Wireless Audio and MIDI in SONAR

With the proliferation of Bluetooth enabled devices, IoT (internet of things), wireless technology is one of the hottest trends today with wide-reaching applications to audio, automotive, medical and other industries. Gibson R&D is actively involved with wireless technology both in the hardware and software space and a member of the Bluetooth SIG, responsible for the development and evolution of the Bluetooth specification. As a Gibson Brand, Cakewalk is committed to embracing the advantages of wireless technology. This year, we’re excited to integrate wireless MIDI technology into all versions of SONAR – our flagship recording, editing, and mixing software.

In the 2017.03 release of SONAR we worked closely with Microsoft to add support for Bluetooth LE MIDI devices via the new UWP MIDI API. In November of 2016, we added support for Microsoft’s new low-latency WASAPI shared mode API’s, which including support for Bluetooth audio devices via WASAPI. With these enhancements, SONAR now has built-in support for wireless audio and MIDI via Bluetooth.

In this blog post we’ll delve into some of the technical details behind some of the these features. Continue reading “Wireless Audio and MIDI in SONAR”

Windows 10 Creators Update: Your DAW is not a Game

This week Microsoft debuts its “Creators Update,” the second major update to Windows 10. You can read more about what’s in this update on the Microsoft blog.

While most of the features in this update don’t directly relate to DAW’s or music production, we were particularly intrigued with “Game Mode.” Microsoft indicates that Game Mode dedicates more GPU cycles and a set number of CPU threads to the game and prevents background processes from interfering with it. It sounds good on paper so we wondered how it might benefit a DAW like SONAR…

To check it out, Jon Sasor, Quality Assurance Engineer at Cakewalk, took on the task of doing some benchmarks to test performance in Game Mode with the latest version of SONAR. Jon performed the test on a brand new Dell PC (Intel® Core™ i7-6920HQ @ 2.90 GHz with 16GB RAM) and he compared audio playback performance with Game Mode on and off.

Continue reading “Windows 10 Creators Update: Your DAW is not a Game”

A New Era For Cakewalk (an open letter from CTO Noel Borthwick)

Why we introduced Lifetime Updates

With the introduction of Lifetime Updates for SONAR Platinum, there have been many theories as to why Cakewalk would take such a bold move. For us it’s simple—it’s better for customers, it’s better for us, and we believe this way of doing business is the future, so we’re embracing it today.

Some history: In the past (pre 2015), we followed a more traditional annual upgrade cycle where we released a single version of SONAR each year. This model was flawed on many levels, both for developers and end users. As developers, we’re under extreme pressure to finish a product by a certain date to meet a revenue goal – often regardless of whether it’s ready or not.


Adding a lot of features to a product in a short cycle can create problems even skilled QA teams and beta testers won’t find. Furthermore, end users have to try and learn a huge amount of information at once—which is much less efficient than learning features at one’s own pace over time.

Rolling Updates: So we did away with annual versions of SONAR and decided to work on one version —continuously. We can make smaller incremental changes at a faster pace without disrupting the end user’s stability and workflow, as well as react more quickly to user requests. No more waiting until the next version to get problems resolved as is the case with many other products. We call this model “Rolling Updates” and as a developer and CTO of Cakewalk, I love it!

Rolling Updates also provides benefits beyond making new features available as soon as they’re ready. If something needs fixing or improving, we can just fix it and ship it without your having to wait a whole year. For example the Mix Recall, Patch Points, and Upsampling features all benefited from this interaction with end users. And doing features incrementally, in shorter time periods, promotes better stability and performance.

Although it’s never easy to do something disruptive in an industry that’s resistant to change (remember the outcry when Netflix decided to focus on streaming instead of DVDs?), the response has been decisive and positive. We didn’t want to end up like the record companies who refused to acknowledge the emergence of MP3s and digital media as a distribution model, and became almost irrelevant in the process.

Doing Rolling Updates for the past year-and-a-half has convinced us this approach is far superior to the huge yearly update—so much so, that for a limited time, we’ve made the bold decision to offer Lifetime Updates for SONAR Platinum, giving you all future SONAR updates for free.

Lifetime Updates shake up the mix even more, and offer a better way of doing business that benefits everyone. One great side effect is you get to help us improve SONAR during this process with your feedback and suggestions, creating a partnership with a common goal: You want to use the finest software in the world, and we want to create it.  That’s why we are doubling down by offering the opportunity to join us on this journey.

