Cakewalk Sonar 7 Producer Edition review
Music producers defend their choice of recording software with the kind of passion normally reserved for religion and football, and Sonar users have had the biggest arsenal of convincing arguments for a while now. The Producer Edition is packed with features, catering for musicians in every genre from electronica to folk to film scoring. But this has two consequences: one is that the sheer quantity of features makes Sonar extremely good value. The other is that it’s far from the most streamlined music-production software currently available.
For the third time in as many years, this latest update raises the bar with its plug-in quality. These include a linear-phase EQ effect with a transparent tone and surgical precision to complement the retro appeal of the Vintage Channel EQ. There’s a new multiband compressor and brick wall limiter, too, and together these three effects are perfect for mastering. Commercial releases would benefit from superior plug-ins such as those from Waves or TC Electronic, but these new additions are a huge asset for anyone producing sound for the web.
The virtual instrument plug-in folder sees a healthy dose of new arrivals, too. Z3TA+ is a complex looking and sounding synthesizer with a graphical Shaper window for bending waveforms into curious shapes. It’s just a shame that the Shaper controls can’t be modulated for evolving textures. Even so, its scope for squelchy basses and trance bleeps is vast. Dimension LE is a sample-based instrument that covers more conservative territory. There’s a mix of abstract sounds and acoustic emulations including a competent orchestral set, but an acoustic piano is absent. Rapture LE specialises in boisterous synth sounds and, although it lacks the warmth of the best analogue synthesis emulations, it has the authority to cut through a mix. Along with the acoustic drum emulation, analogue-style synthesis and a spate of other instruments already included with Sonar, the virtual instrument library far exceeds those of the competition.
The V-Vocal vocal processor, added in version 5, is still our favourite feature. It handles automatic pitch correction in the style of Antares Auto-Tune, but can go much further, allowing the user to redesign the pitch, timing and volume of vocal performances. This latest update adds pitch-to-MIDI conversion, with a simple drag-and-drop function to turn the detected pitch of a vocal recording into MIDI data to trigger a virtual instrument. Tracking accuracy is high, and it’s even possible to convert subtle nuances of pitch into MIDI pitch bend data. However, the results tend to be a little chaotic, and a fair amount of editing will be necessary if a precise interpretation is required.
The list of other new features is extensive, with many simple improvements that deliver significant benefits. It’s now possible to side-chain compression and gate effects, so the volume of one channel reduces or boosts the volume of another – great for synths that blink in time with hi-hats, or incidental music that ducks in volume during a voice-over. This feature benefits greatly from Sonar’s flexible mix architecture, which allows any signal to be routed anywhere. Audio and MIDI recordings also now have an embedded time stamp, making it easy to reposition recordings that have been moved accidentally. Format support is expanded, CD ripping and burning is now built in and the piano roll MIDI editor has a raft of subtle improvements.
There’s certainly enough in this update to convince existing Sonar users to upgrade, and there are upgrade deals for those with home-orientated Cakewalk products and versions of Cubase, Logic or Pro Tools, too. It would take a lot for musicians to switch their allegiance from a rival package, though.