SONAR Platinum Is Now FREE – Introducing “Cakewalk By BandLab”

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BandLab has announced the release of Cakewalk by BandLab, a freeware digital audio workstation based on the previously discontinued SONAR Platinum music production software.

Cakewalk by Bandlab is almost identical to the flagship SONAR Platinum digital audio workstation, except for not including any third-party add-0ns. It is, essentially, SONAR Platinum without bundled plugins and add-on tools such as the Rapture synthesizer, Melodyne pitch-correction software, and others. All the core features of SONAR Platinum are included, from its analog console-like mixer to the powerful ProChannel effect modules and advanced functionality like multi-touch support, Bluetooth MIDI, etc. In addition, all previously purchased plugins or add-ons that worked with SONAR will work with the new freeware version.

So, what you’re getting for free here is a flagship digital audio workstation which used to cost $499 (with lifetime updates), minus the bundled loops and add-ons. Sounds too good to be true? Well, there’s a catch, kind of, but it’s not a deal breaker. Since Cakewalk was acquired by BandLab, you will need to install the BandLab Assistant software first in order to download the free version of Cakewalk. You will also need to sign up for a free BandLab user account. The Assistant won’t nag you to purchase or install anything else, but it will showcase some of the online services offered by BandLab. No big deal really, not by a long shot, especially considering that you’re getting such an amazing audio tool completely free of charge.

Cakewalk requires Windows 7 or higher (64-bit only) to work. It’s recommended to use a machine with at least 4 GB of RAM for smooth performance. To download your free copy of Cakewalk by BandLab, click the “Get Early Access Now” button on the product page linked below. This will download the BandLab Assistant app which will guide you through the installation process. Interestingly enough, Windows 10 wouldn’t run the BandLab Assistant installer on my laptop because it’s an “unrecognized app” but I chose the “Run Anyway” option and proceeded to install the software without any further issues.

Until this point, Tracktion 6 was the best free audio digital workstation you could download, followed by Podium Free and Studio One 3 Prime. Following the release of Cakewalk by Bandlab, it’s hard to decide which freeware DAW is better – Tracktion or Cakewalk. What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments section below!

Cakewalk by BandLab is available for free download via BandLab (66.9 MB download size, EXE installer, 64-bit standalone software for Windows 7 or higher).

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About Author

Tomislav is a content creator and sound designer from Belgrade, Serbia. He is also the founder and editor-in-chief here at Bedroom Producers Blog.

67 Comments

  1. Christiaan Ernst Schutte

    on

    As a longtime cakewalk user, I can truly say that you are getting a tool that is in my opinion one of the best DAWs free or otherwise, it just rocks, try it!

  2. heavymetalmixer

    on

    Sonar was already one of the big contenders in terms of commercial DAWs, so IMO it should be better that Tracktion. Then again I haven’t tested them so it’s just an opinion.

    Now, what’s your opinion?

    Btw, does this DAW come with a bridge for 32 bits VSTs?

    • Tomislav Zlatic

      on

      It’s all about the workflow for me and I feel far more “at home” with Cakewalk’s workflow. If I were just starting out, though, Tracktion’s workflow might feel more intuitive (just a guess).

  3. Mattias Cibien

    on

    I was glad to hear this news. Can really be a game changer for competing products now that a flagship DAW is accessible to anyone.

  4. About Tracktion vs. sonar, I actually have lots of experience with both. Sonar was my first, and now am a HUGE tracktion fan. The latest sonar probably doesn’t have the track/clip manipulation that tracktion has, (does free T6 still give you the Melodyne essentials?) I’ve moved up to tracktion Waveform now. Anyway, tracktion workflow is faster but different. Sonar is traditional and slower workflow. It feels restricting and finicky. So, maybe you can make suggestions to beginners based on some of this?

  5. Haven’t downloaded yet, but seems It comes with instruments, so it is actually a full-package for noobs, unlike other options that need extra VSTs.

