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Archive for November, 2010

Icons and Cult Figures

Last week I attended two rock concerts that demonstrated just how diverse two recording artists can be and still be considered rock musicians. One was an icon who’s literally been a household name since his breakthrough album 40 years ago, and the other was someone I’d never heard of until recently. Both drew intensely enthusiastic audiences and sold out the house, though admittedly, one house was quite a bit smaller than the other.

The icon in question is Elton John, and the setting was the Asheville Civic Center, where tickets sold out almost as soon as they went on sale. He performed most of his hits as well as the entire album The Union, a recent collaborative effort with another rock legend who opened the show, Leon Russell. Although I’ve never owned any Elton John albums or considered myself a fan, I thoroughly enjoyed the nearly three-and-a-half-hour concert. Anyone considered a musical icon certainly has the talent to have earned that status, and you probably shouldn’t pass up any opportunity you have to see one perform.

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me if I was planning to see Joanna Newsom when she came to Asheville. “Who?? I replied. He insisted I’d like her music, so I googled her, listened to a few songs, and was both surprised and impressed by what I heard: very original music, flawlessly performed by a classically trained harpist with a voice that alternately resembles Björk, Corinne Bailey Rae, early Kate Bush, and Shirley Temple at her most precocious.

Intrigued, I discovered she had three studio albums on iTunes and downloaded all three of them. I could easily trace her musical and vocal progress from 2004’s The Milk-Eyed Mender, on which she sang and played solo on harp, harpsichord, and Wurlitzer electric piano, to this year’s 3-disc Have One on Me, featuring well over two dozen musicians playing everything from Telecaster and Hammond organ to all-but-forgotten instruments like the kemence, rebec, vielle, and viola da gamba. For the most part, Newsom’s one-of-a-kind vocals sound self-consciously childlike, but her devoted fans apparently consider that part of her undeniable charm. More than anything else, her music reminds me of Loreena McKennitt’s, but much quirkier and more intimate in scope.Joanna

Her opening act at the Orange Peel was guitarist Ryan Francesconi, who played a set of steel-string guitar instrumentals. When he finished, it became obvious he would also be playing in Newsom’s band as he set up his electric and acoustic guitars, banjo, tanbur (a sort of ancient long-necked Turkish lute), and assorted other instruments. As it turns out, Francesconi not only arranged Newsom’s last album, he arranged all the songs in her live show.

Ms. Newsom’s hour-and-a-half set began with “The Book of Right On,? obviously an audience favorite, followed by the title song from her latest album. Nearly half the material that followed was from Have One on Me. Although she spent most of her time behind a full-sized orchestral harp, Newsom also played a Yamaha grand piano on several songs. In addition to Francesconi, she was accompanied by two violinists, a trombonist, and a drummer, who all played flawlessly and sang backup. Though drummer Neal Morgan played a trap set, he played more like an orchestral percussionist than a rock drummer, adding percussive punctuation at appropriate moments. Most of the time, in fact, the entire group sounded more like a chamber ensemble than a rock band.Band

Audience members often sang along and were quite vocal in their appreciation for her presence. Requests for the song “Sadie? arose at several points, and she satisfied those requests during her two-song encore. From start to finish, it was obvious that her fans love her dearly. After seeing her show, I understand why they felt that way.

Joanna Newsom wrapped up her tour a few nights ago at Carnegie Hall. If you missed your chance to see her, I can recommend any of her albums for a taste of something delightful and more than a bit different from rock music’s usual fare.

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In Praise of Click Tracks

click-image.pngI am in the middle of recording and mixing an album project for an acoustic instrumental band that I play in, and while mixing one of the songs, discovered that one of the guitarist’s solos had a bunch of heretofore unoticed distortion and stray noises on it in one section. Somehow, while the overdub session was happening, we didn’t hear it, but when mixing, I realized that the solo would be unusable—the noise was audible, even over the backing tracks. Now, given the time, I would have just had the guitar player come back in and redo the unusable part (it was only 2 measures of an 8 measure solo section), but I was under a deadline to finish and another session wasn’t in the cards. Luckily, he had done a number of takes of his solo, and I was able to lift a couple of licks from the older takes (from an earlier part of the solo that featured the same chord changes as the offending section), and paste them in place of the noisy phrases and make it work musically (the new phrases were similar to the old ones). Had we not recorded to a click, this would have been very difficult, if not impossible, and would have required time stretching to make the parts from the eariler section fit the new one.

