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V-Studio 100: not a piece of cake but a great piece of hardware

Most aspiring musicians, at least those of us who are computer nerds, have spent time recording their music to distribute it digitally ... to Grandma. Most of us pass GarageBand with flying colors, graduate from Logic Express and eventually get a masters in Logic Pro. I'm admittedly in the learning stages of Logic Pro. I've graduated from my analog mixer and have just begun to learn the real world of DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations). Please keep in mind that I'm admittedly not a sound engineer, just a musician who likes to dabble with audio recording.

Recently, we were contacted by the awesome folks at Cakewalk who asked us if we'd like to review the V-Studio 100. I jumped at the chance to test it out and was pleasantly surprised at how versatile it really was. For the last two weeks, I've learned the hardware and software included in this package that helps you sound good: the end goal of any musician. I'll just do a brief overview of what's included because there's a lot there and the conclusion is that it's a winner. It's a lot to learn, especially if you're not familiar with the software or DAW controllers for that matter, but it's a huge step up from my analog mixer. Hit the read link to learn about its abilities.
I'd first like to mention that this isn't one product in a shiny box. If you take advantage of all its features it actually gives you an audio interface, control surface, digital mixer and an SD Wave recorder. It packed a lot more in than I expected from such a small device. I initially assumed, "Cool, digital mixer." I often found myself saying "Whoa" while I was learning everything it can do. Let's take a look at the audio interface first:
  • 8 inputs + 2 mix
  • 6 outputs
  • 24-bit/96 kHz quality
  • 2 mic pre-amps with phantom power
  • Hi-Z guitar input
  • MIDI I/O
  • ASIO, WDM, WASAPI, Core Audio support
  • Compatible with DAWs such as SONAR, Logic, Live and Cubase
These features give you a great way to get your sound into the digital world: this package assists you with everything from the hard-wired connection to the export of a CD. Plug in, lay down a few tracks and then use the VS100 as your DAW controller. As long as your favorite DAW has Mackie protocol support, you'll be able to use this controller with it -- including Logic. Here are some of the top features of the controller:
  • 100mm motorized touch sensitive fader
  • 5 rotary encoders
  • 11 buttons and transport control
  • Advanced control of Sonar through Active Controller Technology
  • Easily transfer audio to and from any computer via USB
The ability to hook this device up to your computer isn't a prerequisite ... you can actually use it as a standalone recording device as well. When you toss in the SD card of your choosing, you're able to record individual tracks for later synchronization or even set it up at your latest show and record it for critiquing or a low-budget live album. It comes with several handy features for standalone recording like built-in reverb, compression and EQ. You can even a toss an already-produced track from your computer onto the SD card and use it for live playback if you're down a few musicians (or if you're a one man band like me).

This package does include its own DAW (SONAR) but it's not compatible with Mac OS. That was a pretty big turn off for me. I won't spend a lot of time focusing on the negative here, but that's seems like one of the coolest portions of the software. It's built for this DAW controller, I imagine that it would be a great experience -- it looks nice -- but for some reason, Cakewalk decided to leave that out for us Mac users. They started as a PC-only company and have been making an effort to move cross-platform as evident with the VS Production Pack but their DAW will remain PC-only for now (possibly moving cross-platform in the future). Most of us aren't looking to learn a new DAW anyways, we'd rather use it with our DAW of choice ... for me that was Logic.

Even though we don't get the built-in DAW, we still have access to the VS Production Pack. It includes some pretty handy production tools to help make your music seem less like a home studio recording. The guitar rig is pretty cool: it gives you some very nice-sounding effects. You also have a full suite of vocal effects that can turn you into anything from rock to country. After messing with some of this package, it does a pretty good job making your stuff sound polished -- as long as you're polished enough yourself. Here's what's in the production pack:
  • VX-64 Vocal Strip
  • Native Instruments Guitar Rig 3 LE
  • Boost 11 Peak Limiter
  • Channel Tools
  • Dimension LE
  • Rapture LE
  • Studio Instruments Bass
  • Studio Instruments Drums
  • Studio Instruments Electric Piano
  • Studio Instruments Strings
That's the majority of what this studio in a box can do ... I found it to be a cool little device. Will I actually go out and get one myself? That still remains to be seen. It has a lot of awesome features, but it's actually a little overkill for my purposes. For what it can do, $699 is extremely cheap but I've gotten used to doing everything with my keyboard and mouse. It would actually take a lot of time to retrain my brain and get used to using this as a controller. With more time, would I grow to love it? I'm actually quite certain I would. This device packs quite a bit into a small box and there's really no way for me to do it justice with just one TUAW article. There's an abundance of videos online with this thing in action... if you're considering this as a purchase, watch them. Making the jump from an analog mixer into a DAW controller? This would be a great starting point at a price that is definitely right. It's also an awesome gift idea for someone looking to setup a home studio on a budget.

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