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Sonar and Multi-processor PCs

Sonar Notes
By Craig Anderton

It's the check box many of us have wanted: Now Sonar can take better advantage of multiprocessing-based systems.It's the check box many of us have wanted: Now Sonar can take better advantage of multiprocessing-based systems.

The latest Sonar update optimises the software for multi-processor PCs, as well as adding new operational features. Read on to find out what they'll mean to you, and explore another crop of tips and techniques.

After a difficult birth that saw the update posted, then pulled, then re-posted, Sonar 3.1 landed at the NAMM show and is now available. In addition to fixing over 100 bugs, it also adds some new features.

First up is multi-processor optimisation, as the audio engine can now distribute mixing tasks across multiple CPUs. Project sample-rate options are more flexible too; you can set the sample rate to any rate supported by your hardware. Although there are presets for standard sample rates, it's also possible to type in any arbitrary number. If your hardware can deal with it, so can Sonar. While we're talking about sample rates, Sonar now incorporates the Windowed Sync resampler algorithm, to improve the quality of sample-rate conversion when importing and exporting audio.

Ever experience the frustration of trying to load an old project where the plug-ins no longer exist? Sonar 's existing ability to open a file in 'safe mode' is a big help, as you can choose whether or not to exclude certain plug-ins when you load the file. But 3.1 improves matters further by creating temporary 'placeholder' plug-ins. You can edit Projects without losing references to any plug-ins that are missing, but should Sonar detect the plug-in later on when loading a Project, that plug-in will be loaded properly.

Those who want to wind up tempo beyond drum & bass will appreciate that Sonar 's tempo can now go up to 1000 BPM (the previous limit was 250). Also, in Producer Edition, the EQ plot in individual channel strips can be set for varying resolutions (+/-6, 12 or 18dB). This certainly makes the EQ plot more useful overall.

Other helpful additions include a 'Reset All Meters' command, the ability to show/hide toolbars via key bindings, a control surface plug-in for the venerable (but revered) Studiomix, the potential for channel EQ control support in control surfaces, revised Play List, and resizing of the Track View toolbar buttons so that they require less horizontal space.

You can download this free update from the Cakewalk web site: register your program if you haven't already, exercise your modem for a while, and you'll be up to date with the latest version. However, make sure you load the previous plug-in patch before installing 3.1; and if you want to 'migrate' presets to the new version, read the fine print carefully about how to export, then re-import, them.

Pump Up The Volume

Loudness maximisation lets you increase a track's apparent level, and a multiband compressor can do this fairly transparently by avoiding modulation effects among different frequency ranges. The Sonitus FX Multiband compressor makes it easy to get more apparent level out of your mixes.

Quick Tips

To record on multiple tracks, click the Arm button for every track into which you want to record a signal. Make sure you assign each track to the desired audio input.

Cakewalk have completely revamped their user forums, and there is a lot of worthwhile discussion going on in them. Visit for details.

To scrub multiple tracks of audio simultaneously with the scrub tool, drag across the time ruler while holding down the left mouse button.

It's very easy to copy an effect to another track. Simply Ctrl-click on the effect and then drag it to the other track's FX slot.

  • Begin by inserting the Multiband into a track or buss FX slot, then load the Multiband's Default preset. This insures that the threshold for each track is at maximum. We're not going to use the Multiband's compression feature, but its limiting option.
  • Next, go to the Multiband's Common tab and click on 'Limit'. It should glow yellow. Add the desired amount of maximisation by increasing the associated track's Trim control (which precedes the Multiband effect) rather than Volume, which follows the effect.

Boosting the Trim control pushes more level into the Multiband, which brings the limiting into play. The higher the Trim level, the greater the apparent level. However, like all dynamics processing, note that there is a point of diminishing returns, where the dynamics sound squashed and unnatural. Move the Trim control back and forth; you'll notice a range between 'no obvious effect' and 'wow, that sounds like garbage'. Find the sweet spot where there is still a good sense of dynamics, but the overall sound is louder and stronger.

View Customisation Options

Right-click anywhere in the Clips Pane, select View Options, and a dialogue box appears with several check boxes along the left. These have options that let you customise the Clips Pane. Here are my recommendations:

  • Display Track Separators draws a horizontal line between tracks. Check this so that it's easier to see track boundaries, especially with a dual-monitor setup.
  • Display Vertical Rules draws a vertical rule at measure lines. If you're zoomed way out, this makes the Clips Pane look rather cluttered — but zoom in and it helps you to find your way around a bit more easily.
  • Display Clip Names and Display Clip Contents aren't really necessary if you're just using the Console View, but I like to leave these checked as further verification of which sounds are on which tracks.
  • Left Click Sets Now and Right Click Sets Now determine which type of click (or both) sets the 'Now' time. I recommend checking Left Click and unchecking Right Click. There are often times when you need to right-click in the Clips Pane, and you don't necessarily want to reset the 'Now' time when you do.
  • Show Audio Scale, when unchecked, butts the left side of the Clips Pane up against the right edge of the Tracks Pane. This gives a little more space for seeing Clips, but then you can't click on the Audio Scale and drag up or down to change the audio waveform scaling. I advise checking this box.

Track Sorting

The Sonitus FX Multiband offers a limiting mode that can maximise the levels of tracks without adding significant distortion.The Sonitus FX Multiband offers a limiting mode that can maximise the levels of tracks without adding significant distortion.When you've recorded a lot of tracks, it can be helpful to sort them according to name, output, channel, size, and so on, as well as, for example, putting all the archived or muted tracks at the beginning or end of the track list. The Sort Tracks option is where you can define how your tracks are sorted.

Select all the tracks in the Track Pane (type Ctrl-A or go Edit / Select / All), then go Track/Sort. When the Sort Tracks box appears, check the sort criterion, then the sort order, then click on 'OK' (see screen, right). Changes are reflected in the Console View too.

The Zoom Tool

When you need to zoom in quickly on some detail of the Clips pane, use the Zoom tool. You can find this in two places: in the Toolbar above the Tracks Pane (the icon looks like a magnifying glass), and to the right of the Clips Pane, just above the Zoom-out icon.

To use the Zoom tool, click on its icon in either location and the cursor turns into a magnifying glass. Draw a marquee around the area you want to zoom, and when you release the mouse button, the marquee expands to fit the Clips view and the cursor returns to normal. To return to the previous view, type 'U'. This is one of my favourite shortcuts, as it has a history and can take you back through numerous view changes.

To perform a series of zoom moves, instead of clicking on the icon, hold down the 'Z' key. As long as it's held down, the cursor will be a Zoom cursor. To revert to the standard cursor, release the 'Z' key.

Published April 2004