Logic, VST, Cakewalk: Which Sequencer? Page 2
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Logic, Cubase, Sonar:
Which Sequencer
is Best?  

Comparing the Top 3 PC Sequencers

  Page 2
Revision 5

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Creating Web Audio  

Oct 99: My Ranking, Cakewalk way ahead, others way behind. 

All three programs will mix down to a stereo .WAV file suitable for CD Burning.  But that's where Logic and Cubase stop.  Cakewalk, as of Pro Audio 9, takes you farther by allowing you to make Real Audio (G2) and MP3 files with the latest codecs, which are the two most popular formats for audio on the web. This feature is reason alone to choose Cakewalk, if you need these features now and don't want to buy other applications that do this.  As time goes on, these capabilities will become probably more important as the web becomes the medium for music distribution.  Of course, with Logic or VST you just need to buy or download something that will do the conversions.  MusicMatch at mp3.com is free. You can get an mp3 plugin for sonic foundry's editors for about $20, or you could just buy either Sound forge 4.5, Acid pro, or Vegas, all excellent applications with may uses, and import your final .Wav for mastering and conversion to .RA and .MP3.  Recommended. 

Spring 2001 No change Cakewalk is still the visionary leader.  Though Steinberg does have its own separately available MP3 renderer and CD Burner called My MP3

Summer 2002 Sonar and Cubase SX have mp3 abilities.  Logic does not. 

Fall 2003  No change

Fall 2004   Logic adds MP3 and AAC Export, Sonar and Cubase (PC version only) have Windows Media and Windows Media Pro, a lossless encoding/decoding format.  This format can make certain kind of surround 5.1 files playable in the windows media player.  This could be a big thing in web audio in the future.  All 3 applications now can create surround sound files that can be later encoded to DVD.  DVD Encoders, as far as I can tell, are not included.
 

Fall 2007.  Logic bundles in the Compressor Application that is also bundles with Final Cut Studio.  This gives Logic a ton of MPEG formats to save to.  Including surround and video.  The Compressor has surround encoders.

 

MIDI Features

My Ranking Oct 99:  Logic, Cakewalk, Cubase

My ranking Summer 2002: Logic slightly ahead, Cubase SX and Sonar tied

Lets be crystal clear-all of these programs have a very full feature set.   Its using them that is the matter at hand.
 

Editing notes in the editors:

Oct 99:All three programs have basic editors.  There is the Event or data editor.   The matrix or piano roll editor.  An overall arrange editor, a notation editor and logic goes one more by offering a hyper (drum) editor. Cubase takes longer to define notes than the others in the editors and once defined, they are harder to manipulate.   Cakewalk is better with a very nice Piano roll editor but it too suffers from having to make too many clicks to get things going.  Logic's editors allow you to define multiple notes in a sweep of the mouse and go back in and move them around without changing mouse-heads.  Logic also lets you use both mouse buttons for entering/deleting.  With Cakewalk and Cubase you have to change the mouse pointer to change the function of the mouse.  This is a pain to do when you want to change functions frequently and quickly.

Spring 2001  I've caught a lot of flak for the above. People on VST and Cakewalk obviously love the way the grid editors are implemented.  And no doubt, VST and Cakewalk have improved here. Perhaps it is a matter of when you have learned one way of working, its hard to use another, especially when you try to use another system that "looks" similar but is really totally different. I can only give you my own testimony that after using Logic, the others appear harder to use for me. Your mileage can vary.  However, I really liked Cake's way of editing controller data graphically, which actually nudges over Logic because it is simpler to use though not quite as precise.  This is all important as we edit our controller filter sweeps in the sequencer, which is critical in dance and trance music.  Wish I had VST 5 to evaluate it closer. I did not like it in 3.7.   For me, Logic still the king when it comes to editing.  Logic has made improvements in its Matrix (Drum) editor and hyper editor, which gives exacting control over controllers.  And for me, making a drum pattern is much easier in Logic than anywhere, mainly because the grid lines adapt themselves to the quantize value you are at.  So if you are inputting 16th notes, there is a visual reference--automatically.  You switch to 8th notes and so does the editor.  It's the little things like this that add up and spell greatness.