    • I agree with you, Nick. Cakewalk has more powerful tools like some soft instruments, effect plugins(especially Prochannel) and so on. But regarding Waveform’s intuitive interface, I prefer Waveform to Cakewalk.

  6. I’ve just downloaded and installed Cakewalk and have to say i’m not impressed… Tracktion is somewhat more intuitive and interface is quite simple. Seeing this news i was thinking “now i just MUST switch to Cakewalk” since it’s a 400$ daw basically, but now i’m not so sure. I like the pretty look of Cakewalk but the interface is to complicated and 1920×1080 display can’t fit all the elements full sized on the screen.
    Can anyone tell me, is it worth to switch to Cakewalk from Tracktion?

    • Yes it’s worth it. Cakewalk runs circles around Tracktion IMO. Try it out, it’s free. You’ve got nothing to lose. If you try it and don’t dig it, you can simply go back to using Tracktion.

      • Nathan Chisholm

        on

        They are not even on the same level Cakewalk is MILES ahead off Tracktion and is good of a DAW as it gets! As someone whos had Sonar from the start i can say it is amazing, and now free minus the plugins it’s a great deal….

    • I agree with you, Nick. Cakewalk has more powerful tools like some soft instruments, effect plugins(especially Prochannel) and so on. But regarding Waveform’s intuitive interface, I prefer Waveform to Cakewalk.

  7. Getting a $500 piece of software for free is quite a windfall for anyone producing music on a budget. I can only speculate on the company’s rationale, but if freeware is what you want, I’m not sure why you’d use anything else (maybe Reaper).

  8. Hi All, I’m a long time Tracktion (version 3 up to 7 std) and Sonar (Cakewalk 2003 up to Platinum lifetime). I tried T-9 waveform on demo in case Sonar went bye/bye. Tracktion is much simpler to use, especially if your new to the world of the ‘DAW’ recording studio. On the other hand Sonar has a more polished look and feel of a real studio, a steeper learning curve and is able to do more especially when compared to T-6. T-7 waveform & T-9 waveform (64 bit plugins only no bridge) are much more comparable but cost $60.00, personally I buy Reaper for $60.00 as I considered it the best replacement for Sonar, and it was able to use many of Sonars included plugins. Sonars ease of editing off the staff view, Dockable/undockable view screens, & flexibility, I’m a technician ( since mid 80’s) and producer and have had many of my musician friends tell me Sonar was too complex, but to me it is the complexity that drew me to Sonar Producer and upgrading to Platinum. I rarely use my T-7 anymore, I only bought it to be able to open my old T-3 files so I could export them to Sonar. Quality wise Tracktion freezes much easier when you are recording multiple tracks (more than 10) at once and for periods of over 5 minutes. T-6 uses much less CPU power if you have limited RAM. The Tracktion products still need an official presence in the recording world and are trying with T-9 waveform, T-6 is 4~5 years older (lite years in the computer world) and is starting to show its age with NO updates only pay for upgrades. Sonar has been given a new life and is fully up-to-date with Windows 10 & touch screen monitors. Sonar is compatible with some very large studios and mix down houses, now that it’s free I suspect it will become the largest recording DAW around. Overall Sonar is a more professional product and hopefully will have a new long life.

    Let’s keep the apples even – Sonar Platinum is a far superior product compared to Tracktion 6. Sonar Platinum should be compared to T-9 Waveform, and Sonar Platinum personally is still better and doesn’t cost U $60.00 USD.

    How the ‘DAW’ world has changed. I paid $149.00 for the lifetime upgrades when it was first offered a few years ago, never mind the $100+ a year to keep it up to date for over 10 years. I also paid $149.00 for T-3 Ultimate, many years ago only to have it go bye/bye which made me buy into Sonar. Now there FREE.

