Choosing a DAW that fits your Home Recording Studio Workflow
I think many of you still have an old tape recorder somewhere at home right?
…let’s be honest with each other:
Recording music these days really happens with the computer.
Especially when you have a home recording studio.
And of course…
Windows Sound Recorder is not enough.
You know you need the best DAW that fits your needs right?
Here is an overview!
The top 18 Daws
1. Ableton Live
- Ableton Live 9 Intro: Amazon | Thomann (EU)
- Ableton Live 9 Standard: Amazon | Thomann (EU)
- Ableton Live 9 Suite: Amazon | Thomann (EU)
Ableton Live has always been a unique one.
If you’re coming from Steinberg or Cakewalk products, you’ll find yourself in a strange new world, which has a tutorial to help you go along with it.
While in all honesty it would take some time to fully understand how Ableton Live 9 actually works, you’ll find it’s a sweet deal once you discover it’s time-saving and creativity-aiding functionalities.
Having a matte look and a gray color palette, Ableton Live 9 appears calm and like a canvas ready for your creative juices.
One unique thing about Ableton Live 9 is that the track information is on the right side of the arrangement window compared to traditional left-to-right DAWs.
Its session window looks like a multi-channel mixer. When you play two clips together, they quantize automatically and play on beat with each other.
Most DJ hardware includes an Ableton Live 9 Intro, which is a stripped-down version of its standard version.
Meanwhile, the Ableton Live 9 Suite is a must-have for any studio engineer or live-performing artist.
When performing with the Ableton Live 9, it would be best to optimize your existing loops.
Quantize them and use faders accurately as possible. Always create a new set of loops that you might need.
In all honesty,
Ableton Live 9 looks and feels like an instrument in a software sequencing program.
When performing, scenes would help you create real time control and stretch them during your actual performance.
Novation Launchpad was created for the Ableton Live. Novation and Ableton intends the interface to be perfect for DJing, live performance or studio sessions.
It has a multi-color 64-button grid control mode for Ableton’s Session View and Live’s Mixer.
It also has two fully-programmable User Modes and dedicated scene launch. It’s actually very neat and portable.
The Akai Professional APC40 controller works similarly with Novation’s Launchpad.
Both interfaces recognize each other and mapping is not necessary to interface. The only difference is the brand name and the controller scheme design, to be honest.
2. Image Line Fruity Loops
- FL Studio 12 Fruity: Amazon | Thomann (EU)
- FL Studio 12 Producer: Amazon | Thomann (EU)
- FL Studio 12 Signature: Amazon | Thomann (EU)
However Fruity Loops is partially a DAW. It’s a digital sampler interface. I wouldn’t call it a virtual instrument because it has multiple virtual instruments in its arsenal.
However, it has an emulated mixer, unlimited number of instrument channels, unique routing, a large plethora of loops, and the ability to export the instrument sounds when needed
Like Reason, Fruity Loops is a sample-based program. Music producers could own an FL Studio Edition in the following tiers.
Signature is a bundle of FL’s Producer Edition with their Signature plugins. The Producer edition allows audio recording and post-production, which functions as a DAW. Meanwhile, the Fruity Program only allows Music composing and arranging.
Fruity Loops also has an android version that allows you to create music wherever you go.
Honestly, Fruity Loops’ long-time stay in the industry had earned them cookie points from me. The program is stable while being a partial DAW, unless you’re getting the producer’s edition. However, the Producer’s Edition isn’t exactly up to par with the accuracy of plenty of other workstations, such as Cubase and ProTools. But its digital sampler is definitely a cut above the rest, along with its sample quality especially in Fruity Loops 11.
The mobile version is much better than most audio sampling and sequencing applications available nowadays, but of course, don’t expect too many great things to happen while you’re using it. Of course, it’s more useful if you need an app for a live performance.
3. PreSonus Studio One
Aside from its well-known built-in vocal melody editor, PreSonus Studio One is the creation of former Steinberg employees who wanted to create a different kind of software aside from the one they’re used to.
Nuendo is one such contradiction to PreSonus Studio One. Studio one is a beautiful recording interface that uses just enough resources, which also come with a relatively limited feature set.
Cubase/Nuendo would be the first thing that comes to mind once you open a new project in Studio One. However, when you load an audio track, you’ll notice that you’ve got a line down there that looks like a plugin you’ve probably used somewhere. It looks like Melodyne.
Probably it’s a curse and grace for this DAW, but I find that because it has Melodyne, it’s somewhat awesome and slow at the same time. It analyzes the audio you load and you could adjust the tone and auto correct them.
At some point, it’s also pretty useful because you could create MIDI tracks out of your audio, which is helpful especially if you’re composing and arranging music.
However, unlike Cubase and Nuendo’s easy pickings on audio editing, you might find that this is quite repressive. Its grouping options is not so useful, namely fixing crossfades on one track will affect the entire track. However, when you change the shape of your crossfade, the other tracks do not follow suit, which makes the procedure quite tedious.
Studio One comes with the AudioBox, a digital interface that guarantees low latency and includes a microphone, a USB hardware cable and an XLR cable. The Audiobox 22 VSL has one preamp for instruments and one microphone line. The Audiobox 44 VSL, which you could use for acoustic sessions or live band recording with multiple microphones, has some decent monitoring effects capability and has very low latency that allows you to add plenty of VST plugins to process your instrument sound.
