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Cakewalk Dimension Pro Review

Nov 2, 2006
Here is a review of Cakewalk Dimension Pro written by Stan Dudinsky & Brent Hoover.
Features at a Glance
    What is it?
    A cross-platform virtual-synth.

    What does it do?
    Gives you a huge selection of sounds as well as a good interface to edit and create new sounds.

    Who would use it?
    Anyone involved in creating music in styles ranging from Pop to Electronica.

    How does it sound?
    It sounds great, stands up well against hardware workstations. There's a good selection of very useable sounds.

    What is so great about it?
    Lots of great sounds right out of the box. Great editing features. Cross-platform.

    What is not so great about it?
    Users of similar programs may encounter some overlap in terms of sounds

    Review Summary?
    All in all, Dimension Pro offers a nice out of the box package. From composers needing a wide pallet of sounds to sound tweakers who find their zen in manipulating sounds to their own liking.
Cakewalk Dimension Pro Review
    I have to admit something, when I was approached by Cakewalk with an offer to write this review, I was skeptical, to say the least. Not another ROMpler I thought to myself. Just what the already saturated market needs, another ROMpler. But as I dove into Dimension Pro I was repeatedly impressed by the powerful features offered by this seemingly simple and non-descript plug-in. In the world of VA softsynths; where each new virtual analog synth claims to sound JUST LIKE the original and failing miserably, Dimension Pro does not pretend to sound like a Moog, or ARP, or even like Polyvox or Elka. Dimension Pro sounds like a preset packed synth with elaborate sound carving controls and effects. And that is refreshing.

    Lets explore Dimension closely. The GUI is laid out clear and simple. It is divided into three major parts; the top part, which displays the name of the current patch and four simple buttons that call up floating windows for initializing, loading and saving programs or patches, the option window, the MIDI modulation matrix window and the vector mixer window, left to right. Below that is the main area of sound control, with four part buttons and the corresponding modulator control windows; selecting a specific part exposes the corresponding set of controls for that particular part.

    Below that is the Mix and FX pane, which displays controls for each of the four parts effects 1 and 2 level, pan and volume, with an engage button above each set. Clicking on the FX button exposes two global effect modules, a modulation FX and Reverb. The modulation effect part has a choice of four different types of effects; chorus, symphonic, phaser and chorus/phaser. The Reverb module offers two types of reverbs, hall and room. Each module has a set of corresponding control knobs; frequency, delay, depth feedback and dry/wet controls for the modulation effect module and predelay, size dampening tone and dry/wet controls for the reverb module. There are no convoluted submenus, hidden controls or hard to read pseudo-LCD displays.

    The name display is pretty self-explanatory; it shows the name of the current loaded patch. Clicking on the name invokes the patch selection floating window, where you can choose one of the numerous patches from the Dimension's library. Clicking on the small triangle next to the name shows the last eight patches used, an interesting and useful feature related to that is the list is not cleared when you quit the host application and more so, it is retained if you use Dimension in a different DAW application. In my case I began working on the plug-in in Digital Performer and switched to Logic, in order to use Logic's QWERTY keyboard panel to trigger the plug-in (I misplaced my USB controller). Great for those who switch applications to improve workflow, and with Dimension's countless patches, finding that perfect pad you used in Live during jamming in the recent patch window is very helpful.

    To the right of the name display reside the four buttons to call up additional features. Saving, loading and initializing program options are for loading a complete patch, 'load element' and 'load element as' are for loading a specific set-up into one of the four elements. The options button next to that opens a preference panel of sorts, where you can set Dimension to behave as a multi-timbral synth; splitting its four elements to individual MIDI channels, good for complex sounds where discrete control of each element is needed. You can use sync interpolation when using the rendering/freezing option, which enables a higher quality algorithm for playback and freezing, keep in mind that feature will increase the time needed to freeze a Dimension track and use more of your computer CPU resources when playing back a Dimension track. Next to that is the MIDI control matrix button, which shows a floating window for an elaborate MIDI control assignment of up to 16 destinations in Dimension, it is extremely in-depth and well designed. To the right of that is the vector mixer button, which allows a dynamic mixing of all four elements, either with a mouse or a joystick, The Deaccel field allows you to slow down the response of the cross hair—higher values cause a slower response.

