Advanced collaboration with VST Connect Pro in Cubase

Last month, we examined Steinberg’s VST Connect and showed you how to collaborate from afar, focusing mainly on the SE version built into Cubase and Nuendo. Now, we turn our gaze towards Pro and inspect some deeper collaboration features.

As we discovered in issue 207, VST Connect is a wonderful way to invite other artists into your studio without anyone having to break the rules of lockdown and social distancing. The SE version works well but if you’re likely to use this system a lot, you’ll likely benefit from the additional features of VST Connect Pro

Sync or swim

VST Connect relies on maintaining a synchronisation signal between the studio and performer sides of its connection. Like pretty much all network-communication tools, VST Connect correspondents between studio and performer by sending packets of data at regular intervals. If a new packet isn’t received by the time the current packet has been processed, the synchronisation signal will be lost, which will result in the performer hearing a jump or glitch in the cue signal, which will show up in the recorded signal captured in the studio.

These sorts of problems often occur when there’s a lack of available network bandwidth, which may be due to the studio and/or performer having inadequate internet connections but is more commonly caused by the internet route between studio and performer being particularly busy at the time of recording. This can wreck otherwise carefully planned sessions. VST Connect Pro, however, is equipped to minimise such issues. Steinberg’s Pro gives users considerable control of the streaming settings, allowing them to reduce the network bandwidth required for a stable connection.

Live stereo stream

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No matter what edition of VST Connect you’re using, though, the live recording stream returned to the studio from the performer will always be a stereo mix of all signals connected to VST Connect Performer, and will have almost always gone through a data-compression stage. (Data compression can be disabled in Pro but you’d need to be working via a fast LAN in order for this to work reliably.)

While using VST Connect SE, which can only handle two input channels, the live stereo stream is all you get. In Pro, the live stream is a mix of up to 16 inputs and is intended as a preview and placeholder to be replaced later by individual HD files. The level of each input signal within the live stream is determined by the rotary controls in the Record section of the VST Connect mixer, and you need to set this carefully because any clipping within the live stream will result in failures when trying to transfer the HD recordings. Digital clipping, it seems, is judged by VST Connect to be a form of file corruption, and so the offline transfer stalls when any clipping is present.

The record level settings only impact the live stereo stream, so if you have signals in there that you don’t wish to have in the live stream – a performer-to-studio talkback mic, for example – you will need to turn these down manually in the VST Connect mixer prior to recording (and turn them back up when you want to hear them again).

Offline HD files

Any input channels that are record-enabled (done by clicking the unlabelled circle below a channel’s recording-level control) will create individual recordings that are stored on the performer’s computer. The recording signal level is determined by the sound-hardware settings at the performer’s end, in much the same way as the studio’s input settings determine the recording level during a normal recording session. It’s helpful, therefore, if your performer knows how to use their hardware to set a strong but unclipped input signal level. But there are ways in which the engineer can assist with this too

Once you have captured some takes that you and your performer are happy with, you can replace the stereo preview recording with the individual full-quality parts that were recorded by VST Connect Performer. This process is built into VST Connect Pro. A simple button-press transfers the files from the performer to the studio, creates tracks for them within Cubase, and places the audio in the correct time locations on those tracks.

How does all this pan out in practice? For the following walkthrough, you’ll need a buddy who is able to run VST Connect Performer (the Performer app is free) and who has a MySteinberg ID that’ll let them log in to the system. Here, we’re using features that are not available in VST Connect SE. You’ll need to install the Pro version, which you can do using the Steinberg Download Assistant found in the VST Instruments & Plugins section, to take part. If you don’t have a licence for Pro, choose to start the free 30-day trial upon launch.

Advanced collaboration with VST Connect Pro in Cubase: step-by-step

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1. Launch Cubase and load a project that you want to collaborate on or create a new project for the purposes of the following steps. Go to the VST Cloud menu and choose Create VST Connect from the VST Connect Pro sub-menu.

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2. If your collaborator is not already in your Friends list, use the search function to locate them and send them a friend request. Once befriended, connect by double-clicking on their name in the Friends list.

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3. When connected, the Net and Sync indicators should be green for both studio and performer. If the sync signal is lost at any point, one or more of these indicators will turn red. Fear not, there are ways to fix this.

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4. If you get a red light, click the gear icon at the bottom of the VST Connect editor panel to open the setup panel. Select the Configuration tab. The various settings found under this tab relate to the studio side of proceedings.

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5. Set the Audio Upstream to its lowest value, 128kBit/sec. This sets the bandwidth of the cue signal being streamed to the performer. Lower settings mean less network bandwidth is used. You can preserve more bandwidth by disabling video in the Video Device menu.

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6. The Remote Delay is an internal delay between you hitting play/record and playback actually starting. This does not delay the cue mix, just the studio mix. It doesn’t, however, have a big impact on synchronisation stability. Use the higher settings if you’re having sync problems.

REHEARSAL MODE You may have noticed a button marked REHRS in the Talkback Control section of the VST Connect editor panel. This enables Rehearsal mode, which allows you to use talkback during track playback. It will be automatically disabled when you hit record in order to preserve network bandwidth.

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7. Change the HD Recording Bits setting to match the resolution of your project. This setting determines the resolution that VST Connect Performer will use to capture and store the HD files. It doesn’t impact the live stream bandwidth.

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8. Switch to the Performer tab to adjust the performer’s stream settings. Again, select the smallest Audio Upstream setting and disable video. The remaining settings don’t have an impact on network usage.

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9. Now set up your VST Connect channels. Here, we’re recording multiple feeds from a guitarist – DI’d pickup, mic’d amp, stereo-amp modeller, and talkback – but you can set up any multichannel rig that works for you.

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10. Switch to the VST Connect Mixer view. There should already be three channels showing. Ignore the VST channel (this is for plug-in instruments). Use the + button to add however many channels you need. Double-click the name fields and give each channel an appropriate title.

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11. Select the audio source for each of your channels. VST Connect’s channels are stereo, so if linking to mono sources you should set the recording pan hard left or right for odd and even numbered inputs, respectively.

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12. Use the rotary controls in the Record section of the VST Connect mixer to set recording levels for the input channels. You don’t get any overall mix-level metering so leave plenty of headroom and listen for clipping.

COMPUTER REMOTE CONTROL If the performer doesn’t know how to set up input signal levels – something you can’t access for them via VST Connect – you can use a screen-sharing service such as TeamViewer to log into their computer and set it all up for them.

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13. Use the Monitor section to set up the input monitoring for the performer. Then, in Cubase’s mixer, add and enable cue send 1 on any track that needs to be monitored by the performer (you may need to enable the Cues rack in Cubase’s mixer).

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14. In the Record section of the VST Connect mixer, click the record-enable buttons for each channel you wish to capture. For example, you may want to record everything except the performer-to-studio talkback mic.

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15. Have a few practice runs with your performer to better set the cue mix and input monitoring balance. When content, hit record in Cubase and get a few takes. Notice how the stereo preview incorporates all VST Connect channels, regardless of their record-enabled status.

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16. Once you have a take or takes that you’re happy with, switch back to the setup view and select the Manager tab. Click Get HD Files and wait until the files are transferred.

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17. Once the transfer is complete, look at Cubase’s project window. You’ll see that a folder track has been created that contains audio tracks for each of the VST Connect inputs, with the HD parts in place.

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18. Now you can mute or delete the preview track and mix the HD tracks as you would any other audio track. Remember to add cue sends to the new tracks if your performer needs to hear them when overdubbing additional parts.

For more Cubase tutorials and workshops, click here.

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