The Good: Unlimited number of tracks, very clean interface, good selection of plug-ins, abundance of features that are usually reserved for the higher end software, VST3 support, smooth 64-bit audio engine.
The Bad: Some of the plug-ins that are included sound outdated, not optimized for lower resolution displays.
The Verdict: For the price, Cakewalk Sonar X3 offers a lot of features that will benefit both beginners and intermediate users alike.
What is the most basic and cheapest version of Sonar surprised a lot of people in the industry with what it brought to the table. Compared to some of its more complex counterparts on the market, this rather simple piece of software has proven to be very practical and user friendly, while also offering some of the features that bring the flexibility even the more specialized software lacks.
Sonar X3 is a digital audio workshop that comes with limited features. You won't have a huge library of plug-ins, and those that come with it aren't the greatest ever made. However, it offers a lot in other areas that are probably even more important for an average user. Cakewalk's Sonar X3 supports an unlimited number of tracks. This applies to MIDI, instrument tracks, or audio tracks. For anyone who is thinking about doing serious work on a budget software like Sonar X3, this feature is a huge plus.
The interface is very simple, attractive, and user friendly. The main workspace is not cluttered and gives you enough space to organize numerous tools the way you see fit. Naturally, the interface supports the use of multiple displays, allowing you to expand your workplace and create a more organized layout. The audio engine used by Sonar X3 is the 64-bit version that also comes in the Cakewalk's more advanced software. Since it's a lighter program, this audio engine works fairly smoother in Sonar X3. You also get the very same VST3 plug-in support that comes standard in more professional Cakewalk DAWs.
Speaking of plug-ins, the ones that come with Sonar X3 are limited, but versatile. You won't get nearly as many plug-ins as you would with Sonar X3 Producer, but most of the ones you get are definitely good enough for you to record and mix a great sounding track. We say most because there are some that sound way out of date, and don't really offer much value to a modern producer. However, such plug-ins are a minority in the library.
While it is a user-friendly environment, Sonar X3 will require a bit of your time to learn all the shortcuts and figure out some new features. Learning these things can easily improve your experience with this software, especially if you are used to working in another DAW.
For the money, Sonar X3 offers a lot of potential. Cakewalk has definitely improved their most affordable DAW version and included some things that were usually reserved for the higher category of recording software. With a bit of knowledge and learning, Sonar X3 can be all you will ever need for a home studio setup.