Cakewalk SONAR 6 Producer Edition

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Sonar 6 Producer Edition: 32-bit multi-track recording at 192KHz

Mar 2, 2007 (Updated Mar 3, 2007)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Unlimited studio quality digital multi-track recording on your PC

Cons:Very steep learning curve

The Bottom Line: The bottom line records Kazoo on a reel-to-reel.


Last year I purchased Sonar 5 Studio Edition which came with a free upgrade to Sonar 6. The deal was people who purchased Sonar 5 Studio Edition would get a free upgrade to Sonar 6 Studio Edition as soon as it was released. This sounded good to me so I jumped on it. Well, the delay in getting the software out to those people was so significant that I had to call several times and ask when I would receive the software and was told repeatedly that I was listed in the next outgoing batch.

Four and a half months after the release of Sonar 6, I received my package... Finally! I was a bit surprised to find that they had shipped me the full version of Sonar 6 Producer Edition but it was a welcome surprise and I felt that it was probably sent as a peace offering for the delay in shipping. Whatever the reason, I was happy to get my hands on this software.


Cakewalk Sonar 6 Producer Edition

Since my introduction to Sonar back with version 2.0XL, I have reviewed all of the releases except for version 3. Each new version brought a little more “umph” and a revamped interface. Version 6 follows suit with advances in MIDI technology and improved recording engine. Using Sonar 6 I can now record multi-track in 32-bit audio at 192 KHz. This is a step above DVD audio quality and when you record your original mix at this high of quality, the end product on a CD sounds crystal clear indeed.

Even though CDs still play 16-bit audio at 44 KHz, when you keep the audio at its highest quality (32-bit/192KHz) all the way through mixing and editing, down until you make the final product at the lower bit rate it retains a lot of that quality

With Sonar 6 you can also create DVD audio for play on DVD devices. As with previous Sonar releases, the software does not have a burning engine so you must use another program to burn the audio to CD or DVD.

?????
But let me back up a bit. For those of you who are wondering what Sonar is for, let me explain. Sonar is a program from Cakewalk that allows you to use your PC as a full recording studio. You can record multiple tracks and play back while recording. It comes with built-in effects, amp modelers, drum machines and MIDI instrumentation. You can record direct analog or digital audio and you can record from MIDI enabled devices such as keyboards and synthesizers.

Each track can be panned, phase shifted, muted, soloed or effected on its own without interfering with the other tracks. You can record as many tracks as your computer hardware can handle. So far the most tracks we have ever used in the studio is 32 and the most live was 13. You can add effects though separate busses just like on a mixing board and assign them to tracks. You can also single out a section of a track and insert an effect for that one section without having the effect on the entire track.

Essentially, Sonar is a full fledged recording studio but instead of being all mixing boards and digital recorders, it is software that uses your computers hard drive to record digitally.


Features
Respectfully obtained from Cakewalk

* Active Controller Technology (ACT): dynamically re-maps effect, mix and instrument parameters to hardware controllers
* AudioSnap Multitrack Audio Quantize
AudioSnap suite of tools includes:
Non-destructive audio quantize
Lock multiple tracks into the same groove
Apply seamless tempo changes to audio
Convert audio beats to MIDI
Slip-stretch clips to a new time or length
High-quality time stretching algorithms including iZotope Radius™, Percussion Mode, and more

* VC-64 Vintage Channel warm sound, dual EQ and compressor stages, analog component modeling, presets by professionals
* Session Drummer 2 instrument with professional multi-sampled drum kits, hundreds of live-recorded, vital patterns
* New Synth Rack makes managing, controlling, and automating your instruments simple
* Console view redesigned for ergonomic mixing
* Modular Transport provides easy playback control and vital visual feedback
* Analyst spectrum analyzer
* Clip editing enhancements including lock to time, clip data lock with options for specific atributes (position, duration, both)
* Work seamlessly with VST plug-ins—VST support is now integrated into SONAR 6 and no longer requires an external VST to DX adapter
* Automation enhancements: read/write controls for tracks and plug-ins, enable automation during playback and record, visual automation cues, more
* Fast Zoom enables fast, precise edits without losing your place
* Mouse wheel support for parameter control and zoom
* Crash Recovery safeguards your projects against faulty plug-ins and other sources of crashes
* Automatic file versioning: back up projects with time/date stamps for easy access to old versions
* Customizable user interface: put favorite features right at your fingertips
* User-customizable plug-in menus for easy organization and grouping
* Friendly driver naming (user-customizable audio hardware port names)
* Custom color schemes with saturation, hue, and brightness controls and color categories for easy customization


System Requirements
(Minimum)

* Operating System: Windows XP/Windows XP x64
* Processor Speed Intel Pentium 4 1.3 GHz or AMD Athlon XP 1500+ or higher
* RAM: 256 MB (1 GB or higher heavily recommended)
* Graphics (resolution, color depth) 1024x768, 16-bit color or higher
* Hard Disk Space: 100 MB for full program installation (Multiple gigabytes for recording)
* MIDI Interface: Windows-compatible
* Audio Interface: Windows-compatible (WDM- or ASIO-compatible recommended)
* Media Drive: DVD-ROM, DVD+/-R, or DVD+/- RW Drive (for installation from DVD)

Note:
* SONAR does not support Windows 95, 98, ME, NT, or 2000
** SONAR is presented on DVD media. DVD-ROM, DVD+/-R, or DVD+/- RW Drive is required for installation.
*** SONAR is also available on CD-ROM for an additional fee.
**** Quicktime support requires QuickTime 6 or higher.