Summer 2002  Cubase SX and Sonar have come rushing towards Logic with the implementation of MIDI FX which work like plugins.  Also Steinberg and Cakewalk have made many incremental improvements to their editors which over time stack up.  Sonar and SX both have better views on controller editing in the Piano Roll or Key editor that has surpassed, imo, the Logic Matrix editor.  One can mute individual notes in Cubase, something Logic users have long requested. However, Logic still takes the crown by a hair. It's linked windows (the different editors are linked and can track each other's changes) makes editing midi notes a joy.

Fall 2003  Sonar 3 now lets you use MIDI snippets as "Groove Clips".  You can make these in Sonar or in Project 5.  A groove clip can be anything--a drum beat, hi hat pattern, arpeggio, chord comp, etc.  This is an incredible feature that has not been seen by me since Notator saved individual sequences.  

Summer 2005 (SX-3, Logic 7, Sonar 4)

The MIDI editors of all 3 are stable and don't change that much.  Controller editing seems to have improved on all 3, but is particularly evident on Cubase SX.  All three have a full MIDI set of editors and its really down to taste, rather than one being better.
 

"Mouse-less" recording

Oct 99: Logic is clearly in the lead here with its extensive and fully editable Key Command List.  Select a track with the cursor key and hit the "*" button.   Simple.  Fast.  Effective.  With Cakewalk you have to select the track, enable recording with the mouse, then find and press "r" to record.   To me this is slow and tedious, especially after years of doing the former.   When you are recording your performance, the last thing one wants to do is break concentration to find the mouse and move it.

Spring 2001 No change.  Logic Rocks without a mouse. You can actually write a song and never press stop on the sequencer.  This translates into fewer lost ideas and better speed.  Most aggravating in Cakewalk is when you are in play mode you cannot enable a track to record.  You have to press stop, enable, then start.  This is a drag when you are auditioning say, a lead, and you have it just right.  You cannot seamlessly enter record mode at this important moment of song construction. Cakewalk is clearly heading in the right direction with better key bindings, there's just a few more hurdles for them. 

Summer 2002  No change, though Cubase SX is encroaching on Logic here with many more custom key commands.  Sonar has tried this too, but as of 1.31, you could still not arm a track without pressing stop. 

Fall 2003  Sonar has made big gains and can now auto-arm tracks.  Sonar, like SX, still cannot auto mute sequences while loop recording like Logic can.

Summer 2005  (SX-3, Logic 7, Sonar 4) Cubase and Sonar have made inroads on Logic's ability to have user definable key commands.  In fact, Cubase even lets you load a typical Logic set of definitions, to make the Logic switcher feel the love. 
 

Defining synth program lists and Editing SysEx

Oct 99: Logic lets you type these in directly to the pop up box, or use its universal editor librarian (SoundDiver) to automatically send the patch names.  Cakewalk requires the creation of an ".ins file" or instrument definition file which can be done within the program and exported and imported.  Cubase requires a stand alone program to make a ".dev file" which has the program names and sysex parameters.   All of these are powerful solutions for defining the parameters of the synth.  All the programs come with files that can be used with the most popular synths.  The Cubase Dev file and Cakewalk Studioware Panel allow you control key parameters of the synth from a window.  Some of these can be very elaborate.  Logic has a customizable "environment" where these can be made and there are some 3rd party environment makers.   All three sequencers have the same drawback in that not all synths have front panel representations.  However, Logic has SoundDiver, which provides sysex support for many modules with hooks into Logic for automation.  While it is possible to use other universal ed/libs with any package 

Spring 2001   The past few days I have had to build 3 patch name environments, one for each of the big three, for my Project the "Post Industrial CybrSound Depot" which is 1000 presets deep made on an Emu e5000.  Here's the speed results:

Logic environment with sound diver.  Time elapsed: about 45 seconds.  No kidding.  Thanks to AutoLink.  Pure joy!  Autolink dumps names in 128 name chunks. 

 

VST with D-Maker.  Time elapsed:  About 2 1/2 hours.  Not too bad but not good.  You don't want to try D-Maker when your not 100%.  This is not something to enter into without brain power.  

