Review of Sonar 3.0
Cakewalk rises to the top of the sequencer universe
by Rich the Tweak
1 (Sonar 2) Page 2 (Sonar 3)
I started my
venture into Cakewalk software with
Professional version 7. This was early in the audio game. It was rough
going, and I felt lucky to get a few tracks down. Then I tried Pro Audio
9. Better, at last, but still looked like a room of Venetian blinds and
it's mixer was awful. Sonar 1.0 came out and I rushed to it.
I was amazed by its new acid like facilities with audio loops, and its MIDI
implementation, but the mixer appeared the same.
Sonar 2.0 hit and I snuck back to the land
of Cakes. OK, it's smoother, but now I truly despised the mixer and the
MIDI instrument definition scheme drove me crazy. Sonar 3 is now reality
and its a significant upgrade, as we expect with a "whole number" paid upgrade.
And we finally get a mixer worth using. I think it is worth every
cent. The new improvements all work together with Sonar's already powerful
features to create a unified professional functioning sequencer machine.
This review refers to the Studio version.
I decided I did not need to Producer version as I have plenty of plugins and
soft synths to make up for not getting the extra plugins and enhanced mixer
features like dedicated track EQ. You can
the Studio and producer version here.
For New Users
If you want to read about the basic things
that Sonar does, check my review
of Sonar 2.0. Sonar 3, like all high end sequencers, has a learning
curve. Expect to take some time learning how to use it. This
is software that deals with extremely complex audio and midi processes.
It is simple to use when you know what you are doing.
The great thing about Sonar here is its manual. It is easy
to read, complete, and has a good getting started guide. The application's
help files are also very nice and filled with useful information.
As an experienced sequencer user, it is a joy to wonder how to do something
and actually find the answer in a few clicks.
The New Mixer
- Great new Mixer
- Flexible Busses
- Super Manual
- Now works with VSTi's
- Catches up to Cubase and Logic
in many important areas
- Just a few minor inheritances from early versions still
there to irritate you
- Bugs due to the upgrade's newness.
Cakewalk SONAR Studio Recording Software (Windows)
Professional results are within your reach with SONAR 3 Studio Edition.
Studio Edition is a special version of SONAR 3 designed for project
studios and aspiring professionals. Studio Edition is built upon
the same core engine and feature set of SONAR 3 Producer Edition.
Support for Sonar 3 at Cakewalk
Cakewalk PROJECT5 Soft Synth Workstation
Imagine a complete software synthesizer workstation that places
no limits on your music. A flexible, expandable studio environment
that engages your creativity, inspiring new musical ideas through
its seamless integration of instruments and tools. Tweak:
I really like it. Can make a library of sequences all importable
into Sonar 3
Cakewalk Sonar Home Studio (Windows)
Itís time to take
control of the creative process. Now you donít have to depend on
anyone else to get your music recorded. Do it all from your PC with
Cakewalk Home Studio 2004. There is no better Windows software available
for musicians taking the step into the world of digital recording.
Home Studio provides you with everything you need to turn your PC
into a powerful multi-track recording studio. Tweak: The inexpensive
alternative with many Sonar features
Sonar 3 ushers cakewalk into greatness,
I think, for the first time. I've played around with it for a week
now, and am I really impressed by what I see. Most notable in the new Sonar
is the new mixer which you can see on this page. It bears a
strong resemblance to the Cubase SX mixer. Yes it is completely automatable
by mouse and by a control surface like Mackie Control. In some ways
its better; in some ways not as good, but there is no doubt that we now
have a completely usable mixer in Sonar, with inserts, sends and returns
that will even make Logic users feel at home, instantly. In fact they did
such a good job with the Sonar mixer it surpasses Logic's (v 5.5) mixer
in many ways. Plugins can be dragged around the mixer from channel
to channel; you can keep multiple plugin/softsynth windows open at once.
And it looks better. You can fill the screen with as many plugin windows
as you want, which look awesome when tweaking down a master, especially
with Waves plugins if you have them. (Waves plugins are working well in
Sonar 3 BTW). Thanks to the VST shell which is an option (free
with Project 5) Sonar will run many of your VST/VSTi's. (However,
don't expect native Cubase SX plugins to work, they won't.) I am using
the Delta ASIO driver and its pretty solid.
The Mixer strip for MIDI channels is also good. You can select
instrument, channel, bank, and patch selection right from the mixer, enabling
the midi thru, enable record, and the usual volume, pan, mute and solo.
A right click in the right spot will open up the powerful cakewalk patch
browser, where you can put in keywords like "strings" to bring up all the
patches with strings in the name for that instrument. Ultra cool.
That's another one Logic can't do.
Another feature Sonar now has that helps the mixer is the ability to
make nearly any window a "floating window". This gets you maximum
use of your screen real estate because you can place the windows outside
the application's borders. The Mixer does take up a lot of room on
the screen. you can select "narrow strip" to shrink it a little, but
not as narrow as Cubase's narrow strip, which lets you get more channels
on the screen. Are we pickin' nits yet? Probably so.
Any pro sequencer user will feel right at home and can get right to work.
Let's Quote some of Cakewalk's notes on
the improvements, and I'll tell you want they mean
SONAR 3 has more flexible bussing
options than in previous versions of SONAR. SONAR 3 has just
one type of bus which you can use any way you want. You can
use a bus as an aux bus or as separate submix. Virtual Mains
are replaced by Main Outs. Each main out represents a hardware
output on your system."
