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Powered by a lineage of over 30 years of DAW innovation, Cakewalk delivers feature rich tools for music making. Now part of the BandLab suite of products, Cakewalk by BandLab is free to use.

Still using SONAR? Time to upgrade to Cakewalk by BandLab!

SONAR is now Cakewalk by BandLab. With countless improvements, plus major stability and performance enhancements, Cakewalk by BandLab is the DAW you know and love, only better.

The following FAQ will tell you all you need to know:


Products by Cakewalk

Latest reviews of Cakewalk products

I have used this for many years as a Sonar Platanum user, it has only improved since bandlab took over :D
Huge learning curve, but with all the top requirements of a DAW that has to be expected. Many pioneering faetures over the years and innovations showing the money obviously goes into the Dev rather than promotion and is sadly reflected by the musical world as not the front runner it really should be.

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Cakewalk by BandLab
Reviewed By @tata_arias
October 26, 2020

Excelent! Great DAW... I have been working on Cakewalk since the DOS version, it is an incredible software that has been a pioneer in the industry. It has everything a professional DAW requires and it's free! There are permanent updates that allow corrections and new features. It even has its own musical programming language! (CAL) and it is quite easy to learn to use. I have tried other DAWs but I always stick with Cakewalk ... Reaper is also an excellent DAW and almost free, Cubase, Studio One, Logic, Ableton are excellent too, and ProTools the industry standard but in my opinion Cake does not stay not a step back ... and it's super stable. the only defect I find is that it is only for windows platform, it should have a version for Mac OS..

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Cakewalk by BandLab
Reviewed By Lairyboy
October 26, 2020

I am new to the 'production scene' but have drummed in bands in my teens and twenties in the 90's and have recorded in some small studios and one really pro studio. I downloaded Cakewalk in 2019 when I half heartedly was looking for some free music production software. I played around a little bit and after being a little bit overwhelmed I just left it there on my hard disk. I downloaded a couple of trials of other DAW software, thinking that paid versions must be better and easier to use (right?) I struggled even more with these trials and realised just how good Cakewalk was, and that my learning curve wasn't Cakewalk it was me. Anyway, free being free and lockdown being lockdown, I suddenly found myself with time and a great piece of software. I created some very passable music, although being a drummer I struggled with the music bit, but am learning more music theory as I go. Cakewalk has been particularly solid with very few (2 or 3) crashes over months of use and I have seen several updates with functionality added, allowing me to spend money on monitors, a new keyboard and more plugins than I need! Bandlab have done a fantastic job of keeping Cakewalk alive while fixing bugs and improving stability. The documentation is pretty good and there is a friendly and helpful community with great knowledge at the cakewalk forums. I highly recommend this software to beginners and people fed up with the endless paid upgrade cycle of most other daws. What have you got to lose?

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Cakewalk by BandLab
Reviewed By Starship Krupa
October 25, 2020

First I'd like to say that I'm grateful to BandLab for rescuing this DAW. I only started using it after the first BandLab version, so my impressions are those of someone who has only known it in its Cakewalk By BandLab form. I don't think things could have worked out better for the existing user base and new users looking for a professional DAW whose workflow and layout are much-imitated industry standards.

At this point, 3 years since the Cakewalk company dissolved and BandLab acquired its intellectual property, it's no longer accurate to say "Cakewalk by BandLab is Cakewalk SONAR with a new name." That would be like saying Studio One 5 is Studio One 4 with a new name. If Cakewalk did versioning, it would surely be up to Cakewalk by BandLab 2 or 2.5 at this point..

Cakewalk (the DAW) began life as a rebranded update to SONAR, but since then, there have been so many changes. While preserving the old SONAR workflow for people who had gotten used to it, the developers have added new features great and small. The small features are usually ones requested by the user base, many of whom participate in the very active and helpful Cakewalk by BandLab forum.

The larger features include such additions as an Arranger Track and MIDI Articulation mapping (just released in their Early Access Program).

The developers have also been relentlessly improving the DAW's stability and tuning the audio and screen rendering subsystems. This has resulted in CbB becoming not just more stable, but faster and less taxing of system resources. I can run it no sweat on a 10-year-old Dell notebook when I want to use it away from home.

As for this program with its 33-year history, the first things I fell in love with were its mixing console view and its silky, rich sounding playback engine. I've yet to see an audio routing task that I couldn't accomplish with Cakewalk's mixer, and the graphics are the most attractive I've seen in a DAW.

