Why are DAWs very complex
The 12 best DAWs in the world
The top class DAWs.
Music production software has changed music, it's no secret.
When digital audio workstations (DAWs) hit the market, recording, editing, mixing, and creating new music became much easier in one fell swoop.
Since then, the recording software market has grown tremendously. The power of EDP and design innovations have allowed DAW software to penetrate undreamt-of fields of production.
Whether you are just starting a new track or are in the final mastering phase, at some point in your process you will definitely need good recording software.
This guide provides you with all the information you need to find the right DAW for you.
What is a DAW?
A Digital audio workstation (DAW) is a hardware device or software app that is used to compose, produce, record, mix and edit audio material such as music, speech and sound effects. DAWs make it easy to mix multiple sound sources (tracks) within a time-based grid.
The way to the right DAW
But why exactly are the best DAWs the best?
There are so many options out there - which DAW is best for a beginner?
We all deserve the best possible tools for our music production so that we can turn our ideas into music every day. That's why we've created this helpful guide to help you find the right music recording software. It provides you with all the basics you need to venture into the wide world of DAWs and find the DAW that suits you best.
Which DAW is right for you?
If you want to learn a complex thing, it is advisable to take it slowly and with a little help, otherwise you will quickly become discouraged. So start at the very beginning.
You should always ask yourself, “What exactly do I want to do?” Let your DAW provide the answer. If at some point your DAW is no longer able to answer this question, it's time to switch to a new DAW.
Everyone has their own opinion on which recording software is best. However, it all depends on the question of which DAW is the best for YOU.
So do a little research and find out about the currently available DAW software. Explore the features and try them out for free first.
Before we look at specific DAWs, you should answer a few questions:
Are you looking for free recording software? While this option limits the number of DAWs you can choose from, it is there. Free DAWs are great to start with.
If you are planning to invest some money in a DAW, you should know exactly what it can do before you buy it.
First try a free DAW
Many DAWs can be subscribed to on a monthly basis or tried out for free. Use these options to test what each DAW can do before you buy it.
Free trials are the best way to get the right DAW. So work yourself deeply into every music production software in order to be able to make an informed decision when it comes to buying.
Don't forget that your DAW should give you room to develop. You shouldn't choose a DAW that is already a size too small for you in terms of your creative abilities just because it is the cheaper option.
All the music recording programs you should know about
Now that you know what to look for in a DAW, let's take a look at some of the best recording software out there and what features they offer.
This guide will give you all the facts you need to know to choose the right DAW.
Bitwig is still relatively new to the music production software scene. But don't let age fool you - Bitwig is an extremely powerful DAW.
Bitwig Studio was launched in 2014 after an extensive test phase. Which means the DAW was pretty good even before it was released.
The layout and workflow are similar to Ableton's - Bitwig was developed by former Ableton developers.
On closer inspection, however, it quickly becomes clear that Bitwig has made a lot of changes in terms of the general feel and functionality. The result is a powerful DAW that is clearly different from Ableton and that surpasses Ableton in many ways.
Bitwig has the well-known arrangement and mixing views that are typical for most DAWs.
However, the arrangement and mixing views contain a central project display surrounded by edit fields that are very easy to access. This ensures a smooth workflow while switching between mixing, arranging and editing.
All in all, Bitwig offers the best of all areas. It's easy to learn when you're just starting out, but leaves plenty of room for personal development.
Despite his young age, Bitwig's quality already surpasses that of many established DAWs. It's reputable recording software and it will only get better with future releases.
- Our favorite function from Bitwig
Bitwig's VST 'sandboxing' ensures that no plugin ever interrupts or slows down your project while you are in the creative phase. This means your computer won't hang up just because you're running a synthesizer plug-in.
Each VST runs independently, so you can have all of your favorite VSTs running side by side without any latency issues.
This will reduce your CPU load and ensure that your computer won't crash just because a tiny plug-in is running.
Try Bitwig here
2. Studio One 3
Studio One 3 is a giant among DAWs. The makers describe the software as 'the most inspiring production and sound design tool'. In all honesty, we can't disagree with that.
The general workplace of Studio One 3 has been simplified and is pleasant to use. The way it works makes it easy to move quickly from an empty DAW view to a full mixing session. The editing options offer great freedom to quickly try out a few ideas.
