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  • When I write a Pro Review of software, I have two monitors in front of me. The one on the left connects to my music computer, and the one on the right, to my Powermac for writing the review itself, as well as connecting to the net for uploading the text, images, and audio examples (there's also a switch for the right monitor so I can have two monitors for the music computer as needed). So, the software being reviewed is always sitting in front of me, and I realized that since updating to V7.01, Sonar hasn't crashed - and it's gotten a lot of use. That's particularly impressive because doing a Pro Review isn't like just laying down tracks for a song; I'm trying different things, doing weird stuff like copying something a zillion times to load up on tracks, and of course, trying to find ways to "break" the program.

    But back to the conclusions. First of all, Sonar is a flat-out excellent DAW. Sleek, stable, and versatile, it also represents excellent value, thanks to the bundled instruments and processors. It can handle just about any type of file, and is at home in a variety of musical styles - from multitrack emulation for recording a rock band, to digital audio editor-type editing for classical performances, to a loop-oriented approach for electronica. Couple that with the 64-bit audio engine (whether it helps the sound audibly is a subject of debate, but check out the Bit Meter Cakewalk includes - there's a lot going on in those least significant bits), and tight integration with both 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems, and you have a program that need make no excuses from a technical or artistic standpoint.

    Whether Sonar 7 is a spectacular update to you or not depends on how much you use MIDI. There's no question the MIDI improvements are the star of this particular update; they make working with MIDI far smoother and more flexible. Some might argue that an improved MIDI implementation is long overdue for Sonar, but in typical Cakewalk fashion, they elected to make one giant leap that gave more than people expected. (This reminds me of how they did their surround update: They were among the last major DAWs to implement surround, but they came up with a superb implemention, including their Surround Bridge feature that meant you didn't have to invest in a whole new suite of surround plug-ins.) Let's not overlook the step sequencer, either; it's good for more than just programming drum parts, and the implementation is quite good.

    And there are plenty of new instruments to go along with the improved MIDI, although I can't help but think that at some point, some users will look at Rapture LE and Dimension LE and either stop using them due to their limitations (no fine tuning? c'mon!) or spring for the full versions. Personally, I feel Rapture is one of the most interesting and useful soft synths to be released in quite some time; while I'm not sure you'd know that from the LE version, I think anyone who upgrades wouldn't be disappointed. I can't get quite as excited about Dimension, as there are already quite a few excellent competitive "workstation" programs. If you have one of these, you may not feel the need for a full-blown Dimension. But Rapture is unique.

    So is the z3ta+, though, and it is a full version with much to offer. It's a clever and efficient little synth with a unique sound and plenty of programmability for those who like to tweak. DropZone is a nice addition too, as it can do some things that even more expensive samplers can't do. Don't uninstall Kontakt or anything, but don't overlook DropZone, either.

    As to the audio plug-ins, Boost 11 is one of those plug-ins that as long as you don't abuse, it you'll never think about it once you dial in the settings you like. The linear phase EQ and multiband compressor are sweet, although misunderstood - a lot of people don't quite seem to get that you can't put one of these on each track. They're for bus insertions and mastering, which of course, also indicates (along with the publishing and CD burning options) where Cakewalk is heading with the program. Actually, the CD burning is a bit of a disappointment; it doesn't do much more than you can do with the Windows CD burner, which you have by definition if you're running Cakewalk on Windows. I would really like to see it become an alternative to CD Architect, which is a great program with one flaw: No ASIO support.

    And before we move away from signal processors, the sidechaining feature is great, and much remains to be mined from it. The importance of this is dimished somewhat by the fact that other programs have implemented sidechaining as well - this is not a "Sonar-only" thing. But play with it for a while, and you'll be glad it's part of the program. Very glad, in fact.

    Some of the features of Sonar 6 are now more mature. ACT is more together, and the colorization options have taken a step forward. AudioSnap has benefited from some updates as well. Furthermore, despite the negative buzz around Vista (which I don't feel is justified, but that's another subject), Sonar lives happily in a 64-bit world. Very happily, as a matter of fact, and I'm glad that this review dragged me into Vista world - I like it. I just wish the rest of the world would catch up. However, because Sonar 7 has so many instruments and plug-ins, you can boot into Vista-64, never leave Sonar, and still get done what you need to do.

    So should you upgrade? If you're running Sonar 5, yes. The cumulative changes in 6 and 7 add up to a huge increase in functionality (not big, huge). If you're happy with Sonar 6, don't use MIDI a lot, already have the soft synths you need, and don't need "mastering" EQ and compression, Sonar 7 isn't that compelling an upgrade; you'll probably want to wait until Sonar 8 (although to be fair, several of the smaller tweaks might be enough to justify the upgrade cost by themselves, depending on your needs and workflow). However, Cakewalk's upgrade offers are pretty decent. I think it highly likely that after upgrading, a dedicated Sonar user would feel it was worth the bucks.

