Home Recording: Choosing Your DAW

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Article originally posted on 8/3/10 on HostBaby’s Blog.

pro-tools 8Home recording has exploded over the past decade as digital technology has given musicians more and more powerful tools for capturing and mixing music on laptops and desktops. One of the key choices a musician or engineer must make is which DAW to invest time and money into.

What’s a DAW you say? Well, why don’t we see what good ol’ wikipedia says:

“Originated in the early 1980s, the term digital audio workstation (DAW) originally referred to a tape-less, computer-based system such as New England Digital’s Synclavier and Fairlight that used hard drives for media storage. ” – Wikipedia.org (read the full article)

The term DAW accounts for both software and hardware based production systems. However for maximum flexibility we’re going to just concentrate on computer-based DAWs today.

Choosing your DAW is much like shopping for a car. While your friend or co-worker may love their 4-wheel drive SUV, you might not find that it fits your needs as a commuter.  The same goes with DAWs. The main rule to remember in choosing a DAW is that there is no “one DAW solution”.  Though there may be a “one DAW full” solution for you (get it? one-daw-full.  Sorry, couldn’t resist.)  You may not get all your desired features in the DAW that you choose, but it’s important that you get most of them. The key here is to ask yourself “What’s most important to me?”

Here are some points for you to think about when choosing a DAW:

  • Price
  • Audio Editing vs MIDI Editing Capabilities
  • Workflow
  • User Interface
  • Compatibility with 3rd party hardware/software
  • Included Plugins (synths, samplers, effects)
  • Update Frequency
  • Customer Support
  • System Requirements
  • Stability

The important thing to remember is do your research. Again, buying a DAW is like buying a car. You want it to last long, fulfill all your needs, be cost worthy, and run well. Like buying a car, don’t buy your DAW on a whim! Read reviews, look at features, visit some forums and get opinions!

Below we’ve listed a number of DAWs. Please keep in mind we can’t list every DAW, as they are numerous. There are also a number of free DAWs out there, but since most of them lack a few key features, we’ve focused on more commercial/paid-for DAWs.

FL Studio

Signature Bundle: $299
Producer Edition: $199
Fruity Edition: $99
Express: $49

Feature Comparison Chart
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Platform:  PC

“FL Studio is a full-featured, open architecture, music  production environment capable of audio recording, composing, sequencing and mixing, for the creation of professional quality music. The FL Studio philosophy is creative freedom!”


Full License: $225
Discounted License: $60

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Platform: Mac/PC

“If you currently use another DAW, you might be reading this because you’re contemplating shelling out $150 for the next over-hyped version that doesn’t address any of the bugs you’ve been complaining about for five years while adding a bunch of features you couldn’t care less about. What does REAPER have to offer you? For starters, REAPER is coded by a small group of dedicated engineers, not multiple software units under the central command of product marketing. That means REAPER is lean, efficient, and stable. REAPER starts up and is ready to record in seconds, balances processing loads intelligently across multicore systems, and doesn’t fall over when you start to tax it. That means you spend more time recording and editing, instead of staring at the start-up splash screen.”


Garageband comes with some versions of Mac OSX and iLife ‘09.

There is no downloadable trial.

Platform: Mac

“GarageBand turns your Mac into a full-featured recording studio. Build a beat with the included loops, then plug in a guitar, bass, or microphone. You can even play (or sing) into the mic on your Mac. GarageBand captures the audio and turns it into digital files you can manipulate using a host of recording and mixing tools. It also includes the expertise of a built-in recording engineer, so you always sound your best.”

Logic Studio Pro

Logic Studio Pro: $499
Logic Studio Express: $199

There is no downloadable trial.

Platform: Mac

“Under the hood, GarageBand, Logic Studio, and Logic Express share the same technologies. So when you open your GarageBand projects in Logic, you can start right where you left off. A lot of things will feel familiar, only now you can track a new part with a vintage keyboard or classic synth. Try out endless combinations of virtual amps, speaker cabinets, and pedals. Build up your songs with 20,000 Apple Loops and all six Jam Pack collections. Pull off sophisticated edits and mixes. And bring it all with you to the stage.”


Cubase 5: $499
Cubase 5 Studio: $299
Cubase 5 Essentials: $149

Feature Comparison Chart
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Platform: PC/Mac

“Steinberg Cubase 5 combines the latest composition and mixing tools with a streamlined workflow to help you bring your creative visions to life.Fully integrated new tools like Loop Mash, Groove Agent ONE, VariAudio und Pitch Correct for working with beats and vocals combined with new enhancements such as VST Expression und REVerence (the first VST3 convolution reverb), a host of additional improvements, and support for Windows Vista 64-bit technologies help you to take your musical creativity to new heights.”


