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Cavalcade Of Software Synths Highlight Latest Version Of Cakewalk’s Sonar

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As we noted before, the amount of recording power that individuals can access via their computers gets more powerful every year. New advances in processor speeds and memory capacities — and more on the latter in just a bit — beget more and more powerful software.

You can see this trend in action when examining what was possible on a computer over the last quarter of a century. When the Boston-based firm of Cakewalk began in 1987, their first products concentrated on recording MIDI data from hardware synthesizers. Then when processor and hard drive speeds became fast enough to allow for recording digital audio, that medium was added to the mix as well.

Return To The Roots

And in one sense, the latest version of their flagship Sonar digital audio workstation (DAW) for Windows is a return to their roots — though updated for the 21st century, of course. There’s a great emphasis in the latest version of Sonar on its variety of built-in software synthesizers, a few of which are new and the rest included from previous editions of Sonar.

Included with the Producer Edition of Sonar are a surprisingly diverse amount of soft synths, including full versions of Cakewalk’s Dimension Pro, and Z3TA+ synths, a stripped down “light edition” version of Cakewalk’s Rapture, and Roland’s TTS-1 and Groove Synth. Plus TruePianos Amber, which as its name implies is a piano emulator, and a variety of drum machines and rhythm loop players. (One of which, Beatscape is new to Sonar 8.)

We reviewed the fun analog-style Z3TA+ software synth back for Blogcritics back in 2005, and the Dimension Pro synthesizer, also designed by ace synth designer Rene Ceballos, comes with an enormous range of samples, and much of the material sounds fantastic. However, one minor criticism: Cakewalk notes in their packaging that it also includes examples from the Hollywood Edge sound effects sample library. This actually consists of very small sample (pardon the pun) of Hollywood Edge’s catalog, and primarily consists of gunshots, cannons, rain, thunder and insect and frog effects. While Sonar works extremely well in adjunct with a video editing program for recording voice-overs, background music and effects tracks, these meager Hollywood Edge samples alone aren’t going to turn you into the next Ben Burtt or Walter Murch.

But combined with all the other samples included in the package, and all of the other synths, that’s a surprising amount of built in sounds for a program that’s primarily a digital audio workstation.

Plenty Of Plug-Ins As Well

While Sonar works with both VST and DX format plug-ins from third party vendors, there are quite a number of plug-ins that ship with the program as well.

New plug-in effects built into Sonar Producer Edition include a nifty simulated Tube Lever to warm-up tracks, Transient Shaper for more radical sound alterations, and a Light Edition of Native Instruments’ long-running Guitar Rig amp modeling software. Plus updates to Sonar's proprietary VC-64 compressor (introduced in Sonar 6) and Roland V-Vocal pitch correction software (first found in Sonar 5). The latter is an extremely serviceable competitor to the better-known Antares Auto-Tune plug-in, and integrates seamlessly with Sonar’s track architecture.

Sonar includes multiple reverb plug-ins, including Pantheon by industry standard Lexicon, and the innovative Perfect Space by Voxengo, which has models of rooms ranging from concert halls, to spaces that would be physically impossible to record in—including seemingly crazy environments such as the inside of a maraca.

One new addition to Sonar that I was particularly happy to see was the ability to lock clips together so that they can be easily moved around the timeline as one. Having become addicted to this feature working with video clips in Adobe’s Premiere Pro, it’s great to now have it with audio clips as well inside Sonar. (Perhaps a future edition of Sonar will also allow for multiple complete audio timelines to be nested as well as Premiere Pro allows.)

Got RAM If You Want It

Sonar was one of the first applications to take advantage of Windows 64-bit computing, back around 2005. Since then, 64-bit architecture is slowly becoming the norm in computing, and that will really start to grow when the next version of Windows rolls out this year or next. 64-bit frees the bottleneck that memory operates under. When the standards for 32-bit computing were originally set, four gigs of RAM was thought gynormous, back when Bill Gates’ apocryphal "640K is more memory than anyone will ever need" quote was making the rounds in the early 1980s. And the ability to double or triple that four gig memory maximum will allow for many more tracks and software synthesizers than are currently possible in 32-bit mode.

Sonar 8 probably wouldn’t be the best beginner’s program; best start with their home edition, or another software manufacturer's program with less features, but a more easily mastered GUI. But for everyone else, this is certainly a full featured recording program for the Windows platform.

So is it time to upgrade? If you’re several versions of Sonar back, then it certainly couldn’t hurt. Is it time to switch over if you’re a Windows user who’s been using another DAW? Well, there is a lot of bang for the buck here, particularly for those who make their music with soft synths. And those who produce alternative media such as podcasts and audio for videocasts will have a remarkably flexible platform as well.

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