    All in all, I would describe this update as what happens to a sculpture during its final phases of creation: The shape is basically the same, but now it's polished to a higher luster, and put in a place in the gallery where the pin spots shine on it just right. Sure, there's still room for improvement in Sonar 8: In addition to overcoming the CD-burning limitations, I'd like to see a better sampler, a drum machine that goes beyond Session Drummer 2, more MIDI effects (not just a velocity compressor/expander but also a resurrection of some of those great CAL routines that seem to have gotten lost along the way), and some algorithmic composition options - the first Session Drummer MIDI plug-in was on to something. While I understand why they went to Session Drummer 2, it would be nice to pursue the original Session Drummer concept as well, and extend it to bass and other parts.

    Finally, I think Cakewalk should check out the various freebie amp guitar sims out there, pick the best one, give the developer some bucks to take it to the next level, and include it with Sonar. Then you really would have "one-stop shopping."

    But the bottom line is that Sonar is a great program, and version 7 is just that much better. While it's not the mind-boggling upgrade delta that happened between 5 and 6, those types of upgrades don't come along very often. What we have is a mature program that is more stable, more accessorized, and has a better workflow than ever. Sonar fans will not be disappointed; those thinking of switching to Sonar now have a very compelling set of reasons to do so.
    CHECK IT OUT: Lilianna!, my latest song, is now streamable from YouTube.

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    • This concludes my formal "review," but of course, the thread will remain open so that you can make additional comments, ask questions, etc. Also, I believe a 7.02 update isn't too far away, so we'll see what that's about if/when it happens.

      I'd like to thank Scott Garrigus for contributing his expertise (hey, I'm sure this sold some books for ya!) and Alex Westner at Cakewalk for participating in the thread. It's always a bit of a risk for a manufacturer to get involved in a Pro Review, but this one turned out to be pretty benign -- seems there are a lot of happy Sonar owners out there.
      CHECK IT OUT: Lilianna!, my latest song, is now streamable from YouTube.

      Subscribe, like, and share the links!

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      • Here's a quickie compression option for 2:1 compression:

        1. Divide all values by 2.
        2. Add 64 to all values.


        Anderton.

        That is a very cute trick, though I'm finding I like to add, maybe 50, instead of 64. Leaves a little headroom and doesn't always trigger the highest-velocity sample in the patch, or pin the max-velocity timbral change. But I'm still impressed with the mathematical approach. how did you come up with that?

        BTW, do you have any tips on audio snap? Seems like a great idea, but maybe is trickier than it looks...?

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        • Anderton.

          That is a very cute trick, though I'm finding I like to add, maybe 50, instead of 64. Leaves a little headroom and doesn't always trigger the highest-velocity sample in the patch, or pin the max-velocity timbral change. But I'm still impressed with the mathematical approach. how did you come up with that?


          That's a trick I've been using since the days of Master Tracks Pro on the Mac Plus. I don't remember exactly how I came up with it, but I do remember I realized that you could do "limiting" simply by adding a constant. From there it was a short step to thinking about how I could apply the same principle to compression and expansion.

          BTW, do you have any tips on audio snap? Seems like a great idea, but maybe is trickier than it looks...?


          There's a lot of material about AudioSnap in the Sonar 6 Pro Review, it's almost more like a tutorial than a review.
          CHECK IT OUT: Lilianna!, my latest song, is now streamable from YouTube.

          Subscribe, like, and share the links!

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          • Any plans to add Impulse Response? this seems to be gaining ground in VST's and DAW

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            • I'd like to thank Scott Garrigus for contributing his expertise (hey, I'm sure this sold some books for ya!)


              Thanks, Craig! I'm glad I could help... and thanks for letting spread the word about the book.

              By the way, you mentioned Cakewalk Publisher earlier. That feature somehow got overlooked in the book, but to make up for it I'll be publishing an article over at DigiFreq. I'll drop another note here as soon as the article is ready and it should clear up some of the confusion for other people trying to use that feature.

              Scott

              --
              Scott R. Garrigus - Author of the Cakewalk Sonar and Sony Sound Forge Power book series. Get Sonar 7 Power & Sound Forge 8 Power - Today! Go to: http://www.garrigus.com/

              Publisher of DigiFreq - free music technology newsletter. Win a free Absynth 3 or Kontakt 2 DVD Tutorial, go to: http://www.digifreq.com/digifreq/

              Publisher of NewTechReview - free consumer technology newsletter. Win a free WWF Slam Cam digital camera, go to: http://www.newtechreview.com/newtechreview/

              Comment


              • Anderton.
                BTW, do you have any tips on audio snap? Seems like a great idea, but maybe is trickier than it looks...?


                You can also check out this article for some info...

