Page 1 (Sonar 2)
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Cakewalk's Digital MultiTrack
by Rich the Tweak
- EZ importing of Audio Loops
- Rewire is added in version 2.0
- MIDI Plugins are well implemented
- Excellent support, helpfiles, guides
- Time consuming and tedious MIDI patch
- Mixer is not as graphically useful or
SONAR Home Studio (Windows)
Sonar Home Studio 7 is the easiest way to turn your PC into a full-fledged
music production studio. From start to finish, Sonar Home Studio will help
you capture your creativity and share it with the world. With Sonar Home
Studio you can record live instruments, vocals, or any audio source. You can
easily edit audio, MIDI, and music notation. The updated Loop Explorer gives
you the tools to build backing tracks faster than ever.
Cakewalk SONAR Producer Recording Software (Windows)
Sonar 8.5 Producer gives you what you need for recording,
composing, editing, mixing, and mastering. Get innovations that matter, from
exclusive features to ignite creativity and perfect your tracks, to
groundbreaking technologies that always keep you in control, all backed by
the industry's leading 64-bit audio quality. And Sonar 8.5 Producer delivers
the go to production tools you want with the best collection of virtual
instruments, mixing, and mastering effects found in any DAW
those of you that have been following
my articles, you know I've been sequencing a long time, since the very 1st
sequencers on the Commodore 64. I confess that I am not easily amused by
"new" features unless they really redefine the way one works, or do things that
used to be hard and make them really easy. You probably also know me as a
long term Logic power user. While I have worked with nearly all the popular
sequencers, when I leave my Logic platform, it's like crossing the border to
another country with different customs and languages.
these days has an intense learning curve. There is no way around this if
you are going to use a professional level music composition
application. Fortunately, I already knew Cakewalk's Pro Audio 9 reasonably
well. Picking up Sonar's concepts was easy as cake (ouch! OK I
promise only one or two more Cake puns). Why was it easy? Because
Sonar is a mentally engaging, groundbreaking program and it's new features are a
joy to play with.
|Sonar's New Track View is an outstanding improvement over
Pro Audio 9
Yes it is. For the first time, the artist
is allowed to use audio loops that automatically stretch and tune themselves to
project definitions. While Sonic Foundry's acid program has been doing
this for several years, Acid is primarily an audio program. Granted you
can import midifiles into Acid 3, but that is not the same as having a full MIDI
composition engine that has been developed over a decade and a half. With
Sonar yes, you get MIDI, Yes you get your loops, yes you can record audio
tracks, yes you get soft synths and samplers. No other application on the
PC platform does all 4 of these well. That's right, neither Logic or Cubase will
let you drag loops and fit them to the project tempo. So, Sonar has in
many ways redefined the game by redefining itself. Congratulations to the
What I like about Sonar is how it can be seen
as an uncluttered workspace, like a giant blank tablet, that you fill with
loops, sequences, audio tracks, which all seem to intuitively lock into place on
the main track grid. You can freely adjust tracks to any zoom level you
want and can trim and re-loop and resample audio clips extremely fast. For
making dance music, this is a "must have" feature. It eliminates the labor
intensive process of calculating BPM and loop size and punching in the
parameters on a digital audio editor or digital sampler to get the same result.
Set the Tempo, the loops follow automatically. Draw an volume envelope,
add a plugin or two, then resample. Awesome. Easy.
Where looping applications fall short is where
you want the music to go somewhere. you can hear it in your head, but you don't
have a loop that will take you there. That's where MIDI comes in, which,
if you know how to use it, can take you anywhere. Make a sequence you
need. Run it
through some of Sonar's MIDI FX if you
want, then render it to audio, make it into an audio clip and add your plugins,
resample and viola, new material.
I'll be back to talk more of these as I get up
to speed. I was able to achieve a latency of 7ms on my delta 1010 in
Sonar's audio engine, and that's plenty fast. Included softsynths are:
EDIROL Virtual Sound Canvas, DXi, Tassman SE, DXi, LiveSynth Pro SE, and
DreamStation DXi software synthesizers.
