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Best DAW Software Reviewed
For all kinds of audio engineers, recording enthusiasts and musicians, your choice of DAW software can matter just as much as your choice of any of the hardware tools you have at your disposal.
For those who have heard of DAW but might be new to the concept, it stands for Digital Audio Workstation, and effectively this type of software serves as a tool for you to record, mix, edit, and in some cases master your audio.
These are usually designed to be feature-complete suites that interface with not only the audio files that you’re editing, but also the hardware you’re using to create it, interfacing with instruments, microphones, and more.
Some of the best DAW software has been a part of the music and audio production process ever since home recording started in the 90s.
As such, there are free tools out there, without a doubt. But when it comes to achieving the creation of professional-quality audio files using the most streamlined and feature-complete software out there, you’re likely going to be looking more closely at the paid options than anything.
To that end, we are taking a closer look at the various best DAW software options currently on the market. Not only are we going to be looking at the pros and cons of each recording software we reviewed, but also why each of them might help suit the specific needs of different audio engineers, home recording enthusiasts, and musicians. We’re also going to look at what you should be looking for when you’re choosing the best DAW software for your needs in more general terms, to help you make your own informed decision with the information provided.
Check out our favorite DAW software
Top DAW Software Comparison Chart
Best DAW Software
FruityLoops is one of the oldest and established names in the DAW software world. It has now been around for over two decades and has earned a prestigious reputation for a very good reason.
Hip-hop and EDM musicians have, in particular, attested to the quality of the software, especially the Producer Edition.
This edition includes all of the features good for writing loops and melodies traditionally available in the free version, but it also comes with export capabilities and clean design, a different from many of the more confusing interfaces out there.
Image Line FL Studio presents the mixer and step-sequencer and arrangement tools in two different windows, allowing producers to move both to different monitors to create a more comprehensive work environment.
It includes a range of over 20 different instruments, meaning that producers can write all manner of loops and melodies with ease. Furthermore, you can mix and match the sounds of different mixer channels, allowing you to further customize the track.
As feature-complete as Image Line FL Studio is, it can undoubtedly come with a less clear workflow, especially for beginners who are just getting started with it.
Since its inception as FruityLoops, it has always been one of the most popular DAW software options out there, meaning there are tons of guides on how to better use it from its strong community of fans.
- Powerful mixing and automation
- The best Piano Roll in the business
- Flexible Browser and workflow features
- Support for all VST standards
- Over 80 instrument and plugin effects included
Studio One 5 Professional DAW is the latest version of Presonus’s feature-complete DAW software solution.
While it hasn’t been around as long as Image Line FL Studio, it has had more than a decade to grow in one of the most widely used audio production software tools around.
While other DAW software with as many features as Studio One has might have trouble presenting an intuitive and clean workflow, the recent line of updates to this suite has greatly improved and simplified the workspace. As such, it may be a little more suited to newer users.
This DAW software works on both Mac and PC, with 64-bit resolution. It has a whole range of features, such as an include Melodyne Essential 4 Editor (software to help edit vocals and specific instruments).
The software itself includes an integrated mastering suite (not all DAW software can master tracks), 37 effects and 5 instruments (making it great for writing music in-window), and support for as many instruments and audio tracks as you want to use.
While it’s one window interface might be a bit confusing if you’re using all those features at once, compared to the multi-window setup provided by Image Line FL Studio, Studio One 5 Professional DAW is in general very well streamlined. Add to that it’s real-time Harmonic Editing and a really robust Drum Editor and you have a tool that any audio producer or musician could gladly use.
- The only DAW that lets you compose, record, produce, mix, master, and perform all from a single, intuitive application
- NEW! Perform live with Studio One! Use your recorded assets to bring your studio sound to the live show; play virtual amps live; sequence and re-arrange your Setlist
- Intuitive single-window work environment with quick and easy drag-and-drop functionality and multi-touch support.
- Unlimited audio and instrument tracks, advanced automation features, virtual instruments, buses, and FX channels
- Console Shaper emulates the sound of an analog console with control over drive, noise, and even true channel crosstalk, thanks to Mix Engine FX’s cross-channel processing
Propellerhead Reason 10 Music Production Software is a very traditionally designed DAW software suite that doesn’t quite do much to revolutionize the market, but rather it tends to offer the kind of features you would find in any free DAW, but vastly superior.
Reason 10 serves a good all-purpose DAW software for those aren’t looking for something more specific, like the Drum Editor of Studio One 5 or the loop and melody creation tools on Image Line FL Studio.
Propellerhead Reason 10 works with both MIDI and audio inputs, offering a more traditional audio feel, with high-quality synthesizers, a great sampler with lots of audio warping abilities, and a wide selection of presets and mixing plugins such as delays, reverbs, and EQs.
Propellerhead’s design is supposed to emulate the feeling of a real studio, including settings that look like realistic audio gear, so it can help those who have real-world studio experience get to grips with things much more quickly.
Reason also offers a wider range of instruments than some of the selections on the market, such as Studio One, with multiple pianos, horns, strings, drums, and synthesizers, allowing people to write professional-sounding tracks.
The design, emulating a real studio environment, might be a little foreign to those who have worked with other free DAW software, before, but there’s no denying that it can easily produce a professional sound with a lot of room to compose and edit as you please.
