Cakewalk Project5

Jul 1, 2003 12:00 PM, BY JOHN MCJUNKIN

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Project5 is the new synth/sampler/drum machine-in-a-virtual-rack application from Cakewalk. This is not a new idea, but Project5 is different from many of its predecessors and more sophisticated in a number of ways. The key distinction is its ability to handle DXi and VST synthesizers and signal processing, plus ReWire support. While there are a number of nice VST and DX hosts available, it's helpful to have everything integrated into a tidy package.

UNDER THE HOOD


Project5 features the P-SEQ sequencer. Though it's not a super-deep world-class sequencer, it definitely does the trick. The maximum resolution is a 128th-note triplet, which should be sufficient for most electronic music, the primary intention of this product. Inputs can come in the form of pre-existing patterns (from the Pattern Bin) or from an external MIDI controller. MIDI input can be live and in real time; step sequencing is available, as well. P-SEQ can be used to create patterns that are then “sent” to the Tracker, the main area where the song's layout is displayed. The Tracker shows two “panes”: Track and Arrangement. The Track pane displays a list of the various instruments used in the song and information about them. The Arrangement pane is where the patterns that form the song are edited and arranged. P-SEQ also enables automation of quite a number of parameters.

SYN.OPS — “synthesizer operations” — is a window that enables the instrument output to be sent to any of four auxiliaries. It's also where the various parameters of the instruments are controlled. There is also an analog-style step sequencer known as “Synchron 32” that is used as a MIDI plug-in. Once a pattern is entered into Synchron 32, it can be triggered by events in Tracker; synchronization is automatically maintained.

The Cyclone DXi is essentially a loop player. It can accept ACIDized or .WAV files, and behaves similarly to Propellerhead's ReCycle. Loops can be broken into constituent “slices,” and each slice can be altered individually in terms of level, pan and pitch.

The DS864 Sampler yields a lot of power. All of the typical sampler features are there, including key mapping and diverse velocity zones for rich piano patches or realistic percussion. Looping is supported, and volume offsets, tuning and panning are adjustable, as well. There are some basic effects available — like wave reversal, phase inversion and bit decimation — to emulate vintage low-resolution samplers. Separate envelope generators are provided for each of the two filters: pitch and amplitude. Lowpass, highpass, bandpass and notch filters are available in filter 1, while filter 2 is a lowpass; both filters are resonant. There are also three LFOs with five different waveforms that can be routed to many parameters. Another nice touch is the Portamento sample that handles quite a number of formats, including .WAV and .AIFF, .AKP (Akai), .KRZ (Kurzweil), .SF2 and DS864's proprietary format, .DP8.

According to Cakewalk's manual, the nPULSE Modular Drum Synth is “reminiscent of Roland's TR808.” Indeed, this virtual drum machine offers 12 voices, each of which is essentially a subtractive synthesizer. The module can be key-mapped for easy MIDI play, and offers ring and frequency modulation between certain voices. These voices go beyond just oscillator/filter/envelope. The kicks and toms have a Drive parameter that imparts some color to the sound. Each voice can be routed to any of five distinct outputs.

Project5 also provides the PSYN Virtual Analog Synthesizer. This is a very respectable, 64-voice polyphonic synth featuring four oscillators. Each can deliver sine, triangle, pulse, up saw, down saw, noise or virtually any combination thereof. There is also a suboscillator that renders a sine wave an octave below the main oscillator. Ring modulation and FM synthesis are available, as well. There are two filters: The first is a 2-pole that can be configured as lowpass, highpass, bandpass and notch; the second is a 4-pole lowpass that is intended, according to the manual, to emulate the “traditional Moog filter of the 1960s.” Both filters are resonant. It's nice that the filters can be inserted in series or parallel, because it adds a lot of flexibility. There are five envelope generators with attack, decay, sustain, slope and release. As with the DS864 Sampler, there is also a Delay parameter that Cakewalk claims is a sixth stage of the envelope, but it simply delays the onset of the attack and gives no control over the envelope's dynamics. On the other hand, it's quite nice to be able to delay the onset of an envelope that controls a filter or VCA, or delay the onset of another voice when the patch uses layered oscillators. There are three LFOs available, essentially with the same features as those in the DS864 Sampler.

If nPULSE's electro drums are not working for your acoustical project, then Velocity Drum Sampler is available. This is similar to Native Instrument's Battery (although not as deep) or LM-4 from Steinberg. (Incidentally, Project5 supports LM-4 samples.) You have a bank of 18 samples set up for triggering via MIDI. To emulate vintage samplers, each sample can be changed in terms of pitch, reversing, start or end offset, looping and bit decimation. There are envelope generators for amplitude and pitch and a resonant lowpass filter. There is also a “choke group” that stops sample playback when any other sample in the group is played.

IN ACTION


I opened up a few of the included sample sequences to get a feel for the operation of Project5 and found the interface reasonably accommodating. This is not the only “rack-full-of-virtual-modules”-type application that suffers from the difficulty of having a lot of features to squeeze onto the screen simultaneously. Still, I was able to navigate freely through the features. Most of the interface is self-explanatory, with the typical Save, Open and Browse icons that do exactly what you think they do. I was able to play sequences both via MIDI controller and also by literally dragging notes into the pattern sequencer. Loops and other chunks of audio are loaded from and saved to disk via menu dialog, and I was able to create automation of much more than level and panning very easily in the P-SEQ, as well. The interface is visually appealing, but the signal processors in the mix panel lack the photo-realistic sheen of other such products. The knobs are easily “grabbed and turned,” even with my rotten little track pad!

CONCLUSION


Project5 is a robust environment for the creation of electronic music. Among its higher points are the ReWire support, analog synthesizer and the ability to use VST and DXi plug-ins. Once again, while there are plenty of VST/DXi hosts to choose from, it's nice to have all of the sequencing, mixing and automation capabilities integrated together. The idea behind Project5 is not new, but this is a unique and useful application.

Cakewalk, 888/225-3925, www.cakewalk.com.


John McJunkin is the principal of Avalon Audio Services in Phoenix.


Project5 offers instruments and effects, pattern-based sequencers and processors, ACID(tm)-compatible audio looping tools, real-time, live-performance features and more.


The PSEQ module


The PSYN virtual analog synth


The DS864 sampler

Want to try Project5? Download a trial here.

Learn more about Project5 in this interactive demo.






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