Nuendo 5: $1800

There is no downloadable trial.

Platform:  Mac/PC

“Nuendo 5 is the newest incarnation of Steinberg’s solution for demanding professionals working in audio, live and post production. Nuendo 5 allows for an ADR-like workflow (including EDL support), comes with excellent surround features, and also provides a unique automatable bus-destination routing system that lets you create different mix versions in one go. A completely new video engine guarantees stable video playback in SD and HD, and the ability to work with multi-mono files means industry openness. An array of additional enhancements and 64-bit technologies boost performance and enables Nuendo 5 to handle even the largest projects.”

Digital Performer

Digital Performer 7: $395 (this is listed as the upgrade price from a competitive product)

There is no downloadable trial.

Platform: Mac

“For beginners and experts alike, Digital Performer delivers advanced features in an intuitive, streamlined design. With support for built-in Mac audio and MIDI, you don’t even need additional audio hardware. Whether you’re completing a surround sound DVD, or you just want to write a song and burn a CD or MP3 file, Digital Performer gets you there quickly with elegance and ease.”


Cakewalk SONAR Producer: $499
Cakewalk SONAR Studio: $199

There is no downloadable trial.

Platform: PC

“SONAR 8.5 Producer gives you what you need for recording, composing, editing, mixing, and mastering. Get innovations that matter, from exclusive features to ignite creativity and perfect your tracks, to groundbreaking technologies that always keep you in control, all backed by the industry’s leading 64-bit audio quality. And SONAR 8.5 Producer delivers the go-to production tools you want with the best collection of virtual instruments, mixing, and mastering effects found in any DAW. With version 8.5, SONAR continues to innovate on all fronts. New beat creating and arrangement tools, a new drum instrument loaded with stellar kits, enhanced audio quantizing, new multi-stage effect plug-ins, and more combine to make SONAR the most complete, professional, and best sounding DAW on any platform.”


Pro-Tools M-Powered: $299

Note: Digidesign does offer much higher packages, however they often are included in bundles that are priced very high.

There is no downloadable trial.

Platform: PC/Mac

“Pro Tools 8 is the most advanced audio creation and production software, featuring a gorgeous new interface, dozens of new virtual instruments and plug-ins, exciting new scoring and MIDI features, amazing new workflows, better ease of use, deeper controller integration, and much, much more. You’ll never work with music or sound the same way again.”

Studio One

Studio One Pro: $449
Studio One Artist: $249

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Platform: PC/Mac

“Artists of all levels, from beginner to seasoned professional, will find Studio One a serious alternative to the intimidating, bloated offerings currently considered the standards.  It’s a groundbreaking music creation and production application for Mac OS X and Windows XP/Vista/7 that makes audio recording, MIDI sequencing, and audio mastering ridiculously simple right out of the box. Studio One changes the rules of the game with fresh code, innovative drag-and-drop MIDI mapping and plug-in management, auto-configuration with PreSonus hardware, insanely good audio quality, unlimited tracks and plug-ins per track, and a powerful, inventive Start page.”


Sequel: $99

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Platform: PC/Mac

“Sequel 2 is a new generation of Steinberg s music creation tool. Simplicity itself to use, Sequel combines recording, editing, mixing, instruments and effects in one affordable, easy-to-learn package. From the creators of Cubase world s most popular music production software – a brand new and easy-to-use music studio designed for first-time computer music enthusiasts. Sequel 2 combines lightning-fast recording, editing and mixing with on-board instruments and effects, plus powerful arranging and performance features. Sequel 2 runs on both PCs and Macs and comes with a massive library of more than 5000 loops, over 600 ready-to-play instrument sounds, stunning effects and the same state-of-the-art audio engine that is preferred by many world-class producers all around the globe. It’s never been more fun to create music on a computer!”

Sony Acid

Acid Pro 7: $299
Acid Music Studio: $64

Download Free Trial (Acid Music Studio)
Download Free Trial (Acid Pro 7)

Platform: PC

“The ACID family of music editing software includes ACID Music Studio and ACID Pro software. Whether you are new to music editing software or a seasoned professional, there is an ACID solution that is perfect for your needs.”