Basically you can create as
many busses and the project needs and can group (or create a submix
of) audio tracks to them or create the more classic effects return
style busses. Here's an example of grouping tracks. Lets say you
have 4 vocal tracks in your piece. You can simply route all 4 to one
bus, which will control the volume of all of them with one fader.
You can use insert effects on these and effect all 4 tracks at once.
Or do it the effects send and return way. Here you create a bus and
stick an effects or two on it, lets say reverb and eq. Just create
a send on the tracks you want to route to the effects bus and set it to
that bus. Turn up the virtual knob to taste on all the tracks you
want to use that effects bus. Both processes are easy, effective,
and work exactly the way a hardware mixer works.
An idea started in Cubase
with SX has now made it to Sonar (and Logic 6). The channel strip
of the selected audio or midi channel is displayed to the left of the arrangement
screen, making for quick and easy setup of the channel. You can easily
turn it on and off with a single click.
MIDI groove clips
You used to have to copy and
drag MIDI sequences around to build your track. Now, you can turn
on the groove clips function for these MIDI sequences so they behave like
audio loops. You can, for example, grab the end of the loop with the
mouse and drag it as many bars as it needs to be. That's a nice new
touch that adds ease of use to building tracks. Best of all, you can
make edits to these subsequent loops after you do the "bounce to clips"
function. So instead of repeating 55 bars of the same hi hat pattern
you can go into bar 22 and add a ride cymbal. Nice way to build a
Cool Sonar Features
Compared to other sequencers
You can insert a track, press "r" and
record while the clock is running. The track is automatically
record-enabled. This is great!
brings Sonar up to speed with the others. You still can't delete a track
while the clock is running. You have to press stop. Because
I can never nail a track on the 1st take this leads me to a lot of starting
and stopping. Cubase SX has similar issues. Logic does this
right. Looks like Sonar is getting closer to this with a function
called Transport-Reject Loop Take. ||
Don't use troublesome plugins.
Rewire is working great. I was able
to run Reason, Project 5 and the Ableton Live all at the same time.
||While it is
possible to record a rewire soft synth from Sonar (rather than from
the rewire application's GUI), but it is not at all intuitive.
Particularly with Project 5. Anyway, Logic can't do this at all (rewire
1 issues). SX does it perfect. ||
The manual and online Help is great.
I had a really tough question about bank numbers for my emu rom cards
and found an answer in the manual.
is the best in the biz.
Key commands implemented and you
can do some custom key commands with CNTL, SHIFT and function keys
||As a long
term sequencer user, I want certain keys to do certain things.
I was able to do this in Cubase SX, and of course Logic is the godhead
here, but Sonar will not let me map keys I want to map. I want
to do single, one keystroke commands. ||
The new confidence recording is great.
Sonar will display the midi and audio you are recording shortly after
the recording starts, so you know it is actually working.
||SX and Logic
have had this for some time, so Sonar has got up to speed here.
Midi tracking is an
easier process in Sonar 3. You can get a bunch of tracks up pretty
||I still can't
manage to setup "auto mute loop recording", where you can record 10
instances of a 32 bar sequence without pressing stop, then choose the
one you want. In Sonar you have a choice of merging or erasing
subsequent takes in loop recording, but not auto-muting.
All the great things about Sonar are still
great. Drag and drop audio loops, groove clips, recycle like hitpoints
and the ability to transpose audio easily.
||Logic 6 and
SX have made inroads on groove clips. But it is still not as cool
as Sonar, with its loop explorer. These features put Sonar in its own
You can do offline processing in
Sonar much like you can in Cubase SX. This greatly frees up CPU
usage and may even allow you to run it on a slower machine.
||Logic 5.5 PC
cannot do this. Logic 6 Mac can. Logic 6 has a new "freeze"
function and SX has offline processing with dedicated undo. This
is better than what Sonar offers ||
A MIDI metronome is implemented
||You can't set
it's midi note and port values while the clock is running, which means
you have to set it up without audio feedback. It does work well
once you set it up. Fortunately this is a set once operation.
Logic directs the metronome to a small soft synth that makes bleeps.
Use small soft synth to make the metronome
Sonar uses .ins files to bring in synth
patchnames. These are editable in the windows notepad. Sonar's
"patch explorer" is searchable by keywords ||SX also uses
scripts, but they are harder to make as they are coded in XML.
Logic can simply paste text into its patch menus. With SoundDiver
its can be done automatically in Logic. SX's patch menu is searchable
like Sonar's. Logic's does not have a search function. ||
You can save sequences made in Project
5 and use them as cakewalk midi clips.
has this feature and it rocks. I guess you could do this with
small midifiles, but it wouldn't be quite as nice. ||
Sonar has a wealth of dockable toolbars
||SX has a few;
Logic has none
Sonar supports Mackie/Logic Control
it better; SX supports it worse.
Cakewalk has always placed third in my
comparisons of Cubase, Logic and Cakewalk. For the first time, I am
willing to give it second place behind Logic 6 Mac. I think Sonar 3 has
risen above Logic 5.5 on the PC platform. Of course, since Logic is
not available anymore for PC users, that puts Sonar 3 in first place on
the PC platform, at least for now, and only by a hair. What does it
for me is the Loop Explorer and Groove clip options which remain Sonar's
strength. Because they have caught up to SX in so many other areas, the
program as a whole has risen in my eyes. But Cubase SX 2 is about to be
released and the evil eye looks to Steinberg to fix some of its shortcomings.
It's a great time to be a sequencer user. Sonar 3 makes your home
studio more powerful than it has ever been before. I do think it is
the most powerful PC sequencer to date.
Page 1 (Sonar 2) Page
2 (Sonar 3)
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