Windows 10 Enhancements For Music Production

Music Production for Windows 10: Overview

Music Production for Windows 10

On July 29, at 12 AM EST, Microsoft started rolling out Windows 10 upgrades. If you signed up for the upgrade earlier, you may have already received a notification. If not and you absolutely can’t wait, Tech savvy users can use the Media Creation Tool to install immediately on one or multiple devices.

Fortunately this time around, we have much more mature release compared to Windows 8—there’s no missing start menu, and the confusing divide between “Metro” and desktop apps is history. According to Microsoft, Windows 10 will be the last “version” of Windows. Subsequent updates will be delivered periodically to users, so we won’t need to wait two or three years to see improvements. This isn’t all that different from what we at Cakewalk have adopted with our “rolling updates” model; we’ve seen how this has led to a proliferation of new features and enhancements along with ever-improving stability, and we hope Windows users will see similar benefits. To make Windows 10 more attractive to customers and get them onto the new platform, it’s even being offered free to existing Windows 7 and 8 users.

Microsoft’s new management under Satya Nadella has led to some positive changes in how Microsoft communicates with its partners. Over the last few years we’ve seen a renewed interest in our audio domain compared to prior years. It’s encouraging to see some additions to Windows 10 that were influenced directly by industry feedback, including concerns about low latency audio and MIDI problems such as jitter and multiclient support. Even at trade shows and other industry events there has been a renewed presence from Microsoft. These are positive steps—it looks like Microsoft has put Windows 8 behind them, and are making a fresh start that’s more responsive to consumer needs.

Microsoft presentation at Summer NAMM
(photo courtesy Harmony Central)

Cakewalk SONAR has always been one of the leading digital audio workstation (DAW) vendors at the forefront of Windows development, and we’ve been following the music production for Windows 10 development cycle from very early on. I spoke to some Microsoft contacts, and got some under the hood details on some of the Windows 10 features that are relevant to music production applications like SONAR, as well as a few areas of general interest.

Audio Stack Low Latency Optimization

There have been many significant improvements toward improving low latency performance in the Windows stack when using WASAPI (shared mode). The Windows audio stack now has as much as 15 msec lower round trip latency by default in WASAPI. Additionally, applications using WASAPI shared mode can now explicitly specify a lower buffer size to be used instead of the default system buffer size. Drivers can also now report a minimum buffer size to allow the applications to select a suitable buffer size.

Microsoft claims that one can now expect “near ASIO performance” when using WASAPI shared mode. This is a big accomplishment since in the past WASAPI shared mode had very high latencies, close to 50 ms (similar to MME drivers). Applications like SONAR that use kernel streaming or ASIO already communicate at a lower level that bypasses the Windows audio engine, so in theory the lower latency advancements in Windows 10 will not allow for lower latencies than previous versions unless you were using the Windows audio engine.

However, I asked Microsoft if there had been any changes to the Windows kernel (the lowest level in the audio stack, which can make or break low latency audio processing) that affect audio processing and received this response:

“Yes. There have been changes in the multimedia scheduler service and kernel components to minimize DPC spikes (particularly when in lowlatency mode).”

This is great news, because it could make a big difference to low-latency streaming apps like SONAR.

Audio Core Isolation

Drivers and applications can “opt in” to isolate and dedicate low latency audio processing to a single CPU core, which can minimize the effect of DPC latency spiking from networking, Bluetooth, or other DPC spiking processes by preventing interruptions to audio processing. Behind the scenes this is done using interrupt steering and thread affinity. This is an opt-in feature at the WASAPI level where an app has to identify the threads that need to belong to this isolated core.

This feature looks promising, particularly because Microsoft says they’re looking to expand this to multi-core scenarios that relate to DAWs like SONAR.


Prior to Windows 10, MIDI was primarily accessible via the older MME MIDI APIs or the less common DirectMusic APIs. These APIs were desktop-only and not available to universal apps, which is Microsoft’s new programming model. Music production for Windows 10 has new MIDI APIs that are suitable to universal applications, so they’re applicable to Windows 10-based desktops, phones, tablets, etc.

The API also allows for multi-client access to MIDI devices, and has improved jitter-free performance.

