If you produce music on a computer, whether a PC or a Mac, your DAW – or Digital Audio Workstation, as its full name – is the most vital tool in your creative arsenal.
While your home recording setup will almost surely contain a MIDI keyboard, an audio interface, a pair of studio monitor speakers, and a microphone or two, the heart of everything is your music creation software.
Because of this, it is necessary to find a DAW that you are happy with – and, perhaps more importantly, a digital audio workstation that enables you to turn your thoughts to music quickly and effortlessly. Simply put, the best DAW for you is one that streamlines the music-making process and inspires you to continue composing.
To aid you in discovering that perfect DAW for you, we’ve made a list of what we feel are the industry’s best Digital Audio Workstations. While many of these programs will enable you to produce music they all operate slightly differently, and it’s worth taking the time to thoroughly analyze your options.
Here are the best DAWs you can get right now.
Live’s effect on the music software industry is impossible to overstate. When the first version was released in 2001, it went against the traditional design norms, establishing itself as a separate performance instrument as well as a recording program for composers. It has grown in popularity since then, influencing the development of countless more desktop and mobile applications.
After waiting seemingly forever, finally Live 11 is available, providing much-requested features such as an elegant comping system and MPE compatibility. This update also provides you with new gadgets and enhancements to existing ones.
While some of the changes may require some adjustment for experienced users, Ableton has once again enhanced Live’s capabilities without diluting its renownedly quick workflow. It continues to be at the forefront of digital audio workstation technology.
- Several built-in devices – these are of excellent quality and ensure that everything you need is on the device, making the whole process of making music easier
- The favorite of music pros – This device is used by both hobbyists and pros in the music industry, showing both how versatile the system is, as well as how good it works
- Allows for fast, creative work sessions – This system has everything you need in one place, so when you have an idea you can let it out straight away without having to boot up several different systems
- Slight plugin delay – for some of the effects, you may notice a slight delay in what you do. This does not affect the whole system, and it can be easily worked around if you let software catch up, but it can be a bit annoying
- Update is perhaps not worth it – though musicians have waited a very long time for the Live 11 update, some people were left a bit disappointed as it did not provide as many changes as previous updates have
Originally published as FruityLoops, Image-DAW Line has earned near-iconic status among a select group of producers, most notably in the hip-hop and electronic dance music genres.
The most significant change in version 20 is the release of a native 64-bit Mac version, which means that FL Studio may now be used on macOS (as well as Windows) without requiring a difficult workaround. Fortunately, both the Mac and PC versions are licensed under the same license.
FL Studio clients receive lifetime free upgrades from Image-Line, which means that all current users will receive an automatic update to version 20 on both platforms.
And the improvements continue. Version 20.5 added Flex, a new preset-based soft synthesizer, while version 20.6 added a plethora of new features. Meanwhile, version 20.7 has the tools essential to make a social media-friendly music video, while version 20.8 adds “speed and precision” to the program.
While some may say that FL Studio is not as serious as some other DAWs, the facts show otherwise, and it does have some notable professional users in the industry who swear by this software.
- Perfect for EDM producers – this software is a favorite among EDM producers as it has everything they need to make great music built right into the system
- Lifetime of free upgrades – free things are always a bonus, and with a lifetime of free upgrades available, this might be the biggest selling point of this software
- Excellent value for money – due to the free upgrades, this software might be the best value for money that you will see on this list
- GUI feels cluttered – while this can be slightly annoying, this si the only real con with the software. It is something that may bother you every time you use it, but it is also something you will be able to live with
Although it has been some time since Logic Pro had a ‘full’ new version – version X was released in 2013 – numbers may be misleading. Version 10.5 is nearly comparable to Logic Pro 11, upgrading one of the most traditional DAWs into a really contemporary music creative platform.
The addition of Live Loops in the style of Ableton is critical to this upgrade since they allow you to experiment with ideas prior to recording them to the main timeline. Additionally, a new step sequencer, updated samplers, and new beatmaker tools are included.
