Cakewalk SONAR X1 Producer Edition Review

Mar 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Tony Nunes



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The ProChannel features a compressor, 4-band EQ and Tube Saturation controls.

The ProChannel features a compressor, 4-band EQ and Tube Saturation controls.

SONAR has always included an impressive roster of plug-ins right out of the box. My past favorites have included Perfect Space Convolution reverb, VC-64 Vintage Channel and the TS-64 Transient Shaper. In this upgrade, SONAR X1 is packing a Producer Edition exclusive called ProChannel. Built into every channel, ProChannel includes EQ, compression and tube saturation with no need to launch separate plug-ins. All three processors can be individually bypassed and configured in any routing order. The compressor section offers the PC76 U-Type and the PC4K S-Type, designed in the spirit of the legendary UA 1176 limiter and SSL bus compressor.

The PC76 has the same controls as an 1176, including the all-buttons-down Nuke mode. During a 24-bit/48kHz session, I used the PC76 on a rock snare at a 4:1 ratio with 4 dB of gain reduction and a fast release, giving me the aggressive sound I was expecting, tucking the snare nicely in the track.

The PC4K S-Type bus compressor has parameters reminiscent of the real deal, including a program-dependent release time to prevent pumping. In addition, there’s a sidechain input with a variable highpass filter. The PC4K is more useful across a bus or on the master, which is what I’m most familiar with and how I used it. My parameters started with a 2:1 ratio, attack of 10 ms, release set to Auto and 4 dB of gain reduction. The PC4K had a similar, tight midrange characteristic and served well as a cohesive bus compressor, but when compared to the real thing, it lacked the low-end punch of the SSL. A welcome feature to both compressors is a wet-to-dry blend allowing for a parallel compression effect without extra routing.

The ProChannel EQ offers three styles: Pure (clean, transparent mastering EQ), Vintage and Modern—all the result of different interactions between Q and gain settings, with six bands: low, low-mid, high-mid and high parametric, and high/lowpass filters. The low and high bands are switchable between shelving and bell curves, while the high/lowpass filters include variable slope. A Gloss button adds a smooth presence to the high frequencies, and I enjoyed it over the whole mix. It sounds like a high-shelving filter around the 12kHz region without any harshness.

There’s also a Tube Saturation module that includes input, drive, output, and Type-1 or -2 saturation modes. Type-1 models pure tube saturation and Type-2 emulates a dual-tube setup with controlled high-frequency processing to avoid sibilant harshness. On a snare track with the PC76, Type-2 saturation gave the snare a character reminiscent of a Distressor, enhancing second and third-order harmonics. This also proved valuable on a bass guitar DI track that was a bit too sterile in the mix. Depending on the Drive control, the results can be a subtle harmonic distortion to all-out clipping.

I found ProChannel to be glitchy on sessions at either 88.2 or 96 kHz. One session had four audio tracks and SONAR’s Session Drummer2, while the other session had 12 audio tracks. When first activated, things seemed fine, but once I changed any of the parameters, I experienced popping and erratic performance, usually leading to a complete crash. Sessions at 44.1 or 48 kHz worked flawlessly, and I’m sure Cakewalk will address the issue in a future update.

SONAR X1 is a solid, well-designed upgrade: I’m a big fan of the new GUI and Skylight. It’s elegant, easier on the eyes and filled with workflow features. Skyline is so well-laid-out that I rarely needed to do the window-switching shuffle, and things are even better with the MultiDock placed on a second monitor. Screensets and the Control Bar continue the custom theme with the ability to satisfy anyone’s personal needs. The new Browser plays a big role in the success of Skylight, with complete drag-and-drop capabilities of content into the workspace. The Smart tool was a much-needed addition for ease of editing waveforms in Track view and MIDI data in the Piano Roll view.

In addition to the arsenal of stock plug-ins and instruments already included in SONAR X1, the new ProChannel sounds very good, but it did show some erratic performance. However, Cakewalk reports that its soon-to-be-released X1B update addresses the problems I experienced with docking and higher sample rates. That said, I found the PC76 to be a very authentic model with an aggressive FET attack and presence. The EQ is very usable, and the Gloss function added a nice top-end sheen to program material. The Tube Saturation not only harmonically warmed up tracks, but could also be used in a very trashy, yet creative way.

If you’re familiar with SONAR, X1’s new GUI and Skylight workflow advancements alone will spoil you and are worth the upgrade. For first-timers, consider SONAR X1 Producer Edition a complete Windows DAW that will handle any audio task you throw at it.

Tony Nunes is a Phoenix-based audio engineer and educator.

Click on the Product Summary box above to view the SONAR X1 Producer Edition product page.

Click on the Product Summary box above to view the SONAR X1 Producer Edition product page.

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