As a music producer, audio engineer, or musician, picking a DAW that best suits your needs can be a challenging task.
There are several DAWs on the market that rival long-standing competitors featuring a plethora of innovative features, ranging from superb audio editing capabilities, flexible routing options, and ridiculously low prices. To the ability to insert effects into individual regions and perform a slew of tasks while leaving a very small CPU footprint.
In this article, I’ll cover six DAW’s that are suitable for both novices and advanced users while mentioning features that would best appeal to users with performance-oriented needs (i.e. triggering loops, playing live, visual performance compatibility, etc.) and studio-oriented needs (integration with sophisticated hardware setups and file management / backup features).
Identify Your Needs First
After all, there is no universally “superior” DAW, but rather DAWs that are best suited for specific purposes depending upon the nature of the task at hand. Therefore, the given quality of each DAW depends on how well it can handle the tasks that are thrown at it; my challenge to you, dear reader, is to think of your most important tasks that you face on a regular basis, and test each DAW based on how effectively they can handle those tasks!
The Top 6 DAW’s
1. Avid Pro Tools
The best part about Pro Tools is that is was designed for beginners and pros alike. It doesn’t take long to learn how to use it, and once you do, you are opened up to countless options and possibilities.
Bottom Line: The big daddy, industry standard DAW.
2. Ableton Live
As a former Ableton user myself, I can vouch for Ableton’s unique “plug-and-play” functionality. The ability for users to create loops on the fly and trigger them at will while laying down a live performance has made Ableton a smashing hit for many producers.
For their latest installment, Ableton 9, the features include up to 55 GB of instrument loops that were sampled from various sources ranging from professionally recorded studio session drums.
To rare, cult-status synthesizers that cost more than most peoples cars. And for super users who would love nothing more than to create their very own plugins, Ableton now features a plugin creation suite known as “Max For Live”.
Bottom Line: Pro style DAW with variety of unique advanced features.
3. Propellerhead Reason
Features include the ability to route actual hardware synths into Reason through the External MIDI Instrument and an expertly emulated version of the widely venerated SSL 9000k, which comes fully equipped with an array of channels that are each outfitted with a dynamics section, an EQ section, effects sends, and routing capabilities that give Reason users an opportunity to mix their songs using tools and techniques that are common among top-profile mix engineers and producers.
Bottom Line: Pro style complete all-in-one workstation.
4. Apple Logic Pro
Like most Apple products Logic Pro is beautifully designed and efficiently elegant. The only downside is that it isn’t updated as often as most other DAW’s, but if there isn’t much to fix, why change anything?
Bottom Line: If you own a Mac, it will be very tough to beat Logic Pro.
5. Steinberg Cubase
As one of the earliest and most popular DAWs, Cubase is touted as an intelligent choice and investment for songwriters, bands, producers, film composers, electronic dance producers, vocalists, beat makers, and guitarists.
Its slough of well-designed and thoughtful features include various tools such as Chord Assistant, VST Expression 2, Control Room, and a highly sophisticated sample editor that allows users to mangle and transform their loops, samples, and recordings with the utmost ease and accessibility.
Bottom Line: The classic pro style workstation. Been around forever for good reason.
6. FL Studio
FL has maintained its signature consumer friendly interface and drag and drop functionality. This is probably the easiest DAW to learn, while still packing a punch, options wise.
Bottom Line: Very easy to learn and expand your craft.