A Deeper Look at SONAR X2a – Native Windows 8 and Touch Support








A few months ago I wrote an article about Windows 8 and how it applied to music applications like SONAR.  In this article I will mainly cover what’s changed or new in our Windows 8 support as of SONAR X2a.

What’s New

~ We shipped SONAR X2a, our brand new Windows 8 native version of SONAR. This was exhaustively tested with Windows 8 and specifically takes advantage of new Windows 8 specific features like multi-touch. More about this below.

~ Windows 8 is widely available in the mainstream and appears to be selling well – even better than Windows 7, based on media reports from ZDNet. As of end November Microsoft had sold 40 million Windows 8 licences in a month (more than its predecessor Win7)

~ There is a large proliferation of Windows 8 PC’s available in the consumer channel, including several Intel Ultrabooks, hybrid’s and convertibles, laptops that can switch to tablets etc. Microsoft’s surface RT is also now available, although the much awaited Surface Pro (the version that can actually run classic Windows desktop applications) is yet to be released. There are also several interesting mobile solutions scheduled for early 2013. Its definitely an exciting time for users interested in mobile music platforms, since many of these have powerful Intel CPU’s and specs that are easily capable of running DAW software. It can also be confusing – there are so many products out there that you will have to do your research and look for something that fits your needs best.

~ Metro, the new application model from Microsoft which runs on both Intel and ARM CPU’s, is no longer called Metro. Perhaps not the most logical name, but the new official name for Metro Style Apps is “Windows Store Apps”. Windows Store Apps are not the same as Desktop Apps – they have somewhat limited capabilities, at least from a DAW user standpoint.

~ Many hardware vendor’s have tested and released Windows 8 compatible drivers for their supported hardware. (Although Windows 8 did not mandate any changes to driver’s, many vendors have to update installers and do compatibility testing before releasing their products)

~ Microsoft released its its latest Visual Studio development platform for building Windows applications. Applications like SONAR X2a built for Windows 8 typically use this platform for application development.


SONAR X2a is Cakewalk’s latest update for SONAR X2. While SONAR X2 and X1 are compatible with Windows 8, SONAR X2a is the first DAW release specifically designed to take advantage of new Windows 8 specific features such as multi-touch support. X2a was also built with the latest development tools and Windows SDK’s, bringing over various fixes from Microsoft. X2a is still fully compatible with Windows 7 and will continue to install on Vista (though not officially supported anymore).

X2a  includes the following:

  • Multi-touch support for Windows 8
  • General Windows 8 compatibility updates
  • Direct2D support
  • Accessibility enhancements
  • Playlist View Enhancements
  • Updated Piano Roll view and Staff view Track pane UI
  • Over 50 UI enhancements
  • Around 250 bug fixes

Click here to read the release notes for X2a

Touch Support In SONAR X2a

Although multi-touch support first debuted in Windows 7, the implementation in Windows has undergone some changes and is now an integral part of the Windows 8 user experience. Intel has pioneered its Ultrabook brand, bringing its latest CPU and graphics technology to the mobile platform. The wide availability of powerful multi-touch enabled Windows 8 Ultrabooks today, finally makes touch capable mobile Windows PC’s mainstream. This was a major factor that motivated us to add touch support to SONAR X2a.

While developing touch support in SONAR X2a, our goals were to adapt it to areas of the user interface that were most natural to the touch experience and to make touch gestures complement the traditional keyboard and mouse, not necessarily replace them. Throughout our development process, both Intel and Microsoft were very helpful, Intel providing us with a wide range of tablets and ultrabooks which we used for development and testing our multi-touch support, and Microsoft helping with our questions about multi-touch architecture in Windows 8. Their feedback helped us a great deal in making the best design decisions while developing our touch implementation for X2a.


There were several challenges that we faced implementing touch in a complex user interface like SONAR X2. Touch is not an exclusive way by which the user to interacts with the program, so it has to feel natural and complement the user’s workflow.

“Our goal in designing the touch feature set in SONAR was to provide an enhanced user experience on touch capable devices such as ultrabooks, larger format touch monitors and touch enabled all in one computers. During development as we tested touch in SONAR and figured out where to implement it, we constantly asked ourselves does it feel natural. We wanted to make sure that we didn’t try to replace the mouse and keyboard which would require the user to perform complex gestures. Instead we focused on simple, intuitive and workflow enhancing gestures to key features that could really benefit from touch.”

– George Persiantsev,
SONAR Product Manager

“The foundation for multi-touch in SONAR X2a actually, believe it or not, started in SONAR X1 while we were working on Skylight. With X2, we developed a framework for handling touch and multi-touch gestures using the latest Windows 8 technology. It was a challenge to implement a flexible framework to adapt with the multitude of touch devices we’re seeing emerge in the market. Basically, SONAR X2 will work with any number of touch inputs whether 2, 5, 10, 20, and beyond. Given a reasonably sized touch monitor, it’s possible to even collaborate with multiple people at the same time on the same surface. However, even on a very portable platform like an Ultrabook, we implemented specialized touch hit testing, to make it easier for people to get the intended results. Since implementing touch to quickly zoom and scroll through a project, I’ve hardly needed to use a scroll bar anymore, which is great!”

– Keith Albright,
Director Of Development

 The result of this work is a multi-touch DAW implementation in that feels very natural and usable. Once you try touch in SONAR X2 you will be hooked. There is no turning back!


Touch Videos

Here are some video’s that explain Cakewalk’s touch implementation vision in X2a.

