Music technology has come a long way in recent years, and because of that, more musicians are able to become producers. What does every good producer need? No producer can succeed without the best DAW software!
DAW software can do a lot to make producing music much easier. With it, you can correct small recording mistakes, add tracks, and some even let you compose songs at the computer.
You really can’t go wrong with any DAW, but that doesn’t mean you can choose the first one you see. The best DAW software will make producing easier and more enjoyable.
Your Best DAW Software Questions: Answered!
The best DAW software can improve your music-making in multiple ways. Unfortunately, there are a ton of DAW software options on the market, and not all are created equal.
Whether you’re a professional music producer or you just want to mix your own songs for fun, you need the hardware and software to do it.
Luckily, you don’t need a full studio of equipment, nor do you need the most expensive software. Sometimes, the best DAW software does what you need it to and nothing more.
Still, some DAWs do a lot, and it can be hard to choose the best one for you. Before we get into that, you probably have some questions. And we have answers.
What is DAW software?
DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation, and DAW software houses that digital workstation. DAWs got their start back in the 1990s, and each year, many of them make improvements.
At first, DAWs were perfect for home recording. However, many of them are now more powerful than this. Some allow you to make music within the program, and others allow you to hook up digital instruments to make music that way.
What does it do?
The specific functions of the best DAW software vary between programs. Some merely record audio, while others let you create it digitally. Many DAW software programs allow you to edit, mix, and master tracks.
Also, some DAWs come in multiple versions, with limited, affordable options and expensive, full versions. The good news is that some limited DAWs let you upgrade to the professional version down the line.
Limited DAWs may only let you work with a few tracks, while others may have fewer features. However, don’t think that a limited program is only for beginners. Some can be pretty powerful when it comes to what they do offer.
While it can make choosing the best DAW software more difficult, the sheer number of options means that you’re almost guaranteed to find a program for you.
Does it work on my device?
An important thing to consider before you choose the best DAW software for you is compatibility. If your chosen software doesn’t work with your operating system, you’ll either need a new computer or a new program.
Many of the best DAW software options are available on both Windows and Mac, but not all of them. Mac only programs are slightly more common than Windows only, though.
For example, you can’t use Apple’s GarageBand or Logic Pro X on a Windows computer. On the other hand, some non-Apple DAWs don’t work on Macs.
Make sure you check and double-check a DAW’s compatibility. If it does work with both operating systems, you should still check to ensure you choose the version for your computer.
Do you need external hardware?
The point of the best DAW software is that it’s on your computer. However, that doesn’t mean external hardware isn’t important. If you want to record yourself, you’ll need a good microphone and something to connect it to your computer.
And if you want to use MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) to input notes, you’ll need a MIDI keyboard or other device.
Of course, you can record directly with your computer’s microphone. However, it’s not going to be as good of quality as an external mic. Luckily, you can find some affordable external microphones if you’re on a budget.
And while it may be obvious, you need a working computer for your DAW. After all, you can’t use software without the right hardware.
Now that you know the answers to some basic questions, you may have more questions. Knowing what the best DAW software is doesn’t always help you choose the software for you.
Device compatibility doesn’t necessarily mean a DAW is good or bad. And your studio setup doesn’t mean one DAW is better or worse for you.
Choosing a DAW is a big commitment. Many of them have some sort of learning curve, so you should avoid switching programs often.
That means you should do as much as you can to make sure you choose the best DAW software for you. You have to consider your situation, from recording goals to your budget.
What to look for
Everyone has different reasons for choosing a DAW. We all have different recording goals and studio equipment. Still, there are a few things to look for in the best DAW software for you.
The first thing to consider is the functionality. If you just want to record audio and make it sound professional, you can get away with a slimmed-down DAW. On the other hand, professional producers who need more features should choose something fully-loaded.
Next, be honest with yourself and your experience. While most DAWs require some technical knowledge, some are easier to learn than others. So consider whether you have the time and patience to learn a complicated program.
The third thing to look at is your budget. DAWs range from free to hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. A professional music producer is probably going to have a bigger budget than a solo artist or hobbyist.
While we mentioned it already, we have to reiterate the importance of compatibility. You need a DAW that will work on your computer, so make sure you choose a program that works on your chosen operating system.
What to avoid
Just as there are things to look for in the best DAW software, there are things to avoid.
