Have you ever wanted to create your own music? For many of us searching for our inner artist, the answer is yes. Luckily for people like us, nowadays it’s completely possible to have a complete instrumental setup and sound engineering tools in your home computer or laptop. So instead of putting your money on instruments, you seriously should consider purchasing the best DAW that’s suited for your needs.
Finding the best DAW for you is one of the most crucial steps of becoming a bedroom producer. In this article we’ll scratch the surface on various DAWs that are available for you and try to give you a general idea of what to look for in a DAW.
What is a DAW?
What is a DAW anyway? DAW is an acronym for “Digital Audio Workstation“. Digital audio workstations are computer software programs that allow you to record, compose, arrange, mix, master and export sound from different sources, whether it’s a keyboard, microphone, drum machine or an audio sound file on your hard drive. With the help of a decent audio interface (or sound card), a good computer, a pair of headphones or loudspeakers, and a good quality DAW you already have a very promising setup to get started in home music production.
In essence, your computer gives you the necessary power to process all the functions and information that you run on your DAW. Your DAW is the recording software that works as the interface for all your production work, just like Windows or Mac OS works as the operating system for your computer’s basic functions.
The external sound card or audio interface will provide you a much better quality of sound as the integrated sound chips on our PC’s and laptops aren’t usually optimal for music production. The sound card also allows you to plugin your headphones and/or loudspeakers with higher standard of sound output and makes it possible for you to connect your hardware instruments into the computer.
When we are looking for the best DAW in the market, the opinions are as scattered as politics. Amidst all the recommendations however, there are a few solid rules and features that you should check out when looking for the best DAW for you.
What features should I look for in a DAW?
These are some of the things for you to consider, when looking for the best DAW.
What kind of home computer or laptop am I working with?
Unfortunately it’s impossible for us to flat out say which operating system or manufacturer is the best. Most of the time, we prefer to go with platforms that we’re familiar with. If you’re proficient with PC and Windows, you’ll most like feel most comfortable with it, same applies to the Apple fans. We’ve written down some good point to remember, when it comes to choosing between a laptop or stationary unit.
Some of best DAWs are only available for certain operating system, such as Apple’s Logic Pro for Mac OS. In this article however, we’ll focus more on the PC/Windows side of things. Regardless of your preference, the rule is that the more kick you got in your computer, the better. Even the best DAWs can give your processor a workout, as the projects get bigger and have more channels, plugins and effects running simultaneously.
Does my DAW support third-party audio plugins?
Third-party audio plugins are a wonderful way to expand the possibilities in your DAW. Most of the best DAWs come with native audio plugins that are included in the price you’ve paid for the product. You can buy a more expanded edition of you DAW of choice, but usually the basic producer’s editions are more than sufficient to get you started. These basic editions come with a few native virtual synthesizers and audio engineering plugins, such as limiters, compressors, reverb, delay and so on, that you can use to make your first tracks.
When considering the aspect of audio plugin support, you should be aware that there basically are three different types of them:
- VST (Virtual Studio Technology): The VST-plugins are the most common and popular format of audio plugins, that work on both PC and Mac.
- AU (Audio Units): AU-plugins are native to Mac OS. Their compatibility are not, however, limited to only Mac-users.
- RTAS (Real-Time Audio Suite): RTAS’ are audio plugins that as of now are exclusive to Avid’s DAW called Pro Tools.
It is important to know that which types of audio plugins our DAW supports – the more, the merrier! Many of the most popular and the best plugins come from third party developers and are not native to the developer of the DAW you’re using. These third party plugins can be found as freeware or bought for a price that ranges heavily depending on the quality of the plugin.
Audio plugins also come in 32-bit and 64-bit variations, so you need to know which your operating system supports so they can function properly on your computer. If you want to look more into the world of audio plugins, read our page about music software.
How much money can I afford to put into this?
First-timers and entry level bedroom producers should not consider buying the largest edition straight out. The best DAWs offer you trial versions of the software, so you can get familiar with the interface and see what seems most logical for you to get a grasp of. For example, FL Studio is considered to be the best DAW by many producers. The Producer Edition is less than 200 euros and it has more than enough features for intermediate and even experienced bedroom producers, that can keep you going for years.
We generally don’t recommend buying the lite editions (with editions with least available features), since they might make you feel left short once you get into swing of things, but the next bigger editionis usually a very good choice for anyone. If you still feel that you should upgrade your DAW, you can always go for the full studio suite and you only have to pay the difference that left from the next edition after you’ve purchased the lighter version!
It is not a secret to anyone, that many producers use illegally shared software, since for many of them the price threshold for buying a legit copy of a DAW is just too intimidating. We do not recommend this simply because downloading illegally cracked and shared software leaves you very vulnerable for unwelcome malware and it just might now work as it should.
Talking from experience, it’s way more better to work with legit programs that won’t crash or corrupt your project files every 10 minutes, or just suck up your CPU dry. You’ll have a lot less gray hair on your head when your gear works properly with legit licences, instead of having gigabytes worth of possible trojans on your hard drive.