With SONAR Analytics now at our disposal, and a responsive feedback portal on its way, we’ll be monitoring your comments, feedback, and requests closely so we can respond quickly and ensure that your experience with SONAR is…awesome. At Cakewalk, we believe that there’s no better way to succeed than by having happy customers. It really is that simple.

SONAR OS X Alpha for Mac

OS X Compatibility Coming

What’s more, SONAR will soon be available to a brand new audience of music creators with our SONAR OS X Alpha, coming this Fall.

With Windows and Mac split almost evenly among musicians, it made no sense to ignore half the market—or ignore the numerous requests over the years from music creators who’ve wanted to experience SONAR’s superior workflow, audio quality, and tools on the Mac.

For PC users who wonder if we will keep up the same pace of Windows development, the answer is an emphatic “yes”—we will never give up our lineage as a Windows-based DAW.

Since our announcement, I’ve received many e-mail’s from industry peers showing genuine excitement about SONAR on the Mac. In fact, having more people using SONAR will benefit Cakewalk long-term and improve the product as a whole. However we are still in the early stages of the Mac development project, so please be patient 🙂

All of this may seem too good to be true, and some people wonder if there’s a catch. But we’ve put a lot of thought into how we can make changes that benefit everyone. Cakewalk has experienced a major rejuvenation, and we want nothing more than to continue what has brought us to this point. We love the new Rolling Updates model, and even many users who resisted the idea at first have become converts after experiencing the many benefits.

Welcome to a better way to produce and experience music software, and thank you for joining us on this journey of innovation and excitement. We couldn’t have gotten to where we are without you.

Thank you for reading.


Noel Borthwick
CTO, Cakewalk

[Noel Borthwick started at Cakewalk 18 years ago and has actively contributed to SONAR development since its inception. He is also a jazz guitar player and a SONAR user.]

Windows 10 Enhancements For Music Production

Music Production for Windows 10: Overview

Music Production for Windows 10

On July 29, at 12 AM EST, Microsoft started rolling out Windows 10 upgrades. If you signed up for the upgrade earlier, you may have already received a notification. If not and you absolutely can’t wait, Tech savvy users can use the Media Creation Tool to install immediately on one or multiple devices.

Fortunately this time around, we have much more mature release compared to Windows 8—there’s no missing start menu, and the confusing divide between “Metro” and desktop apps is history. According to Microsoft, Windows 10 will be the last “version” of Windows. Subsequent updates will be delivered periodically to users, so we won’t need to wait two or three years to see improvements. This isn’t all that different from what we at Cakewalk have adopted with our “rolling updates” model; we’ve seen how this has led to a proliferation of new features and enhancements along with ever-improving stability, and we hope Windows users will see similar benefits. To make Windows 10 more attractive to customers and get them onto the new platform, it’s even being offered free to existing Windows 7 and 8 users.

Microsoft’s new management under Satya Nadella has led to some positive changes in how Microsoft communicates with its partners. Over the last few years we’ve seen a renewed interest in our audio domain compared to prior years. It’s encouraging to see some additions to Windows 10 that were influenced directly by industry feedback, including concerns about low latency audio and MIDI problems such as jitter and multiclient support. Even at trade shows and other industry events there has been a renewed presence from Microsoft. These are positive steps—it looks like Microsoft has put Windows 8 behind them, and are making a fresh start that’s more responsive to consumer needs.

Microsoft presentation at Summer NAMM
(photo courtesy Harmony Central)

Cakewalk SONAR has always been one of the leading digital audio workstation (DAW) vendors at the forefront of Windows development, and we’ve been following the music production for Windows 10 development cycle from very early on. I spoke to some Microsoft contacts, and got some under the hood details on some of the Windows 10 features that are relevant to music production applications like SONAR, as well as a few areas of general interest.

Audio Stack Low Latency Optimization

There have been many significant improvements toward improving low latency performance in the Windows stack when using WASAPI (shared mode). The Windows audio stack now has as much as 15 msec lower round trip latency by default in WASAPI. Additionally, applications using WASAPI shared mode can now explicitly specify a lower buffer size to be used instead of the default system buffer size. Drivers can also now report a minimum buffer size to allow the applications to select a suitable buffer size.

Microsoft claims that one can now expect “near ASIO performance” when using WASAPI shared mode. This is a big accomplishment since in the past WASAPI shared mode had very high latencies, close to 50 ms (similar to MME drivers). Applications like SONAR that use kernel streaming or ASIO already communicate at a lower level that bypasses the Windows audio engine, so in theory the lower latency advancements in Windows 10 will not allow for lower latencies than previous versions unless you were using the Windows audio engine.