First, you should avoid outdated versions of DAWs. Some retailers carry older versions of many programs, not just DAWs. While the older version might be cheaper than the current one, it will probably lack some features and compatibility.
Second, don’t choose a DAW because so-and-so uses it. As we’ve said, we’re all different, and no two producers have the same needs. The best DAW software for you does what you need it to do, and it doesn’t necessarily come with a fancy endorsement.
Similarly, beginners should choose a DAW that’s relatively affordable and easy to use. Don’t go for the most expensive option and think it will be best for you. You can always upgrade or switch if you outgrow your current DAW.
Another thing to avoid could be DAWs that don’t come as a digital download. Many laptops don’t have CD drives, and dongles can get annoying and expensive. So unless you have a CD reader, stick with digital downloads.
Where to find the best DAW software
With the growth of the internet, we have access to more DAWs than ever before. Gone are the days of needing a CD to install a DAW.
Of course, some DAWs still come on CDs. However, more and more allow you to download them directly from the internet.
You can find DAWs with a quick Google search, and some have download buttons right on their homepage.
If you use a Mac and choose an Apple software, you can also download your chosen DAW from the App Store.
Still, you can find DAWs at online retailers, like Amazon. Some music and technology stores, like Guitar Center and Best Buy, carry physical packages of DAWs.
How to choose the one for you
Choosing the best DAW software for you isn’t easy. There are tons of options, all with different features and price points.
In addition to following our suggestions for what to look for and avoid, consider what you want or need. If you need more features, look for that. On the other hand, if you want something easy, choose one with a lower learning curve.
In general, no one can choose the best DAW software for you. One exception is if you plan to collaborate with someone else. If they have a favorite DAW, you should go with what they use.
That way, you can transfer projects back and forth more easily.
And of course, another exception is if you work in a studio, or want to. You should choose the DAW that your studio uses so that you won’t have to learn multiple programs.
There are tons of DAW software options out there, and not all of them are equal. Some are much better than others, and some are better suited for certain people.
To find the best DAW software options, we started with multiple recommendations from the experts. We gathered our picks from different reviews and suggestions to create a well-rounded list of choices.
But before we added a DAW to our list, we considered things like features, compatibility, ease of use, and cost. We also took a look at what type of musician each DAW is best for.
From there, we considered what others had to say about each of the options. That meant considering the professional reviews as well as those from customers.
While we can’t say for sure that one program is the single best DAW software, we think you can’t go wrong with any of our picks. And of course, you don’t want to switch programs constantly.
However, you can always test out a couple to help you determine the best DAW software for you.
The 10 Best DAW Software Picks
Whether you want all the bells and whistles or something simple, there’s a DAW for you. The same is true if you’re on a budget or have money to blow.
While we couldn’t share every option here, we think our picks include some of the best DAW software options available. Some come straight from the internet, whereas others require physical installation.
All of this variety may seem overwhelming, but it’s actually a good thing. It means you don’t have to make your setup work for the DAW, the DAW can work for you and your setup.
The Studio One Artist software from PreSonus is a popular DAW with a lot of features, and the Artist version is part of the Studio One lineup. It features a single-window work environment and supports drag-and-drop and multitouch.
This software comes with unlimited audio and instrument tracks. You can take advantage of advanced automation features and the many virtual instruments, buses, and FX channels.
Studio One also features a native 32-bit floating-point resolution, which gives you great sound quality. You can create loops and samples to add even more to your music.
This download is compatible with Windows 10, 8.1, and 7. Mac users can use it with OS X, OS 10.11, and OS 10.12. Both versions require 40GB of storage and 4GB of RAM.
The average customer rating on Amazon is 4.3 out of 5 stars. One customer said it’s great for recording. However, others say it doesn’t allow external plugins or other features.
Next, we have FL Studio 20, which offers powerful mixing and automation. FL Studio 20 features a high-quality piano roll for all of you keyboard fans.
The DAW offers a flexible browser and has features that help your workflow. It supports all VST standards, and you can choose from over 80 instrument and plugin effects.
You can record multiple tracks with FL Studio 20, and you can edit them with the variety of features offered, like automation and plugin delay. It’s an excellent choice for beginners, and everything you need comes in a box.
Amazon customers rate it 4.7 out of 5 stars on average. One customer loves how many features you get. Unfortunately, the package doesn’t come with a physical download.