The interface has even been optimized for touchscreens so that you can access your session quickly and easily from any touchscreen device.
It also offers tons of preset sounds and instruments right in the DAW - so you have everything you need to quickly and effectively implement your ideas at your fingertips.
All in all, Studio One 3 delivers the perfect balance of ease of use and performance, making it the perfect DAW for the seasoned producer.
- Our favorite Studio One 3 feature
Studio One 3 has a nifty and very useful feature called Scratch Pads. It allows you to quickly sketch ideas that you can drag and drop into your project.
In this way, areas of your mix are duplicated in an easy-to-use field on the side. Use effects, EQing, and anything else you'd like to try out before adding it to the mix.
It's just the right tool if you want to find out what certain edits sound like without breaking the mix.
Try Studio One 3 here
3. Cakewalk Sonar Platinum
SONAR Platinum is one of the best production software on the market. Since it first saw the light of day in 1991, SONAR has blossomed into a comprehensive and powerful DAW software.
The SONAR Platinum interface is called Skylight and is divided into five user-friendly areas. Each area can be moved or hidden depending on what you're working on.
Platinum has a lot of useful automations, including Drum Replacer, with which you can spice up drum tracks, VocalSync for easy synchronization of different vocal tracks, and a handy control bar with which you can call up all your tools with just one click.
Cakewalk is very straightforward and offers everything you can get from other DAWs and more.
- Our favorite feature of Sonar
The 'Paint with MIDI' function is incredibly helpful for composition.
You can choose a MIDI Performance and use it to 'paint' it in the rest of the Arrangement View. It is great for inserting multiple loops, duplicating multiple MIDI information at once, and repeating special MIDI events.
Try out sonar here
4. Ableton Live 9
Ableton set the standard for all recording software. The Live 9 software can be found everywhere in music production.
Whether you're mixing at home in your living room or using Set View to play live on stage, Ableton Live is a powerful recording and editing tool for musicians of all abilities.
It was launched in 2001 and is now available in the 9th version. So you can imagine that most of the functions are incredibly sophisticated. The main views - 'Arrangement' and 'Set' - are clearly laid out and linked in such a way that editing and composing can run smoothly.
The extensive sound packages, effects and instruments can be accessed quickly and easily thanks to a clear browse field. Which is pretty important when you consider how many great tools Ableton had out of the box.
Ableton is straightforward, easy to use, and incredibly broad in terms of what it lets you do. It is suitable for beginners and professional students at the same time.
No matter what you use it for, it's easy to see why Ableton Live has a reputation as an indispensable DAW, regardless of the genre.
- Our favorite feature of Ableton Live 9
Although this is not actually an on-screen function, the Ableton Push 2 Controller is perhaps the most powerful hardware currently available on the market that has been specially developed for a particular DAW - we are absolute fans.
Its 64 pressure-sensitive buttons as well as its other programmable and adjustable controls and buttons make the Push 2 a dream of every producer.
The original Push 1 was specially built for Ableton Live by the geniuses at Akai. The Push 2, on the other hand, was developed directly by Ableton. Both can be seamlessly integrated into the Ableton Live workflow.
Try Ableton Live here
Audacity is the workhorse among DAWs. While it is not as broadly positioned as other DAWs in terms of functionality, it scores with its simplicity.
Audacity was launched as free recording software in 2009 and is still free today. It's easy to download and is compatible with most operating systems.
The central track view offers a simple waveform display with multiple tracks. Each waveform can be edited to your liking, as there is no limit to what you can do with the "Undo" button - but as an infallible professional, you don't care, right? ;)
The basic functions of Audacity make it great for mixing, recording and editing podcasts, and isolating vocals.
The flexible interface is easy to see through and easy to use over time.
If you are new to the world of music production and are looking for recording software that is well suited for beginners, Audacity is the right choice to familiarize yourself with working in the home studio.
- Our favorite Audacity feature
Audacity is the DAW for everyone. That's what we like best about that part. It gives all aspiring musicians and sound designers access to the production.
It may not have the extensive functionality of larger DAW software, but it scores with the fact that it is easy to use, accessible and inviting for all music makers.
Plus, it's 100% free. Which proves once again that high quality sound tools should be available to everyone - something that we strongly support here at LANDR.
Try Audacity here
6. Propellerhead Reason 8
The first version of Propellerheads Reason came out in 2001. It has now reached version 8 and is one of the most widely used DAWs that has a loyal following.
