of tracks easily visible on screen.  Reaper forces me to scroll/zoom much more than Cubase, and this can waste time.  Cubase looks "better" to me, and lays out the various options in a very accessible way.

Cubase 6

Though the functionality (later) of folders is overall better in Reaper, for organization Cubase's folder system is wonderful.

Cubase organizes VST's in a menu that is relative to the directory structure the VST .dll's are placed in.  Reaper throws all the VST's into one big group, and forces you to hand pick through them to organize them.  Organizing in windows explorer is MUCH more efficient, and Cubase allows for this.

Reaper 4.x (I prefer the 3.0 theme, not shown here)

4 - CPU Efficiency

For a few years I used Reaper on a windows XP 2.2ghz AMD single core CPU with 1 gig of ram.  I got into some SERIOUSLY complex layering and FX chains.  15+ FX on one track - automated!  Cubase (5) would hardly even run on that computer, let alone let me do complex operations without those dreaded pops/clicks/stutters.

Reaper is so much lighter weight than Cubase, the full download of Reaper is all of 8mb - which includes a long list of FX (some very powerful!, later...).  While Reaper itself requires less to run, it seems also to handle more efficiantly various operations.- especially once complex send setups come into play.

The BIG BIG deal with Reaper here is that since there only one "track" format - even "folder" tracks can be "frozen".  Freezing a track (or rendering to a new track) exports the tracks' output to a .wav file and disables the FX... giving the sound of the FX without the real time processing.   Once things are dialed in this very quick and easy operation is a game changer.  Cubase does not allow group tracks to be frozen, and since group tracks are required if you wanna do complex sends - its a double hit to the CPU.  You can export the audio of the group track in a few ways with Cubase, but the process takes longer and is not nearly as intuitive as in Reaper.

I mixed some seriously complex stuff on my old 2.2ghz pc, and it would have been impossible with Cubase.

5 - Sound Quality

Although this should be number one, its more of a moot point - both DAW's offer pristine sound quality and absolutely will not be the weakest link in your chain.

The difference is in the export capability - Reaper has a much more powerful export utility than Cubase - although both are capable of exporting top quality mixdowns.

6 - Packaged VST FX/Instruments

This is where the extra cost of Cubase comes into play - it has a very extensive and very useful VST FX/instrument package that comes with it.  The native FX are very useful - one of my favs is the vintage compressor.  Reverence is a fine reverb as well, and the list goes on.  Halion is an excellent instrument - along the line of Kontakt. Groove Agent can lay down some sweet drums, and Loopmash is a very interesting tool I never dug too dip into.  The VST amp rack is cool too - its no Guitar Rig, but its VERY useful in many applications.

Reaper has nothing like Halion, no instruments, and only the most rudimentary synth blocks.  Reaper definite is not ready to produce an entire track ITB (in the box/computer)- where Cubase is a box full of songs waiting to happen.

With that said, Reaper has many great utilities and what FX it does come with are very powerful.  The JS set of plugins covers a broad range of FX, albeit very utalitarianly.  The Cockos native plugin set is simple yet VERY powerful.  The ReaFIR is incredible, it deserves its own post - just think of an EQ or compressor or gate that has infinite bands.  This is an amazing creative tool, and has great utility as well.  The compressor is also very powerful, very versatile it goes from the lightest compression to brickwall limiter - all with adjustable lookahead.  The reverb is useable and extremely CPU efficient, but it is NOTHING compared to Reverence.

In terms of packaged FX/Instruments, you definitely are getting what you paid for with Cubase.

7 - Compatibility 

Yea, Cubase has MUCH more to offer in its package in terms of VST - but when it comes time to expand... Reaper is significantly - and I mean SIGNIFICANTLY more compatibile.  Cubase 64 bit wont rewire to reason 32 bit - this was quite a heartbreak!  Reaper 64 does it and has no issues.  Reaper rewires very well with Fruity Loops as well.

Its no secret, the net is full of free VST FX and instruments... and Reaper will work with just about any of them that work at all.  Cubase on the other hand, will not.  Its very picky about which plugins it works with, and it is much buggier about it in general.  The packed stuff makes up for this to some extent, but some (most..) of the obscure VST's I know and love dont work in Cubase at all.

Kjaerhus Audio - Classic EQ

A Reaper project can include many different audio file formats at many different bitrates, and it will work great.  Cubase forces you to convert to the project file format.  Reaper will also rip the audio right off a cd - Cubase can't do this.  This is a big deal when working with samples.  The CD rip capability is great for playing along with songs, or importing a song to mess around with (its fun to take commercial releases and screw around with how they sound!).

Hardware compatibility seems great either way, I've never had an issue getting hardware to work in either DAW.