Installation

Sonar comes with Quicktime 6.3 and several VST plug-ins are available at additional cost. If you are installing a fresh copy of Sonar 6 Producer edition, it is very easy to do. Just insert the DVD and when the launcher starts click on install. From here just follow the directions. If you are upgrading from a previous version, you can install Sonar 6 into its own folder without losing anything from your old version.

I currently have Sonar 2.0XL, Sonar 4 Studio Edition, Sonar 5 Studio Edition and Sonar 6 Producer Edition all installed on my computer and running just fine. When you install Sonar 6, it asks if you would like to merge your working folders and settings from previous versions. You simply tell it where the working folder is and it will incorporate all of your previous recordings and settings into the new installation. It is quite painless.

After merging your settings and incorporating your recordings, you can also import any VST plug-ins you had installed on your previous versions as well. Note that some older VST plug-ins may not be compatible with Sonar 6, but I was lucky and all of mine imported without incident. If all software was this easy to upgrade or merge from earlier versions, the world would be a better place. Microsoft could learn a thing or three from Cakewalk!


Our Experience

In our band, we have been using Sonar since version 2.0XL and have got fairly aquainted with it by now…, well two of us have anyway. We had been going about the recording process the only way we could using a single PC and Sonar, and that is to record one instrument or vocal track at a time which is a very hard way to record an entire band and keep that same, warm, live sound.

First you have to record the entire band playing a song though the stereo input on a single track (we call this the template track). Then each member has to record over the music to get a separate track that can be edited, EQed and worked on separately from the others. Once all the tracks were down we could remove the template track. This was a painstaking process and left us all feeling frustrated at the end of a session.

Then we started using an Alesis HD24 hard drive recorder to record each member individually but at the same time. We could then dump the recording onto the computer for mixing and editing with Sonar. This worked fairly well but the transfer from the Alesis to the computer took several hours and was another vent of frustration. It did, however, keep the warm live feeling of our music in tact.

Now we are going a different route altogether. Instead of recording on an external device and dumping the files to the computer, we are now using a Mackie Onyx 1620 mixer to record each individual channel directly into the computer through Sonar 6. This is unbelievably faster and easier than anything we have tried before and the sound quality of our recordings are absolutely pristine. The Mackie simply acts as a multi-port for our instruments and microphones and the computer does all the hard work.

The Mackie has its own audio driver and Sonar picks it up when you install the FireWire interface. Then you can assign each channel on the Mackie to a channel in Sonar. Sonar even works with the “broadcast through headphones” feature of the Mackie. This means while we are recording, each band member wears headphones and the person running the mixer can talk directly to any one person or the entire band without having his voice on the recording. This makes it easy to cue someone for a lead break or just to let the drummer know his wife is having a baby. ;-)

Sonar 6 makes recording fun and saves us thousands of dollars in studio time. We can get together and record whenever we have the time so we don’t have to make an appointment six weeks in advance and them lose our money if someone can’t make it. The only drawback is we don’t have a professional sound team working on the mix and telling us when we need to try something different.

Sonar even allows us to run the entire mix back to the output on the Mackie and from there we can relay it through our sound system and play back immediately after recording. It is almost as easy as playing back a tape.


Producer vs, Studio Edition

Who needs the Studio version and who needs the Producer version? Well to explain that as simple as possible without getting into the many different features of the two, if you are just starting out in recording you may want to get the studio version. It is less complicated and costs much less. The Studio version is still complicated and has a fairly steep learning curve but there are not as many extra features to make it more so. All of the things I mentioned doing with my band above can be done with the Studio version as well as the Producer version.

So why pay more for the Producer version? If you plan to use this software in a real recording studio and charge people to record their music for them, you would want the Producer Edition. You will need to take the time to read the250 page book that comes with the software and learn the recording process whole heartedly but it is necessary to have all the extras that come with the Producer Edition in a modern digital studio.

The Producer Edition allows for surround mixing and you can quantize multi-track audio with AudioSnap. AudioSnap can tighten the sound of your band even if your sound is a little loose. It can also be used to make scripted MIDI instrumentation (like the session drummer) slightly imperfect to sound more “human”. It can be used to make MIDI instrumentation sound like the real thing by altering the beat slightly, imitating the way people actually play an instrument. A perfect drum beat that falls directly on time every time does not sound real and is a dead giveaway of a “mechanical drummer”. AudioSnap fixes that.

The Producer Edition comes with the following features exclusively in the Producer Edition.

* AudioSnap Multitrack Audio Quantize
* VC-64 Vintage Channel-warm sound, dual EQ and compressor stages, analog component modeling, presets by professionals
* Session Drummer 2 instrument with professional multi-sampled drum kits, hundreds of usable drum patterns
* Roland V-Vocal VariPhrase Processor
* Surround mixing in over 30 formats
* SurroundBridge technology for using stereo VST effects in SONAR's surround environment
* Sonitus Surround Compressor
* POW-r dithering
* PSYN II Subtractive Synthesizer
* Pentagon I Analog Modeling Synth
* RXPTM groove instrument with REX file support
* Perfect Space Convolution Reverb
* Lexicon Pantheon Reverb


Conclusion

Sonar 6 Producer Edition is a must have for professional recording. If you are planning on cutting an album or a single in the near future, you owe it to yourself to check out this software before dumping thousands of dollars into studio time. If you are willing to learn and have a good ear, this software could lead to an album release. I would strongly recommend buying a Mackie series mixer with the FireWire add-on in conjunction with this software, it will save you a lot of time and headaches. But again I can not stress enough that this software does have a very steep learning curve, especially for beginners and people not familiar with recording or PCs in general.

Thanks for reading,
Gr8ful ;-)


Recommend this product? Yes


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