Why X3 hits the spot
Every year around this time we see a new iteration of Cakewalk's flagship DAW, which means a raft of tweaks and improvements, and usually some new goodies thrown in to seal the deal.
Despite the recent news that Gibson is buying Cakewalk, this year is no exception. Sonar X3 represents a significant update, particular in its Producer incarnation. We've been putting the software through its paces and thought that we'd take a look at the ten most compelling reasons to shell out that upgrade fee.
Included in both the Producer and Studio editions of Sonar X3, Melodyne Essential is a monophonic version of Celemony's brilliant pitch and timing correction tool.
More than a simple 'auto-tuner', Melodyne replaces the previously-bundled V-Vocal from Roland, offering piano-roll styled pitch manipulation, snap functions, and what may be the best pitch detection algorithm available. Sure, you can fix a vocal line, but you can also write new melodies and harmonies with ease.
Short for Audio Random Access, this technology works in tandem with the aforementioned Melodyne Essential that comes bundled with Sonar.
Before ARA, Melodyne users were forced to access the standalone version program outside of their DAWs via ReWire or a VST bridge. It works, but it is nowhere as immediate as the complete and seamless integration of Melodyne into Sonar that ARA facilitates.
Better still, ARA will work with other editions of Melodyne, so those of you who have plumped for Melodyne Editor should be well pleased. Thanks to ARA, Melodyne behaves like a part of its host, rather than an external tool.
OK, we'll admit that this one is bit subjective, but we aren't the only ones who've noticed it. Users on forums across the net have been reporting the same thing: Sonar X3 is smooth.
This may be the most stable version of Sonar yet. The GUI is fast, responsive and thus far seemingly free of some of the audio glitches that have affected Sonar in the past. It's not perfect, but this is one DAW that won't fall out from under you or even slow you down when you're on a roll.
How's this for a bonus? XLN audio's popular Addictive Drums comes bundled with Sonar X3 Producer. We're not talking about some stripped-to-the-bone 'lite' edition, but the full product with everything that has made it a must-have among discerning desktop producers.
With flexible mixing, built-in effects, loads of presets and literally thousands of MIDI rhythms, you'll struggle to find a better rhythmic companion. And this drummer won't black out and fall off his stool at the gig.
VST background scanning
Most DAWs scan for plugins at start up, looking for and verifying any plugins that might have been added since the host was last initiated. Sonar is - or was - no exception. However, this can often add a significant wait time when firing up your DAW.
Sonar X3 sees the debut of VST background scanning. Now Sonar starts far more quickly, all the while scanning for any added plug-ins in the background and giving you a notification if they're found. That said, you can still set the Scan option to scan for plugins on startup or to only scan for 'em when you decide the time is right.
VST 2 is getting long in the tooth. That's not to say that older plugins have lost their value, but there are plenty of new ones that are coded for the VST3 spec and many “big name” companies are switching over to VST3 exclusively. Waves and Antares come springing to mind.
Never fear, though: VST3 is backwards-compatible, so your old plugs will work, too.
This may not sound like a big deal, but anyone who's used a DAW with custom individual track colours can tell you that instantly recognising tracks at a glance can be a real time-saver, especially when dealing with large, complex projects.
In Sonar X3, you can customise your individual tracks, or simply add a splash of colour to your busses - all the tracks assigned to a given bus will be updated automatically. Better still, ProChannel modules will likewise adhere to assigned track colours. Very cool.
Nomad Factory FX
It's pretty hard to beat Nomad Factory when it comes to truly vintage-sounding effects processing. Cakewalk has done itself proud by bundling a comprehensive selection of premium plugs in the form of Nomad Factory's Blue Tubes FX.
We're not talking a minimal sampling of the catalogue, but a perfectly-selected clutch of nineteen of the things, ranging from dynamics to delay, along with chorus, EQ and more.
We'd expect such a package to be exclusive to the Producer Edition, but Studio owners get 'em as well.
Strum Acoustic Session
Cakewalk and Applied Acoustics Systems have been partnering up since Sonar's inception, and that relationship continues to benefit Sonar users. Take, for instance, Strum Acoustic Session, a physical modelling-based acoustic guitar that comes bundled with Sonar X3 Producer Edition.
Chords, harmonies, melodies - they're all yours for the taking, with no guitar heroism needed. And because it comes from AAS, you know that the modelled guitar sounds utterly, uncannily authentic. A brilliant alternative to the same old sample libraries.
Sonar has always offered plenty of options for recording and utilising multiple takes, but the new Comping function refines the idea to near-perfection. Takes are recorded in the normal fashion, creating multiple take lanes as you go.
Once recorded, the new comping features provide easy, intuitive methods by which various sections of various takes may be auditioned, split and combined with others to create the perfect track. Crossfades between combined tracks is supported, and snap functions work normally.
This is the sort of enhancement that we love to see - it may not be as dramatic as a shiny new plugin, but once you've used it, you'll wonder how you ever got along without it.