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.