Now I know a lot of musicians who are not crazy about playing with a click, thinking that it takes away the feel of a song; the natural push and pull of the rhythm. I understand that concern, but think the benefits generally outweigh the drawbacks. A song played to a click also allows you to edit sections easily in your DAW, rearranging or shortening/lengthening very easily. If you didn’t have that click, that would be next to impossible. Even within the confines of the click, there is some room for variation, and I’m not advocating conforming your tracks exactly to the grid, like you can do with Beat Detective in Pro Tools or other time-stretching algorithms. That can squeeze the life out of many types of music. But to play to a click, to me is generally an incredibly useful way to work. Of course, there will be situations where it just isn’t practical, but for many sessions, a click is a lifesaver. What do you think?

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More AES Top Hits Videos Posted

More AES videos have been posted, and more are on the way. Check out the AES 2010 video page.

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First of EM’s AES Top Hits Videos Posted

We will be posting videos of some of the hit products from the AES show. The first one is up, a video of the slam-dunk, #1 (“Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?), top product announced at AES 2010: Avid Pro Tools 9. Although no other announcement had the oomph of PT 9, there were a lot of other cool products introduced or shown at AES, and look for videos of those to be posted over the next few days.

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AES Day 3 Highlights

It was the last day of the show, but I was able to find a bunch more notable products as I walked the show floor.

The first products I saw today were microphones from the Nashville based company Miketek (www.miketekaudio.com). The mics have actually been out for a year, but this was the first chance I had to check them out in person. Miktek currently makes three mics: the C7 ($899) a FET large-diaphragm multipattern condenser, the C5 ($599) a pencil condenser, and the CV4, a multipattern tube mic. I have heard great reports about these mics as being one of the top price-to-performance mic values out there. They are made from imported parts, mostly, but they’re assembled in Nashville. Granted, listening through headphones at a tradeshow is not the most comprehensive way to check out a mic, but what I heard really impressed me. These mics sound really big and present. The CV4 when set to the figure-8 pattern not only sounded good, but had really impressive side rejection.
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I was very impressed by the 2-channel, bus powered USB 2.0 audio interface I saw at the Sound Devices (www.sounddevices.com) booth. The USBPre 2 ($649) offers two high quality mic pres (Sound Devices is known for making quality components) as well as balanced line ins and outs; a 114 db dynamic range, the ability to handle up to 24-bit, 192 kHz audio; standalone mic pre capability (using the unit’s balanced line outs); and more. It’s shipping now.
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At the Sound Toys (www.soundtoys.com) booth, they were previewing Juice, a plug-in that is on its way, but not yet ready for release. It’s an analog input modeling plug-in that emulates the inputs of a number of vintage mixing desks. Sound Toys will have a public beta in December, so if you want to check out Juice, that might be a good way for you to do so. Based on Sound Toys’ stellar track record, you can expect this to be an excellent plug-in.

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Over at the Focusrite booth, they were celebrating their 25th anniversary as a company (they had a big champagne toast on Friday near the end of the day), and at their sister company Novation (www.novationmusic.com), they had the recently released UltraNova synth ($699) on hand. I was very impressed by its sound and versatility. The 37-key UltraNova not only is a wavetable synthesizer, but also an audio interface and a MIDI controller with Novation’s Automap capabilities. It sounds great, and has touch sensitive knobs, a mic for its vocoder effects and more. It also has a patch librarian software that makes it really easy to save and organize your patches.

So, bye-bye to AES 2010. Avid’s Pro Tools 9 announcement on the eve of the show was by far the most consequential product introduction, but there were still plenty of good products to be found during AES’s three days of exhibits. And NAMM is only a couple of months away, so more new gear is certainly on the way.

