An Old DAW Can Learn New Tricks

Way back in the last century, until SONAR’s introduction, PC musicians would’ve built their loops using a software tool and then imported into a DAW like Cakewalk’s Pro Audio, where they’d handle the audio recording, editing, MIDI work and mixing.
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Cakewalk SONAR X1

Way back in the last century, until SONAR’s introduction, PC musicians would’ve built their loops using a software tool and then imported into a DAW like Cakewalk’s Pro Audio, where they’d handle the audio recording, editing, MIDI work and mixing. SONAR brought looping tools, MIDI and audio into one environment, and so started the trajectory on becoming a storied, very powerful and flexible production environment. That said, SONAR as a DAW has been around for a lifetime by the standards of our industry, and Cakewalk as a company, from its Twelve Tone Systems beginnings, will soon be hitting the quarter-century mark.

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In Darwinian terms, “evolve or die,” is what products and companies do. In recent years, we have seen many new companies and products emerge, offering a new look or music creation experience. SONAR, too, has introduced new paths to creativity, yet for some users, the excitement of the new creative innovations seem to have been absorbed or lost in what had become a dated interface, rife with too my menus, dialogs and paths. It seems “bloat” is an unfortunate outcome afflicting all storied DAWs once they surpass the half-decade mark.

Attracting and empowering new users is arguably as important as responding to current user needs. When you realize that some of those users have been using a DAW for less than a year, and others for 10 years or more, you quickly realize that there’s sometimes a gulf between what a new user and what an existing user might actually want or need. The intersection for all users is how you interact with the DAW. That is where SONAR X1’s mantra of modern design + intelligent layout + refined workflow, really does add up to focus on your music, which seems to please everybody.

We have taken all of the integral pieces of SONAR and wrapped them in a modern and thoughtfully designed user interface replete with streamlined look; dockable, floatable and collapsible views; customizable window configurations; easy-to-access media/content assets; and simplified context- driven control over all vital features.

Skylight is the name of SONAR X1’s new interface and brings together a traditional Track View; modular control bar, Inspector; all-encompassing browser with drag any plug-in- or media-to-track capability; Console View; and a powerful MultiDock, which is container of sorts for any View window, plug-in or processor. Skylight provides an intelligent interface that moves beyond contemporary, singlewindow design and layout clutter. Any view can dock anywhere top, bottom, left or right, collapsed, or be contained within the MultiDock where it can moved anywhere, even to a second monitor. Simple shortcut keys hide and reveal little or all information in an instant—a very deft feature, especially when working with the limited screen real estate. Tools have been completely revamped as well, with most functions now performed with a single implement that switches automatically based on context. Finally, besides practical shortcut key assignments like “Q” for quantize and “B” for browser, Screensets can record your every move in its last state, saved per project, and can also be imported from another project.

Essentially, SONAR’s evolutionally step forward is all about a thoughtful interface redesign done right, and to that, I applaud the hard work of many designers, developers and product managers. And for the one additional feature that gets the standing “O”—the ProChannel.

ProChannel expands SONAR’s already impressive console with two great-sounding compressors: the PC76 U-Type and the PC4K S-Type. No need to expand on the inspiration behind these comps with this crowd (PSN readers). The PC76 has an all buttons-in “nuke” mode, and both comps include a wet-to-dry blend control mod allowing for a parallel compression effect without extra routing. The ProChannel EQ is silky-smooth, offering Pure (transparent), Vintage and Modern (colored) modes utilizing the latest DSP techniques emphasizing the subtleties of the interactions between Q and gain settings, well-designed vari-slope filters and a Gloss button for adding smooth presence to the upper end. A tube-saturation stage adds subtle to fiery hot color to the program material, and the flexibility of user-definable routing (simply ordering the icons determines the processing chain) tops it off.

It’s interesting to now look back on SONAR’s sound and think of legacy, realizing that five years have passed since my last bylined article on the subject appeared in PSN. Back then, I wrote of SONAR’s 64- bit reality and why it mattered. History has noted how Cakewalk stood alone then, and since, we have seen others follow and subsequently fall in with the 64-bit sound and processing story.

Well, I am happy to report that Cakewalk has not lost its edge when it comes to being forward-looking in that respect. We have been working closely with platform engineers for years, and whether it is multicore performance gains or optimizations for DSP and mixing that target the capabilities of a specific processor chipset, SONAR has always maintained the cutting edge on the Intel and AMD platforms. Perhaps it was a bold move in 2005 for SONAR to be the first DAW to offer an end-to-end, 64-bit signal path and a 64-bit, double-precision- floating-point mix engine. Today, that legacy continues with SONAR X1’s support of Intel Advanced Vector Extensions and full optimization for the new second-generation Intel Core processors.

Innovation gave us analog tape machines, and now innovation gives us excellent emulation of the special sound signature tape machines produce without all the hassle or cost associated with a large-format console. In kind, a decade on, SONAR is providing a modern environment with all the synths, sounds, track counts and processing you will ever need to follow your creative muse—all with pristine audio quality.

Steve Thomas is Cakewalk’s director of public relations and a music producer who still has a closet full of ferric oxide/ mylar audio containers and is not afraid to admit it.