Review: Sequel-Music Creation

When GarageBand is not for you, Sequel may be just the thing. (June 30th, 2008)

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Product Manufacturer: Steinberg Media Technologies GmbH

Price: $129.99 US

The Good

  • Large variety of music samples. Simple one-window design. Aesthetically designed. Arranging track is a helpful feature. Good manual for beginners. Do not have to play an instrument to use.

The Bad

  • Small icons and many detailed cursor functions. Lacks video support. Lacks plug-in support. Loop naming conventions is inconsistent.

Sequel, from Steinberg Media, is a good first step into the world of music composition. You can edit and record with a MIDI controller, record live audio, compose with the included loops and MIDI tracks, or combine all three to create your inspired hit. It is Steinberg's answer to GarageBand, which is part of iLife and installed on all new Macs. A lack of VSTi support or other plug-ins make it clear that it is oriented to budding musicians who want to try their hand at music creation.

Setup

Sequel uses an Internet e-licensing password system and software activation code that is an out of the box hassle. If you move Sequel to a new machine, you must acquire a new activation code from Steinberg and that's just an annoyance. Once activated, the program works well in Tiger or Leopard. The helpful manual and DVD include a setup guide, tutorials, and demo files. To its credit, it is painless to set up a MIDI controller, because the preferences are a button within the main console, not a separate menu item, as in most other programs.

Sequel picture

Sequel Preferences Page in Multi Zone (Click for larger picture.)

Look

Sequel displays all of its tools in one window. They call the top part the Arrange Zone and the bottom part the Multi Zone. The Multi Zone includes buttons that open pages to its wide variety of options and editing views. The window and button styles are sleek and contemporary. You can even change the border color scheme in the color panel preference. Each instrument's color-coding is actually a gradient of the chosen color, as opposed to a solid color, which is another visual benefit. . Overall, Sequel has a more attractive console when compared to GarageBand, Reason, or ProTools. Steinberg's professional product Cubase also uses this same visual design style, so my compliments to Steinberg's user interface design team.

Sequel picture

Sequel One-Window Console (from site) (Click for larger picture.)

First Impressions

The number of cursor-sensitive editing features is hard to grasp at first because you must learn the areas of a cell of audio (a loop) in which to move your mouse and what each feature does. The one-window interface provides everything you need without resorting to menus or other panels of information.

You need the manual to learn each cursor function within each section of audio and you should move the mouse very slowly at first. A button tool tip pops up when you move the cursor over the buttons, but functions change depending on where your mouse rests, which is Sequel's SmartTool. You must copy and paste when you move back and forth between the Multi Zone and the Arrange Zone, which is a bit cumbersome. You select audio in the Arrange Zone when you want to manipulate audio sections. When you click on a section of audio, you then click on the editing icon in the Multi Zone, and it zooms in on the selected audio section or double-click to short cut to the edit screen. Each section of audio acts independently so you should keep the Arrange Zone area in a wide view to avoid constant cursor adjustment in both zones.

Sequel picture

Edit Page in Multi Zone (Click for larger picture.)

Sound

The easily accessible loops and voices are up to date and sonically follow today's music trends. They are filed by category (instrument) and style (genre), and include specific descriptions within, that they call Character. Character describes the type of sound within the categories and styles, with adjectives such as, acoustic, bright, clean, dark, dissonant, distorted, and dry.

I don't like the individual loop names because their descriptions are inconsistent. When a program includes 5,000 song loops, you really want consistent names. Some names are useful, while others convey only sonic description or performance technique, so you must listen to many of them to find the one you want. Harmonically many piano, guitar, horn section, or string section loops with chordal qualities have a variety of labeling that doesn't narrow down what they contain, so you must individually audition each loop. Some loops have their chord progressions labeled, but many don't and that's a problem. Many loops don't reveal they are in a minor key until you hear them. Often major and minor keys are used in the Character file description, however many samples are not included in that classification.

Inconsistent sound quality is another problem that became a wrestling match. Even within one instrument's loops quality varies greatly. For example, one loop may use a true audio sample, and the next sample may be a general MIDI sound. In the drum category, many loop descriptions are simply the beats per minute, but that information is already logged in another column in the Media Bay. I would like more information on the style or groove in the name of the loop. The Media Bay lets you sort the loop list.

Sequel picture

Media Bay Page in Multi Zone (Click for larger picture.)


On the positive side, the loops cover many vocal and instrumental styles with varying effects on guitars, keyboards, and bass. They've done an admiral job equally covering the possible styles a user many want to use. Another plus is that you can edit the name of a loop, based on your personal preferences, but that can be a lot of editing due to the sheer number of loops within the hundreds of instruments.

Next we compare and contrast Sequel with GarageBand from Apple. Please click here to read Part 2 of the Sequel Review.



Edited by Ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor

by Marcus Sholar


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