  9. Joshua Vargas

    on

    Hi! Former Sonar and Tracktion (free) user here, currently using Cakewalk.
    I do like Tracktion’s workflow and was considering purchasing Tracktion Waveform, but I guess I’ll just hold it off now that Cakewalk is free.
    I think Cakewalk is clearly superior to Tracktion 6 Free in terms of feature set (I mean, this used to be $400!), but at the end of the day how your DAW helps you work is what matters. So I don’t think one can be recommended over the other unequivocally.
    I actually do like using Sonar/Cakewalk and I find it very straightforward to use, so I think I’m staying in Camp Cakewalk. But I wouldn’t say it’s switch-o-clock if you’re accustomed to Tracktion.
    Other points:
    – Tracktion is superior in terms of resource usage; it is so light and so well coded
    – I prefer MIDI in Cakewalk to Tracktion although I really like the features in Waveform
    – Cakewalk obviously has the upper hand in the effects department because of the inclusion of ProChannel modules including rather good analogue modelling plugs
    – Cakewalk has more by the way of bundled instruments, but since the best instruments of Sonar Platinum have been taken away and the bundled instruments aren’t so good, you’ll probably have to look for additional soundware either way. (note that Cakewalk TTS-1 though is a copy of Roland’s Sound Canvas sound set and it’s pretty versatile but definitely has a 90s sound to it)
    – Cakewalk is more versatile, but Tracktion is, as the developers say, more ‘laser-focused’ on music production; whichever one is better for your use case is really up to you

    Since they’re both available for free, might as well try both!

    Also, there is a 32 bit bridge in Cakewalk :)

    • Not only that. It also comes with quite an impressive set of plugins including a version of Overloud’s Breverb2 and a Cakewalk version of the TH3 guitar amp plugin, which while not the full version features 16 amplifier models as well as cabs, stomps and rack effects. Pretty impressive stuff.

      Post #177 on this page contains links to images of all included plugins after a fresh install:
      http://forum.cakewalk.com/FindPost/3744526

      Speaking of plugins I noticed that the PX-64, TL-64 and VX-64 plugins didn’t show up after install. I had to go in to the program’s plugin manager to reveal them as they were showing as ‘Excluded’. I just set them to be included and now they are in and working fine.

      It’s nice to see included bridging of 32bit plugins as well.

      As a Reaper user I had a bit of a look around the program last night and after about an hour I was feeling pretty at home, managing to set up instrument tracks and assigning plugins etc without having to resort to the manual.

      I do like the button in the top right for changing views depending on the task at hand (recording, mixing etc).

      Early days but it looks very good indeed.

      • Thanks, Albion. I’ve been trying to find the missing plugs all afternoon and because of your post, I just got ’em sorted. Much appreciated for the help.

  10. Harrummppph!

    From a long time sonar user and *owner*.

    The question is does this mean Sonar development, including bug fixes, will no longer be taken seriously?

    • Ghe dudes behind Bandlab have been awesome st updating sand bug-smashin’ since I found em a few years ago. And if you do run into an issue, they respond within a day or two at most, and it’s an actual human. They’ve been great at building up bandlab, but how that will carry over, I can’t say. But they’ve got my vote and support.

  11. Yet to try Tracktion, but compared to Studio One Prime, Cakewalk was an easy choice given that Prime doesnt allow 3rd party VSTs which is a complete deal breaker for me…

  12. What about situation like this? It looks like sonar is 100% downloaded by assistant but there is no possibility to install it. I switched firewalls and antivirus off. Downloaded files are in download folder. Did anyone of You have the same problem?

    Screen of assistant:
    http://i67.tinypic.com/345g5tf.jpg

    • mitch mitchell

      on

      the download installers will be in your downloads folder ( wherever you save them too ) and will be saved as .exe files click on them to install

    • I had the same symptoms, it turned out to the “auto-containment” feature in my internet security software.

