Cakewalk has a major upgrade to their flagship audio software, SONAR, not very long after the release of SONAR 5 last year:

Cakewalk SONAR 6 Producer Edition: New Feature Highlights []

The banner feature is a new “audio quantize” feature. All the major DAWs have been toying with various takes on beat-synced audio warping, not necessarily copying software like Ableton Live, but trying to appeal to those who use those techniques with something different. It makes sense, given that MIDI has long had this rhythmic flexibility. In the case of SONAR 6, the new features include non-destructive audio quantize, the ability to combine different tracks into a single groove, “audio beats to MIDI” conversion, “slip-stretch”, and tempo changes. Some of those are available elsewhere, but it sounds like Cakewalk has taken a unique approach to actual editing. Like Logic Pro, SONAR is also integrating high-quality stretching algorithms from iZotope Radius (with one important difference — Radius is an a la carte extra for Logic; here it’s included in the box).

There’s no one enormous feature or deluge of plug-ins, but taken together, lots of improvements add up to a big upgrade.

Among the workflow changes, I’m most interested in:

  1. “Dynamic” re-mapping of controllers — something I’ve long wanted, though I’ll have to test Cakewalk’s “Active Controller Technology” to know just how it works
  2. Fast zoom that keeps your place, with mouse wheel support
  3. Customizable interface and plug-in menus (with grouping)

And, of course, no DAW upgrade would be complete these days without some new plug-ins:

  1. VC-64 Vintage Channel modeled-analog channel strip with dual EQ and compressor stages, for warmth
  2. Session Drummer: Multisampled drums and patterns (not an automatic drummer as that might have sounded)
  3. Analyst spectrum analyzer

There’s also a new Synth Rack, though nothing is going to kill my buzz on racks from another upcoming version 6 upgrade — Ableton Live. Will be interested to see Cakewalk’s take, though.

Eye candy alert: here’s the full image, straight from the source:
Giant SONAR 6 Collage

SONAR remains the traditional DAW to beat on Windows, and this upgrade looks from a productivity perspective to be the major upgrade Cakewalk lovers were hoping for — it should convince some of those who passed on SONAR 5, because the combination of 5 and 6 is definitely reason to upgrade. More from our in-house SONAR experts when we can get them to sit down and write.

Best endorsement: GarageSpin is ready to make the leap from SONAR 3. (Hey, I know lots of users of older Cakewalk software; just a matter of new releases reaching critical mass as far as new features.)

  • Adrian Anders

    I'm going to order Sonar 6 Producer upgrade this week. I'm hoping that it's going to be the version that I've been waiting for since 4… "True" VST nativity, no wrappers. It was marketing hoopla last time, I hope this time they f*ing mean it. The new Vintage Channel is I believe the work of Voxengo, of which I already own the Analog Flux suite (which is sweet). It should be a real bang-up release this time, instead of the oh hum, still good, but not great update that was 5.


  • FailedSitcom

    I'm usually pretty sceptical about modeled-analog stuff, but Kjaerhus are pretty damn good at making plug-ins so I'm interested to hear how this turns out.

  • Adrian Anders


    Are you sure it's Kjaerhus that's doing the Vintage Channel? I thought that Cakewalk had a relationship with Voxengo, and as a result would be developing the future effects for cakewalk products…

    I could be wrong, I would just like to know where you got that info…


  • FailedSitcom

    I'm pretty sure that Voxengo work with Cakewalk and do indeed have a good relationship with them, but that has Kjaerhus written on it (and I mean literally written).

  • Bill

    I'm looking forward to the new controller stuff. ACT, I believe. Who knows how much is "marketing hoopla," but automatically mapping controls for just about any midi controller seems great. Hopefully, "presets for popular midi controllers" includes my recently purchase Axiom 49.

  • Peter

    I really really want to like this program. But I find all the little icons and color scheme too unworkable in my eyes. I tried, really tried to use the program, but It's way too clutterede for my tastes. I am jealous of the improvements in 5 (and now 6) though. I might DL the demo again and see if I can't force myself to like it.

  • In response to a few comments: Firstly, the VST adapter *is* "native" VST support; as the Cake bakers have explained, Sonar handles plugins in more or less the same way any other host does. See here for a better explaination than I could give in this space. As far as the Sonar display, being cluttered: you do realize that you can turn of the icons, and change the color scheme to your liking? But it does look like Cake has extended this even more, with greater control, so maybe you'll find this easier to work with.

  • Valis

    So has Cakewalk (finally) solved the 'gapping' issues in the audio engine?