You never know what might be on those .exe or crack-files. Worst case scenario, you execute ransomware that’ll confiscate all your personal files while the hacker extorts you for money, or someone will use them to dig up your passwords and personal information. It’s just not worth the stress.
What am I hoping to achieve with my music?
When you first pick up music production as a hobby, one of the biggest factors that defines the best DAW for you is the flow of work efficiency you can put out. If you put your time in, you can grasp the basic functions for the DAW in a few weeks, taken that you put some hours into it. I remember putting about a year into my lear until I could confidently say to myself that “I think I know what I’m doing now”. My personal experiences with learning to make music shouldn’t be considered as a rule, because people have vastly different learning curves.
My learning curve comes from a place of someone, who had no previous experience in making music, or playing an instrument or knowing anything about music theory. All I had was a good circle of friends who had been making music way before me and they tired to show me the ropes. You may be way more talented musically than I could ever be, you’ll just a fast learner or your friends are better explaining things to you than mine.
Gradual improvement is one of the most exciting experiences of making music and if there’s the best DAW out there for you that makes your workflow and learning curve efficient, that’s what we recommend for you to roll with. The lite versions and free DAWs are usually good to get you started, but I you want to become a signed artist, you should be looking into the paid audio workstations as they’re more rich with content and they’re constantly updated. If a single purchase the developers will give you all future updates for free, which is also a huge advantage comparing to illegally cracked software that can’t be updated.
You should also look out if some DAWs are generally considered to be better for different types of music. For example, Pro Tools is usually considered to be the choice for hip-hop producers and FL Studio, Ableton Live and Cubase often considered as best DAWs for electronic dance music. But don’t let these stereotypes dictate your choice, the best DAW is definitely the one that you feel most comfortable working with, no matter what the purists may tell you!
Some of our recommendations for best DAW
There are numerous pro-level DAWs in the market. We’ve listed some of our top picks for you to consider, if you’re interested in trying them out.
FL Studio by Image Line
Image-Line FL Studio went by the name of FruityLoops back in the day. It has almost become an industry standard amongst music producers and is our personal pick for the best DAW, since it’s the one that we’re most familiar with and have been working with for years. It’s compatible with both PC and Mac, and is one of the most cost efficient and flexible digital audio workstations out there. It’s been the go-to choice of countless international talent, such as the late Avicii and Martin Garrix, just to name a few.
FL Studio is a perfect pick for electronic music producers. The interface might seem a bit cramped at first, but if you can spend a few bucks on a second monitor, the FL Studio layout will spread out beautifully to your will.
What I’ve been personally enjoying about FL Studio is the workflow that I’ve become accustomed to, I just haven’t been to emulate the same flow with other DAWs that I’ve tried out so far.
If you’re considering getting a bit more serious, you should definitely consider getting the Producer’s Edition, which is the second cheapest one after Fruity Edition. It will give you substantially more tools and feature to work with. When you buy the product once, you’ll receive all the future versions, updates and patches for free for the edition that you own.
Image Line also makes their own line of high quality VST-plugins, that are gradually more available for larger Editions and you can also buy them separately if you so wish. You don’t also have to buy separate licenses for different operating systems, which is good for households rocking both PC and Mac.
More puritanical producers might have some resentment towards FL Studio, but over the years it’s been proven over and over again, that what matters most is your comfortability with your DAW, not necessarily the bells and whistles it comes with. For us personally at bedroomproducers.net, FL Studio is the best overall DAW out there.
Ableton Live by Ableton AG
Ableton live is also one of our definite picks when it comes to best DAWs. When it comes to professional applications, Ableton might just be even more popular than FL Studio, even though FL might have an advantage in the minimum system requirements department.
In many ways Ableton Live live has become a house hold name with its DJ and live performance capabilities, with many globally recognized artists playing their sets live with it. It also went for a long time with being a single screen DAW, but the proper screen sharing feature was added later on. What actually came as a benefit was pretty ingenious graphical user interface, that’s surprisingly easy to navigate even if you don’t have additional screen on your setup.
Its latest version, Ableton Live 10, was released in 2019 to huge excitement and it comes in three editions: Intro, Standard and Suite. The Intro Edition come with pretty comprehensive features to get yourself started, but if your projects tend to grow rapidly, we recommend moving onto the Standard. However, Ableton is a weird child in a sense that we eventually would really prefer its users getting the Suite ASAP, as it’s so rich with content, instruments, sounds and other tools that some producers wouldn’t even have to think about getting third party plugins after that, it’s just that wholesome!
Cubase by Steinberg
Steinberg’s Cubase is one of the real OG’s and many still regard it to be the best DAW for them. It got its initial release over 30 years ago(!), so there has been a sweet time to hone down the quirks and glitches. This respectable age takes its roots all the way back to the days of Atari and just like Ableton Live, Cubase got it’s 10th stable version of the software not long ago in 2019.
