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  • CAKEWALK SONAR 5 PE (DAW software)

    Cakewalk Sonar 5 Producer Edition – Prologue

    When Sonar was introduced, I had to use it – because it was the only sequencer at the time that combined MIDI, digital audio, and Acid-style looping. Prior to Sonar, I’d been bouncing back and forth between Sonic Foundry (now Sony) Acid for looping, Cubase VST for MIDI+digital audio projects, and Cakewalk Pro Audio for audio-for-video. Sonar meant I could do it all in one program, and while I still use plenty of other applications, Sonar Producer Edition has become my “workhorse” program.

    Sonar 5 follows less than a year after the Sonar 4 upgrade. Sonar 4’s main claim to fame was a superb surround implementation…but given the lackluster state of surround, did anyone really care? I was definitely thankful for the workflow enhancements and other improvements, but I get the feeling a lot of existing S3 users figured they’d wait until S5 because surround wasn’t a big enough draw for them.

    S5, however, is indeed a major upgrade: More instruments, reawakened MIDI, REX file support, and more. For a list of main new features in Sonar 5, click here.

    We’ll concentrate on reviewing the new features, but if you have questions/comments not just about the new features or the review but about existing aspects of the program, c’mon down and join the review! Manufacturer comments are welcome as well.
    CHECK IT OUT: Lilianna!, my latest song, is now streamable from YouTube.

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  • #2
    Sonar remains one of the easiest, fastest programs to get running. After a couple recent experiences where it took literally hours to get programs installed, Sonar 5 was a breath of fresh air: Load DVD, choose your language, enter serial number . . . done. Kudos to Cakewalk for not treating their customers like thieves – I just hope that their faith in humanity is being rewarded.

    A couple tips on installation: When you have the option to load plug-ins, some older plugs are not loaded by default. If you’ve been using Sonar for a while, you may have used some of these plug-ins in older projects. So when the “Select Components” screen appears, click on the Audio FX “Options” button, and click on “Select All.” Click on the attachment to see the Select Components screen and the Audio FX Options button on which you click (circled in yellow).

    Also, after you install Sonar, don’t forget to start the Installation process again if you want to install the Audio Finder (locates audio files used in projects), the MP3 Encoder Upgrader (so if you already paid for the MP3 encoder, you can continue to use it with S5), and/or the trial version of the discWelder DVD-A burning program.

    And what’s this – no VST-DX adapter installation? That’s right. Sonar 5 now has native VST support, and there’s a subtle change in the Insert menu: Where Sonar once read DXi Synth, it now just reads “Soft Synths.” VST synths are still in a separate menu tree, but the days of watching the configuration program do its thing are over.

    And when Sonar loads, it doesn’t scan through all your plug-ins – it loads fast. When you add a new plug-in, a little time elapses while Sonar adds it to its roster, but next time you open the program, it’s back to its usual speedy self.

    One interesting point is that if you have an “unauthorized” plug-in (e.g., you had a demo version that timed out), Sonar does not flag this when it opens, only if you attempt to open the plug-in – another time saver.

    Meanwhile, there’s nothing disorienting when you open the program: The graphic looks seems to have settled down, the toolbars mostly look familiar, and so on.

    Well, with all this new stuff, where to start? Maybe with a standout feature like the V-Voice plug-in? Nah, that’s too deep – it’s Sunday night, and I’d just like to mess around a bit with some easy stuff…so let’s check out the REX file player. I’ve bugged Cakewalk for so long about the lack of REX file support, the least I can do is jump it to the top of the stack.
    CHECK IT OUT: Lilianna!, my latest song, is now streamable from YouTube.

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    • #3
      I'm jealous. But mine is on the way. The Vocal plug in is the main reason I upgraded. My old ATR-1, due to the lack of a digital interface, will probably be sold on ebay.

      Thanks for the review, can't wait.

      Comment


      • #4
        Although there isn’t “drag and drop into the track”-type REX file support, Sonar 5 actually goes one better with the RXP File Player as it allows for a reasonable degree of REX file editing. In addition to loading all ReCycle formats (RX2, REX, RCY), RXP can also load WAV, AIF, and OGG files. However, this is of limited use, as you can’t add or edit slices – basically, with these types of files RXP is a one-shot player (although you can process the file in various ways, as we’ll cover later). Click on the attachment to see the RXP player screen.

        Getting back to REX files, you can load a file by navigating to it, or use the built-in Groove Browser if you want to choose among a roster of favorites. The file appears in the main graphical window, along with slice markers.

        There are 24 pads across the bottom, whose function depends on whether you’ve selected the Slice or Loop mode. In Slice mode, each pad plays a slice (you can also trigger these via MIDI keyboard – cool). If there are more than 24 slices in the file, you can’t trigger slice 25 on up from the pads, although you can from MIDI.

