Sometimes, audio products come in sexy, exciting packages. But sometimes, they simply solve a set of problems. And the products that fit into the latter category can be as beloved (dare I say sexy), if not more so.

Since I first saw a prototype in the fall, I’ve been eagerly awaiting trying out Cakewalk’s V-Studio 100. It immediately resonated with features I wanted to see in hardware. Rather than talk the specs, let’s talk about the kind of problems you might like to solve in your mobile rehearsal, production, and performance rig:

  • You want to mix live, but don’t want to carry a mixer. You’ve got a laptop set, but you’re mixing it with other sources – and you want to be able to add live instruments / voices / Nintendo DS / circuit-bent creations to your main output without routing through the computer (which also saves your bacon when the machine crashes / you accidentally overload the CPU in Live)
  • You want to record your live sessions. ‘Nuff said. Sure, you have a portable recorder, but then you have to patch it in…
  • A lot of the time, you reach for the mouse because a control surface wasn’t convenient. And then there’s the fact that, while keyboards now often have mixer controls, the faders aren’t motorized.
  • You want to carry less gear, but you really need an audio mixer and some live effects and some recording and a control surface for your software mix.

And, of course, yours truly has been sort of encouraging all of these problems with talk of Game Boys and iPhones and custom-built Theremins and actually playing live instruments and pushing your Live set to the envelope and … oh yeah, then you want to record the whole thing.

I can’t vouch for whether the V-Studio 100 fulfills all my wishes just yet, because I don’t have the thing here. But while there are inevitable compromises in multi-function designs, the V-Studio 100 is set up in a way that appears to come close to what I think a whole lot of us need as laptop musicians. And despite the Cakewalk name, it’s actually aimed at users of a variety of Mac and Windows tools:

  • Control surface with motorized fader: One motorized, touch-sensitive fader, plus 5 rotary encoders, 11 buttons, transport controls; supports Mackie Control and SONAR’s ACT
  • Standalone mixer: 8 ins, 6 outs, headphones – mix while in audio interface mode or on its own
  • Built-in effects: 4 reverb types, 6 channels of EQ and compression – so you can add effects to instruments / vocals in the box without having to worry about adding latency by routing through the computer
  • USB 2.0 audio interface: 8 in + mix / 6 out, 24/96, 2 mic pres with phantom power, Hi-Z guitar in, MIDI I/O, ASIO, WDM, WASAPI, Core Audio support
  • SD recording: 2-channel recording to SD cards in both standalone and interface modes, so you can make recordings whenever. SDHC-compliant, so you can add up to 32GB cards – and the 8GB and 16GB cards have been surprisingly cheap.
  • Bundled software, including Vocal Strip: The Vocal Strip to me is the star, with vocal-specific processing tools, but there are also specialized Channel Tools, Peak Limiter, and LE versions of Guitar Rig, Dimension, and Rapture, plus an entry-level SONAR for PC

So, it’s a:

  • controller
  • gig recorder
  • practice tool
  • audio + MIDI interface
  • mixer
  • effects box

You can pretty quickly see how much you get into a compact setup. Sure, you could get a single motorized fader as on the FaderPort, and tote a portable mixer, and an audio interface, and a mobile recorder, but having them all in one box is a heck of a lot more convenient – less to buy, less to lug, and less to plug. The SD portion has some of the rehearsal-friendly features people like on Roland’s mobile recorders: markers, looped playback, and even a metronome. Also, the use of Mackie Control means the controller potion could make a nice companion for the likes of Logic or Ableton Live, not just SONAR. There’s not a lot there to control, but just having transport and a fader map correctly is a relief.

Of course, my general excitement aside, what makes this live or die is the way the dividing line is drawn between the standalone and computer-integrated functions. That’ll be top on my list in testing.

Pricing hasn’t been announced, but the price ballpark I heard sounded quite reasonable, so I expect this will turn out to be a pretty good value. I’ll keep you posted. June is currently the planned date.

As you know, my policy is generally not to post press releases, but in this case I think there will be some delay before the same information is available on Cakewalk’s site. In lieu of the link, enjoy (excerpted):

Essential tools for music production in one affordable package
SONAR V-Studio 100 elegantly combines the most essential tools needed by today’s modern music producers and performing musicians in a compact and affordable package.

· High Speed USB 2.0 Audio Interface

· Universal DAW Controller

· Personal Digital Mixer

· SD WAV Recorder

· VS Production Pack suite of virtual instruments and effects (Mac/Win)

· SONAR VS digital audio workstation (Win)

Use SONAR V-Studio 100 with or without a computer

SONAR V-Studio 100 Hardware Features

High Speed USB 2.0 Interface

SONAR V-Studio 100 is a high quality USB 2.0 audio and MIDI interface utilizing world-class Roland engineering design and component technology.

