You probably already know that a music production software is central to everything you do as a producer. And thankfully, these days, there’s a plethora of them. Life has never been easier for music producers!
Or, has it?
Digital Audio Workstations (DAW) software products are ubiquitous commodities on the internet today, and picking a good one can be hard. So many promises, many options and many possibilities – It’s so hard to pick just one.
Lending a hand, we have researched and compiled our top ten favorite DAW software products. We’re pretty sure one of them is what you’re looking for. You’re welcome!
- What is a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)?
- Top 10 Best DAW Software Products On The Market Reviews
- 1 Ableton Live 10 Suite Multitrack Recording Software
- 2 Image Line FL Studio 12 Producer Edition
- 3 Propellerhead Reason 10 Multitrack Recording Software
- 4 Steinberg Cubase Pro 9 Recording Software
- 5 PreSonus Studio One 3 Artist Recording and Production Software
- 6 Acid Pro 7
- 7 Avid Pro Tools Software
- 8 Apple Logic Pro X
- 9 Apple GarageBand
- 10 Reaper
- Best Music Production Software Buying Guide
What is a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)?
We will try to oversimplify this for the benefit of those who might be doing this for the first time.
A Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) can be in two forms: either an electronic device or a software application. It helps the producer record, edit, and of course, produce audio files (in this case, music).
Digital Audio Workstations can be really simple, and like a PMSing woman, they can get really complex. If you have DJ Khaled or Jay Z money, you can afford to get a very complex unit which requires a central computer to control. Or you could just turn your laptop into your workstation by simply getting a DAW application software like most people do.
That said, what is a DAW application software?
Even though, these days when we say “DAW”, we actually refer to the software, it isn’t always the case. In the strictest sense of the word, the term “DAW” doesn’t refer to the software application alone. A DAW is a complete system that houses the DAW software as well as other components.
What we often call “DAW” (i.e. the software application) is actually just a part of a whole. And this “whole” is known as a computer-based DAW.
Don’t worry, it gets clearer…
A computer-based DAW is usually composed of four units which include a computer (aka your laptop), a sound card/audio interface, a digital audio production software, and an input device. All these put together, form your DAW.
What you call the DAW is actually, more appropriately called, the digital audio production software.
Finally, let’s have a recap of what a complete DAW should have, shall we?
- Convert analog audio signals into digital audio
- Convert digital audio back to analog during playback
- Additional processing of audio
- Giving interface for playback, editing, and recording.
Now, please note that we will be focusing our review on DAW software applications (and these will generally require other tools such as your PC and sound card to give you a complete setup). Here we go…
Top 10 Best DAW Software Products On The Market Reviews
1 Ableton Live 10 Suite Multitrack Recording Software
This software promises a fast and fluid music production experience for its user. And with its many unique features, this promise doesn’t seem far-fetched. To help you make the decision about whether this software is worth your time, let’s examine its features.
The Ableton Live 10 Suite Multitrack Recording Software comes with a really unique session view. You’ll find this feature more endearing when you need to improvise, or when a flexible performance is needed. Also, this feature comes really helpful in times of nonlinear composition.
With its advanced warping feature, you can easily change any tempo or timing real time. The best part? You don’t even have to stop the music. Fluid!
Sometimes, “happy accidents” happen while you’re just messing around with your instruments. This software helps you capture them after you have played them. Now, you can intentionally turn those “accidents” into a hit song.
With all the effects and features Live brings to your fingertips, the limits to the kind of music you can make are only within the boundaries of your imagination. Put together, Live boasts over 5000 sounds, 57 effects, and 10 instruments!
And there’s still more…
Live comes with its set of native devices which afford you an excellent foundation for sound design. Or if you want, you could also synthesize something new for yourself. Its wide range of curated packs easily help you with that.
And here’s the feature we love most…
Every single thing is kept live here! So whenever you quickly need to improvise on-stage, you’ve got a buddy that’s custom-made to flow with your performance.
Our Rating: (5 / 5)
2 Image Line FL Studio 12 Producer Edition
The FL Studio 12 would appear to be an answer to prayer for many a producer. Apparently, it comes with a reworked user interface with more exciting features. In all of these, we are more excited about the fact that this particular software is pretty affordable.
