February 7th 2012

Book review: SONAR X1 Power!: The Comprehensive Guide

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I think I’ve said it already, I have a rock band. Currently, we are recording our first album, and while we used Traktion in the past, I’m considering moving to Sonar (it is continuously updated and has a great reputation, also I’ve played a few time in the past with its ancestor Cakewalk).

So let’s talk about the book’s comprehensive guide.

Content and opinions

Sonar has an internal programming language, CAL. One of the reasons I’ve chosen this book is that there is a chapter on CAL.

The first thing one wants to do when starting Sonar is usually playing something. The author does not and spends four chapters explaining the basics of Sonar: first what gravitates around Sonar (sound card, synthesizer…), then how to configure Sonar to one’s needs, handling projects and finally how to navigate in a project.

The next three chapters are about music and sound handling: how they are recorded (audio or MIDI), how it can be modified (piano roll view, step sequencer view, event list or also tempo list), and some advanced features like quantize and audio snap. In my opinion, these are not really advanced features, because I tend to use them with all my projects. Also, the Groove Quantize is something that may not always be intuitive, but it is well explained in one page.

I have more or less skipped the eighth chapter, as they cover VST instruments, and I’m used to other instruments from Native Instruments. Having them is great when you don’t have some, but not relying on them allows to change Sonar to another sequencer if needed. Before moving to the console part, the author covers some other views that are useful to create content, like the matrix view or groove clips.

After a chapter on the console view, the author tackles effects. This means explaining how they can work and the different kind of effects and their implementation in Sonar. As for the instruments, the effects offered in Sonar are thoroughly explained, although their interface is simple enough. The next chapter covers automation and control surfaces, as their use is precisely on mixing and mastering. My only regret is that the generic control surface support has some issues that were not explained (especially when you have a motorized control surface, the automation does not make the knobs move as for a Mackie Control).

The last chapters (except for CAL) cover some side-functions that I don’t use: the export to a CD is not something I usually do with my sequencer (in fact I don’t do it on my computer, I prefer using a professional CD burner), surround is not something I’m interesting in (although it seems to be correctly covered by the author), I don’t work with the staff view and I don’t care about Studioware. This being said, I cared about the last chapter.

I expected a lot from the CAL chapter, but I knew that it could not be a full CAL course. The basics are covered, as well as some examples. Sadly it stops there, as the author refers to online tutorials that I never found. Still, it is enough for an accomplished programmer to start and to dig inside CAL with the help of the several scripts.

A great aspect of the book is keyboard shortcuts. Some of the functions are even only accessible by shortcuts, and of course when mastered, shortcuts can greatly enhance productivity.

Conclusion

The book tries to cover all aspects of Sonar. Although CAL is not as addressed as I would like it to be, it is covered enough to be usable. The last word would be that this guide is a good companion to the application.

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