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Cakewalk Sonar XL 2.0 10/10

This is version two of the Sonar software package, which was a step forward from Cakewalk Pro Audio. This version feels far quicker and less buggy than version 1, but still it crashed when I used it. The interface builds on the previous version. This is not a cheap package, but offers amazing value for money!

With this XL package you get loads of plug-ins. These include the Cakewalk audio filters for compression, EQ etc. as well as new TimeWorks mastering plug-ins. There are also more DirectX virtual instruments included, even more than the first version! There's FXPansion's Drum Synth, Cyclone Sampler, Edirol's Virtual Sound Canvas.. and many more brilliant virtual instruments, which would cost a lot money if bought separately. Cyclone Sampler is basically a standalone sampler, along the lines of Halcion by Steinberg, which is very fully featured. Just load up samples, and cuts them up, and you can trigger each part separately.

With this many features, it is possible that you'd not need to use another package to make your music. However, Cakewalk have a made a big thing of version two's ReWire system. This has been available on Steinberg's Cubase for a while now. ReWire lets you run ReWire compatable programs together, like Reason and Rebirth, routing their audio output into Sonar's mixer, so you can add extra FX etc. It works too! My test machine was a dual Athlon 1.2 GHz and I comfortably ran many filters, DXi and Reason, using up only 25% of CPU time, so the code seems more efficient than version 1. If you only have virtual DXis and ReWire devices in your project, you just need to press one button to mixdown your track into a WAV! This feature, also present on version one, is a major plus, saving you time, no need to tediously record MIDI to WAV all the time.

Sonar does not support VST plug-ins without an extra adapter, but with the number of DirectX instruments available now, I can't really see why you'd want to use VST plug-ins. I think it's more a question of politics that prevents Cakewalk from offering VST support. After all, Steinberg designed VST and they don't don't support Cakewalk's technology of choice DXi (although Steinberg do support DirectX filters).

In short, this package is great, but whether you use it, or the Steinberg competitor is mostly a question of personal preference. I prefer Sonar's interface and its emphesis on soft synths (since I rarely use hardware synths). However, if you've been using Cubase for years, and want to stick to it, I would still recommend Sonar.