Cakewalk SONAR X2a: Touch – The Developer’s Vision

Cakewalk SONAR X2a: Touch – Matrix

Cakewalk SONAR X2a: Touch – Mixing

Cakewalk SONAR X2a: Skylight Touch


Touch Gestures

On a compatible touchscreen display, SONAR supports the following touch gestures which are interpreted differently depending on the specific view the user is working on:

  • Tap (single touch)
  • Double Tap (similar to double clicking with the mouse)
  • Touch and drag (moves a single control)
  • Multi-touch drag (moves multiple controls where applicable)
  • Touch and hold (used in special cases where a touch gesture may have a different  meaning)
  • Pinch (typically used to do pinch zooming)
  • Swipe (used for scrolling)
  • Inertia support (Quick swiping gestures result in accelerated scrolling/zooming)

Tip: If you don’t have a touch enabled monitor but have a laptop trackpad that is touch capable, you may still be able to leverage some of these features. See this link for more details.

Touch is natively implemented in several views and controls in SONAR X2a. Where a native touch implementation is unavailable, as may be the case with plugin windows, Windows 8 automatically does “mouse promotion”, which translates the touch gesture into a mouse message. Although this cannot do most touch native operations, it gives you basic control such as manipulating controls, clicking buttons, etc, via touch.

The following operations are  touch enabled:

  • Scrolling and Zooming in the Clips Pane
  • Adjusting loop marker positions in the Track View
  • Auditioning and Dragging content from the Browser
  • Expanding/Resizing/Collapsing of docked views
  • Control Bar Transport module support
  • Toggling steps in the Step Sequencer View
  • Manipulating widgets in plugin user interface

Supported touch gestures in SONAR views


Matrix View

Gesture Function
Tapping cell Triggers that cell
Tapping a column header Triggers that column
Tapping Mute Mutes that row
Tapping Solo Solos that row
Tapping the panic button Stops everything
Tapping record Toggles record
Swiping left and right Scrolls left and right
Swiping up and down Scrolls up and down

Console View

Gesture Function
Dragging Faders Moves the volume fader
Dragging the Pan control Moves the pan control
Dragging on Input Trim Adjusts Input trim
Tapping Mute Toggles mute
Tapping Solo Toggles Solo
Pinch or Spread up/down Zooms in or out vertically
Pinch or spread left/right Zooms in or out horizontally

Track View / Piano Roll View

Gesture Function
Pinch or Spread up/down Zooms in or out vertically
Pinch or spread left/right Zooms in or out horizontally
Tap and drag on loop points Moves loop point positions
Tap on Mute Toggles Mute
Tap on Solo Toggles Solo

Windowing / Skylight

Gesture Function
Drag window divider between dock and TV Resizes the window
tapping the corner of the browser or inspector Collapses or expands the window
Tapping on tabs in the doc Changes tab view
Drag window divider between TV and inspector or browser Resizes the windows as a mouse would

Control Bar

Gesture Function
Tapping play Toggles play
Tapping Stop Toggles stop
Tapping Record Toggles record
Tapping RTZ Returns to zero
Tapping time ruler Moves now time


Gesture Function
Swiping up/down Scrolls up/down
Tap and drag to matrix Drags the loop to the matrix cell released on
Tap and drag to track view Drags loop to the TV in the spot released on

Clips View

Gesture Function
Swiping up/down Scrolls up/down
Pinch or Spread up/down Zooms in or out vertically
Pinch or spread left/right Zooms in or out horizontally



8.3 File Name Dependencies For VST’s

For many years SONAR’s VST management has been dependent on short file name support in the file system to identify VST plugins. Although Windows 8 still supports this on system drives by default, Microsoft is gradually phasing out support for 8.3 file names. In prior versions of SONAR, turning off 8.3 support in the OS, would cause problems while scanning and using VST’s.

SONAR X2a, has a new ID system for VST’s that is no longer dependent on short file names. This system is backwards and forwards compatible, so all old projects will continue to work fine even after loading and resaving in X2a. Note that to start using the new VST ID’s you have to reset and rescan your VST plugins which causes the new ID’s to be generated and used.

Direct2D Technology

Another technology that we have been working on for several years that finally comes to fruition in X2a, is Direct 2D acceleration for graphics. Direct2D, which is a hardware-accelerated, immediate-mode, graphics technology from Microsoft, which allows user interface code to offload processing to the GPU, thereby saving CPU cycles for DSP and other mixing intensive tasks.  Under Windows 8, SONAR X2a’s Matrix View and built-in ProChannel Modules can take advantage of Direct 2D. This option, labeled “Use Hardware Graphics Acceleration,” can be enabled in the Preferences dialog on the Display page.
The use of Direct2D in SONAR X2a is a technology preview. We will continue to invest in this technology, adding more support in future versions.

Accessibility enhancements

SONAR X2  is now fully accessible to vision impaired users. SONAR now uses the new Microsoft UI Automation framework to expose rich information about all UI elements, such as type, state, name, and value. With reliable access to this information, vision impaired users can use UI automation capable screen reader programs such as Microsoft Narrator, JAWS, NVDA and Window-Eyes to access, identify, and manipulate SONAR’s UI elements. Screen reader applications read aloud what’s on the computer screen and allow the user to navigate the UI without using a mouse.

Even for non visually impaired users, may find it  useful in some situations to have voice prompts. Simply turn on Narrator in Windows to gain access to this feature.