I had been looking for a live performance application for a long time, one that would let me control my whole rig from a single place. Cantabile does what I need and is very affordable. I only use hardware synths and MIDI modules, no VST plugins, so I can only talk about the vast MIDI routing, filtering, and control mapping features. I tried both Forte and Cantabile 2.0 and since CanTab had MIDI processing built-in while Forte required an additional purchase, Cantabile was a better choice for what I needed.
A few years ago I toured with a totally automated and self-contained keyboard rig where a foot controller (Lake Butler MIDI Mitigator) held all my songs and associated Program Change (PC) numbers, which on a stomp would change programs on a Digital Music MX-8 MIDI switcher/patchbay/processor. The MX-8 would have in's and out's for all my instruments/modules and allow for splits, transpose, velocity ranges, controller mapping, etc., as well as send program change messages on any or all of it's MIDI out ports when it received a PC from the foot controller. I got spoiled by the versatility of being able to do all the patch changes on all the instruments at the stomp of a footswitch, and then play any sound on any channel of any multi-timbral sound source (keyboard or rack module) from any key range I wanted to on any keyboard for any song.
You get the idea. But the MX-8 only had 2 MIDI processors in it, and one had to be used to receive PC messages from the foot controller.
Cantabile is like my old super versatile setup on steroids. With Cantabile 3.0 and a MOTU 128 MIDI patchbay, I have unlimited processing capability, and a double-tap on a song name on my tablet or hitting a panel button on my keyboard (that I've set up as a MIDI CC# of my choice) instantly sets everything up for the next song or song-section.
No more having to hit bank and program buttons on each keyboard and module between songs, and if I want to use a "volume" pedal to mirror the mod wheel on a song, and a "sustain" pedal to speed up or slow down the "leslie" speaker effect, I can. The possibilities are endless.
Fantastic tool - I use Cantabile 3 every day to come up with musical ideas and sound combinations, and can use the recordings made by Cantabile directly in my DAWs later. (It records multi-channel audio and MIDI simultaneously, and can be set to start recording automatically when you begin playing.)
The routing and MIDI binding capabilities are very impressive - control anything with any controllers you have available! Even will change MIDI controller numbers on-the-fly among its many other transformations! (Foot Pedal CTRL#4 to ModWheel CTRL#1 for instance.)
Also fantastic for live setups, of course - I will use it for my live performances over YouTube Live Streaming from now on. It really expands my palette of possibilities and allows very fast change-overs between different setups I've prepared, and allows spontaneous changes as well.
Best thing to happen to my studio and creativity in a long time.
The details page at KVR gives a good enough overview of its feature set, but I can expand on the points made there in my review here. Also, the complete "Guides" pages are available for you to read, but they sometimes make the program seem more difficult than it actually is, since you usually learn to use the features as you go along and get a better grip on your own requirements.
"Cantabile 3 is a complete, ground-up rebuild of the entire product"
I had the privilege of watching Brad develop this product from the time of my introduction to Cantabile to the official release date, as Cantabile 2 owners were given access to the preview versions, both stable and experimental.
"and incorporates feedback from hundreds of musicians making it the best Cantabile yet. Everything from the audio engine to the user-interface and everything in between has been re-imagined, re-designed and re-engineered."
Brad would incorporate a new feature request or procedural change within HOURS sometimes of it being mentioned. He used a Trello board to track suggestions and moved so swiftly that I know it had all of us early adopters' heads spinning that he could implement so quickly! He is one of the most responsive, approachable and communicative developers I have every had the pleasure to meet.
"Cantabile is a powerful host for virtual instruments and effects with an emphasis on real-time performance and use in live performance situations:"
Though real-time live performance is the program's hallmark and initial reason for being, it is a composer's dream machine, allowing experimentation and sound design with layering of both VST instruments, VST effects, and external instruments, effects and microphones into your "set lists":
Play: Play VST instruments and process audio effects in real-time. Plug-ins can be connected in series to form racks and multiple racks can be run concurrently with each delivering a different sound or instrument. Racks can also be connected together to apply common effects to multiple instruments.
Perform: For live performance, Cantabile's song state and pre-loaded set list support can be used to instantly switch songs. Most settings can be controlled remotely using MIDI bindings and everything can be kept in sync with MIDI clock support.
Record: Cantabile's audio and MIDI recorders can be used for automatic or manual recording.