Cakewalk, with its onboard instrument definition system....(pause...sigh..), I am on my 3rd 2 hour session and I am still only halfway done.  Insanely, Cakewalk makes you type in all the program names, one at a time. There's no way to bulk load names.  Now if you own just garden variety synths that have been around a while, all is cool.  They supply you with an .ins file.  Load and go. But what if you have a maxed out mega sampler, filled with your own custom-named sounds...?   The utter, utter horror!  Mindless, boring typing, and if you make a mistake in your list of 1000, which you will if you try to go fast, you will learn you can't simply delete, insert, cut or paste.  You have to go back to the mistake and redo the list from there and the nightmare continues.   Sample-Heads, be advised  Once you have the .ins defined, all is cool.  It's patch finding scheme is the most powerful of any sequencer.  So if you are just using synths that "everyone" uses, no problem.  Cake actually wins!  But add a sampler and you are in hell.  If there is an e5000 user that can get names in cakewalk without typing send me a PM at studio-central. 

Summer 2002  Logic simply cannot be beat with its SoundDiver -> AutoLink -> Preset names capture.  Cubase SX has a new litlle applet called Scriptmaker to make preset lists, but it does not appear any better than d-maker.  It appears that Cubase SX is emulating Cakewalk's patch name scheme.  Cake/Sonar's is still ahead of it, by quite a bit.  But both of these pale to AutoLink.

Fall 2003  .ins files in Sonar can be edited with a text editor which beats SX which is written in XML. 

Summer 2005 Cubase's MIDI manager is a lot more stable now.  Cakewalk's system is smooth.  Both allow excellent search for midi patches in your synth collection.  Logic has fallen way behind here.  it used to have Sounddiver that could find patches for you, but that appears to be dead.  Autolink is no longer implemented in Logic 7.

 

Esoteric MIDI Functions

Spring 2001

Logic goes one step farther with its "Environment" a layer of cables and objects that route data to and from locations, through transformers, delays, arpeggiators and faders.  Cubase has an input transformer and a "Phrase Synth" which allow many of those possibilities and Cake has MIDI FX that work more like plugins and CAL scripts for more esoteric crunching.   All three programs are capable of interesting MIDI data crunching, and this is the point where Logic and Cubase get accused of having a "steep learning curve".  However, the most complicated is the Cal Script, which is a programming language that you "run" like a computer program.  I think Logic nudges out over these other powerful approaches by its use of graphic cables to connect different functions, muck like the way we wire things up in the real world behind our mixing desks.  I'd never even consider stopping the music to make a CAL script, and personally the Phrase synth takes me back to the kind of mathematical thinking I not so fondly recall with the earliest MIDI sequencers.  Yet there is no way around it really as esoteric mid crunching is inextricably intensely mathematic.  Yet to me, the "cabling of objects" scheme is the friendliest and most fun.

Summer 2002 

Cubase SX has some great midi plugins.  You can actually randomize incoming midi notes with a plugin.  This is one of the 1st times such an esoteric function has been made easy to use.  Cakewalk also has similar plugins--these are quickly putting the old "transformer" methods and script methods in the closet.  Emagic introduced the "chord memorizer" in the environment which is very capable.  Cubase SX came out with a "Chorder" midi plugin which is even more capable, with preset chords and structures to try out.  I think SX wins this one.

Summer 2005 Still no MIDI plugins in Logic while Cubase and Sonar are having a field day with them.  Still, it could be argued that Logic's environment lets you roll your own, but there has been no change there in a long time.
 

Hardware Support and "Front End" Hardware

Y2k: Cakewalk way in the lead.

Cakewalk is clearly in the lead with the Peavey StudioMix Hardware interface which allows control over 8 tracks with real motorized faders and knobs.  Definitely this is a bold and adventurous move for a sequencer maker, and it puts cakewalk into the pioneer's seat.  We will have to see how other manufacturers respond.  Emagic is working with Roland to develop a Logic front end for their hardware multi-track recorders.  I don't know what Cubase is up to here.  However, it is only a matter of time before there will be a merging of digital mixers and sequencers.  Much of this is already possible with MMC (MIDI Machine Code) synchronization, but for today, the user is forced to develop these hooks themselves.  Definitely, this is an area to watch! 

Spring 2001    Cakewalk's StudioMix idea appears to have been successful and now Emagic is playing catchup and pass-you up with the announcement of a partnership with Mackie to make a Logic front end.  Mackie also did a front end for ProTools not long ago so expectations are that this may be a high end and hi priced interface.  VST is now supported by the Tascam US 428 USB interface, a rather inexpensive and lightweight plastic based solution.  But I am waiting to see what Steinberg does.  And also waiting to see if Peavey comes up with a stronger StudioMix.  It seems clear that users want a hardware front  end for their seqs, and the big 3 seem to have heard the call. 

