What is the best DAW on the market today?
That’s a question that has been asked so many times. This is why I decided to write this guide for you, to help your choice when in the process to find the best option for you.
Home recording started way back in the 90s. Before then, there were only studios, which, even today, are costly. Producing music through a studio takes time, energy, and money.
This is why having a DAW today is a great investment. The earliest version of the modern this started emerging with the emergence of home recording.
It has left people always arguing with this is excellent.
Answering this becomes difficult by the day as the options continue to improve. Everyone seeks the fine tool, so the debate rages on.
For a beginner, it seems like a tough decision. The list of this software is endless, and newer ones keep emerging.
And yet, if you make music notation or music in general on a computer, it is the most important tool in your creative arsenal. Of course, there are other important components, like a MIDI keyboard, audio interface, a set of studio one monitor speakers, and a microphone to complete the setup. But the music production software connects all of them.
For this reason, choosing this that satisfies you or others will enable you to turn your idea into good music is crucial.
In this guide, I will be helping you make that decision by discussing the finest music production software the market can offer.
What is DAW?
It stands for Digital Audio Workstation is a software program used in music production. As the name suggests, it is a digital audio workstation, where you can compose, produce, record, mix, and edit audio and MIDI.
The audio digital workstation makes it easy for users to mix multiple sound sources with a time-based grid.
Technological advancement in music production has taken things to the highest levels. There is nothing you cannot do where technology is involved.
Many artists found it very hard to record their music, especially those who did not have the exercise resources.
But that to technology, specifically homo these pro tools, you can do this from your home’s comfort. As a beginner, all it takes is learning how the digital audio workstations work, and how to get the best.
There are lots of different DAWs out there, and various strengths and weaknesses define each of them.
Your recording setup is connected to this via your Mac or PC. It has the brain of the whole setup, making it easy to create good music.
But not all of them are good for you. It is crucial to take your time in identifying the right software until you have what you need altogether.
Which is the best DAW?
As stated above, the list of DAWs on the market today is endless. And the argument about the best of them rages on as new ones join the market.
Even so, you still need to identify something that works for you. So, let’s see the features of the best.
The list in the next section is based on the features and what many users prefer. But when it comes to the realm of great DAWs, there are other recommendations that will change your world for the best.
My personal favorites are Garage Band from Apple. This tool is built for beginners. It is a fee and no-brainer application for Mac users. And for those with PCs, Mix craft from Acoustica is perhaps the closest equivalent – but you will have to pay.
If your focus is on value for money tools, check out Cocko’s Reaper. This is a serious thing with a low pro. And the Logic Pro is an incredible investment too if you own a Mac, you’ll love the logic pro.
There is also Image-Line’s FL studio one that has been making rounds on the market. The outstanding factor about this studio is the notable lifetime free updates. This means you may never need to buy another thing with modern features – just update it. And that is how you can save some serious money.
But you cannot go without looking at Ableton Live. For the past 20 years, Ableton live has been the biggest success story. Whether it’s the best DAW is open to interpretation, but no other can deny it makes a huge impression. The DAW is used by more artists than any other tool out there.
How to choose the best DAW
We have already seen that choosing the right DAW will make your music production easier. This is why I would advise you to try out as many demos as possible.
You don’t want to be in a hurry when looking for the right DAW. That could cost you a lot, considering you may end up paying for something that does not help you grow.
Think carefully about what you are going to do with the tool. It all depends on how you are going to work, and the digital audio station elements are crucial to you.
You can use a DAW tool throughout the music production process, recording editing, arranging, mixing, and even mastering your music. If possible, try working through the process to test the workflow.
Many of us have found ourselves frequently struggling and constantly consulting the manual. This simply means the DAW is not for you, and it could be time to move to another tool.
Most important, ensure your prospective DAW is compatible with your computer, hardware, and plugins you may consider useful. You are looking to invest your money where it is worth anyway. Therefore, every step you take should be towards this goal.
Try with different versions
I may tell you that a specific DAW software is the best. But that does not make for the best advice. Just because one user found comfort in that specific interface of a program for a certain genre doesn’t mean it will have the same impact for you.
Some DAW programs have proven beneficial in certain areas. But that does not mean you stop your search there, and they are not restrictive. At their basic, the applications easily manipulate multitrack audio and MIDI files. This is something that works for any music style of the sound.
In other words, I am saying it’s not true that DAWs can only perform best in areas they are designed for. For instance, something like FL studio one might be more efficient and famous for electronic music production, but with FL studio one there is no reason you cannot create a metal masterpiece on the same platform.
In a nutshell, consider your personal preferences. Each of us has various needs for these products, and you must identify where your lies are.
Version and packages
Once you have come up with a list of prospective packages, remember most DAWs feature different versions, each at different prices.
