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CAKEWALK Dimension Pro 1.2 and Rapture 1.0 (Mac/Win)

July 1, 2006
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Dimension Pro 1.2 and Rapture 1.0 are the second and third virtual-instrument plug-ins released by Cakewalk since acquiring rgc:audio and the prodigious talents of René Ceballos. (The first synth in this line, Z3ta+, was reviewed in the February 2006 issue of EM, available at www.emusician.com.) Dimension Pro and Rapture have very similar architectures, the primary difference being that Dimension Pro is oriented toward multisample playback, whereas Rapture is designed for wavetable synthesis. Dimension Pro, with its 7 GB sample library, is aimed at the keyboard workstation market. Rapture, with its fat layering and built-in step generators, targets electronica and trance composers.

Dimension Pro and Rapture mark the first Cakewalk releases for the Mac; VST, AU, and RTAS plug-ins are provided. Windows users get VST, DXi, and RTAS plug-ins. Dimension Pro 1.2 for the Mac is in Universal Binary and will run on both PowerPC and Intel Macs. Rapture 1.1, in Universal Binary, will be released in the second quarter of 2006.

The Expression Engine

Both Dimension Pro and Rapture are based on Cakewalk's Expression Engine, developed by Ceballos, which supports a variety of synthesis techniques. In addition to playing standard audio files in the usual formats, the sound generators can read files in the SFZ format, also developed by Ceballos. SFZ files contain links to audio files together with information about how to play them. For example, an SFZ file can contain the key- and Velocity-zone information for multisample playback.

SFZ files go far beyond simple multisample playback, however. They can direct the Expression Engine to interpret single-cycle-waveform files as wavetables, they can tell the Expression Engine to treat impulse files as wave guides for physical-modeling synthesis, and they can turn on Expression Engine effects such as the Body/Damper Resonance effect that Dimension Pro uses for grand-piano samples.

FIG 1: Dimension Pro''s Element control panel houses multisample and DSP controls (top), EQ and effects controls (middle), and graphical filter and LFO controls (bottom).

Because both Dimension Pro and Rapture use the Expression Engine, each can use the other's SFZ content. For instance, Dimension Pro can play the more than 200 wavetables that come with Rapture. Conversely, Dimension Pro includes a folder of wave guide presets that can be loaded into Rapture. In short, the Expression Engine enables a lot of synergy between these two synths.

Because no dedicated SFZ editor is available at this time, SFZ files can be created and edited only in a plain-text editor. Their format is fairly simple, however, and there's a detailed description of SFZ version 1 at www.rgcaudio.com/sfzformat.htm. Version 2 adds a few bells and whistles, but most can be deduced by examining the SFZ files in the Dimension Pro and Rapture libraries. For example, it took only a few minutes to add the Body/Damper Resonance effect to the SFZ file for one of the factory guitar presets or to convert an impulse response file I had lying around into a wave guide SFZ file.

Elements

Dimension Pro and Rapture have multiple sound generators called Elements; Dimension Pro has four and Rapture has six (see Fig. 1). Elements can be layered or spread across the first few MIDI channels for multitimbral operation. You can turn Elements off to save CPU resources, and you can copy and paste settings between Elements as well as save individual Element setups to disk. Unfortunately, you cannot freely assign Elements to MIDI channels to, say, create a multitimbral patch in which each voice uses two Elements.

An Element starts with a sample player, implemented by the Expression Engine just described. The sample player feeds a DSP section followed by a 3-band EQ and an effects section. Rapture's DSP and effects sections differ slightly from Dimension Pro's, and Rapture's are a bit more extensive.

Instead of a modulation matrix, each Element in Dimension Pro and Rapture has dedicated envelope generators and LFOs for filter cutoff, filter resonance, pitch, amplitude, and pan position. The envelope generators support an unlimited number of breakpoints, adjustable segment shapes, and looping. The LFOs offer numerous waveshapes and optional host-tempo sync.

FIG 2: Rapture''s modulators include a dedicated step generator for pitch, filter cutoff, filter resonance, pan, and amplitude.

As you might expect of an electronica-oriented synth, Rapture also comes loaded with step generators. As with the envelope generators and LFOs, there's a separate step generator for each parameter of each Element (see Fig. 2). You can have as many as 128 steps in a generator pattern, and the step generators can be synced to host tempo. Unfortunately, step size is fixed per generator pattern, and changing the number of steps changes the step size automatically, making it impossible to create odd-meter patterns while synced to host tempo.