Full Review: Presonus Studio One 3.0
4. Apple Logic Pro X
You might say that Apple’s Logic Pro X is quite overrated even with high reviews, but I would honestly say that this is something else.
Anybody who owns a Mac would understand that GarageBand is one of the best, simple samplers to tickle your composition fancy.
If you did make a good arrangement in GarageBand, you could integrate your arrangements into Logic Pro X. But if you’re a pro, I don’t think you’d use GarageBand for samples.
While it’s at a competitive price of $200, it outdoes some of its competition because of the following capabilities.
Very Friendly User Interface
Unlike some overwhelming interfaces, Logic Pro X looks simple to first-time DAW users. Users could select audio for recording live instruments.
Have a MIDI Interface?
Don’t worry much about routing because its MIDI track easily interfaces with almost every audio interface available today.
The instrument track makes it easy for producers to combine audio and VSTs and synths, even vocoders!
Users could also use instrument images to help them identify the track’s instrument without having to view the name. It’s a little thing, I know, but based on my experience, it actually helps save time looking for which track you need to work on next.
The Intelligent Drummer
If you haven’t a drum pattern to go with your songs, you could choose from Logic Pro X’s different arsenal of “Personality” drummers. These digital drummers have their own names. The only feature not found in other d.a.w’s, Logic’s Drummer each uses a unique set of drum samples and drumming personalities. If you’ve found the lovely drum feel and pattern you want for your song, edit the MIDI and make it more apt for your taste. It’s that awesome.
5. Avid Pro Tools
Avid’s Pro Tools is probably the most celebrated (or most used) out in the market.
Only behind from Apple’s Logic Pro X, Pro Tools ranks very highly among music producers from Pop to Metal and Electronic Music.
The cleanliness, neatness and the beautiful outline of Avid’s Pro Tools make it one of the best available for any aspiring music producer. Because it runs in 64 bit, you could have up to 128 audio tracks and 512 MIDI tracks in a single session. Piano roll and score editing have remained throughout the different versions of the device.
Now, it also has an offline project bouncing. One major complaint a friend and I had with Pro Tools was that it took so much time to bounce a track because you had to listen to it. Sometimes, it helps because you could find some errors by listening to the track as a whole. However, there are occasions wherein you have to rush your renders because you’ve got a flight coming on or something, and previous Pro Tools rendering made this a pain in the neck. Good thing for the offline bouncing indeed!
However the newest Pro Tools version is still not perfect. Yes, it does have some of the best plugins for compression, equalization, sound effects and filters, drum machines, synthesizers and drum machines, piaons and even a guitar emulator with very high quality sound, but it does not support expanded third-party plugins that do not sport an AAX-format. This is sad because one of the best things about being a music producer is endless expansion by trying out different ones.
If you’re getting a Fast Track Solo or Duo, this is where Pro Tools truly shines. With low latency, you could turn your laptop into a songwriting and audio recording system with a solo mic preamp (for the Fast Track Solo) or a dual mic pre-amp (for the Duo). In a studio, an 8×8 simultaneous parallel channel, four mic inputs with efficient pre-amp and more line level inputs and MIDI could only come with Mbox Pro.
I would say that editing audio in Pro Tools is really awesome, but there’s a huge pay-off, especially if you love expanding your plugins library with a DAW to support it. There’s a workaround just by buying a cheaper version and using it to bounce your tracks with plugins you like. But that would take time and can be really frustrating, in my opinion.
6. Propellerhead Reason
If you wanted a precise-sounding, clean interface while integrating the plethora of samplers, synthesizers and instruments Fruity Loops has, you should have Propellerhead’s Reason.
Reason’s beautiful interface, which uses visual images that make it look like a large VST plugin with different racks, effects and samplers, is definitely its trademark. If you’ve ever seen a Redrum computer emulated on a laptop, you’re looking at one of the best representations.
Reason’s sound puts it on top of my sampler list. However, for electronic artists, I’ve found that Re-Cycle is the best tool available. There’s that time during your production and recording session that you just need to slice your audio in the middle, and no cues, hot cues or even anything else could save you. ReCycle has an interface that allows ou to find all the transients in your sample material, which is similar to identifying hot cues, except it does it automatically. Despite being stretched to tempo, ReCycle does a good job at playing back samples without any artifacts.
ReCycle’s re-integration with Reason allows you to save your loops as REX files. The Dr.Rex Looper allows your loops to be arranged, quantified or cued depending on how you need to use it.
The new Reason 8 workstations allow you to record your own audio and run seamlessly through its VSTs. However, you can’t use third-party VSTs in Reason, not unless you run it as a slave inside another editing program. But Propellerhead’s Rack Extensions, which are intended as official expansion plugins of some sort, does more than become a new VST set. The Extensions also have a great number of genre-based VSTs and sample sets, which work very well if you need some filler riffs and grooves.
Propellerhead’s ReFills focus more on groove and sound samples that are genre-dependent. ReFills work better with electronic dance artists or movie scores, depending on which you need at the moment. I found that plenty of these instruments are hypersampled with multiple velocity levels, microphones and even signal chains, which make them more lifelike and realistic for your performances.