        In Loop mode, clicking on a pad plays the loop for as long as you hold the mouse button down; different pads transpose the file by the amount shown on the pad, from -12 to +11 semitones (right-clicking on a pad plays the loop all the way through).

        So far so good, but here’s where it gets interesting: There are amp and filter processors. The Amp section provides Attack, Decay, Width (left/right stereo separation for stereo files), Pan, and Volume. The Filter has four possible filter curves (2-pole and 4-pole, lowpass or highpass), with an Attack/Decay envelope, Envelope amount, Cutoff, and Resonance controls. However, both Amp and Filter affect all slices – you cannot have separate settings for individual slices.

        If you right-click on a pad to play the file through, varying Amp and Filter controls won’t affect the sound until the loop re-triggers. But – and this is important – if you trigger individual slices by MIDI (keyboard or the host sequencer), you can you edit these parameters in real time. However, automating these changes is a whole other issue.

        When you insert RXP using the usual Insert Soft Synth option, I couldn’t find any way to automate the controls. But if you create an audio track and insert RXP into the FX bin, then create a MIDI track and send that to the RXP, the situation changes. Right-click on the RXP in the FX bin, select Arm Parameter, and you can automate parameters by diddling the knobs while recording automation. Or, right-click in the audio track itself, and create envelopes to control particular RXP parameters.

        I don’t know why you can’t record knob movements when the RXP is inserted as a standard DXi synth, given that the DreamStation DXi2 can do that. Maybe in a future update…

        Regarding the MIDI driving the RXP to trigger slices, if there’s MIDI data associated with the file, you’ll be informed of this when you load the file in to RXP (when you insert the RXP using the Insert Soft Synth option, Sonar creates both audio and MIDI tracks). You can drag from the RXP’s little note icon into a track to deposit the MIDI file. And here’s another of Sonar’s strong suits: You can turn MIDI files into groove clips, so if you want the MIDI file to repeat, you can simply convert it into a MIDI groove clip, then “roll out” the clip rather than have to copy and paste.

        And dig this – you can rearrange slice order and change slice characteristics in several ways.

         On the file graphic, drag a slice into a different position. Other slices “close up” from where you removed the slice to maintain the same file length.
         Right-click on the slice display to show three options (this is shown in the Attachment picture): Reset, Reverse, and Randomize. Reverse is not reversed audio, but reverses the order of slices. Randomize shuffles slices, with different results each time you hit Randomize.
         The Transpose field along the bottom of the file window transposes up to +/-48 semitones.
         The Tune field transposes up to +/-100 cents.
         The Random Pitch field changes slice pitches randomly, within a range of up to 48 semitones.
         Finally, you can reverse the slices (not the order, the audio itself) by applying Controller 1 messages.

        As far as I’m concerned, the important point here is the real-time playability. While the MIDI sequence is playing, you can be triggering individual slices, reversing audio, or using MIDI volume or expression controllers to change levels.

        Two issues: According to the documentation, RXP should respond to Pan and Sustain controller messages. However, feeding them in from a hardware controller, or programming envelopes in a MIDI track, didn’t seem to affect the sound. Also, clicking on a pad in loop mode briefly spikes the CPU meter into the red, at which point it goes back to a more rational CPU consumption figure.

        Furthermore, inserting just one instance of the RXP in a sequence with no other audio or MIDI tracks, then playing back a MIDI track into the RXP, gave CPU consumption figures that fluctuated between 25% and 42%.
        I realize CPU consumption figures are relative, but with Sonar 4 it used to take several hungry soft synths, plus multiple audio tracks, to reach these kind of levels – and that’s without any other goodies that might hit the CPU, like the new waveform preview drawing feature.

        Hopefully a future rev will optimize the RXP’s performance, but meanwhile, it’s great to have REX support and some REX file editing capabilities - and hey, you can always freeze the track or bounce it to an audio track if the CPU thing gets iffy.
        CHECK IT OUT: Lilianna!, my latest song, is now streamable from YouTube.

        Subscribe, like, and share the links!

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        • #5
          This may not seem like a big deal compared to some of the other new features, but I’ve found the new metering options can definitely improve the aesthetics. The basic idea is that now you can choose between the standard “segmented” meters (where there are divisions between each “virtual LED”) and a non-segmented meter look. Click on the Attachment to see the difference – you’ll see the same track with non-segmented meters on the top, and segmented meters on the bottom.

          The non-segmented meters look quite nice – they default to a sort of bluish “fluorescent” look, with higher levels being a lighter shade of blue. The non-segmented meters seem a little taller (when horizontal) or wider (when vertical) in the track view. But actually, when in a console on inspector track strip, the meter calibrations sit on top of the meter, so the meters take up less space and are more visible.

          You can specify segmented or non-segmented metering independently for the Track and Console views, but also note that the Inspector is considered a subset of the Console view, so you can use segmented meters in Track view but have the inspector show non-segmented meters. Another cool feature is that you can change colors for the meters, the clip indicator, and the calibrations. For example, light orange looks pretty cool for the meters.
          CHECK IT OUT: Lilianna!, my latest song, is now streamable from YouTube.