Summer 2002

Logic and Steinberg have released their control surfaces, called Logic Control and Houston respectively. These are still relatively new products and it is difficult for me to compare Logic Control to Houston, because I never used Houston.  But both products are a similar size and have similar functions. 

Fall 2003  What happened to Houston?  I don't know.  But Logic and Mackie Control now can both run the same software and are now considered the same machine.  I think Logic uses Mackie control to the fullest, and the Sonar implementation is OK.  SX reeks on Mackie Control.

Summer 2005  Finally it appears that control surface support is real among all the majors. Yawn. Yet Cubase, now owned by Yamaha, is about to integrate itself with Yamaha's studio products. 
 

Customer Support:

Spring 2001 First off, lets consider that when you buy a major piece of software that's going to sit dead center in your studio's operations and be the brain behind interfacing most, if not all, of your gear, you are buying more than lets say, a word processor, or graphics program or  game.  You are buying something that enables your other products to work.  Given the incredible array of snags and problems you might encounter in simply setting up your studio, you may inevitably need answers to questions you cannot figure out on your own.  What I am talking about is good old customer support.  Clear, no nonsense answers to users questions, delivered in a quick and timely fashion.  This is not at all easy for a software company to provide, and with music gear, its incredibly complicated because no one may know of the problem, let alone the answer.  There are so many flavors of soundcards and PCs, each one configured uniquely with different peripherals, processors, motherboards, answers may be a stab in the dark.  Yet all companies try to give some support.

I tested the response time of Cakewalk, Emagic and Steinberg to an email request through their "front door", the address you are most likely to find for the company.   Here are the results.  Cakewalk:  A+  They emailed me within 2 hours.  Steinberg D- I received an email after about a week saying someone would answer my question shortly.  That was over 6 months ago.  Sort of like being being at a restaurant where the food never comes.  Emagic: F- No response at all.  While one cannot generalize my single experience I do think it is a consideration in buying a studio centerpiece whether the company responds to email questions.  

Oddly, the best support for sequencers comes not from companies making the product, but from other users that also have had to come to grips with the problems of interfacing their gear.  Here's where you find answers, if someone cares enough to answer your questions!  Because support is so difficult to find, you are best off to heed one piece of advice: Stay off the bleeding edge of technology unless you like troubleshooting hardware driver code. 

Cubase has company moderated net forums.  Nice! Here's the URL: http://www.steinberg.net  This is a new development, and appears to be set aside for users to help each other, rather than get official answers from Steinberg. This does a lot to improve the companies image in my eyes.  They have been known in the past to be rather unresponsive and austere.  Regards to updating and downloading online, Cubase has been doing this for some time, the process works.  While you can order a major version upgrade online, the prices are steep.  Often just a few bucks less than going to the store and getting a new boxed version.  This way you can avoid sending back the dongle.  Just try to upgrade 3.7 to 5.0 online.  You get a rebate for dongle returns on some, but not all upgrades and there is a somewhat confusing variable pricing scheme.

Cakewalk offers some excellent support online and even provides a list of compatible soundcards.  That is a big step in the right direction! http://www.cakewalk.com/Tips/audiohw.htm   I mean really, do you want to buy a product and get it home only to have your computer mysteriously refuse to work with it?  Without such a compatibility document, you are rolling the dice, and you are forced to stay within well-known hardware bounds.  So Bravo, Cakewalk!  Cakewalk also supports its own NewsGroups on its servers. Check them out: http://www.cakewalk.com/Support/newsgroups.html  I will also mention that Cakewalk allows you to order a pay upgrade online, in addition to downloading updates.  The prices for these major updates are reasonable and you can tell they want to keep you happy with special offers for registered users.   You almost feel like the company cares about you! What a thought! Tweak says: Very Cool.