In 2005, Propellerhead stopped support for ReBirth RB-338, which was a revolutionary computer software simulation of classic Roland synthesizers, including the TB-303 Bass Line Synthesizer and the TR-808 and TR-909 Rhythm Composers. These instruments have always been in the libraries of legendary Pop, Hip-Hop, R&B and even electronic music.
ReBirth is downloadable for free on many platforms to commemorate its contribution to the digital age of music production.
7. Steinberg Cubase
- Steinberg Cubase Elements 9: Compare Prices: Amazon | Thomann (EU)
- Steinberg Cubase Artist 9: Compare Prices: Amazon | Thomann (EU)
- Steinberg Cubase Pro 9: Compare Prices: Amazon | Thomann (EU)
For those not wanting to spend so much for a Pro Tools suite but need something more effective than an open-source program, you’ve got Steinberg Cubase.
Cubase is in many ways, a bit favourable for starting to amateur musicians. Cubase Artist is both a recording interface and a live DAW interface that allows musicians to automate their tracks and settings for live performances.
Meanwhile, Cubase Pro is used by most professional studios and producers. Unlike Pro Tools, Cubase is expansive, allowing third party plugins and bridging even 32-bit plugins on its 64-bit architecture. This beats Pro Tools for the price. However, Cubase’s interface takes some time to get used to.
Cubase Elements is its own Reason ReFill or Rack Extension. It has a great number of addition for the Cubase package for a very low price. Don’t mistake it for a riding-the-fame product that most add-ons usually have. However, Elements has a limited number of tracks to choose from. Originally intended for first-time users, I wouldn’t recommend it to a friend. But to a professional producer, this is the cheapest, simplest one there is with very high quality.
Cubase has a wide array of plugins that are definitely useful. Its basic compression, limiter and equalizers (normally built-in with every rack) are on every aspect a big help, but I’d have to say that Cubase could have done better for these stock plugins. Bu then again, there are tons of free plugins available everywhere. When you use them with Cubase, you get the best results you could have.
8. Steinberg Nuendo
- Steinberg Nuendo 7: Amazon | Thomann (EU)
Cubase is focused on music production and recording. Cubase’s Nuendo counterpart is focused on professional audio post-production.
Nuendo is more than just a recording program for music. It’s intended for filmmakers, media producers, dubbers, voice recorders, game sound design and more. It won’t be right up a musician’s alley (but basically, they could use it like Cubase, much for recording rather than live performances), but it could be used for recording purposes.
The first impression I had with Nuendo was that it had complex loudness metering and lane concepts that allow it to be compliant with EBU R-128 productions for TV and advertising productions.
Where Cubase is focused on two dimensions of audio intended for two speakers and PA systems, Nuendo is designed to cater more to the Surround Channel mixing engineer. Channel visibility management, the IOSONO Anymix Pro Plugin and comprehensive automation systems for film-mixing, Nuendo expands more for sound and film effect production.
Nuendo’s newest versions allow video game music designers and scorers to direct a design relative to the position of a game character in First-Person Shooter games. I love Call of Duty and I know the effects these guys do in-game is no joke to produce, and is no joke to post process. Nuendo now supports IOSONO’s Proximity, which allows the localization of game sounds by emulating a position’s sound effects and dialogue in a surround field. All I can say is that can your Pro Tools handle that? (I’m not dissing Pro Tools in any way, just saying.)[/read]
9. Cockos Reaper
If there’s one truly stable and expandable studio recording program in the business today, it’s gotta be Cockos Reaper. Not only is it stable than Cubase, it’s also the most affordable I’ve found throughout my experience as an audio engineer.
- Free trial or Reaper License: Click Here
I love everything about Reaper. From changing the skins to suit your style of production neatness to its endless support of 32-bit plugins on its 64-bit architecture, that $225 you’re paying for a full commercial license is definitely priceless.Read more...
Now, it’s stock plugins may not be much (most of them have very difficult interfaces somewhat, especially if you’re used to graphic or object-style plugins), but they can sound great if you use them right. It’s support for limitless numbers of plugins makes it one of the best out there especially for those starting out in using DAWs
Cockos is also very caring for its consumers. According to its website, you could download an evaluation version of their product and see if the hardware works effectively with your system. You could use the full features of the evaluation version of Reaper for 60 days until you decide to make a licensed purchase.
And amazingly, it’s just 43MB. It even has a portable disk version, meaning you could store it on your USB and use any computer to edit your audio. This is definitely helpful.
This is amazingly one of the best there are. I have one on my laptop. For control mapping, you could even use a game controller. Sweet!
10. Sony ACID Pro
- Sony ACID Pro 7: Amazon | Thomann (EU)
If you’re familiar with Sonic Foundry’s Acid interface, which sported some very decent MIDI support for recording, then you know that Sony’s Acid Pro 7 is its grandchild.Read more...Of course, it has has expanded to bigger and better options for audio engineers. While nowhere near the likes of Pro Tools or even the valiant Reaper, ACID Pro is tidy and every part of it has a significant use for every session.
