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Software Review: SONAR 8.5 Producer From Cakewalk

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SONAR 8.5 is the latest version of the Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software from Cakewalk, Inc. It is a professional tool for authoring sound and music on personal computers. It is designed for musicians, composers, arrangers, audio and production engineers, multimedia and game developers, as well as recording engineers.

SONAR supports Wave, MP3, ACIDized waves, WMA, AIFF and other popular formats, providing all the tools you need to do professional quality work rapidly and efficiently. Along with being an integrated MIDI and digital audio authoring software package, it is also an expandable platform that can become the central hub of your recording studio.

What do you need to run SONAR 8.5?

• Windows XP SP3 (32-bit), Vista SP2 (32 and 64 bit), Windows 7 (32 and 64 bit)
• Intel Pentium 4 2.8 GH or higher. AMD Athlon XP 2800+ or higher
• 1 GB RAM (4 GB Recommended)
• 1024 x 768 with 16-bit color (1280 x 960, 24-bit color or higher)
• 200 MB for core program (50 GB for full program and content)
• Windows compatible MIDI Interface
• Windows compatible Audio Interface
• Media Drive's include DVD-ROM, DVD+/-R, or DVD+/- RW Drive (Dual Layer-capable drive required for installation of SONAR 8 Producer content)

SONAR 8.5SONAR is the flagship product of the Cakewalk line of integrated MIDI and digital audio sequencers for the Windows platform. It has a very complete feature set that allows you to compose and explore musical composition. You can edit music using musical notion and guitar tablature. You can graphically draw tempo and volume changes as well as add lyrics to display on screen or to include with printed scores.

So what is new with SONAR 8.5 Producer?

• Session Drummer 3.0 now has an all new look, having a sleek photorealistic 3D drum kit, along with routing improvements. There are 12 new kits as well as over 700 new patterns for additional high quality drums sounds. You can mix and match kit components as all kit pieces are broken down into individual components, giving you much more flexibility in creating your drum sounds. This version comes with over 200 different drum sounds spanning more than 20 kits.

SONAR 8.5• PX-64 Percussion Strip is a seven-stage processor designed for shaping drum and percussion sounds. Just like with the VX-64 Vocal Strip, the PX-64 Percussion Strip employs Cakewalk’s tube saturation algorithms with unique filtering and auto-leveling circuitry technologies. The PX-64 Percussion Strip includes 70 go-to presets along with click and drag reordering of processing stage routing, making it fast and easy to enhance any drum or percussion track in seconds. It also combines transient shaping, compression, expansion, equalization, delay, and tube saturation in one convenient plug-in.

• VX-64 Vocal Strip is a seven-stage processor designed for sculpting incredible sounding vocal tracks. The stages have been fine-tuned to be vocal-specific. This takes the work out of loading an entire chain of vocal processors. It also employs a new de-essing algorithm that is designed with Cakewalk's LP-64 linear phase effect filtering technology to remove sibilance without creating any frequency smearing. It also includes 64 go-to presets and click drag drag reordering of processing stage routing, making it fast and easy to get high quality vocals in seconds.

• Matrix View comes with simple and flexible cell-based, non-linear audio and MIDI arranging and triggering. The Matrix offers new ways to experiment with arrangements or create remixes of existing songs, or quickly lay down beds of tracks for new songs in any genre. It is also a perfect tool for beat-juggling and triggering one-shots and backing tracks live. You can just drag-and-drop any type of audio or MIDI clip/file/pattern from the Track view, the Media Browser, or desktop into an empty cell, then click individual cells or columns of cells to turn on and off playback.

• AudioSnap 2.0 provides a new look and refinements to its core controls, significantly improving workflow. The latest features include a simplified UI, a dedicated transient tool, a proportional stretching mode, and a multi-track audio stretch and quantization that maintain accurate phase relationships. Proportional stretching can be used both to correct unwanted timing fluctuations and provide gradual timing adjustments across several transients.

SONAR 8.5• Step Sequencer 2.0 has increased depth of control over your sequences. Step Sequencer 2.0 was built with 3 goals in mind: to simplify the interface for an elegant and musical workflow, to design a set of useful and powerful per-lane controls, and to provide finer control over per-step adjustments.

• Arpeggiator allows you to turn even the simplest chord progression into new sound textures. The SONAR Arpeggiator is a tool for adding variety to any instrument or MIDI track that repeats a number of times in a song. It can be used for creating complimentary parts using other instrument sounds that follow your chord progression. It includes hundreds of presets, patterns, and classic algorithms, and provides not only powerful controls over the rate, octave range, latch, swing, flam, velocity, duration, and pitch offset of the arpeggiation, but also control over mix, channel input, and shape.

• Roland V-Vocal lets you achieve exceptional vocal tracks and is integrated right inside SONAR. It includes pitch correction, phrasing, dynamics, vibrato, and Pitch to MIDI conversion. It has a unique technology that allows you to control the tempo and pitch of audio phrases in real time with virtually no degradation of sound quality.

• Media Browser is now SONAR’s hub for content. Audio Groove Clips, Step Sequencer Patterns, REX Loops and Project5 MIDI PTN files can all be previewed in Media Browser and easily dragged into any track. Video files can be viewed in Media Browser and easily dragged into a Video Thumbnail Track. It ships with out-of-the-box presets that point directly to Beatscape REX Loops, Session Drummer 3 MIDI Drum Loops, Step Sequencer Patterns, RXP REX Loops, PTN MIDI Patterns, and MIDI Groove Clips.

SONAR 8.5

• Windows 7 Ready right out of the box. Cakewalk has been testing SONAR from early Windows 7 betas right through to the latest release candidates, and we are pleased to recommended Windows 7 as a platform for SONAR 8.5.

Keep in mind that SONAR 8.5 is an incredibly complete and complex software package that is aimed at the professional as well as the sophisticated enthusiast who wants a product that is powerful, flexible, and very configurable. To do this product justice you will need to have the technical knowledge that goes into mastering, mixing, looping, and sequencing audio.

There are a lot of new features. The ones that I really like include the new Session Drummer 3 and the new kits it has as well as the dedicated mixer page. Next there is the Arpeggiator that gives the ability to add variety to your instrumentation as well as the fact that you can add one on every track. In prior versions the Step Sequencer was tied to drum maps, but now every instrument in SONAR has a step sequencer as well as any MIDI output and you also have greater control over each step.

While the original AudioSnap provided a lot of power, AudioSnap 2.0 has been reworked and now provides a much more improved workflow with the dedicated Transient Tool that makes it easier to grab transients in your audio, and they can be integrated with the new Step Sequencer.

The Matrix View, a performance environment for audio and MIDI loops, gives you a new way to improvise arrangements. The eleven new effects are a nice addition as is the Media Browser to help you organize your stuff. I could go on and on.

The only downside is the fact that if you choose to go to 64-bit, you will lose some functionality. This is because Cakewalk is dependent on other manufacturers that are not as quick with porting their products.

SONAR 8.5

With SONAR 8, it was all about the optimization of the features that were there, with SONAR 8.5, is all about the goodies. These will not only improve your production, but will get your creative juices going. If you truly want the ultimate in DAW software, then you need SONAR 8.5.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.
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