So, without further ado, let’s see what this guy brings to the table…
The FL Studio 12 claims to come with everything you need to make music composition, arrangement, recording, editing, mixing and mastering possible.
With this producer edition, you can easily record both external and internal audio easily without breaking a sweat. And of course, full audio recording and post-production are guaranteed.
When editing your music, this software goes a very long way to bring you all kinds of features that make the hard-to-do very achievable. You could easily handle manipulations like pitch correction or shifting, time-stretching, harmonization, audio warping, beat-detection and slicing, or standard audio manipulation on your audio.
Interestingly, everything comes out clean in the end.
Also, you can even create virtually any kind of sound at all with it. Its more than 32 software synthesizers guarantee you that. These synthesizers cover almost everything from electric guitar to piano and strings, to beat slicing.
Furthermore, there’s no limit to the number of inputs this software can work with. It effortlessly enables you capture as many inputs as you can handle all at once on its audio interface. If the gig is a solo performance or even a full-blown orchestra, the FL Studio 12 says, “heck yes, we can!”
Our Rating: (4.3 / 5)
3 Propellerhead Reason 10 Multitrack Recording Software
The Propellerhead Reason is an upgrade to an older software also offered by the brand. In spite of this though, when compared to most of its counterparts, this software sure brings fewer things to the table. However, it does come with several helpful features you might need and want. So, let’s have a look.
The Propellerhead Reason keeps your creative options open and varied. Thanks to its numerous effects and instruments, you can get your creative juices flowing freely when making your music. All instruments have been designed to give the exact feel of their real-life counterparts.
Again, they are very intuitive, their simple layout making them easy to understand and navigate. No cryptic interface or submenus here. Very simple and straightforward.
For a world-class sound, Reason comes with a superb mixing console. And it’s not just any console, it’s actually studio grade. Every single tool you need for sound-sculpting is present in the software, be it EQ or full dynamics.
If at any time you need to expand, then that’s cool. With this software package, you also get VST and Rack Extension plugins too. So, that’s settled.
And check out the instruments: there are 3 sampled instrument collections, and, wait for it… over 3GB of drum samples and loops. That’s not all, it also comes with a studio piano (pretty flexible), in addition to a rhythmic modulation effect.
While making your song, Reason makes things easier for you. How? You can easily add new instruments or sounds by dropping them where you’d like them. As you do this, the virtual rack builds itself.
Our Rating: (5 / 5)
4 Steinberg Cubase Pro 9 Recording Software
Cubase is, undoubtedly, one of the most popular recording software application currently in the market. Its tools are advanced and intuitive, making them super easy for anyone to produce sound of pristine quality. Little wonder everyone loves it.
It boasts a complete MIDI composing and sequencing toolset. So, what that means is that, it is well equipped to make composing a joy for the user. Coming with tools such as the Drum, the Score, List Editors, and other such indispensable tools, this is a modern software for the modern producer.
For nearly three decades, Steinberg has been engineering all kinds of devices for digital audio. And you can tell with the overall quality of recording that this software gives you. It isn’t just about delivering on the latest quality but also making the producer easy to use.
All you need for excellent editing are in this software. With it you can do things like pitch alteration of monophonic signals and integrated vocal editing, fast-take comping, as well as smart multi-track editing. Speed and precision are also two other things you get when editing with Cubase.
Its MixConsole helps you tailor your workflow to your own personal tastes and visions. If you’re a professional who works regularly with a mixer, this MixConsole is for you.
And that’s not all…
There’s cloud collaboration, of course! Genius is amazing but combined genius is out of this world! Cubase makes it easy for you to find other artistes like you, exchange ideas, and get creative. The cloud collaboration capacity of this software is terrific and effortlessly integrated.
Our Rating: (4 / 5)
5 PreSonus Studio One 3 Artist Recording and Production Software
This software is an excellent choice for budding music producers. And for the price, this software sure does offer quite a lot of features. And although these features are actually quite fantastic, they are also very easy to use.
