Cakewalk Momentum

Momentum is the last product I designed and worked on at Cakewalk. We designed this from the ground up to be a fluid platform to capture ideas and inspiration on the go. All you need is a smartphone, tablet or PC and you can capture up to four tracks of audio wherever you might be. Recorded audio is automatically synced to the momentum cloud allowing you to seamlessly sync all your devices. You can record something on your phone, pick up the same idea on an iPad or laptop, or even transfer all the tracks into the DAW of your choice via the momentum plugin. The transfer process is bi-directional so you can quickly transfer stems or backing tracks from a DAW or any other audio program to momentum via simple drag and drop at any time.

Momentum is a fantastic practice tool. Here is a video showing how I use it, playing Coltrane’s 26-2. I recorded this on an iPad with Momentum. The backing tracks were transferred from SONAR via simple drag and drop.

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.

Continue reading “A New Era For Cakewalk (an open letter from CTO Noel Borthwick)”

SONAR X2 R-Mix: Remix / Remaster Case Study

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. Continue reading “SONAR X2 R-Mix: Remix / Remaster Case Study”

Utilizing Intel® AVX with Cakewalk SONAR X1

This is a whitepaper (Utilizing Intel® AVX with Cakewalk SONAR X1) which I co-authored with Intel engineer Rajshree Chabukswar, highlighting the advantages of optimizing for the Intel AVX chipset, with a focus on digital audio processing in a modern DAW like SONAR X1.

We’re excited with our synergetic relationship with Intel, which allows us to take  advantage of their bleeding edge technology in ways that directly beneft our users, allowing them to squeeze the most power out of their systems. While the paper is technical and requires an understanding of some low level programming, it also offers insight into the nuts and bolts of whats involved in optimizations for Intel CPU architectures in a modern DAW.

The paper features a real world case study of SONAR X1 code that was optimized in to take advantage of the benefits of the 256 bit AVX instruction set. If you have an Intel CPU from the Sandy Bridge processor family, it supports AVX and SONAR X1 will take advantage of it.
(While AVX is an Intel instruction set, it has also been adopted by AMD will be available in their upcoming Bulldozer processors. )

Code which is optimized for AVX  vectorization capabilities can work with 256-bit vectors, allowing working on 8 32-bit floating point values per iteration. In other words, this is twice the data throughput of earlier SSE instruction set! While this doesn’t necessarily translate to twice as fast, it is a huge step up in performance in many cases as the white paper illustrates.

The first step in any optimization task is what is referred to as “hotspot analysis”. In this phase you identify the bottlenecks in the code or that would benefit most from AVX optimization. We did analysis running through stress test projects and workflows that showed some classic hotspots. Once these were identified, the code was AVX optimized using the new AVX intrinsics available in Visual Studio 2010.

Click below to read the paper or download the PDF from Intel’s site:
Utilizing Intel® AVX with Cakewalk SONAR X1

[ Additional credits to Keith Albright and Bob Currie from Cakewalk, for hotspot analysis, development, and troubleshooting ]

How Windows 7 Will Effect Your Music Production?

borthwick2Cakewalk Chief Technical Officer Noel Borthwick, a noted expert on Windows platforms, covers crucial topics around the introduction of Windows 7, such as compatibility with Cakewalk products, issues in upgrading from Windows XP and related points of interest for PC users.

For an in-depth look at Windows 7 and how it might affect your use of Cakewalk products, check out Noel’s Q & A below. Also, see Peter Kirn’s article at Create Digital Music for more  insightful tips on Windows 7.

Continue reading “How Windows 7 Will Effect Your Music Production?”

SONAR 8.5: The Fine Print

borthwick2Cakewalk’s CTO Noel Borthwick has been hard at work creating this microscopic view of SONAR 8.5 for those of you who have expressed an interest in learning more about the internals of the new features. Throughout this post, Noel will uncover the new version from an engineering perspective. However, before we get started on the fine print, let’s  first clarify some facts and myths about SONAR 8.5.

What’s in a name?

What’s in a name? That which we call SONAR 9 by any other name would sound as sweet.” I guess Juliet was misinformed, based on the wild speculation and reaction to our announcement of SONAR 8.5. To ease the anxiety for the next release I will let you in on a secret – the next product release will be called: SONAR 1C21B83D-EDCE-41b7-BBEF-31F912E88B1D. We think that a 128 bit version number will dispel all ambiguity the next time around.

• The .5 release name for a major product reflects a change in our internal nomenclature for naming products, a business decision that was made after careful deliberation.
• Going forward this more accurately reflects our strategy of shipping products with high value for customers, while simultaneously planning for certain types of features whose depth may require a longer timeframe to develop and integrate.
• The 8.5 name is also indicative of the fact that 8.5 is available as an downloadable upgrade. i.e. unlike earlier versions it can upgrade an existing SONAR 8 install.
• Don’t be confused by the .5 in the name. 8.5 IS the next version of SONAR – It installs as a brand new version and lives alongside your existing SONAR 8 version just like any prior full release of SONAR.
• You can also simultaneously use 8.5 or an earlier 8.0 version just like any earlier full release of SONAR.
• If you purchased SONAR 8.5 as a downloadable upgrade, you must have SONAR 8 installed prior to installing SONAR 8.5. To reduce download size, the package doesn’t include all the content that you already have in your SONAR 8 install.
• You can also purchase a full set of 8.5 DVD’s even if you bought the download from our web store.
• If you bought the retail version of 8.5 from a store you already have the full 8.5 DVD set with all the content.
• There is no difference between an 8.0 install upgraded to 8.5 and a full retail 8.5 box install
• The depth of the new features and enhancements in 8.5 actually exceed what went into SONAR 8 coming from SONAR 7.