    The majority of real estate of the main window is occupied by the sound editing controls. The four buttons for each element are on top, underneath that is the window for oscillator display, indicating the type of sound generator loaded, and the following associated information: keyrange, velocity range, pitchbend range, sustain and soft pedal switches, transpose range, the generator's tuning, key-tracking, and shift (which shifts the multisample transposition value, preserving the mapping). Mode indicates whether a sample was loaded in 16bit or 32bit mode. Polyphony sets the maximum notes for each element. Layers shows what sample layer is currently playing. Dimension defines a Layer as the playback for one sample, either mono or stereo.

    To the right of the oscillator control window are the LoFi controls: the bitcrusher and decimator with their respective controls. Next to that is a very powerful filter. This is a gem hidden within the plug-in. It offers 16 various filter types; ranging from the classic analogue-type low pass to band pass to an all pass one pole filter, allowing for sample-delay and phasing effects. The filter module provides the obvious cutoff and resonance controls. Along the filter is the distortion module, with shape and tone controls and its five various types of distortions, from mild to hard, to tube and asymmetric distortion for screaming leads.

    If the massive filter and distortion does not give you enough control of the tone of the sound, the three band parametric EQ that resides below will surely twist the sound to your liking. Each band has an on button, three buttons for low shelf, band pass and high shelf selection, gain, frequency and Q control; the controls you will find on any high quality equalization unit.

    Below that is the Delay module. As most of the modules in Dimension Pro, It is extensive and offers lots of modulation options. It offers 13 various delays, ranging from a standard delay to chorus and flanging. It also offers standard delay controls with left, right and center level control and feedback control. The Delay module has its own filter, which is the same filter type as the main filter module with an addition of a dedicated LFO.

    Below that is what is arguably the definitive part of Dimension Pro, the Envelope generators, LFOs and Keyboard tracking generators pane. Each EG, LFO and keyboard tracking generator is pre-assigned to the pitch of an OSC, cutoff and resonance of the filter, and pan and amplitude of the amplifier. I find that arrangement really useful, unlike most synthesizers where the EG and LFO generators have to shared, Dimension Pro is almost Modular-like; pre-patched for your convenience with the right amount of modulators.

    The Envelope generator has an infinite amount of points with shape keyboard tracking and velocity adjustable for each segment. To the right of the graph are the controls for the EG; on-off button, depth and velocity controls. To add a segment to the graph, right click (control click on a Mac) in the desired location and a dragable point will be added. Clicking on the curve between points and dragging adjusts the slope. The envelope generator is loopable as well, allowing you to turn it into an LFO with complex waveforms.

    Next to that is the LFO pane. The LFO has 20 various waveforms, selectable in the graphic display by clicking on it and cycling through the waveforms. I would have liked to see a pull-down menu for this in order to jump to a specific waveform, but I assume that would have detracted from the clean layout of the plug-in. The LFO controls continue to the right of that with on-off button, frequency, sync, delay, fade and depth controls. Below that is the Keytracking generator, which directly controls the way specific envelope generator reacts to MIDI note input.

    Finally, at the bottom of the window are the controls for the mixer and global effects. Each element has its own level, pan and both global effects level controls, along with the on-off button, made visible by clicking on the Mix button. The global effects are called up by the FX button next to that. The limiter is inserted at the end of the signal flow chain, to keep all the sonic mess in check, less you forget that this is after all a virtual synth and not a monster modular, and that it still needs to comply with the laws of digital audio.

    The point of many of these ROMplers is to give composers and producers great sounds that don't require a lot of tweaking to be usable. So the sounds need to be top-notch and they need to cover a wide range of flavors and genres. This is why such instruments as the Triton and Motif are such great sellers, because although these instruments offer a deep level of programmability, I am betting that 2/3's of their buyers never get beyond just minor tweaking of patches, simply because they sound great as they are and sit well in a mix. Most players would rather play than program.

    Dimension Pro offers that same sort of creative ease. While every instrument library has it's strong and weak points, I was impressed by the consistent quality of the sounds including sounds from the Garritan pocket orchestra. Would I orchestrate an entire symphony with these sounds? No. But they would fit nicely in a Pop song that needs "sweetening" with some strings. And I could be using the drums, bass, and piano sounds as well. Generally, working in most mainstream genres you could easily build the entire song using only Dimension Pro.

    All in all, Dimension Pro offers a nice out of the box package. From composers needing a wide pallet of sounds to sound tweakers who find their zen in manipulating sounds to their own liking.
This article has been proposed to you by MacMusic in association with AudioMIDI
AudioMIDI is a leading US relleser who also provides great information about a plethora of products commercially available for creating and recording music with a computer.
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