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AES Day 2 Highlights

AES DAY 2 HIGHLIGHTS:
[Please note: Click on a photo to bring up a larger version.]
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Definitely the highlight of the day was a demo given by Korg at the nearby W Hotel. There, they were showing off a beta version of a DSD (1-bit, 5.6 MHz) multitrack DAW application. Korg has long been a leader in 1-bit technology, but until now has confined it to stereo recorders. At the demo, the software’s developers were there, showing the astounding audio quality of the recordings using the software. The software, which hasn’t been named as of yet, looked like a fairly typical DAW (see photo below), but the sound was anything but. When I first arrived, they were playing acoustic jazz which sounded as rich and warm as if it had been recorded to analog tape, not digital. They then played some recordings of some Japanese flute music, and some live recordings from a surround mic captured on the floor of the AES show, which also sounded stunningly real. They also showed off its editing capabilities, which allowed for edits as small as 1 microsecond. There’s no timetable yet for when this will come to the market, this version was more of a “proof of concept.? It would be reasonable to surmise that this may very well be the future of audio, and it sounds amazing.

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As for products on the floor, I saw SSL’s Nucleus ($5000) control surface/audio interface, which is very slick, albeit quite pricey. Aimed at “professional project studios,? it features two SuperAnalogue mic pres, like on the Duality and AWS consoles, the ability to switch between up to three different DAWs with the push of a button, motorized faders and a user-programmable jog-shuttle wheel, a 4-socket USB hub, a stereo audio interface, zero-latency monitoring, and a lot more. It will ship on November 19th.

At the Audio-Technica booth, the news was that the company was now selling its AT2021 pencil condenser microphone separately, as opposed to previously, where it was bundled with the AT2020 large-diaphragm condenser. The 2021 will be available for $79, which makes it a very good value. Another good value is AT’s new ATH-M10 headphones, which have padded circumnaural ear cups, an 1/8-inch jack with a ¼-inch adapter, and a very good sound. The headphones will cost under $40 (the price hasn’t been totally set yet). If you’re looking to add extra headphones to your studio for band-tracking situations, the ATH-M10’s would be an inexpensive and good-sounding solution.

At the Mojave Audio booth, David Royer was showing an early production model of the MA-300, a tube mic with variable polar patterns. Patterns are selected on the external power supply. Based on the previous Mojave mics, it’s bound to be another superb mic. Price hasn’t been set yet, but Royer said it should sell for around $1700-1800.

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Arturia announced Analog Laboratory, the third in its series of software/hardware packages containing a dedicated MIDI controller keyboard and a collection of 3500 sounds from the company’s many software emulations of classic synthesizers. In late November, Arturia will start shipping the software, which can be purchased separately for $249, and the version bundled with the 49-key controller keyboard (the largest of the three Arturia has released so far) will be available in mid January and cost $349. Arturia also announced a free software upgrade (version 1.3) for Origin and Origin Keyboard owners, which will include a Jupiter 8 template, new poly modes, a compressor module, and some UI enhancements.

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Tascam was showing three new or recently released multichannel USB 2.0 audio interfaces. The US-800 ($249) has 8 inputs and 6 outputs, including 6 XLR mic ins with phantom, 2 headphone outs, MIDI in and Out, and is very light weight. The US-1800 ($299, pictured here) has 16 inputs including 8 XLR ins, 6 balanced line ins (two of which can be switched to instrument level) 2 digital ins, and 4 simultaneous outputs. The US-2000 ($499) is also 16-input and 4-output, but offers improved audio specs, and a 100 LED Meter Bridge. All come with Cubase LE 5, 48 track software. All are now available.

