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Cakewalk Sonar 8.5 Hilo HI

Sonar 8.5 adds two channel strip effects: VX-64 Vocal Strip and PX-64 Percussion strip; both true 64-bit plug-ins. While you could use Sonar’s existing effects to create similar track presets, it’s more convenient to have what you need in one place.

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Cakewalk Sonar 8.5

0210 Cakewalk Sonar 8.5 Collage Good Enough To Be Sonar 9

Cakewalk threw a curve at the last AES convention: Instead of introducing Sonar 9, they went for an 8.5 upgrade at just over half the usual upgrade price. So was it just bug fixes? Guess again. Sonar 8.5 has several important new features, including a more improvisational recording method.

Click the image at left for a large version.

PROS

Matrix view is a fun way to record. Native REX file import. PX-64 and VX-64 are versatile plug-ins. Per-track arpeggiation. Audio effects from Project5. Session Drummer 3 loads more drums and has more content. AudioSnap 2 and Step Sequencer 2 are significant improvements. Lower price than expected.

CONS

Still no notation improvements. No way to delete specific groups of cells in Matrix view — it’s either one at a time or all of them.

INFO

Upgrade from Sonar Producer 8: $99,
free for V-Studio 700 owners; other upgrade paths detailed at cakewalk.com

NEED TO KNOW

Is this upgrade worth the money? Given the low cost and the many additions, the only reason not to upgrade is if you don’t need any of the new features.

Why isn’t it called Sonar 9? Beats me. Perhaps because it’s more about additions than alterations to the core program.

I just upgraded to Windows 7. Is Sonar 8.5 compatible? Absolutely. It supports anything from XP on, 32- or 64-bit — even running under Boot Camp on Intel Macs.

Can I use my 32-bit plug-ins in a 64-bit environment? Yes. The only possible snag might be drivers for hardware interfaces.

Did Cakewalk fix the crossfade glitches? I’ve edited tons of splices and crossfades at 96kHz, and whatever sometimes caused envelopes to go haywire has been fixed.

MEET THE MATRIX

Matrix view is arguably the most significant upgrade, as it brings Ableton Live-like cell-based looping to Sonar. A matrix of rows and columns has a cell at each intersection, into which you can load Groove Clips (Acidized files) or REX loops (you can also load WAV and AIF audio files; as of 8.5.2, there’s an option for automatic Groove Clipping so they’ll stretch to tempo). Each cell’s loop start can quantize to a particular rhythmic value, and there are also mute and solo buttons. Perhaps the best aspect is that as you improvise with the loops, you can record the results as audio groove clips in track view; unlike Live, you can even record solo button clicks as well as mutes. What’s more, all of the cells, rows, and columns are subject to MIDI control — I use a Novation Launchpad for triggering them, and it rocks.

STRIP SHOW

Sonar 8.5 adds two channel strip effects: VX-64 Vocal Strip and PX-64 Percussion strip; both true 64-bit plug-ins. While you could use Sonar’s existing effects to create similar track presets, it’s more convenient to have what you need in one place. Besides, I dig the 1965 sci-fi flick look.

PX-64 has input and output saturation (crunch), a transient shaper, compressor, expander, four-band EQ, and delay with filtered feedback. The di...

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