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Discover Cakewalk's SONAR

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SONAR is a Windows-only MIDI sequencer and digital audio workstation developed by Cakewalk. Roland acquired a majority share in the company in 2008, and their logo was changed to "Cakewalk by Roland". The program runs on Windows Vista (including 64-bit), and version 8.5 is the first DAW for Windows 7. It is also the only major DAW to have a scripting language.

This article was previously published on the AudioJungle blog, which has moved on to a new format in 2010. We'll be bringing you an article from the AudioJungle archives each week.

This is our eighth article in the series “Exploring Digital Audio Workstations”. If you’ve missed the earlier articles, you can find them here:

Now let's have a look at SONAR.


History and Background

Cakewalk was a DOS MIDI sequencer developed by a company originally called Twelve Tone Systems (and later, Cakewalk) way back in 1987. Cakewalk became Cakewalk Pro (to distinguish it from the more limited Cakewalk Express), and then became Cakewalk Pro Audio when digital audio recording and editing features were added. Cakewalk also features the Cakewalk Application Language (CAL), a flexible and fairly undocumented scripting language that can be used to extend and customize the program.

SONAR is the successor of Cakewalk—a different product with nearly all the same features, including CAL. There is a range of SONAR products—some including music production hardware—and the most recent version of the digital audio workstation software is SONAR 8.5 Producer. Home studio and LE versions are also available.

SONAR's Features

Cakewalk's SONAR 8.5 Features page summarizes the program's main features.

Music creation features:

  • Session Drummer 3 allows you to create drum parts for your productions. It includes hundreds of patterns ranging from vintage rock to electronica, and 20 complete drum kits including genuine Roland 707, 808, and 909 kits.
  • Matrix View gives a new approach to music creation. It allows you to rapidly load audio or MIDI tracks, loops, and one-shots to improvise compositions on the fly, creating remixes and sketching out different arrangements for a song.
  • Step Sequencer 2.0 lets you create drum tracks, beats, bass, and synth lines with a click of the mouse. It has an auto-populate feature for common rhythmic patterns, and a Per-step Probability feature to add automatic variations.
  • A one-click Arpeggiator .
  • The Rapture LE synthesizer, which includes over 200 programs and hundreds of oscillator shapes.
  • TruePianos Amber, a VSTi that provides realistic piano sounds.
  • Dimension Pro allows you to add both real and synthesized instrument sounds to your projects, including synths, strings, basses, acoustic and electric guitars, vocal hits and more.
  • A Media Browser lets you browse and preview audio and MIDI groove clips and patterns.

Music recording features:

  • Guitar Rig 3 LE, a guitar amp modeler from Native Instruments, which includes 3 amps and cabinets, 11 effects, tuner, metronome, and over 50 presets.
  • A variety of Track Templates for audio, virtual instrument tracks, and entire projects.
  • Support for unlimited tracks of audio and MIDI.
  • Loop Recording.
  • Optimization for high track counts with low latency.

Audio editing features:

  • AudioSnap 2.0 lets you correct drum and instrument timing, including tempo changes.
  • Roland V-Vocal 1.5 provides natural sounding vocals with simple pitch correction, including the popular  robotic vocals sound.
  • Smart MIDI Tools which provide a customizable workflow and can perform multiple operations.
  • Tools that make comping breeze, allowing you to piece together a flawless performance.

Control features:

  • A Synth Rack gives easy access to all the virtual instruments in your project.
  • Active Controller Technology (ACT) includes templates for most MIDI controllers and surfaces, automatically mapping parameters, and allowing customization.
  • Supports popular control surfaces including those from Edirol, Mackie, Euphonix, and Frontier Design.
  • Track folders organize groups of tracks such as drums or strings which can take up screen space, and the Navigator View lets you get around large projects faster.

Mixing features:

  • PX-64 Percussion Strip is a 7 stage multi-effects processor, including EQ, compressor, expander, transient shaper, delay, and dual-stage saturator.
  • VX-64 Vocal Strip is a 7-stage multi-effects processor, including EQ, compander, de-esser, doubler, delay, and dual-stage saturator.
  • Channel Tools provides channel processing for adjusting L/R channel placement, gain, pan/width, and phase; sample delay for precision timing adjustment of L/R channels in recordings; Automatic Mid-Side decoding of imported Mid-Side recorded material.
  • VC-64 Vintage Channel is a channel strip, dynamics processor, EQ, and De-Esser.
  • External hardware support.
  • Transient Shaper adjusts the transient dynamics of any percussive based source material like drum loops and percussion, electric and acoustic guitars, and piano.
  • Configurable Console controls volume, EQ, sends, pan, and much more just like a hardware mixer.

Mastering features:

  • LP-64 EQ is a linear-phase equalizer.
  • LP-64 Multiband is a linear phase mastering compressor/limiter.
  • Boost 11 is a peak limiter.
  • TL-64 Tube Leveler is a line driver/ leveling processor with advanced analog vacuum-tube circuit modeling algorithm.

User Comments

What do SONAR users think of the product? Here are some comments by users and reviewers that I found around the Net. I’d love to hear from you in the comments too.

  • "SONAR is really a DAW in the traditional sense. It does everything. It doesn’t hide features. Given a choice between taking something out and putting something in, it puts the thing in. It has a lot of knobs and buttons. There are positives and negatives to the approach – it’s the reason some readers of this site return to software on game machines that has more in common with early Amiga software. But if you like the feeling of a packed studio, a tool like SONAR can be terrific. As much as I love Ableton Live for sound design and live performance, I find myself returning to something like SONAR for arrangement." (Peter Kirn)
  • "Lovely app and extremely powerful. What will they add to the next version? There is not much to really dislike about it. A graphical refresh would be nice. Pro Tools, Cubase and Logic have had theirs, Sonar IMO could do with one. Also if only the audio engine was totally gapless. It's pretty smooth but not best in class." (Monarch)
  • "I skipped Sonar 7 because I didn't think it offered enough beyond 6 to make it worth what they were asking, and besides, it turned out to be cheaper in the long run when I finally upgraded to 8 last year; Had I upgraded from 6 to 7 to 8, it would have cost more than it did to just jump from 6 to 8. Go figure. I'm shelling out this time only because I really want to try that matrix view thingie." (Electric Puppy)
  • But what pleases me the most is the new Bitbridge 2.0.  It is a new beast with better 3rd party plugin compatibility (as reported by other users who are now able to load their favorite 32 bit VST's in Sonar64), improved stability and a transparent integration.  Bitbridge 1.0 was very flaky when it first came out, but later became less unstable (yet still flaky).  Now, at version 2.0, it is super stable.  I don't have to worry about it crashing my system if I load too much RAM or push it with plugin numbers due to the well integration and number of servers that automatically open when resources demand it.  For the first time ever, I was able to push my system's RAM capacities (signature below) to the max using only 32 bit plugins.  That's just f'ing amazing!  The old RAM limits are gone :-)"  (Jose7822)

Have you used SONAR? Do you love it or hate it? What are your favorite features? Let us know in the comments.

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