Cakewalk Sonar X1: Using the Pro Channel EQ

Posted: 7th April 2012 by Mezzanine Floor Studios in Hot Gear, Mixing Techniques

One of the reasons I love working in Sonar X1 is the Pro Channel functionality. It’s great having any combination of Tube Saturation, Compression, and EQ on every channel by default. It makes a lot of work faster when trying to brute force a decent rough mix. It’s also great that this is expandable, making it possible to add other affects like gates, limiters, reverbs, etc on each channel by default.

Here are the reasons I love the Pro Channel functionality:

  1. Default track and buss settings even in a new blank session (Right click and Set Modules as Default for Tracks)
  2. Inclusion in track templates
  3. Easy “CTRL+drag” EQ cloning between channels in the Console view
  4. Quick Group functionality (select tracks you want to tweak simultaneously, hold down CTRL and change the setting you want to change for all tracks (this works for normal volume, pan, aux sends as well as Pro Channel settings. This grouping functionality is temporary- it persists until a different track or group of tracks is selected)
  5. Permanent group functionality (right click on a control in the Pro Channel and click Group, then assign a group A through X. Do the same on a different control on a different track.)

Quick Groups

The Quick Group functionality (#4 above) is great for doing simple things quickly. I find it especially nice if I’ve started a live recording from scratch. Generally I will filter out the low end below 80-90 Hz on everything for live recordings, except for the few instruments that need it (Kick, Bass, bottom Djembe, etc.) To do this quickly in Sonar X1, simply follow these steps (counter-clockwise from lower right):

  1. Quick Group select all tracks (click and drag across the track numbers on the bottom of the Console)
  2. Hold down CTRL and click on the Power button for the Pro Channel EQ
  3. View the Pro Channel in the Inspector (hit I to show if hidden)
  4. Hold down CTRL and click to enable the low filter, continue to hold CTRL and raise the filter to the desired frequency

Now you can simply go to the Kick and the Bass and turn off this filter or set appropriately (many folks like cutting below 30 or even 50 Hz.)


Manual Groups

With the Pro Channel EQ permanent grouping (#5 above) is especially cool, as the gain of an EQ node can be grouped but inverted, allowing for “complimentary” EQ changes on the fly. Complimentary EQ is the act of cutting a frequency on one instrument to make room for another instrument at that frequency. Often this means boosting one channel (adding 80 Hz to the Kick) and cutting another channel (subtracting 80 Hz from the Bass Guitar.) Complimentary EQ is a powerful tool, but generally has to be done one channel at a time by listening and guesswork.

To do this, go to the Pro Channel on one track and right click on the gain knob, select Group, then select a group A through X. Do the same on the second track you want to affect. Now, right click on one of the gain knobs and choose Group Manager and select Custom. Then select one of the knobs and choose to Swap values, then click Ok.

Now when you raise the gain on that grouped node for one track’s EQ, the gain will lower on the other track’s EQ for that node. This means you can do complimentary EQ on the fly, affecting both channels at the same time, using your ears to listen for the combination of settings that is correct, rather than one at a time. This is especially powerful when using Quick Groups so you can change the Frequency and Q controls as well.

Conclusion

I would not go crazy trying to add every effect known to man into this new proprietary plugin format; we already have a great cross-platform medium for this with VST plugins. But this Pro Channel functionality is awesome in large part because Cakewalk have kept it simple and focused on bread-and-butter mixing tools, and integrated it well with other features in Sonar.

I believe the Pro Channel as implemented by Cakewalk in Sonar X1 is a significant enhancement on DAW architecture, and feel that it helps set Sonar apart from other DAW software in a powerful way.¬†Propellerhead’s Record software, which is now built into the Mixer in Reason is one of the few others to do something similar, but I prefer the way that Cakewalk has implemented this idea in Sonar.

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