Albeton Live

Albeton Suite 8: $699
Albeton Live 8: $449
Albeton Live Intro: $99

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Platform: PC/Mac

“Ableton Suite is a complete software studio. Suite 8 gives you all of the features in Live 8 plus SOUND, with a radically new Library packed with beautiful new sounds and a wealth of useful resources. Suite 8 contains 10 Ableton instruments including synths, a sampler, electric and acoustic drums, mallets, numerous sampled instruments and the new, reworked Operator. Two completely new instruments, Collision and Latin Percussion, round off the set. Ableton Suite 8 is a complete package: the tools AND the sounds.”

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88 thoughts on “Home Recording: Choosing Your DAW

  1. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this
    post was great. I do not know who you are but definitely you’re going to a famous blogger if you aren’t already 😉

  2. Hey guyz,been reading all your comments about this daw,dat daw etc for a beginner,i fink u would ave to agree with me that reason is probably the simplest and easiest daw to master.the only hitch with reason,is probably that,u prob cudnt achieve the kinda effects other daws would allow you to,like fl studio.buh as far as sounds and kits……reason stands out as one of the best……reason 6.5 is just great.it supports audio recording as well as a host of other cool stuff.my final advice,make ur beats on reason,wave it,export to cubase for audio recording,and master with ableton or even still with cubase.what matters is how a daw supports the kinda music u wanna produce…..and not what it does,be creative!

  3. I’ve used Pro Tools LE, Sonar Producer 8.1, Samplitude, Adobe Audition 3 & 5, Acid Pro 7, and Cubase 5. They all do pretty much as advertised, but Cubase is the most stable and solid, by a far stretch. With my old P4 3.2 w/ 4Gigs of RAM, it never locks up or is overtaxed. I’m using an old Digi 001 interface which works just peachy.

  4. Riffworks by Sonoma Wire Works. It’s the easisest most intuitive program I’ve tried. To be honest, I’ve only tried ProTools and Cubase. There’s Audacity too which is a simple recording app with a lot of post-production features.

  5. Can anyone please tell me what HARDWARE they are plugging guitars and mics into to record them in the computer? DANKE SCHOEN!

    1. I have an M-Audio Fast Track mini that gets the job done right for the simple home recording I do..it came with Pro Tools SE …there are a few other ones out there but I like Avid/Digidesign products seem sturdy and have pretty good reviews on the web…hope this helps!

    2. I use the M-audio Fast Track Pro for plug-in recording or a USB-driven microphone for recording acoustic guitar or vocals, which is recorded directly onto a Mixcraft track!

  6. I have used ProTools M, Reaper, Garageband, and CubaseLE and to be honest, 90% of the fancy features are stuff I never use. I have pretty well settled on Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/), which is FREE and is very comparable to Reaper, more flexible than Garageband, and simpler to use than Cubase and has better performance latency-wise and with a way faster startup time.

    I don’t work for them, I just use their software and once you get the hang of the keycommands to make things go quicker, it’s AWESOME!! Plug in your guitar or drum loops, record, make a new track, record again, etc. It has a bunch of effects to tweak what you’ve recorded. I like it, you should try it since it’s free and does what you need it to do without any hassles.

  7. I prefer to use Adobe Audition 3.0 The preloaded tools are great, not to mention it’s ability to use DirectX and VST plug-ins. Don’t get me wrong a lot of other DAW’s out there are also compatible with those, I just prefer the way the program feels. It’s a snap to navigate, and do everything from apply effects to edit a full multitrack session. Oh, did I mention that “if” you needed it to, it has the capability of recording something crazy like 80 simultaneous channels at once. I am a user and a fan.

  8. I have used Cakewalk for many years. I now used Sonar Producer 8.5 and I love it. I have several other DAWs, such as Pro Tools LE and Studio One. I have tried others and I always stick with Sonar. I understand that my familiarity plays into that a lot, but it is so easy and full of everything you need to make a professional recording. I did my whole CD, Quarter Till Forever, with it. I do all the instruments and all the vocals on the CD, and Sonar made it very easy to set up a work flow that was comfortable and did not slow me down. Great Mixing tools. You can hear the recordings at my website.

  9. Thanks for the listing of DAWs. My only criticism would be that I’d like to see the real strengths and weaknesses of the programs mentioned, rather than what appear to be promo quotes from the manufacturers. I’ll mention a strength of one program I use a lot. Digital Performer has really comprehensive MIDI features that I haven’t seen in any others. I do mainly classical/jazz/hybrid piano improvisation, and in the process of transcribing MIDI files into scores I need to be able to move barlines after the fact in files recorded without click or metronome. MOTU’s Freestyle did this with incredible precision, but it has long since been discontinued. DP does this almost as well, and I can’t find anything similar in Pro Tools, Logic, or Cubase.

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