SONAR 7 logo and screen shots

Not to be outdone by Logic Pro 8’s launch last week, Cakewalk has let slip the basic feature set of their latest version of their flagship SONAR DAW, with upgrades available immediately. What’s new — with an interesting emphasis on MIDI:

  • A new step sequencer, looking reminiscent of tools like FL Studio (Fruity Loops), though fully integrated with a traditional DAW (read: not as confusing to DAW users and traditionalists as FL Studio can be). Cakewalk claims it’s the “most powerful step sequencer found in any DAW”; we’ll have to try it out and see.
  • All new MIDI tools: Yep, it’s time to party with your sequencer like it’s 1989. Some of you complained that Logic Pro 8 seemed to largely ignore MIDI editing. Not SONAR 7: there are new “Smart MIDI Tools”, split, fine editing tools — again, some reminiscent of FL Studio, and some very Cakewalk-like. It’s an interesting return to Cakewalk’s roots as a MIDI sequencer company, and from what we’ve heard from users, these are things that matter to you — provided they’ve done this right.
  • Internal sidechaining: Sidechaining is beloved in drum compression and many other applications — even DJs dig the sidechain. So it’s great to see it in SONAR. (Ableton, Live 7, perhaps? Is seven a lucky number for sidechains?)
  • New mastering plug-ins: Linear phase mastering, no less.
  • More bundled instruments: The superb Z3ta+ is now bundled with SONAR, and perhaps alone makes this worth the upgrade price, plus Rapture LE, Dimension LE with Garritan Pocket Orchestra, and a drag-and-drop sampler that’s very reminiscent of the ones in Ableton Live.
  • Pitch to MIDI translation in Roland V-Vocal: Yep, you heard that right: you sing in, you get MIDI. (Hope this works in real-time?)

SONAR 7 step sequencer

There’s also hardware delay compensation, necessary for users of hardware DSP systems and somewhat overdue, though with an interesting UI implementation, and various other enhancements I expect we’ll see detailed soon.

Of course, with Logic running Mac-only and SONAR Windows-only, the choice between these two DAWs, at least, may already be made for you by your platform. I can’t see either making me dump one platform for the other. But it is great to see rivalry spawning real improvement, not just me-too features. (In fairness, some of what’s new in Logic 8, like automatically mapping to controllers, is old news to SONAR. But that just makes this all the more interesting.)

Anyone care to place a bet?

SONAR 7 Product Page
SONAR 7 Flash intro video (warning: plays automatically with sound)

Long live MIDI: I should add, the new emphasis on MIDI in SONAR made me think immediately of Ardour, which has been beefing up MIDI functionality and promises some new working methods in the near future. (Ardour creator Paul Davis notes the similarity to the step sequencer in comments.) We’ll be watching anxiously for upcoming versions. And I’m noticing a general resurgence of interest in MIDI sequencing capabilities in general, across a wide variety of users. So, software makers, listen up: giving people MIDI power is basically giving them power over notes and music. Until you come up with another way of easily modeling note values (even OpenSoundControl tends in other directions), we’ll continue to expect some innovation. I knew the 80s taught us something.

  • that step sequencer … reminds me of something … oh, i remember now …

    yeah, OK, Cakewalk's is prettier.

  • Thanks, Paul. I think that's a fair comparison … though there's some similarity to other step sequencers, as well (as we'd expect from a step sequencer). But that also looks great; will have to give it a go.

  • And here I just bought version 6.

    I sent them an e-mail to see if they'll be as good as Apple about honoring recent purchases.

  • The one feature i have consistently requested from whatever DAW I've owned at the time has been a "Roland-esque" or "X0X" style step sequencer. The reply is always the same, "use the piano roll". I find this staggering given music is as much about aesthetic as it is about possibilities.

    Interesting to see Sonar's angle here. All DAW's should have an eye-friendly Step Sequencer. I know a lot of people using Reason's ReDrum for this purpose alone.

  • I'm not a Sonar user, but the attention to MIDI is enough to make me want to check it out when it drops.

    Looking good, and I hope the other big DAWs follow suit, adding more MIDI features.

  • des

    Looks like they're giving the 7 upgrade free to anyone who recently bought 6:

    Sidechaining … hot.

  • I think part of what we're seeing is a growing awareness across the industry that musicians (taking that term very broadly) are the real core market — i.e., people making music. It's really good news.

  • Peter, could you expand on that? I'm confused by that remark. Who did they think their market was?

  • Mike

    Todd, I think Peter is saying musicians/artists rather than engineers/producers.