  • Pingback: digital lofi » It’s official!()

  • Adrian Anders

    Lo Fi man, have you TRIED to use a wide range of VSTs with Sonar (and not just the popular/well known ones)? Trust me dude, if you had you would know what I was talking about. Compatibility issues, disappearing Cakewalk DXis (this happens when you have more than a few VSTis wrapped in Sonar), slow-ass plug-in scanning, bad handling of MIDI plug-ins (that is until the mid-version update), etc. made the whole experience of using VSTs in Sonar 4&5 just crappy. I blame the DX-VST wrapper, and DXi as a standard for this, as I never had nearly as many problems using VSTs in FL or any other host.

    Not hating on Sonar, as I LOVE recording audio in it. Just that I think that the handling of VSTs needed a major overhall, and not just hiding the wrapper and calling it "native". It needs to actually be handling the VSTs at the plug-in level, instead of going through the DX-VST wrapper middle-man. Hopefully we see better performance and fewer conflicts/bugs with this new version.


  • Eric D

    Gapping has been extremely minimal since 4.03. Some Nuendo users I talked to who have used both were jealous of Sonar's gapping, if that gives you some kind of frame of reference.

    The new version looks great – it covers up a lot of Sonar's deficiencies big and small (automation and zooming, most noteably) with a vengeance, and of course offers some cool innovations. According to a Cakewalk rep in their forums, it can create tempo tracks from audio, which will definitely offer some creative possibilities.

    Another more hidden enhancement that I'm looking forward to is the Analyzer, which can make automation envelopes out of waveforms. I'm curious – is there anything else like that out there?

  • Pulsar

    I have tons of VST loaded up in Sonar and all of them work perfectly. I've never had a Dx problem either.

  • unterdosed

    what i do not understand is how cakewalk can do such shameless ripoffs of the userinterface as well as of features (please look at cubase/nuendo3 or logic) and nobody cares. while when the UI of new cubase synths is copied from logic everybody screams.

  • Lori

    I hope that 6 is more stable than 5 and not such a resource hog… this is probably a lot to ask.

  • Justin

    Sonar 5 -64 is really buggy. It takes a month of Sundays to change the audio sample rate, no MP3 export, unstable, SF2 softsyths don't work and a weird latency issue that requires the user add a reverb effect to every channel. I'm going to buy the upgrade to 6 and pray a lot of this stuff has been fixed, but I'm not holding my breath. I find Cakewalk particularly unwilling to acknowledge any bugs.

  • jarred

    totally agree with you justin, and other critical comments. i have had cakewalk since 1993. now i use sonar studio 5, and i think stability is way worse , has more bugs. funny how most cakewalk users are i denial , cakewalk forums are full of angry people , ready to defend sonar, not acknowledging any bugs. well sonar upgrades are pretty useless. i got 5.2 and it seems to crash more often than 5.0.

    i have a lot of files in cakewalk format so i'm going to upgrade to 6. but this is it.

    if this one keeps crashing on me i go to pro tools.

    btw my system is new, intel board , conroe cpu, fresh xp, 2 gigs of ocz. no reason to crash.none whatsoever.

  • wilqen

    Dear jarred; I have been using Cakewalk since the dark ages (Cakewalk ver 3, you know . . before Sonar)and have had nearly every version. I had to learn a little lesson about computers and how one can crash all the time while another is rock-steady. I can see by the list of parts you probably build your own from the latest parts, or at least buy from the bleedig edge. Not that anything is wrong with that, you just have to be prepared to deal with the kind of problems you say you are having. Stop blaming the program and check your computer's software & hardware. And if you think Pro-Tools is going to somehow rescue you, boy have you got another think coming . . .

  • jarred

    oh dear , dear wil, may i say your tone is a little condescending. if you read my post carefully you will notice that i,too, have used cakewalk for a long time. don't assume i built my computer myself, and probably messed somethinh up, i didn't. it was`assembled and configured by a computer shop. but you are right not all the problems are due to the program's bad code.

