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Welcome, and thank you for buying this second edition of Cakewalk Synthesizers: From Presets to Power User.

Cakewalk is one of the leading companies in the music technology market, specializing in software for creating music on desktop computers. Having been in business since 1987, Cakewalk is also one of the longest established companies in the field.

Since the purchase of leading soft synth company rgc:audio in 2004, the company has consolidated its position in the software synthesizer market. Cakewalk’s top-end synths are some of the most highly regarded in the industry and are widely used by many professional users who rely on Cakewalk synthesizers in their productions.

This is the only book dedicated to Cakewalk synthesizers. Since the first edition, Cakewalk has continued to produce synthesizers and has released several highly significant synths. It has also continued to develop and expand the functionality of its existing synthesizer line. However, it is a testament to the quality of Cakewalk’s products that many of their older (and now classic) models of synthesizer have stood the test of time and are still going strong.

How to Use This Book

This book is aimed at all users of Cakewalk synthesizers and potential users—from the beginner who wants to understand what a synthesizer is and how it can be used to the experienced user who simply wants to understand his or her synthesizer in greater depth. It is also intended for anyone who wants to learn about synthesis. Many of the chapters use the freely available synthesizers (Triangle II and sfz) so you can learn how to use the synthesizer before you invest in one of the synthesizers with more features.

For each synthesizer, this book looks at:

  • The main features and how to control each synthesizer—in other words, what happens when you turn a knob

  • How to create and control sounds

The process for creating sounds is not simply a matter of understanding the function of each knob. It is also a matter of understanding the sound sources in your synthesizer and the tools that your synthesizer has available to shape the sounds. To this end, the sound design topics are split over many chapters throughout the book.

  • Chapters 2 and 3 introduce the basic tools and principles and then work through to look at many advanced techniques. The chapters have been split into two because otherwise the subject would be unmanageable, especially for readers who are new to the subject. The principles discussed in these chapters can be applied equally well to non-Cakewalk synthesizers, so if you’re looking for a general introduction to synthesis, you might want to start here.

  • The chapters in the download package available for this book work through the creation of a number of sounds, demonstrating how to apply the techniques discussed in Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 to the featured synths.

  • In Chapter 29 (in the download package), some of the real power users of Cakewalk synthesizers (for instance, the programmers of the factory soundsets) walk you through the creation of some of their programs and comment about how they use Cakewalk synthesizers for creating music on a daily basis.

These sound design sections are all practical rather than simply theoretical. All of the programs for these sounds are included in the download materials that accompany this book.

So Which Bits of This Book Do I Read First?

This book has been written on the assumption that you will have access to a few of the synthesizers. Only a few people will own every synthesizer featured in this book. As a first step, you should make yourself aware of the basic sound design principles set out in Chapter 2. Once you have read Chapter 2, you might want to have a look at one (or more) of the chapters focusing on the specific synthesizers that you own.

Before you get too deeply into the high-end synthesizers (Z3TA+, Dimension Pro, and Rapture), I suggest you also check out the intermediate and advanced programming techniques set out in Chapter 3. If you really want to dig deep, then I suggest you look at the SFZ format.

SFZ and the Expression Engine

Cakewalk’s most recent synthesizers are based on an underlying technology called the Expression Engine, which uses SFZ-based files as the sound source and then builds functionality from that foundation, with each synthesizer being focused on controlling sounds with a specific workflow (in other words, specific tools have been built for specific jobs).

The Expression Engine synthesizers are:

  • sfz

  • RXP

  • DropZone

  • Session Drummer 2 and Session Drummer 3

  • Dimension LE and Dimension Pro

  • Rapture LE and Rapture

  • Beatscape

As you can see, each synthesizer is very different.

Both Z3TA+ and sfz+ also use the underlying technology, but neither reads SFZ files.

The SFZ format is an open, flexible format that allows power users the opportunity to have an infinite supply of waves within their synthesizer for sound creation purposes, and it gives huge flexibility when creating sounds. In fact, it’s such a good format that other developers (such as Native Instruments, Plogue/Garritan, Camel Audio, and discoDSP, to name a few) also recognize and use it.

The SFZ format defines how a group of samples is structured and controlled. The samples can then be loaded into any SFZ-reading synthesizer and used for performance. Check out Chapter 13 and the Appendix for much more detail about the SFZ format.

However, the SFZ format is only half the story. The other half is the Expression Engine itself—or rather, how the Expression Engine handles sound files. Although it doesn’t read SFZ files, the Expression Engine technology was originally implemented in Z3TA+. Apart from being a great synth, one of the most significant features of Z3TA+ is that it uses an “alias-free” engine.

Aliasing is the term applied to the creation of nasty audio artifacts as a side effect of creating and manipulating sound in the digital domain. Z3TA+ was one of the first synthesizers to create sound without aliasing. This anti-aliasing technology was then refined and implemented in future implementations of the Expression Engine.

The key issue about anti-aliasing technology is that you don’t hear it.… You don’t get the distortion—instead, you get a clean (dare one say analog-like) sound. By starting from a clean sound, you can focus on generating the sound that’s right for you without having to work around the additional distortion that is introduced by the synthesizer.

Once you get used to alias-free synthesizers, such as those based on the Expression Engine, everything else will sound somewhat second-rate.

The Download Package

There is a huge amount of additional material available through the download package that accompanies this book. Some of the material within the download package is integral to the book (for instance, the program material mentioned in Chapters 2, 3, 4, and 13 is contained in the package), while other pieces are freestanding and can be read without the book.

You can get hold of the download package from:

The download package with the first edition of the book was intended solely for people who bought the book. We are taking a slightly different approach this time, and subject to the terms set out in the document contained within the download package, the package may be freely distributed/redistributed, so please feel free to share it with your friends, post it on the internet, and generally pass it around.


A few last words before we get going. First a note about terminology: Cakewalk generally uses the term program to describe an individual sound. This is the term that will be used throughout this book. The term program is interchangeable with the terms patch and preset, which may be more commonly used. A group of programs (or patches or presets) are stored as banks.


Lastly, if you have any problems with any of the Cakewalk synthesizers, check out Cakewalk’s support forums (—the Cakewalk Instruments forum is the best place to start.

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