Cubase 12 vs. Pro Tools Studio: The Mainstream Powerhouses of Music Production

Cubase 12 vs. Pro Tools Studio

The professional studio world usually comes down to two choices: Cubase 12 vs. Pro Tools Studio. While we have many DAW comparisons, this may be the toughest yet. Strap in, and let’s compare the two biggest DAW platforms in the world.


Cubase 12 vs. Pro Tools Studio: The Two Heavyweights

We have been exploring Cubase lately, and comparing it to other DAWs after our initial review has been a fun experience. Mostly because Cubase is a very “traditional” DAW and when comparing it to something like Ableton Live has been a fun experience since the two programs are so vastly different.

But when it comes to Cubase 12 vs. Pro Tools Studio, the differences are going to definitely blur. The Cubase 12 vs. Pro Tools Studio debate is a popular one around professional studios, since both DAWs offer similar features with totally different strengths and weaknesses.

Again, as we have said in other articles, the fine details are going to be defining factor between these two powerhouse DAWs. Both Cubase and Pro Tools has a long version history, as well as dedicated fan bases that picked one or the other and have stuck with it for years.

Pro Tools was the “industry standard” for some time, once audio production moved on from tape to computer-based recording. Most artists in the early 2000s swore by the “Mac + Pro Tools” combo, and many big studios stuck with this setup over the years. The same can be said for Cubase, which was often the “other” choice, an alternative but similar DAW.

But years have passed, and while Apple still makes very powerful studio computers, the PC side of computing has caught up in various ways. Smaller DAW platforms that are more beginner-friendly have also made their way to the mainstream.

These days, there is something for everyone, at any level of audio production. Famous artists like Tame Impala have made albums in home studios that sold millions of copies, and millions of streams. There are so many easy ways to record music these days, so why would you pick one of these super-powerful DAWs?

Because when it comes to Cubase 12 vs. Pro Tools Studio, these are professional DAW platforms. Both have built-in features that can take your song from a demo, all the way to a polished project that is ready to sell or stream. The plugins and editing options are what you are paying for with these bigger DAWs.

So today we are going to look at both Cubase and Pro Tools, both from a beginner and professional standpoint, although we are going to definitely focus on the professional side of using these DAWs. Let’s be honest, artists that are going to buy these DAW platforms are more than likely going to be very serious about their craft.

In the ever-evolving landscape of digital audio workstations (DAWs), two industry giants have captured the hearts of music producers and engineers worldwide – Cubase 12 and Pro Tools Studio. Both DAWs offer a plethora of features and tools that cater to the diverse needs of users, from beginners exploring their creative potential to professionals working in top-notch recording studios.

In this comprehensive article, we’ll explore the history, versions, features, pricing structure, and comparisons of Cubase 12 and Pro Tools Studio, shedding light on why one might be the preferred choice over the other.


The History Of Both DAWs: Tried & Tested

Cubase 12 vs. Pro Tools Studio

We will start with Cubase, but both DAW platforms have a lengthy history and many versions with updates. Both have an ever-evolving ecosystem, constantly changing with user’s needs. Both came on the scene around the same time, but offered different features for artists.

Cubase, developed by Steinberg, made its debut in 1989, revolutionizing the music industry by introducing MIDI sequencing capabilities. Over the years, Cubase evolved into a powerhouse DAW with cutting-edge audio recording, editing, and mixing features. Its legacy has been solidified by its consistent adaptation to emerging technologies and its widespread use in professional recording studios.

Pro Tools, developed by Avid Technology, has a rich history dating back to the early 1990s. Originally developed for editing and mixing audio for film and television post-production, Pro Tools quickly expanded its reach to become a dominant force in the music industry. Renowned for its robust audio editing and mixing capabilities, Pro Tools has become the industry standard for many professional recording studios and audio engineers.

