After thinking through a number of things, and having gone back to using Cakewalk last night to revisit and old tune/mix, I was asked on the Cakewalk forum why I felt as I do, so I wrote a post that I thought would be worth repeating here. So, here is most of that post, edited only for context in my Blog:
I used Sonar through Platinum including lifetime updates, so I was even up to date until right when Gibson tanked the brand. I understood how to work the application. Even if not a Full-time professional power-user, I definitely knew the ins and outs of getting things recorded and mixed and dealing with the hardware and software, drivers, configurations, system tweaking, etc.
But when I came back yesterday and opened up an old project, it left me wanting. Yes, I changed my audio interface, so there were things to adjust, but even that was painful, even being experienced at the same. I also added the FaderPort 8 device since I left, but I wasn't even trying to use that in CBB.
Here are a few things that are quite simple in Studio One that were a pain for me yesterday:
1. Arranging my plugins - or even getting them to show up where they were supposed to be in groups. I had to open the Plugins...manage layouts from the Browser (wait about 30 seconds each time for this to load), click VST, find my plugin, select the folder on the right in the correct layout (assuming that's the one I actually had selected before I got to the "manage layouts" screen), add the plugin, go out of the manage dialog, save, look in the newly saved area and NOT see my plugin. Until I restarted CBB. Now it's there. Contrast in Studio One: go to the browser, select the view (folder, flat, vendor, type), drag the plug where I want it - done, or favorite it - done.
2. Listen to my mix - at 2.9ms latency settings via ASIO, the same as Studio One using the same audio device and same drivers (in fact the same ASIO control panel). Pops and clicks while playing back a simple VST piano by itself. Load up a whole mix with complex synths, lots of effects, and decent number of tracks at the same 2.9 ms, in an UI that feels FAR more stable and responsive = no pops or clicks. I recorded, mixed, and mastered the whole project from start to end with no change to latency at all. In CBB (or old Sonar), I got accustomed to archiving/freezing tracks and changing the latency depending on where in the track progress I was, to keep performance in check. Studio One = no such thought process or interruption = it just worked.
3. Assigning my hardware to control things in CBB = a bit of a PITA. In Studio One, I move a control, click a UI element, and click the left arrow in the UI. Now my slider/knob controls that. And I'm not talking about the FaderPort 8 (a Presonus product we would expect to be better in Studio One). I am talking about an Edirol PCR-800 - a device that was made by "Roland" at a time when they owned Cakewalk, that has never been predictable or easy to use with ACT, a technology that was created during the same period as the device, with the device even having a button on it that was decidedly only for ACT (V-LINK), but to get it to control things in CBB is just an unpredictable pain - even having created a ticket with Cakewalk (pre-Gibson-breakup) that took a whopping 9 months to get taken care of that allowed me to utilize simple "midi remote" control that in Studio One (that was wierdly difficult to setup and separate from ACT because that particular function wasn't handled by ACT) has been a complete breeze in S1.
4. The Gui - of course this one is so subjective. When I first got S1, I was a little underwhelmed with the GUI, but I have found it to be more functional than CBB's. I have spent less time worrying about how a control looked or how the colors worked, or how I could spend even more time doing customizations and instead in Studio One have spent more time enjoying the immediacy, the simplicity, the intuitiveness, and the productivity.
5. No reliance on the ProChannel. I've never been a fan, believing that the modules there are loaded across every channel, whether I want them or not and except for the (enjoyable) Quad Curve EQ, the UIs are too small to be useful. I'd rather only load on a channel what I am actually going to use to keep the busyness down and make the channels/console far easier to look at.
6. The console - Much more flexible in Studio One, allowing for the volume sliders (and associated controls) to be extended up, for the Insert and Send areas to be height adjusted, and to allow for (some) plugins to display their details at the channel summary level - if you want them to.
7. Simple to use Audio "quantizing" in the form of Audio Bend = CBB AudioSnap. I have tried to use this facility SO many times in CBB. It has been hit and miss at best, leaving me to just re-recording things that needed timing adjustments. In Studio One, it seems completely accessible - a simple few clicks and drags and things are where I want them. Done. No hassle, no confusion, and predictable behavior.
