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Using External Instruments and Effects in Cubase

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Read Time: 6 min

Let’s go back to the past, when all you had was a tape machine, some external effects, a loop machine and reverbs. Getting nostalgic? Some engineers still prefer to use that gear to add originality and clarity to their mixes—a quality you simply cannot get through emulation or synthesis. In this tutorial, I'll show you how to set up your external effects and instruments in Cubase, and use them in your mixes.

External synthesizers can also be routed through Cubase, and the effects that you use on the device can be sent to Cubase and implemented in your project. In order for everything to work properly, you must have a good audio hardware with low latency, so that there is no delay between the input and the output of the audio. The audio hardware must also have at least one input and output channel for recording and monitoring or pairs of input and output pairs for stereo effects.  You'll also need a MIDI interface.

Connect the External Effect or Instrument

Once you are ready with the necessary equipment for this tutorial, we can move forward to the connecting of the external effect/instrument. First, take the output from the external instrument and connect it to the input of the audio hardware. If you are using stereo effects or hardware, you must connect both of the outputs to the inputs of the audio hardware.

After this, connect the output from the audio hardware to the input of your external effect/instrument. Again, if you are planning to use stereo effects, connect both the left and the right cables to the respective ports in the external instrument/effect. This is the basic setup that you have to follow to properly connect both your devices.

The audio signal from the channel is will be sent through the outputs of your audio hardware to the external effect, which processes it and sends back the audio through the output of the external effect to the input of your audio hardware. After making sure all the connections are correct, you will have to set up the input and the output busses.

Set Up the Busses

Next we need to set up the buses. Open the VST Connection window from the Devices menu. You can also press F4 to bring up the window. Select the External FX tab and click the External FX button.

In the dialog box that appears, enter the name that you would like to give the external effect, and select the Send and Return configurations. Select the type of send/return configuration depending on the outputs that you have specified, and specify the MIDI device that you are going to associate with this effect. Click Associate MIDI Device and select the appropriate device. Click OK and the new External FX bus will be added to the window.

Now select the send bus of your external device, and select the outputs of your audio hardware from the Device Port option. Do the same for the Return Bus, where you will have to select the inputs of your audio hardware as the ports in the Device Port.

You also have the option to change the additional settings such as delay, send gain, and return gain. Here is what each option does:

  • Delay is used to compensate for the delay or latency caused by your hardware. Find your hardware latency using the Device Setup menu. Enter the latency value in this field and Cubase will adjust the latency during playback. It is best to have the external device connected while tweaking these settings, so that you can decide on the values more easily. If you are not sure about the latency value, you can allow the program to decide the delay value. To do this, right click the Delay field and select Check User Delay. The program will automatically calculate the value of the delay.
  • Send Gain can be used to adjust the level of signal that is being sent to the external effect. In most devices, this value does not go above 6.02dB.
  • Return Gain can be used to adjust the level of the signal that is coming in from the external effect. The maximum value for this field in many devices is 6.02dB.
  • MIDI Device will reselect the device that you had associated with the external effect when you created it. Clicking on this option will give you the option to disconnect the connected MIDI device and to select another, or to create a new one from scratch. You can also open the MIDI Device Manager and edit any MIDI device you have installed.
  • The Used column is to show you if the external effect is being used in the project. If you are using the external effect in the project, a checkmark will appear in this column, reminding you that that specific effect is being used.

Use same method to set up the external instruments as well. Instead "External FX", you will have to go to the External Instruments tab and add an External Instrument.

Insert the Effect or Instrument Into Your Project

Now that you have set up the external effects, you can proceed towards using them in your project. In order to see the effect in action, add any channel or track and click on Insert Effects. You'll find a new category called External Plugins. Select the effect that you created from the submenu.

The effect that you created will be added just like any normal plugin, and has the same functions. You can use it as an insert effect or as a send effect. You can also deactivate or bypass the effect as you wish.

Once you add the plugin, you will be presented with a window to adjust the settings of the external effect. This contains the same controls that you adjusted in the External FX tab of the Devices menu. There is an extra button called Measure Effect’s Loop Delay For Delay Compensation which essentially provides the same function as the "Check User Delay" in the External FX right click context menu.

Use the external instrument that you created as a VST instrument for your project. To do so, open the VST Instruments window by pressing F11 or by selecting it from the Devices menu, and select the External Plugins option from the drop down menu. In the External Plugins submenu, select the external instrument that you created. After that you can use the external instrument as you use any other VST instrument.


The next time you are working on a project, try using external instruments and external effects to try out what you just learned. Using external instruments and effects may help you to reduce the load on your system because the processing is done by the external instrument, allowing you to focus more on producing better music than spending your time freezing and unfreezing instruments to free up memory and processor load.

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