While Cubase evolved from being a MIDI controller, Pro Tools was what we know as a “traditional DAW” pretty much from the get-go. Pro Tools was the first to be adapted to smaller studios over time, as tape went the way of the Dodo. It was a flawless transition at the time and studios picked up the DAW-style workflow everywhere by the mid-2000s.

But Cubase was right behind, with users enjoying the easy interface and customizable options that Pro Tools lacked. The same can be said of 3rd party plugin capability, since Cubase has always worked with just about anything on the market. Both of these DAWs had a long incubation period, and were slowly refined for professional studios.

But these two DAWs did not get to the place both are today without some growing pains. There was a time when every DAW was trying to catch up to Pro Tools, but that is no longer the case. Let’s start by look at the version history of both, and how these powerhouses began.


Version History of Both DAWs: Decades Of Influence

Both Cubase and Pro Tools had smaller, more compact versions that worked well in the 90s. These were very limited at the time not due to the programmer’s aspirations, but due to hardware limitations of the time. Home computers were just not ready to run a DAW as the sole recording source in studios, at least… not yet.

The larger studios in Los Angeles and New York had these programs, and people like Trent Reznor adapted digital audio workstations into their songwriting workflow early. But Trent was not using a regular desktop PC, he needed much more power than that to run a DAW.

If you did not use a large computer setup, then a few computers were capable of audio editing, like the Amiga, Yamaha CX Series, and the Atari ST. But home computer software took a turn for the better after 1998, offering more power to consumers.

This technology boom brought about better computers, cell phones, and MP3 players as well. Early adopters of the digital recording software saw a huge change in consumer computer hardware in the early 2000s. Tech took a huge leap into the right direction, eventually getting to where we are today.

Just as a personal anecdote, I was also an early adopter of DAW software, and my computer had pretty high specs for 2001. It was nothing compared to say, my cell phone today, but it was a good machine that ran DAWs and sequencing software. I personally loved the change, and I did not miss my tapes.

This was a real turning point for everyone for home studios, and many of us sold off our tape-based equipment. We used that money to upgrade our current computers or buy an Apple computer. The DAW software was also quickly changing, with more features added with each update. Everything happened very fast, and it was an exciting time.

So let’s take a look at both Cubase and Pro Tools, and the different versions were very comparable over the years. While Pro Tools was becoming the “industry standard” many home studios were using Cubase instead. Let’s compare both, version by version:

Cubase has seen numerous iterations over the years, each introducing significant improvements and features. From the early versions that pioneered MIDI sequencing to the latest Cubase 12, the DAW has continuously evolved to stay at the forefront of music production technology.

  1. Cubase 1.0 (1989): The very first version of Cubase revolutionized music production by introducing MIDI sequencing capabilities. It allowed users to connect MIDI instruments and record, edit, and arrange MIDI data, laying the foundation for the future of music production.
  2. Cubase Score (1991): Cubase Score added notation capabilities, allowing composers to create and edit musical scores directly within the DAW. This version made Cubase a versatile tool for both MIDI sequencing and orchestral scoring. It was used for many television shows at the time.
  3. Cubase Audio (1993): Cubase Audio marked a significant milestone, introducing audio recording and editing capabilities to the software. This version allowed users to integrate audio and MIDI seamlessly, expanding its application in professional recording studios.
  4. Cubase VST (1996): Cubase VST (Virtual Studio Technology) introduced support for virtual instruments and effects plugins. It was a groundbreaking update that transformed Cubase into a complete virtual studio, allowing users to create entire compositions entirely within the software.
  5. Cubase SX (2002): Cubase SX brought a major interface redesign and introduced new features like the VST Instrument Rack for easier plugin management. The introduction of audio warp features also enhanced audio manipulation capabilities.
  6. Cubase 4 (2006): Cubase 4 introduced the innovative “AudioWarp” functionality, allowing users to quantize audio in real-time and perform complex tempo and pitch adjustments. This version also brought significant improvements to MIDI editing and introduced features like “Note Expression” for more expressive MIDI control. This version was a game-changer for home recording.
  7. Cubase 7 (2013): Cubase 7 marked a significant leap with the introduction of the “MixConsole” for advanced mixing, “VST Connect” for remote collaboration, and “Chord Track” for easy chord progression management. It was a comprehensive update that solidified Cubase’s position as a top-tier DAW.
  8. Cubase Pro 8.5 (2015): This version introduced “VST Transit,” enabling cloud collaboration, and “VST Multi-Panner” for immersive surround sound mixing. It also enhanced the interface and workflow to boost productivity.
  9. Cubase Pro 10.5 (2019): Cubase Pro 10.5 introduced the “Spectral Comparison EQ” for precise audio analysis and editing. It also included “Padshop 2” for granular synthesis, expanding the sonic possibilities for users.
  10. Cubase 12 (2021): Cubase 12 introduced advanced features like “SpectraLayers One” for spectral editing and enhanced automation functionalities. This version continued the tradition of excellence, maintaining Cubase’s status as a top DAW for professionals and beginners alike.

