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Cakewalk Sonar X1 Studio review

Ben Pitt
16 Apr 2011
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
169
inc VAT

Tremendous editing power at an extremely competitive price, but the redesigned interface doesn't go far enough for our liking.

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Cakewalk Sonar has an impressive history of innovation. It was among the first music packages to combine traditional recording techniques with dance-oriented loop manipulation, and powerful features such as its V-Vocal pitch manipulation and AudioSnap audio quantise predate similar features in its main rival, Steinberg Cubase.

In this latest update, the emphasis is on workflow. The interface has been radically overhauled, largely doing away with multiple floating windows in favour of a docked-panel approach. It's a welcome move, as while we've always admired Sonar's abilities, we've been less fond of its interface. Its utilitarian appearance bordered on being ugly, windows battled for screen space and excessive use of cryptic icons, acronyms and long right-click menus made it feel more technical than creative to use.

Visually, the new interface is a vast improvement, despite the sombre colour scheme. The transport controls and various other dense clusters of buttons have been redesigned into a single Control Bar that runs along the top of the screen. There's still a lot for new users to take in - more text descriptions would have been welcome - but the learning curve is shallower than it was before.

Sonar Main

The new interface makes better use of the available screen space but it still requires a big monitor - or preferably two.

An updated Inspector panel appears on the left, showing the selected track's mixer channel and, cleverly, the bus channel that it's routed to. Clip and track properties can be displayed here too, although these views hark back to the dense information blasts of old. The right of the screen is home to a new Browser panel with three tabs for media, plug-ins and any virtual instruments currently in use. It's well organised, and media and plug-ins can be dropped into the project.

The new MultiDock window runs along the bottom of the screen, and is home to pretty much everything else - the main mixer view plus editors for audio waveforms, loops, MIDI piano roll and music notation. The downside is that, even on our 1920x1200-pixel display, there wasn't enough room for the MultiDock window to be of much use until we enlarged it at the expense of the main Track View, where the bulk of recording and editing takes place. The new Screensets provide a workaround by saving and recalling panel layouts, but it wasn't a perfect solution. All panels can be undocked, rearranged and turned into floating windows, and dragging the MultiDock to a second monitor worked well for us. It's disappointing that Sonar still feels cramped on a single monitor, though.

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