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electronic MUSICIAN

Cakewalk Project5 Version 2

By Sam Wheeler | March 30, 2006

Cakewalk’s original release of Project5 provided a decent array of virtual instruments, but as sequencers go, it wasn’t impressive and was even a bit frustrating. Increased functionality and an improved user interface make Project5 v2 a full-fledged DAW. The primary improvement is in recording, as Version 2 can now record and play back audio sources, but Cakewalk certainly hasn’t let the strengths of the original version slide. Version 2 also has improved editing capabilities, ReWire client/hosting capability, and a total of seven virtual instruments. If the anemia of the original version allowed it to be characterized as Sonar Extra-Lite, this new version has shaken off that characterization. After a month of recording and editing with this software, I can say that Project5 has come of age.

While Project5 remains distinct from Sonar in many ways, it’s also complementary. Although the ReWire compatibility is nice to have, it’s easier to plug the virtual instruments directly into Sonar. For one thing, this makes for a total of 10 virtual instruments, which is just a hell of a lot of fun. This also works well if you are doing lots of straight recording from external sources as well, since Sonar is still much more capable for that. For more electronic musical styles, however, Project5 can operate on its own as a very powerful software synthesizer and sequencer, just like the original.

The new user interface is definitely an improvement over the original, and makes life a lot easier for those of us who don’t always absorb everything in the manual right away. It’s not completely translucent, however, and I found it a little annoying that there is no display of project properties like bit rate and sample rate. I found myself wasting a lot of time either checking the track properties manually or using trial and error on the audio interface settings. Once the system is set up properly, however, projects run smoothly and sound great as long as there’s enough processing power.

Speaking of processing power, Project5’s apparent preponderance of floating-point calculations eats CPUs for breakfast, so don’t be surprised if you have to struggle a bit with the latency settings. A good soundcard can help keep slower computers running at low latency, but don’t expect to get below 3ms with anything less than a Pentium IV. That said, Version 2’s new user interface works better with notebook systems than before, thanks to a more streamlined display, and I did manage to get the program working well on two different laptops. A burlier processor, such as a dual core, or even better, a dual dual-core like the AMD dual Opteron (reviewed on page 64) will, of course, make life much easier when trying to use the full capability of Project5 v2, especially when using it in conjunction with other programs like Sonar or ACID.

And on the subject of ACID, there probably won’t be much need to run it with Project5, as the programs are very similar. The fact that Version 2 has added compatibility with ACID files adds to this similarity and seems to indicate that Cakewalk is positioning Project5 to compete with Sony’s loop-based DAW. As a long-time ACID-head, I can say that Sony has a lot to worry about. ACID still has an edge when dealing with loop-based material, but the GrooveMatrix added in Version 2 gives Project5 a boost in this realm. In short, the Matrix provides a quick and easy way to trigger “Groove Clips” (a.k.a. loops). This allows Project5 users more variety and spontaneity in live situations than ACID. The editing features are still a little cumbersome, however, so ACID remains atop the heap of loop-based studio applications in this regard.

Regardless, Project5 now has way more capability for creating music from the ground up. A large part of this capability lies in the virtual instruments, especially the Dimension sampling synthesizer. New for Version 2, this sample-playback synthesizer uses both wavetable and physical modeling synthesis to create an incredible array of sounds. The virtual instruments from the original version are pretty amazing as well, but the Dimension sampling synthesizer adds a lot more spice to the stew, as it were.

In conclusion, Project5 has blossomed from its original form as a virtual instrument sequencer into a full-fledged DAW for Version 2. The strengths of the original have not been compromised in the slightest for the new release, but rather, Cakewalk has improved on these qualities while adding new ones. ACID users will likely be tempted by these additions and improvements, while Sonar users will find the added instruments and capabilities to be quite complementary to their current work habits. I’ll be using this application more and more in the future, I can tell, and I’ll definitely be looking forward to Version 3.

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