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In addition to its three new POD HD pedals (the HD300, HD400, and HD500), Line 6 was showing its latest line of Variax guitars, which were designed in conjunction with L.A. luthier James Tyler. There are three designs, all of which feature all the digital guitar emulations, but also have magnetic pickups. The guitars are all improved over the previous generations of Variaxes from a playability standpoint. There are three different body styles offered, and each comes in a U.S. version or an “offshore? version (made in Korea). The U.S. versions start at $3500, while the offshore versions range from $1199-1499. The U.S. and offshore versions will be identical from a hardware standpoint except for the tuners. There will be three body styles, one the JTV-59 is reminiscent of a Gibson, the JTV-69 more Fender-like, and JTV-89 of a metal-influenced guitar, with a reversed headstock. They had the JTV-59 and JTV-69 models in the booth, and they looked very nice. All are shipping now.

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On display at the Diffusion Audio booth was the Two-Notes Torpedo ($2650), which is a 2RU box that allows a guitarist to plug in the speaker output from his or her amplifier and get selection of modeled cabinets and with moveable multiple virtual mics (via convolution) to use either for live or studio applications. The Torpedo has been out for about a year, but this was the first time I had a chance to see it. It sounded very impressive, and is a way for you go use your own amp but get a range of high quality cabinet and mic sounds, all going direct. It would be a great solution for studios where volume is an issue.

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AES Day 1 Highlights

[Please note: Click on a photo to bring up a larger version.]

On Friday morning, the first day of exhibits, the show floor was abuzz over Avid’s Pro Tools 9 announcement from the night before. Many manufacturers were speculating on the potential positive effects from the opening up of Pro Tools to third-party hardware. Meanwhile, there were lots of other new products on display.

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RME was showing off Fireface UFX ($2099), their new flagship audio interface. According to RME, this 30 in, 30 out interface has even better mic pres than in the original Fireface and adds USB connectivity to its existing Firewire and ADAT I/O. RME was also showing its Babyface ($749, see picture), a small-footprint USB interface that features 10 inputs and 12 outputs and uses a breakout cable for most of its connections.

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I was impressed by iZotope’s Nectar ($299), a vocal processing suite that has 11 different modules in it including breath control, a compressor, a deesser, a doubler, EQ, a gate, a limiter, delay, reverb, saturation, and a very cool pitch correction section. In addition to automatic pitch correction controls, you can capture a segment of audio into its editor, which gives you piano-roll-style editing of pitch and timing. I asked if you could create harmonies in the editor, and was told, not yet, but that feature is probably coming in a future update. Overall, Nectar looks like another winner for iZotope.

At the BIAS booth, the big buzz was the introduction of Peak Studio ($599) which will not only include a new version of Peak, Peak 7, but a new multitrack editor with video support. The BIAS folks said it wasn’t intended as a competitor to the full-featured DAWs out there, but rather a way to easily and quickly edit multichannel projects (such as in video post production), without having to open your DAW. One of the highlights of Peak 7 will be the inclusion of all the BIAS plug-ins, that previously you had to pay extra for. However, these versions will only run within Peak. If you want to be able to use them in other hosts, you’ll need to get Peak Studio XT ($1199), which will include full versions. Peak 7 is expected to ship by the end of the year, and the multitrack Peak Studio app will come early in 2011, and will be free to those purchasing Peak 7 before then.

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Shure was showing several of its new mics, most of which are intended for drum miking applications. The Beta 98 ($336), is a cardioid, clip on condenser mic that’s designed to work on toms, the Beta 91a ($299), a boundary mic developed for kick drums, and the Beta 181 ($624 with 1 capsule, see picture below right), a small diaphragm condenser with interchangeable supercardioid, cardioid, omni, and bi-directional capsules. The Beta 91a is available now, and the rest should be out later this month.

a href=’http://blog.emusician.com/the_bus/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/beyer-rm510.jpg’ class=’thickbox’ >beyer-rm510.jpg
I was pretty interested to see beyerdynamic’s new RM510 (see picture below), the first wireless ribbon mic. It’s based on the M500 a wired ribbon that was introduced back in the ‘60’s. According to the beyerdynamic spokesperson I was talking to, ribbons were sometimes used in PA’s back then (by artist such as Sinatra and other) to help mitigate the rather poor sound of PA systems of that era. The new mic will work with the company’s Opus 600 and 900 receivers.