8. Macros in Studio One = CAL in CBB. Macros are FAR more accessible and make it VERY easy to put together a string of commands and tie them to a keyboard shortcut for doing multiple steps in a single key press. CAL is antiquated and even for a "programmer", the notation is quite confusing and feels like yet another thing that is left over from many versions gone-by, held-over for the sake of compatibility but never advanced for many years.
9. Comping. Without going into a huge dissertation on this, it changed too many times from Sonar 8 (layers) and the variations that happened after Skylight turning from layers to comping with various differences and little helpful web content to explain it. On the flip side, in Studio One, it is very easy to figure out what takes you want and promote them to the live track. Maybe it's just better video training examples online. Maybe the proces is actually better. In the end, I was able to comp a few guitar solo takes without feeling the need to go back to school to do it.
10. I'll stop with this one - but it isn't the end: Mastering your project. Being able to master the project without having to close it, open a new file, import the exported wav, etc is WAY more productive, especially when you KNOW you will be doing this process multiple times. Master it, listen elsewhere, come back to Studio One, make your mix adjustments at the SONG, then hit, Update Master, then export again directly from there (even as MP3), knowing that the same mastering effects will be automatically applied, the same fades, the same volume leveling, etc. Just overall a much more conducive experience to getting a song done, even when you have to come back to it days later.
No, Studio One is not perfect - in fact there are elements from CBB from which it could benefit, such as sound on sound recording, better drum mapping (by a little), track icone, and a few other things in CBB that I've frankly forgotten about. This forum is ONE of those things. The forum at Presonus is less active, for sure, and this community is one I've been involved with since <2003. Which brings us back to this forum topic - the Forum. :)
Cakewalk by BandLab is okay, especially as a freebie. But the workflow is pretty bad if you're into anything other than recording some Audio or with a MIDI Controller.
The Staff Editor is unusable for anyone into serious composition - and I'm not expecting it to replace notation software... But being able to access at least 2 voices is pretty much a requirement, these days, and MusicXML Import is becoming almost necessary given how some notation software export MIDI when you use ornaments like Trills (that you want to show up in the DAW, but don't want generated MIDI approximating bad synthetic trills written into the file).
The MIDI editor isn't all that great. Changing Velocity is a pain because the bars are so tiny. The resolution for changing things like Modulation aren't as fine as some other DAWs (Cubase, Logic Pro X, REAPER).
There is practically no audio editing functionality worth mentioning. You're better off using something like Humble Bundled VEGAS Pro if you're an Audio Engineer - or just buying REAPER or Samplitude Pro Suite on Discount.
The bundled Instruments/Sampler are terrible. The plugins are mediocre, except for the Channel Strips that are disabled by default (why?).
Pro Channel is incredibly cluttered, and basically increases the DAW's CPU usage by defaulting with plugins you may not even want on every track.
Arranger has some issues... Can only have 1 level of folders. You can't have Violin and Viola folders within a Strings folder, for example. Only DAW that I've personally used with this issue...
No Marker, Tempo, Chord, Key, Time Signature Lanes. Much of this stuff has to be access in separate windows. Tempo Editing is awful compared to a lot of other DAWs. Even ACID Pro handles practically all of this stuff far better than Cakewalk by BandLab. Using Loops adds tons of useless markers, and I never found a way to turn it off.
I ended up going the Studio One route. It has a UI that is similar to something like ACID Pro, but without the clutter of Cakewalk, and the workflow is a lot better and far more intuitive. It feels like it was built for the modern era. Cakewalk feels like software from the early 90s that never got around to fully reinventing itself. Skylight interface feels incredibly "surface-level." Once you get past the base UI, you end up with tons of dialogs and missing features/workflow niceties that just whittle away at your patience, and frustrate you.
If you're really too poor to spend $200+ on a DAW, then get Cakewalk. Otherwise, I don't recommend it.
Also, the community is awful - incredibly defensive - and it going free gives them a default excuse to shush you away anytime you post feedback that isn't a glowing review of the product... because, you know, "the developers are working so hard and doing all of us a favor by maintaining the product."