Cakewalk SONAR 8 Producer Review

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



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The TS-64 was versatile on snare, easily going from smooth with sustain to an in-your-face 1176 “all buttons in” mode. I enjoyed combining the Transient Shaper with the TL-64 Tube Leveler. The latter plug-in models analog vacuum tube circuits; its parameters include Drive (tube saturation), Dynamic Response (which frequency range the tube affects) and (tube) Clipping. Pushing the Drive and Clipping controls hard on snare and toms gave them a great presence in the mix. It also provided some needed character on a sterile bass DI, so it blended better within the mix. SONAR 8's Producer adds an LE version of Native Instruments' Guitar Rig 3. This highly respected amp modeler includes three amps and cabinets, 11 effects, tuner, metronome and more than 50 presets.

Attention to Detail

Workflow improvements in SONAR 8 include a new Loop Explorer 2.0 view, which offers easy browsing of SONAR's content-rich audio and MIDI groove clips and patterns. Another new feature I fell for is Transport Audition, which allows playback of only selected clips or time regions via a simple click on the Audition button (or Shift + spacebar) — a priceless timesaver. Also nice is Exclusive Solo, for soloing only one track, track folder or bus at a time. The ability to audition individual tracks without having to un-solo the others is a quick and handy feature.

Transport updates include a Pause button, Rewind and Fast Forward buttons and the ability to arm/disarm tracks during playback and recording. The new Aim Assist Line assists editing within the Clips pane and provides a vertical line (with a custom color) displaying the mouse's horizontal position, while the actual time is shown in the time ruler.

SONAR 8 can now assign audio tracks and buses to individual mono hardware outputs in addition to stereo outs. However, this function didn't perform to my expectations. As with previous versions of SONAR, the ASIO I/O assignments of my MOTU interface showed up in pairs (e.g., Left MOTU Audio ASIO Analog 1-2, Right MOTU Audio ASIO Analog 1-2, Stereo MOTU Audio ASIO Analog 1-2). This is a poor and frustrating way of changing outputs; after a few tracks you lose track of your assignments. To find out whether this was proprietary to the Windows/MOTU machine, I checked my Mac running the Lynx/Mytek setup and experienced the same confusion. Under the Audio/Options/Drivers tab, you can use “friendly names,” but you still can't name individual mono tracks, which should be an easy fix. According to Cakewalk, they will address this in the near future.

In the End

SONAR's focus on both the artist and the engineer is evident with new features like Instrument Tracks, allowing quick implementation of instruments like the fantastic-sounding TruePianos Amber Module, Beatscape and Dimension Pro's 8 GB of content. The Loop Explorer 2.0 helps keep content organized and allows easy auditioning of loops and patterns. The TS-64 Transient Shaper and TL-64 Tube Leveler plug-ins were very expressive plug-ins — especially on kick and snare — and a great complement to loops in Beatscape, adding punch or experimental manipulation. Guitar and bass players using DI units will enjoy the LE version of Guitar Rig 3.

Some of the new workflow features may spoil you. The Transport Audition and Exclusive Solo features expedite auditioning and editing a selection without the usual solo/un-solo dance, leaving you wondering how you ever went without it. The modest Aim Assist Line and the updated transport along with the ability to arm/disarm tracks during playback are also keepers. The nonintuitive I/O assignment was a downside, but I hope that Cakewalk will address this in the future. That aside, Cakewalk's advertised performance optimization with low latencies and improved ASIO performance was evident, and SONAR 8 ran solidly on both Vista and Intel Mac.

SONAR 8 feels different from and decidedly more refined than earlier versions. The controls in Track and Console view were snappy and more confident while zooming/scrolling was quicker and smoother. This was my first SONAR review during which the system didn't crash once under rigorous testing. Cakewalk's focus on performance, stability and workflow enhancements pays off, making SONAR 8 my favorite release yet.

Tony Nunes is a consultant and engineer, and builds a lot of his own gear.

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