In 2018 when I first tried it, I initially had some trouble with comping/editing. As I experienced it it steered the user too forcefully toward using its advanced tools at the expense of more traditional, copying, pasting, dragging and trimming. This has since been remedied with the strategic addition of a couple of options that better permit the user to jump in and start editing/comping using a more basic workflow while allowing the user to learn the more advanced techniques at their own pace. Which I recommend, if you have straightforward comping to do, you can fly with Speed Comping. Just be sure to switch tools before working in a more traditional fashion.

Because of the strength of its mixer and comping, it makes a great companion for Ableton Live, which is such a strong compositional tool, but is weaker in pure multitrack audio recording, comping, routing, and mastering. Ableton Live! and other programs may be connected via ReWire. There is nothing requiring you to edit, mix and master using the same DAW you use for recording and composition, and it is an easy matter to export your tracks from one DAW and use Cakewalk for mixing.

A big strong point for me and others who love to customize their tools is the comprehensive Cakewalk Theme Editor, which allows end users to set colors and replace bitmapped artwork throughout the program. There are many excellent user-created themes available for download in the aforementioned forum.

And for heaven's sake, my favorite feature is the free subscription license! This not only substantially decreases the necessary investment required to have access to a top-tier mature DAW, but it has other less apparent benefits. Specifically, the BandLab developers' only mandate is to increase the quality of the product, and no priority is given to new features at the expense of basic functionality. With payware programs that rely on new and upgrade license purchases to sustain the company, the first mandate will always be to focus programming and testing resources on the introduction of new features that are more likely to make new users want to buy it and existing users pay for the upgrades.

BandLab is a large, diversified company that owns multiple music publications, guitar brands, and musical accessory brands. Cakewalk (along with their Android, iOS, and browser-based DAW's) is a project they support to promote music-making and increase brand awareness. It earns its keep as a free prestige promotional item, and this means that the developers are much more free to create a quality bug-free product that shows off the company's sense of excellence.

How many times have you wished that the developers of your favorite program would fix existing bugs rather than coming up with flashy new features that you aren't going to use? Well, Cakewalk under BandLab's stewardship is just that.

Only 4 stars because there are some areas of the program that need attention. When a program has been around this long, under so many different management teams, it's inevitable that some features will get more resources than others. It's also likely that a feature added in 1997 and one added in 2020 will have inconsistencies in look and feel.This can slow down learning different features. Having acknowledged that, once I learned how to record and enter both audio and MIDI, and then edit what I had created, the rest is just....icing on the cake (sorry).

Although it comes with enough audio plug-ins to create excellent mixes (you could do it using only the ProChannel modules in the console if you wanted), it's a bring-your-own-plug-in affair when it comes to virtual instruments. There is a General MIDI instrument that can be tweaked to sound pretty good with some of its instruments. Since you are reading this on KVR, you will be aware that this is easily remedied via the vast collection of freeware now available. If you want synths, many excellent mature instruments are available from such companies as AIR (Hybrid, xPand!, Vacuum Pro) and iZotope (Iris, Break Tweaker) for a fraction of their original licensing fees if you watch for promotions. Newcomers like W.A. Production and SoundSpot are also great at filling out the instrument collection.

I do admit a fondness for the (included with sampled electric piano and drum kit as an extra download) Cakewalk Studio Instruments String Section as a quick tool for sketching string arrangements.

I've been using the program as my primary DAW for 2 1/2 years and it's so rich, so deep in features, that I'm still learning what I can do with it. The (separate download) PDF manual is over 1,700 pages long, and few of those pages are redundant.

-Erik "Starship Krupa" Miller.

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Cakewalk by BandLab
Reviewed By Saffran
October 24, 2020

It simply works.

I have it working on win 7, 8.1, 10. The installation takes a longer time than other daws but have always worked for me.

Although it have a good bitbridge to run 32-bit plugins in its 64-bit environment i slowly move away from 32-bit because those are the plugins that suddenly give me problems.

As all modern daws it takes a while to learn it because there's so many features. It isn't much it can not do.

There is regular updates and new functions added. One of the better daws in that regard.

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Cakewalk by BandLab
Reviewed By Teegarden
October 24, 2020

One of the most complete professional DAWs and its free now! However, updates with bug fixes and enhancements are faster implemented than ever before, making this already great DAW better everyday.

Like with any DAW you can encounter problems. It is impossible to have a DAW work problem-free on every configuration since there are limitless hardware and software combinations possible. In many cases the problem appears to be related to a plugin, driver or suboptimal Windows configuration which leads me to highlight the following:

An additional, not to be underestimated benefit of Cakewalk by Bandlab (CbB) is the very friendly and professional forum where many experienced users and CbB developers will try to help you out whenever you encounter an issue. Often you get answers to questions really quick and most of the time the issue is solved afterwards. Also users of other DAWs know to find it to get help on issues not directly related to CbB.

