Cakewalk Sonar: Roland’s Flagship DAW Software

As recently as eight or nine years ago, the brand name “Pro Tools” was synonymous with the generic term “Digital Audio Workstation,” or DAW — much in the same way that other companies’ proprietary product names have become associated with the general product name. Think “Kleenex” (it’s a “tissue”), “Xerox” machine (actually a “copier”), or to “Google” something (specifically, to use a “search engine”).

As long as they can maintain the rights to this brand name (Dupont lost “cellophane” decades ago), that company enjoys major benefits. Which may be a large part of how Pro Tools became the de facto industry standard when it came to DAWs. However, that has been changing.

Sonar grows up

When it was launched (a decade or so ago), Cakewalk’s Sonar was problematic. Valued more for it’s sequencing and virtual instrument capabilities than for it’s functionality as a DAW, Sonar wasn’t — until recently — seen as a viable alternative to ProTools, the “800 pound gorilla.”

These days, there are a number of pro musicians and producers for whom Sonar is the digital audio workstation software of choice. Musicians like Tom Hamilton from Aerosmith, Jimmy Buffet, B.B. King, three members of System of a Down, and John Anderson from Yes. Not to mention DJs and remixers such as Doug DeAngelis (Madonna, Nine Inch Nails, The Pet Shop Boys, et al), and Wu-Tan Clan. And producers including Bone Harris (Marylin Manson, Smashing Pumpkins, etc.), Jimmy Nichols (Reba McEntire, Elton John, etc.), and others.

Advantages and Disadvantages

It is widely agreed that Sonar’s handling of MIDI and virtual instrumentation is superior. In addition, Sonar’s ease-of-use gets touted by experienced users. Where it appears to have room for growth is in the virtual mixing function; ProTools, with its tightly integrated hardware and software has the advantage. There’s no doubt, though, that Sonar is making great strides in this area. (This also accounts for the superior tech support offered by Digidesign, maker of ProTools: their hardware/software production is more centralized.)

Cost, of course, is another factor, being that Sonar (like most other DAW software packages) is significantly less expensive than the juggernaut, ProTools. Included in this factor is Cakewalk/Roland’s practice of releasing moderately priced, yearly upgrades.

In the last couple of years, Sonar has also increased the number and usefulness of their plug-ins, an arena in which ProTools still maintains a lead, but no longer a prohibitive one. One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the fact that Sonar only runs on PCs (no Mac version is available at the time of this writing).

Overall Acceptance

As the early leader in the field, ProTools also enjoys the advantage of greater market penetration, which results in more information available from other users, easier portability between compatible systems, and a greater variety of plug-ins to choose from. But Sonar is one of the leaders of the pack of DAW software systems nipping at the heels of Pro Tools.

Adding a vocal track

Now we’re going to record a vocal. We’re going to follow the same procedure, however this time we’re going to unarm the guitar track and arm the vocal track. Press play, adjust your acoustic guitar playback level, and set the input level for your vocals accordingly. Once you’re comfortable with your levels, you’re ready to record again.

Congratulations! You just made it through your first session with a POK – keeping your hands free to focus on your instrument.