Review – SONAR Platinum in 2017
Cakewalk has been very busy over the past couple of years. We’ve checked in to see what’s been happening with their flagship DAW, SONAR Platinum.
by Rob Mitchell, Sept. 2017
Back in our May 2015 issue, I wrote about Cakewalk’s SONAR Platinum (sometimes referred to as “SPlat”). It is one of the most powerful DAWs available today. Just in case you’re not sure what a “DAW” is, it stands for Digital Audio Workstation. In its most basic form, what it can do is record audio and MIDI tracks into your computer, but it’s much more than that. Loaded with features and plugins, SONAR really is a virtual treasure trove of instruments, effects and it has some very useful functions built-in. If you’d like to get some additional background on SONAR, I recommend that you read that other review located here: http://soundbytesmag.net/SONARplatinum2015/ . Besides covering many of the great features it had up until that point, it has the basic requirements for installation, which are basically the same today.
For this article, I will highlight a couple of the new plugins added since 2015, and some of the newer features that (in my opinion) really stand out from the others. It would take a whole book of information to cover every feature and plugin, so I am narrowing it down to what I think are the more important ones.
Some of the new additions added in the past two years include Drum Replacer, Adaptive Limiter, Strum Session 2, Rapture Session, LP EQ, and LP Multiband Compressor. Of course, this isn’t a review of each individual plugin, just more of an overview of what Cakewalk has added to Platinum. I will briefly cover two of the plugins, just to give you a basic idea of what they are about.
Drum Replacer is an ARA (Audio Random Access) effect that lets you analyze and replace drum tracks. The transients of an individual track are displayed, and you’re able adjust the level so you don’t accidentally use something that bled through the microphones. The filter control lets you find the strongest transients. You can also unselect any transients that you might not want to replace. Once you have that all set, you can use WAV or SFZ files to replace what is in the track. There are a few of each type that you can use as replacement sounds (kicks, snares, high and low toms), but you can also right-click on the menu on the left side, browse to any directory, and load your own. Here is a link to some additional details for Drum Replacer https://www.cakewalk.com/Products/Drum-Replacer
Rapture Session is another new addition in SONAR. It is based on Cakewalk’s flagship synth/sample player Rapture Pro, but it has a smaller footprint: 4 gigabytes of content (10 gigs in the Pro version) in twelve categories and hundreds of presets. Eight easy to use macro controls can get you started quickly, letting you adjust pre-assigned parts of the synth. Its dual X/Y pads and Vector mixer give you even more performance capabilities. An upgrade path to the full version of Rapture Pro is available which has robust editing features and (as I mentioned) much more content. https://www.cakewalk.com/Products/Rapture-Session
Now I will switch gears and start covering some of the new features Cakewalk has added. Plugin Upsampling is a new addition that works by running a plugin at a higher sample rate, and then down-sampling it afterward. This can greatly reduce fold-over distortion (aka “aliasing”) occurring in the higher end of the audio spectrum. The main limitation here is that the upper limit for your project’s sample rate can’t be more than 192 kHz. This is because the actual up-sample limit of this new feature is 384 kHz.
Ripple Editing is a great feature that lets you move clips around in the Track view. You could move them in SONAR before this feature was added, but now if you paste one clip down in-between two others, then it will automatically move them over to make space for the pasted clip. It works on single tracks or on multiple tracks. For example, maybe you need to delete all the clips for all tracks that are in just one measure. This is an easy task because it will automatically slide all the clips over to close the gap that was created.
I want to say a few words about the Transform Tool. You can think of it as molding the MIDI levels like clay. It works its magic in the lower part of the screen while using the Piano Roll view. The Soft mode will blend the changes to MIDI data with the nearby data for smoother transitions. Hard mode is for straight-ahead and precise changes where you need more accurate control over the data. The Mask mode lets you easily draw in changes to the data without affecting anything outside of the selected mask area. Auto Focus works with just the notes you’ve selected in the Piano Roll view, and automatically selects the MIDI data below those selected notes.
The Lenses features lets you configure the screen with just what you need to work with at the moment. If you don’t need certain parts of the display taking up valuable space, your worries are over. In that way, it is like the Screensets feature, but it goes much further than that. It can set the parts of the screen similar to Screensets, but it can also add or remove features to the control bar. Another way to use Lenses is to have it load another theme along with different sections of the display that you may need for a certain task. The Commands section of the control bar (where you can add easy-access menu items and/or commands) can be configured differently for each lens as well, only showing the types of commands you need.
Plug-in Load Balancing was introduced in SONAR Platinum with the September 2016 update.
When enabled, it distributes the load that the effect plugins put on the CPU across multiple cores. It is recommended for CPUs with 4 or more cores. It doesn’t work with virtual instruments in the synth rack, External Inserts, or FX Racks with side chains. The best times to enable it is suggested to be: 1) if you are getting spikes from the CPU, 2) if you have a high audio latency setting for your project, 3) if one of your tracks is doing much of the processing for the effects.
The Onscreen Virtual Keyboard lets you play notes right on your PC keyboard or by clicking the notes with your mouse on the screen. This can be very useful while traveling on a long flight or maybe a train ride. Thinking of a new melody on that trip? Just open the Onscreen Keyboard and play the notes on your QWERTY keyboard. You’re able to adjust the octave range, modulation wheel setting, and velocity levels. This is very handy for those times when you just don’t have room for a MIDI keyboard. The Hold button is another cool feature that is found in some synth plugins. If you press that button, then play a key, it will keep that note held down until you press another key.
Patch Points let you route tracks to other tracks, or you can choose to feed your sends and/or buses to tracks. You can even feed the buses, tracks and sends all to just one track. Using this feature with the new Aux Tracks is very simple, and they are similar to buses, but they can be tucked away in track folders if you’d like. Aux tracks can feed to side chains or other Aux tracks. It is up to your imagination and the needs of your project.
The Add Track menu gives you an easy way to add a track (or multiple tracks) with no fuss. After you click the Add Track button, you can decide if you want to enable the track(s) for recording, set the inputs and outputs, add a folder, and even add a new bus. This is all from one easy to use popup window. It also has an Instrument option you can use, and it lets you pick a plugin from a list (categorized by company name), select the MIDI channel, choose inputs and outputs, open the Virtual controller, and much more. You can choose to load up to 99 tracks at once in this manner. This is a great time saver, and as they always say, time is money.
With an article like this, I know I can’t begin to cover it all. Without going in to any of details, here is a quick take on some of the other cool features that are definitely worth mentioning in SONAR Platinum:
- Bluetooth MIDI support
- MP3 export
- new CPU monitor modes
- improved pen support, Browser notes, and WASAPI support
Those are pretty much self-explanatory, but the WASAPI support is one you might not be familiar with. It stands for Windows Audio Session API. It supports consumer audio products that may not use ASIO, and it can also be used instead of WDM if you’re having issues while using that format. Basically what it can provide is low latency audio using the on-board audio in your Windows 7 (or later) PC. The latency is usually only around 3ms to 10ms. Not bad for on-board audio!
The updates that have been added over the last 2 years are very useful, and make an already powerful DAW even more functional and valuable in the home or professional studio. These updates are pretty much non-stop, as they keep issuing great additions to SONAR. The Cakewalk programmers must be very busy, and for that, I am actually very grateful. Putting the right types of innovative tools and improvements into the producer’s hands as soon as they can (and relatively bug free I might add) is invaluable, and keeps Cakewalk on the leading edge of home and studio production.
SONAR Platinum is available for $499.99 USD or you can rent to own at $49.99 a month. After twelve months it is yours forever. You can read more about SONAR Platinum as well as the Artist and Professional versions here: