Cakewalk SONAR 8 Producer Review

Apr 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Tony Nunes



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SONAR 8 Producer features many exclusive upgrades, including the TruePianos instrument and Transient Shaper processor.

SONAR 8 Producer features many exclusive upgrades, including the TruePianos instrument and Transient Shaper processor.

At the October 2008 AES show, Cakewalk kept to its habit of annual upgrades by releasing SONAR 8 Producer. Past releases have introduced advanced features such as ACT (Active Controller Technology), 64-bit DAW processing, a bevy of high-quality plug-ins, full surround support, excellent virtual instruments, internal dynamic sidechaining and external gear delay compensation. Version 8 includes all of those features, plus new plug-ins and virtual instruments — such as TruePianos and a Transient Shaper — along with workflow enhancements, optimization of the SONAR audio engine, and more efficient use of drivers focused on performance and stability.

Move Over, I'll Drive

I installed SONAR 8 on an up-to-date 32-bit Windows Vista system that includes Service Pack 1. This PC is powered by a 3GHz Intel Core Extreme Q6850 CPU and has 4 GB of RAM. With SONAR Version 7, Mac users finally could plunge into SONAR via Boot Camp (an application for running the Windows OS on an Intel-based Mac). Version 7 ran smoothly on my Mac, so I installed SONAR 8 on that machine, as well. I set up a Windows XP partition on an Intel 2.66GHz dual-core Mac running OS X 10.4.9. After the installations, I visited Cakewalk's Website and updated both systems to the latest 8.0.2 patches.

To get audio in and out of the Mac, I used a Lynx AES16e card connected to a Mytek 8×192 AD/DA via AES/EBU connections, with an M-Audio Keystation 49e MIDI controller/keyboard. I connected the Windows Vista machine to an ASIO-driven MOTU 828mkII FireWire interface for audio I/O duties. New to SONAR 8 is the support for WASAPI (Windows Audio Session API) drivers. This new standard for Windows Vista provides better compatibility with consumer audio devices that have no ASIO drivers. Also, SONAR no longer requires the annoying multiple application restarts when changing various driver settings — a welcome fix. When I first launched Version 8, I was pleased to see the same GUI as Version 7 — yet beneath the application's familiar surface are ample new features.

Creative Tools

Previously, using SONAR's soft synths and virtual instruments required incorporating a MIDI track and an audio track for each instrument. In SONAR 8, an Instrument Track provides both MIDI and audio in a convenient track strip. Although I couldn't create an instrument track from the “Insert New Track” button, it did happen from the Insert pull-down menu.

The first instrument I launched was TruePianos' Amber Module, a slimmed-down version of 4Front Technologies' TruePianos VSTi. At my session's 96kHz sample rate, TruePianos' modeling sounded and felt excellent. Characteristics like sympathetic resonance, inter-string harmonics and even re-pedaling are all present.

SONAR 8 now offers the full (non-LE) version of the Dimension Pro sample-playback/synthesis engine and 8 GB of basses, strings, guitars, electronic sounds, and the Hollywood Edge FX library. Dimension Pro is also expandable via expansion packs or user PCM WAV samples. Lastly, for loop/beat enthusiasts, another new instrument on the roster is Beatscape. Resembling an Akai MPC, Beatscape includes 16 pads, 4 GB of content and REX file support. You can trigger Beatscape via the GUI or a MIDI controller.

Plug Away

Channel Tools is a plug-in designed to control the spatial relationship of a stereo track, offering channel processing for gain, mid/side decoding, and delay and polarity inversion. Channel Tools also includes independent L/R panning controls, width control and delay control between left and right channels, a good fit for time aligning a mic and DI source.

The new TS-64 Transient Shaper plug differs from a conventional compressor by working on the attack of an envelope independent of the decay/sustain. The presets on the TS-64 are great place to start, but don't stop there. On a kick track, I experimented with the Weight Timbre and Decay functions and easily turned a big round kick drum into a punchy, click-y sounding metal kick.

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