• The main SONAR 9 release was postponed and SONAR 8.5 is a patch or hotfix. Wrong – our maintenance releases are for compatibility and improvements only with the occasional bonus feature thrown in. We never add full blown features.
• A new version of SONAR is around the corner and 8.5 is an interim release. Wrong – We’re good, but not THAT good to be able to deliver a full new product just after shipping this one. Thanks for the compliment though!

So let’s cut to the chase shall we? There are several classes of new features in SONAR 8.5. I will try and focus on the pieces that are not covered in our marketing copy since by now you are already familiar with most of that.
You can read more about SONAR 8.5’s big features here if you are still catching up.

Disclaimer: The information below may be subject to errors and is not intended to be an exhaustive list of 8.5 features. It may be edited from time to time. You have been warned – nauseatingly geeky details follow. Stop reading now if this is objectionable to you 🙂

Continue reading “SONAR 8.5: The Fine Print”

The Fine Print III: Sidechaining in SONAR

The term ‘sidechaining’ refers to the manipulation of one signal by another where signal B (typically referred to a key input) effects signal A (primary input). Sidechaining is most often found in compressors, limiters and gates. Examples of sidechaining include ducking, voiceover, de-essing and pumping. For more information, check out this article on the Basics of Sidechaining.

Cakewalk’s CTO Noel Borthwick discusses the implementation of Sidechaining in SONAR is his latest Fine Print article. Since version 7, SONAR has supported side-chaining for both VST and DX plug-ins in all of its applications. This article describes how SONAR communicates with side-chain capable VST and DX plug-ins as well as how SONAR can be used as a guide to write a side-chain capable plug-in of your own.

Getting Technical: Optimizing SONAR 8 for Vista

With the help of Cakewalk’s Engineering Department, Create Digital Music’s Peter Kirn delves inside the mechanics of SONAR 8. Visit Create Digital Music to learn how SONAR 8 will hold its own in Windows Vista.

Cakewalk’s Noel Borthwick explains, “SONAR 8 introduces several, crucial enhancements for communications with audio devices in Windows Vista, including support for WASAPI (a new audio standard in Windows Vista and future OS), MMCSS task profile support, and WaveRT streaming.”

To view the complete list of enhancements made to the latest version of SONAR, take a look at the posting below.

SONAR 8: The Fine Print

Cakewalk’s CTO Noel Borthwick sheds some light on the features “under the hood” in SONAR 8.

*Note that this list is not a substitute for the official feature list & other features already documented in the SONAR 8 manual. Rather it is a list culled from Cakewalk’s Engineering Department*


Performance optimizations:

Although every version of SONAR we shipped in the past had some degree of optimization work, SONAR 8 is the first version of SONAR to which we applied the same engineering process to performance optimizations as we do with other more user visible features. i.e. we established goals, built a specification for the optimizations, split up the work into milestones and tracked the progress of these tasks just as we do for other features. To make testing more deterministic, we devised various internal profiling tools in order to track and measure changes in performance across a variety of hardware platforms on XP as well as Vista.

Systems tested included brand new cutting edge platforms from Intel and AMD as well as earlier generation machines.

We split up this work into the following classes of performance enhancements for SONAR 8:

1. CPU and kernel level optimizations – use less of your CPU to do the same amount of work

2. User Interface optimizations – faster drawing, scrolling, zooming

3. Driver level optimizations – more efficient access to drivers, minimizing driver state transitions

4. Vista OS specific optimizations – Better use of MMCSS thread priorities, support for custom MMCSS task profiles, new WASAPI support

5. Audio engine optimizations – optimize “hotspots” in our bussing, streaming and mixing code

As a result of all these changes, SONAR 8 has the following benefits:

– greatly minimized kernel usage. This helps provide more “kernel bandwidth” to drivers who need it the most. More kernel bandwidth translates into less potential for audio glitches.

– Lower CPU usage – translates to better performance at low latency

– More efficient use of audio drivers – esp with ASIO drivers

– Better performance on Windows Vista esp X64. Many of the complaints of Vista performance as compared to XP have been solved with SONAR 8. X64 low latency performance should now be on par with X86.

– Faster application launch

– Less flicker in GUI. Track view splitters no longer flicker when resizing.

– More responsive zoom and scroll with large projects. Zooming with wave files now uses 1/2 the RAM with 24-bit or less stereo or mono files used.

– Better meter performance.

– Improved thread scheduling by insuring threads are properly distributed on processors.

This link shows the overall benefits of SONAR 8 as compared to SONAR 7:

Continue reading “SONAR 8: The Fine Print”

Windows Vista is here to stay

As part of my job at Cakewalk, I’ve been working on making our applications support this new operating system from Microsoft. Some things have been easy and some not. Interestingly the stuff that ended up being the hardest to do were features that looked relatively simple on the surface. I’ll elaborate on some of this in future threads.

Here are several published interviews, where I discuss some of the work we’ve done with SONAR for Windows Vista.

Vista for Music + Pro Audio: Exclusive Under the Hood with Cakewalk’s CTO [Create Digital Music]

Interview with Noel Borthwick, Cakewalk CTO [CakewalkNet]

SoundOnSound: Vista For Musicians: Part 2: What The Developers Think

The Guardian: Why Vista sounds worse

Why Vista Matters To Developers [EWeek]