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AES 2008: Cakewalk V-Studio 700 (Video)

Cakewalk & Roland’s first joint product
Following Roland’s announcement in January of their acquisition of Cakewalk, nobody expected any major joint‑product releases for quite some time, so it may come as a surprise that a new hardware-based system has been unveiled. The truth is that the two companies have been hard at work for over two years developing the VS700, “the next generation V-Studio line of integrated hardware and software products”.

In real terms, it’s a three-part system that comprises Cakewalk’s popular Sonar 8 MIDI + Audio sequencer, a rackmountable I/O device, and a feature‑packed control surface. The comparison with the now discontinued but much‑loved Roland VS‑prefixed multitrack recorders, which included the mighty VS1680 and VS2480, may seem a little odd at first, but when you look at the system as a whole, it starts to makes sense.

But the V-Studio 700 is much more than a replacement for a multitracker. Firstly, the number of audio channels is limited only by the computer on which Sonar is running, and on a modern machine that can run into the hundreds. Then there’s the I/O. At a sample rate of 44.1kHz, a single VS700R (that’s the name of the rackmountable I/O unit) is capable of recording 19 inputs simultaneously while playing back up to 24 outputs, and two VS700Rs can be used in one system concurrently. This gives a whopping 38-in, 48-out maximum I/O complement (at 44.1kHz), which is certainly more than any of the old VS recorders.

The system can operate at up to 24-bit/192kHz, although track counts are reduced at high sample rates.
Probably the coolest trick in the VS700R’s toybox, however, is the built-in synth engine from Roland’s Fantom series of workstation keyboards, which can be selected as an audio source inside Sonar 8. What’s more, there’s a slot for a Roland ARX expansion module, which can also be routed into Sonar on separate channels.

The centrepiece of the new system is the hardware control surface or, to address it by its proper name, the VS700C. It’s designed specifically for Sonar users, so has dedicated buttons for opening the Console, the Synth Rack and the Piano Roll, for example, and for turning on functions such as Audiosnap. Other buttons enable users to cut, copy and paste with single actions, while four modifier keys, similar to those found on a QWERTY keyboard, enable almost limitless button-push combinations.

The VS700C has a total of nine motorised faders: the one on the far right of the fader bank is permanently assigned to the master output, while the other eight correspond to the channels inside the Console view (which, in Sonar 8, can now be hidden). Fader View buttons enable the user to quickly jump between tracks, buses and the main layer, which mirrors the Console view. Using two buttons to the left of the sliders, the user can scroll through Console channels in groups of eight (or one by one, using the Shift modifier).

Usefully, custom groups of channels can be set up, so users can have their most-used channels on the same layer. Each of the eight assignable faders has dedicated mute, solo and arm buttons, but there are also global controls that allow the user to, for example, record-arm all the tracks in the project.

The top left section of the VS700C is occupied by a field of assignable controls that can be switched into three different modes. One of them implements Sonar’s ACT (Active Controller Technology), and maps parameters to the knobs and buttons according to the plug-in that is targeted. The other two switch the controls into either EQ or Send mode. In EQ mode, the 12 knobs give the user hands-on control of all four bands of Sonar’s parametric channel EQ, where the knobs control gain, frequency and bandwidth and the buttons turn the bands on and off. In Send mode, the knobs control the level and the pan of the first four channel sends, and whether they are pre- or post-fader.

The right-hand side of the console houses the transport section and a jog/shuttle wheel that can be used to select and move audio and MIDI regions inside Sonar, in tandem with the utility buttons previously mentioned. Seven further buttons, grouped in a Record/Edit cluster, allow the user to set loop points and manually punch in and out (facilitated by new features in Sonar 8), while a Project cluster gives hands-on control of save, undo, OK/enter and cancel functions, which is handy.

A Surround section, complete with a joystick and a Low Frequency Effect (LFE) level knob, sits at the top right of the console, and there’s even a T-bar fader, which can be used to control Sonar’s X-Ray technology (allowing you to ‘see through’ plug-in windows without closing them), alter the front-rear balance of surround audio, or control any ACT-assignable parameter. Finally, a Video Control button turns the entire right side of the VS700C (from the centre of the eight assignable faders) into a video mixer, leaving the left-hand side to remain in communication with Sonar.

But how do you hook it all up? Well, the VS700C connects to the VS700R via a proprietary protocol (so you can’t use it on its own), while the rackmount unit connects to a computer via USB 2.0. Importantly, the control surface can generate Mackie Control‑compatible data, so it can be used to steer non-Cakewalk software, although you can’t use it or buy it on its own, so it would be a costly way to attain that functionality.

At the time of writing, a UK price was to be confirmed, although we have reason to believe it will cost around £2000 including VAT from British retailers. In the USA, the street price will be about $4000. If you’re interested, check out Cakewalk’s V-Studio ‘microsite’:

Edirol +44 (0)870 350 1515

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