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Cakewalk V-Studio 20 ($299 street)

July 1, 2010
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VS20_1The two internal mics are in the upper right and upper left; the faders don’t just control levels, but also write automation. I/O is on the left and right sides.

What: Turnkey guitar/vocal recording package with USB interface, Mackie-compatible control surface, specialized Guitar Tracks 4 DAW software with video support, built-in BOSS COSM hardware multieffects with effects editing program, tuner, mic input with phantom power, built-in mics, expression and footswitch inputs. Cross-platform except for Guitar Tracks 4.

Why: Solves many problems for guitarists who want to get into computer-based recording by offering zero latency, low cost, ease of use, and reasonable requirements—you can even run it on a Netbook for a highly portable live performance effects setup.

Installation: Painless. The USB interface is class-compliant, the software that comes with it is both mature and bullet-proof, and the control surface is obvious.

VS20_3It looks like hardware, but this is the software effects editor for the onboard BOSS COSM effects.

Learning curve: Figuring out the basics is surprisingly easy, particularly because the control surface is tightly integrated with the software. However, Guitar Tracks 4 (a variant on Sonar Home Studio) is quite capable for those who want to dig deeper, like getting into detailed waveform editing—although digging deeper means a steeper learning curve.

Best bits: Having BOSS hardware effects built-in means zero latency when recording or monitoring, but you can record a dry signal too if you’re into re-amping. The vocal recording and processing capabilities are also welcome, given that many guitarists are singer/songwriters. Cakewalk has been getting more into the Mac world, so the VS-20 can serve as a front end/interface for programs like Logic Pro and GarageBand, while the control aspect works with anything that supports Mackie control. The built-in mics are a great idea for getting ideas down in the heat of creativity; and if you find Guitar Tracks 4 too limiting, the VS-20 gives equivalent integration with other Cakewalk Sonar-family software.

Limitations: The sample rate tops out at 44.1kHz, and the faders are short—300mm. Of course, at this price they’re not motorized. Guitar Tracks 4 is “limited” to 32 audio tracks and one MIDI backing track, and the outputs are RCA phono jacks.

Bottom line: At this price point, any additional complaining would seem petty. No, you’re not going to get boutique mic pres, and if you record at 96kHz, you’re out of luck. But I’ve found few packages that make it this easy to marry your guitar and computer, and the zero-latency hardware effects overcome one of the biggest obstacles to computer-oriented guitar players— although you can add standard VST and DirectX effects if you want. This is an extremely well-thought-out package that gives guitar players what they need to get started with computerbased setups, while offering enough capability to grow.

Contact: www.cakewalk.com


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