Cubase Track Presets 2 – Tricky Plugins

7th November 2019

Some virtual instruments – I’m looking at you, Native Instruments Reaktor – let you save patches to your computer in the instrument’s own library folder. So… how does that affect Cubase Track Presets based on those instruments?

How Reaktor works

When you build – or just play with – something in Reaktor, you’re typically playing with an Ensemble or a Blocks Rack.

For instance, in old-fashioned Reaktor, you could create an Ensemble out of one or more Reaktor Instruments. You might have a sample-mangling Instrument, playing through some weird delay-like effect Instrument, within the same Ensemble.

And in your Reaktor user library somewhere on your computer you can save a file called My_Mangling_Ensemble_01.ens file. If you re-load the ensemble into Reaktor, you get the sample mangler instrument and the weird delay instrument together. It’s a bit more involved than just “saving a preset” in an instrument like FM8, and feels a bit more general-purpose/manual/flexible/easy-to-stitch-yourself-up.

For instance: if you load Reaktor as a VSTi in Cubase (or any DAW), and load up a Reaktor ensemble, you might edit that ensemble IN THE DAW. Do you really want to save changes to the master ensemble file? Or are your changes specific to the project? Reaktor gives you a “save for host” button which, when Reaktor’s loaded inside a DAW, lets you save a DAW-specific copy of the ensemble, likely inside your project folder somewhere.

OK, so… how does all this behaviour affect Cubase Track Presets?

My dream is to tell Cubase “Add a Track using my Track Preset REAKTOR SAMPLE MANGLER WITH DELAYS” and have Cubase just create the track for me… so I don’t need to remember where the ensemble file is, it’ll just be there, ready for me.

…Which I can totally do. Here’s a question, though. When I save the Track Preset, do Cubase and/or Reaktor somehow know to copy and bundle the details of the ensemble into the Track Preset data?

Of course they don’t. That’d be really tricky to do, and there aren’t many instruments that work like Reaktor, so it’s kind of a big ask to demand that of Steinberg or Native Instruments – even if it’s technically possible for either them to do it.

I did an experiment:

  • I create a Track Preset for Reaktor with My_Ensemble_01.ens loaded
  • I check that I can Add Track using that Track Preset
  • I close Cubase, open Reaktor, load My_Ensemble_01.ens, and make a change to it and save the change in my Reaktor User Library (nothing to do with Cubase, Reaktor’s own Library)
  • I close Reaktor, open Cubase, and again Add Track using the same Track Preset
  • The track appears, but contains the changed version of the ensemble

What’s happening is: the Track Preset doesn’t contain all the ensemble configuration and data; instead, the Track Preset simply contains the info “In this preset, Reaktor is loaded up with the ensemble file stored at My/Reaktor/Library/Sample-Mangling/My_Mangling_Ensemble_01.ens

This has implications.

If you rename, move or delete an Reaktor ensemble that’s referenced in a Cubase track preset, your preset breaks: the track is added, and contains Reaktor, but Reaktor shows an error: Ensemble not found.

Similarly, if you make meaningful changes to an ensemble in Reaktor, when you’ve saved a Cubase Track Preset based on Reaktor running that specific ensemble file, the track preset will inherit those changes.

More subtlely… inside an ensemble, Reaktor lets you save snapshots of the whole ensemble, or of individual instruments. It’s a bit like saving virtual instrument presets… but they’re inside of the ensemble file. Now, if you:

  • Add a Cubase track to a project, using a Track Preset that features Reaktor running the master version of My_Mangling_Ensemble_01.ens (the version in your Reaktor User Library)
  • Save your Cubase project
  • Weeks later, open the same ensemble file in Reaktor itself; delete a snapshot that happens to be the one used in the Cubase project; and programme and save a totally different snapshot, saving it into the ensemble file
  • Re-open your Cubase project

Well, if you used the master version of the ensemble, your Cubase project might sound totally different, because it’s now using the updated version of the snapshot.

So… remember the “Save to Host” button in Reaktor, that’s visible when you load Reaktor as a plugin in a DAW? Well… that button becomes active when you make a change to plugin-Reaktor’s ensemble; and when you click the button, you save a copy of the ensemble into your Cubase project folder somewhere (I make a folder I usually call “Patches”), and that becomes the ensemble file for the plugin version of Reaktor.

So you’ll need to remember to use that button whenever you add a track based on Reaktor as a VST plugin, with a pre-loaded ensemble.

AND you’ll need to be aware an cautious, to avoid messing up your Cubase track presets by editing Reaktor ensembles outside of Cubase.