Pro Tools, too, has witnessed an impressive number of versions since its inception. From its early days as a tape-based editing system to the present-day Pro Tools Studio, Avid has consistently enhanced its features to meet the demands of modern music production.

  • Pro Tools 1.0 (1991): Pro Tools made its debut as a groundbreaking tape-based editing system for audio post-production. It offered non-destructive editing capabilities, revolutionizing the way audio was edited in the film and television industry.
  • Pro Tools 24 (1998): Pro Tools 24 introduced support for 24-bit audio and 24 tracks of audio playback, marking a significant leap in audio quality and track count.
  • Pro Tools HD (2002): Pro Tools HD brought advanced hardware solutions for professional studios, offering increased track counts, higher sample rates, and DSP-powered audio processing capabilities.
  • Pro Tools 7 (2006): Pro Tools 7 introduced significant improvements to MIDI capabilities, enhancing MIDI editing and sequencing tools for users.
  • Pro Tools 9 (2010): Pro Tools 9 marked a major shift by removing the dependency on proprietary hardware. It allowed users to run Pro Tools on third-party audio interfaces, making it more accessible to a wider audience.
  • Pro Tools 11 (2013): Pro Tools 11 introduced a 64-bit architecture, significantly improving performance and memory handling. It also brought advanced features like “Offline Bounce” for faster audio rendering.
  • Pro Tools 12 (2015): Pro Tools 12 introduced a subscription-based model, offering users access to regular updates and support through a subscription plan. It also included features like “Commit” for streamlined audio processing and “Track Freeze” for efficient session management.
  • Pro Tools 2019 (2019): Pro Tools 2019 introduced a redesigned user interface and the “Avid Workspace Browser” for easier session management. This version also brought improvements to MIDI editing and track collaboration.
  • Pro Tools 2020 (2020): Pro Tools 2020 introduced “Folder Tracks” for better session organization and “MIDI Grid Editing” for precise MIDI control. It also brought improvements to audio editing and plugin performance.
  • Pro Tools 2022 (2022): Pro Tools 2022 introduced “Advanced Clip Looping” for creative audio manipulation and “Soundbase 2.0” for streamlined sample and loop browsing. This version continued Pro Tools’ legacy as an industry-standard DAW for professionals.

Cubase 12 vs. Pro Tools Studio: Features And Specs

Cubase 12 vs. Pro Tools Studio
Pro Tools Studio DAW User Interface: Complex At First Glance, Yet Thorough In Approach

Looking at the version history both DAWs have a rich lineage, going back decades. But none of that matters if the current feature set of both DAW systems isn’t up to par. Both Cubase and Pro Tools have a ton of features, and the best way to do this is to compare each feature categorically:

  1. User Interface:

Cubase: Cubase boasts an intuitive and user-friendly interface, designed to streamline the music production process. Its well-organized layout allows users to access essential tools and functions with ease. Cubase’s drag-and-drop functionality and customizable workspaces provide a flexible and efficient workflow.

