Music is Life

Which DAW Should I Get?

If you’re new to the game or are thinking about starting up you’re probably wondering which DAW, or Digital Audio Workstation, should I get? Or maybe you’ve heard that one is better than the other. Before we go into a small depth about some of the major players out there let me first say that they’re all pretty good, you’re not going to end up buying a DAW and getting a “lemon” so to speak. Not having a certain DAW isn’t going to stop you from accomplishing your particular project.

So let’s discuss some of the more popular DAW’s in no particular order:

  1. Pro Tools

    The industry standard. Or was. As of this writing Pro Tools has shed it’s bad reputation for being expensive (the on-going joke is that you have to put down $10,000 in plug-ins/hardware to make it work properly) and using proprietary hardware (meaning you could only use certain audio interfaces and such). They’ve even gone to a new pricing structure which includes a monthly subscription. Bottom line: a typical DAW great for recording, mixing, and producing any genre but might still be a little pricey considering the lack of content (very little sound library and plug-ins). If you record or share projects this is a good DAW to have as most studios will have Pro Tools especially if you’re sending files internationally (PC’s rule outside of the US, no Apple Logic!)
  2. Cubase

    This was one of the earlier alternatives to Pro Tools and is very similar in design and workflow. They were the first to introduce VST technology which allowed 3rd-party plug-ins which at the time was a big deal although now just about every DAW offers this. The new version 8.5 is great and comes with a lot of plug-ins, they also offer downloadable content via their online store so you don’t have to spend a lot of money upfront, just get the content that pertains to you. Bottom line: Great DAW for recording, producing, and mixing just about any genre; a bit of a learning curve at the beginning especially initializing the set-up. Full version is pricey at around $800 but there are limited versions for cheaper.
  3. Logic Pro X

    Apple’s own music production DAW so if you own a PC forget about this one. Absolutely fantastic for recording, mixing, and mastering (I don’t have much experience producing with Logic but I’ve heard that it works equally great). Comes with a ton of content and fairly decent plug-ins (their compressor just got a huge makeover is works great). Bottom line: For the price you can’t go wrong, I think it runs $200 as of this writing, that’s ridiculously cheap for all the content it comes with. There are no limited versions so you get the full professional package.
  4. Ableton Live

    Comes in 3 pricing tiers and even allows a full 30-day use of the professional version for free before purchasing. Best for “In the Box” projects and live music performance: it has a built in DJ style work-flow and is incredibly easy to experiment with ideas in real time. Great for working with samples especially if you like to do mashups. Bottom line: Awesome DAW for serious sample tweaking especially if you’re more into experimental music. The large edition is pricey but comes with a ton of library content.
  5. Reason by Propellerhead

    Initially this was a sequencer only with tons of sound-design capabilities although they’ve recently added the ability to record and work with audio files. All their plug-ins are proprietary meaning no use of 3rd party plug-ins although this isn’t necessarily a drawback as the operating system is incredibly stable and most popular plug-ins offer a Reason version called “Racks”. Bottom line: Great for electronic based music and sound design, uses an old school approach of connecting virtual cables and plugs.
  6. Fruity Loops

    Similar to Reason by Propellerhead this DAW was pretty much a sequencer only although recently they’ve added the ability to record and work with audio signals. Bottom line: Fine for beginners but the awkward workflow makes it difficult to transition to other DAW’s. Some big names, like Avicii, still use this DAW but I’d stay away.

There are some others like Bitwig, PreSonus, SoundForge, and Sonar but I don’t have much experience with those DAW’s. My bottom line is this: get Ableton for producing and Logic Pro X for mixing & mastering and you won’t go wrong.