However, I wasn’t fooled with the clean and neat appearance of the interface. I knew it was something very complex to understand. However, it has very powerful MIDI support and has 1,000 loops in store for users. If you’re very patient, you could understand how its proprietary looping technology and video integration (probably from Sony Vegas) works .
One thing most friends of mine said about it was that it could be run on a very low-spec PC without much trouble. However, it often crashes, even on top-end systems, which makes it a troublesome workstation at best. However, it’s pretty good if you know how to use it, but personally, I wouldn’t recommend it.
Loading multiple tracks on Sony ACID Pro could be quite a pain too. It’s troublesome to have multiple track recordings that would just crash later on. It’s really bothersome for me. Even if I may find myself one day integrated to ACID Pro as if it was a part of my body, I would gladly change for something more intuitive and stable.
11. Cakewalk Sonar
- Cakewalk Sonar Artist: Amazon | Thomann (EU)
- Cakewalk Sonar Professional: Amazon | Thomann (EU)
- Cakewalk Sonar Platinum: Amazon | Thomann (EU)
Its newest version, the Cakewalk Sonar X3 Producer edition, had received mostly four out of five stars from well-known music production blogs. That’s a pretty high score and Sonar indeed measures up to the demands of the new generation of music producers and musicians.
Sonar’s strength is now in its vocal processing capabilities. Its comping tool allows you to jump from one track to the other without having much trouble. This is helpful especially if you plan to create different audio layers. It now has a built-in Melodyne function that allows you to process your vocals and bounce their MIDI or your audio effectively.
Cakewalk has been around for 25 years. Its first product came out during the days of DOS when Windows wasn’t around yet. Using line commands, you had access to its low-resolution interface tht allowed you to monitor your recordings. Then it began its own digital audio recording interface during the days of Windows 95 up to ME.
Cakewalk Sonar allowed me to change track and bus colors. Rerouting is now a cinch given that the color help shorten the time looking for the busses I need to group or route in one place. Meanwhile, you’ll find it troublesome to find VST patch saving in different other digital audio workstations, but not in Sonar.
Overall, it’s a good DAW with some good built in VSTs and a full version of Dimension Pro, which helps out in producing music and other analog VSTs that would be very useful for any producer out there.
Read More: Cakewalk Sonar X3 Review
12. MOTU Digital Performer
- Digital Performer 9: Amazon | Thomann (EU)
If you have a small laptop, this is the best interface that you could use.
However, for its price, I don’t think you’d like this as your emergency DAW, but then again, MOTU’s digital performer is more than just a recording interface.
For your small screen, you get a powerhouse with a MIDI composition and film scoring module. MOTU’s plugins also have ample audio-editing tools that allow multi-track recording.
However, if you have a studio, you wouldn’t want MOTU Digital Performer alone. You’d want something that allows you to use a single track to channel all your MIDI tracks. You’d also want better VSTs. Also, you’d need better audio-stretching.
However, it works for all purposes. You could even record a guitar with its plugins and its 64-bit architecture ensures that you could expand everything to multiple tracks.
Now, Digital Performer is available for Microsoft Windows Users. It’s been made only for Macs, but I guess it’s about time to expand the market.
13. Magix Music Maker Samplitude
Magix Music Maker Samplitude: Amazon | Thomann (EU)
Why should you even consider the Magix Music Maker Samplitude? Well, I’ve found there are many cases this awesome little DAW could really help you out with.
It’s actually the Windows rival to the Apple-dedicated MOTU (which I previous mentioned now has a Windows version). However, Magix Music Maker could be pretty intimidating at quite a high price at $500 apiece.
However, the new version supports a full 64-bit operation, meaning more tracks and plugins, and more stability. I could attest to that. Tempo-mapping is quite easy and you could actually use it with Avid’s Artist series DAW controllers.
Magix takes it to the next level by pulling a Nuendo. It actually supports surround mixing and improved visualization of audio. Between you and me, I really appreciate what they did with that.
However, it could look intimidating to first-time users because it really looks quite busy. But then, when you learn how to use it, it becomes seamless.
14. Adobe Audition CC
Creative cloud is the meaning of that CC, and it should have helped many engineers with their stuff.
I mean, one only needs an Internet connection to get all their files and presets. This means they could travel to any computer at will when needed.
Unfortunately, my friends and I found that subscription pricing is not worth the payment you give for an Adobe Audition. Sure, it’s in 64-bit and it’s quite faster in slower systems capable of supporting 64-bit, has a convenient Sound Remover tool similar to Izotope RX’s line of super-awesome audio fixing machines and also a pitch shifter that enables you to change the track’s pitch and even stretch it.
It kinda reminds me of the free-form tool in Adobe Photoshop, but only in audio.
But still, the subscription pricing hurts the budget on this one. Around $50 monthly isn’t worth it if you’re just a personal user. Just get the $60 one time license for Reaper for your personal use and you’re all set, honestly.
15. Bitwig Studio
This peace of software, produced by ex-Ableton engineers, is a unique digital audio workstation, but it’s actually pretty good especially when it’s fighting a new kind of market out there.
It looks and feels like Ableton, but it runs on Windows and even Linux.