In case an issue appears to be a real bug, it is easy to report the bug and get direct help from the developers, which in many cases will have solved the problem in the next update (time between updates varies from a few months to one month, which is great considering that regularly new workflow enhancements and new features are included).

The same goes for missing features or improvements. In the past (when CbB was still Sonar) it could take a long time before feature requests and enhancements we implemented. These days however, improvements are being launched at record speed and the developers really look at your suggestions, regularly leading to implementation in one of the next updates.

I've had several other DAWs in the past but non of them could match my personal needs like CbB does (home studio with large projects: orchestral, jazz, traditional pop/rock as well as electronic music, so flexibility, speedy workflow and stability are key).

Some very useful new recent features:

  • Multiple arranger tracks including many arranger features including arranger sections and templates. This makes creating new compositions a breeze.
  • Advanced take lane and ripple editing. Making it fast and easy to record multiple takes and select and manipulate the takes you want to keep/use.
  • Import and customisation of articulation maps (key switches etc.) making convincing performances with sample libraries and virtual instruments much easier (currently in the "early release" v.2020.10 for test purposes, to be expected within one or two weeks included in the final release. Current stable release: v.2020.09).
  • High quality new Channel Tools, Prochannel modules and and audio effects (everything you need to make a good sounding mix is just there, no real need for external effects plugins).
  • Great multi-timbral instrument soft-synth implementation, a.o. very useful for Kontakt libraries.
  • Improved Mackie Control Surface integration with instrument control of parameters of all synths in your project.
  • Improved multicore support and other welcome speed optimisations, making handling large projects much faster.

Since this is a professional DAW, don't underestimate what it can do. It is a highly complex piece of software (like other professional DAWs), so you need to take the time to really master it. If you do that, you won't be disappointed. Most things you can think of and need from a DAW you can do with CbB, just dig a bit to find out how, or ask the forum.

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Cakewalk by BandLab
Reviewed By prodigal_sounds
October 24, 2020

I've been using Cakewalk since 1994 so it would be hard for me to be unbiased. I can't really comment on how great the workflow is compared to other DAWs, because I recognize that most of the comfort is "mental muscle memory". But when the future of SONAR was thrown into uncertainty in November 2017, I tried both Studio One and Reaper, and I found neither of them sufficiently better or easier to work with to warrant switching to.

In April 2018, SONAR was re-launched as Cakewalk By Bandlab, a free - yes free - download. It contains essentially everything that was included in the product that would have cost ~$400 the previous year. It's really hard to argue with that value proposition.

What I like about SONAR/Cakewalk is the development cycle - regular updates, limited in scope, focused on features. The devs have walked a fine line of either delivering massive features ahead of the curve (e.g. 64-bit and multi-core processor support), or holding back and delivering well-considered and thoroughly designed features after they've appeared in other DAWs (for example, Arrangements, or the soon-to-be-released Articulation Lane feature).

It's a free product. It's not a simple product. There's a learning curve, but the complexity and depth is there and will reward the effort required to become proficient.

Oh, and did I mention the user forum? One of the best supported and friendly communities in the business.

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Studio Instruments
Reviewed By rich_h
September 17, 2007

Cheap and cheerful, these four plug-ins do exactly what it says on the tin, no more no less. None of them are going to set the world alight with excitement, but they are usable tools.

The strings are quite realistic, consisting of violin, cello and double bass. I think it would have been nice to have a viola in there too. The sound can be thickened up with the built-in chorus and reverb.

The bass guitar has a nice throaty initial attack, but does seem to loop pretty soon after, although it is only really noticeable in isolation.

The electric piano in it's raw uneffected form is pleasant if unremarkable. The release is a bit too sudden for my liking, unless you use the sustain pedal. However, bringing in the overdrive and chorus make for a decent sounding instrument.

The drum kit is usable, looking at the config files which are in SFZ format it appears that the snare alternates between two different samples each hit, as do the hi-hats. Despite not having very many velocity layers, this makes for a realistic sounding kit. The built-in compressor can help to beef up the sound, too.

An interesting is the animated user interfaces - play a violin and the violin moves, play a snare and the snare drum vibrates etc. Not the most useful feature in the world, but mildly diverting.

Not much by way of manuals, but it doesn't need much by way of manuals!

Bearing in mind the cost (40 pounds in the UK) this is an excellent set of plugs for the skint beginner.Read Review

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