New Audiograph API’s

AudioGraph is a high level API that sits on top of WASAPI and allows simplified building of audio applications without getting into all the complexity of WASAPI.
While not necessarily applicable to DAW’s which require more fine grained control, this can be useful to build simpler applications that require low latency audio support in Windows 10.

Latency Measurement Tool

Windows 10 now has a hardware latency measurement tool that’s part of the Windows HLK package, and which you can download to measure round-trip latency.

FLAC and ALAC Support

Windows 10 has native support for these two codecs. ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) should allow better interoperability with Apple devices, while FLAC uses a lossless compression algorithm to provide a better quality (and free) alternative to MP3. Hopefully, native support in Windows might steer more people into using FLAC instead of MP3.

Desktop and Windows Store Apps Run Side by Side

Unlike Windows 8 where Windows Store applications always ran full screen, in Win 10 they can now run as windows side-by-side along desktop applications.

This is a much smoother experience to the end user when you want to use both application types simultaneously—if this was Apple, it would be like running iOS apps alongside your desktop apps.

Cortana Search – Integrated Voice Support

Ported over from Windows Phone, Windows 10 now has built-in voice search capabilities—a first for a desktop OS—that lets you perform (for example) web or desktop searches using you, voice. Its impressive how good the voice recognition in Cortana is. I’ve had very few problems with even long sentences from across the room. And yes it does understand “Hi Cortana, open SONAR”!

(Cortana search is optional and can be disabled if you don’t want to use it.)

Faster Boot – Smaller Memory Footprint

One of lesser known but great improvements in music production for Windows 10 is its smaller memory footprint compared to earlier OS’s and the fact that it does smart compression. This reclaimed memory is now available to other applications. Check out this link from the windows team to see how this was achieved. Its interesting that Microsoft’s their work on making Windows 10 scale to mobile platforms benefits the desktop OS as well.

Additionally Windows 10 boots much faster due to a combination of optimization techniques. These improvements can make Windows 10 actually work better on even older PC’s as reported in this article that recommends Windows 10.

Windows 10 Auto Updates

There is a somewhat controversial change to how Windows update works in Windows 10.

For Windows 10 Home users, there is no way to turn off automatic updates and they will be mandatory.
Windows 10 Pro users will have a little flexibility; they’ll be able to switch from the mainstream release to the “Current Branch for Business (CBB).”

This will give some control over when updates are deployed.

While the CBB will essentially track the consumer release, it will allow feature updates to be held back for some amount of time so you can prepare for the update.

Windows 10 Enterprise is the only OS for which users will be able to actually turn off Windows updates. By opting for the Long Term Servicing (LTS) branch, Enterprise users will be able to defer feature updates for years, electing to receive only security fixes during that time.

Testing Windows 10 With SONAR

Many of our users have been running Windows 10 preview builds with SONAR Platinum for some time now and have reported no problems.

At Cakewalk, the Gloucester release of SONAR is the build that we have validated officially with Windows 10.

We ran several of our validation tests and tested all our installers and inbox plug-ins for this release. We have also run the Windows 10 App certification on SONAR. We’re happy to report that everything works great, and SONAR passes Windows 10 certification with flying colors. Additionally, we noted some performance gains when running SONAR with Windows 10.

The common impression from those doing the evaluations felt that in general, Windows 10 felt snappier compared to Windows 8. The user interface, spotlight searches, opening menus, loading programs and other common operations all appeared to be faster and more fluid. Switching among desktop applications and Windows Store apps was also much more natural.

SONAR Benchmarks with Windows 10

The SONARBench test on Windows 10

In addition to testing Windows 10 compatibility with SONAR, we ran some simple benchmarks to compare performance of SONAR Platinum Foxboro on the same system running Windows 8.1 and Windows 10.

It’s always interesting to look at benchmarks since you sometimes see results you wouldn’t expect. The next article has benchmarks done by Dean Capper, but independent PC integrators PC Audio Labs, one of the major custom DAW integrators with a lot of experience building and testing DAW hardware, has done a pretty thorough Windows 10 benchmark.