However, I asked Microsoft if there had been any changes to the Windows kernel (the lowest level in the audio stack, which can make or break low latency audio processing) that affect audio processing and received this response:

“Yes. There have been changes in the multimedia scheduler service and kernel components to minimize DPC spikes (particularly when in lowlatency mode).”

This is great news, because it could make a big difference to low-latency streaming apps like SONAR.

Audio Core Isolation

Drivers and applications can “opt in” to isolate and dedicate low latency audio processing to a single CPU core, which can minimize the effect of DPC latency spiking from networking, Bluetooth, or other DPC spiking processes by preventing interruptions to audio processing. Behind the scenes this is done using interrupt steering and thread affinity. This is an opt-in feature at the WASAPI level where an app has to identify the threads that need to belong to this isolated core.

This feature looks promising, particularly because Microsoft says they’re looking to expand this to multi-core scenarios that relate to DAWs like SONAR.


Prior to Windows 10, MIDI was primarily accessible via the older MME MIDI APIs or the less common DirectMusic APIs. These APIs were desktop-only and not available to universal apps, which is Microsoft’s new programming model. Music production for Windows 10 has new MIDI APIs that are suitable to universal applications, so they’re applicable to Windows 10-based desktops, phones, tablets, etc.

The API also allows for multi-client access to MIDI devices, and has improved jitter-free performance.

New Audiograph API’s

AudioGraph is a high level API that sits on top of WASAPI and allows simplified building of audio applications without getting into all the complexity of WASAPI.
While not necessarily applicable to DAW’s which require more fine grained control, this can be useful to build simpler applications that require low latency audio support in Windows 10.

Latency Measurement Tool

Windows 10 now has a hardware latency measurement tool that’s part of the Windows HLK package, and which you can download to measure round-trip latency.

FLAC and ALAC Support

Windows 10 has native support for these two codecs. ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) should allow better interoperability with Apple devices, while FLAC uses a lossless compression algorithm to provide a better quality (and free) alternative to MP3. Hopefully, native support in Windows might steer more people into using FLAC instead of MP3.

Desktop and Windows Store Apps Run Side by Side

Unlike Windows 8 where Windows Store applications always ran full screen, in Win 10 they can now run as windows side-by-side along desktop applications.

This is a much smoother experience to the end user when you want to use both application types simultaneously—if this was Apple, it would be like running iOS apps alongside your desktop apps.

Cortana Search – Integrated Voice Support

Ported over from Windows Phone, Windows 10 now has built-in voice search capabilities—a first for a desktop OS—that lets you perform (for example) web or desktop searches using you, voice. Its impressive how good the voice recognition in Cortana is. I’ve had very few problems with even long sentences from across the room. And yes it does understand “Hi Cortana, open SONAR”!

(Cortana search is optional and can be disabled if you don’t want to use it.)

Faster Boot – Smaller Memory Footprint

One of lesser known but great improvements in music production for Windows 10 is its smaller memory footprint compared to earlier OS’s and the fact that it does smart compression. This reclaimed memory is now available to other applications. Check out this link from the windows team to see how this was achieved. Its interesting that Microsoft’s their work on making Windows 10 scale to mobile platforms benefits the desktop OS as well.

Additionally Windows 10 boots much faster due to a combination of optimization techniques. These improvements can make Windows 10 actually work better on even older PC’s as reported in this article that recommends Windows 10.

Windows 10 Auto Updates

There is a somewhat controversial change to how Windows update works in Windows 10.

For Windows 10 Home users, there is no way to turn off automatic updates and they will be mandatory.
Windows 10 Pro users will have a little flexibility; they’ll be able to switch from the mainstream release to the “Current Branch for Business (CBB).”

This will give some control over when updates are deployed.

While the CBB will essentially track the consumer release, it will allow feature updates to be held back for some amount of time so you can prepare for the update.

Windows 10 Enterprise is the only OS for which users will be able to actually turn off Windows updates. By opting for the Long Term Servicing (LTS) branch, Enterprise users will be able to defer feature updates for years, electing to receive only security fixes during that time.

Testing Windows 10 With SONAR

Many of our users have been running Windows 10 preview builds with SONAR Platinum for some time now and have reported no problems.

At Cakewalk, the Gloucester release of SONAR is the build that we have validated officially with Windows 10.

