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Cakewalk Sonar XL 1.0 10/10

Cakewalk has been producing Cakewalk Pro Audio for several years, and it is a popular sequencer in North America. In Europe it has lost out to Cubase and Logic Audio. Sonar is basically a new digital audio multitrack programme, which owes its origins to Pro Audio. Being a sequencer you can have audio tracks and midi tracks. The audio tracks can have realtime filters applied to them, and most can be controlled using envelopes. Included with Cakewalk you have about 20 DirectX audio effects. If you want to access VST plugins and VST instruments, you have to buy a VST-DX converter (which also supports VST instruments). Amongst these included plugins are several EQs, delays, flangers etc. All are very good quality and can also be used in other DirectX audio apps. There is also support for DXi (DirectX instruments) and there are several included DXi plugins. These are software synthesisers, and can be applied to any MIDI output you have. Sonar treats the outputs of these DXi as audio output. Consequently you can apply audio filters to them and even mix them down to WAV files very easily. This feature will appeal to anybody who uses MIDI. MIDI to WAV transfer occurs totally digitally as well!

There is also an audio loop feature, so you can make, import and export Acid loops, making it integrate nicely with Acid. Consequently you can change tempo or pitch shift these loops on the fly, just as you can in Acid. Every loop can be completely editted and manipulated.

There are many features which deal with MIDI editting. As well as the usual MIDI tools (like piano roll, score etc.) there are also MIDI plugins which can apply realtime effects to your MIDI tracks, such as NTONYX Style Enhancer which gives your tracks a more human feel.

Sonar XL, which I am reviewing, comes with several extra features. These include the DXi soft synths Tassman (full version), Alien Connections Value Amp emulator and Sonic Implants Soundfonts. The Tassman DXi is brilliant, and I would say it probably worth buying Sonar XL just for that. It's like having a £1000 synth inside your computer. There are also many pre-recorded loops for use in your projects. I listened to them, and although they are reasonable, I can't see why people want to use them when making original music is so fun in Sonar.

Sonar will revolutionise making music, since it gives you an amazing amount of control over both your MIDI and Audio tracks. The realtime effects and virtual software synths are notable features, which give your machine many effects and additional instruments without having a brilliant soundcard. They however, also put a great stress on your computer. I used a PIII 600 MHz and I could run several DirectX effects and DXi at the same time, but only just. If you want to truely benefit from Sonar, you need a faster computer with lots of memory and preferably a SCSI hard disk. Sonar also supports dual processors. Then again you don't need additional DSP hardware like ProTools and having a fast computer will speed up all your apps, not just one (like the ProTools hardware). If you do buy it make 100% sure you download the patch, which sorts out many bugs and makes Sonar far quicker.