Pro Tools: Pro Tools also features a user-friendly interface, though it has a slightly different layout compared to Cubase. The “Edit Window” and “Mix Window” in Pro Tools offer a straightforward approach to audio editing and mixing. Pro Tools’ interface is widely recognized for its clean design and ease of use.

  1. Audio Recording and Editing:

Cubase: Cubase is known for its advanced audio recording capabilities, supporting up to 256 audio tracks at 192kHz sample rate. Its robust audio editing tools, including audio warping and VariAudio for pitch correction, make it a powerful tool for manipulating recorded audio.

Pro Tools: Pro Tools is renowned for its industry-standard audio recording and editing capabilities. It supports up to 384 audio tracks at 192kHz sample rate (with HDX systems). Pro Tools’ Elastic Audio and Clip Gain features offer precise control over audio manipulation and leveling.

  1. MIDI Sequencing and Editing:

Cubase: Cubase is a powerhouse when it comes to MIDI sequencing and editing. It offers comprehensive MIDI capabilities, including advanced MIDI quantization, Key Editor, Drum Editor, and Chord Track. Cubase’s MIDI functionality is a favorite among composers and electronic music producers.

Pro Tools: Pro Tools provides solid MIDI sequencing and editing tools, suitable for most music production needs. While it may not offer the same extensive MIDI features as Cubase, it still provides essential tools for MIDI composition and editing.

  1. Mixing and Automation:

Cubase: Cubase’s MixConsole is a feature-rich mixing environment that allows users to create complex mix configurations. It supports up to 64 insert effects and 8 effect sends per channel. Cubase also provides precise automation capabilities, enabling detailed control over track parameters.

Pro Tools: Pro Tools’ Mix Window provides a clear and efficient mixing environment. It supports up to 128 insert effects and 64 auxiliary tracks for effect sends. Pro Tools’ automation features are renowned for their accuracy and flexibility.

  1. Virtual Instruments and Effects:

Cubase: Cubase comes with an impressive collection of virtual instruments and effects. Its bundled instruments like HALion Sonic SE, Groove Agent SE, and Retrologue offer a wide range of sounds and styles. Cubase also supports third-party VST plugins, expanding its sonic possibilities.

Pro Tools: Pro Tools includes the AIR Instruments and Effects bundle, providing users with essential virtual instruments and effects. While it may not have the same extensive library as Cubase, Pro Tools still offers high-quality tools for creative music production.

Both: handle 3rd party VST and plugins well.

  1. Collaboration and Compatibility:

Cubase: Cubase allows for smooth collaboration with other users, thanks to its VST Transit feature for cloud-based project sharing. It also supports collaboration through its VST Connect feature, allowing remote recording and mixing.

Pro Tools: Pro Tools offers versatile collaboration capabilities with its “Collaboration Cloud” feature, allowing users to work together seamlessly. Additionally, its compatibility with various audio and video file formats makes it a preferred choice for post-production studios.

  1. Compatibility and System Requirements:

Cubase: Cubase is compatible with both Windows and macOS platforms. Its system requirements can vary depending on the edition and version, but it generally runs well on modern computer systems.

Pro Tools: Pro Tools is compatible with both Windows and macOS as well. For Pro Tools HDX systems, Avid recommends using specific Avid HDX hardware for optimal performance.

Cubase 12 comes bundled with an impressive array of virtual instruments, effects, and audio processors. Its extensive library includes HALion Sonic SE for virtual instrument sounds, Groove Agent SE for drums, and a wide range of audio effects. Cubase 12 also supports third-party VST plugins, allowing users to expand their sonic palette with ease.

Pro Tools Studio offers a collection of high-quality virtual instruments and effects, including the AIR Instruments and Effects bundle. With industry-standard plugins like EQ III, Dynamics III, and Reverb One, Pro Tools Studio ensures that users have the essential tools for professional audio processing. Moreover, the AAX plugin format provides compatibility with a wide range of third-party plugins.