Emagic, my sequencer and company of choice, fares worst in the support area.  Off with the kid gloves.  In fact, the word "support" does not even appear on their main page nor is it in any menu links at all as of today!  There is a page to update your version of logic to the current one and some tutorials.  However, there are high points.  Emagic has some of its top programmers extremely active all over the music newsgroups.  The outstanding one is Michael Haydn.  If you've been around the net you will see his posts answering the most technical issues surrounding Logic and SoundDiver.  In many cases the answer is there before you know it.  So what Emagic lacks is an official forum for support.  It does use several 'unoffical' forums.  Most notable is the Logic Users Group at http://www.yahoogroups.com  .  This started back in the 80's by Ben Hall as an email list has grown to a gigantic user-base.  5,182 members as of today.  If you have a question, someone surely has an answer.  Yet while Emagic employees are on the list, it's unmoderated. That means anyone can post, including those who shouldn't. Occasionally the group will fall into chaotic platform wars of all insensible things. Nothing like a good old Mac vs. PC platform war with 5,000 people watching.   Finally, getting back to support, there is no Emagic Store to buy major upgrades.  You have to hunt up the phone number and call the distributor, or company.  I've read many a pained post about intolerably long waits for upgrades to ship.  Hopefully, they will fix it.  Tweak, who hates waiting for upgrades says: Waiting is Un-Cool. 

So lets recap the scores on support:  Cakewalk: Miles ahead.  "A" all the way!  Steinberg: "C+" the plus being recognition of a new attitude to improve their 'old school' cold image, even if they didn't send me an eval copy or answer my mail.  Emagic "D+" and only saved from failure by the heroic efforts of Michael Haydn.

Summer 2002

Really not too much change.  Emagic has improved its score somewhat with the development of a website filled with tips and answers to common questions.  Cubase.net has been up and down during this period, but now appears to have a vibrant online community.  Cakewalk remains staunchly in the lead in terms of support and continues to answer mail from me within one working day. 

Fall 2003.  Major advances by everyone here.  Cubase.net has some great forums.  Sonar has its dedicated usenet feeds.  Logic has it "Infoweb".  Try here  But Cakewalk still answers its email!  Cakewalk still has cool deals on accessories and supporting software.  Emagic had an online store in the USA where one could order upgrades for a while but the shop appears closed.  Cakewalk still gets an A in my book.  The others have nudged up a bit. 

Fall 2004 Most significant is that Apple is now doing support for Logic.  There are now user forums for Logic at www.apple.com.  It is finally easy to upgrade all 3 applications over the web.  I even upgraded to Cubase SX3 with no pain! I still love Cakewalk the best here as they do the best to befriend you with special deals and offers at reasonable prices.  But in terms of being able to find an answer to your questions all of the sequencer makers are doing well, better than ever.  

Summer 2005  Lets talk about deliver time for upgrades.  Here's the Score:  Sonar 4--arrived in 3 days after order.  Logic 7.1--arrived one week after ordering it.  Cubase SX 3--umm...45 days.  I ordered each within the first few days of release.  OK, Lets talk web updates:  Cubase--perfect marks.  Sonar--perfect marks.  Logic, since its in the Apple software update scheme, should occur automatically when its not a pay for update (like 7.1 is).

 

Documentation

 

Logic is the only package that offers a ring bound updateable manual.   Cakewalk Pro comes with a paperback book.  Cubase puts the bulk of their documentation in help files within the program.  Cakewalk's manual is easiest to read for me, yet Logic's manual is most complete.  I prefer not to have help files as the manual as I like to study my sequencers away from the computer sometimes.  The ring bound approach has other advantages to being updateable.  You can rest it on your keyboard and it lays flat.  Try doing that with a paperback. Cubase has some excellent Quick Time tutorials that really are well done.  I don't know if Cakewalk has done this yet. Logic, according to a reader of this article, was giving out a CD of quick time tutorials with 3.6.  

Summer 2002

I'm not sure what happened to Logic's ring bound manual.  My 5.0 update arrived with a small paper manual.  I am not sure what is included in the full version.  Cubase SX comes with a thin paperback book which says it is a "getting started" guide.  The box was big enough for a manual, but there was nothing else in there but air and a dongle and registration card.  Sonar had the most complete manual, in the form of the usual paperback book.  Looks like they took 1st place here by standing still.

Fall 2003  The Sonar 3.0 manual is excellent.  The best sequencer manual I have seen to date.

Fall 2004 Amazingly, Cubase has put its whole 808 page manual online in a .PDF! I'm reading it right now.  Sonar 4 comes with its now standard paperback of 700+pages.  I'll let you know about Logic's when i get it.  The .PDF is a great approach as it is searchable and easy to deal with.

Summer 2005  Guess Cubase saw the wave of the future.  Now they all have manuals in help files or pdfs or both.  At least i can find them now. 

Fall 2007  The Logic studio bundle comes in a big, heavy box of books, manuals and guides.  All of these are also in PDF form, accessible from the menu in Logic.