  13. John Anderson

    on

    Possible this is the major change in the world of DAWs, the free field now is limited to two products, Cakewalk Sonar and Tracktion, for moment Sonar looks better than Tracktion and possibly Tracktion 7 will be free soon, then is important have profesional comparisons between T7 and Sonar, Other low cost (demo) DAWs like Ableton Intro have not sense at this point, pay +$79 for a demo is stupid, other free products like Mulab free or Studio One free are obsolete too because the many limitations (tracks, plugins, etc.), The first best free DAW was Podium Free but the developer never update and have a CPU limitation. The only DAW in the middle is Reaper with a long time full demo and cost $60 but with T6 and Sonar now pay $60 for Reaper have not sense too.
    P.D. Sonar free have not the same instruments of Platinum, only a few of Cakewalk and i hope that have a offline installer soon.

    • It totally has. Maybe you need to go to preferences and make Cakewalk find the correct location of your plugins.

  14. i dont know but i expected more…. if that was the last stable version of the daw, i dont wonder why they have selled it
    not very impressed and a very stripped down version.

    • It was a free and a very generous giveaway for many musicians out there. However, if it’s not for you, it didn’t cost you a dime and only a small amount of your time, so uninstall it and move along. Life will go on!

  15. I’ve used Tracktion alot, however prefer Reaper. I just started using Cakewalk and it’s next level! Who cares what I have to say, just try it, don’t hate it because its new and different than what you’re used to, figure out how to use it and you’ll probably agree that it easily surpasses any other free DAW. However, there is something I’d like to say about it. Anyone who’s spent years collecting freeware plugin’s knows, finding good sounding sampled/orchestral instruments is difficult and honestly I still haven’t found a good free orchestral vst that rivals Kontakt and such. I use Xpand (got it when it was free) and its pretty good, however guess what… Cakewalk is bundled with the BEST sounding free strings ever! Bass, Cello, and Violin – it sounds amazing! I’d say better than Xpand even! There’s also an ok sounding keyboard (I’m not really into the Rhodes sound) and a really good bass guitar (again possibly better than Xpand and and my other free bass vst (i’d have to test it side by side)). I haven’t even tried the effects plugin’s yet. So yea, just thought I’d share because, like I said, anyone who spends their life stalking free vst sites knows some sounds don’t really exist at certain levels in the freeware world, and to those people, go try those strings and that bass. (And i just went to see whether it was an arpeggiator or sequencer i saw earlier, [fyi its an arpeggiator], and while i was looking i noticed you can load Reaper on to a track in Cakewalk. Literally the program Reaper, showed up in one of the plugin sections [the box to the right of instruments and MIDI i think] and i loaded Reaper onto a track like a VST and it opened a window of Reaper just like a VST… not sure what it means lol however I’m guessing mad amounts of versatility).

    • oh yea and theres a nice sounding acoustic drum kit toooooooo (didnt think of it because i use sennheiser’s drum mic’a — my go-to free acoustic drum kit). And i looked at how i loaded Reaper to a track earlier and i guess it was Rewire, im not sure what that is, however it does that, so there you go.

    • Keith R. Starkey

      on

      Say, your comments about orchestral vsts interests me greatly. I’m brand new to DAWs, and I need something to run jazz and orchestral compositions I write in Musescore—developed for writing, not sound—into a DAW. I’m rather intimidated by all I see, but I’m only after getting a good, solid sound for my pieces. I don’t need any contemporary pop or any other kinds of affects.
      What would you suggest for a DAW?
      Thanks.

  16. For me free plugins or DAW’s almost never come close to commercial one’s..
    This move from BandLab is a game changer imo.

  17. John Anderson

    on

    A new Bandlab Assistant installer is available, the old weight 66mb the new 45mb, and now antivirus dont alert about virus inside like that the previous installer.