Back in 1999 Cubase introduced the world the groundbreaking VSTi, or virtual instrument interface, that allowed third party developers to make their own free and commercial plugins to work with Cubase. Not surprisingly, this eventually became the industry standard that almost every notable DAW implements.
Cubase come with three editions: Elements, Artist and Pro (edition prices go up in this order, respectively) and it’s Pro Edition represents the lower end of full suites between the best DAWs, which is definitely a good selling point!
There are too many notable artists to mention, but Wikipedia can provide you some insight as to who swears on the quality of Cubase. It still holds its devoted fanbase after all these decades and is still to this day one of the best DAWs out there!
Studio One by PreSonus
Studio One is the hot new kid on the block, with it’s initial Prime version being totally free for you to check out! Studio One has been on the market for only a bit over decade and has already built itself a reputation as a good all-around DAW, much like FL Studio or Ableton. Unfortunately like Ableton back in the day, Studio One doesn’t support multiple screens, which might be a no-no for those who want a clear view of the whole interface constantly.
As we’re writing this article, Studio One is in its 4th generation and keeps constantly bringing massive amounts of new and inspiring features, that other DAWs won’t provide. During version 3 in 2015, they introduced a remote control app, that allows you to work and control the DAW from a tablet in the same network. These are types of applications, that are sure to eventually change the whole landscape of digital audio workstations and we can’t we to see, what they will come up with next!
Pro Tools by Avid
Pro Tools is also one of the old foxes in the game, and during its time it has established itself as an industry standard in sound design as well as in music production. Pro Tools largely used by sound designers who work in the video game and movie industry.
One of Pro Tools biggest selling points is it’s praised workflow, that allows you to play around and experiment with everything you have at your disposal while the track is still playing in the background. There are very devoted communities who have become very proficient in working with Pro Tools, so you should keep the name in mind when scrolling through the marketplace. And you can try it out for free, so there’s nothing for you to lose!
Reason by Reason Studios
Swedish Reason celebrates its 20th birthday in november 2020, and a lot has happened during those two decades. It’s a bit different from the aforementioned DAWs, because it’s more of an emulation of a rack of hardware instruments and effects that in interconnectable with each other and can be also used as instruments with other DAWs.
Reason didn’t support VTS-plugins until 2017, but producers were still very effective using Reason’s integrated tools that are very gentle to your computer’s CPU usage. Some of my personal favorite artists made their best work only using Reason, without VST support.
Reason might not be the top contender as a main DAW for most producers today, but no one can deny the quality of the native tools it has. That’s why many producers actually own it as a secondary DAW and use its instruments on top of their main DAW. Regardless, it is still a very competent and compelling pick to use as your main DAW too, with more features now than ever before!
Music Maker by Magix
German developer Magix has been around since the early 90’s and has made name for itself in manufacturing high-end software in video & audio editing. Music Maker was their first product launch and it lives on to this day. It isn’t considered to be on the same level as it’s competitors when it comes to complexity, but on the flipside it has one of the lowest price thresholds on the market.
Magix has also released a free version of the software, which is perfect for gentle entry into the world of DAWs. Even the Premium Edition is half the price of the average producer’s / artist’s editions that its competitors provide. If you work with audio visual, make home produced videos etc, Music Maker might be a sufficient addition to your software kit. The company says that the active community for Music Maker is still at healthy three million people, so it won’t be going away any time soon!
Free DAWs to for you to try out
Cakewalk by BandLab
Cakewalk’s origins go back to the early days of Cubase. Cakewalk Inc. was started in 1987 and their flagship product was a DAW named SONAR. SONAR was for a long time one of the biggest digital audio workstations around, but their work was eventually ceased in 2017 after Cakewalk was acquired by Gibson in 2013.
Everything looked like all was lost for the SONAR fans, but luckily Singapore based tech firm BandLab announced in 2018, that they’ll be acquiring all the intellectual property of Cakewalk and would relaunch SONAR under the name Cakewalk – FOR FREE! They’ve also announced that Cakewalk will be receiving new development work and features in the future, so if you want a full access into the world of best DAWs, look no further!
What is our take on the best DAW for you?
So, which is the best DAW? Like we hinted before, there’s no definite answer. If you’re a good producer, who is comfortable with your DAW, it won’t matter in the long run. Of course you may eventually find something that better suits your needs, but because most of the digital audio workstations work on the same principles, we suggest that you check out one competent DAW, stick with it for a while and learn the general functions of music making.
Once you get the hang of it, it’ll be a lot easier to upgrade your version of the DAW you’re using, or switch to something that you might find more suitable for you. The best way to get started with digital audio workstations is to make music with a friend who already is experienced with a DAW or check out numerous tutorials online that’ll give you everything you need to know starting from the very basics.
It’s the years of experience that’ll get you off the ground eventually, not necessarily the gear you’re working with. We all have our own preferences that gives us the best workflow. All in all, we at bedroomproducers.net hope that we’ve shed some light about DAWs and that you’ll find the best suitable software for you!