That said, it’s different from Ableton because it feels like usual DAWs, even the instrument and audio tracks. However, it does not support VST too much. MIDI routing isn’t quite available in this VST.
However, you do get a sample of classic drum machines and acoustic drums. It even has an original Wurlitzer that actually doesn’t sound half bad.
16. Acoustica Mixcraft
Perhaps the easiest out there for starting musicians and artists would be Acoustica Mixcraft.
It’s quickly referred to as the Garageband equivalent for Windows. However, it doesn’t have any MIDI support.
One thing I also didn’t find nice about it is that it has an inconsistent look when you use it. You also find some gaudy looking buttons and dropdowns, which doesn’t really feel like someone spent a whole lot of time making it.
Of course, looks aren’t everything when you are rating DAWs. It’s actually as great as Pro Tools if you know how to use it, and of course, if you’re using third-party VSTs that would shape up your works.
17. Apple Garageband
If you’re just starting out into the world of mixing music, Garageband is for you.
Most Macs and laptops have this program pre-installed. However, it isn’t too advisable if you’re looking for a proefessional sound. You could have fun creating your own music with its instruments, samples and loops, but you’re going to need a better DAW if you want to improve your skills.
Do you remember “Fasttracker” or “Protracker” back in the days? Perhaps if you’re a keyboard junkie when it comes to your VSTs, Renoise would be heaven for you. It’s a keyboard oriented program designed to help you spend more time playing than spend more time messing around the piano roll
Between me and you, Renoise is great if you’re not overly patient when it comes to composing and creating samples from your songs.
However, it could really be confusing at first, but when you understand it, you’ll be rewarded with a faster workflow.
Introducing: 10 Ultimate Essentials to know about DAW
1. What Are Digital Audio Workstations?
The acronym DAW stands for ‘Digital Audio Workstation’…
…It’s a collective term for software (systems) that allows you to record audio, playback and editing.
Cubase and Pro Tools are well-known names that you are familiar with but there’s more than meets the eye.
And if were talking about prices, features and possibilities the DAWS vary a lot.
And when it comes to advances in hardware performance, these programs are becoming more extensive.
But fortunately also better, more professional and user friendly.
Imagine a tape recorder with a single microphone slot which allows you to record a single instrument.
Now, imagine your tape recorder using a digital storage device, like USB, and having multiple channel inputs.
This allows you to record multiple tracks on a one shot attack, or a single instrument with multiple attempts.
Now imagine your multiple track recorder allowing you to view and manipulate the tracks with markers and automated faders.
This is the basic function of a Digital Audio Workstation.
As described earlier, like Adobe Photoshop, audio could be manipulated to sound differently through a selection of stock and specially made add-ons, which at this point we’ll refer to as “plugins”.
When you record using your digital interface, the DAW saves your sessions to your computer’s hard drive, and then you could move and “slip-edit” your tracks according to your taste.
Unlike traditional tape recordings, stretching, time correction, and manipulation to the tape track is limitless.
Tape, being a tangible and physical material, could only be stretched and manipulated to create a distinct sound for a certain number of times.
Digitally-manipulated audio is easier to deconstruct and re-construct depending on need.
“It also allows accurate recordings that allow artists and engineers to achieve the sound they want a song to have”
What to use a DAW for
DAWS are often developed for a specific audience or purpose.
…they often overlap each other when it comes to the possibilities.
Let’s break it down: First off we’ve got “multi-tracking”. You can also say; creating, editing and recordings of multiple tracks.
Protools by AVID has managed to develop itself as the ‘industry standard’ within the professional world of audio.
However DAWS as Presonus Studio One, Nuendo and Logic, and even the free version of REAPER are widely used in a lot of project studios these days.
To entirely produce music within the box with virtual instruments these DAW’s are well versed.
For every type of musician there is digital audio workstation but it mainly depends on your personal taste.
For example: Ableton Live as the name suggests has a lot of live application possibilities.
A DAW like Logic Pro is more suitable for the production or recording studio.
Some DAWS have the ability to play back video with time codes for film music or audio production.
While other DAW’s have their own build in synthesizers and effects like Reason.
Work Load and Speed
Tasks, processes, channels, bits and sample rates are all the things that must be processed before your DAW will make any sound.
To play back all those channels with high resolution will require a lot of memory and speed from your computer (we didn’t include plugins yet).
You should always check if your audio interface works perfectly with the workstation of choice. That way you will know that the both work seamlessly together.
You must try it before you buy It
Before you even think about buying any type of software, check if there is a free trial.
So you can test before you spend your savings on it.
Maybe the most important part is if you actually enjoy working with the particular program.
Don’t pick an audio software because of the bells, whistles or the shiny colors.
It’s possible these different manufactures have different versions of the same software.
These versions can vary in difficulty level and learning curves.
Don’t go out and buy the newest software that comes out with all the extra’s you won’t even use in your home recording studio.
Digital audio workstations use time-stretching capabilities with your digitally-stored audio to edit those missed out.
With today’s high demand for media and project deadlines looming, a perfect performance is nearly impossible within a single day.
You’re going to need tools and magic, and today’s DAWS have that magic we’re looking for.
2. From the Past to the Future of Audio
If you were born in the 60s…
…individual instruments and vocals were recorded through tube-powered mixer-boards straight into a tape recorder.