Winter 2009

Manuals are definitely on the way out replaced entirely by PDFs that can be read while you are working. 
 

Here we go Loop de Loop
 

Summer 2002

Cakewalk shook the sequencer industry hard with the release of Sonar.  Automatic time stretching to project tempos!  Much like Acid.  Yet don't be so quick to jump the gun here.  Cubase SX works great with the Ableton Live, which is much like Acid, and can be used as a Rewire application.  It is awesome.  Logic also has rewire so it can work the the Live too.  However, I like it much better in Cubase SX.  Logic also lets you import recycle files into both the EXS sampler and into its arrange grid.  Recycle is actually more powerful on terms of slicing eats to tempo than Sonar.  But it is slower loading a file into Recycle then processing then importing to Logic.  Wanna work fast?  Then Sonar. 

Fall 2003  Same as above

Summer 2005  Logic now has Apple loops and can do Acid as well.  You can make your own loops in all three, though in slightly different ways.  Cubase gives incredible audio control here.  Yet Sonar is pig-easy to use.  Logic isn't quite there with its loop browser, which is a little on the slow and cumbersome side, compared to Sonar's Loop Explorer.  Sonar takes the Cake here.  Ouch.  :)

 Summer 2007  It is no longer a matter using and stretching loops.  All the applications do that.  It's now a matter of glitching and effecting, warping and destructively modifying the loop.  Cubases's audio warp has got this one.  Logic has some great ways to do this with its slice tool, that is less obvious.  The king of loop glitch is actually the Ableton Live

 Winter 2009

Cubase add the Loop Mash tool.
 

Groovin'

My Y2K Ranking:   Logic, Cakewalk, Cubase

Summer 2002  Cubase,  Logic,  Cakewalk,

May 99: All three programs have user definable grooves.  However, I give Cakewalk the nod because it always seems to have the groove I want ready for me, whereas in the other programs I have to make the groove. Cakewalk also seems to have the easiest method for defining grooves in its "Groove Quantize" box.  Perhaps I just don't like the other programs preset grooves as much as I like Cakewalk's. I also like the fact that they are named like "laid back feel" rather than being called quantize "16C" or "Groove 1" I am usually not wanting to take time to make grooves so when I want some grooving drums tracks I usually go to cakewalk. Jan 2000  No real change in my ranking though I have learned more about Logic's Groove Quantize while doing my Celestial Windowpane project, it's incredibly powerful as it quantizes not only position but velocity, and you can watch at different settings how you hats go down and the snares and kicks go up in velocity (and therefore volume and filtering) and vice versa.  So Logic's Groove Quantize functions as a drum mixer too, and its so good you almost don't need individual outputs.  Its kind of unfair to call this a ranking though when I spend 2 months on Logic's groove quantize and none on VST or Cakewalk.  I'm sure they have some secrets too. But none are as graphical as Logic. 

Spring 2001:  Its a Draw with a nod to Cakewalk and VST, which perform in the same ways, though VST, as always, looks better. Cakewalk has great sounding presets.  All are very good and effective. 

Summer 2002 

Cubase takes it this time with a midi plugin that lets you add a groove quantize to a track. You can see the notes move as in Logic.  I still love Logic's groove features.

 

Special Applications: Virtual Devices:
 

May 99: Cubase way in the lead here.  Logic and Cakewalk far behind.
Y2k:  No change
Spring 2001: Logic is gaining on VST which narrowly hold a slight lead

OCT 99: Cubase deserves special note because it allows the seamless use of external applications within it's environment.  Since version 3.65 Cubase has incorporated Rewire.  This allows VST to share its mixing and transport tools with Propellerhead's Rebirth, an virtual synth/drum machine emulation of the classic Roland TR 808, 909 and TB 303 Bassline vintage midi boxes.  The result is really powerful, as Cubase's Mixer dramatically extends Rebirth. You can, for example, put individual drums on their own mixer strip in VST. Impressive!   If you are doing techno or dance tracks, you might give Cubase the nod solely for this feature.   Emagic has hinted that Rewire capabilities are coming to Logic, but as of 4.0.4 they are not yet incorporated.  VST also offers integration with a drum loop editor called Recycle, an application that divides the loops into different files so the loop can be played at various tempi and rechannelized so FX can be added to, for example, only the snare in a drum loop.  For dance tracks, this is a very important feature. 

