Cakewalk Project5 Version 2 Software review: Cakewalk Project5 Version 2 Software
Ever since the early days of Propellerhead's ReBirth, all-in-one pattern-based composing environments have been quite popular with electronic musicians. Cakewalk's Project5 is a strong contender in that market niche, providing a comprehensive set of instruments, an efficient work flow, excellent automation, and support for ACIDized loops. It's also stable; we did not experience a single crash during testing. Listed at $429, Project5 doesn't come cheap, but neither does its competition, and Cakewalk also offers aggressive upgrade discounts to registered users of its Sonar software, with which Project5 shares some functionality. The Cakewalk Project5 box contains one install DVD and a concise but helpful printed manual. After the simple installation, you can use P5 either as a standalone environment supporting WDM, DirectSound, and ASIO drivers or as a ReWire client or host. Composition applications such as this integrate many elements, so user-interface and work-flow organization is paramount. Cakewalk's elegant and efficient solution is a one-window view to which you can dock the major components.
Project5 provides a flexible audio sequencing and arranging environment that combines multitrack MIDI instrument and waveform editing plus live audio recording. First, you lay down your list of instruments in the Track Pane, using any of seven included virtual instruments, imported DXi or VSTi plug-ins, or live audio. Then create audio or MIDI patterns and loops on the tracks using the format-specific Pattern Editor, or browse the supplied pattern library. Finally, lay out your patterns in the Arrange Pane timeline, or use the new GrooveMatrix view for real-time triggering of patterns and loops.
The GrooveMatrix handles audio clips. ACIDized loops, called grooveclips in P5, are automatically recognized and time-stretched according to the project tempo, but the program cannot ACIDize regular WAV files from scratch. The P-Seq component is a sequencer for editing and automating patterns. You can either record MIDI data and knob movements in real time or draw them with a mouse for more-precise control. An alternative to P-Seq is Synchron 32, a MIDI plug-in with a grid-based layout for creating patterns the old-fashioned way. You can patch Synchron 32 to any MIDI track, then trigger its patterns from individual notes.Cakewalk Project5 comes packed with DXi-compatible instruments. DS864 is a straightforward multitimbral sampler that can import SoundFont 2.0, Akai, and Kurzweil files, although it ignores any preexisting filter and envelope settings. PSyn is a flexible four-oscillator synth with good filters, capable of producing a wide range of interesting sounds. Cyclone, introduced in Cakewalk's Sonar 2.0, is a beat deconstruction sampler; that is, it can slice and rearrange grooves, as well as assign one-shot samples and repeating loops to pads. It's an original and powerful tool, but the controls can be somewhat tricky for novices. Velocity is the drum sampler, similar in design to Native Instruments' Battery. It has only 18 cells and no routing features, but it offers a filter for individual cells. It cannot import drum kits from other formats, so you are currently limited to Velocity's own drum-kit banks. Finally, there's nPulse, a 12-part drum synth with individual synthesis modules dedicated to kicks, snares, hats, and so on. Though nPulse is based on a good concept, its limited range of sounds makes it the weakest of these instruments. However, you can add third-party DXi and VSTi synths, the latter via the bundled VST Adapter.
To jump-start your compositions, Cakewalk has also supplied a generous helping of WAV samples, ACIDized loops, drum kits, and sampler banks; they're mainly electronic, experimental beats and effects. The drum kits are made up of typical dance drum sounds, and you get six bass multisamples and an extensive orchestral library for the DS864. This may sound like a lot, but most users will probably outgrow the included sounds and want to tap into the vast world of third-party loops and sampler libraries.
Project5 also serves as a ReWire host and client to integrate your projects with other audio applications including Digidesign Pro Tools, Cakewalk SONAR, and Propellerhead Reason. It offers open support for a wide range of industry standard and proprietary sample formats, including AIF, Akai S5000/6000, Kurzweil, LM4, Ogg Vorbis, SF2, SFZ, and WAV (the MP3 exporter must be registered before using). While Project5 can import and play ACID loops, it still cannot export ACIDized clips. And you cannot export MIDI data directly to MIDI files; instead, save to a Pattern file, then open and save as MIDI in SONAR.
Once you've recorded and arranged your shiny new hit, the final steps are to mix and export it as an audio file. We were hoping Cakewalk would provide that function in this update. At least you can export files as MP3 this time around; you just have to register first.Cakewalk's support site offers online help, tips and tricks, and a user forum. E-mail support provided quick and courteous response. In addition, the Project5 site has an upload area where users can share songs and patterns, but the site was under construction at press time.