Even while Apple is more interested in following than in setting trends in this area, this is a much-needed move toward modernization for many Logic users.
Above all, Logic Pro continues to offer exceptional value for money – this is the latest in a series of well-timed free updates – and Mac users will not find a more comprehensive set of music composition tools anywhere else for the price.
- Lots of content built-in – if you are after software that has everything you need already pre-downloaded, then this is it
- Good value – With so much packed into it, this software is very much worth the price
- Tried, tested, and liked by many – musicians who use this software swear by it, saying that it is the only one you will ever need
- Compatible with MAC only – this is not surprising given that this software was created by Apple, who notoriously do not like to share with PC Windows systems
For over three decades, Steinberg has been at the forefront of music software development, and with Cubase, which began as a MIDI sequencer, Steinberg introduced an entire generation to the block-based arrange screen seen in the bulk of today’s DAWs.
Along the way, the company developed virtual studio technology, launched a market-leading audio editor (WaveLab), and endured the dark days of software piracy.
Despite increased competition, Cubase continues to lead the pack of digital audio workstations. Cubase 11, the current edition, is a significant improvement that significantly enhances the software’s capabilities in a number of crucial areas.
For first-time consumers, the numerous high-quality plugins, large sound library, and massive capabilities more than justify the asking price, and it’s worth noting that the less expensive Artist and Elements editions also provide respectable feature sets. As a result, this is an oldie but a goodie software that anyone will enjoy using.
- Industry legend – Given how long Steinberg has been around, they have achieved legendary status within the music industry, with people knowing that their software is some of the best that you can get
- Refined workflow – Cubase 11 aims to make the joy of creating music as easy as possible
- Pretty good balance of features across the three versions – While each version comes with slightly different features, one is not more powerful than the others, so no matter what you get, you should still be able to make high-quality music
- Old-looking design and layout – while some people may like this traditional style that Steinberg goes for in their software, for people who have used more modern systems, it may take them a while to get the hang of it
Studio One has been growing in popularity for several years. It is now a true powerhouse and mature DAW capable of not only matching but outperforming its competitors in a few areas.
Version 5 represents the software’s ultimate maturation, with a fully developed score editor and automated volume through Clip Gain Envelopes. Regardless of whether you are an experienced user or new to music production – or even an old hand not happy with their current DAW of choice – this is one of the best DAWs accessible and you will be happy using this software.
Studio One 5 exemplifies the cutting-edge of virtual studio design, with its responsive, modern interface, fluid workflow, and expanded yet usable feature set.
- Allows for productive workflow – this whole software is designed to make the process of making music as productive and easy as possible
- A good all-rounder – if you want to make varying types of music rather than focusing on one genre, then this software can handle that
- Good for people already with knowledge of DAW software – people who have some experience using any DAW software will get on well with the Studio One
- Busy interface – while it has been designed to make you more productive while creating music, the busy interface can feel overwhelming
For those unfamiliar with Reaper, it is a remarkably affordable cross-platform digital audio workstation with a small footprint and robust MIDI/audio routing tools. Additionally, the demo is fully functional; but, if you intend to use it beyond the 30-day trial period, you must pay the licencing fee.
This is one of the most adaptable and affordable digital audio workstations on the market. It is also a pleasure to use, with everything from scrolling and zooming to fader motions and item editing seeming lightning-fast and fluid. Reaper 6 builds on the popularity of previous versions, with little enhancements that you will notice on a daily basis.
Reaper becomes a world-class music creation environment when you add financing for your favorite soundware. It is just a bit annoying that you have to pay for this rather than it being free.
