Cubase breaks the 32bit barrier – and doesn’t look back.

It has finally happened.

Starting with version 9, Steinberg has discontinued the 32bit version of their DAW product line “Cubase”, being one of the first to do so (but please inform me otherwise if that has become standard for a long time).

So while you got both 32bit and 64bit versions for a long time, and could use both alternatingly, this is no longer possible. Upgrade to version 9 – no more 32bit for you.

I have already discussed the reasons for moving to 64bit in a previous article. The lowdown was: while Cubase 32bit (or any other program, for that matter) will run into problems if your project exceeds a certain complexity, you lose the option to properly use some third-party components (here: VST plugins) which are only available in 32bit if you make the move to 64bit.

Just in – potential workaround or a failure for that to work [ongoing]

Before moving to Cubase 9, I contacted support about the issue, and they told me that a potential workaround was to use the v8.5 32bit version – which would be available to me as a Cubase 9 user. Ever since I got the upgrade, things have become quiet – I was asked to formally open a ticket with support, and haven’t heard from them in the last four days. Let’s see how this works.

The 64bit move in general

When we talk about 64bit, this includes a tricky relationship between hardware, OS, software application and 3rd party components (here: VST(i) plugins).

Why even do it?

The number of bits describes, very generally how big the numbers are that the system can use. This relates most importantly to numbers the system processes (“data”), and the numbers  the system uses to address memory.

The latter is the main reason we typically read why 64bit is necessary: your address space with 32bit is 2^32bit, i.e. 4GB. While this was quite ok only a short time ago, we started to hit limitations, first for specific applications (RAM-based databases, complex simulators), and then also for more challenging music (DAW) projects.

The former is also partially relevant in the DAW/audio context: while 24 and 32 are still the bit depth seen most of the time (and I personally am perfectly happy with 32bit float), some tools (plugins and DAWs) have adopted 48bit fixed or 64bit float. Those do not run efficiently in a 32bit context.

Having said that, the address range is the prime reason why we (in our DAW context) would consider moving to 64bit.

The Tech Relationship

We’re starting with the application – the DAW – and see what this effects.

A 64bit DAW of course needs a 64bit OS. This, in turn, needs a 64bit CPU, which needs fitting peripherals. For anything hardware-wise that requires a driver, the OS also needs 64bit drivers. And finally, and this is specific to that DAW case, all plugins need to be 64bit variants, too.

How does that affect us? Isn’t there a workardound?

For CPUs, the move to 64bit happened quite a long time ago: looking at the Intel family relevant for us PC guys, 64bit was widely supported since the Pentium 4 generation, released in 2000. And as most people buy a fitting mainboard to go with their CPU, which uses a fitting chipset, the “CPU and fitting peripherals” part had been covered for quite some time.

For OSes, availability has (in the PC world) started with the Windows 5 generation, which included XP. This did, however not include the mainstream version back then (I think it was called “home”), and also it took some time for those to find widespread use: only a few years ago, a lot of PCs were still shipped with 32bit versions of Windows – but a quick look into the market convinced me that as of today, this transition has now been made.
It was a little different for the LINUX folks – this one had been widely available in 64bit for as long as I can think back.

As for hardware drivers, this was a big issue back when I had made the shift to a 64bit OS (I think it was late in 2008), at that time using Windows XP Professional 64bit: When shopping for peripherals (printer, audio interface, you name it), sometimes my first choice disqualified itself by not providing 64bit drivers.
This changed rather quickly in the years to come, and starting with Windows’ Vista generation, so today this is no longer an issue at all.

Finally, we have the plugins – and they are the big topic here, so they get their own chapter. The short version: there’s a lot of old plugins you might love using, which have been discontinued and will never see a 64bit version. Others have new versions in 64bit, which you then need to buy. And there used to be a workaround, for Cubase users called VstBridge. This thing tried to run 32bit plugins in the 64bit DAW, which didn’t work more often than it did. For that reason, nstead of fixing things, Steinberg have opted to discontinue it. So: there is no workaround (at least not in the Cubase world).

The Plugin Dilemma

So if you have been collecting plugins ever since VST was established, some of them free, you might have a huge collection, some of which you’ve never used – and most of which no longer run. We can put those into three groups:

A 64bit version of the same plugin is available

Some plugin manufacturers have simply started to offer 64bit version for the existing plugins which you’ve already bought. Sadly, this is the minority, so let’s give a hand to those companies who did so: in my plugin collection, this applies to OhmForce and the Korg Legacy Collection.

A 64bit version of a later version is available

This applies to the vast majority of professionally-made plugins. The downside? You need to pay for an upgrade, even if you don’t really need it. Want examples? I received a PodFarm license when I got my Line6 Pod X3 Live. Unfortunately, this is only for version 1, and this is only available in 32bit. Crap. Still, I don’t seem to need it that much – so no business for Line6.

Native Instruments. I got a version (think it was Komplete 3 – we’re at version 11 right now, I think), and that’s only 32bit as well. So if I want to use that old Kontakt, or Reaktor, or Absynth, it’s forking out a bunch of cash. Acceptable, because those newer versions really offer some useful improvements. Let’s hope I win that Christmas drawing they’re holding right now…

No 64bit version. Never.

This applies to that huge number of non-professional things, as well as to discontinued products by the “pros”. Incidentally, a large number of the low-system-load plugins with character I used back in the MoinSound Studio Sessions days as part of my computer-based live setup are of that category. To give some examples (lots of which via smartelectronix):

  • mda ePiano, a lightweight and well-sounding electric piano VSTi. It’s all over Weird Specialist, most prominently probably on this track.
  • SupaTrigga and MadShifta by Bram. Again, lots of action on Weird Specialist, and prominent usage of MadShifta (a really crappy pitch shifter in a really positive way) on this track.
  • geometer and scrubby by DestroyFx. Not as prominently featured, but also a lot happening on Weird Specialist and the MSSS album – like here.
  • Sun Ra via Ellotronix: The comment “do you play it or does it play you” for this VSTi says it all. Most fittingly in the intro to this track.

There’s no replacement for them – luckily, I had used most of these secret gems not for mixing work, but for improvised live performance, and for that (if I ever went back to do that) I still have Ableton Live in 32bit!

What do other DAWs do?

Steinberg (and Cubase) weren’t the first – Avid/Digidesign, or rather their most famous product ProTools, had already made the move.

On the other hand, products like Ableton Live, Sonar/Cakewalk and Reaper are still happy with 32bit – yet.

So here’s an attempt to look into the future: with Cubase being something like an early adopter, it might only take direct competitors so long to follow suit. If I was a product manager with any of the companies involved, I’d mainly steer clear of making that move soon for Live – simply because of all those wonderful performance-oriented tools I’ve mentioned above.

2 thoughts on “Cubase breaks the 32bit barrier – and doesn’t look back.

  1. The mda plugins (including epiano) are available as source code, so it should be possible to compile them for 64 bit if you need them,

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