At the center of the Reason 8 workstation is a 'rack' view. Modules, processors and instruments can be added from the browser for easy sampling, arranging and editing.
After 13 years of development, Reason offers a wide range of built-in instruments, automations, sounds and loops.
However, the real strength of Reason lies in its VST prowess. It offers some of the best virtual instruments out there.
- Our favorite feature of Reason
Reason is a DAW. However, it can also be used independently as an instrument rack for other DAWs.
This means that you can also use Reason's racking capabilities to chain instruments and processors in order to use them in another DAW.
Accordingly, Reason can be used as a DAW or as a VST instrument buddy for other recording software. All in all, Reason is a hobbyist's paradise.
Try Reason here
7. Pro Tools 12
Avid's Pro Tools is the old hand among DAWs. It is considered the industry standard for professional productions. If you're listening to a song on the radio, chances are it has run through Pro Tools at some point.
The first version of Pro Tools came out in 1991. It had four tracks and cost a proud € 6,000. As you can see, a lot has happened since then.
There is now the 12th version of Pro Tools and it provides you with every imaginable tool that you need during the production process. It is a long learning process, but there is simply no other DAW on the market that can match the capabilities of Pro Tools.
Pro Tools uses an 'Edit' and 'Mix' view as the main window. MIDI data can be added in the Piano Roll or the Score Editor window.
In the mix window you will find a fader layout where you can do various editing and automations. This layout has been adopted by pretty much every DAW in development since then.
In 1999 - long before most other DAWs even existed - Living La Vida Loca by Ricky Martin shot to number 1 on the charts. It was the first song that was completely mixed with Pro Tools and reached the top of the charts.
- Our favorite feature from Pro Tools
Pro Tools First isn't actually a feature of Pro Tools, it's more of a version. Nonetheless, our preferred new feature is that of Pro Tool.
It's a trial version of Pro Tools that is completely free to try.
Pro Tools First doesn't give you all of the features you get with the full version, but with a program as large and complex as Pro Tools, that's a good thing. Pro Tools First allows a maximum of three projects and limits each session to 16 tracks. This makes the workflow a little more manageable and easier to understand.
If you have plans to develop your sound engineering skills in the future, the DAW Pro Tools is definitely worth a try. Pro Tools First makes it easier - and a lot more affordable - to get started producing.
Try Pro Tools here
GarageBand has almost become a common term. The free DAW developed by Apple has done more to democratize music than any other DAW.
Accessibility and ease of use are their main strengths. It's amazing what hit albums have been produced with GarageBand, considering it's a free program that is included with all Mac OS versions.
But why is GarageBand good?
The general layout is straightforward and easy to use. When you add an instrument, you can actually see the instrument in the arrangement (what a concept!).
The division of the tracks is easy to understand and the loops, automations and instruments are always easy to reach.
No matter what you're recording, GarageBand makes uploading and editing projects a lot easier. A clear color coding makes the general layout extremely clear.
The software also provides helpful tips written in simple language so that everyone, regardless of their skill level, can benefit from them.
All in all, GarageBand is a simple but effective tool if you're new to music production. And if you are reading this article on your Mac, then you are already the proud owner of the DAW. So produce your first song today!
- Our favorite GarageBand feature
DAWs for beginners are a good stepping stone for new producers.GarageBand is an entry-level DAW, but offers producers the option to move up to Logic.
Logic is the slightly more complex DAW developed by Apple and extends the basic concepts of GarageBand.
While most other recording software offers different versions of the same DAW, depending on the needs of each user, GarageBand is the only DAW that allows producers to move up to a completely new DAW - Logic.
Moving from GarageBand to Logic gradually makes it relatively easy to develop as a producer. It is an all-round solution that is great for every level.
Try GarageBand here
9. Logic X
Logic X is the current version of the DAW developed by Apple for more advanced producers. Logic was released in 1993 and runs on the same system as GarageBand. Compared to its little brother intended for beginners, however, Logic offers more functions.
In contrast to most music software, Logic does not use a multi-view layout, but purifies the workspace a little with a view with only one window. This makes composing, arranging and mixing a little easier because everything is in one place.
Logic starts where GarageBand leaves off and extends the easy-to-understand concepts that are at the heart of Apple's DAW.