Their benchmark was done using SONAR Platinum as well as other DAWs. One of the reasons SONAR was featured in their benchmark was because according to them “SONAR was used because it is very friendly to the WDM standard, and is a well-known and very efficient DAW.”

The PCAudioLabs benchmark results can be found here: Windows 10 For Pro Audio. PCAudioLabs test was even featured in Microsoft’s Future of Audio Keynote on Windows 10, presented by Pete Brown of Microsoft. You can see the benchmark presentation starting around 22:16. It’s notable Microsoft is now listening to DAW system builders for feedback on Windows 10 performance.

Their benchmarks found notable improvements in low latency performance when running SONAR Platinum on Windows 10. Their test also mentioned improvements in CPU performance as well as well as disk performance in music production for Windows 10.

Compatibility: It’s Not Just About SONAR

Although SONAR has tested 100% compatible with Windows 10, it’s important to check whether your audio interfaces and other hardware are compatible with Windows 10 before upgrading. Microsoft has a good track record of supporting older applications and drivers, and this continues with Windows 10. Their upgrade process will even point out any known incompatibilities.

However, we highly recommend that you ensure your system is up to date with the latest drivers for all your hardware. Many audio interface vendors have already published Windows 10 validated drivers in advance; if available, you should use those. Many drivers may work without modification, but it’s a good idea to check with the vendor first before taking the plunge and updating to Windows 10.

The Future Of Windows 10

The Future of Windows 10

Perhaps even more exciting than what’s in Windows 10 today involve plans for its future. In the Windows 10 presentation at A3E, Microsoft tantalized us with other features under considertion: Thunderbolt 3, USB-C, Bluetooth MIDI, MIDI routing, audio aggregation, and more.

With the continuous integration model it’s likely that we will see these features rolled out sooner rather than later. For example, USB2 audio class driver support didn’t make the Windows 10 release, but hopefully we’ll see this soon.

Windows Feedback?

Microsoft has shown that it’s taking user feedback seriously with Windows 10.

There’s even a portal where you can submit and vote on feature requests for Windows so if you have a suggestion to improve Windows for Audio Production, go to the Uservoice Feedback Site to submit your request.

Paul Thurrott’s site compiles a list of the top 10 feature requests.


Windows 10 is a mature version of Windows that might just be the best OS release from Microsoft, building on the performance of Windows 8.1 while addressing many of its limitations.
It’s great to see features in there that benefit both audio professionals and consumers.
The overall user experience is smoother and initial benchmarks show that it performs equally or better than Windows 8.

The new continuous integration model, Microsoft’s renewed attention to the audio industry and the fact that it’s a free update from Windows 7 and 8, should make this a great update for most DAW users.

Windows 10 References

A3E Microsoft Keynote

Whitepaper: Audio Latency Changes in Windows 10


AudioGraph API

Windows Hardware Lab Kit (With Latency checker)

Windows 10 Download site

Cakewalk Windows 10 Benchmark

PCAudioLabs Windows 10 Benchmark

Windows 8 – A Benchmark for Music Production Applications

Music Production for Windows 10 - Free Trial

SONAR Performance Benchmarks with Windows 10

The SONARBench test on Windows 10

We wanted to do some simple benchmarks to find out how running SONAR under Windows 10 compared to Windows 8.1. We did our tests on a moderately powered system using a basic audio interface (TASCAM’s US-322, the predecessor to the new US-2×2 and US-4×4 interfaces) set to 286 samples on input and 287 samples on output, for a total of 573 samples / 13 ms.

The SONARBench Project

This test project is useful to run not only because it provides information about SONAR’s performance, but also gives us a 1:1 basis for comparison with results reported by users in the field. The test project includes a 12-track mix of a band plus several additional tracks with only a sine wave. Each track includes five instances of the Sonitus Multiband compressor that are initially bypassed. We enable one Sonitus plug-in at a time until the CPU is taxed enough to cause audible “glitches,” and then notate the maximum number of enabled Sonitus plug-ins that SONAR can play once through without audible glitches.

The test continues by enabling more and more instances of the Sonitus Multiband until the audio engine drops out so we can note the maximum number of enabled plug-ins that allow SONAR to play without dropping out.

