It’s been pretty quiet at winter NAMM as far as the major DAWs; Mackie released Tracktion 3 but the larger players either just released major updates (Cubase SX 4, DP 5, SONAR 6, Live 6, and the Pro Tools 7.x updates) or have yet to upgrade (ahem, Logic 8, anyone?).

That didn’t stop Cakewalk from releasing a pretty significant upgrade for free, which will also be the first major music app we’ve seen to officially support Vista. (Lots of apps will work under Vista, but SONAR actually supports all the new audio goodies.)

Cakewalk Releases Free SONAR 6.2 Update
Cakewalk NAMM 07 Blog

Do you really need to be able to see through plug-ins? Not sure; I’d rather use smart window sets. But will you want SONAR 6.2’s new Vista support? Absolutely you will. And now you have a reason to upgrade to Vista that’s a lot more compelling than just playing Halo and Flight Simulator X.

SONAR 6 has been a really major release, and Cakewalk keeps adding new stuff to it. My personal favorites:

Vista support: SONAR is the first DAW that fully supports both the 32-bit and 64-bit Vista, but this is more than just basic compatibility. By supporting the new WaveRT driver and MMCSS (Multimedia Class Scheduler Service), SONAR should run more smoothly with more hardware at lower latencies. The full explanation of why is complex, so that will have to wait for another article. I hope (and fully expect) we will see other developers follow suit over the coming months as users migrate to Vista. As with x64 XP, the 64-bit edition gets extra CPU performance and greater RAM access (128 GB on Vista x64).

MIDI input quantize: Input is quantized as it’s recorded, and you can set up per-track quantize settings. Updated: input quantize is non-destructive. Cakewalk reports that quantize undo is separate from record undo, so you can undo the quantization without losing the recorded data. That’s just how I like it.

Field recorder support: Cue markers from .WAV recorders like the Edirol R-4 now show up on the time ruler — podcasters, interviewers, etc., rejoice.

Smoother audio quantize: Previously, quantizing audio without time stretching could leave gaps — bad. (I noticed Craig Anderton mentioned this in his tutorial this month for EQ Magazine.) Now, AudioSnap fills and cross-fades the gaps — good.

More Active Controller Technology Improvements: ACT, the feature that lets your control surface automatically map to SONAR, has been expanded to learn all plug-in windows, share and back-up mappings, match and jump (a bit like the take-over modes in Ableton’s mappings, though without the scale option), and support more controllers, among many other improvements. ACT is really setting a benchmark here for SONAR, and this seems to fix some of the major issues with the “point-oh” release.

There’s also a new Bit Meter plug-in that monitors word length, dynamic range, signal peaks, etc. And while I can’t see using it, there’s an “X-ray mode” that makes plug-ins translucent. (That will let you see behind plug-ins, but I’ve always found this adds to screen clutter… maybe it’ll be useful on laptops with small screens.)

Keeping with Cakewalk’s ongoing Roland partnership, there’s also expanded ACT support for Roland’s new Edirol PCR series keyboard/control surface line, which would be terrific, except from what I can tell Edirol hit them really hard with the ugly stick, and yet again painted giant velocity curve diagrams over one side. (Sorry, Edirol — we love you, we do. Someone had to say it. Why can’t the keyboards look as hot as the V4 mixers?) Fortunately, ACT isn’t limited to this line. (More on the PCR in the NAMM wrap-up next week.)

Overall, a big release for SONAR users. Most SONAR users I know use other Windows software, as well, so I will say I think this will be just the first of a number of Windows apps to take advantage of the new Vista features. Stay tuned here.