8 - Mixing/Editing

This one goes to Reaper by a big BIG margin.  There is no comparison really... when it comes time to mix and edit Reaper does the job with less CPU, more capability, and much faster with most operations.  A reaper track can have 64 channels or 1 channel, the same track, and it can be changed at any time.  Cubase has various tracks that are limited to whatever they are created as - that is, a stereo track has 2 channels, this cannot be changed.  A mono track has one, again, no way to change it.  Group tracks only route audio, same with FX tracks.  Reaper simplifies this and in this simplification it is MUCH more powerful and user friendly.  Cubase requires planning and changes can be extremely time consuming, Reaper allows for plans to change quickly and easily.

A big difference is that FX can be applied to pieces of the .wav file in Reaper.  Example:  You want to apply a certain distortion to just ONE snare hit,  In Cubase you would have to load it into your inserts, which are limited so this may be yet more of a concern, and automate it to turn on only for that one snare hit.  You could also duplicate the track, delete everyting but the one snare hit from the new track/delete the snare hit from the original track, and apply the FX to the new track.  In Reaper the .wav can be cut, and the FX applied to just the section desired - then the effected section can be crossfaded back in for a smooth transition.  This is a very very powerful way to mix - it speeds up the process while greatly expanding capabilities.  Its also very CPU efficient as the plugin is only active for a short period.  In one song I used at least 5 different types of chorus on one vocal track - in various places.  This created a really great sound, and using the aforementioned process made it time efficient and cut down on the number of tracks required  to do something this intricate.

The biggest deal for me, though, is the ability in Reaper to send any track's audio to any track.  This greatly expands creative opportunity.  Also, think about a live situation - everything is happening at once, all the sounds are bleeding into the various mics to varying degrees.  Even the guitar is going to pickup the drums/vocals/crowd/crickets to some extent.  Reaper makes this easy to duplicate, and though its possible to setup the routing to pull this off in Cubase, its SIGNIFICANTLY more time consuming to do - as well as the inability to freeze group tracks to free up CPU.

Folders are another bonus when it comes time to mix in Reaper.  Folder tracks in Cubase are great for organization, but they do no sum the audio, group tracks deal with the audio from multiple audio tracks.  Reaper is much simpler and more powerful - a folder track in reaper can contain audio itself, and all the tracks contained within the folder track are automatically routed through the folder - instantly summing your multi-mic'ed drumkit down to one fader/set of FX/sends.  In Cubase to achieve the same thing you have to route or send the audio of your audio tracks to the group track - this requires selecting each track and going through the menus - lots of clicks!  In Reaper you can make ANY track into a folder track and quickly drag/drop whatever tracks you want inside.  SO MUCH simpler, and the lack of FX insert limitations in Reaper separates the gap in this regard even more.

Only 8 inserts available on a Cubase Track

The master track in reaper is also much more readily accessible... the grouping of various controls is extremely useful (not possible to the same extent in Cubase).  I could go on, but you've got some ideas by now.

9 - USB Dongle

Does it require its own heading, yes, yes it does.  I HATE this... not only is it taking a USB slot, its begging me to lose it, its just saying "when your moving your computer, put me in one of those places where you think you wont forget me, and then forget me (evil laugh)".  Cubase uses this, Reaper does not (remember the trial that never ends?).  Is it something that is an ongoing "problem", no, not really... but its a small device that could be dropped/stepped on/lost and then Cubase is inaccessible until a new one arrives.  Reaper will boot up as long as your computer is working... this to me is very important.  I don't want my ability to create hampered by a licensing device failing for one of those random reasons electronics fail.
"Lose me, I dare you"

9 - Support

Call Cubase, "leave a message, we'll call you back", and Reaper doesn't seem to have a number to call at all.  Reaper does have a very active forum where most questions are already answered (and not just that FAQ crap).  Cubase also has a forum that is setup in a similar fashion  Both are well covered on youtube, and both have well written manuals.

Reaper updates often, and the license covers up to 2 full version numbers.  Cubase you get what you buy - with discounts to upgrade depending on what version you are coming from.


Cubase comes with an extensive package of plugins and instruments - plenty to produce full songs from scratch.  Reaper lacks the bundling, but offers extraordinary power in a very lightweight package.  Reaper is much cheaper, and this offsets the lack of bundled instruments ($460 goes a long way toward some good VST instruments!).  Reaper is more compatible with the long LONG list of free VST goodies out there.  Cubase does have a great GUI, but for what it gains in cosmetics it loses in complexity (or impossibility...) of operations that are simpler and more powerful in reaper.

My choice is Reaper - even with money out of the equation I still prefer it.  I just wish they would redo the GUI to be more in the Cubase/Protools realm.

Further reading
Benchmark of Sonar, Nuendo (by Steinberg), and Reaper