  18. Tracing Arcs

    on

    Have to say I did not see this coming ! Been a Sonar user since Sonar 2, went to 5, and stuck with 8.5 Producer. It did everything I needed. I heard too many stories of flaky stuff with the X1,2,3 versions. And I did not buy into the”rent to use” plan. I was pleased it had been rescued by Bandlab. But expected there to be a cut down version at a lower price. Certainly not for free.
    I have d/loaded Cakewalk Bandlab. And new horizons await I feel. It has scanned all my vsts ( a couple of flaky sessions) but it has scanned all the original Sonar 8.5 vst instruments and effex.
    The only ones missing are my NI Komplete 10 (though oddly Kontakt shows up) so will dig deeper to see why not.
    With a little patience I’ve already been customising (like the ability to place vst effects into custom folders).
    And as I have 2 x 22″ HD screens. To undock and move elements is very useful.
    Regarding the BLab app. It’s a simple thing to block it a start up.
    This could be a real game changer for amateurs, semi-pros. And possible a few pros ?
    And with the plethora of free vst’s about (my whole output for years was dependant on freebies). There is no need to compromise now I feel.

  19. My old but not obsolete no dongle required Cubase LE gives me the freedom to start my painting (project) on a blank piece of paper (DAW) using tools of my choice.
    Cakewalk comes with better paint brushes and colors (VSTi and Fx) to help the user to get started, making it the perfect optional tool for my creations.
    As for freeware Cakewalk is the winner hands down – it has a better “at home” workflow.

  20. Although I appreciate that Sonar continues to live on, and the fact that I’m a big fan of free software, I cannot ignore the fact that I paid over 300€ last year for Sonar Professional – then all of this happened.

    By now I already switched to Studio One Pro, which is imo lightyears ahead of Sonar. Everything just works as expected, there is so much you can do that Sonar just couldn’t. I’m finishing Songs within hours instead of dealing with “DAW bugs” for weeks.

    Sonar was so dated, buggy, I had a ton of issues, strange dropouts on workstation hardware with low load and RME Audiointerface. The community was never “awesome” instead the long-established party worked hard in their forums to push everybody with other opinions than “Sonar is great”. All voices that pointed towards the issues remained unheard, Software bugs remained unchecked and unfixed. In my eyes that was the true reason Cakewalk died.

    tl;dr: For free it’s a great DAW, probably the greatest atm, cause S1 Prime lacks VST Support (which is the main selling point to upgrade). But I wouldn’t want to deal with it anymore. Very sad that the bundled stuff wasn’t released alongside with Sonar, especially for people that had paid very good money this is a hit in the face.

    • I was wondering when someone like you was going to comment. As a Studio One user and lover, I know there were a bunch of Sonar refugees who jumped ship to Studio One and after seeing this my first thought (after the inital “HOLY COW $500 SOFTWARE FOR FREE?”) was “man those Sonar refugees must be pissed”. Of course there’s no one you can really blame, except Gibson maybe. Bandlab is, I think, making a good move here. Great way to get people into their ecosystem. And of course, I think this is without a doubt a game changer for the budget/freeware market of music making. Studio One prime seems like an even more useless product than it already was.

  21. Thierry Teepee Prévost

    on

    Hello Philippe, perhaps you were not that lucky with Sonar, i have the opposite feeling about Sonar Platinum i use day after day. Bugs? No… i exactly had 2 little problems in 2 years, not bugs, rather missing functions in keyboard shortcuts preferences, and it was allways corrected on the following update. Sonar Platinum is very stable, i use it along with Ableton Live 10 and SSL Soundscape V7.2, the synchronization is flawless and if there is sometimes a problem, it allways turns out it was my fault, or a buggy VST. Most of the answers are in the Cakewalk support system, which i hope it will allways be active. And the VST support is really flawless with the 32 / 64 bridge and the VST/ 2/ 3 support. Melodyne Studio 4 is perfectly integrated since i installed it.

  22. Best is like asking – which food is best – they serve different needs in the body.

    Some need Tracktion some need Cakewalk, both are good. Tracktion probably better suited to small projects.

