Welcome to an alternate universe. You knew the world where acquisitions killed products. In this one, products get better, faster – and go from costing hundreds of dollars to being totally free. Let’s catch up with what’s new in Cakewalk for Windows.
First, DAWs – music production software bundling lots of different features – do as much as they do because producing music is pretty demanding. Multitrack recording, editing, arrangement, working with patterns and sequences, working with audio, mixing, mastering, effects, instruments … a lot of tools go into this process. They’re therefore a big investment of time. Having to start out by also investing a bunch of money can stop people from moving forward at all.
So Cakewalk gives you what had been one of the leading tools on Windows, and makes it free for everyone. It’s not the friendliest to beginners by any stretch, but a lot of musicians and producers swear by it.
It’s free now following an acquisition by online music service platform developer BandLab (and a return to the name “Cakewalk” from the name “SONAR,” which never caught on):
Cakewalk SONAR DAW for Windows is back – and it’s now free
But if you thought “free” meant you’d mostly just see small updates, you’d be wrong. Many of Cakewalk’s previous developers, and tech lead Noel Borthwick, jumped to the new company. They were boasting at the pro-focused AES (Audio Engineering Society) conference in New York that they’re making rapid progress under new ownership. They say that means bug fixes, greater stability, and a more usable program – plus new features.
They’ve integrated the standard élastique Pro time and pitch stretching engine, so you can work with sound more fluidly. That’s become something of an industry standard of late. They’ve also continued to improve their own AudioSnap engine.
There’s now more advanced editing and event filtering of MIDI, across multiple tracks and in the piano roll editor.
The UI has been updated with new themes, and there’s better pop-up help and notifications to keep you oriented.
VST compatibility is improved and optimized.
And they remain committed to pro users with, for instance, Dante driver improvements.
The BandLab Assistant that installs with Cakewalk – and which you may choose to just ignore – does have the update option in it. Look under apps.
I don’t think Cakewalk is for everyone, but then I can’t think of any DAW I’d recommend to everyone. What you get is an excellent update to a favorite DAW for existing users and lapsed users. It’s a terrific choice if you want a pro-level tool but don’t have a pro budget. And it’s an option for complementing tools like FL Studio, Reason, Ableton Live, and other tools with more conventional DAW workflows and functionality. (Film score? Mixdown? Yeah, I often jump from something like Live into a different DAW.) It also helps establish Windows as a solid platform for music – even Apple’s GarageBand can’t match this for out-of-the-box functionality for free.
I still think more could be done to make the UI friendly and refined, but this is a terrific start.
Full feature updates, including the release that dropped last week:
Features & Enhancements
Integrated zplane élastique Pro V3 audio stretching and pitch shifting
Default stretch methods can be specified in the Preferences dialog
Transpose, Length, and Fit to Time commands work on all clip types, including Groove clips, AudioSnap clips, Region FX clips, and slip stretched clips
Slip stretching can also be performed when the edit filter is set to show audio transients.
AudioSnap enabled clips display a clip icon in the top right corner
AudioSnap clips show Auto Stretch icon when Clip Follows Project Tempo is enabled
AudioSnap palette options now directly opens Preferences page for settings
Optimizations and enhancements to time/pitch stretching and AudioSnap workflow
Customize or remove Project Open notification affirmations
Toast notification informs you when a new Cakewalk update is available
Changing the Online Render mode for slip stretch can cause crash/glitches
Looping causes stretched clip to become partially silent
Slip Stretch cursor appears with Move tool
Crop tool appears when holding CTRL with the Move tool
Slip stretch is available without the key modifiers if cursor is placed in bottom corner of a clip
Waveform display in split clip appears to adjust crop when slip stretching
Cropping slip stretched clip shows 000% in header
AudioSnap average tempo can show negative value
AudioSnap properties do not appear when Enable Stretch is engaged in Clip Properties Inspector
Clip Follows Project Tempo menu item in AudioSnap context menu does not match actual state
Transient edits and merged markers from other tracks can be discarded when toggling AudioSnap Off/On
When slip editing, active AudioSnap changes appear in waveform even if AudioSnap is disabled
With slip edited clips, active AudioSnap changes are rendered even when AudioSnap is disabled
Clip Properties Time Format setting persists across multiple open projects
Transposing stereo audio file with Radius creates flat line
Process > Transpose can fail or render static when transposing clips at different bit depths
Potential crash on project load
Potential crash in Help Module with German/Japanese text
Potential crash when exiting if the app is not registered
Elastique Efficient and Elastique Pro are the new default online/offline stretch methods for audio clips.
Elastique is only available in Cakewalk release 2018.09 and higher. Because prior versions of Cakewalk (or SONAR) do not support this feature, projects utilizing Elastique as a stretch method will not render properly in prior versions. A warning message will be displayed when you open a new Cakewalk project in an older version of the software. If you need to share project files with a prior version of Cakewalk, select one of the older stretch methods before saving the project. Alternatively, you can reset the stretch method in the earlier version of Cakewalk.
Elastique stretching with AudioSnap or slip stretching enabled can require larger disk read ahead depending on marker stretches. To optimize playback and reduce the potential for dropouts or audio glitches, we recommend a Playback I/O Buffer Size value of about 512 (KB) if you are experiencing any performance problems. You can change the Playback I/O Buffer Size value in Edit > Preferences > Audio – Sync and Caching.
Features & Enhancements
Global options to enable/disable toast notifications and specify timeout duration
AudioSnap transient marker tooltip now shows sample position, updates dynamically, and shows the original and current position in both samples and Measure:Beat:Tick when dragging markers
Default/inherited AudioSnap render mode names are shown in Track/Clip Properties Inspector
Improved Aim Assist UI
Toggling AudioSnap Enable/Disable in the AudioSnap Palette does not update the Clip Properties Inspector
AudioSnap: Follow Project Tempo and Enable Stretch should be mutually exclusive
Rare crash after selecting an audio device in the Welcome onboarding dialog
Aim Assist snap line not visible while moving clip if clip boundary is offscreen
Rare crash when hovering mouse over Clips pane time ruler
Aim Assist delta is not shown for Bus pane automation nodes
Aim Assist delta is not shown when drag selecting in area below last track
Aim Assist not visible in Clips pane time ruler after creating a new project
Aim Assist text obscured when moving mouse to far left/right of Clips pane
Invalid Aim Assist text shown when drag selecting before measure 1
Project load notification shows successful load when project file is missing
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