Just like classic film editing, the audio stored in the tape is lined up together.
Several techniques in slicing audio, piecing together performances were done with accurate tape cutters and adhesives to guarantee the consistency of tape recordings.
Sounds quite tedious right?
…Be thankful we’re born in a generation of awesome technology.
The early digital audio workstations were born in the 70s and 80s.
Digital Audio Tape Recorders were their moniker back then.
Companies such as Soundstream, who released the Digital Editing System in 1978, used a minicomputer also used in most grocery cashiers nowadays that is powered by a Digital Audio Processor.
Oscilloscopes were very common during the era.
As manufacturers introduced home computers, Macromedia’s Soundedit became famous.
Would-be ProTools developer Digidesign created the Sound Tools and Sound Designer for audio sampling with most synth keyboards and samplers during that time.
Apple ruled the DAW world in the 80s. Windows had its own DAW counterparts later on with IQS, Soundscape Digital Technology and Spectral Synthesis, to name a few.
The challenges to make DAWs, which made them easier to create and develop nowadays, were hard disk storage prices.
If you remember, back then floppy drives were as expensive as USB/thumb drives which we use for projects nowadays, which explains the exorbitant price of hard drives at that time.
With processing power and storage now at an adequate price level, more major studios are moving to digital audio workstations for their works.
It was the logical step.
3. Major Differences Between DAWs
There are certainly differences between DAW’s.
Every manufacturer aims for the same goal: record audio, store efficiently.
Developing object-based programs such as digital audio workstations require more than just function.
You’ll need some architecture to go with it so it’s easy on the eyes and reveals details at just the right time.
“The shortcut key for cut is what?”
“Why didn’t they just use the same keyboard modifier for that specific function?”
Shortcut keys, along with the distance to get from point A to B in a logical setting, differ in some DAWs…
…though if working in the same operating system, aren’t really too far off from each other.
Good or Bad
There is much speculation about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ DAWs, especially on the Internet.
But in the end it all comes down to one thing. The specifications of that particular program.
To be more exact:
Today’s professional and commercial music production software’s are all up to standard.
There used to be a time where different programs gave you a different sound but thats no longer the case.
4. Free Versus Paid
Free DAW software could either be free to use with limited features or can be “freemium“, where you’ll have to pay for certain features to work.
My first DAW, Audacity for Windows, is fast and useful.
The problem is…
…it couldn’t preview effects in real time, and editing can be a pain.
But if used effectively, recordings could be done as quick as possible.
It’s not advisable for professional recording though.
Ardour for MAC is a full-fledged DAW.
The trouble is it has no built-in VSTs and software in itself…
…But hey, you could always buy those.
At least you’ve got a working DAW right!
Paid ones have more features, obviously, and they have built in effects, enabling you not to pay for more, not unless it is something you really need.
Full Versus Limited
You’ll always have to choose quality among the many other things you wish to pay for your DAW.
Now that developers deliver software in bite-sized pieces, a full version of a DAW gives you complete professional control over almost any aspect of your audio.
a “limited” version is problematic especially when you’re handling multiple projects.
Some limited features include limited sessions, limited saved sessions, limited number of audio tracks recording simultaneously and the inability to export your project or interface it with your hardware.
Paid is the right answer here, definitely.
5. Which Audio Production Software To Use?
all Digital Audio Workstations could modify and improve all recordings.
…I keep the following points when I work with digital audio workstations.
Is it compatible with your hardware?
I’ve met lots of audio engineers whose first purchase was the first DAW they spotted online or offline.
Over the years, they’ve grown accustomed to using their DAWs that shifting to new equipment was impossible.
new hardware meant a new interface, especially if some hardware, such as recording interfaces or hi-fi preamps, only worked with a partnered brand.
In my experience,
Digital Audio Workstations need not be too expensive.
I’ll tell you honestly.
I use Cockos’ Reaper in my recordings.
It’s just around $15-20 the time I bought the license for its full use,
I thought I had a loser of a DAW when it could function much more stable than a Cubase SX 3 or even Nuendo.
If you have a larger budget, you could go for ProTools, which only runs on Mac.
However, it exports slower than Reaper, in my experience.
I won’t hate on ProTools here, but I don’t think it’s anything cutting edge.
Even Steinberg’s Cubase Series does well against it.
Cockos’ Reaper in my experience is the most cost-effective interface I’ve ever used.
It has both 32 and 64 bit versions for different machines and supports almost every plugin available in the market today.
It even supports independent DAWs too and bridges bit-based plugins if you’re using a more advanced or faster machine.
The best way to select a DAW would be to just jump right into one.
Buy something within your budget (it’s possible you’ll really find something within your budget) then maximize your DAW’s use.
Once you’ve sped up your recording process, borrow from a friend or buy a new one and see if this new software could save you more time than your previous DAW.
6. Buying one Online or Offline in the Music Store?
Almost any audio retailer sells a variety of DAW’s nowadays.
even instrument shops sell DAWs as part of their catalog aside from the numerous guitars, keyboards, basses and drum kits and pieces they sell.
Sometimes, (hybrid) audio interfaces or DAW controllers have a simple DAW software included with them.
