Cakewalk Sonar X1 Producer review

£317
Price when reviewed

Some software is so mature and refined that it’s difficult for developers to convince its users to upgrade. Not so for music-production software, though. Recording musicians and engineers seem to have an insatiable desire for high-tech tools that push their productions into new territory.

Cakewalk Sonar has often risen to this challenge, but as the features mounted, so too have the number of buttons, menus and right-click commands. The result is that Sonar had a steeper learning curve than its rivals.

Sonar X1 aims to address this with a new interface, dubbed Skylight. Its tabbed panels make more efficient use of the screen than the floating windows of old, and much of the onscreen clutter has been reworked into a more approachable Control Bar. The transport controls and tools palette appear here too, and a new Smart Tool uses context-sensitive commands to reduce the amount of tool switching required. We like the Command Bar’s use of big buttons, but it’s a shame it doesn’t fit on a Full HD screen; we had to hide some modules to see what had fallen off its right edge.

Cakewalk Sonar X1 Producer

The revised Browser window is docked on the right and gives access to media, along with plugins that are available or in use. We appreciate the ability to jump directly to the various bundled media libraries, and also to audition REX loops at the project tempo – although this audition feature was initially routed no go nowhere, resulting in silence. Drag and drop is more comprehensive, but it still can’t match the intelligence of Ableton Live for anticipating users’ intentions.

A MultiDock window at the bottom houses the mixer and the various audio and MIDI editors. It certainly makes Sonar look tidier than before, but it’s a shame these haven’t been optimised to fit into a narrow strip along the bottom of the screen. At least it’s quick to switch to a more spacious MultiDock window using the Screensets feature, or to undock any of the panels and arrange them over multiple monitors.

The Inspector panel on the left reveals not just the selected track’s mixer channel but also the bus channels it’s routed to. It also houses another impressive new feature in Sonar X1: the ProChannel. This is essentially just a combination of compression, EQ and tube saturation effects, but the quality of each one is a step up from the effects bundled with competing packages.

Details

Software subcategory Audio production software

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