The straight skinny on our bestselling digital audio workstation software.
By definition DAW software is deep, very deep. The most capable DAWs include a vast range of recording, mixing, and mastering tools. Many come with huge sets of virtual instruments, effects and other plug-ins. And the most well-rounded packages incorporate robust workflows and tools for composing, arranging and collaborating. Some include video and surround sound capabilities.
But for musicians just getting started recording and mixing their own music, the flood of details each DAW brings with it can be overwhelming. At least at first, when you’re just trying to wrap your head around the concepts and terminology. In this brief guide, we’ll give you a top-level view of our DAW bestsellers to help you zero in on the platforms that seem like a good fit. Once you’ve got a short list of DAWs to consider, you can start delving into the details.
Avid Pro Tools
Still the defacto choice among professional producers and engineers, its powerful workflows and a stellar universe of effects plug-ins come in a user-friendly interface that can help reduce the baffle factor for novices. You can buy into Pro Tools a couple of different ways as explained here. When it comes to collaborative workflows with pro audio colleagues, it’s a must-have. Mac and PC.
PreSonus Studio One
With the introduction of Studio One 3, PreSonus has enhanced an already robust feature set with some one-of-a-kind capabilities. As we noted in our recent review of Studio One Professional, its new Arranger Track and Scratch Pad functions encourage experimentation. The super-customizable, single-window interface is intuitive—even for DAW novices. Powerful groove building tools and synths make this a great choice for EDM producers. Mac and PC.
Cakewalk has been creating DAW software for Windows boxes since the late 1980s, and the latest SONAR versions reflect that lengthy evolution with powerful recording, mixing and mastering tools. Select from a range of packages including Platinum, which includes the Boutique Suite, a sterling collection of plug-ins. PC.
This performance-focused DAW delivers a huge suite of tools for beat jugglers, groove builders and EDM producers. Its efficient browser and many workflow automation tools get high marks for productivity. Ableton Live revolutionizes the way DJs and dance music producers work. The everything-included Live 9 Suite includes 9 EDM-ready virtual instruments and a 50GB library of sounds and effects. Mac and PC.
Sporting a refreshed interface that’s both visually and intuitively enhanced, Propellerhead Reason 8 retains the rack-construction concept of earlier versions. Using a broad range of effects and plug-ins you can build unlimited audio and MIDI tracks, then perform mixdown on a modeled SSL console. As with other DAWs, Propellerhead engineers have put a lot of effort into creating a browser that’s always there—ready to fuel creativity with a new sound or effect. Mac and PC.
Like the other fully mature DAWs featured here, Steinberg Cubase is the sum total of years of development. Attention has gone into refining workflows and visuals for maximum efficiency and and legibility. Latency when processing and monitoring complex mixes is managed via ASIO-Guard 2. The GUI itself is highly customizable, allowing you to arrange windows to your heart’s content. Mac and PC.
While the DAWs covered briefly here are top-sellers, they’re far from a complete list. At Musician’s Friend you’ll find a huge selection of DAW applications that ranges from basic app-based mobile recording tools to full-blown pro-studio audio productions.