We ran several of our validation tests and tested all our installers and inbox plug-ins for this release. We have also run the Windows 10 App certification on SONAR. We’re happy to report that everything works great, and SONAR passes Windows 10 certification with flying colors. Additionally, we noted some performance gains when running SONAR with Windows 10.

The common impression from those doing the evaluations felt that in general, Windows 10 felt snappier compared to Windows 8. The user interface, spotlight searches, opening menus, loading programs and other common operations all appeared to be faster and more fluid. Switching among desktop applications and Windows Store apps was also much more natural.

SONAR Benchmarks with Windows 10

The SONARBench test on Windows 10

In addition to testing Windows 10 compatibility with SONAR, we ran some simple benchmarks to compare performance of SONAR Platinum Foxboro on the same system running Windows 8.1 and Windows 10.

It’s always interesting to look at benchmarks since you sometimes see results you wouldn’t expect. The next article has benchmarks done by Dean Capper, but independent PC integrators PC Audio Labs, one of the major custom DAW integrators with a lot of experience building and testing DAW hardware, has done a pretty thorough Windows 10 benchmark.

Their benchmark was done using SONAR Platinum as well as other DAWs. One of the reasons SONAR was featured in their benchmark was because according to them “SONAR was used because it is very friendly to the WDM standard, and is a well-known and very efficient DAW.”

The PCAudioLabs benchmark results can be found here: Windows 10 For Pro Audio. PCAudioLabs test was even featured in Microsoft’s Future of Audio Keynote on Windows 10, presented by Pete Brown of Microsoft. You can see the benchmark presentation starting around 22:16. It’s notable Microsoft is now listening to DAW system builders for feedback on Windows 10 performance.

Their benchmarks found notable improvements in low latency performance when running SONAR Platinum on Windows 10. Their test also mentioned improvements in CPU performance as well as well as disk performance in music production for Windows 10.

Compatibility: It’s Not Just About SONAR

Although SONAR has tested 100% compatible with Windows 10, it’s important to check whether your audio interfaces and other hardware are compatible with Windows 10 before upgrading. Microsoft has a good track record of supporting older applications and drivers, and this continues with Windows 10. Their upgrade process will even point out any known incompatibilities.

However, we highly recommend that you ensure your system is up to date with the latest drivers for all your hardware. Many audio interface vendors have already published Windows 10 validated drivers in advance; if available, you should use those. Many drivers may work without modification, but it’s a good idea to check with the vendor first before taking the plunge and updating to Windows 10.

The Future Of Windows 10

The Future of Windows 10

Perhaps even more exciting than what’s in Windows 10 today involve plans for its future. In the Windows 10 presentation at A3E, Microsoft tantalized us with other features under considertion: Thunderbolt 3, USB-C, Bluetooth MIDI, MIDI routing, audio aggregation, and more.

With the continuous integration model it’s likely that we will see these features rolled out sooner rather than later. For example, USB2 audio class driver support didn’t make the Windows 10 release, but hopefully we’ll see this soon.

Windows Feedback?

Microsoft has shown that it’s taking user feedback seriously with Windows 10.

There’s even a portal where you can submit and vote on feature requests for Windows so if you have a suggestion to improve Windows for Audio Production, go to the Uservoice Feedback Site to submit your request.

Paul Thurrott’s site compiles a list of the top 10 feature requests.


Windows 10 is a mature version of Windows that might just be the best OS release from Microsoft, building on the performance of Windows 8.1 while addressing many of its limitations.
It’s great to see features in there that benefit both audio professionals and consumers.
The overall user experience is smoother and initial benchmarks show that it performs equally or better than Windows 8.

The new continuous integration model, Microsoft’s renewed attention to the audio industry and the fact that it’s a free update from Windows 7 and 8, should make this a great update for most DAW users.

Windows 10 References

A3E Microsoft Keynote

Whitepaper: Audio Latency Changes in Windows 10


AudioGraph API

Windows Hardware Lab Kit (With Latency checker)

Windows 10 Download site

Cakewalk Windows 10 Benchmark

PCAudioLabs Windows 10 Benchmark

Windows 8 – A Benchmark for Music Production Applications

Music Production for Windows 10 - Free Trial

SONAR 2015: "Under the Hood" Enhancements and Fixes

What a Year…!

It’s been quite a year for all of us at Cakewalk. Not only did we build our most stable initial release of SONAR ever and fold in multiple features and workflow updates, but we also built the infrastructure for our new Membership program from the ground up. This framework lets us break out of the monolithic “waterfall” model of annual updates and do smaller but more frequent updates. This is very exciting for developers, because we can be more responsive and update our software without the previous release management overhead. Our users have wanted more frequent updates as well, so this is a major achievement for us.

