Finding exotic software instruments is rarely a challenge. A lot of users stumble more quickly when it comes to the basics. Cakewalk has unveiled a new set of soft synths called Cakewalk Studio Instruments, and a number of things about it are immediately interesting:
It’s dirt cheap. US$49.99 for the whole package.
It focuses on a few basics. There are four modules: Drum Set, Bass Guitar, Electric Piano, or String Section.
It’s available via mass-market outlets. Music tech stuff only trickles into the mass market, as a rule. Cakewalk says you’ll be able to pick this thing up at Apple, CompUSA, Fry’s, Micro Center, J&R, and Amazon.com.
It does phrases. There are included, pre-recorded phrases. Might be redundant in the age of GarageBand, but potentially useful to have.
It has a slick interface. The UI is pretty, provides lots of visual feedback (the bows on the strings even move), and puts controls where you’d expect them in the real world — so electric piano effects show up on a stompbox, for instance, rather than floating in softwareland.
Cakewalk Studio Instruments
Compatibility: Windows VST; Mac AU; Windows/Mac standalone
Platform: Windows XP/Vista/Vista x64, OS X 10.4.9, Mac Universal Binary
The idea isn’t new: Native Instruments had its “Xpress” line of lighter-weight instruments (including electric pianos), and M-Audio had similar selections like Key Rig. But the execution looks nice, especially for beginners. My only question is whether someone will want specifically electric piano, drum set, bass, and acoustic string but not other things — especially if they already have a decent instrument preset library and loops in something like GarageBand. And, while you won’t get the slick interfaces, spending a little more money may get you a deeper, richer sound set, even from Cakewalk. But for the beginner market at which it’s targeted, it’s certainly worth a look. I hope to try it once it ships.
The “trailer” doesn’t reveal much, but you can see the UI animation. This is definitely the opposite end of the spectrum as, say, the minimalism in Ableton Live’s interface, or the alien spacecraft controls of Logic Pro.
In other news: Cakewalk is definitely expanding its portfolio as a soft synth shop, much as Digidesign has done recently on the Pro Tools side (difference being Cakewalk’s stuff runs with other software).