Test 1: Number of Sonitus Multiband plug-ins that can be inserted in audio tracks before glitching occurs.

Win 10: 203

Win 8.1: 179

Windows 10 is the clear winner here.

Test 2: Number of plug-ins that can be inserted before SONAR drops out.

Win 10: 362

Win 8.1: 362

For this test, there’s no difference in performance.

The DAWBench Project

This benchmark is similar to SONARBench, but uses plug-ins that other DAWs would be able to use (in this case, the CA-2A T-Type Leveling Amplifier running as a VST3 plug-in). This test also includes a 12-track mix of a band plus several tracks with a sine wave, and CA-2A instances are enabled one per track at a time until each track has one active CA-2A. We then repeat this until all tracks have a second CA-2A enabled or the audible glitches return, at which point we note the maximum number of active plug-ins that can be enabled without audio glitches.

Like the first benchmark, additional CA-2A instances are enabled until the audio engine drops out completely. We then note the maximum number of plug-ins that can play twice through the audio loop without a dropout.

Test 1: Number of plug-ins (CA-2A VST3) that can be inserted before before glitching occurs.

Win 10: 50

Win 8.1: 52

Statistically, the results are essentially equal; the discrepancy is likely attributable to jitter.

Test 2: Number of plug-ins (CA-2A VST3) before dropout.

Win 10: 103

Win 8.1: 85

Windows 10 is the clear winner here.

What SONAR Platinum Pro Artists are saying about their Recent Upgrade

At Cakewalk, we are fortunate and proud to have some great cutting edge professional artists who rely on SONAR daily to write, record, and deliver world-class tracks. We are constantly getting feedback from many users to improve our software, so in our recent pole we decided to ask some artists to tell us about their Platinum upgrade experience in their own words:

iLan Bluestone:
International Electronic Producer/DJ
London, UK

[Currently touring internationally and working on new tracks]

“Upgrading to Platinum was a big deal for me.  I basically transitioned from SONAR 8.5 and was toggling back and forth between that and X3.  Platinum really put me over the edge to move forward.  Once I was over the initial learning curve which was actually enjoyable, the system became more like a writing partner.  The tools and workflow are like no other – and there are so many options to approach music in different ways, so getting creative ideas flowing is the best thing about Platinum.  This is what really keeps my custom sound always on the cutting edge.”

Javier Colon:
Winner of NBC The Voice
Recording Artist: Concord Music Group

[Currently touring and finishing a Holiday EP while also gearing up for a new full-length record 2016]

“I went from SONAR X2 to Platinum and the new features have been a Godsend for me.  When I have a system that works well I usually just stick with it until I am forced to upgrade.  The difference between X2 and Platinum for me personally meant discovering new ways to make my demos sound way better and more pro.  I often have to send demos from my home studio to my label (Concord Music Group), and since getting onto Platinum, a lot of my tracks sound really polished.  For me and my style of music, the combination of the comping tool and VocalSync meant the difference of actually using some vocals for my new record that I cut on my own – could have never done that with X2.”

Sean Murray:
Composer of Music for Film, TV and Video Games
Los Angeles, CA

[Currently working on a new film and new video game both TBA shortly]

“I upgraded from X3 to Platinum right when it came out.  I usually stay behind new releases but had heard that Platinum was the most stable release to date – and it certainly is in my book.  It’s rock solid and super snappy (the only way I can really explain it).  The features included in Platinum are hands-down better than any release Cakewalk has had in the past.  There are so many ways to explore music creation and that is what keeps my productions sounding fresh.  I find myself using things like Strum Session 2 and Addictive Drums 2 a lot.  The upgrades to the ProChannel have been really useful as well.  And I absolutely love getting the updates now – I look forward to it every month.”