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While Eventide wasn’t debuting any new products, they did announce firmware upgrades for their superb PitchFactor, ModFactor, and TimeFactor stompboxes, which should be available before the end of the year. Pedal owners, when they download the firmware, will have the ability to name presets, and several other interface tweaks, many based on user requests. ModFactor owners will get a couple of new wha effects, including one that allows you to get different vowel sounds from the wha.

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Toft Audio was showing the Pony ($2799), a 4-channel version of its Series ATB analog mixer. Apparently, the Pony was originally designed as a small demo unit to show off the features of the full mixer, but people were soon asking how they could buy one. It could be used for monitoring, and for its mic pres, in a small-studio environment. If you need a few more channels, an 8-channel version ($3700) was introduced as well.

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If you like to shoot video but need an upgrade from your camera’s built in mic, you’ll like Sony’s new ECM-CG50 shotgun mic ($179 MSRP). It has a built-in shockmount (very important on a video mic) and a fuzzy windscreen.

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Pro Tools 9: Wow

Yesterday, on the eve of the AES show, Avid dropped what is probably going to be the bombshell announcement of the show, a totally native version of Pro Tools. The new version, Pro Tools 9, is available now for $599 (upgrades from Pro Tools LE available for $299), and offers Core Audio and ASIO support. This is really huge news, because many people have been waiting a long time for an affordable version of Pro Tools that’s on par, from a CPU-performance standpoint, with other Core Audio- and ASIO-based DAWs, and that supports non-Avid hardware. It should be a lot more powerful than Pro Tools LE, which it’s replacing. I am eagerly looking forward to trying it out.

In brief, it will offer 96 tracks, 256 busses, all the functionality of the DV and Music Production Toolkits, and (cue the drumroll), automatic delay compensation. Avid has done a great job of late in listening to its users and responding with products that meet their needs.

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MoogFest 2010: For one weekend, the center of the electronic music universe

The city of Asheville, North Carolina, just wrapped up two days and three nights in a grand celebration of electronic music during MoogFest 2010, held from October 29 through 31. With 20 or more acts each night spread out over five venues within walking distance of one another, well over 10,000 attendees had plenty of music to choose from. Days were filled with panel discussions and workshops on topics ranging from synth programming and theremin technique to the history of the Minimoog. The sold-out festival did its best to honor Bob Moog, and indeed, I’ve never seen such mass appreciation for one man’s contribution to the world of music.Synth Sculpture
Perhaps the most interesting panel discussion brought together Herb Deutsch, Bill Hemseth, Dave Van Koevering, and Tom Rhea—without whom the Moog synthesizer probably wouldn’t have been what it became. On another panel, I discussed synth evolution with synthesizer historian Mark Vail and Keyboard editor Stephen Fortner. All panels were moderated by accomplished musician and music historian Brian Kehew and introduced by Bob Moog’s daughter (and my good friend) Michelle Moog-Koussa, director of the Bob Moog Foundation. Other workshops featured music and lectures by synthesists Richard Devine and Tara Busch and by theremin virtuosos Dorit Chrysler and Kevin Kissinger.Panelists

Friday night’s biggest crowd-pleasers were Big Boi (of OutKast), MGMT, and Dan Deacon. Other draws included Panda Bear, Girl Talk, Mutemath, and Rjd2. And although Van Dyke Parks’ music was purely acoustic, the mostly younger crowd obviously appreciated the 67-year-old composer’s performance. The only disappointment came when Friday night’s headliner, Devo, had to cancel because guitarist Bob Mothersbaugh sliced his thumb to the bone with a shard of glass. That’s gotta hurt! I wish him a speedy recovery. Two members of Devo still showed up onstage to accept a brand-new Voyager XL from Moog Music, though.Massive Attack

Saturday night’s headliners were Massive Attack and Thievery Corporation, and both were in top form. Earlier in the evening, the audience at the Orange Peel got a sneak peak at Moog Music’s new lap steel guitar. Audiences also danced and chilled to School of Seven Bells, Jónsi (of Sigur Rós), the Disco Biscuits, Caribou, Four Tet, Emeralds, and one of my personal favorites, Matmos. Jon Hopkins, who recently completed an album with Brian Eno, spun a late-night DJ set of his own music using Korg KAOSS pads.

