Noob question

Hi guys, n-Track was recommended by an online acquaintance to edit some simple acoustic guitar tracks I have recorded. I’m not a professional, but appreciate some of the professional quality recordings from other amateurs on the net. At any rate, my question is this: How does n-Track compare to Cubase? I have Cubase SX3, but wasn’t sure how it stacked up to n-Track. Any info would be appreciated. Thanks

Well, you are asking users here, so you might not get the most unbiased opinion. But…the workflow is different; because the various sequencing programs use different maths to do digital mixes there are very slight differernces in sound (although not-so-slight in some programs); n-Track’s greatest strength is in handling audio recording, but you can do pretty much the same things with each. Oh, and there’s the price difference. What’s V4 of Cubase, 800 bucks? :D

Unless you feel like you have to throw money away, get n-Track, espeically if you have done some recording on something like an old cassette 4-track - if you have, you will find yourself in familiar conceptual terrain. Plus all of the concepts you learn with any of these programs are pretty much portable to others, even if the specific implementation differs. One thing about n-Track that is not true of Cubase - you can almost be working with it right away without reading the manual - Cubase…well, you need to live with the manual for a while…

However, if you feel like throwing money away, PM me, I can use some. (Which is not to say that Cubase is not a fine product - I used a version of it for a while, and thought it really good, but really slow to load, and by that time I was used to the workflow in n-Track, so…)

Wait, you already have a recent version of Cubase…hmm…you don’t like it?

The difference in sound for simply mixing is vanishingly small and not audible by humans, simply because it’s merely addition and 2+2=4 everywhere. People who say different are seriously misunderstanding digital audio. (Yes, there are some minor techical differences due to the order of operations, eliminating an extra multiply, and the effects of roundoff error, but these are truly negligible.)

However, every EQ implementation sounds different. Of course, you can use plugins for EQ, in which case the sound quality would be the same for both programs.

I haven’t done a comparison of EQ between n-Track and Cubase. All I can say is that n-Track EQ sounds good to my ears, but I’m not any golden-eared wonder either.

n-Track works great and sounds great. The differences in sound are more a matter of what you do as engineer than differences in tools. There really is not a quality difference commensurate with the price difference here. If you didn’t already have Cubase, I’d say to give n-Track a try; I’d bet you wouldn’t be disappointed. Put the money you save into good instruments! They matter a LOT more than what software you use. Mic preamps also matter more.

But since you have Cubase, why not just keep using it? n-Track might suit you better; you can always download and try it for free.

Hi guys, thanks for the replies.

Tom>>> It’s not that I don’t like Cubase, I just haven’t used it much. It doesn’t seem too complicated, but I’m going to have to invest a little time to learn how to use it a little better, and before I did that I just was curious how it stacked up to nTrack. The acquaintance that I spoke of uploaded a recording where he used nTrack to edit the recording, and it sounded great. So, it made me curious.

Learjeff>>> I hear what you’re saying about good equipment. I have just started to acquire some semi-decent equipment, and the quality of my recordings has also improved somewhat as a result. This may show how amateur I am, but I didn’t realize there was post recording editing. I was under the impression that all the reverb/delay/chorus/eq etc were added during the recording. Noob!

I may still buy a copy of nTrack after I have had a little time to evaluate Cubase. Thanks again for the info.

But learjeff, you can hear the differences - take a biggish song with a bunch of tracks and mix them raw, without effects, on different programs - I’ve done this with Orion, Cubase, n-Track, and a couple of others, and there are noticable differences. They can be easily swamped with the plug ins and such, but my understanding is that there are different methods for digital summing that produce hearable differences. Not that the differences matter all that much - it’s not like differences between tape machines, e.g.

Unless you include dithering, I’m skeptical, Tom. All the world over, 1+1=2. Summing is merely summing. With dithering turned on, of course each dithering algorithm has its own contribution to the sound.

Note that it’s VERY easy to convince oneself that one hears a difference when there is none. I’ve caught myself at this more than once. You have to work quite hard to overcome this tendency.

Here are the differences between summation methods.

Some programs use 32-bit accumulators; others use 64-bit accumulators. Use of 32-bit accumulators causes more roundoff errors. I don’t know what n-Track uses, but when used in 64-bit audio path mode (which I believe V5 supports) it will of course use a 64-bit accumulator.

Even with 32-bit accumulators, the roundoff error is roughly proportional to the number of tracks. The number of bits of roundoff error is roughly proportional to the log base 2 of the number of tracks. With 16 tracks, that would be 4 bits, leading to 20 significant bits. I don’t think that humans can hear the difference between 20 and 24 bit accuracy. Soundcards that call themselves 24-bit soundcards only have 20 bits of accuracy; the bottom 4 bits are random. Otherwise they’d have about a 140 dB S/N ratio when tested in loopback, rather than the more typical 110-120 dB S/N ratio (120 only in the very best cards – and that’s 20 bits worth of range).

With 64-bit accumulators, the round off error is truly negligible. It’s less than the effect of brownian motion in the analog stages of the most accurate audio equipment available to the music industry – and pretty much even in a world-class physics laboratory, unless it’s supercooled. We’re talking SERIOUSLY low noise here!

Another difference is whether each sample is multiplied once or twice for the two faders that control the level (the track fader and the master fader). n-Track does the best thing here by combining the two gains into a single gain (doing one multiply). However, the roundoff error caused by this is pretty much one half of a bit: not much in 32 bits and truly negligible in 64 bits.

The final difference I’m aware of is the order of summation. The simple method would be to add the first track’s sample, then the next track’s, etc. By the end, the resulting accumulated sample would be relatively large compared with the sample being added (and the more tracks, the more this is so). As a result, the latter tracks get more roundoff error than the ones higher up the list. A fairer method is to add them in tournament style, adding each track’s sample to its neighbor, and then adding each sum to the neighboring sum, etc.

In the last case, it’s hard to generalize about the effect it would have on the result. However, as above, for 64-bit accumulators, it’s really not a problem until you have scores and scores of tracks (probably hundreds – I’ll do the math if you ask). For 24-bit tracks, I can’t imagine that it would amount to as much as 6 bits of data loss in the last tracks (and that’s for 32 tracks where the first 32 are all nearly peaking). Given that we’re going to dither the result to 16 bits, it’s not a very significant difference.


It’d sure be interesting if someone set up a double-blind test to settle this question.

There’s plenty enough members on this forum to act as a test group to listen and comment about the same songs mixed on different programs.

All it takes is for someone to set up the experiment.