· 8 in + mix / 6 out, 24-bit/96 kHz quality

· 2 mic pre-amps w/phantom Power, hi-z guitar input; MIDI I/O

· ASIO, WDM, WASAPI, Core Audio support

· Compatible with DAWs such as SONAR, Logic, Live, Cubase, and Digital Performer

Universal DAW Controller

SONAR V-Studio 100 is a universal DAW controller that supports all popular digital recording software for Mac/PC via Mackie control protocol, including Logic, Live, Cubase, and Digital Performer. Additionally, V-Studio 100 provides extended control capabilities over SONAR through the implementation of Cakewalk’s Active Controller Technology (ACT).

· 100 mm motorized, touch-sensitive fader

· 5 rotary encoders, 11 buttons and transport control

· Use with any DAW through Mackie Control protocol

· Advanced control of SONAR through Active Controller Technology

Personal Digital Mixer

SONAR V-Studio 100 is an ideal digital mixer for small groups or solo performers who need easy control of few instruments and vocals mics; DJs, MCs, and any electronic musician who needs to mix multiple sound sources. All users can enhance their live sound with the pro-quality on-board effects which offer easy routing and accessibility.

· Ideal for mixing small bands, solo musicians, DJs, home studios

· 8 inputs, 6 outputs plus headphones

· 4 types of reverb and 6 channels of EQ and Compression

Mobile SD Recorder Live Player

SONAR V-Studio 100 can capture that creative moment whenever inspiration strikes by providing high quality digital recording that can be used without being connected to computer. Record directly to the VS-100’s SD-card to capture song ideas, rehearsals, or live performances. Create backing tracks on your DAW of choice and transfer them to the VS-100’s SD-card for playback during live performance (even while recording). Likewise, recorded performances can be easily transferred from the VS-100’s SD-card for additional editing, tracking, and sweetening.

· Record away from your computer

· 2 channel wave recording and playback

· Capture rehearsals and live performances

· Play and record along to backing tracks

· Built-in metronome

· Insert markers during record and playback

· Loop a region for practicing parts or jamming

· Easily transfer audio to and from any computer via USB

SONAR V-Studio 100 Software Features

VS-100 Production Pack (Win/Mac) suite of effects and instruments includes:

VX-64 Vocal Strip is a seven-stage processor designed specifically for shaping and sculpting incredible sounding vocal tracks. Each of the VX-64’s stages have been fine-tuned to be vocal-specific, taking the work out of dialing in an entire chain of vocal processors.  The VX-64 features a new Cakewalk technology that employs phase-coherent, multi-band saturation to avoid unwanted distortion; unique filtering to avoid harsh artifacts at extreme high and low frequencies; and an auto-leveling circuit that prevents the tube saturation from sounding too harsh when high gain transients are processed by it. VX-64 also employs a new de-essing algorithm designed with Cakewalk’s LP64 linear phase effect filtering technology to remove sibilance without creating any frequency smearing.

Processing stages include:

  • Input – simulates a tube pre amp
  • De-esser – removes sibilance without smearing
  • Compander – vocal compressor with an expander to reduce unwanted background noise
  • Tube EQ – for adding character ranging from subtle warmth to intense heat to the vocal
  • Doubler – advanced doubling effect providing the quality of actual re-tracking
  • Delay – preset delays useful for vocal tracks with tempo sync
  • Output – provide saturation control with a built in soft-clipping filter
  • Order of processor stages is user definable with click & drag reordering

Channel Tools — provides easy and powerful control over individual placement of the left and right channels anywhere in the stereo field. Ideal for adjusting L/R channel placement, gain, pan/width, and phase; also provides a widening or narrowing effect to stereo recordings through adjustments to mid-side gain.

Boost 11 Peak Limiter — gives your tracks radio-ready punch through transparent peak limiting and volume maximization without additional coloring of the source material. Boost 11 employs a "look-ahead" limiter and PDR (Program Dependent Release) to provide professional results with a simple interface.

Native Instruments Guitar Rig 3 LE — built on the latest award-winning guitar amp modeler from Native Instruments; 3 amps and cabinets, 11 effects, tuner, metronome, and over 50 presets.

Dimension LE — a streamlined version of the acclaimed Dimension Pro instrument from Cakewalk. Dimension LE features over 400 sound programs, ranging from bass, organ, and electric piano samples to cutting-edge synth sounds, rhythmic grooves, and a special edition of Garritan Pocket Orchestra.

Rapture LE — is a special version of the award winning Rapture wavetable synthesizer. It includes over 200 programs and hundreds of oscillator shapes. Rapture LE is perfect for performing the modern synthesized sounds igniting today’s pop, dance, and electronic music.

Cakewalk Studio Instruments — a collection of four virtual instruments that provide a fast and easy way to create backing tracks using a photo-realistic, interactive user interface. Instruments include a Drum Kit, Bass Guitar, Electric Piano, and String Section.

SONAR VS digital recording software (PC only) — a special entry level DAW based on the powerful SONAR 8 audio engine but offering a streamlined user interface.