CAKEWALK HAS TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF its unique alignment with Roland hardware and BOSS effects to create a computer based recording package “for the rest of us.” The V-Studio 20 is a turnkey hardware/ software package for Windows (and Mac, with most of the same functionality) that even works with laptops and netbooks.
Initially, the V-Studio 20 hardware looks like a standard audio interface: It connects to your computer via USB, and offers both mic and guitar inputs (as well as two built-in mics for “instant stereo recording”). But the eight front-panel faders and transport buttons hint at more—these tie in with the included Guitar Tracks DAW software, providing hands-on mixing and navigation. The faders control level for four banks of eight tracks (32 tracks total), accessed with four Track Group buttons; there are also input selectors, track select buttons to arm for recording, tuner button to call up a virtual chromatic tuner, and various level controls (Fig. 1).
But it’s what you don’t see that provides the extra edge: built-in BOSS hardware effects. While you get the renowned BOSS sound, this also means the VS-20 isn’t dependent on amp and effects plug-ins, which introduce latency (a delay between the time you hit a note and the time you hear it). Latency can drive guitar players nuts, but hardware effects get around this: Like standard recording, you process your sound with effects, then record the processed sound—while monitoring the sound with zero latency.
However, one advantage of computerbased recording is the ability to record your guitar dry, then add amp and effect sounds when mixing. The VS-20 covers that too; you can play (and monitor) with a processed sound but record it dry, then easily route the dry signal through the effects later if you change your mind.
Digging deeper, the Guitar Tracks software (Fig. 2) has a simplified interface that mirrors the hardware, and is more about getting ideas down fast than editing Chinese Democracy. While the software downplays MIDI, it includes a basic, but versatile, synthesizer you can trigger with standard MIDI files—perfect for MIDI backing tracks, which you add by dragging one from the program’s browser into the track dedicated to MIDI backing tracks. Press play, done—no MIDI assignments needed, and you can even mute specific parts. The package includes 10 “standard” MIDI loops (medium blues, soul, country pop, etc.), 17 MIDI songs, 163 audio drum loops, and 93 audio “band” loops, all of which can serve as backing tracks for practicing or inspiration. For either MIDI or audio backing, you can transpose, speed up, slow down, and loop selected portions. You can even burn an audio CD from what you’ve recorded, or save as an MP3 for publishing to the web. VS-20’s 32 tracks provides plenty of room to record guitar, bass, vocals, and other instruments. Built-in vocal processing uses the available guitar effects (except for the amp sims) but also provides parallel harmonies and pitch correction, from subtle to the “hard” pitch correction that’s a hip-hop staple.
The hardware guitar effects offer four effects “slots;” using the included editing software (Fig. 3) you can choose one effect per slot, each with appropriate controls. The first slot offers 10 dynamics/wah/EQ effects, the second 10 distortion effects, the third seven modulation effects and EQ, and the fourth provides six types of delay. There’s also a reverb and noise gate, and the amp sims have Gain, Bass, Treble, Middle, Presence, and Level controls. And the sound? If you’ve heard BOSS effects, you know what the VS-20 sounds like.
Although arguably presented as an entrylevel package, the more you drill down, the more you find—like video track support. The faders can write automation into a track, and you can access the internal MIDI synthesizer if you want. It’s possible to stretch tempos, and insert not only the 11 plug-ins that come with Guitar Tracks, but thirdparty VST or DirectX plug-ins. For live use, open the VS-20 editor by itself, call up presets with the footswitch, and run an entire effects system with just a netbook and the VS-20 interface. Slick. Mac fans take note: although Guitar Tracks won’t run on the Mac except under Boot Camp, you can do control, interfacing, access the effects editor, etc., so it can serve as a “front end” for Logic, GarageBand, etc.
Overall, the VS-20 truly fills the need for a complete, turnkey guitar recording/processing solution. Yet despite the low price, it offers some features you don’t find with a typical computer-plus-amp-sim-software combo, like the hardware effects, built-in mics, vocal processing, and control surface. And don’t forget you can also use the VS- 20 with other programs if you want more than Guitar Tracks offers (although you’ll get the tightest integration with Cakewalk products).
Bottom line: For guitar players who want to get into computer-based recording and processing, the VS-20 is the package to beat for simplicity, cost-effectiveness, and tone.
CONTACT Cakewalk; cakewalk.com
PRICE $299 street
INPUTS Hi-Z guitar/bass 1/4", stereo 1/4" line inputs, balanced XLR mic input with phantom power, 1/4" expression pedal, 1/4" footswitch, built-in stereo mics
OUTPUTS Stereo RCA phono jacks, stereo 1/4" headphone jack
SOFTWARE Guitar Tracks DAW(32-bit Windows XP/Vista/7), VStudio 20 Editor (drivers for Mac OS X/Windows XP 32-bit/Vista and 7 32/64-bit)
AUDIO TRACKS 32
CONTROL SURFACE Eight 300mm faders, track group select switches, transport controls, input select, patch select, four audio level controls
SIMULTANEOUS EFFECTS Four + EQ + reverb + noise gate in hardware (36 effects included); in Guitar Tracks, EQ on all channels and master, reverb/chorus, limiter on master, up to four VST or DirectX software plug-ins per track/21 total per project
INCLUDED PLUG-INS 11
PRESETS 50 factory/50 user
AMP MODELS 12
INCLUDED CONTENT Approximately 1GB of audio and MIDI loops, songs, and backing tracks
KUDOS Exceptional functionality for the price. Zero latency thanks to BOSS hardware effects. Vocal processing as well as guitar. Can run on netbooks. Tight functional and visual integration with Guitar Tracks software. Burns audio CDs.
CONCERNS Maximum 44.1kHz sample rate. Short faders. Requires computer to run. Guitar Tracks software is Windows-only.