Hands On

Envelopes, LFOs, and step generators are great, but for many things, there's nothing quite like direct control. Both synths offer a MIDI modulation matrix as well as MIDI Learn. Using the matrix, you can assign 16 MIDI controllers to virtually any synthesis parameter. MIDI Learn allows you to target any knob or button, and offers both range and polarity settings. For example, with a couple of clicks you can set up a mod wheel to crossfade between two Elements.

Both synths also offer an onscreen X/Y Controller. Rapture's is set up in the modulation matrix, whereas Dimension Pro's is solely for mixing its four Elements. A handy Desaccel numerical introduces hysteresis for smoother control using the mouse.

Cakewalk has made these synths extremely keyboard- and mouse-friendly. Once you focus on a knob or numerical by clicking on it, you can use a mouse's scroll wheel to adjust its value. Double-clicking resets knobs and numericals to their default values, and the Arrow keys can be used to adjust the value. When you focus on a button that is part of a group — the Element selector buttons are an example — the top-row number keys or the Right Arrow and Left Arrow keys select among the buttons in the group.

From the Top

As mentioned, each Element's signal path begins with a sample player. Both the Dimension Pro and Rapture players allow you to set the Element's MIDI note, Velocity, and Pitch Bend ranges as well as its transpose in semitones, detuning in cents, and key tracking.

Key tracking is set in cents per key within a range of — 200 to 200; negative values invert the keyboard. For example, a setting of — 50 makes the keyboard track downward in quarter-tone steps, and a setting of 200 makes it track upward in whole-tone steps. For those who want to go beyond equal-tempered tunings, both synths support the Scala microtuning format, and more than 3,000 Scala tuning files are provided.

The Dimension Pro sample player's Shift numerical is used to change the tuning of each sample in the multisample map without shifting the mapping. You can use that in conjunction with the Transpose numerical, set to an equal but opposite value, to radically alter the timbre of a multisample — think Munchkin effect (see Web Clip 1).

Rapture has a few interesting sample-player tricks of its own. You can set the phase at which a waveform starts when a key is pressed. Using different phases in different Elements greatly expands the waveform palette. A Multi button activates multiple oscillators, which are spread across the panorama and detuned in accordance with the Detune setting. The Ring Modulation button activates a second oscillator to ring-modulate the first, and their relative tuning is controlled by the Detune parameter. You can also set any Rapture Element to ring-modulate the outputs of all lower-numbered Elements. As you might imagine, setting Element 6 to ring-modulate Elements 1 through 5 really fattens things up.

DSP, EQ, and Effects

The next stage in an Element's signal path is the DSP section. Dimension Pro has a fixed DSP chain consisting of a LoFi effect followed by a multimode filter, which is followed by a Drive module. Rapture offers the same LoFi effect, two multimode filters, and a slightly different Drive module. Those four modules can be reordered in virtually any serial configuration, or Filter 1 and LoFi can be placed in parallel with Filter 2 and Drive. For example, you can use parallel or series highpass and lowpass filters to create variable-width notch or bandpass filters.

The filters, which are the same for both synths, offer 16 modes or can be bypassed. Lowpass, bandpass, highpass, and band-reject filters come in 1- and 2-pole versions. The 1-pole versions are nonresonant and are perfect for gentle timbral coloring. A 1-pole allpass filter is useful for phase adjustments. A 2-pole peak filter adds a 6 dB boost to the 2-pole bandpass filter's 12 dB rolloff. For more dramatic filtering, you can use the resonant 4- and 6-pole lowpass and highpass filters. Finally, there is a comb filter for phasing-style effects and a pink filter for slightly darkening the timbre.

The Drive modules feature five overdrive types: Tube, Soft, Mid, Hard, and Asymmetric. Shape and Drive knobs control overdrive amount, and Dimension Pro's Tone control adds a touch of lowpass filtering. The LoFi effect consists of separately activated bit-reduction and downsampling stages.

Each synth's signal path ends in a 3-band parametric EQ followed by a multimode insert effect. The 24 modes are divided into three categories: delay, reverb, and distortion. Controls differ according to the selected effect. The reverb and distortion effects were initially available only in Rapture and are a welcome addition to Dimension Pro 1.2.