- Very good audio routing/MIDI capabilities – this is a super important feature to look out for on any DAW software, with it being excellent on here
- Small amount of storage needed – you won’t have to worry about using all the storage on your PC with this software
- Extra cost involved – to gain access to more soundware you have to spend more money, which can be annoying if you are on a tight budget
- Few plugins available – this can hinder your music-making slightly
Reason has seen substantial changes during the past several years. In 2019, its developer, Propellerhead Software, rebranded as Reason Studios and released version 11 of the rack-based DAW. This culminated in the creation of the Reason Rack Plugin, which enables the DAW’s fundamental tools to be used in other DAWs as VST 3 or AU plugins.
While you may continue to use Reason as your primary DAW, this is the most appealing version of the program in years, with the standard instruments and effects now freely available and a new MIDI Out device for controlling external gear.
Reason 12 enhances the package even more with a more flexible and upgraded Combinator, high-resolution graphics, and a new sampler. Additionally, the programming is now available via the Reason+ subscription service.
- Unique rack-based workflow – you won’t find this on any other DAW software
- Effects and instruments free to use – the inclusion of standard effects/instrumnts makes this software more value for money
- Design is very hardware-esque – for people who are not used to this design and layout, it may be hard to wrap your head around
In terms of DAW software, Bitwig Studio’s software is considered very young, considering that it was only released seven years ago.
Since then, Bitwig has evolved significantly, shrugging off inevitable Ableton Live comparisons – the two applications share a number of original developers and some significant workflow similarities – by adding a slew of features that have bolstered Bitwig’s reputation as possibly the most inventive DAW on the market.
Having said that, version 4 is most well-known for introducing a rather simple feature: comping. This is handled in an incredibly elegant, ‘Bitwiggy’ approach, though, and if you are looking for further ‘creative’ possibilities, consider Operators, which provide a new and extremely powerful dimension to how and when MIDI or audio events are triggered.
- Forward-thinking feature set – this software is always trying to be better and be ahead of the curve when it comes to features and aspects of the DAW
- Built-in modular environment – this simply makes creating music easier
- Flexible modulation system – this is also designed to make the act of creating great music as simple and easy as possible
- Essentially the same as Ableton Live – while being compared to another system is not that bad, as it was created by almost the exact same team, there is little difference between the two
GarageBand has evolved into a rather decent digital audio workstation more than 17 years after its Macworld debut. While this is an excellent starting point for beginners, delving a little further exposes some rather complicated features as well.
While non-musicians may simply sequence the provided audio loops, the package also includes a robust collection of software instruments, multitrack recording functionality, and a decent selection of simulated guitar amps and stompboxes. The drummer is perfect for creating beats automatically, Smart Controls make altering sounds more fun, and the program can even be controlled via the Logic Remote iPad app.
Additionally, projects are compatible with Logic Pro, GarageBand’s big brother, as well as the iOS version of GarageBand, giving a mobile option. Also, it is completely free, so every Mac owner should give it a try.
- Free with all Macs – any Mac user can try this out right now for free
- Super easy to use – this software would be perfect for beginners but has enough features to keep pros interested
- Mac only – you can only access this software if you have a Mac
When PC users ask for a GarageBand-style application for their operating system, we commonly recommend Mixcraft. Mixcraft has evolved from a simple entry-level application to a really remarkable digital audio workstation over the course of its eight major revisions, integrating capabilities often associated with more expensive solutions.
Mixcraft 9 has a completely overhauled interface with detachable panels, expanded automation capabilities, vocoder tracks, new effects and instruments, and the ability to convert audio to MIDI with a single click.
While Mixcraft is not the most flashy DAW on the market, it offers a well-supported production solution at an inexpensive price, and beginners will find it extremely approachable.
- Easy to use – beginners will love this software
- Large content library – you should find everything you need already on this software
- No upgrade path – it is unknown where Acoustica goes from here
The optimal DAW for you is the one that makes it the simplest for you to compose music, so you should try demos of every software you’re thinking of buying. Consider your work style and the digital audio workstation components that are most important to you.
It goes without saying that before making a purchase, you should confirm that your selected DAW is compatible with your computer, any other hardware you may possess, and any plugins you believe are critical to your workflow.