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Cakewalk: Sonitus Effects

Cakewalk Tips & Techniques By Craig Anderton
Published July 2019

It doesn't look like fancy vintage hardware, but the simple, uncluttered interface makes the Compressor easy to use.It doesn't look like fancy vintage hardware, but the simple, uncluttered interface makes the Compressor easy to use.

They may be old, but the Sonitus effects bundled with Cakewalk are surprisingly powerful.

The Sonitus plug-ins were born in 1998. Because they're old, use the DX format, are bundled with Cakewalk for free, and don't have sexy skeuomorphic 3D interfaces, people sometimes dismiss them... but I don't. Several of them offer functions you won't find elsewhere, which is why I've even installed a DX-to-VST wrapper so I can run the Sonitus plug-ins in other programs. To do this yourself, go to www.xlutop.com/buzz/zip/, then download the ZIP file dxshell_v1.0.4b.zip. Extract it, and copy the files dxshell.x64.dll and dxishell.64x.dll to the folder where your programs look for VST plug-ins. The only limitation is that side-chaining won't work.

Originally, I had planned on covering all the Sonitus plug-ins in one column, but there were just too many aspects that merited discussion — so this month we'll look at the Compressor, Equalizer and Delay. Let's start with some comments that apply to all the Sonitus plug-ins.

From A To B

Clicking on the Setup A/B button toggles between two independent parameter setup buffers, Setup A and Setup B. The Setup drop-down menu provides further functionality for copying one setup to/from the other setup. Suppose you're comparing two setups, have B selected, and decide you like B better than A — but think you can still do better. Select 'Copy to A' to copy the B settings into Setup A. Now you can keep tweaking B, knowing that you can revert to the preset that's stored in Setup A. You can also copy from the other Setup into the current Setup. If you change your mind, Undo works with this function (but affects only the last operation).

The Sonitus Preset Manager can be a bit confusing, but it's powerful. Click on the '?' or Help button in a Sonitus plug-in's upper–right corner, and check out what the Preset Manager can do. The presets are stored in a proprietary file format that uses a .INI extension; you'll find them in C:\Program Files\Cakewalk\Shared Plugins. If you create your own presets, remember to back up the data in the Shared Plugins folder. If you need to reinstall Cakewalk, your custom presets will not be included in a standard install.

Take It To The Limit

The Sonitus Compressor was a favourite among Sonar aficionados, being effective, easy to use, and capable of more than you'd expect. The interface is straightforward, and works well graphically: you can move sliders, as well as clicking and dragging up/down on the graph to edit the threshold, and left/right to edit the knee. However, you can also enter numeric parameter values.

The Type option offers Vintage mode, which emulates an optical compressor such as the Teletronix LA-2A. The main difference compared to normal mode is that the compression ratio lessens as the audio goes higher above the threshold, which gives peaks more 'punch' compared to standard compressors. Also, when TCR (Transient Controlled Release) is selected in this mode, the release time increases as the signal decays. In normal mode, TCR changes the release time automatically to reduce pumping and breathing effects.

The Limiter is another welcome feature. If you set a long compressor attack time, for example to let through vocal consonants, then some peaks can still end up too high. One solution is to insert a limiter afterwards, but this compressor already has one — it clamps the output to 0dBFS, and also includes a 1.5ms look-ahead function so it can grab transients before they occur. Furthermore, if you set the compression ratio to 1:1, the compressor becomes a limiter, applying more limiting as you increase the amount of gain. With Limiter selected, the red clipping indicators will instead show that limiting is occurring, so don't be concerned when the red lights come on.

Finally, the Compressor can serve as an expander because you can set ratios below 1:1 (down to 0.4:1). This is fantastic for restoring or accenting peaks from overcompressed percussion instrument tracks, including acoustic guitar, hand percussion, drum loops and the like. The Knee parameter affects expansion as well, so you can have a smooth, or abrupt, transition into peak expansion.

Ahead Of The Curve

You might think that with the QuadCurve EQ being built in as standard in every Pro Channel, the Sonitus Equalizer plug-in would be redundant. Yet the Equalizer has some functionality that even the QuadCurve doesn't have.