    Cakewalk takes more of the traditional console workflow/approach. More like Mixbus., and its good that it has so much built into each channel – trim/gain pots, eq, tape emulation, compressor, so much built into each channel. Cakewalk even without the in-built effects turn on is the most resource hungry DAW I have used in a while. Reminds me of Cubase SX 1.0 about 16 years ago – Heavyweight boxer/Sumo wrestler.

  23. i realized that installing cakewalk by bandlab also adds the si bass, drums, e piano, and strings (very nice instruments) and the boost11 limiter as vsts which can then be used in any DAW. That is super cool!

  24. Hey there!

    Is there anyone else stuck in demo mode like me?

    I logged in to the Bandlan App, opened CakeWalk, and ik keeps reminding me of being in demo mode due to some error. It insists on telling me I should log into the Bandlab app to update my registration.

    So for me, thus far, saving = disabled. Some fun minutes playing, but not for keeps…

    Greetings, Psync

  25. mistrustmusic

    on

    If you’re not convinced enough to completely abandon your old DAW, you can always do what I’ve done and rewire it into Sonar. Then you can use all of the DX effects other bits that that you like in Sonar to run your tracks through. Also, I don’t know if it’s breaking any EUA or licence, but how about copying Sonar’s plugins into your own DAW’s VST folder and using them there. The VST ones work straightaway and you just need something like DXShell for the others. TTS in Ableton, anyone!

  26. I had used Sonar for years and was panic-stricken when Gibson pulled the plug. But after making the move to Studio One I felt a lot better.

    But now I’m less sure about which product to use. How will Studio One compete against a free product?

    For that matter, how long will Cakewalk survive if it is offered for free? Sooner or later BandLab has to pay programmers and QA, etc. Where is that money going to come from?

  27. Dunno if it is just me but performance is very sluggish for me when compared to Reaper and Reason , on the same machine.

  28. Edwin Pink

    on

    I was expecting to get my old Sonar platinum up and running again but that is not the case. I don’t know what kind of crap they are trying to give you here but it is not the old Cakewalk I was using.

  29. i’m a Reaper user. I would try this software but I downloaded the installer and was frustrated because extra steps were required.

    when developers advertise “free” then they can create an offline installer and require nothing further from the user. if the user is using the software, they will join the forum for support anyway.

    it feels like this software will end up crippled or sold to a third party who will un-free it someday. prove me wrong by making a fully offline installer from now on, and I will be glad to finish the installation process and marvel at the thing, but right now Reaper is mind blowing and gets the job done.

  30. Karalie Kanneh

    on

    I switched to Pro Tools on the Cloud and it is a far superior product than Cakewalk which is buggy. I am not going back because the Pro Tools UI is great and it interfaces seamlessly with everything. Also, most professional studios use Pro Tools. Sonar is very complicated and cumbersome and now I feel like I am driving a sports car with Pro Tools.

    Goodbye old friend Sonar – you taught me well but not looking back!

  31. Chris Stevens

    on

    I noticed if you go to cakewalk.com and sign in with your bandlab account, but don’t click on the orange banner on top of the screen to be redirected to bandlab , Click on products and select platinum version of sonar, then click on try that will take you a place where you get Square I, Groovesynth, DropZone, and Session Drummer 3,It’s located under(Artist Instrument Collection). Also you get Cyclone, Pentagon, PSYN II, RXP, Z3TA+ Classic, TruePianos, Lounge Lizard SONAR, and Strum Acoustic SONAR, it’s under(Platinum Instrument Collection). You get Boz Digital Labs ProChannel Collection, every plugin on that page. They will work with bandlab cakewalk without timeout or trial. Enjoy.

  32. I couldn’t sign in to bandcamp account from cakewalk site Chris. Perhaps you already had an account with cakewalk before they got bought by bandcamp?

  33. Cakewalk by Bandlab will expire in 12 days, and will run in demo mode! Unless you update your Bandlab Assistance App exe to their latest version 3.2.1.0. Cakewalk will then read: Membership Valid until 2019-03-21.

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