For example, PresSonus’ Audiobox USB includes a Studio One Artist Software.
Zoom of Japan, manufacturer of digital guitar pedals and multi-effects, includes a Steinberg Cubase LE Lite version with a number of their hardware.
Lite means you don’t get the full features of the DAW.
You’ll have to buy the full version to unlock some other features.
This could be the ability to record only five tracks or the inability to export.
The best way to buy a reliable DAW in my opinion would be online.
But it’s also awesome to just get hardware and find the bundled Lite version of a DAW useful for yourself so you could buy the DAW software.
Often, the bundles have a discount code so you save lots more.
Shop around online and offline. Sweetwater, Amazon and MusiciansFriend often have great deals for hardware/DAW bundles.
Some DAWs also go on sale, so have an eagle eye for that!
7. Installation onto the Computer
DAWs are often easy to install. Let’s use my Cockos Reaper, for example.
You get to download a full version of Reaper online.
several features are turned off until you buy the license to use it from Cockos.
May I just say it’s not too expensive with the features this DAW has, so consider it.
within Windows you’ll have an executable file (.exe).
In Mac,you can just drag the file in your Applications Folder.
Upon first use…
…the DAW will ask you about your sound card and the driver you’d like to use.
A little warning though.
Don’t go with Direct Sound on Windows as it’s a guarantee of latency and poor audio quality. You’ll want high quality 24khz for your bit rate on average.
As DAWs must always work with audio interfaces, it is advised you purchase one.
Else, you may suffer poor recording quality with your sessions.
But if it’s just for demos, then just use your integrated sound card, right?
with an audio interface running at 24khz through an ASIO driver in Windows, you also get great preamps if your audio interface is of high quality.
You also have more recording phone jacks and even an XLR balanced line for your recording if you’d want it.
MIDI keyboard support, essential for me.
Latency is mostly an issue in Windows.
For Mac, it hasn’t been much so.
Think about it.
Basic DAW installation asks for your audio interface and the driver you’d want to use.
After that, double click, add your new track and record!
8. Do You Need a DAW For Live Performances?
If you’re a solo artist,
you’ll probably want a digital audio workstation.
Most work with cues and loops and they interface flawlessly with plenty of digital sampling equipment.
they aren’t just useful for electronic dance music or electronic performances.
Plenty of solo artists from pop to metal use them to supplement their performance.
Have a band member absent tonight?
Use a laptop and have him play his session (given that the drummer could play a tempo-perfect performance) without him being there.
However, it is ill-advisable to use it for karaoke or backing track performance if your computer couldn’t support multiple tracks all at once.
I’ve heard cases where laptops burned out playing a fully processed 32-track performance.
Fully processed, meaning it includes all audio plugins, which also consume great CPU memory.
They are also convenient if you need to “glue” together virtual instruments you’ve used in your performance.
Most electronic music artists use different virtual instruments in their tracks, which includes samplers, synthesizers, digital guitars and drums, all of which could be controlled with keyboards and other hardware.
Having a DAW allows you to control them, modify them during a performance, and even make unique sound effects using plugins while all your loops are playing.
not only electronic artists could use these live.
If a band could use a laptop live, then they could use DAWs to work for them.
It will be difficult of course, but they could be automated.
Just make sure your drummer or percussionist remains on tempo for the rest of the session.
Most Used DAW’sRead more...
Logic For Mac
You’ve probably used GarageBand, I’m pretty sure. GarageBand is fun with all its instrument loops. You could even select a root key for all your instruments. While it lacks automation, it helps open any Mac user’s mind to DAW and song-creation principles. Macs encourage your creativity, to be honest.
Apple developed its Logic brand around the idea that it’s an enhanced GarageBand experience for professional audio recording engineers.
Despite the high-falutin’ power reported by most audio engineers who experienced the velvet power, it looks fairly simple.
You have a simple interface where you add new audio tracks. Their audio lanes show oscillation during recording and are color-coded. Change their color whenever you need it or whenever suitable with your workflow.
The audio lane sits in the arrangement window where cut, paste, duplicate and more can be done easily. Apple Loops have loads more for beginners wanting to create some great-standard composition ideas, or producers stumped with their latest creation.
If you’re really stumped, just create a song introduction and load up Logic’s Drummer. Drummer, the newest addition to its plethora of features, has a selection of drummers with their own “personalities”. Drummer only comes with one personality and you could download the others as additional content whenever you need them. They’re separate for a good reason; each of them have very high storage requirements.
Overall, working with Logic Pro X is quite easy and any beginner would pick it up easily. For professionals, the ability to shrink your workflow time is at hand.
Digidesign was the first company to develop ProTools. Upon its inception, it sold well with most traditional studios during its time. Digidesign left as Avid purchased the brand and developed the software further to new and higher heights.
Today’s ProTools looks fairly simple. You have a transport area (the ones with the numbers telling you how many seconds have passed) right on top of the arrangement window where your audio lanes are located.
ProTools isn’t a limited-edition bite-sized affair. Consumers have to pay full. It is a rewarding experience though. You have several built-in plug-ins Avid has developed that work well with audio creation, manipulation and standard creation.
The interface looks complex when compared to Logic Pro X’s simplicity. Or it’s just possible that things look smaller when you’re using Avid’s ProTools.