          Subscribe, like, and share the links!

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          • #6
            I was definitely thankful for the workflow enhancements and other improvements, but I get the feeling a lot of existing S3 users figured they’d wait until S5 because surround wasn’t a big enough draw for them.

            That would have included me.

            I'm really looking forward to reading this one Craig.
            **********

            "Look at it this way: think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of 'em are stupider than that."

            - George Carlin

            "It shouldn't be expected that people are necessarily doing what they appear to be doing on records."

            - Sir George Martin, All You Need Is Ears

            "The music business will be revitalized by musicians, not the labels or Live Nation. When the musicians decide to put music first, instead of money, the public will flock to the fruits and the scene will be healthy again."

            - Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter

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            • #7
              Hey Craig, This may be a stupid question, but does the VST integration mean that I can now use my Spectrasonics instruments in Sonar?

              Also; is it now possible to use a UAD-1 or TC Powercore cards in Sonar?

              That was my main reason for switching over to Cubase SX. I had been doing my midi in Cakewalk Pro Audio, and then converting the midi to audio in Pro Tools. Since I couldnt use the UAD or TC Powercore in either Cakewalk or PT, and since the midi in PT was very weak I migrated over to Cubase SX.

              SX 3 has had quite a few issues and I am eligible for an upgrade to Sonar. What are your thoughts?

              Thanks in advance for your response.
              "It's all good; except when it's Great."

              www.jotown.com

              Comment


              • #8
                I got really excited about Sonar 5 until I read the system requirements. It no longer supports win 2K pro. I finally got a great stable computer together and I don't want to upgrade to Sonar 5 and have to buy XP in one gulp.

                Dragsville.
                -David

                (the artist formally known as DC before the move to HC)

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Jotown
                  ...

                  Also; is it now possible to use a UAD-1 or TC Powercore cards in Sonar?

                  ...
                  .

                  I'm not Craig, but my UAD card works great with Sonar.
                  doug osborne | my day job

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Jotown
                    Hey Craig, This may be a stupid question, but does the VST integration mean that I can now use my Spectrasonics instruments in Sonar?

                    Also; is it now possible to use a UAD-1 or TC Powercore cards in Sonar?

                    That was my main reason for switching over to Cubase SX. I had been doing my midi in Cakewalk Pro Audio, and then converting the midi to audio in Pro Tools. Since I couldnt use the UAD or TC Powercore in either Cakewalk or PT, and since the midi in PT was very weak I migrated over to Cubase SX.

                    SX 3 has had quite a few issues and I am eligible for an upgrade to Sonar. What are your thoughts?

                    Thanks in advance for your response.


                    VST instruments in Sonar was always possible using either the Fxpansion VST adapter or DirectiXer. Cake bought the Fxpansion adapter and has integrated it into Sonar 5. I have been using Atmosphere and Trilogy with Sonar since version 1...no issues whatsoever!

                    There are some people with the UAD-1 card working...I'd recommend you search through the Sonar forum at Cake's site for more info.

                    Bill
                    Keyboards: Roland Fantom G6 (2); Korg Kronos 61; Muse Receptor VIP; Nord Electro 3; Privia PX-350Guitar Stuff: Route 101 Solimar; Line 6 POD X3 Live, Pocket POD (2)

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                    • #11
                      I've also been using Spectrasonics instruments in Sonar 4, specifically the outstanding Stylus RMX. I'll test later with Sonar 5 and report back.
                      CHECK IT OUT: Lilianna!, my latest song, is now streamable from YouTube.

                      Subscribe, like, and share the links!

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                      • #12
                        Please also check out if the UAD and or TC Powercore cards can be used with Sonar 5.

                        Thanks in advance.
                        "It's all good; except when it's Great."

                        www.jotown.com

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                        • #13
                          Many people have been using the UAD cards since SONAR 3. The only issue I knew of left was with looping which was fixed in the 4.0.3 patch. I have read that most people have very smooth operation using the UAD-1 vst effects rather than the DXi's. I also think there are a few people running the Powercor cards.

                          (BTW, I don't own either)

                          Cheers,

                          Roberto

                          Originally posted by Jotown
                          Please also check out if the UAD and or TC Powercore cards can be used with Sonar 5.

                          Thanks in advance.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Cool! How about Waves Direct X plugs?
                            "It's all good; except when it's Great."

                            www.jotown.com

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                            • #15
                              How about Waves Direct X plugs?


                              I've had no problems.

                              Hey, I've just been recording the Variax through Guitar Rig loaded into Sonar 5...about 5ms latency with the Creamware SCOPE card using ASIO drives. This is fun!! Better get back to work.
                              CHECK IT OUT: Lilianna!, my latest song, is now streamable from YouTube.

                              Subscribe, like, and share the links!

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