Murray Daigle
MDS Recording, Toronto

[Just finished writing and delivering the main theme song for the Pan ParaPan Am Games]

“I went from SONAR X3 to Platinum and I was a bit reluctant at first since I’m constantly in the trenches every day with people counting on me to deliver music to labels, artists, publishers etc. This was by far the smoothest transition I’ve had with upgrading my SONAR rig.  Whatever the code-kings did, this version of the program has been absolutely rock-solid.  The biggest thing for me by far has been VocalSync.  With the style of music I write and produce, I have to have big vocals to stay in the game.  VocalSync gives me so many options on how I place vocals in mixes.  I can quickly embellish a lead vocal track by tightening another to it, and then processing it in a whole different way for different effects in the mix.  Time really is money for me, and the tools in Platinum have never been more creative or professional in any prior SONAR release.”

Yogi Lonich
Producer/Songwriter/Musician/Solo Artist/Live and Session Guitarist
(Has worked with): Shakira, DJ Zedd, Koshi Inaba, Chris Cornell, Buckcherry, Wallflowers, Fuel, Melissa Etheridge, Five For Fighting, Meredith Brooks
Los Angeles, CA

[Currently working on music for various forms of media and performing live with various artists]

“I upgraded not too long ago from SONAR X3 to Platinum and have noticed a big difference in the program.  First of all, it’s much quicker and seems to be way more efficient than X3.  To some, that might not mean much, but for what I do it’s important.  Besides playing guitar for some great artists and doing my own music (you can read more about that here =), I write a lot of music for commercials and libraries through agencies – this is where time is a factor and Platinum is really efficient.  The ability to totally customize the program to my workflow gives me the ability to deliver more music, and better quality music in way less time.  The upgrade to Addictive Drums 2 is worth it alone not to mention all the other new features and tools.”

Click here to upgrade to SONAR Platinum, and start creating your own artist success story.

Speed Up Your Workflow With 5 (Rather Hidden) SONAR Features

SONAR has a LOT of features. So many, in fact, that it’s easy for some of them to fly right under the radar. The list below contains five of my favorite SONAR features that can really speed up your workflow!  Download the latest SONAR Free Demo and follow along.

#5 – Clip Coloring

Let’s say you’ve recorded a couple of guitar tracks, and the guitar player changed tone in certain parts of the song. You may want to identify these parts easily during the mixing process. Markers can work, but I typically use those to indicate sections and turning points in the song, and the tone change doesn’t always line up with arrangement changes. Instead, you can change the clip color in these sections to make the parts easier to find.

Here are the clips in their original state:
Clips Before Editing

Make some splits where the pickup change happens:
Clips Have Been Split

Now, select the parts with Shift+Click where the guitarist changes his tone, and using the Foreground selector in the Clip Inspector, color these red:
Clip Coloring GIF

You can now see all the sections where the guitar player used an alternate tone by the red waveform, which can come in very handy while mixing.

Continue reading “Speed Up Your Workflow With 5 (Rather Hidden) SONAR Features”


Summer officially kicked off in June with plenty of BBQ’s, beaches and Pro SONAR users doing some extraordinary things.  June also offered the SONAR Platinum Everett update which introduced the world’s most technologically advanced drum replacement feature.  Here are some highlights from last month on a few of the many hard working professionals using SONAR.

Murray Daigle – Toronto, Canada [Official Theme Song for Pan (and ParaPan) Am Games]

SONAR Platinum user Murray Daigle is the one of the most-awarded producers in the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN). Based in Toronto, he is also known for his songwriting and mixing skills with major label and independent artists for over 20 years.  In June, Daigle added yet another major accomplishment to his profile when his writing efforts and song-pitch for the 2015 Pan/Parapan Am Games were selected as the official theme song for the event.  The song was written at a “writing camp [workshop]” sponsored by the Songwriters Association of Canada, and then recorded and produced by Daigle with one of Canada’s most established pop artists Serena Ryder. The song, “Together We Are One,” was chosen out of 70 submissions created from the workshop. Seventeen artists perform on the song, including Mykey Thomas (Smashing SatellitesNeverest), Spyro Chalkiotis (lead singer of Neverest) and the Morningstar River drummers to name a few.  The song is currently picking up momentum as Universal has been promoting it to major radio stations, and a video for the song was also cut.  Additionally, the song is being played before every single game as well at the celebratory nightly fireworks ceremonies. Continue reading “Month-end Artist RECAP: JUNE – BILLBOARD CHARTS, PAN AM GAMES, HEAT!”