- 2 new powerful synthesizers & 3 new instruments
- Full VST plugin support
- 3G of cutting edge loops & samples
- Country of Origin: Sweden
A DAW software solution that is highly suited for the professionals at the most demanding parts of the field, including producers, composers, and mixing engineers, Steinberg Cubase Artist is widely considered one of the most highly developed options in the field.
The Artist version, in particular, comes with 32 instrument tracks, 32 VST instrument slots, and 32 physical inputs and outputs. While not quite unlimited, like some of the others, this is still a software suite that can accommodate a wide range of needs.
The primary interface includes an arrangement view that offers track information alongside the track sequentially, allowing you to better see the overall project’s structure and composition at a glance on a single window, which can improve workflows.
Cubase Artist’s main strength lies in its ability to work with a very wide range of integration. As such, for those who have used other DAWs previously and wondered if the same plugins they grew used to using on those will still work when they move to Cubase, the answer is likely to be a yes.
With Added ton top of the effects, synthesizers, and drum tools that come with the software, and it’s more than feature-complete, it’s feature-customizable.
While Cubase might lack some of the real-time mixing and editing capabilities that other DAWs have, so you can’t mix while you’re listening back to the track, it is still one of the most impressive DAW software suites out there without a doubt.
- Award-winning 64-bit floating-point Steinberg audio engine with up to 192 kHz, flexible ROUTING and full automatic delay compensation
- Comprehensive set of 8 outstanding instruments with over 2,600 sounds, including HALion Sonic SE 3, Groove Agent SE 4, Pad shop, Retrologue 2 and Loop Mash 2
- Suite of over 70 high-end audio and MIDI VST effect processors, including Pitch Correct for vocal editing, VST Amp Rack and VST Bass Amp guitar and bass tone suites, Quadra fuzz v2 and many more!
- Intelligent compositional tools like Chord Track and Chord Pads for creative and playful composing of harmonic progressions and advanced voicings
- Lightning-fast multi-take comping with the dedicated lane tracks and the click-and-drag comp tool for conjuring the perfect recording
Also known as Acid Music Studio 10, this window-based DAW software offers extensive audio recording, MIDI sequence, and mixing features using an unlimited number of tracks up to a 192 kHz sample rate.
It’s known for having some of the most complete MIDI editing features of all the DAW software packages out there, as well as great looping, time-stretching, and audio manipulating features.
While some DAWs might come with audio manipulation software or use plugins for it, it is built and integrated into Sony ACID Music Studio 10 by design.
The one large detracting factor for Sony ACID Music Studio is the user interface. Almost entirely lacking in a distinct visual styling, it instead goes for a monochrome, almost Excel-like visual style that can make it hard, initially, to start parsing what you’re seeing in your windows.
Once you get used to it, it is one of the most impressive MIDI editing tools around, and does comparably well with other manners of audio editing and mixing, as well. However, support from Magix, the software’s current developer, is also very slow according to most users.
In general, Sony ACID Music Studio 10 is perhaps best suited either for beginners who don’t need one of the more feature-complete mixing and mastering tools mentioned above, or those who are specifically looking for a very robust MIDI editing tools that isn’t quite as expensive as the comparatively equipped Image Line FL Studio.
- Total music production platform
- Mix recorded audio, music loops, and MIDI
- Get instant results with more than 3,000 included Sound Series loops
- Make flexible MIDI tracks with 90 included instruments
- Shape your sound with effects and remixing tools
Top DAW Software Features To Consider
When it comes to DAW software, there’s no such thing as the “correct” option. Rather, it all depends on what you as an individual need. Choosing the DAW that suits you depends on what kind of tracks you’re working on, what genre, whether you’re focusing on mixing or MIDI composition, what kind of interface you prefer, and much more.
Here, we’re going to look at a range of the factors that you should be considering while you’re looking at the DAW software suites mentioned above. This way, you can choose which one is best for you, not just which ones tend to get recommended the most.
This should be the first thing that you look at, simply because it’s going to dictate whether or not the DAW software is even an option for you.
The compatibility will dictate what devices and operating systems the software can be used with, with Windows, Mac, and Linux being the most common options (though the former two tend to be more widely supported.)
The interface and workflow presentation of DAW software differs widely from package to package. Some of them will provide all the information on one window, while others will allow you to move multiple windows around, often better for those with multiple monitors. Some DAWs use interfaces that mimic real-life audio editing equipment, while others go for a more minimalist or digitized display. It’s important to take a look at the different interfaces using screenshots (where possible) to see which one is both intuitive and convenient.
What is it being used for?
When you’re choosing a DAW software suite, then you need to think about what you’re primarily going to be using it for. For instance, an option with unlimited channels and inputs might be the best option for mixing, but one with a wider range of instruments and effects might be better for composing and writing melodies or loops. Furthermore, not every DAW software suite has the ability to master tracks. Get to know what features you need in order to accomplish your specific goals with the track.
What genre of music are you working with?
It’s not essential that you use any specific DAW software for any specific genre of music. However, it is common to see certain options associated with certain types of music. For instance, Image Line FL Studio tends to be more commonly used for hip-hop and is designed around that, while Studio One is great for EDM. Again, this isn’t prescriptive, but it does mean that these options do have features that might be better suited for those genres of music.
At this stage, the DAW software market is hard to expand. There is a wide range of feature-complete DAW suites out there that don’t need to revolutionize the game but instead focus on iterating on their niche. Finding which niche suits you will help lead you to the right answer and, hopefully, the reviews above play a role in that decision.