Both DAWs have extensive feature sets, that will appeal to different types of users. I personally feel like Cubase is a more “complete” program, one that offers more tools for the musician to create sounds within the Cubase ecosystem, no 3rd party plugins needed.

Pro Tools on the other hand has a ton of mixing and mastering options that are fine-tuned for professional users. The ecosystem might not have as many built-in options for samples and VST, but many producers have 3rd party plugins that they prefer.


Price Tiers: Cubase 12 vs. Pro Tools Studio

Cubase 12 vs. Pro Tools Studio

This is going to be the “make or break” decision for you as a consumer, since both DAWs have entirely different price structures. In fact, there has been a recent mass exodus away from Pro Tools when it comes to home studios. To put it quite simply, you can only really own one.

The whole thing comes down to the subscription-based system that Pro Tools has decided to implement in recent years. The idea of not ever “owning” your copy of Pro Tools has scared away many users, who have moved to Cubase or Reaper since the price has changed.

This almost assures that the only artists using Pro Tools are professional studios. I think artists can take a $600 hit once, and know that the DAW is going to be available and stable for a long time. However, if you have to pay that amount yearly… this can be a problem for artists, especially home studios.

Cubase 12 is available in different editions, including Cubase Elements, Cubase Artist, and Cubase Pro. The pricing structure varies based on the edition and the user’s needs. The full Cubase Pro version typically comes with a higher price tag, while Cubase Elements ($99) offers a more affordable entry point for beginners.

This structure from Cubase allows you to choose an edition based on your needs and budget. But then, you own the software outright. You never have to update if you don’t want to, as Cubase 12 will still receive updates/service for years.

Pro Tools Studio, like Cubase, offers different versions to cater to various user requirements. The pricing structure also varies based on the edition and the level of features. While Pro Tools HD offers advanced features for professional studios, Pro Tools Standard and Pro Tools First provide cost-effective solutions for beginners and smaller studios.

There are three plans starting at $10 per month or $99 per year. There’s no longer an option to buy a perpetual license, which granted customers lifetime access to a certain version of Pro Tools. However, existing customers can upgrade their former perpetual license and get back on a current Software Updates + Support Plan.

This may be an issue for some consumers, as most artists would rather “buy it and be done” when it comes to software. Pro Tools has been criticized for this misstep, but Avid has not course-corrected the mistake, causing big issues with some pro studios.


Comparison From a Beginner’s Perspective

Cubase 12’s user-friendly interface, extensive documentation, and comprehensive MIDI editing tools make it an excellent choice for beginners. The inclusion of bundled virtual instruments and effects empowers newcomers to experiment with various sounds and styles without the need for additional plugins.

This makes Cubase an “all-in-one” type of ecosystem for beginners. Just about every program you could need as a beginner is already included. While the learning curve is a bit steep when it comes to post-production, Cubase can grow with you as a user.

Pro Tools Studio’s track-based editing and industry-standard audio processing tools offer beginners a solid foundation for audio recording and editing. The intuitive workflow allows users to focus on their creativity and achieve professional results quickly.

Pro Tools also focuses more on post-production, which may be a bit confusing for beginners that are not ready to master their own tracks. Learning the keyboard shortcuts and track options can also be a difficult experience for a beginner.


Cubase 12 vs. Pro Tools Studio: A Professional Comparison

This is where the major differences between the two DAWs will be most evident. These are two industry giants, used in professional studios all over the world. So looking at the features and specs from a professional standpoint is paramount.

Cubase 12’s advanced audio editing, mixing, and orchestral scoring capabilities cater to the demands of professionals working on complex projects. Its versatile plugin support, automation features, and extensive MIDI capabilities make it a preferred choice for seasoned music producers, composers, and audio engineers.

Cubase has a lot to offer everyone from a bedroom artist all the way to transposing orchestra tracks. This is why Cubase is used so often in studios that record full bands, the virtual mix desk works in real-time. Likewise, you have most of the plugins you need for post-production.