    thanks for your insight

  • wilqen

    Dear jarred, you may be right, my tone might have been a LITTLE condescending, however, I thought I read your post correctly. As in: "funny how most Cakewalk users are in denial", or "cakewalk forums are full of angry people". I guess I took that somewhat personally, since I could be included in "most cakewalk users" and "the forums".As far as computers go I do build my own and am damn proud of it. Some of the things I have ran into trying to make different brands, or types of components, work properly, would seem ridiculous at the best of times and downright criminal at others. But thru the years I have learned (maybe the hard way) that almost always (at least with Wintel) the most reliable part of the process is the software sold by medium to large companies, not Windows, or the PC platform, whether bought or built. Two years ago when I upgraded to Sonar 4 it was on a new and fresh (winXP) computer. I had several problems installing my then brand new E-MU 1820m audio interface. To make a long story short-the problem started with Sonar crashing (because of the audio interface) and ended (after several days) with the culprit identified as the audio interface. None of it made sense in any way I or either Cakewalk or E-MU's techs could determine. Only after I installed the audio card in PCI slot #4 (an E-MU tech's hunch) did it all fall together and work fine. It was frustrating, especially since it started with Sonar crashing, and ended with Sonar not being the problem at all. Your post reminded me of my experience and frustrations. It seems to me that WINXP 64 has the bugs that cause Sonar to crash. At least any problems I have had with Sonar have only occured in the WIN 64 OP, not in the reg WIN 32 OP. By the way – you didn't comment back about my remarks concerning Pro-Tools?

  • jarred

    i have an emu card as well, 0404, (same drivers and software as 1820-so the same potential problems). and 2 days ago i rolled back my emu drivers ; now i'm using the first version, from original cd. things seem to work guess it wasn't sonar. at least not this time.

    this is not the first time when updated, new, supposedly better version works in a worse way. i went back to sonar 5.0 as well.

    everything is smooth.

    i've never used pro tools personally.

    are you saying it's less stable than cakewalk?

  • wilqen

    No, not less stable.Pro Tools is stable, it has that.Sonar seems both deeper and easier in the functions I use, at least. And the price of the HD gear & TDM plugins are obscene. After working with Sonar the software just seems clunky, none of the LE interfaces compare in price and/or features, I think almost all the other sequencers are better, even if simple and quik is your style. The only things I liked were the plugins, but they weren't "better" than Native versions, at least not what I was able to use. HD does sound good, but not $6k to $13k better- no way!

  • jarred

    did you have any problems with emu drivers?

    or any emu related software?

  • Justin

    I'm running a dual core Athlon 64 with 8GB memory a 2TB RAID. Yes I built it myself. But, the problems I have are specifically with Sonar 5 64. I can run the 32 bit Sonar 4 on the same machine without any issues. Although I've not used Sonar 5 on my 32 bit machine (You can't install the 32 bit version on XP64) there doesn't seem to be a problem. I too have used Cakewalk since V3 and this is by far the worst release I ever seen. What really annoys the hell out of me isn't that users maybe in denial, it's that Cakewalk are in denial. I use a whole host of other software on this machine. Only Sonar 5 64 gives me any problems.

  • jarred

    what soundcard do you use?, just curious

  • wilqen

    Jarred, – Yes I have had driver probs with the E-MU. Spec: the latest driver/app patch set (1.82?) wouldn't install, just gave an error mess.E-MU suggested a "virgin' install, in other words delete the pathmix app and the driver, then reload from the 1.82 update patch, not the disc. It worked approx 5 months – until the audio dock began acting up, which un-fortunately is now not only kaput, but out of warranty. I already mentioned the install issues oh, and my daughter's boyfriend bought the lap-top ver – 1616m – which he cannot get installed/working either. he is now working with E-MU cust serv.I have had no probs with Sonar 5, I have only a 32bit mach, but use only 64bit mode. I have been pleased with it and the previous versions as driver probs. Sonar 3 & 4 were like wise very stable, no problems

  • Justin


    I agree that the 32 bit version of Sonar 5 is stable. (Seems to be anyway.) 64 bit mode is not the same as running the 64 bit version, which just doesn't work! I use MOTU 896's plus the NVIDIA sound that's on my motherboard.

    I've used EMU / Creative soundcards on and off for years. I've had nothing but trouble with them so I'm never going back.

  • Adrian Lesher

    I picked up ProTools M-Powered, and my experience sent me running back to Sonar.

    It's very particular about the motherboard and CPU you use, and there is not a 64 bit version. I have Shuttle with an SIS bios, and ProTools won't work properly with it. I also don't like ProTools GUI.

    Another weird thing about ProTools, the only option equivalent to Freeze tracks is a bounce feature, but this can only be done in real time.

    About the only things I like about ProTools M-Powerd are some of the processing plugins, and the intuitive, versatile and great-sounding Xpand! synth.

  • Justin

    Just installed Sonar 6. So far so good. A lot of the bugs in Sonar 5 seem to have been fixed.