More improvements, a better look, hardware integration
Sonar 8.5 screenshot
Sonar is impressive.
Let there be no doubt amongst the staunch believers of other sequencer
religions. Sonar has been up to serious speed since Version 4. Its not
only functional, but it looks great too, particularly (as with all
sequencers) on a big monitor that lets you keep a lot of windows open.
Sonar is also a well-optimized Windows application. It has been around since
the very first MIDI sequencers. With the introduction
of Sonar 8, I think we are seeing, for the first time, that Sonar has caught
up to and even surpassed other sequencers in many important areas,
particularly hardware integration.
Yes. Other sequencers let you use 3rd party
control surfaces like the Mackie Control Universal as a hardware
controller, which is necessarily separate from the audio
interface. Cakewalk has gone the step further with the
development of the V-Studio 700 Recording System, built in
collaboration with Roland. (Roland now owns a controlling
stake in Cakewalk). Lets take a look at the V-studio
700. Note that there is also a less expensive rack version
V-Studio 700R and a smaller control surface called the
But don't get the idea that you need to have the V-studio
to use Sonar. Its is a complete recording, editing an mixing
environment in itself. You should get a keyboard controller and an
audio interface, as with any sequencer, but beyond that, you get all the
basic software instruments and audio processors you need in to make music.
As you go from the Home studio to Studio to Producer versions you simply get
more and better of these items.
For Sonar Producer 8.5 we are seeing an unbelievable number of add-ins that
are bound to make any serious electonic musician smile (or frown, if they happen
to be on a different sequencer platform!) Here's some highlights that I
like (you can read the
full list of new features in 8.5 on Caewalk's site:
Session drummer 3. It looks like a page out of drumkit
from hell, except in a nicer room (than hell). Build a kit by dragging
files to the drum. Lots of free content. Nice.
Matrix View: This offers cell based triggering of
samples, sequences, one shots. You touch a cell and it starts. Sort
of like Ableton Live, sort of like the Fantom's Pads, sort of MPC ish.
That is is in Sonar is very cool. It gives a "non-linear" arranger.
Ah, right up my alley.
Roland V-Vocal: Roland's VariPhrase technology, now in
Sonar. Remember, Roland is in bed with Sonar. Children everywhere!
lol. This is the Cakemaker's answer to Cubase's VariAudio and of course
Melodyne and AutoTune. But can it do T-Pain? I hope to have an answer soon
as i know that is what EVERYONE wants. Where are my Big Teeth...
There's a lot more in Sonar 8.5.
Tweak's assessment: Cakewalk is moving in the right
direction and is way ahead of Cubase in terms of features. Cubase may have
a larger following built up, but that can change gradually. The experience
of dealing with Cakewalk as a company is as good as it has always been.
Sonar may be ahead of pro Tools LE as well in terms of features. But
features on tell part of the story. Whether you like the interface and can
figure it out is also just as important. I am not equipped to answer that
for you. We all have our preferences. One of mine is that the
application never crash. Unfortunately I have yet to find a recording
application on the PC or Mac platform that does not crash. In my
experience, i will simply say Sonar is not the worst. I believe this
is an area the whole industry needs to work on.
Sonar 8 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
Producer delivers the go-to production tools you want with
the best collection of virtual instruments, mixing, and
mastering effects found in any DAW.
From Previous Reviews Sonar 4 Studio
Features in Sonar 5
Roland Variphrase Technology.
Automatic pitch correction, vibrato, re-phrasing, dynamics and more
PSYN™ II subtractive synth,
Pentagon™ I vintage analog synth, Roland® GrooveSynth™, SFZ SoundFont
sampler, RXP ™ REX Player groove box
Perfect Space™ Convolution Reverb
Updated MIDI FX plug-ins
Inline audio and MIDI editing,
arranging, and mixing all in one view
BitBridge™ enables 32-bit VST
effects and instruments in SONAR’s 64-bit environment
Remove DC offset during recording
Dynamic Console View with
per-channel EQ and assignable FX controls
SurroundBridge™—use your favorite
stereo effect plug-ins in surround
Advanced step recording
Edit and print traditional staff
Video output to 1394 FireWire
devices for high quality viewing with lower CPU and disk usage
Sync to and send SMPTE/MTC for
scoring external video
OMFI & Broadcast Wave import/export
for collaboration with Digital Performer, Logic, Nuendo, and Pro Tools
My Test: I tried Sonar 4.02 Studio with the latest
drivers (PatchMix 1.71, driver 1.8)) for my emu 1820M, with asio drivers ticked. I had no
problems with it. This was not true with earlier emu drivers.