Global Effects

Running multiple Elements with individual effects processing can be CPU intensive. When you don't need individual effects, you can turn them off and use the global send effects. Dimension Pro has a fairly basic global effects setup consisting of a modulation effect followed by a reverb. Rapture's global effects section is more complex. It begins with two multi-effects processors. Those feed separate step generators for right- and left-channel amplitude. The final stage consists of a 3-band parametric EQ and a master multi-effect. Each of the three global multi-effects is identical to the Element multi-effects (see Fig. 3).

FIG 3: Rapture''s global effects chain starts with two multi-effects in series. Those are followed by stereo step generators for amplitude, a three-band parametric EQ, and a master multi-effects processor.

In another CPU-saving gesture, both synths allow you to chain the output of one Element into the signal path of the next at the EQ input. You can use that to process several Elements with the same EQ and insert effect. You can also use it to process a single source with several insert effects. Of course, that doesn't save CPU, but it makes for more flexible effects processing.

From the Factory

On the Element level, Dimension Pro and Rapture are fairly easy to program, and they are similar enough that once you know one, you pretty much know the other. But having multiple Elements and the consequent proliferation of envelope generators, LFOs, and effects still leaves you with quite a bit of programming. Cakewalk has provided a large preset library for Dimension Pro, which is especially welcome in view of the lack of a multisample editor. Rapture's preset library is more modest but still useful.

FIG 4: The handy file browsers allow you to select presets with the computer keyboard''s Arrow keys, then load them by hitting the Return key.

Presets are selected from a separate Browser window (see Fig. 4). The Libraries are organized in banks by category, and you can use the Arrow keys to step through the presets in a bank and use the Return key to load the selected preset.

Dimension Pro's 25 banks cover the major instrument categories. The collection is rounded out with several banks of ambient sounds (Dimensions, Pads, and Orchestral Scapes), keyboard splits, grooves, and genre-specific banks (Techno & Trance, Electronica, Ethnic, and World).

Grooves and Slices

Groove multisamples contain sliced audio files with the slices mapped to consecutive notes starting with C3 (MIDI Note Number 60). The octaves below C3 trigger the entire groove using classic-style pitch-shifting and time-stretching. C1 (Note 36) triggers the groove at its recorded pitch and tempo. In a very nice touch, you can drag-and-drop a MIDI sequence to play the individual slices with the correct rhythm from the Dimension Pro graphical user interface to a MIDI track in the plug-in host. Dimension Pro can also load and automatically map Propellerhead REX2 files.

In addition to the traditional synthesized sounds — basses, leads, pads, keys, and so on — Rapture's preset library contains a few drum kits, several Element patches, and 30 synthesized simulations of acoustic instruments. My favorite bank, Sequences, contains 169 presets illustrating the use of the step generators (see Web Clip 2).

Both Dimension Pro and Rapture are good values. Dimension Pro's keyboard workstation — style collection of sounds covers a lot of territory, and you can quickly create new sounds by mixing and matching existing Elements. Rapture is most interesting for its step generators, and again, mixing and matching Elements is the quick road to creativity. Because of the synergy between these two synths, it would be nice if there were a bundled price.


Len Sasso is an associate editor of EM. For free refreshments and an earful, visit his all-new Web site, www.swiftkick.com.

GUIDE TO EM METERS

5 = Amazing; as good as it gets with current technology

4 = Clearly above average; very desirable

3 = Good; meets expectations

2 = Somewhat disappointing but usable

1 = Unacceptably flawed

PRODUCT SUMMARY

CAKEWALK
Dimension Pro 1.2

software synthesizer
$359
$99 for Project5 version 2 users

PROS: Large multisample library. Lots of envelope generators and LFOs. Computer-keyboard- and mouse-friendly. Excellent MIDI remote implementation.

CONS: No multisample editor. Multisamples vary in quality. Can be CPU hungry.

FEATURES...3
EASE OF USE...4
QUALITY OF SOUNDS...3
VALUE...3

MANUFACTURER

Cakewalk
www.cakewalk.com

PRODUCT SUMMARY

CAKEWALK Rapture 1.0
software synthesizer
$259

PROS: Lots of envelope generators, step generators, and LFOs. Computer-keyboard- and mouse-friendly. Robust global effects section. Excellent MIDI remote implementation.

CONS: Step generators have fixed step size. Preset library could be larger.

FEATURES...4
EASE OF USE...4
QUALITY OF SOUNDS...3
VALUE...3

MANUFACTURER

Cakewalk
www.cakewalk.com

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