                * Using the Cakewalk Sonar AudioSnap Feature
                http://www.digifreq.com/digifreq/article.asp?ID=68

                Scott

                --
                Scott R. Garrigus - Author of the Cakewalk Sonar and Sony Sound Forge Power book series. Get Sonar 7 Power & Sound Forge 8 Power - Today! Go to: http://www.garrigus.com/

                Publisher of DigiFreq - free music technology newsletter. Win a free Absynth 3 or Kontakt 2 DVD Tutorial, go to: http://www.digifreq.com/digifreq/

                Publisher of NewTechReview - free consumer technology newsletter. Win a free WWF Slam Cam digital camera, go to: http://www.newtechreview.com/newtechreview/

                Comment


                • Any plans to add Impulse Response? this seems to be gaining ground in VST's and DAW


                  Cakewalk includes the Perfect Space Convolution Reverb effect with which you can load IR files and apply them to your audio data.

                  Scott

                  --
                  Scott R. Garrigus - Author of the Cakewalk Sonar and Sony Sound Forge Power book series. Get Sonar 7 Power & Sound Forge 8 Power - Today! Go to: http://www.garrigus.com/

                  Publisher of DigiFreq - free music technology newsletter. Win a free Absynth 3 or Kontakt 2 DVD Tutorial, go to: http://www.digifreq.com/digifreq/

                  Publisher of NewTechReview - free consumer technology newsletter. Win a free WWF Slam Cam digital camera, go to: http://www.newtechreview.com/newtechreview/

                  Comment


                  • Any plans to add Impulse Response? this seems to be gaining ground in VST's and DAW


                    Sonar added a convolution reverb in Sonar 6. It's a very worthwhile addition, I believe it's based on the Voxengo reverb.
                    CHECK IT OUT: Lilianna!, my latest song, is now streamable from YouTube.

                    Subscribe, like, and share the links!

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                    • andereton:

                      thanks for that. but I gotta ask: is there a feature in Sonar7 where I can take an audio or MIDI clip and use its feel as the basis for quantizing other performances? Like if I have a funky sixteenth-note kind of guitar clip where the 16s aren't really on the normal grid locations, can i tell Sonar to set up the timing grid for the whole rest of the project so I can quantize to that?

                      thanks again, man. I'll sheck out your Sonar 6 review.

                      Comment


                      • andereton:

                        thanks for that. but I gotta ask: is there a feature in Sonar7 where I can take an audio or MIDI clip and use its feel as the basis for quantizing other performances?


                        There are actually a couple ways you can do that. If you want to extract a "groove" from audio and apply it to audio, AudioSnap will do the job. If you want to apply a groove from an audio clip and apply it to MIDI, there's a feature for creating "groove templates" that can become part of your quantization options.

                        The one thing you can't do easily is transfer feel from a MIDI clip to audio. But I've used a workaround: Line up the MIDI track (using the inline PRV view) to the audio, and use AudioSnap to align audio to MIDI notes visually.
                        CHECK IT OUT: Lilianna!, my latest song, is now streamable from YouTube.

                        Subscribe, like, and share the links!

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                        • Hello,

                          I just bought SONAR 7 and am very pleases so far. Does anyone know if there are any plugins for the "Audio Effects" which will change your voice to sound like a different person, but not robotic? If possible, I'd like to make my voice sound like a female for background vocals.

                          Thank you.

                          Rigoberto

                          Comment


                          • You can Antares AVOX package. It has a program that can synthesize various voice characteristics. I haven't tried it for female vocals, although I believe that's something it can do...I use it mostly for a "crusty old blues guy" effect.
                            CHECK IT OUT: Lilianna!, my latest song, is now streamable from YouTube.

                            Subscribe, like, and share the links!

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                            • Great review! I wish they could all be so interactive...

                              I'm new to music production and have been reading (to no end) about all the different DAW options. I've more or less narrowed it down to Sonar and Ableton Live. Seeing as you are an experienced user of both, how do you feel Live compares with Sonar for use in production? I'm anticipating recording and editing plenty of both audio and MIDI in the creation of an electronic/jazz/world fusion sound. I'm leaning more toward Live for its intuitive, uncluttered interface and integration with live performance, but toward Sonar for its more complete feature set. Assuming Live will eventually catch up with Sonar's functionality, and considering the effort required to learn/relearn to use such complex software - based on your experience with the the workflow and overall design of each program, if you were just starting out, which would you choose?

                              I know this type of question can be a tough one, with too many variables to properly answer, but any insight coming from an expert such as yourself will be invaluably helpful. I just can't wait to end my (re)search and start making music!

                              Comment


                              • What a great source of info this forum is turning out to be.

                                I'm going to push my luck and ask where I can find a good tutorial on mastering:

                                basic goals
                                use of compressor and /or limiter and what kind to use
                                Use of EQ
                                other tools or techniques

                                and, most confusingly,

                                LFE/subwoofer practices and procedures

                                I know this is asking a LOT, but I think you guys are a good place to start.

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