However, while running emulator X (1.51) I had a graphic problem. The soft
sampler appeared top have the jitters redrawing the screen with every mouse
click. It still worked, but it was a bit disconcerting to see. (1.52
still has redraw issues, but the jittering has stopped) . But
anyway, that is an emu problem I think, not a sonar problem. Other DXis I tried
did not have any issues. I tried several of the cakewalk and project 5 plugins
and they played nice. One song where I had used project 5 in rewire loaded
project 5 with the song--that was cool.
On the whole, the application was blazing fast.
Audio loaded fast. Drag N drop audio files worked great. Inserting and
removing big plugins on the fly was not a problem. Effects can be put as
an insert in the mixer or destructively applied to the track from the main
screen. Fast renders. This reduced the need for a dedicated audio
editor, which Sonar still does not have. if you are trying to figure out
an important difference between Cubase and Sonar, its right there.
Cubase gives you an audio editor and process history, Sonar has a loop
construction editor. Its an effective solution for setting loops to tempo,
moving hit points, setting loops to project pitch. For those of you
using beats, that's what you need. Using loops in Sonar is easier.
Making complex loops is a good task for Cubase.
Over on the left you see the new features in
Sonar 5. Lets talk about a few that I like.
Sonar V-Studio 100 is a portable
music production studio that lets you create, record,
produce and perform music with or without a computer.
The V Studio 100 features a USB 2.0 interface, live
mixer with effects, standalone SD Recorder and a DAW
control surface. Plus it is MAC/PC compatible.
The VS700R V Studio I/O is a high
speed USB 2.0 audio interface that provides all the
recording and routing capabilities needed to handle
any music production task. In addition to the 18/24
I/O audio interface, the VS700R also has an integrated
Roland Fantom VS hardware synthesizer based on the
world-renowned Fantom synthesizer.
Roland Variphrase (Producer version
only) a nice and unexpected addition. You can correct
the intonation of your vocals and do some other cool things, like
slowing down and speeding up phrases to make them fit. Pitch
correction is becoming a sequencer staple. Logic has its own.
Digital Performer uses a variant from another industry leader, Melodyne.
PSYN II and Pentagon, Groove Synth
Perhaps following Logic's lead,
Cakewalk is including more software synths. This means the new
user does not have to have a hardware synth to get going making sounds.
Inline Audio and MIDI editing
Definitely following Cubase's lead
here. This allows you to carry on editing functions without
changing to new window
New in Sonar 4
Track Folders is
something logic users have long had. It basically allows you to store
stuff in folders, out of view of your main sequencer, and gives you some
flexibility in how you work. For example, after you record your midi
tracks as audio you can put the used midi tracks (which are no longer needed)
into a folder where they are out of the way. Mute the folder and they
don't play, but are still there if you decide later that the F# on your bass
hook really needs to be a Ab. You can also store stuff in folders and
save to a default song so they are always in your new song. Stuff like
drum patterns, favorite audio loops, arpeggio patterns, sysex banks for you
synths, or a folder of "creative ideas" so you have some stuff to fall back on
if inspiration is not forthcoming.
Freeze tracks. Everybody else has it and
its a requirement in this day and age, so you can render CPU eating soft
synths to temporary audio files to give you back some processor time.
Enhanced bounce. As a Logic user I am
envious as all get out that Sonar has this before Logic. Bouncing MIDI
direct to an audio track is a feature one will use every song.
Slip editing and nudge are two needed additions
for getting audio inside tracks to line up correctly. Sure beats cutting
and pasting when you just need to move things a small amount.
Navigator pane--aka a mini view of your total
song. Ableton's Live started that, Cubase picked it up and now Sonar.
Meter Ballistics--sometimes its the
little things. Sonar's meters are fantastic, you can set the range now.
if you only want to see the top 24db range in the meter you can. There
is also both RMS and Peak metering to give you an idea if you are compressing
to much. Different metering options are selectable for tracks, master
outs, busses and inputs. Nice.
Configurable pan laws are now available to you
can set up Sonar's mixer to respond like a professional mixer when you move
left or right, without volume loss.
Of course there is more to talk about, but we
are out of time my friends. If you are still messing around in Sonar 2
or 3 or just woke up from a Neanderthal slumber and found you were using Pro
Audio9, you are overdue.
Sonar is great. I have no reservation
giving it a thumbs up.
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 Vsampler
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!
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.