Each of the six bands can be assigned peak/dip, high/low shelf, or high–/low–pass responses. This means you can 'stack' bands so that, for example, you could engage six filters in high–pass mode to create an ultra-sharp low-frequency cutoff. It may sound like a hassle to program six stages of EQ, but you can simply right-click on a band to copy its settings to any other band, or all bands.

The ability to stack filters allows unusual responses to be created. The resulting steep low-frequency roll–off is visible in the QuadCurve spectrum analyser in the background.The ability to stack filters allows unusual responses to be created. The resulting steep low-frequency roll–off is visible in the QuadCurve spectrum analyser in the background.

The low–pass and high–pass responses have Q or resonance controls. With the low–pass filter, adding resonance just above the cutoff retains a sense of depth, even when you're trimming low frequencies — it's the secret behind some plug-ins designed for spoken word. When using the low–pass filter with amp simulators, you can trim off the highest frequencies starting around 5kHz to reduce artifacts and aliasing, but increase the Q to add a peak just below the cutoff, which improves articulation.

Right-click on the graph, and you can choose four different resolutions from ±5 to ±40 dB. For doing detailed, precision EQ settings, the ±5 setting is ideal.

The Flat button is a time-saver when you want to start over from the beginning, and the Output trim control helps considerably when gain-staging a chain of effects.

Of course, the QuadCurve has some unique talents too, the main ones being the four separate EQ curve types (which is a huge feature), the Gloss button for adding air, and the spectrum analyser panel. If you want to use the QuadCurve spectrum analyser with the Sonitus EQ, right-click on a blank space in the ProChannel, and choose Post FX Rack. Now the QuadCurve follows the Sonitus Equalizer. Enable the QuadCurve, then double-click on the QuadCurve's graph to open the analyser panel. Click on the panel's pin symbol (top right of the window) so that it's always visible, even when editing the Sonitus Equalizer.

Sonitus Delay

Sonitus Delay offers independent delays for the left and right channels, plus Crossfeed and Diffusion parameters that can add reverb-like features.Sonitus Delay offers independent delays for the left and right channels, plus Crossfeed and Diffusion parameters that can add reverb-like features.This remains my go-to delay, and is one of the main reasons I have a DX wrapper for other DAW programs to let me run Sonitus plug-ins. It's difficult to find delays that can do everything the Sonitus Delay has been doing for over 20 years.

The independent delays (with sync to tempo) for the left and right channels are a good start, but in addition to standard feedback controls, each channel can crossfeed its signal into the other. This lets you build up complex polyrhythms if each channel has different sync-to-tempo values, while with shorter delays, it can create sounds that resemble early reflections.

It's difficult to find delays that can do everything the Sonitus Delay has been doing for over 20 years.

The Link control for Feedback, Crossfeed and Mix retains the absolute relationship between values, even when they're maxed out or set to minimum. In other words, suppose Mix is set to 80 percent in the left channel, and 20 percent in the right channel. If you reduce the left-channel Mix to 60 percent, the right channel will go to 0 percent. If you continue reducing the left-channel Mix, the right Mix will stay at 0. However, if you bring the left-channel Mix back up above 60 percent, the right channel 'remembers' that it was 60 percent lower than the left channel. So if you set the left channel to, say, 90 percent, the right–channel Mix will change to 30.

One limitation is that the linking doesn't apply to automation. For example, if you want to automate the Feedback for linked parameters, you need to create automation for one channel's Feedback parameter, then copy the automation for the other channel's. Also, although there are high– and low–pass filters, they affect the delayed sound output and are not in the feedback path. Therefore, you can't have effects like echoes that get progressively brighter or duller with each repeat. However, there is a Q control to help shape the filtered sound.

Returning to the goodies, if you put Sonitus Delay in an aux bus, the Listen control turns off the dry audio when in the Delay setting, so the bus outputs delayed sound only. Finally, the Diffusion parameter is a stand-out feature: it can add the equivalent of early reflections to the delays. The Time parameter sets the delay time between reflections, while the Amount parameter acts somewhat like a feedback control; higher values make the effect more pronounced. With moderate-to-high settings for both, the echoes sound like they're in an acoustic space.

Published July 2019

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