This is plenty to get you started and a lot more than other sequencer-makers
give you. The sampler of the bunch is the LiveSynth Pro, which uses soundfonts
(without a creative labs audio card). The included version is a
time-limited demo. In my package there was a coupon to upgrade to the full
version. Another soft sampler available for Sonar users is the
DXi, which registered users can purchase for $50
Yep. Like Cubase SX and unlike Logic, you can
use MIDI plugins, or MFX as they are called. Sonar 2.0 gives a few of its
own like the arpeggiator and session drummer. Then they give you demos and
light versions of MFX by MusicLab and NTONYX. The folks and MusicLab have
some very nice products. There is Rhythm&Chords Version 2 which is a
guitar chord player and guitar arpeggiator that comes with different strumming
and finger picking styles. Just type in the chords or choose them from a
list (which includes the harder jazz chords many guitarists never learned).
There's plenty of presets available. Another great MusicLab MFX is
SlicyDrummer. SlicyDrummer is a drum pattern maker that has plenty of
preset styles. Click one button and another pattern is generated.
Hip Hop dudes and dudettes, you can sit back and let SlicyDrummer make patterns
for you all day till it comes up with one that meets your requirements. It's
easy to switch out drums if you are playing with a big keymap, change grooves.
You only get demos of these with Sonar 2.0, but you can buy them at the Cakewalk
store, There is more info at
www.musiclab.com Nice stuff. MIDI plugins are a
The Good, the Bad, the Beautiful
Sonar claims to work with every Windows OS from
Win 98, 98se, ME, Win2k to Win XP. It's stated minimum requirements are
a 400 MHz processor, 64 MB
RAM, 100 MB free hard disk space, 800x600 screen resolution/256 colors, CD-ROM
drive and compatible soundcard. I think you'd be daft to run Sonar 400 mHZ
machine or one with 64 megs of Ram. Like most of today's music software,
Sonar is going to work optimally on a machine that has plenty of Ram (256 to
512), CPU speeds close to 1 ghz or higher, and large, fast hard drives with
plenty of room for audio files. Sonar supports Windows soundcards
that can use 2 types of drivers: MME and WDM drivers. There is no
support for ASIO, EASI or other drivers popular on Cubase and Logic. This
is not a huge problem as many softsynths have recently updated their code to
work well in with WDM drivers, which depending on your soundcard, are capable of
very low latency. I had no problems with native Instruments Pro 52, FM7,
Battery or Kontakt However, older softsynths like Dynamo which perform
best with an ASIO driver are not going to work. Direct X plugins work
well; VST plugins are not supported. Not a huge deal as many major plugin
makers usually give you both, but it is still worth mentioning.
Stability: I found I was able to crash Sonar 1.31 without trying
too hard on my Win XP system. (I do try to break software when I get it.)
The crashes I experienced were a direct result of carrying out an audio
operation, like importing audio, copying and pasting a clip. But I was pushing
it pretty hard with about 14 tracks and big effects and automation and working
fast even when I sensed the CPU was struggling. Given the scope of the new
features since pro Audio 9, this is not surprising. My advice is to save
often. Or turn on the auto save feature to save your work for you at
regular intervals. I ran into a situation where when hitting
the spacebar does not stop the sequencer. This gave me a sense of instability,
and I was surprised to find it in an official release. This didn't happen
a lot, and perhaps its just the pace I work at. Version 2.0 is better in
terms of crash worthiness. I only had one my 1st day with the 2.0, and
that was in rewire.
Support: Cakewalk has great support.
As soon as you open the box, there's information coming at you. The help
files are great. There is an extensive section on how to get your
soundcard setup properly, and I was able to find what I needed. There is
also a nice cardboard foldout quick start guide that you can rest on your
keyboard as you get up to speed.
