Cakewalk adds a new "Dimension" to the desktop studio
Multi-sound software instruments like
Cakewalk's Dimension Pro integrate into computer-based recording setups.
Computers have pretty much taken over as the center of the music recording process, and with the ever-increasing speed and power of both desktops and laptops, they're becoming more common on live stages, as well.
Software-based instruments — computer programs that are capable of generating sound in real time when triggered by a controller or sequencer — are on the rise. They come in a dizzying variety of types: Some emulate the sound of analog synths of the past such as the Mini Moog and Prophet 5; others provide playback of huge sample libraries, serving up orchestra, string, percussion brass, and other sounds with great accuracy; still others deliver sounds that haven't yet been invented outside the software realm, using complex processing to make tones undulate, shimmer, swirl, and bleep. Relatively few software-based instruments, however, deliver that all-in-one easy access feeling that's made traditional hardware keyboard workstations like the Yamaha MOTIF, Korg Triton and Roland Fantom so popular.
Dimension Pro 1.2's factory sounds are impressive, but they're also easy to customize. Many parameters can be controlled in real time.
Cakewalk's Dimension Pro version 1.2 is among a handful of computer-resident instruments that attempt to "do it all" in the style of the keyboard workstation, offering a huge array of sounds in a streamlined package that's relatively easy to use. (Others in the category include IK Multimedia's Sonik Synth 2, Native Instruments' Bandstand and E-Mu's Proteus X2).
Cakewalk has been in the software-formusicians business for over 20 years, but until recently concentrated on the Windows side of the aisle. Its flagship programs — the über-powerful Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) SONAR, and the studio-in-a-box Project 5 — are still strictly PC. But the company has recently developed an impressive suite of software instruments that work with both Mac and Windows operating systems. (Note that both Intel and Power PC Macs are supported.) In addition to Dimension Pro, Cakewalk offers Rapture, a wavetable synthesizer (a form of synthesis in which sounds develop and morph as you hold down a key) and Z3TA+, an analog synthesizer modeler that can recreate the sounds of classic early electronic instruments, as well as develop unique sounds of its own. All three are compatible with the major computer recording programs, working under RTAS (Pro Tools); Audio Units (Logic, Digital Performer, GarageBand, Live); VST (Cubase; Nuendo) and DXi (Cakewalk's own SONAR).
Dimension Pro 1.2 may be the most useful of the three for songwriters. With thousands of sounds, or "patches," on tap, the program can realistically emulate a full complement of acoustic instruments such as strings, brass, guitars, drums, winds, choirs, and electronic sounds that are the staples of musical production. Just as important, Dimension Pro offers a nice set of tools to let the performer add expressive nuances as he or she plays, making for greater realism. For example, a few of Dimension Pro's upright bass patches include slaps and slides — the little extras that can make a keyboardist sound more like an actual bass player.
All of these features are laid out in an easy-to-understand interface window, which efficiently puts a lot of controls and information at one's fingertips.
The program ships on two DVDs — an indication of the number of sounds available. Installation is fairly easy, though once finished with the DVDs, you'll want to go online and download the latest updates and the free expansion packs, which add even more to the sonic war chest.
Dimension Pro is easy to use; simply load it into the appropriate instrument track in your digital audio workstation software. Dimension Pro's file handling is one of its strengths. Click the mouse in the file pane, and you're faced with a list of folders divided by category, each containing a number of choices. In addition to individual instrument sounds, Dimension Pro includes pre-recorded loops, very useful not only for production, but for helping to generate ideas during the writing process. Everything is easy to find, and the program remembers the sounds you've accessed most often and adds them to a list of favorites.
Dimension Pro's main window places a range of controls within easy reach.
The factory-programmed sounds are impressive, but they're also easy to customize, and many parameters can be manipulated in real time using a MIDI controller's faders and knobs. Even better, the user can customize how the MIDI control messages address various functions on the synth.
While Dimension Pro and other software instruments seem ideally suited to the studio, they're becoming increasingly popular in performance as well, where a laptop, a control keyboard and a combination of recording software and software instruments let musicians bring well-produced backing tracks to the gig. Either way, the instrument market seems to be going "soft." www.cakewalk.com
Emile Menasché is the author of The Desktop Studio and Home Studio Clinic (Hal Leonard).