Well, the upgrade package was waiting for me when I got home yesterday. All evening plans were cancelled, as it was time for some serious play. I got a few hours in, and thought I'd share my initial reactions.
Quick and painless for me. You do have to use a registration code that is emailed to you, and you need an internet connection if you don't want to call Cakewalk. But it all went pretty smoothly, including installing all my old plugins and preferences. The disk was a DVD, so you'll need a reader.
Look and Feel
The new interface is a logical expansion to Sonar 4's interface, so I could jump right in, and understand almost everything that was going on right away. One very fun and completely useless feature is the ability to select from different icons to display on each track. You can now put a little violin on your violin tracks. Wheee! No picture of a Chapman Stick yet, so I'll have to create my own. ;-)
Piano Roll View
I spend a lot of time in the piano roll view, and there are a bunch of changes here, most of them good, but they will take some getting used to. You can display all controller data on top of the note data (default setting)... I think I prefer it in a separate pane, which you can still do. I'll probably switch to the overlay just when I'm trying to line up sustain messages for legato playing in GPO.
You can also display multiple controls simultaneously, choosing which one to edit. For example, you can view velocity, CC1, CC64 all at once on a given track. They each have a different color, so it's easy to tell what you're looking at.
My big problem is that I couldn't find the line tool for MIDI controllers. I use that ALL THE TIME to draw in expression for GPO instruments. I hate trying to use the pencil, because I can't draw well with a mouse. I hope it's still in there somewhere, and I just need to find it. If it's gone, I will raise a stink!
Feature -- Track Templates
This is super cool. Set up a track or group of tracks how you like it, and you can save the setup as a "track template." For example, you can make a track for your vocals that includes your favorite compression, EQ, and reverb in the FX bin. Even save the track names, icons, routings, etc. Then in any future project, you can import the template for quick setup. It even comes with a ton of pre-made templates. I'm going to use this a lot!
Feature -- Per-Clip Effect Bin
Now you can key an effect to an individual clip, instead of to the whole track. Nice feature!
Feature -- V-Vocal™ Vocal Processor
I only played with the briefly, and haven't figured it out completely yet. Looks really powerful, though. I tried taking an old vocal track of mine and changing a few notes in it... it works! I'm going to try it on some solo strings to see what I can get away with. I was inspired by the recent thread on "extreme ensemble building" for this.
See Cakewalk's demos on this at http://cakewalk.com/Products/sonar/vvocalextras.asp for an idea of how much it can do. The video walk-through is very impressive.
Feature -- Perfect Space Convolution Reverb
Amazing. Simply incredible. I will never use SIR again (though I'll keep all the impulses I've collected thus far, thank you!). They supply a huge number of very good impulses, including unusual and experimental ones to make strange people like me happy. For example, I played a GPO viola through the impulse of the inside of an acoustic guitar. Made a very unusual instrument! I also love the piano innards impulses. Try sending a loud bass drum thwack through that... sounds like someone beating on a Steinway with a sledgehammer!
Perfect Space vs. SIR
PS sounds better, loads faster, looks prettier, and is lighter on cpu usage. It is also virtually real-time, and doesn't have mix-down issues, as SIR does (especially when using automation envelopes). I tried chaining three instances of PS in series on the main buss of a mix, and had only minor latency.
There is a lot more new that I haven't gotten to yet. I'll try to make a follow-up post after I get some more hands-on time.