Cakewalk Kinetic Review: Export This Groove

Cakewalk KineticKinetic is a groove-oriented audio/MIDI workstation for the PC. It is the latest application from Cakewalk, best known for its Sonar sequencer and Project5 software studio. Kinetic is designed to make it easy and fast to create, arrange and perform with grooves.

While the application has similarities to Sonar’s Project5 and Apple’s Garageband, Kinetic stakes out new territory. What makes it unique is how Cakewalk has focused on groove-oriented production. Kinetic is built on the idea of a “groove” being the basic building block of a song. A Kinetic groove is built of up to 16 tracks of audio or virtual instrument loops. The application comes with an extensive library of audio loops and virtual instrument patterns. Browse through directories of loops and patterns, organized by style, to select the loop you want to assign to any of the 16 tracks.

With the virtual instrument patterns, you select a soft-synth “patch” independent of the pattern. This process is very streamlined. You just click on the pattern you like in the left side of the window, and then the patch in the right hand side. For example, you can select a drum pattern, and then browse for a drum kit that gives you the sound you want with that pattern. Both the patterns and the patches are easily edited, so you can tweak or create new ones to meet your needs.

Once you have a groove built, you can assign it to any button on the “groove pad”. The Groove Picker is tool for organizing and accessing your grooves. The Groove Picker has four buttons, A-D, that toggle between four sets of sixteen buttons, labeled 1-16. This gives you instant access to any of 64 grooves that can be saved within a file. This works very similarly to hardware groove workstations.

Once you’ve tweaked your grooves and saved them to locations on the Groove Picker, you can use them for live performance, or arrange them into songs. The buttons on the Groove Picker can be assigned to respond to MIDI controllers, making it easy to use a hardware controller to switch grooves. If you want to arrange them into a song, the Song Arranger makes short work of it. You can also export grooves into audio files to be used in other applications, or with hardware samples and groove boxes.

Cakewalk is marketing Kinetic to the DJ/remix crowd, but the program is flexible enough that it could be used for any groove-oriented music.

Program Tour

Kinetic’s interface puts all the tools you need to make electronic music on one screen.

Kinetic main window

Kinetic’s interface has three main sections, from top to bottom:

  • The Groove Mixer, where you organize your grooves and adjust channel settings;
  • The Part Editor, where you select patterns and patches for each channel;and
  • The Song Arranger, where you can put grooves together into songs.

Groove Mixer

The Groove Mixer is made up of two parts, the Groove Picker and the Mixing Strip.

Kinetic Groove Picker

The Groove Picker is used to organize, select and audition grooves. You can select any of the groove buttons, and then tweak the existing groove, or build a new one. Grooves can easily be copied from one pad to another, making it easy to organize up to 64 grooves. Preview grooves using the Groove Picker’s dedicated Play, Rewind and Jog buttons.

Within each groove, the Groove Picker saves the setting for the Mixing Strip, so you can copy a pattern to several pads, and have set different mix settings for each copy.

The Mixing Strip is where you assign loops and patterns to channels, and where you can set levels for each.

Kinetic mixing strip

It has a fixed 16 channels, and each can be assigned either a soft synth pattern or an audio loop. Clicking on a channel selects it so you can assign patterns or loops or edit the sounds and effects used on that channel. You can also mute or solo tracks and adjust panning and levels.

The mixer is streamlined, eliminating the complexities of things like eq, aux sends and groups. Effects are instead applied as needed to individual tracks. This makes it very easy to use, without overly limiting what you do.

Part Editor

Once you’ve selected a channel, you can work with its pattern or loop in the Part Editor. The Part Editor is split into two panes, where you can browse and select Patterns and Patches. When you edit a pattern or patch, the options available in the Pattern Editor adapt to the task you’re doing.

kinetic pattern editor

To add something to a channel, browse to a pattern using the left pane, and select a patch using the right pane. This is very fast, because all the options are on screen.

You can also create or tweak patterns and patches here by clicking the Edit Pattern or Edit Patch buttons on the left side of the screen. The Pattern Editor provides a piano-roll style interface, where you can edit the details of a pattern, including notes, velocities and automation. You can draw notes on screen, or record directly into the pattern editor, if you have an external MIDI keyboard or controller. The Patterns pane also lets you load MIDI patterns into Kinetic, and save new ones that you create.

The Patch Editor lets you customize patches and setup a chain of effects for the channel. The most commonly used controls, filter cutoff, resonance, attack, release, tone and portamento time, are immediately available for editing. Clicking on the instrument icon opens it up in a dedicated window, where you can make more detailed edits.