The SONAR community has already noticed the tangible improvements in the performance and stability of our latest SONAR release. In this article I’ll cover some of the “under the hood” work that went into building the new SONAR. If you’re not familiar with the latest additions, you can get started by reading about all the new features here.

I’d also like to mention that this would not have been possible without your support. All of us at Cakewalk feel very fortunate to have such an active, engaged user base that inspires us to create continued improvements and enhancements. We are very excited about what’s planned for the year ahead, but meanwhile, here’s what we’ve been up to in the past year.


Cakewalk Command Center (C3)

Cakewalk Command Center implements and manages a “connected installer” workflow. It communicates with cakewalk.com to access a customers profile so it can identify and install owned products, as well as serve as a convenient launcher and update manager.  Presently, the C3 interface only lists newer “connected products” since those are the only ones it knows how to install and manage.

Although it’s not necessary to use C3 to download, install, and authorize products, it’s by far the simplest way to manage and install newer SONAR versions and updates. Although you can install and authorize products with a manual download and authorization process, we highly recommend installing C3 (it has a very small footprint), even if your computer doesn’t have a permanent internet connection.

The new download/install/authorization mechanism can handle a wide variety of user requirements, even for those who run their DAWs offline.

One-click install

The SONAR installers have been redesigned to be modular and small. One of our design goals was to have a new user go from download to running SONAR in under 5 minutes. As a result, with a moderately fast internet connection you can be up and running with SONAR Platinum literally with the click of the Install button. Gone are the days of waiting for long downloads and attended updates. Another nice touch is you don’t need to enter a serial number and authorization code manually. This is all automated by C3 when you install and run SONAR.

Rollback mechanism

Under the new membership model, features are available to members as soon as they’ve gone through final testing. C3 provides a convenient way to access new features, but also allows rolling back to prior versions Continue reading “SONAR 2015: "Under the Hood" Enhancements and Fixes”



SONAR X3 has numerous enhancements and updates to the VST engine, including rich support for the VST3 specification. This article is intended primarily for VST plugin developers to gain a better understanding of the features supported by SONAR and to write plugins that integrate better with SONAR. While the VST3 documentation covers typical information for plugin developers, it does not explain plugin to host integration in much detail. This article attempts to bridge that gap and explain some of the VST3 specific features are implemented in SONAR. Please also see this article that is more intended for end users.

Automatic VST2 to VST3 migration in SONAR

For plugin vendors who have a large base of VST2 plugins and wish to provide a smooth migration path to VST3, its recommended to implement support for automatic migration of a VST2 plugin saved in a prior project to its VST3 equivalent.

This capability will allow SONAR X3 to detect a compatible VST3 plugin while loading a project and automatically transition the VST 2.4 plugin to its compatible VST3 counterpart Continue reading “DEVELOPER NOTES: SONAR X3 VST3 Internals”

Developer Notes: SONAR X3 VST Enhancements


SONAR X3 is packed with enhancements and updates to the VST engine, including a brand new VST scanner with industry leading automatic background scanning, support for the VST3 plugin format and an updated plugin browser that supports plugin categorization. Many of the changes apply equally to VST2 and VST3 plugins.

VST background scanning

Users of prior versions of SONAR and other DAW software will be familiar with the process of scanning for VST plugins when the application starts up. SONAR has always had a fast scanner that only scans what’s needed. X3 kicks this up several notches by introducing Continue reading “Developer Notes: SONAR X3 VST Enhancements”

Developer Notes: SONAR X3 ARA Integration


It was back in 2005 that Cakewalk first added Roland V-Vocal to SONAR 5 for integrated audio stretching and pitch correction. While VVocal was an exceptional tool in its time and is still used by many for its ability to do fine editing of a vocal performance, the industry has advanced since then and companies like Celemony with their dedicated focus in this area have made great strides. A couple of years ago Celemony released their ARA SDK to integrate Melodyne integration into a DAW host application. Since VVocal’s integration in SONAR is similar in principle to what ARA does, it was natural for us to consider integrating ARA technology into SONAR.


What is ARA?

ARA (Audio Random Access) is a general protocol that allows host integration with any audio edit capable plugin such as Melodyne. Technically speaking ARA itself is not a plugin protocol. It is a protocol that allows the host and ARA capable plugin to transfer parameters and audio region data back and forth either offline or in realtime Continue reading “Developer Notes: SONAR X3 ARA Integration”

A Deeper Look at SONAR X2a – Native Windows 8 and Touch Support








A few months ago I wrote an article about Windows 8 and how it applied to music applications like SONAR.  In this article I will mainly cover what’s changed or new in our Windows 8 support as of SONAR X2a.