Pro Tools Studio’s reputation as an industry-standard DAW speaks for itself. Its robust audio editing and mixing tools, seamless collaboration features, and compatibility with AAX plugins make it the go-to choice for professional studios and audio post-production facilities.

Pro Tools is still used in many studios because of the physical outboard gear that Avid offers for the software. The Eleven Rack was one of the first pieces of gear that Avid made for guitar modeling. Since then, there have been other physical controllers as well, making your studio more friendly to a fast-paced workflow.


Cubase 12 vs. Pro Tools Studio: Wrapping Up…

It has been years now since I first heard that Pro Tools is the “industry standard”. In fact, colleges/schools still teach Pro Tools as the DAW to use in production. Unfortunately, I do not think that is the case anymore, especially after using Pro Tools again recently.

My recent use of Pro Tools was extremely underwhelming, as it has not changed much since the last time I used it, 10 years ago. Some of the cons of Pro Tools are:

  • Steep learning curve
  • The newer Cloud System can be unreliable
  • The stock plugins are way behind the times

Don’t get me wrong, any DAW can have a steep curve for beginners, but even as a seasoned pro I had a difficult time with the current state of Pro Tools. The Cloud system is also not up to par, and I would much rather have a hard backup. The plugins are far behind Cubase, with some free 3rd party plugins rivaling Avid’s recent offerings.

Cubase has issues as well, since learning a DAW is like learning a different instrument. However, the Cubase ecosystem feels very intuitive, and the interface is much easier to digest. The plugins and virtual instruments really blow Pro Tools out of the water, with tons of MIDI options and samples.

Both Cubase 12 and Pro Tools Studio are powerful DAW platforms that have made their mark in the music industry. Cubase 12 shines with its comprehensive MIDI editing and advanced audio capabilities, making it an appealing choice for beginners and professionals seeking versatility.

On the other hand, Pro Tools Studio’s industry-standard audio processing and intuitive workflow make it a preferred choice for professional audio engineers and studios. But some of those studios use Pro Tools because they are just “stuck with it” at this point.

The choice between Cubase 12 and Pro Tools Studio comes down to the user’s specific needs, preferred workflow, and musical goals. Both DAWs offer trial versions, allowing users to explore their features and decide which best aligns with their requirements. Whether you’re a beginner exploring the world of music production or a seasoned professional looking to elevate your sound, Cubase 12 and Pro Tools Studio are ready to empower your creative journey.

Steinberg Cubase Pro 12
4.5

Used by everything from Hans Zimmer to Meshuggah, Cubase is an industry stalwart and a leading pioneer in the field of DAWs. Ideal for creating, recording, mixing, and mastering, Cubase has all the tools you need to create professional-sounding music at home. We love this software.

Pros:
  • Control Room: Unmatched recording and monitoring control for a superior mix.
  • Sound Quality: A 64-bit audio engine that delivers professional-level audio.
  • Plug-Ins: A wealth of high-quality plug-ins for any genre.
  • Score Editor: Ideal for composers with its sophisticated notation feature.
  • Customizable Interface: Adaptable to your workflow for optimal productivity.

Is Cubase Used By Professional Studios?

Yes, it absolutely is. Cubase is used by many professional studios in Nashville, Los Angeles, and New York. These are big name studios that your favorite artists have probably used to make albums. Cubase is a great representation of what a powerful DAW can do for an artist.

Is Pro Tools The Best DAW Choice?

Since there are many different DAW platforms these days, Pro Tools has many alternatives. One is Cubase, a highly professional DAW that many artists use. Another is Reaper, which is an economic DAW that many studios use.

Are Tracks Cross Compatible With Pro Tools And Cubase?

Yes, you can import and export tracks and even full sessions from one DAW to another. So if you switch from one to another, it is easy to transport your work.

Will My Plugins Work With Cubase And Pro Tools?

Both of these DAW systems support most 3rd party plugins, from EZ Drummer to Neural DSP Guitar Sims.

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