Kinetic Synth

The Patch editor is also where you apply audio effects. All the common effects are provided, including chorus, flange, tempo delay, parametric EQ, compression and reverb. The effects are high-quality, but basic. If you have other DX effects or “wrapped” VST effects, they will be available in Kinetic. In the effects bin, you can build a chain of effects, which provides a lot of power and flexibility, without adding complexity.

Song Arranger

Once you’ve created a set of grooves and variations, and assigned them to buttons in the Groove Picker, you can arrange them in the Song Arranger.

Sonar Kinetic Song Arranger

Kinetics makes arranging a no-brainer. Just select the groove you want, and then “paint” it into the song arranger window. You can move grooves around and copy and paste them to build your arrangement. You can also record your arrangement directly into the Song Arranger.

In addition to arranging your grooves, the Song Arranger lets you automate volume, panning and effects settings.

Presets/Sounds

To help you get started making music, Cakewalk has included hundreds of music patterns and ACID-format audio loops. For the synths, they included hundreds of instrument patches that feature classic Roland drum and synth sounds. The patterns, loops and patches are good quality, and make it easy to get started with the program. The loops and patterns focus primarily on popular electronica genres. Most users will use the patterns as starting points to be tweaked and customized. Once you get the hang of the program, you can make new patterns and import audio loops and create music in any groove-based style.

The soft-synth patches in Kinetic don’t match the quality of high-end soft synths. Most high-end soft-synths, though, cost as much as or more than Kinetic. Kinetic’s sounds are good, easy on your computer, and can be tweaked and effected extensively. Users that want a wider palette can import Kinetic files into Project5 for additional flexibility.

Working with other applications & hardware

While Kinetic provides a great deal of capability, most users will want to use it with other applications and equipment. To begin with, you can play Kinetic’s synths over MIDI. It also can easily be configured so that the on-screen buttons and knobs respond to hardware MIDI controllers. Right clicking on the button in Kinetic brings up a dialog box where you can select the MIDI controller you want to use, or click a button to have Kinetic “learn” what you want to use. This allows you to switch grooves from a keyboard or from pads, and modify the synth sounds using a controller’s knobs or sliders.

Kinetic - export this groove!Kinetic lets you import audio files in regular .wav or groove clip format. Kinetic includes an “Export This Groove” option that lets you take any groove and save it out as a wave file. This makes it easy to build loops for use in other applications, or for hardware groovebox/samplers. You can also export Kinetic songs as wav files.

Finally, if more features are needed, Kinetic files can be opened in Project 5, and Kinetic is Rewire-compatible, so it can be used with Sonar and other Rewire-compatible applications.

Limitations

Cakewalk has limited Kinetic in many ways in order to keep it easy and fast to use. For example, tracks are limited to 16, there’s no support for VST instruments and no audio recording capabilities. While this limits Kinetic’s functionality, the limitations are reasonable ones and help optimize Kinetic for groove-oriented work. It’s very easy to learn Kinetic, because most controls are available on-screen at all times. Having a fixed set of capabilities should also make it easy to share Kinetic files, which could lead to the types of communities that have grown around applications like Reason.

Summary

Kinetic is designed to make it easy to create, arrange and perform groove-oriented music. Cakewalk has done a great job of limiting the scope of the program to make it easy and fun to use, and has focused on making the most important tasks easy to perform.

In our testing, we encountered no errors, even on a machine that met the minimum requirements.

Cakewalk is targetting Kinetic to DJ’s and remixers, and no traditional music knowledge is required to use the program. However, it’s a powerful tool for creating and interacting with grooves, and could be used by anyone wanting to create groove-based music.

You could nitpick the choices that Cakewalk made in streamlining Kinetic, but the bottom line is that it’s got everything you need to start building groove-based music, it does it well, and it makes the process fun.

Project5 owners may be interested in Kinetic for its library of patterns, patches and loops, and could also use Kinetic as a streamlined sketchpad. Kinetic is an excellent choice for people just getting into computer music that don’t need audio recording capabilities. Its focused feature set and usable interface make it perfect for users daunted by more complex applications. Finally, paired with a MIDI keyboard controller, it can be used as a powerful groove-based performance tool.

System requirements

  • Windows 2000, XP (Note: Kinetic does not support Windows 95/98/ME/NT)
  • 800 MHz processor
  • 256 MB RAM
  • 180 MB free hard disk space
  • 800 X 600, 16-bit color
  • CD-ROM drive (for installation)
  • Windows-compatible sound card (Required for audio playback)
  • Windows-compatible MIDI interface (Required to connect to external MIDI devices)

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