Does X3 have what it takes to tempt buyers away from other recording software? SOS readers sometimes ask why we rarely print comparative reviews of products. In the case of modern digital audio workstation software, the reasons are many. For one thing, these programs are highly complex, and covering all the features of just one of them is a challenge, even in a lengthy review. For another, every user employs their DAW software in a different way, and the factors that might be crucial for me could be trivial for you. And for another, most DAWs are now so highly evolved that the differences lie less in what features are available than in how they're implemented. As a result, once an individual user becomes comfortable with one DAW, it's not easy for that person to evaluate fairly the workings of a new and unfamiliar program. With these caveats in mind, though, I hope there is still something to be gained by reviewing a DAW from the perspective of a new user, because that's exactly what I'll be doing in this article. I've used several other DAWs in the past: Several versions of Sonar have made it onto my hard drive at one time or another, but I've never done more than fire it up, stare at the welcome screen with a heavy heart, and close it again. With the launch of X3, it was clearly time I educated myself in the ways of Sonar. That hasn't changed in X3, but Cakewalk have engaged in something of a rethink of the product range. They are keen to emphasise that the most affordable edition, which is called plain Sonar X3, is not in any way a crippled or 'lite' version of the program. It also means that all improvements to the core program made in X3 apply across the board. These include support for the VST3 plug-in standard, integrated cloud backup to Gobbler and a new and more sophisticated approach to compiling edited performances from multiple takes. If you choose to invest in the more expensive Studio or Producer Edition of X3 instead, your extra outlay buys additional content. There is, as far as I'm aware, only one client application that can take advantage of this, but it's a biggie: Celemony's Melodyne, widely acknowledged as the best tool available for manipulating pitch and timing within recorded audio performances. If you want access to the jaw-dropping polyphonic editing in the flagship version of Melodyne, you'll need to buy it separately, but for conventional vocal work, Sonar X3 Studio and Producer ship with the very capable Melodyne Essential. Studio and Producer owners also get the Blue Tubes FX suite from Nomad Factory, a bundle of no fewer than 20 effects and processing plug-ins, to add to the many existing plug-ins bundled with previous Sonars. Tone2's BiFilter is an excellent emulation of an analogue filter. Finally, the Producer Edition also boastssome very impressive overseas signings in the virtual instrument department. Testing Testing One feature of Sonar that's always been popular is its use of a simple serial-number-based authorisation system. Cakewalk have never resorted to a hardware dongle, and that hasn't changed in X3. With so much licensed content included, however, installing the Producer Edition is a bit cumbersome. Once you've handed over your virtual cash, you receive a list of serial numbers, and although the X3 installer covers many of the bundled plug-ins, Melodyne and Addictive Drums need to be installed separately. The latter, moreover, absolutely requires that your studio computer be connected to the Internet. With that hurdle out of the way, you can fire up X3, which happens with impressive speed. Like other DAWs, Sonar needs to scan your system for plug-ins before it can use them, but X3 now has the ability to do this unobtrusively in the background, so you can start work straight away as long as you don't need to use Zzzz Labs' Zzedelator Pro to do what you want, I suppose.
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