  • Well, there was this sense of going after the "production" market, after Pro Tools and the studio — long after the studio had declined. I'm not even sure they knew who those people were, other than the emphasis was "pros"; i.e., someone out there with money. But the secret is, the person who goes into a career as a studio engineer, as a sound editor, etc., is most likely also someone who cares about music. So the failure to speak to the essential values of their creativity was a major mistake, especially all this dancing about terms like "production" — or the fact that my publisher insisted we call the book I wrote "Real World Digital Audio" and wanted to avoid the term music and musicians. The idea that an interest in sound and an interest in music are somehow independent was silly to begin with. But I think it's hard for software makers to understand the depths of interest people have in things like arcane, subtle changes in MIDI editing. It's tough in a development process and in a marketing process to keep in sight what really drives people.

    Of course, we'll have to see how SONAR users respond once they use this; ditto, other DAWs.

  • This is really exciting – there's some features here that Ive been waiting for, for years! Step Sequencer! Side chaining! Advnaced Midi editing…damn payday cant come quickly enough!

  • Thx. I think that makes sense. Hopefully that may lead them to produce a less crowded interface at some point. As a long time Cakewalk user, I think they could do a much better job of hiding the more arcane features and putting the stuff you really need up front. Composing and recording are one process for most people. I think Live does a better job at this, and that's a product that was aimed at music makers from the beginning.

  • I bought this early on, and upgraded all through 5. But it always crashed on me and really pissed me off.

    Mostly it would crash when I'd change VST order. Also, it never seemed to recall right.

    I even called them and got the specs for a completely 'compatible' system, and put it together just for Sonar, but it still crashed.

    Ultimately, due to its stability, I had to flush it.

    All the crashing pissed me off so much really, that I decided to go all OTB for a few years (which didn't crash and was good).

    Stupid Sonar and the Gypsy curses I live under.

  • @Doktorfuture: this may well be SONAR that's to blame, but did you try running fresh and VST-free? With SONAR 6, I've found it to be pretty reliable, but I tend to run relatively few plug-ins.

    @Todd: Well, SONAR was aimed theoretically at music makers to begin with, too — but I agree; I find the interface fairly cluttered by default. There is some degree of customization possible, but DAWs in general have gotten a bit busy UI-wise, Ableton being a big exception.

  • WarpedEye

    advanced midi editing is basically the only reason why Cubase is still on my computer. If Live got the advanced editing features in place, I'd uninstall Cubase completely.

    This looks interesting, I'll have to check to see if there's a demo somewhere.

  • Gordon


    I have found Sonar6 to be rock solid since Version 6.2.1. I am nearing completion of an album that has pretty much all been done in Sonar 6 and I have had no crashs, and no weirdness. The only problems I had for a while was getting my Liquid Mix to play nice, but that was sorted by a patch from Focusrite, so not Sonars issue.

    I have already ordered 7 for 3 reasons. Sidchaining, the Midi improvements and also becuase I did not own any of thier VST's (Z3TA/Dimension/Rapture) but have been tempted for ages, and now LE versions all come bundled with 7. Oh and that Pitch to Midi thing sounds pretty cool as well.

    My only frustration now is I really want to try get 7 going on the main rig, but I don't think its a good idea to upgrade till the album is done. Just seems a tad stooopid. Will have to settle for having on the lappy.


  • TJ

    Roger that. I find myself missing decent MIDI editing, let alone advances in sophistication and aesthetics, from shareware and commercial sequencers gone for years.

    The focus on quality *audio* was no doubt helpful for producers — but for those of us *making the music* — who like to experiment and dream and then innovate — MIDI is leagues ahead. I guess the engineers who make sequencers don't know that.

  • For those curious in the un/under-documented improvements, additions and improvements, <a>I've weeded them out of the Sonar forums.

    There's some great stuff in there. It may take me a while to get it all sorted.

  • I think the vocal to MIDI function is very useful for those musician who don't master any instrument. They can do sequencing without the keyboard or any theory requirement. As long as they can hear the notes in their ears, they will be able to sing the harmony for the desired track. Pretty brilliant feature indeed!

  • Siempre al dia los Amigos de Cakewalk no nos dejan olvidados….

  • Pitch to MIDI translation in Roland V-Vocal: Yep, you heard that right: you sing in, you get MIDI. (Hope this works in real-time?) – absolutely amazing if this really works as you say… is there any plugin that could do the same on reason 3

  • DJ M.O.B

    I come from a family if music n through the years my dad and brothers have been using Sonar, i been on Sonar 7 XL for a a bit and hands down it just kicks butt. its user friendly and its easy to creat sick beats and drop siick mixes.