Here’s all you need to know about them…
It comes with a very easy-to-use interface that helps you get in, and stay in your flow. For most of your activity on the interface, all you’d need to do is to drag and drop. What does that mean for you? Recording and mixing your songs get to be fun and pretty fast and straightforward too!
Studio One Artist 3 also boasts additional virtual instruments that give you more options for that unique sound. Now, you can easily find, and decide on just the right backing tracks, including step sequencing for programming beats and other parts of the music.
Its user interface is new and improved with multi-touch support, context-sensitive documentation, plus many other enhancements you’ve always hoped for in a DAW software.
As for mixing, Studio one boasts one of the best, and most intuitive mixing features around for miles. You not only get quality mixing with this software, you also get it very easily, and effortlessly. Mixing with this software is also pretty fast too.
This software covers everything from capturing sounds, to recording, to mixing and online delivery. It even allows you to experiment and create genius while having fun too!
Our Rating: (3.9 / 5)
6 Acid Pro 7
In the words of its creators, the Acid Pro 7 is a “powerhouse”. The DAW software combines tasks such as multitrack recording and mixing, and MIDI sequencing smoothly. From music creation to post-production, the Acid pro 7 can be your creative buddy throughout.
But there’s still a lot you should know…
To deliver on an amazing audio performance, Acid Pro 7 comes with a 192kHz and 24-bit sound quality, either live or in the studio. Also, to make it easy for you to transform your ideas into reality, all barriers have been taken off your workflow too!
Hold on, there’s more…
This software is excellent at creating innovative loop-based music. You can easily do your pitch/tempo transposition during preview and playback. And you can do it real time!
And another amazing quality about the software is that you can begin making music immediately you get it out of the box! In this software, you will get Sony Sound Series loops (over 3000) plus 90 virtual instruments too!
The MIDI processing and control here is superb. You can record MIDI on multiple tracks simultaneously and do lots more. Plus, its mixing and editing features are one of a kind. And its mixing console makes your recording environment more flexible and efficient.
The Acid Pro 7 also helps you in the creation and editing of drum maps. And you can label your drum names using templates. After saving them, you can easily share with other users like you using this software.
Also, its workflow features are professional and help you work efficiently.
Our Rating: (3.5 / 5)
7 Avid Pro Tools Software
What makes this particular product really stand out for us is the fact that it is an educative DAW. What this means is that it is designed to be used by both teachers and students. So, if you’re a beginner or you’re looking to begin tutoring in music production, here’s a software application for you.
If you’re familiar with Pro Tools, then you probably already know all the unique features it offers. This software offers them all at a reduced cost.
But hey, there’s a catch…
You can only get this software if you are a student or a teacher. And don’t think you can shunt the process, there are measures to verify your eligibility. Once you get past that phase, you can now access all the unique features Avid has to offer.
This software is excellent for composing, recording, and mixing music of high quality. The audio production platform is superb and industry standard. Plus, it is also very compatible with windows and Macbooks.
Coming with more than 60 different virtual instruments, you will have access to thousands and thousands of sounds. And that’s not all… it also comes with diverse effects necessary to make sound editing and processing fantastic.
And you know what?
This software also comes with an app. What does that mean? You can also control the software wirelessly! That will definitely come in handy many times.
Finally, who doesn’t want great plugins with his DAW software? No one. And that’s why this software comes complete with utility plugins. When you need more from your software, these will help you expand your system and expand your options.
Our Rating: (3.3 / 5)
8 Apple Logic Pro X
As we’ve come to expect with Apple, the Logic pro X is another well thought-out, and uniquely created DAW software. It is the most advanced in the Logic series. And it is a professional software that gives you a professional music studio right on your mac.
To be honest, we would only advise the Logic Pro X for people who are very proficient in DAW and maybe even the Logic series. All tools in this software are very sophisticated but give world-class results.
From songwriting to recording, to mixing, the Logic Pro X comes uniquely designed to give astounding results and in a much faster fashion.
Coming with lots of super effects, loops, and instruments, you get a complete toolkit with this software. Also, thanks to its vast toolkit, you can professionally create amazing sound with this DAW software.