Things I don't like: I really
dislike Cakewalk's patch management scheme (I dislike Cubase's too) Its a
horrible pain to set up if you can't find an instrument definition file for your
midi devices. Cakewalk has been using this scheme for several years now--one
would think they would have been able to collect every template by now. There
are no ins files for the Emu, XL-1, Mo Phatt or other newer synths. Sonar
touts it is designed for efficient workflow and has improved on this score in
version 2. There is an option to allow recording without setting a record
enable button. I like that. One thing that bugs me is that to get a
soft synth track going you have to define an audio track and assign the soft
synth and a separate midi track to record the notes on. It would be nice
to have a separate track type for these. My final irritation is an old one
inherited from PA9. When recording a MIDI track, nothing is happening on
the screen on that track. Logic and Cubase SX draw the track as it
is being recorded, which lets you know that you are in fact recording.
With Sonar, as with Cakewalk, you don't see the sequence till you hit stop.
This is still an issue for me in 2.0. It's not a huge deal, but consider
the plight of the newbie who hits record and thinks nothing is happening.
Things I like. The new Track view
User Interface is excellent. You can now quickly set track parameters,
zoom in and out, and draw automation envelopes while the song plays. I
loved the "F" command for "fit" which makes the arrangement fit to the screen no
matter where it is zoomed to. The multi-monitor support works great for
extending the workspace to a second monitor. I found the automatic
crossfades to work very well, much like they do in Vegas, where you can overlap
two audio objects and let the program calculate the fades. I found the
track automation to be good overall. My only issue with it was that
sometimes it was hard to see the line and it was easy to miss it with the mouse
when clicking up a curve. My absolute favorite new features are the "Loop
Explorer" view, is like an always open large file selector where you can quickly
audition and import clips while the sequencer is running. This is much
like the Acid and Vegas explorer feature, and it's awesome (logic developers,
take note). My second favorite feature is the ability to define groove
clips from any piece of audio. It's fast, easy and utterly fantastic.
Rewire support. As advertised, you
can now run Reason inside Sonar, and I found it easy to set up. This
is ReWire 2, so you can play Reason's instruments from Sonar's track window. I
did have a crash when exiting Reason, so I need to look into that a bit more.
But this is another amazing move for Cakewalk. Lets remember a few years ago you
could not run any decent softsynths in the cake. Now you can run nearly
all of them, and adding Reason to it's arsenal is a big chunk of cake with a lot
of frosting. (Ok, that is the last Cake joke).
Sonar's New Look. Thankfully, the
"Venetian blind" track graphic from Pro Audio 9 is gone. Sonar remains
very light on the 3-d look, compared to Cubase and Logic. Yet its a
dramatic improvement. Using the track view and blurring my eyes a bit, it
was almost like working in Samplitude Studio (which I consider to be a beautiful
interface). I think they should shoot for that look as Sonar is close.
Graphics I did not like so much was in the console view. I find it's
method of doing sends and return to be clumsy and graphically unappealing.
On the positive side, you no longer need the console view. All of the
mixer's features are available in the track view. That rocks!
Works with Sonar!
The Celestial Windowpane was developed at
TweakHeadz Lab and contains 650 megs of space-oriented dance and electronic
Who should get Sonar?
So no sequencer is perfect, right? Well
as you see, Sonar has flaws as well as features. But this should not
dissuade you from considering it. All sequencers have issues when they
introduce new features. If you like using audio loops, this program is The
program to have. If you are more into softsynths and samplers, you'll need
to make sure your softsynths work under direct x. I found that Battery and
the Pro 52, by Native Instruments, worked well.
Soft synths that require
ASIO drivers are not going to work here. When I want to do something
with loops, Sonar will get the call. Acid is out and Sonar is in.
Cakewalk has raised the bar for all products of this type. Will the
other sequencer makers respond with similar loop and clip facilities?
Perhaps were are entering a stage where one application is not enough. You
can't have everything. Well maybe you can. I know for myself, I'll
be using Sonar along side of Logic 5 and Cubase SX. Sonar exports mixed audio
very quickly. It's great to have two powerful audio applications working
side by side. Who should get Sonar? I think everyone.
You can read more about Sonar 2.0 at
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