What’s New

~ We shipped SONAR X2a, our brand new Windows 8 native version of SONAR. This was exhaustively tested with Windows 8 and specifically takes advantage of new Windows 8 specific features like multi-touch. More about this below.

~ Windows 8 is widely available in the mainstream and appears to be selling well – even better than Windows 7, based on media reports from ZDNet. As of end November Microsoft had sold 40 million Windows 8 licences in a month (more than its predecessor Win7)

~ There is a large proliferation of Windows 8 PC’s available in the consumer channel, including several Intel Ultrabooks, hybrid’s and convertibles, laptops that can switch to tablets etc. Microsoft’s surface RT is also now available, although the much awaited Surface Pro (the version that can actually run classic Windows desktop applications) is yet to be released. There are also several interesting mobile solutions scheduled for early 2013. Its definitely an exciting time for users interested in mobile music platforms, since many of these have powerful Intel CPU’s and specs that are easily capable of running DAW software. It can also be confusing – there are so many products out there that you will have to do your research and look for something that fits your needs best.

~ Metro, the new application model from Microsoft which runs on both Intel and ARM CPU’s, is no longer called Metro. Perhaps not the most logical name, but the new official name for Metro Style Apps is “Windows Store Apps”. Windows Store Apps are not the same as Desktop Apps – they have somewhat limited capabilities, at least from a DAW user standpoint.

~ Many hardware vendor’s have tested and released Windows 8 compatible drivers for their supported hardware. (Although Windows 8 did not mandate any changes to driver’s, many vendors have to update installers and do compatibility testing before releasing their products)

~ Microsoft released its its latest Visual Studio development platform for building Windows applications. Applications like SONAR X2a built for Windows 8 typically use this platform for application development.


SONAR X2a is Cakewalk’s latest update for SONAR X2. While SONAR X2 and X1 are compatible with Windows 8, SONAR X2a is the first DAW release specifically designed to take advantage of new Windows 8 specific features such as multi-touch support. X2a was also built with the latest development tools and Windows SDK’s, bringing over various fixes from Microsoft. X2a is still fully compatible with Windows 7 and will continue to install on Vista (though not officially supported anymore).

X2a  includes the following: Continue reading “A Deeper Look at SONAR X2a – Native Windows 8 and Touch Support”

Remixing and Remastering with R-MIX SONAR – A Case Study by Noel Borthwick

The following article was written by Cakewalk CTO Noel Borthwick and originally posted to www.noelborthwick.com on Oct. 27th 2012.


I recorded my first album with a jazz quartet in 1991. OMG, 21 years ago last century – has it been that long? The original recording was released on cassette tape (!) and is now long out of print. Over the years I got requests for a reissue of this recording from friends and people curious about the music on that project. I had a DAT tape of the final mixes which I had fortunately transferred to WAV files before the tape died (those things have a limited life as I found out the hard way). Unfortunately whenever I’d listen to the mixes, they sounded dated and suffered from some fundamental issues that made them unpleasant to listen to:

  • Hard panning of the instruments. (makes mixes uncomfortable to listen to especially on headphones)
  • Relative levels of instruments were unbalanced
  • Center of mix lacked definition
  • Lack of dimension and air
  • Missing mastering attention

On a couple of occasions I tried using various mastering tools to rectify some of these problems. However the deal breaker was always the faulty imaging – anything I did would ultimately end up negatively affecting the rest of the mix without adequately addressing the fundamental problems. While working on SONAR X2 earlier this year, I saw R-MIX’s abilities to isolate a voice in a stereo field and remembered this project – would R-MIX be the tool that to use to fix that mix?  I’ve always been a fan of Roland’s V-series technology, so the idea of virtual remixing piqued my interest. A few of weeks ago I decided to revisit this project and started doing some experiments. I loaded up one of the more problematic tunes from the project. The synth voice was way too dominant in the mix and the overall frequency balance sounded very harsh. I set up a track containing the stereo wave file with R-MIX in the effects bin. In a few seconds I was able to isolate the instrument in the mix. I then simply dropped the “inside” level in R-MIX and panned the voice slightly to the right to move it closer to the center. This immediately solved the harshness and problem of the voice dominating the mix and resolved much of the hard panning problem. Amazingly there were no perceivable artifacts in the rest of the mix after doing this. I was blown away!