For those asking, yes, there are improvements to the Logic X, and here they are…
- The Logic Pro X doesn’t quit when opening projects unlike earlier versions.
- Plugins for Step FX, ChromaVerb, Vintage EQ and Phat FX have been properly installed.
- The Logic Pro X won’t quit after you copy automation to another track.
- Also, you’ll no longer experience issues of unexpected spikes in the usage of your CPU with the Logic Pro X.
Hang on there, there’s still more…
The Logic Pro X comes with very realistic drums and percussion. You’d love the sound (and look) of the drums in this software. Very full and realistic like a real-life drummer is playing it!
9 Apple GarageBand
Compared to the Logic Pro X, the Apple GarageBand is a more down-to-earth and straightforward way to produce music. It’s less sophisticated but still produces great sound. Plus, it is way more affordable than most other DAW software from Apple.
GarageBand has been restructured and improved to give a better music making experience. For instance, its interface; it is intuitive, interactive, and comes with a more responsive tuner.
You can also throw in a drummer or beat producer to your song, and your options are wide and varied. From Hip Hop to Alternative, there all kinds of drummers and beat producers. They will give your song great and realistic beats that you’d love.
That’s not even the jaw-dropping part… A single player can give you more than a million different groove and fill combinations!
The sound library is full and vast, giving you access to many collections of instruments and sounds. There are lots of loops from Apple to also explore, coming from all the newest urban and electronic genres.
GarageBand also allows you do multitakes with your recording so you can pick your best one. You can create up to 255 tracks, alter the timing of your audio recording in real time, and more. If you like, you could also create your own ringtone and share on Soundcloud.
GarageBand is also a great teacher. With this DAW software, you can learn to play the guitar and piano. There are about 40 lessons in the software which cover the basics in different genres, from classical to rock.
Among complete digital audio production application software, Reaper sure does stand out for the fine job that it does. It is compatible with Windows and OS X. it also offers excellent recording of multitrack audio and MIDI. Processing, mixing, editing, and mastering are also possible with the complete toolset Reaper offers.
Keep up, there’s more…
Perhaps, Reaper’s most outstanding feature is its flexibility. It can easily be used by professionals and students alike. It’s got only one version, but that one version stands out for that reason.
If you still need some level of tutoring to get the hang of the software, you’re covered. Reaper provides a ton of tutorials online to help you.
Of the many DAW software in the market, Reaper is one of the few that comes with life-long free updates.
But here’s the thing about this DAW…
It does not have a sound library. Yes. We do not know why this is. Even though it pairs very easily with almost all third-party effects, sound, and plugins, it’s still somewhat discouraging. But then again, for the price, which is not so much, Reaper seems to be a fair trade.
It’s got a very great engine to help make recording, mixing, editing, and mastering of high quality. Its interface is also interactive… simple drag-and-drop for most processes.
Best Music Production Software Buying Guide
Deciding on a particular DAW can be difficult, especially because there are tons of them out there. Also, this is a decision that’s going to stick with you for a long time. Before deciding on a DAW, you need to understand what it is first.
We have already explained what a DAW is earlier. However, if you missed that, or you’ve forgotten, you can quickly scroll up and check it out again.
Now, quickly, let’s highlight the reasons anyone should consider getting a DAW:
- Get a DAW if you’d be recording multiple audio channels. Instances would be overdubs, multiple instruments or vocal tracks.
- Get a DAW if you’d be editing the afore-mentioned audio. That is, if you’d be rearranging or removing sections of the audio. Or, if you’d want to adjust, say the pitch or the timing.
- Finally, get a DAW if you’d be mixing. And what is mixing? To balance the multiple audio channels we mentioned earlier to produce one audio file.
The summary of all the above is this: Get a DAW if you’d like to record audio using your computer, period. Audacity is only useful for minor editing to a single file. For the more hardcore stuff, get you a DAW.
Do all DAWs Sound Different?
A lot of people think that every DAW has a unique sound. And to that, we will tell you an emphatic “no”. They don’t. They all sound the same, exactly. Yes, we are absolutely saying that, if you have two different DAWs, and you import a recording (the same one) into the both of them, none will sound different.