Y2k Update:  Lets talk a bit about Virtual Synths/Samplers and the like.  If you have a lot of these, like Reality, SoundFonts, Gigasampler you already know how these can tax the CPU, as essentially these are either RAM streaming or Disk streaming in real time.  I am finding they work better in VST.  Your mileage may vary.  Logic tends to stop everything when devices fall too far out of sync.  It throws up an alert box telling you what's wrong and you have to hit stop and try again.  VST does what I think is the best solution.  It burps, glitches, hiccups, then it keeps going.  Say you are auditioning a plugin and the CPU just can't deal.  I'd much rather hear the audio glitch so i can simply remove the plugin without having to stop, than having everything stop and some little box come up to scold me.  VST gets the nod. 

Spring 2001    Audio Plugins are "old news" now, though they have increased in power on all 3 platforms.  Now we are not only plugging in FX, but whole virtual synths and virtual synth construction sets like Reaktor, and full blown digital samplers which are at a higher level of audio quality than their hardware counterparts.  Logic and VST are in intense battle in this arena.  The cutting edge of music production is happening with companies like Native Instruments with "plugins" like Reaktor and Dynamo. These are so awesome, they simply have to be experienced.  Reaktor works well with the ASIO 2.0 sound card drivers which have been adopted by VST and Logic.  The question is, where is Cakewalk? They only offer Direct X, which some software synths can utilize, but often not as well.  It appears Cakewalk is staying out of the fray. But by info from Cakewalk's site on the new application, Sonar, direct x is far from dead, and the big software synths are pledging allegiance working with Sonar.  In the meantime the other two programs are groaning under the sheer weight of these massive software synths, which will gladly eat up as many CPU cycles as you allow, and can dramatically bring the machine to a halt if you feed them too much.. Better get that super computer processor quick if you are serious about software synths.  Don't even try if you are on anything less than a Pentium 450, and expect major data bottlenecks. Yet a taste of musical infinitude is intoxicating.  Well see how it plays out.  In the meantime, if you forced me to tell you which sequencer supported virtual synths better, I'd say it is simply too close to call. 

Summer 2002

All three applications have made tremendous strides since the last writing.  Emagic has released the EVOC20 and ES2 softsynths which are both impressive and there are more on the way.   Cakewalk has several virtual synths and samplers running in its DXi environment.  Cubase SX has its soft synths, Halion, and other add-ons running as VSTis.  But the critical feature is how well do these apps work with 3rd party stuff.  Logic can still do VSTi synths and does no quite well.  One expects Steinberg to excel with VSTi soft synths and they do.  However Sonar cannot run VST instruments or plugins, and Logic nor Cubase can run DXi's.  All three applications support Rewire, which allows for the simultaneous running of applications such as Reason, Rebirth, and the Ableton Live.  I have not yet tested all 3 in this regard, but there are issues here.  You can get more details on this important area on my soft synth page.

Fall 2003  Rather than releasing small soft synths, Cakewalk took an different approach.  They developed a larger Rewire application to enhance Sonar called Project 5, which contains several dxis like a few drumboxs, an analog synth, a soft sampler, and more, all under one roof.  

Summer 2005 This is where all the action has been.  The Virtual studio is here full force.  I've already written tons about it on other pages so I'll be brief here.  Suffice it to say, logic has the most complete set of virtual studio tools and is miles ahead of all the rest. 

Summer 2007   Logic7, Cubase 4, Sonar 6

Logic still commands the lead for having the most complete set of plugins and virtual instruments.  However, Cubase 4 added a whole new set of instruments and effects as they raised the price. 

Fall 2007  Logic 8 drops the price to $500.  Game Over.  'Base is Pwnd on the Mac
 

Integration with the Host operating system
 

Oct 99:  Cakewalk on top, Logic, then  Cubase far behind.

Both Logic and Cubase are/were ports from Mac applications and previously Atari applications, though undoubtedly both companies have worked tirelessly to make things work well with the ever-changing Microsoft protocols.  Cakewalk, however, goes all the way back to MS-DOS.  The result is windows that take full advantages of the Window's OS handles, the availability of right click context menus, and other features which may, to the new composer already familiar with windows, give a sense of familiarity and even intuitiveness.   This same person might try Logic or Cubase to discover that the windows work slightly differently, the mouse "feels" different and may have added "unusual" functions.  But this should not really dissuade any but the most die hard Microsoft purist.  Cubase and Logic have evolved using the right mouse button and window handles for unique features for many, many years and the clock cannot be turned back easily.  There is a generalization out there that Cakewalk crashes less.   In my experience with my hardware this is partially true, though i must say that I have had horrendously bad crashes using all three applications.    With 4.0, Logic is much better integrated with windows than before, with intellimouse "wheel" support.  Still has not implemented some right click context menus. 

