The Best Digital Audio Workstations (DAW) for Any Audio Producer
What makes the best digital audio workstation comes down to your needs and wants. Options range from incredibly expensive, with a huge number of features, to completely free, and deciding factors may include your musical style, how you like to work, and your experience in audio production. Bearing all this in mind, these are the top DAWs to choose between.
1. Ableton Live
Hitting the market in 2001, Ableton Live, a clip-based sequencer, bridges the gap between studio production tools and live DJ performance tools. In 2013, the company released the ninth version, which they updated to 9.6 of February of this year. Improved workflow, MIDI editing, and an audio warping engine offer greater flexibility than older versions, which comes with a wider range of effects and instruments to further enhance music.
2. Presonus Studio One
Studio One comes free with several of the PreSonus AudioBox interfaces. Logical to use, you’ll have no problem getting started even if you have no experience with DAWs. For complete beginners, the software will walk you through the stages with demos and tutorials. If you’re switching from another Digital Audio Workstations, jump straight to the Song page to start creating music. The newest version comes with Scratch Pads, allowing you to experiment with different ideas before implementing changes.
3. FL Studio
Formerly FruityLoops, FL Studio is a favorite of electronic music producers (it has no audio recording features). Although simple to use, the DAW contains advanced features and users receive free lifetime updates, gaining new capabilities as they are released. FL Studio 12 comes with several improvements, including a scalable interface for any screen size and a more efficient user interface.
4. Apple Logic Pro
With everything you need in a studio, from recording and mixing to MIDI production, Logic is the go-to for many Mac users. Logic Pro X is considerably different from its predecessors, with a new image and new offerings, which include a massive library of plugins and sounds. Logic is a particularly good choice for amateurs currently working with GarageBand but now looking to take their music to the next level.
5. Steinberg Cubase
From the company who invented the VST standard, Cubase is constantly evolving and becoming better with every new release. In version 8, you’ll find a more intuitive interface and tweaks to almost every aspect of the design. Taking advantage of the latest technology, Steinberg is now offering Cubase users VST Transit, a cloud collaboration service that allows you to work on your audio through multiple devices and to share projects with other professionals.
6. Cockos REAPER
A complete yet inexpensive DAW, REAPER supports an array of hardware, formats, and plugins. Users receive updates every few weeks to fix bugs and improve features without losing their preferences or configurations. The latest version of REAPER comes with new GUI layouts, metronome beat patterns, and volume envelop modes, to name just a few changes. You can try all the features for free with a 60-day demo before you decide to buy.
7. Cakewalk SONAR
A major downside to SONAR is that it’s one of the few DAWs with no version for Mac. However, SONAR does have several features to merit its place on this list, namely its affordability and effects. The X3 package comes with the Overlouds TH2 amp simulator for guitars and Breverb plugin for reverb. Studio and Producer editions offer Melodyne for pitch-shifting, and you’ll find a Console Emulator in the Producer edition.
8. Avid Pro Tools
A second DAW offering cloud collaboration, Pro Tools also comes with Avid Marketplace, helping you to connect with others in the audio community. Another feature that sets it apart from its competitors is the opportunity for users to either purchase the software or to just subscribe and use features when they need them. Pro Tools’s interface is quite basic compared to some other options, as it is intended be reminiscent of an analogue interface. Notwithstanding, this DAW can provide you with access to great plugins, effects, and tools for recording, editing, and mixing.
9. Bitwig Studio
A new name on the market, Bitwig Studio is the creation of former Ableton developers. Like the Ableton Live, this DAW is available for both studio and live work, intended to give audio producers greater control over sound. You have the chance to work with several different display profiles, create unique sounds, and modulate any device or VST parameter. For better usability, touchscreen features are available for Windows and Linux devices.
10. Propellerhead Reason
Representing a studio rack on the screen, in the past, Reason suffered criticisms that it was illogical to use. Recent versions have addressed most of these issues, changing buttons and controls, allowing users to record audio, and enabling plugins. Reason also has more sounds, an improved workflow, and enhanced editing capabilities, and version 8 saw a redesigned user interface and collaboration with iOS apps.
11. MOTU Digital Performer
If you have experience with another DAW, you may find it difficult to get used to Digital Performer, as the software has a very different interface from any other, such as the single window for playing, recording, editing, mixing, processing, and mastering. First released 1990 (with MIDI-only versions since 1984), Digital Performer is the oldest DAW in existence. This has given the company ample time to create develop features, resulting in a versatile and customizable workspace.
12. Steinberg Neundo
If you already use Cubase, you’ll have no problem transitioning to Nuendo. This DAW is particularly suited for post-production audio, an excellent alternative to Pro Tools. It’s the preferred choice of many studios and technicians in sound design, dialogue, and mixing for movies and TV.