Ableton can be bought as an ‘intro pack,’ at about $100, a ‘standard edition,’ at $500, and the ‘suite,’ which goes for $749.
These versions come with a substantial difference. And you can assume the suite features everything that makes a full home studio.
For beginners, buying the suite versions might not be the best idea. Begin with the basic pack and graduate through the other levels.
Download Free Demo
The best thing about most DAW is that they offer free trials on lite editions. This is a good way to decide which one might be right for you. And once you have tried them out and discovered the right one, download free demos and feel how things work practically.
A free DAW might be a good idea for beginners. It might not have everything, but you can use it to learn some basics of using the software. And there are great DAWs that are offered for free, which might be good for trial.
Free vs. Paid DAWs
Another thing you may want to put in mind is free and paid versions. There are lots of free apps on the market.
And in my opinion, you should not use them. But if you think they can help you, then try them out for yourself.
Try out Audacity, and probably waste two weeks.
Or invest in something better at once and move on with your life.
Limited vs. full version
If you chose option two, you have to narrow it down to limited and full versions. In my opinion, the ‘limited’ version of any DAW is better than using a crappy free DAW.
Many companies offer these versions to include smaller home studios on a budget. Most are cheap, or even free, but they come with a large percentage of useful features. You may not even need the features since only advanced engineers use a premium feature.
Another good thing about these versions is that you can upgrade to a pro platform without having to learn the DAW from the ground.
Which is the best DAW 2020?
There are many DAWs in 2020 that will make your music life much easier. Here is a list of the best ones, based on customer reviews and uses.
Avid’s Pro Tools is probably the most popular DAW out there. I would say it’s the best music production software on this list.
It is an industry-standard product, mainly because it is the top league of recording facilities in the world. The software does not have such fancy features that make it stand out from other DAWs industry standard, yet it retains a top spot on the market.
There are three versions: The Pro Tools First, Pro Tools, and Pro Tools Ultimate. The software works with Mac and PCs, and it can hold up to 128 audio tracks, 512 instrument tracks, and 1024 MIDI tracks within one project.
It comes with some of the best and basic functions, like loop recording, full mixing automation, MIDI and score edition, and cloud collaboration. Pro Tools has a bit of a learning curve but becomes easy to use once you have mastered everything.
Pro tools are packed with a full house of virtual instruments, audio processors, and plugins, including EQs, reverbs, dynamics, and guitar amp simulators.
- Useful for any genre
- Easy navigation
- Multiple tracks in one project
- Not good for live performance
- Has a learning curve
This could be the best DAW for Mac. Logic Pro X is Apple’s flagship DAW. The logic pro x was my first DAW when I started recording, its features like music and sound is amazing. My home and has remained one of my best.
It comes with tons of tools and features that are helpful for both beginners and advanced users. It comes with smart tempo tools, a good number of plugins (like vintage EQs and Reverbs), Alchemy Synth, a substantial collection of virtual instruments and patches, and an AI drummer. And if you thought you had had it all, you get a large loop library, flex time/flex pitch, MIDI editing, automation, and multi-touch mixing.
The editing tools are some of the easiest you can ever use – more than Pro Tools. Also, the virtual instruments sound decent, depending on the instrument.
This tool is incredible for live performance, and it’s useful in creating different genres. It is quite flexible, with a small learning curve.
- Large loop library
- Easy to use
- Integrated in-depth editing tools
- Only for Apple devices
- Virtual instrument quality sound
3. Ableton Live
Ableton Live is one of the most popular best DAWs for electronic music. After using Logic Pro X and FL Studio, I tried out the Ableton live and was surprised by how useful the FL studio is.
The software features two main screen layouts that do two different activities;
- The Arrangement View is mainly for making songs in the studio, and you find it where you do your editing, MIDI writing, and such things.
- Session View. This the layout for live sessions. Here you can queue different audio loops on the fly and twerk their sound. It also has a mixer.
The features of Ableton include a MIDI ring, audio recording, many audio plugins, and effects, automation, and track freezing that will free up RAM and CPU.
The instrument plugins on this tool are electronic-based, so you should be ready for many synthesizers and plugins geared towards making electronic music. Some of the synthesizer and operator plugins can be a bit challenging to figure out if you are new. But once you get the grip of it, everything falls into place.
- In-depth audio track editing and extreme flexibility
- Heavily promotes sound design
- Easy to use
- A bit of a learning curve expected
Are you working on hip-hop? The FL Studio by Image-Line could be one tool you don’t want to miss out on FL studio.
This is a very flexible tool, but one of the hardest to use when it comes to creating extremely precise sound. It can get even trickier when switching between bar maker sizes in the playlist area.