Spring 2001  No change.  Cake still has it. Also, while I am praising Cake, I think they have the best window handles of all three. One advantage to Cakewalk not supporting ASIO is that they can get tremendous compatibility by sticking with the Windows MME and Direct X.  That is, if your soundcard works at all in windows, it will most likely work in Cakewalk.  Rather than add an audio driver, Cakewalk simply analyses what you have installed and adjusts itself to that.  

Summer 2002  Cubase, Sonar a tie.  Logic behind.

Cubase SX has risen from the depths with its new version which requires windows XP. Windows is artfully incorporated with right click context menus.  The mouse works as a windows user expect it to work, no more strangeness.  Logic is killing off it's windows versions, so don't expect any improvements here.

Fall 2003  Sonar 3 leaps over Cubase with context sensitive menus that are there where you need them.  Cubase is rather strange the way they do this.  Of course Logic is no longer on Windows

Summer 2005  I renamed this "integration with the Host operating system".  And I am here to pick nits on right click context menus.  Cubase even has it on Mac OS 10.4.2.  Logic?  Logic is owned by the host operating system yet there are still no right click context menus. 

Summer 2007  Sonar claims compatibility with Windows Vista.  Cubase does not claim Vista compatibility.

Fall 2007 Logic 8 adds right click context menus.

 

Integration with SoundFonts
 

May 1999  Cakewalk in the lead. 
Y2K : VST on the heels of Cake, Logic not responding
Spring 2001 No Change

Y2k Update: Cakewalk, as of V7 it worked really well with soundfonts, as long as each bank was limited to 1 bank of 128 sounds. Otherwise you had to make a dreaded .ins file to access other banks. (I find making instrument definition files in Cake an exercise in the most bizarre of logics.) VST fixed the 1 bank SF2 limitation in 3.7. No more making .dev files (even more weird than Cake's .ins files--you'll think you dredged your brain through a bitcrusher by the time you are done) to get the names in all the banks. Hurray! Logic has yet to incorporate a soundfont patch name scheme as of 4.1.1, you just hunker down and type in all the names--an exercise in utmost wrist atrophying speed typing, though it plays them perfectly on their respective virtual midi ports.  Probably won't be long till they are all up to speed, as the hooks are built into the SF2 protocol.  The SoundFont thing is not going away soon with the millions of SB Live soundcards sold every month

Spring 2001:  I get the question all the time:  "How I load soundfonts in a Logic Song?"  Simple answer, you can't, you have to do it outside the program, meaning that Logic will not register patch names or save sounds with songs.  Why emagic has not responded is totally baffling.  I mean really, why do you want to leave millions of SoundBlaster Live users out in the cold?  This is not rocket science.  If you are really into the SoundFont thing, you will find adequate facilities in Cakewalk, the leader here, and VST.  Lets not get this wrong, OK.  You can use SoundFonts in your compositions in Logic and it works well with very little latency.  it's just a matter of those pesky patch names that no one wants to type.  If I am using my "Dansy-Wansi Kick-'Yo A** drums" soundfont, I want to see that name in the track, not _ _ _ _, not, __038, and certainly not "Slap Bass", "Goblins" or any other GM name that might assume default status.  One other thing to mention with SoundFonts and Logic, and this is positive, is that the EXS24 Virtual Sampler will let you import SoundFonts with the release of Logic 4.7.  Very Cool! 

Summer 2002  Logic finally incorporated its SoundFont loader and preset name getter in Version 5.0.  Thank god.  It works quite well too.  Sonar has had it for a long time.  I looked for a soundfont loader in Cubase SX but could not find it.  Soundfonts work great when loaded from the Audio HQ.  The names get piped in too in SX 1.0.2.  I think Logic slightly nudges out the rest in terms of soundfont implementation. 


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Review of Cubase 5
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Review of Sonar
Review of Reason
Reason (1st review)
Ableton Live
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Sequencer City!
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Which Sequencer is Best?
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Custom Bank Select Methods in Logic
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