Cakewalk Sonar 8 Producer review

Price when reviewed

Of all major digital audio workstations (DAW) software, Sonar Producer Edition offers the biggest and most diverse set of features. Audiosnap and V-Vocal deliver audio editing with a dexterity that’s simply impossible in most other equivalent software.

These features, along with others such as sophisticated loop-manipulation tools and a supremely flexible mix architecture, mean that Sonar straddles electronic and acoustic production techniques better than anything else. It also comes with the best plug-in bundle on the market.

The Producer Edition is a big application, consuming 15GB of hard disk space. The bulk of this is down to the new virtual instruments. Dimension Pro is an extremely capable general-purpose synth. Its 8.8GB of samples covers a bewildering array of sounds from harpsichords to vinyl scratches.

Sound quality is uniformly excellent, and there’s considerable scope to customise presets with various synthesis parameters. It’s already available separately as a VST plug-in for £140, so to find it as one of many features in a £96 exc VAT upgrade is fantastic.

Next up is Beatscape, which Cakewalk describes as a loop performance instrument. It’s laid out as a 4×4 grid of pads that’s reminiscent of Akai’s MPC drum samplers.

Each pad holds a loop, which is triggered in time with the project tempo and can be subjected to various mutations and effects. A 4.2GB loops library is supplied, arranged into 360 folders that comprise a main loop along with each of its components in isolation.

We were a little nonplussed by this library, though. Most of the full loops are simply too busy. Sparser arrangements are possible by mixing and matching elements from different loops, but the interface doesn’t lend itself to intricate sequencing of individual drum hits.

Overall, Beatscape is a poor substitute for Spectrasonics Stylus Xpanded in both its interface and sonic palette. Then again, Stylus Xpanded costs £220 so the comparison isn’t entirely fair.

The third new virtual instrument is TruePianos Amber. It has a modest collection of samples – the entire plug-in is just 120MB – but uses physical modelling to recreate the complex tone of a grand piano. It sounds rich and full-bodied, although the upfront tone resembles what you would hear by sticking your head inside a piano, and will be too abrasive for gentler forms of music.

We also found that the sustain part of notes (presumably the physically modelled element) weren’t quite as satisfying as the initial transients. Even so, it’s a valuable addition to the bundled plug-ins, and its bright tone is balanced by a mellower grand piano among Dimension Pro’s presets.

These three additions reinforce the Producer Edition’s standing as the best DAW for virtual instruments. As such, we’re delighted to see that Sonar’s handling of virtual instruments has been tidied up via the introduction of instrument tracks. These pool all the MIDI and audio required to drive a virtual instrument in one place.

Unlike a similar feature in Cubase, they don’t prohibit access to multiple audio outputs from instruments that support this feature. However, they’re not compatible with MIDI plug-ins. To use a MIDI arpeggiator, for instance, you’ll need to revert to using separate MIDI and audio tracks.

The effects bundle also has three new additions. The TS 64 Transient Shaper alters the attack and decay of percussive sounds in a similar vein to the ubiquitous compressor effect, but via a different approach. This type of effect is particularly useful for sharpening the attack of woolly drum recordings, a task that TS 64 handled superbly.


Software subcategory Audio production software

Operating system support

Operating system Windows Vista supported? yes
Operating system Windows XP supported? yes

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