I never used Sonar before version X3. I inherited Pro Tools during my
residence at Manhattan Center Studios, but recently became frustrated
with some of PT’s limitations. A few months ago I decided to go for a
Windows-based recording system, and chose a custom-built Rain audio
computer and, initially, Steinberg Cubase 7. However, I’ve worked with
Craig Anderton on multiple projects, and he recommended trying Cakewalk
Sonar. He also cautioned that switching DAWs is never easy, and to
expect some degree of learning and frustration. Having recently tackled
Cubase’s learning curve, I was in enough of a fighting mood to do it all
over again. So with some apprehension tempered with hope, I gave Sonar
X3 Producer a shot. Here’s what I found out.
: Exceptionally easy to learn and use. Unusually
cost-effective. Comprehensive collection of instruments (particularly
Addictive Drums) and plug-ins. ProChannel reinvents the virtual mixer.
Strong MIDI editing. Melodyne Essential offers monophonic pitch
correction and audio-to-MIDI conversion. Supports VST2/3, DirectX, and
Celemony ARA. Perhaps most importantly, makes recording fun.
CONS: Weak music notation view. Video support is nothing
special. No virtual sampler. Included content is fine, but leans heavily
toward EDM. No Mac version. TH2 only has one bass amp/cabinet.
Bottom Line: Fulfills the promise made to Sonar users when the X-series
was introduced, and offers enough to entice users of other DAWs to
Sonar X3 base: $99 | X3 Studio: $199 | X3 Producer: $499 | cakewalk.com
Fig. 1. Clockwise from top: customizable control bar,
browser for drag-and-drop into Track View (middle), Melodyne Essential
in the multi-dock, and the Inspector showing the ProChannel strip.
Current Sonar users are familiar with the Skylight
interface, but it was my point of entry and frankly, the learning
“curve” was more of a straight line. Everything is in one integrated
window, where I can show and hide various elements (see Figure 1 at left).
Sonar also has a “multi-dock,” with tabs where you can dock multiple
windows for virtual instruments, the MIDI piano roll, and so on. That’s
where they stay until you click the tab that opens one up.
Sonar tries to squeeze a lot of information into that
single window, and it would be difficult to use on something like a
laptop if it wasn’t for screen sets. This concept has been around
awhile, but Sonar’s implementation is clever. When you call up a screen
set with a particular arrangement of windows and make changes, if you go
to another screen set and return to the initial one, it remains as you
left it (although you can lock it if you don’t want it to change). With a
single keystroke you can go from tracking, to MIDI editing, to mixing,
to browsing media and plug-ins that you drag-and-drop into the main
track view. This is a major time saver that also reduces clutter
There are quite a few details to the interface such as shortcuts, colorization options (see Figure 2 below),
and zooming features. For example, “auto-zoom” lets you define a
certain track height for the selected track, while minimizing all other
tracks. So if you want to do work on a track in detail, click on it and
it expands to the chosen size, but click on a different track and it
expands instead, while the other track collapses. The Inspector is also a
great feature, which I leave docked permanently to the left. It has
tabs for four different views, and represents an easy way to edit most
details (other than MIDI notes or audio itself) for any given MIDI or
| ||Fig. 2. MIDI and audio tracks relating to an instance of NI Kontakt are
similarly color-coded. The Inspector (left) is showing the MIDI track
and arpeggiator. At upper right is the Navigator, which displays a
compact version of the project’s tracks |
Next: ProChannel, Versions, and Comping Features