Yes, with ultra-low latency and an optimized audio engine that works with multiple cores as well as VST can manage, real-time playing with effects is a reality.
The capacity of the racks approach is very powerful - racks can be entirely self-contained with many inputs, instruments, effects, MIDI bindings, audio and MIDI media players and outputs incorporated into a single rack, or specialty racks can be created that can be chained to and from other racks to recycle setups that stay fairly consistent or would benefit from a single-point of management (like a volume and EQ rack for adjusting sound to the room in live settings, for instance).
The synchronization options are very flexible, and one can incorporate several synchronized media players to output MIDI data as well as audio tracks, and keep things going between sets by placing those into racks saved among sequential states. (That is, you can change your entire setup while a media player file continues through the transition (which is VERY fast due to pre-loading) into another entire instrumentation and effects setup.
The recording capabilities could be the sole reason you own Cantabile if you are a composer - it even features auto-record so you never miss an idea. These recordings can be set up to capture as many MIDI and audio channels as you desire, producing multi-track recordings that render flawlessly when imported into any DAW with multi-track import capabilities (I can think of none that do not these days). Do write down the patch changes in your VSTi's to apply in your DAW later on, as those settings do not get printed into the MIDI file (due to a limitation inherent in VSTi instruments).
Cantabile is available in three editions:
Cantabile Lite: A free, simple to use, yet high performance host designed for use as a quick VST scratch pad, or for users just getting started.
Cantabile Solo: Intended for home hobbyists and casual users who need a more flexibility. Audio and MIDI file players, recording, set lists, advanced MIDI routing, MIDI filters, embedded racks, MIDI bindings (control just about everything from MIDI control surface).
Cantabile Performer: Designed specifically with live performance in mind, Performer adds features like "Live Mode" with large status indicators, super fast song switching, linked racks for sharing instruments across songs, lots more...
I cannot give you details on the Lite and Solo editions, as I went for Performer right away after seeing the rapid development taking place and after trying out the full version. It was obvious that it filled my needs perfectly. If you are a composer or do live gigs in any venue imaginable, this program is simply an amazingly useful tool. There is a discussion on why to upgrade happening at the Cantabile Community forum you may find helpful.
Just so you have it here to refer to, the following is the rest of the main page's contents:
Cantabile Performer Features: (Cantabile Solo and Cantabile Lite are a subset of this)::
Low-latency real-time performance.
Flexible audio and MIDI routing.
Fast switching between configurations with song and rack states and pre-loaded set lists no waiting for plug-ins to load mid-performance.
Individually triggerable audio and MIDI clips.
Control of all important settings (including VST parameters) from your MIDI control surface (or device).
Automatic and manual audio and MIDI recording.
Easy management an entire performance with set lists.
Send MIDI configuration to external devices on song load with triggers.
MIDI clock synchronization (send and receive).
Easy configuration of keyboard splits.
Multi-channel audio support.
Multi-core CPU support.
On-screen keyboard and controllers.
Supports VST effects, instruments and MIDI plug-ins.
Support for 64-bit audio.
Touch screen and hi-res screen ready.
Fully scalable user-interface.
x86 and x64 versions available.
Performer is definitely worth every penny. I really mean it when I say it is the best thing to have happened to my studio and my creativity in a long time!
I finally switched and upgraded to Cantabile 3 and can say that I'm very happy .
This software is a blessing for performing Windows musicians.
The software is very stable.
Loads and switches very fast. Can preload the setlist with all the plugins. Switching is a matter of seconds.
Very low latency.
There's an enormous user community, very helpful and mature, the developer is always and I emphase ALWAYS there if you have some issues, ...
Everything is MIDI assignable.
Good playlist manager (separate text files you can edit, so crash proof).
Song structure is very well written: You have Playlist > Songs > States (=parts in the song, f.e. verse, chorus, etc.).
Engine is stable and written by a musician, so he knows the problems on stage and has workarounds for it. f.e. the audio ports are linkable in the options, this way you can easy change your soundcard without reassigning all the settings. Racks are plugins structures you can link and reuse in songs, loads faster. Also, there's a Background Rack, here you can add your basic settings for the whole show.
Built in Mediaplayer .
Built in Notes viewer.
What more can a musician ask?
Sure, it's not as sexy as Mainstage or other hosts, but it's very powerful once you get past the aesthetics.
Switching to C3 is the best thing I ever did, finally a decent Windows VST Host .