Cakewalk V-Studio 20 ($299 street)
The 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.
It 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.
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