The action didn’t let up on Sunday, though the names weren’t quite as big as on the previous night. Hot Chip, Pretty Lights, DJ Spooky, El-P, Neon Indian, and other performers were on tap to keep the collected revelers grooving into the night. Many concertgoers were dressed in Halloween costumes of every variety on all three nights, contributing to the festive atmosphere.DJ Spooky

All told, I’m sure that absolutely everyone had a fantastic time. Promoter A.C. Entertainment was so pleased that Ashley Capps (the A.C. in A.C. Entertainment) announced on the first night that MoogFest 2011 would take place again in Asheville. Moog Music gained a ton of exposure for their gear, and the Bob Moog Foundation raised some much-needed funds to carry on Bob’s legacy.

In fact, now you can send a donation to the foundation from the comfort of your own mobile phone. Just text MOOG followed by a space and the dollar amount of your contribution to the number 27138. If Bob Moog’s work had a significant impact on your life, your career, or the music you listen to, then show your appreciation by doing it now.

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SONAR X1: A Popular DAW Gets a Major Facelift

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I had the opportunity to see a preview of the latest version of Cakewalk SONAR, SONAR X1, which will begin shipping on December 8th [Click the photo to your right to see an enlarged version of the main window]. This is no incremental upgrade, instead it’s a total redesign of the program that gives it a much more streamlined, and much less cluttered interface, which should make navigating and using the program a lot more efficient. The beauty of what Cakewalk has done is that while the overall look is very different, the functionality within the various editing windows will still be very familiar to longtime SONAR users.

Cakewalk calls its new UI Skylight, and it features several new tools including a new control bar, the MultiDock for customizing a group of windows in one easy-to-access place, a new Browser for accessing files, and an Inspector for quickly getting information about various files you’re using.

The new UI lets you group and arrange windows how you like, and save them as your own custom window sets. It also has improved drag-and-drop capabilities, allowing a much faster movement of data into the program and within it. The key commands have been re-imagined to make them much more intuitive. For instance, Loop commands have the letter L in them. Quantize commands the letter Q. Makes sense, right?

Besides all the UI changes, they’ve introduced the Pro Channel Strippro-channel.jpg, which will reside on every channel in SONAR X1 Producer (the highest level of the three new SONAR versions—see below for a version/feature breakdown). Among its features are an SSL style bus compressor, an 1176-style compressor, and a vintage-style EQ.

Overall, Cakewalk is going out on a bit of a limb by doing such a radical redesign, but I think it will be a success in the long term. The program looks great and should be a lot easier to use. The risk is how the existing SONAR user base will view this upgrade, but I think they’ve kept enough the same that longtime users will be able to adapt pretty quickly. I think these users will quickly come to appreciate how slick the new interface really is.

There will be three versions of SONAR X1:

SONAR X1 Essential ($99):

•64 Audio Tracks
•Matrix view
•Step Sequencer
•Essential Instruments
•Essential Effects
•32 bit

SONAR X1 Studio ($199):

•Audio Snap
•V-Vocal
•Surround Sound
•T/S Series Effects
•Rapture LE
•RGC Suite
•Unlimited Audio Tracks
•Matrix view
•Step Sequencer
•Essential Instruments
•Essential Effects
•32/64 bit

And SONAR X1 Producer ($399):
•Pro Channel Strip
•Session Drummer 3
•Dimension Pro
•Mastering Effects
•Channel Strips
•True Pianos
•Audio Snap
•V-Vocal
•Surround Sound
•T/S Series Effects
•Rapture LE
•RGC Suite
•Unlimited Audio Tracks
•Matrix view
•Step Sequencer
•Essential Instruments
•Essential Effects
•32/64 bit

For more info and to see a video about SONAR X1, go to this URL.

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About

The Bus, EM's editorial blog, features posts from all the EM editors on topics related to gear, recording techniques and much more. It's also home to posts from a selected group of guest bloggers.

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