If you’re going ProTools, however, it’s going to be a long commitment. Only a limited number of plug-ins work with ProTools, namely the ones approved by the company. Same goes for audio interfaces. Be wary of the audio interfaces you purchase if you’re going ProTools.
But the experience is rewarding. With simple setup and a bit of tweaking around, you really get high quality sound from Avid-approved hardware and software. It helps bypass the trouble of looking for the best equipment.
The problem is, updates mean buying new hardware else you’ll be left out of product support in the future. It can be a pain. But this is better rather than use a free DAW with limited features that is yet to be improved.
Cubase and Sonar
If you look closely, you’d say that almost every DAW is identical. Nuendo’s Cubase looks so much similar with Cakewalk’s Sonar and even ProTools at some point. So what’s the point of selecting or even looking for different kinds of DAW interface when one of them could work for me?
The answer is expandability and support for other kinds of plug-ins, audio interfaces and workflow enhancers, such as DAW controllers triggered by MIDI.
Cubase is similar to Avid’s ProTools. What I’d say must be the only major difference is its support for different kinds of interfaces and plugins. Cubase also has its own VST plug-ins, including a drumkit and a keyboard for example.
Cakewalk’s Sonar has the same, except it has a different color scheme. But the design is quite different and its support for plug-ins are as expansive as Cubase.
With plenty of projects working on these two DAWs, they are still widely supported and updated. However, there is no standout feature from either Cubase or Sonar that is different from ProTools or even Logic Pro X.
Workflow with Cubase is amazing despite the huge number of audio lane controls it has. Cubase can be a bit confusing. Meanwhile, Sonar gives it all to you in one go. All you need to do is get yourself in preferences and adjust almost anything to your advantage. However, some of the nitty-gritty macro details you could edit in Cubase cannot be found in Logic, ProTools or Sonar.
Meanwhile, Sonar has some secrets up its sleeve too, such as fade adjustments and special automation features.
Presonus Studio One
Like every other DAW out there, Presonus’ Studio One looks almost the same. Transport up top, Arrange window on the right, audio tracks to the left and the mixer down the bottom.
One of the most spectacular features of Studio One is its ability to correct your plug-in automatically for latency. This includes third-party plug-ins. Everyone knows the hassle of fixing latencies especially for VSTs during recording sessions. Delays do not work with awesome performance.
Studio One is more fluid than Reaper. It also has a built-in auto-correct feature through an integrated Celemon Melodyne for vocal melody processing. You could also bounce audio in place if you’re running out of memory.
Other features I haven’t found in other DAWs include proper automation for multi-timbral VSTi, especially for additive synthesizers.
To be honest, the single, window user interface makes things less cluttered than what I’m used to with Reaper.
Why Studio One defeats Cubase is the lack of a security dongle to bring around whenever you use the DAW.
The only defeat here is that, unlike Logic Pro X, you could audition single loop slices for use in your song. Also, changes in shortcut keys. But still, it’s not a large difference considering all DAWs just need a few hours of “breaking in” to you so you could maximize it entirely.
DAW and Interface Combos
Remember those combo type DAW/Audio Interfaces I was talking about?
Presonus StudioOne Artist ( PreSonus AudioBox USB Presonus AudioBox 22VSL Presonus Audiobox 44VSL interfaces)
While as much as I’d like to recommend the Presonus StudioOne Artist package to you, I’ve a vendetta against bundle deals that offer too many products at the same time. It’s like they’re bundling stuff that sounds awesome even though only one or two out of the four products you purchased as a bundle is a great purchase.
If you love the Studio One Artist, well, you won’t get what you need here. But if you love the Audiobox 22VSL interface, then this is worth the bang for your buck.
My reason? Limited Studio One use. You can’t load VSTs at all. You will need to buy the entire license to load your own third party plug-ins. That sucks.
Pro Tools Express Software ( Fast Track Solo, Fast Track Duo interfaces)
If you’d love Avid’s Fast Track Solo and Duo, then, it’s worth the price paying for the ProTools Express Software.
The setup of the iLok licensing system is one big time-consuming little problem. If you’re a newbie trying to get into DAWs, this isn’t what you had in mind. You’d as much want to record songs already as you get your new interface. That, and the addition of another USB because of the iLok dongle.
But great points are your preamps will sound nice. Your latency also gets fixed instantly.
Steinberg Cubase AI Software ( Steinbergh UR series interfaces)
The Steinberg Cubase UR Models come from the simplest (UR12) to the advanced (UR 824). The most basic UR only handles basic audio recording. It will not use an external DSP for VSTs and handling latency. The higher you go, the higher the prices are. It’s not really a problem to be honest.
The AI software is not as bad as it seems. It features some pretty basic capabilities for a DAW. If you’re doing podcasts or recording instruments with traditional methods (microphones and multitudes of it), you’ve got no problem.
The DAW and Interface Combos are primarily bad deals to be honest.
The best investment is to purchase a full DAW software, then try to master it before you purchase an audio interface.
I have a principle regarding this little issue.
It’s that if the DAW is stable with just your CPU, then it won’t have troubles with advanced AIs with added features. Have fun experimenting!
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