Our next pick is for the Apple fans, and that pick is Logic Pro X. It offers tons of features that allow you to write your own music as well as edit and produce it. Logic Pro X has a ton of built-in digital instruments, effects, and loops. But you can also record physical instruments, which is nice if you have a studio. The Drummer feature lets you create drum tracks, and you can even design your own drum kits. You can also build guitar and bass tracks, and there are tons of keyboards you can play with. Mac users can download it on Mac OS 10.13.6 or later as long as you have 4GB of RAM. As far as storage, you’ll need at least 6GB, but preferably 63GB. Apple customers give it an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars. One customer called the DAW “the lungs” of their studio. However, a second customer said the audio quality isn’t as good as it used to be.
The Live 10 software from Ableton is another great DAW, especially for long term use. You can start with the Live 10 Intro and upgrade as you need more features. It features multi-track recording for both virtual and physical instruments, and you can also take advantage of MIDI sequencing. Their unique session view shows nonlinear composition, which is useful for flexible performance and improvisation. You can use it to automatically sync music and loops at any tempo and in realtime. Each project supports up to 16 tracks and 8 scenes. The average customer rating is 4.9 out of 5 stars on Amazon. One customer said it’s good if you need something entry-level. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have as many features as more expensive software.
Propellerhead’s Reason 10 is an excellent option for anyone who needs a powerful DAW with tons of features. It includes two synthesizers and multiple instruments. Reason 10 also offers full support for VST plugins, which is nice if you want to customize your DAW. The software even includes 3GB of loops and samples. Even though it comes with instruments, you can record yourself and use the software for mixing. It includes everything you need to produce your music fully. Amazon customers give it an average rating of 4.8 out of 5 stars. One customer said they love the program, but it didn’t load at first. A second customer said that it comes as a physical download.
Steinberg’s Cubase is similar to Ableton in that there are different levels and Cubase Elements is a good starter version. It has a 64-bit floating-point audio engine for routing and delay. The software features three virtual instruments, including a drum machine and a synthesizer. It also offers over 40 effect processors for tone and intonation, among other things. You can also use their library of instrument sounds. The average rating on Amazon is a mere 3.3 out of 5 stars, but most professionals recommend it. One customer loves the functionality. And most negative comments are about the high learning curve and lack of OS compatibility.
If you’re on a tight budget and need something really cheap, or free, consider Audacity. It’s open-source, which means multiple people add features and capabilities to it. You can use it to record and edit multiple tracks, and it’s compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux. Audacity supports 16-, 24-, and 32-bit recording, and it has tons of features and plugins for editing. Users on G2 give Audacity an average rating of 4.4 out of 5 stars. One person said it’s the best program for editing audio. However, the program is limited due to being free.
Another free option for Mac and iPad users is GarageBand. The DAW is available for Mac and iOS, which is nice if you like to use Apple’s Handoff feature. You can record tracks and use different virtual instruments to create songs. The iOS version can handle up to 32 tracks, so it’s a great option for recording and editing on the go. The average rating for GarageBand is 4.1 out of 5 stars on the App Store. One person said it’s the best software for working with music on the go. Unfortunately, GarageBand doesn’t feature many wind instruments, like trumpets or flutes.
REAPER is another DAW to consider if you want the full package of recording and editing. It supports a variety of hardware and plugins, so you can make it work for you. The software supports VST plugins, and it even features a notation editor, so you can compose like you would on paper. REAPER also shares many resources that you can read or watch to better learn the program. G2 users give it an average rating of 4.4 out of 5 stars. One customer said it’s a powerful program with tons of professional features. Unfortunately, it doesn’t cancel out background noise.
Our final pick goes to MOTU Digital Performer. This DAW works on both Windows and Mac, and it features plugin processors and software instruments. It features 64-bit editing and recording, and you can also use it for MIDI sequencing. Thanks to a single review, the average customer rating is 5.0 out of 5 stars on Amazon. The reviewer said it has everything a professional would want, but the instructions are long and can take a while to get through.
Mix and Master
If you want to record, edit, and produce music, you need the best DAW software you can get. But the best of the best for one person may not be the best DAW software for you. That’s why so many options exist; some are for beginners on a budget, while others are perfect for professionals. We think all of our picks could be the best DAW software, and it’s up to you to compare them and choose the one for you. Have you used a DAW? Which do you think is the best DAW software? Comment below with your thoughts!