It's easy to get started and learn quickly, especially if you're already familiar with GarageBand.
- Our favorite feature of Logic X
Logic X includes a bunch of new features that weren't present in previous versions. Our all-time favorite is the 'Drummer' plug-in.
It is, so to speak, a virtual drummer who automatically accompanies your tracks. We're not saying it's better than a real drummer, but it's definitely better than nothing.
The virtual drummer comes in different profiles that differ according to playing styles. There are also a few preset patterns to choose from.
This is great for creating a backing track for other instruments, or you can play along with it live when you can't find another drummer.
Try Logic X here
10. Steinberg Cubase Pro 8
Steinberg's Cubase comes from a time when there were no modern DAWs. Version 1.0 was made available in 1989 for the Atari ST.
In the meantime it has arrived at version 8.5 and has gone through many versions and significant innovations in the meantime. To this day, Cubase is one of the most widely used and renowned programs for music production.
Cubase 8.5 is a fully featured DAW that not only has advanced functionality, but also comes with tons of built-in plug-ins.
It is tailored to a professional workflow, but that shouldn't put you off: The interface is catchy, easy to use and equipped with many advanced functions for advanced power users.
Cubase also offers the DAW-centric cloud service VST Transit. This enables smooth work from anywhere as well as collaboration with everyone who uses the same platform.
- Our favorite feature from Cubase
VST Expressions saw the light of day with Cubase 5, but has been significantly improved over the years.
It allows you to program the automation of each individual note individually. This gives your tracks more detail and character.
What to expect from the company that developed the VST and MIDI sequencing technology that is still in use today.
Try Cubase here
11. FL Studio
FL (Fruity Loops) Studio has become an absolute favorite with many producers.
FL Studio was launched in 1997 by the software developer Image-Line as a program that only processes MIDI - since then it has gone through more than 12 increasingly powerful versions.
Version no. 12 comes up with a completely revised and scalable interface that is largely compatible with multi-touch surfaces.
It comes with a variety of built-in plug-ins, including synthesizers, samplers and virtual effects, and is fully compatible with VST, VST2, VST3, DX and ReWire.
The appearance of FL Studio is based on the standard views - arrangement and performance; Music data can be generated using the piano roll or the step sequencer.
The strength of this DAW lies in its accessibility and robustness. Many producers rave about how quick and easy it is to turn ideas into action.
Image-Line also offers great FREE updates of the program for life. This means that once you have bought the program, you will have access to future versions forever and ever.
- Our favorite feature from FL Studio
Sytrus is the ingenious FM software synthesizer from FL with six operators. It has been part of FL Studio since version 4.5.
FM synthesis can be tricky, but Sytrus makes the process a lot easier and a little more satisfying to explore. Sytrus helps you to create diverse and monstrous sounds.
It is the perfect companion on the way to the acoustically unknown - highly recommended.
Try FL Studio here
REAPER (Rapid Environment for Audio Production, Engineering, and Recording) comes from the same developers who created WinAmp and the Gnutella network.
It's a powerful, clean, and adaptive DAW that doesn't cut corners when it comes to tinkering.
You can try the product for free for 60 days, an individual license costs € 60 (incredible deal). It includes tons of helpful tools such as B. understandable and helpful video tutorials.
The interface consists of a linear, multi-lane arrangement window. The arrangement view offers media elements that can be easily moved.
There are no track types in REAPER - any track you create can do exactly what you want (audio, MIDI, video, bussing), which makes arranging super easy.
REAPER is equally suitable for beginners as well as producers who have been working with a DAW for ages.
Beginners can simply click on "Record" and get started. Professionals, on the other hand, can completely lose themselves in REAPER's routing matrix or use ReaScript to program everything from a macro to a fully functional extension.
- Our favorite function from REAPER
Reaper's plus point is its fully customizable interface. Key commands, toolbars, menus and mouse behavior - you can set everything to suit your taste.
If you're switching to REAPER from another DAW and are used to a certain workflow, you don't have to worry. The DAW adapts to you.
Try REAPER here
Record, mix, repeat
Music production software has made producing more accessible and easier. With all the programs available to choose from, there really is no excuse for not making new music every day.
If you want to know how to better record, edit, or mix music, then there is definitely a DAW that can give you the answers.
So, do your research on each and every DAW to find the one that suits you best, so you can start creating that sweet, perfect sound right away.
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