So I began experimenting with the other tunes and found that by using a combination of techniques I could pretty much solve the worst problems in the mixes. I set up a template project with one track for the stereo wave file and two pre-fader sends going to two buses each containing an R-MIX instance. From the first bus I could isolate the voice of interest and from the second I would get the rest of the mix minus the voice. I could use set theory style Venn diagrams to visualize and extract areas of interest from the stereo mix. With a layout like this and cascading sends I could fix problem areas by creating “virtual stems”. Very exciting stuff!

However, imaging and balance were only one aspect of the problems listed above. The other primary issue was the fact that this project had never actually been mastered for CD. It was released on cassette tape from a “cassette master” :-/ I actually was present at the tape duplication facility where I saw the dude there take the final mix tape and make his own “master” by doing a tape to tape copy through some ridiculous mixing board and applying his own EQ to it. Oh man!  Anyway needless to say the project needed some mastering love. I have limited time and don’t have mastering chops personally so I needed some help. When I worked on Ramona’s most recent project One of Us I had a few people critique my mixes. One of them was SONAR user and musician Eric Hansen. At the time I was very impressed with the quality and detail of his suggestions, so I decided to let him have a look at my rough remix work. I was able to share the project file with him since he was already running X2, so he could see what I was doing with R-MIX. A day later he sent me back a new version that was way better than my initial mix, had more air and space, the middle was improved and it also fixed the worst of the other problems. Amazing, I could actually now listen to the tune without being distracted by all the bad stuff!

Eric has terrific ears and attention to detail. I was so impressed that I contracted him to do the rest of the project.

Virtual Remixing / Re-mastering Case Study – Ankur

We’ll visit the techniques used to clean up the mix for one of the songs, Ankur.  Let’s first listen to the original and the final remixed and mastered version.

Original version of Ankur [16-bit wav file]
Original version of Ankur [mp3  file]
Final Mastered version of Ankur [24-bit wav file]
Final Mastered version of Ankur [mp3 file]

Although the final mix is far from perfect, considering that we started from a stereo wave file its pretty impressive what we were able to achieve in the final version. It sounds fuller and much better balanced and the worst imaging problems are corrected.

I asked Eric Hansen to share the techniques and process he used on this project. Below  is Eric’s recount of the various steps he took. Over to you Eric. Hands over mic…

[Eric Hansen]

Upon first listening to the tracks from Sound Matters, I realized I was going to have to overcome three troublesome areas in order to improve the original mixes.

  1. Instrument balance
  2. Widening and balancing the stereo field
  3. Creating more dimension

These challenges would be overcome through the use of R-MIX SONAR Edition and Izotope’s Ozone 5 Advanced.

The first track I worked with was Ankur. This proved to be a good starting point since the track exhibited all the problems listed above. The drums were panned right and the melodic instruments were panned left. As a result, the stereo image was unbalanced. The original mix reminded me how the Beatles did their stereo mixes. While this can provide clear separation between instruments, the center sounded empty.

For this session I was working with a two track master. The first step was to remix the instruments where possible. R-MIX SONAR Edition was the perfect tool for the job. My first adjustment was to move the drums from the right side towards the center of the mix. I inserted a send on track 1 and fed a bus with R-MIX in the FX bin. The purpose of this was to create a filter with R-MIX that could isolate the ride cymbal and catch a little bit of the snare drum, which were predominately on the right side.  I then panned the output of the bus hard left which doubled the filtered sounds to the left side. This resulted in a balanced image of the drums by pulling the snare towards the center and giving the cymbals a stereo feel. Here is a look at the R-MIX settings used for this task:

The inside level of the filter is boosted slightly while the outside level is completely removed. Removing the outside level isolated the cymbals and snare from the original mix.

The next step was to balance out the synth guitar and piano. At times these instruments were too loud in contrast to the rest of the mix. Again, R-MIX came to the rescue. I inserted two instances of R-MIX on track 1, which I would used to isolate the piano and synth guitar parts separately.  Here are the settings for the synth guitar:

When adjusting the drums with R-MIX, a filter was used to isolate a small section of frequencies and double them to the opposite side to create a balanced image. For the synth guitar, I wanted to lower the level of the instrument within the overall mix. To do this I first had to reduce the outside level completely and move the filter around until I found the sweet spot for the synth guitar. Then, I brought the outside level back to zero and adjusted the inside level until I felt the synth guitar was more balanced with the rest of the instruments. Next, I automated the bypass function of R-MIX so the filter would only be applied when the synth guitar was playing the melody.

