Music production software: an overview of DAWs
Ever since the nineties, Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) have established themselves in both professional studios and home recording studios. The advantages of computer based audio recording and editing possibilities have become indispensable for musicians, bands and solo artists of all styles.
But which software is the right one for you? To what extent do the different DAWs vary? The commentaries and links in this short overview should give you an idea of the available options.
Steinberg Cubase / Nuendo
Cubase was made by a software company called Steinberg. It was born in the good old days of Atari ST computers and has been constantly developed ever since. Cubase and its big brother Nuendo (with extra functions for film scores and post production) are both available for PC and Mac, and have been widely accepted because of this. Steinberg’s flagship attractions are its excellent audio features, extremely extensive MIDI-/scoring functions and editing equipment, and the vast arsenal of internal effects at its disposal, which are really impressive. Furthermore, Steinberg also delivers a palette of internal VST-Synths which appeals to the majority of users. Cubase scores highest in terms of audio! The consistency of updates/upgrades is also notable, even if it occasionally results in some annoying bugs creeping in.
More on Cubase: http://www.steinberg.net/de/products/cubase/start.html
More on Nuendo: http://www.steinberg.net/de/products/nuendo/nuendo_6/start.html
This DAW was reserved for ‘Apple disciples’ for some time, among whom it enjoys absolute cult status. Logic was seen as the ultimate DAW, not only because of its numerous high quality internal effects, but also because of its stability/reliability. Furthermore, Logic easily trumps all other DAWs in terms of internal instruments, even though its newest and long overdue update hasn’t totally convinced all users. Logic Pro is unbeatable in terms of price, but you do have to own an Apple computer to use it (a pretty expensive “Dongle”).
More on Logic: http://www.apple.com/de/logic-pro/
ProTools is still THE software to have when it comes to digital audio editing, even though the rapid development of computers and DAW competitors could justifiably create doubt about this. However, many music producers still swear by the sound, reliability and compatibility of this DAW, and would probably never consider using another one. ProTools is simply the best reference point in professional audio.
More on ProTools: http://www.avid.com/DE/products/family/Pro-Tools
Presonus Studio One
Studio One is a newcomer to the DAW scene, although its software team includes hidden former top programmers for Steinberg, which is why Studio One is not just easy to operate for Cubase users. Studio One scores points with its unique workflow and
numerous drag & drop functions, which are totally outstanding. Unfortunately it still lags behind with convincing internal instruments, although the audio engines and the internal effects are fully convincing. Studio One offers many (sometimes hidden) functions, which are lacking in other DAWs, and make collaboration with other producers very simple. Studio One also has an extensive mastering section at its disposal, in which project data can be managed (including DDPs etc.)
More on Studio One: http://www.presonus.com/products/studio-one
Roland’s Cakewalk Sonar is the equivalent to Yamaha-Steinberg’s Cubase, although it is only available for PCs. Sonar (previously Cakewalk) has been popular mainly in the USA since the nineties, and is constantly being developed further, optimised and amended with new features. It offers a respectable range of internal effects and instruments, and the analogue style mixing console is a winning feature. The look and feel of the internal Skylight Interface is another advantage of Sonar.
More on Sonar: http://www.cakewalk.com/products/sonar/default.aspx
Image Line FL Studio
The belgian DAW FL Studio (formerly known as Fruity Loops) started purely as step sequencing and looping software, and was not really taken seriously; the credibility of the business has however increased considerably, since top producers like Avicii and many others have publicly committed themselves to FL Studio. FL studio has a really unique workflow at its disposal, which is not for everyone, but appreciated all the more by its fans for that reason. Innovators and producers who enjoy experimenting swear by their “old Fruity Loops”.
More on FL Studio: http://www.image-line.com/documents/flstudio.html
Live – the name says it all. At the start of the new millennium Ableton presented us with a clip-based DAW which had been primarily designed for live performances and remixes.
Back then this was not just a successful innovation for DJs, it also lead to a meteoric rise in the fame of the Berlin based software company. These days Live is still a compelling option, due to the fantastic sound of its effects and instruments as well as its innovative functions like audio to MIDI, or comprehensive automation and sound editing.
More on Live: https://www.ableton.com/de/live/new-in-9/
Reason comes from the labs of the swedish firm Propellerhead, and has a first rate reputation mainly (but not exclusively!) among electronic music buffs. If you’re into virtual racks with tonnes of effects and instruments and you like using a patch cable monitor, then Reason is not only the perfect playground for you, but also the right tool to enable you to achieve professional results. There is also an abundance of sounds which can be bought online as extensions for Reason. The current edition of Reason is a top class all-in-one solution.
More on Reason: http://www.propellerheads.se/products/reason/
MotU Digital Performer
Let’s start with the good news: Digital Performer used to only be available for Apple users, but this DAW is now also an option for Windows users. While the number of Digital Performer disciples used to be limited in Europe, this strongly established software has stopped being a well-kept secret for a while now, especially in the USA. The newest version of MotU’s DP is attractive from all sides, whether for sequencing, scoring (notation) or for effects and instruments. Furthermore, there are many goodies to be found, like the ability to set up the user interface according to your own taste via Skins.
More on Digital Performer: http://www.motu.com/products/software/dp/features.html
The list of other programmes is almost endless; it is a good idea to check out the other DAWs available, including those below or any others:
BitWig: http://bitwig.com/en/bitwig-studio (coming soon..!)
It is definitely worth doing some cross analysis before making a purchase, as your choice of DAW depends mostly upon what you want to do with the software or not – alongside price and coverage. Do you simply want to record your band, or are you interested in exciting virtual instruments? Is the most complete package possible important to you, or do you need video synchronisation? Is a certain type of workflow important to you, or do you have friends who already work with a particular DAW, with whom you’d like to be as compatible as possible? Are you a PC or a Mac user? Do you like a particular graphic interface…? It’s worthwhile working out the answers to these questions. The rest is simply a question of taste, as there isn’t any audible difference between them in pure computing terms (based upon the recordings, not the effects and instruments). Here’s another interesting link to Delamar FM.
Most manufacturers also offer so-called trials or test versions to download.
We would be interested to know what your favourite DAW is, and why?
Here are a few more video links for you!