Cakewalk’s V-Studio 100 wears many hats, but one says “mixing machine.”
Yes, we’ve figured out that the state of the economy is even more annoying these days than a late-night celebrity gossip TV show. So we like to review products that have multiple purposes— like if the same box you use live to mix your guitar rig or keyboard setup, or use to play backing tracks, can be the same box that serves as a DAW controller and provides plug-ins for mixing. Well, the V-Studio 100 is that kind of box, and it even accommodates laptop fans.
We’ll concentrate on the DAW/mixing aspects, but let’s at least mention the other functions. The V-Studio 100 is a cross-platform, 8-in+mix/6-out USB 2.0 audio interface with guitar input, two XLR inputs, two 1/4" TRS ins, and resolution up to 24/96kHz. It’s also a digital mixer with eight ins, two outs, and headphone out, as well as six channels of onboard, hardware DSPbased digital EQ, compression, and reverb. And, it’s a portable recorder that records to SD card while also serving as a portable juicer for serving up refreshing fruit smoothies. Okay, well maybe it doesn’t do the juicing thing, but it does do everything else.
The key to using the V-Studio 100 as a control surface is that it works with any program that speaks Mackie Control (i.e., just about everything, including Acid, Live, Sonar, Logic, Digital Performer, Record, etc.). For tactile control, the V-Studio 100 has a 100mm motorized, touch-sensitive fader, five rotary encoders, 11 general-purpose buttons, programmable footswitch, and transport buttons. You can switch the controls among tracks and buses, with the fader and some of the knobs serving as a basic channel strip. There’s also an LCD screen that can switch between showing levels, or displaying what can be controlled with the various knobs.
Of course a single-fader solution isn’t as comprehensive as something like a Euphonix Artist Series control surface or Cakewalk’s own VS-700C console, but in use, moving among operations is surprisingly fluid. Where the single-fader approach works best is when you’re tweaking a mix rather than starting out. My preferred workflow is to set up a rough mix on the onscreen faders with the mouse, then switch over to the control surface fader to optimize one track at a time.
The V-Studio 100 comes with its own DAW software, Sonar VS (Windowsonly; it’s similar to Sonar Home Studio 7 with some Sonar 8 elements thrown in). The software bundle also includes several independent cross-platform plug-ins, including the VX-64 Vocal Strip, Channel Tools, Boost 11 Maximizer, Guitar Rig 3 LE, and several virtual instruments—Studio Instruments suite (drums, bass, strings, keyboard), Rapture LE, and Dimension LE. So what does this have to do with mixing? Well, if you’re using Sonar VS or other Sonar variants, the V-Studio 100 recognizes Cakewalk’s ACT (Active Controller Technology) protocol. This brings out various signal processor and soft synth parameters to hardware controls that you can re-assign at will; you can even choose an “extended” V-Studio 100 mode that maps the mixer section’s input level controls to additional ACT parameters (although you then can’t then use the hardware level controls for altering V-Studio 100 mixer levels).
The coolest thing about ACT for mixing—aside from the immediacy of tweaking parameters for whatever window has the focus—is that you can record the knob movements as automation, which of course is also possible with the motorized fader and other controls.
If all you want is a single-fader automation control surface, then either the AlphaTrack ($200 street) or FaderPort ($130 street) is far more cost-effective. However, they don’t include a solidstate recorder, digital mixer, audio interface (that sounds very good, by the way), and the V-Studio 100 software suite. What’s more, the V-Studio 100 is an interesting kinda animal: It works with or without a computer, and does Mac or Windows (including 64-bit versions). When you start factoring all those features into the price, the costeffectiveness increases dramatically.
Another V-Studio 100 plus is that it seems built to last; the case is metal, and you could likely even allow a Columbia Records union engineer from the 70s to punch the buttons and they’d survive. As to the footprint, the V-Studio 100 fits conveniently between your QWERTY keyboard and monitor, assuming the monitor is raised somewhat off your desk’s surface.
The bottom line is that if you need a box that does the control surface thing for mixing but can also do a whole lot more, the V-Studio 100 stakes out a unique position in terms of combining multiple functions into a well-integrated, cost-effective audio toolbox.
TIP: BOUNCE VIRTUAL INSTRUMENTS TO AUDIO TRACKS
This lets you disconnect the CPU-sucking virtual instruments. And when you back up the project, the audio track will be backed up too, so you can resurrect the track in several years even if the virtual instrument is just a memory.