The tool comes with a step sequencer, best for beat creation. You get up to 500 tracks in the playlist, 125 mixer channels, 125 audio tracks, and automation. Other features include pitch shifting, time-stretching, and beat chopping tool. It also comes with a window to write in MIDI plus a window for the mixer.
Its plugins and virtual instruments may not be of the best quality. The DAW has a learning curve too, and it can get unorganized in a project if you don’t have a good organization.
- Editing tools for slicing and chopping that might be useful in hip hop beats
- Decent life performance
- Can be easy to navigate
- Easily gets unorganized
- Low-quality plugins and virtual instruments
Reaper is among the best DAWs that is capable enough to be a useful tool in music production. If you don’t have a lot of knowledge in music production, this is a plugin that will get you on the right path,
It has a lot of features too, which include MIDI routing, with support for multiple channels. It comes with 64-bit audio processing and the ability to import, record, and render many different media formats at high-quality sample rates with 64-bit audio. The 64-bit audio is more than enough.
The software is compatible with MIDI hardware and software. It also allows us to use of thousands of 3rd party effects and virtual plugins.
Even though it is a basic DAW, it comes with plenty of things you would find in your normal DAW, more so for live performance. They include automation, grouping, modulation, oscillators, surround audio sound processing, support for control surfaces, and macros for fine-tuning using hardware.
- Easy to use and good for beginner
- Can be used from a flash drive
- Lacks advanced editing tools
If you are a synthesizer fan, Reasons is one of the DAW plugins you don’t want to miss. Windows and Mac Compatible DAW have a great focus on graphics and keep the old school feels from its virtual instruments.
It features a virtual rack-based DAW functionality with a multitrack sequencer. This means you get a digital version of a throwback to take decks and analog equipment.
Among top features are five synths, three-beat instrument, three players, seven sample-based instruments, and more than 20 plugins, effects, and rack extension devices, Reason also comes with more than 3GB of drum loops and samples useful for those who don’t want to create their own.
- Analog feel
- Huge loop library
- Fun for sound design
- Not recommend for beginners
I would not recommend using free software for your DAW. But if you must, the Audacity could be the best option.
Its features include open-source, multitrack recording and editing, built-in plugin effects including reverb, denoiser, and pitch changer.
This is one of the most popular DAW programs of all time because it’s free. But it is rather limited in terms of features. For instance, it can load VTS effects, but VTS instruments are not supported.
Nevertheless, it is a perfect budget choice for beginners.
- The simplest DAW
- Free and good for beginners
- A popular product
- Lacks advanced features
- Not the best option for serious work
8. GarageBand for Mac and Windows
Garageband is Apple’s flagship DAW. It features a huge apple sounds and loop library, free instruments lessons, multitrack recording, and editing.
The DAW is perfect for hip-hop, plunderphonics, lo-fi, as well as pop music.
This DAW is well known among music creators as one of the most versatile tools based on its price. Though the original version did not have good features, it has gone through upgrades to become one of the best.
In light of the fact that you’re not using Apple doesn’t mean you can’t use Garageband. There is a Garageband version from Windows you can download it for free here.
Though the original version did not have good features, it has gone through upgrades to become one of the best in the market.
- A large look library
- Perfect for beginners
- A wonderful graphic design
- Limited advanced features
PreSonus studio one released their first DAW version of Studio One in 2009. This product has since risen quickly to become one of the best DAWs in the world. It is a serious competitor in the modern market.
Bedroom producers find this software quite appealing. It comes with free Studio One Artist for use with various audio interfaces.
- A popular product
- Lots of useful features
- A learning curve is expected
10. Cakewalk SONAR
Cakewalk Sonar has ranked among the best DAWs for many years. Today, every top DAW is compatible with both Windows and Mac, yet this seems to be a Window only program.
- One of the top-ranking DAWs
- The X3 and Studio versions are stupidly affordable
- Sonar uses serial numbers to unlock the software, rather than complex USB dongles
- For Windows only
What DAW do professionals use?
There are lots of DAWs used by professionals today. Many, if not all, of the products mentioned above, have both beginners to professional versions.
For instance, Avid Pro Tools has become a household name for many music styles. The Pro Tools Ultimate is the professional version, which comes with more features than the regular version, making it one of the best applications for professional recording studios.
What is the easiest DAW to use?
The easiest DAW to use is definitely Audacity. And the fact that it’s free makes it one of the most popular DAW programs of all-time. It’s open-source nature, and zero cost is designed to help beginners learn DAW basics.
Getting the right DAW can make the biggest difference between good music and a bad one. Whether you are operating from a studio, or at home, you should not compromise quality – unless you are only fooling around. Anyway, the DAWs in this guide should be perfect for you.