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electronic MUSICIAN

Cakewalk Sonar 8 Producer Review (Bonus Material)

By Allan Metts | February 9, 2009

Better at the Core

In spite of the dozens of effects and instruments provided in Sonar, you''ll still spend most of your time recording and editing in the core Sonar application. Fortunately, Cakewalk continues to evolve this core functionality by adding usability enhancements and other features to make your life easier.

Sonar now sports true pause, fast-forward, and rewind buttons in its transport controls, which will make you feel like you''re working with a good old-fashioned tape deck. And when the transport is running, you can now arm or disarm tracks at will and switch between playback and recording modes. Also new is an Audition button, which plays just the clips you''ve selected and returns the transport to wherever you started.

You also have new options when working with soft synths. An Instrument track type combines aspects of MIDI and audio tracks. In previous Sonar versions, adding a soft synth required a MIDI track to control the synth and an audio track to hear the synth''s output. You can still use this method if you prefer, and you can convert between the track types as needed. The new Live Bounce feature lets you record the output of synths and effects to audio tracks in real time.

Cakewalk made several enhancements to improve your editing experience. My favorite is the Aim Assist Cursor, which optionally puts a vertical line and a song position indicator wherever your mouse goes as you move it during an editing operation. This takes away the guesswork as you click-and-drag the various pieces of your song. Also new is the ability to use your keyboard''s numeric keypad to navigate and select clips and time ranges, and to perform basic editing operations like trimming and fading clips. I can see how, with practice, this ability might improve your work flow, but its real purpose is to allow control surfaces to take advantage of keystroke assignments, according to Cakewalk.

Clips can be grouped together so that editing one clip affects them all. Another option automatically groups clips after a recording. You can also create a Quick Group of tracks that are all assigned to the same bus (this is a great way to quickly create a group of all of your drum tracks, for instance). An Exclusive Solo feature deselects other soloed tracks when you use it, and Solo Override can ensure that a track plays whether or not other tracks are soloed.

The Loop Explorer saw some improvements, too, making it easier to audition audio and MIDI loops for incorporation into your project. The most notable addition is access to the soft synths in your project from within the Loop Explorer. This lets you audition MIDI groove clips using the instruments that will be playing them.

For anyone who struggles with setting up effects sends and buses, the Insert Send Assistant is now here to help. You get a single dialog box that asks all the relevant questions, such as whether to use a new or existing bus, which effect to use, and where the output should go—kudos to Cakewalk for making cumbersome tasks more manageable. I also like the inclusion of hundreds of ready-made track templates, drum maps, and presets for the soft synths and effects. Having ready-made settings close at hand will do wonders for your productivity.

The remaining enhancements (too numerous to mention them all) include support for QuickTime 7 importing and exporting, assignment of tracks and buses to monophonic hardware outputs, and hardware control-surface functionality that allows the available controls to automatically link to whatever is currently visible in the Track or Console views.

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