So, why can’t you just buy anyone?…
…Because each DAW comes with its own unique features and stock plugin(s). Here is where all the difference lies in DAWs.
But what do plugins do?
Great question. Plugins are necessary tools used to process an audio file. Examples of plugins include compression, EQ, and reverb. These examples we just listed are called stock plugins.
If you really know what you’re doing, or you’ve had some years of experience, you can use stock plugins to create mixes of professional standards. Good thing is that most of the DAWs available come with a wide range of diverse stock plugins.
Now, even though plugins make all the difference, the differences are usually little. If you’re getting a modern DAW, then you’ll most likely be equipped with all the plugins you need. Furthermore, you can get dedicated plugins later if you like (But do know that that will cost you a pretty penny). All that said; keep in mind that your skills are more important than the DAW.
Should you Get a Free DAW or a Paid One?
Well, first things first, there are many free DAWs out there. Tons of them.
But, should you actually use them?
In all honesty, the offer is tempting, and anyone would be happy to keep his/her money to him/herself, but then… they aren’t your best options, to be frank. If you insist on something free, then Audacity might be your best bet. However, if you are really passionate about music production, then you already know you need something else (something that actually works for real music production).
Should I get the Limited or Full Version?
Oftentimes, you would have the option of getting a limited version or the full version of a paid DAW. Don’t get carried away by the promises that a manufacturer loads his site with and opt for the full version immediately. Pump your brakes, and get the limited version first.
These are the reasons it’s a smarter option…
Most companies make the limited versions of their product specifically for those on a budget. So, they usually come cheaper than the full version. But guess what? Many times, the so-called “limited version” still contains about 95% of the features you’d find in the full version.
Except your engineering skills are at an advanced level, we doubt you’d even miss any of those features at all. So, don’t kill yourself. Pay less and get the limited version until you gain proficiency.
The Mac versus the PC Contention
When DAWs are designed, they are designed for two major platforms: Windows and Mac OS X. If you’ve asked yourself which of them is the better option, the answer is both. Doesn’t make any sense?
It will make sense in a bit, we promise…
Both platforms are fantastic, with their own pros and cons. Making the decision on which to use should be more about which of them you’d be using as your audio computer. But for the records, let’s spot some differences…
Macs are, of course, more expensive, and upgrading them yourself can be quite difficult. But that aside, the Mac OS X boasts a really stable OS. And without tweaking the hardware at all, it works easily. For these few reasons highlighted, most professional recording studios would camp with the Mac OS X.
Windows, on the other hand, is a lot easier to use. You can easily upgrade and configure it yourself. And comparing with their Mac counterparts, Windows is a cheaper option.
Anyway, there’s a drawback…
Because possible hardware combinations are infinite in number, one could face a lot of technical challenges with the audio. If you aren’t particularly tech savvy, then you might be better off with a pre-configured option, if you still want to go the way of Windows.
Next, you would want to look out for the CPU Stability…
…Except you want your DAW to crash on you right in the middle of your recording session. Although, it’s pretty difficult to find this out except you’ve actually tried a demo but there’s another way to know…
Complexity! Yes, complexity. Oftentimes, the most complex DAWs are the most likely to crash. Don’t be fooled, there’s hardly any producer, professional or not, who has all the features he uses in his DAW. Hardly…
Where do you see yourself in five to ten years?
Finally, if you are still producing music in that future that you see, then getting a scalable DAW should be important to you. You should begin with an industry-standard DAW, at least, so you can use it for years to come.
We’ve just gone through a detailed buying guide, telling us all we need to know about getting a good DAW. And prior to that, you saw reviews of ten different DAW software products. We’re sure you’re itching to know which DAW snags first prize.
And that DAW is…
The Logic Pro X. if you’ve followed our guide closely, you’ll see that this DAW scores high on almost all points. Particularly important is the wide range of plugins it offers. It’s professional, sophisticated, and the clear winner for a modern music producer. Compared to some others, it’s also not so expensive.