This makes quick work of assembling lead and background vocals, and (arguably) can be even faster than it is in Pro Tools, assuming you take the time to learn SONAR X3's way of doing things.

The step sequencer and matrix view offer many possibilities for beat programming, and you still get SONAR's workable-if-not-class-leading notation view.

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Four shortcut keys (C, D, B, and I) toggle the four main elements on the display on and off.

As before, you can create extra screen sets, letting you arrange the various interface elements, windows, and plug-ins across multiple monitors, and then calling up each one with the corresponding numeric key.

In doing this review, it would be easy to look at all the things taken out from the higher-end Studio and Producer versions of SONAR X3, and list them all as cons for this product.

But that's irrelevant to someone who lacks the extra cash.

and limits you to 16 audio tracks and just eight instrument tracks, Cakewalk's entry-level DAW version has no recording restrictions.

You get unlimited audio, MIDI, instrument tracks, sends, and busses.

Cakewalk also improved the Control Bar's Smart Tools; for example, you can highlight an audio clip, click near the top header, and drag it left or right—or down, in which case the system creates a new track automatically. One of the new signature features in SONAR X3 is the comping tool, which lets you assemble the perfect track from a series of take lanes. A special mode lets you quick comp without the mouse; just hit shift and the space bar and you can toggle between the various tracks using the arrow keys.

Each time you hit Enter for each piece, it jumps to the top, so you can assemble the take very quickly without stopping the audio engine.

Unfortunately, once you begin to dig deeper into the interface, and especially with regard to MIDI editing, MIDI plug-ins, quantizing, and hardware configuration pages, you'll see practically the same UI elements you would have seen in Cakewalk Pro Audio nearly 20 years ago.

There's still way too much "Windows 95" underneath Skylight.

All major DAWs, including Pro Tools, Logic, and Cubase, are easier to use at higher screen resolutions, but none seem to require one quite the way SONAR X3 does.