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Cakewalk Plasma 1.0 9/10

As a scientist, I know that plasma is the fourth state of matter, after gases, where nuclei drift around with their electrons ripped off. It is unlikely Cakewalk, chose the name Plasma for this reason. Cakewalk's pro music package, Sonar is a great programme, but the problem is that it is not only expensive but requires a powerful computer to run it. On a slow computer, it can be quite tedious to use. Cakewalk believe they have come up with the answer, Plasma. At $50, the price is very good! The interface is quite similar to Sonar and it is also uses the same file format as Sonar. It doesn't come with as many plugins as Sonar, but it is worth nothing that you can use Sonar's DirectX plugins in Plasma. One of the most intriguing plugins is FXPad, currently only available with Plasma, which emulates a DJ effects pad, so as you move the mouse it changes the effect. It's fun but I don't know how much use it is! What would be a great idea would be hardware add-in so you could have hand's on access. The DirectX plugins can be applied to either audio tracks or DXi tracks. They can be controlled using envelopes too. A DXi instrument, Dreamstation, is also included. Essentially this is a 303 emulator. Just select it as an output for a MIDI channel, and like magic you've got a new instrument! It is possible to buy more DXi instruments so you can do away with external MIDI instruments. Run too many DXi at a time though, and your system will feel the strain. So you may end up mixing DXi tracks to audio and then bringing them together later, to avoid this. Other DXi instruments like Tassman, which are included in Sonar, are not included with Plasma. However, I tried Tassman and it worked perfectly in Plasma. I expect that other DXi instruments such as Virtual Sound Canvas, would also work in Plasma.You can run as many audio and midi tracks as you want (till your computer crashes!).

Plasma does come with Fruityloops Express (a cutdown version of Fruityloops) which is a good start for making drum loops, but I would recommend that you upgrade to the full version which offers far more features, for not that much more money. Just like it's bigger brother Sonar, you get support for Acid files. You can loop them easily and this is a big plus, especially if you have a large collection of Acid samples. There are some included samples to get you started.

You also have a decent MIDI sequencer, something which is missing from some of Plasma's competitors. All in all the programme is great value and runs very quickly on my machine (a Pentium III 600 MHz). I can see myself end up using Plasma all the time, and just using Sonar for specialist tasks which aren't available in Plasma. I think Sonar is still a good buy though, even if you don't use it that much, simply because of the sheer number of DirectX plugins and DXi instruments which are included with it. Plasma just misses out on a 10/10 rating because of containing only Fruityloops Express. As good as this Fruityloops Express version is, it is misses many crucial features like the Piano Roll. Also the MP3 encoder/CD burning programme is only a demo version, rather than a full version. Inspite of these minor quibbles, Plasma will be a great success (provided) the price does not suddenly mushroom in the near future and is a great tool for any computer musician.