The same approach was used for the piano. However, this time I automated the inside level of the filter in order to “ride the fader” and keep the piano balanced with the band while playing the melody. Here are the settings for that adjustment:

X2’s new automation lanes made viewing and editing automation easier than ever. Using the updated Smart Tool functions in tandem with expanded lanes allows for quick edits and easy copy and paste operations. I also like the ability to reorder the lanes in a way that reflects the signal chain of a track or bus. For example, if I have the EQ module before a compression module in the Pro Channel the envelopes can reflect that same order.

In the screen shot below envelopes are automating track volume, EQ adjustments and R-MIX settings. The customized order of the envelopes reflects the signal chain: Volume, EQ to R-MIX.

Another new X2 feature, and my favorite, is the Console Emulation. For Ankur, I used the S-Type emulation on the track and mix bus because it warmed up the lows nicely. I usually start with the drive set to 3dB and adjust from there. On tracks and mixes that benefit from more warmth in the lows but need a little more shimmer up top I use the N-Type. The A-Type is good for tracks and mixes that need a little more air up top.

While not a new feature for X2 another great Pro Channel module is the PC4K S-Type bus compressor. I used this module on Ankur as well for a gentle slow attack compression before hitting the multi-band compression in Ozone. Here are the Console Emulation and Compression module settings:

Now that the instruments and image were balanced, it was time to move on to Izotope’s Ozone 5 Advanced and apply the mastering. The main adjustment needed was getting the bass and kick more present in the mix while opening up the top end. I used Ozone’s Equalizer in Mid/Side mode to achieve this. I boosted the low end around 75hz in the mid channel and used an aggressive high shelf on the side channels to add lots of air to the overall mix.

Here are the EQ settings:

Next I used Ozone’s Stereo Imaging to widen the image:

Here I applied a little reverb to the entire mix to add more dimension:

Gentle multi-band compression to smooth out the mix:

Finally, the Maximizer is applied to get the volume of the track up to competitive levels:

I used the K-System metering set at K-14 in Ozone and kept the RMS around 0.

Techniques used on the remaining tunes:

On the remaining tunes I used a combination of the above techniques to widen the mixes and give them more dimension. R-MIX was the main glue to address similar stereo imaging issues that were prevalent in the other tracks as well. Some tunes were more troublesome than others since the pan would move during the course of the song making it difficult to get R-MIX to track its region of interest. In such cases its possible to automate the position of the window dynamically, though it can get harder to track if the pan changes are abrupt.

On the track entitled Dream Theme there was an issue with tape noise that needed to be addressed. The track is a piano and guitar duet with an arrangement that can be quiet at times. Tape hiss and a low end rumble were present throughout this track which I found distracting.  I used a noise reduction plug to address this and it worked very well.

On Like Someone in Love there is a lovely piano introduction that sounded harsh on the original recording (due to the bright sound of the digital piano). I ended up cutting the piano intro from the main part of the tune and processed it on a separate track. I used Ozone’s EQ matching feature to measure a solo piano recording from another artist and applied it to the piano intro. The EQ was curve was aggressive but the results were quite dramatic.

In the screen shot below you can see the response curve of the solo piano I measured and the EQ curve applied to match it.

Summary and acknowledgements

The purpose of this article has been to illustrate how you can use the tools in SONAR X2 beyond their primary functions in music production. R-MIX proved to be an invaluable resource to remix/remaster this project starting from a relatively rough stereo source. It would have been impossible to do “virtual remixing” without the help of R-MIX to resurrect this project and fix some fundamental problems that would normally require the multi track audio files or instrument stems at minimum.

If you do mastering work or have to work with just a stereo source files, there are many cases where R-MIX can allow you to make subtle changes to imaging very simply. Mastering and remixing are not the only uses of R-MIX however. It can also be used on tracks to do all kinds of interesting dynamic phase and imaging effects by using its automated parameters.

Many thanks to Eric Hansen for his meticulous restoration work on this project and for documenting the techniques and process used. He rescued a project that I had once considered irreparable!  Eric can be reached though his website.

If you’d  like to listen to the rest of this project, you can access it here on Bandcamp. Its free while my download credits last.

[The track ‘Ankur’ is dedicated to the memory of sound engineer Prakash Shetty,  who recorded this project in his studio Sound Company in 1991. The tune is named after a restaurant he owned, where we had many memorable meals during the course of the recording session. Translated, ‘Ankur’ means “The Seedling”]