Home Recording: Choosing Your DAW

by Disc Makers on August 24, 2010 · 86 comments

in Recording & Mastering

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
Download Trial

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!”

Reaper

Full License: $225
Discounted License: $60

Download Trial

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

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

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

Feature Comparison Chart
Download Trial

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

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.”

Sonar

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

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

Download Trial

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

Sequel: $99

Download Trial

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

Download Trial

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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{ 82 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Mahoney August 19, 2010 at 2:01 pm

While I understand your motivations, I think you’re doing your readers a disservice by dismissing some open-source DAW’s out of hand. Many of them (notably a full-function package like Ardour) have more features than some of the commercial packages that you’ve listed above.

If you truly want to support the independent home-studio, you might reconsider your position.

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Nathan @ HostBaby August 19, 2010 at 2:44 pm

As I’ve stated, I didn’t get every blog. In fact Ardour I didn’t know about until after this article. So my apologies for that. Also, all of the DAWs I listed either I myself have had experience, or know people that have had experience with them.

Aurdor looks to be an interesting package, but I’m having difficulty in seeing what type of MIDI features it offers other than MIDI CC control. While I support the independent home studio, I wanted to make sure I was providing options that would have continual support, compatibility, and features. I have not used Ardour, nor has anyone I know used it so I did not list it in this article.

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Mike Mahoney August 19, 2010 at 7:04 pm

Well that makes a little more sense, although your introduction seems to indicate you didn’t include free DAWs because they were free.

You couldn’t find any reference to Ardour and MIDI support because there is none. From what I understand, MIDI is a feature that is being worked on for Ardour 3.

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Brett McCoy August 25, 2010 at 1:42 pm

I use Ardour for just about all of my audio work. Since I am using it on Linux, I don’t need integrated MIDI support but instead use Rosegarden for MIDI and synch them with JaCK. Linux has inter-app MIDI by default, something that is missing on Windows without addons like MIDI Yoke. It’s a beautiful distributed and modular system that is infinitely flexible. I do use Windows 7 for hosting samples in Kontakt and Play, and use ipMIDI from Rosegarden to Windows and then back into Ardour via SPDIF, all in perfect synch.

MIDI is coming in Ardour 3, BTW, but I don’t expect it will be as mature and flexible as what Rosegarden offers. I’ve played with it some, it’s similar to Reaper’s MIDI support.

I will also mention I made a CD last year through Diskmakers that was produced on Linux using Ardour & Rosegarden (and I used Reaper for some stuff, too)!

– Brett

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Silent Sky August 19, 2010 at 4:23 pm

I’d like to throw in my 2 cents for Samplitude. It’s not as well-known in the U.S. as some of the names listed above, but it’s one of the top DAW’s in the European market. They offer 3 different versions according to your budget and your needs: Samplitude Producer ($199), Samplitude ($499), and Samplitude Pro ($999). Samplitude has very powerful object-oriented editing, an awesome virtual Mixer, great built-in effects, and a really strong MIDI implementation. I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking to choose a DAW for their home/project/professional studio.

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Yohami August 19, 2010 at 4:44 pm

I dont see the point of this listing, are you really comparing FL9 to pro tools on features and cons pros? actually theres no comparison table or whatever. This list can come up quickly on a google search for DAWs and the copy paste description marketing description doesnt help to make desicions

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Nathan Allen Pinard August 20, 2010 at 3:02 pm

I chose to not do a comparison table as I have not used all the DAWs myself, which would make this article very bias. I only listed some options, and also stated that people should do research before making such a decision.

Also the fact that you say Pro-Tools is better than such and such DAW proves my point in the article. Everyone has a specific list of features they find important. In your case, you find the audio engine and editing tools important, however in mine I find MIDI/scoring features important which Pro-Tools is slightly behind on, and some people find FL as a valuable writing tool.

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yohami September 2, 2010 at 1:44 am

exactly, but since you dont mention features but prices, how can anyone make an informed decision about what DAW is right for them? not from this post

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joe sixpak August 25, 2010 at 1:36 pm

wikipedia has a much larger list of daws with more info

also there are good freeware programs that you can learn with
such as audacity

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Freakmagnet August 25, 2010 at 1:42 pm

You left out Mackie Tracktion? I struggled for 7 years trying to enjoy the recording experience with MOTU Digital Performer. Cluttered interface, cumbersome ideas like “knobs” that are hard to turn with a mouse. I never felt like playing music by the time I got things set up.

First time I opened Tracktion I recorded an 11 track song, playing all the parts. They have ditched the whole “musicians are not real smart so make the interface look like analog gear” idea that works so poorly on the computer and made things simple. A breath of fresh air!

Not affiliated with Mackie in any way – end disclaimer.

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David August 25, 2010 at 1:54 pm

I’ve used Tracktion 3 and it’s fine…..if you’re using an operating system which is at least 4-5 yrs old. Mackie hasn’t updated the software for several years and to my knowledge doesn’t offer any support for it any longer. Mackie told me that they don’t support its compatibility with some of the more recent operating systems on PC or Mac. If you’re going to pay money for software you need something which offers periodic updates to keep up with the computer operating systems on which they run.

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Max November 23, 2010 at 3:51 pm

I’m a big fan of Tracktion as well. I switched from Acid to Tracktion soon after Tracktion first came out. Eventually I upgraded to Tracktion 2. Never upgraded to 3 — I heard that many people had issues with it, and frankly, I was perfectly happy with 2.

It’s really a bummer that Mackie seems to have abandoned Tracktion. I keep hoping they’ll decide to revive it, or will sell it off or even open-source it. But it still works perfectly fine for me, and while I also own Ableton Live, I’ll continue to use Tracktion as my primary DAW as long as it serves my needs.

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David August 25, 2010 at 1:45 pm

I’ve used a couple of different DAWs over the years and recently switched to REAPER. I find it very top notch, professional and intuitively designed. If you’re an amateur you can buy a discounted license on the honor system for only $60…..an amazing bargain. You can also evaluate a fully functioning version of it for 30 days before buying the license. Most other companies only let you evaluate a limited function version of their software. I highly recommend it. It’s the best deal out there!

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James Pool August 25, 2010 at 1:48 pm

I’ve used Cubase,Pro Tools and Sonar. I’m now using Reason Record with Reason and like it the best. It has tons of top notch effects ,synths and drums with no drag on your CPU. It has never crashed my system. The recordings I get are awesome. I don’t miss VST’s one bit. You can also bounce tracks to other DAW’s for more mixing and editing

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Josh Sauder August 26, 2010 at 11:50 am

I, too, am now using Record/Reason as my main DAW and it’s actually fun to do recording again. Pro-Tools, SONAR, ACID, etc. are fine programs and I’ve used the 3 listed, but they never got me excited to do recordings. Record/Reason does. The interface is just enjoyable to use. The sound quality is excellent and I’ve been very impressed with how you can push the sound without clipping. And, if you really need those VST’s, just run Record/Reason in Rewire mode with another DAW, and you can have the best of both worlds! But as James Pool stated, I haven’t seen the need for additional VST’s because Reason is one, big, huge virtual instrument. I can’t say enough good things about it.

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Todd August 26, 2010 at 11:53 am

I’m with you, James. I’ve used Cakewalk in various forms, including Sonar, for a long time. I have some Line 6 gear and they pointed me toward Record when it was in beta and I fell in love with it. The interface is easy to work with and nice to look at, and the integration of Line 6 guitar effects is fantastic, especially since underneath you’re just recording the unprocessed signal. This gives you great flexibility with the guitar and bass parts further down the pipeline and helps you focus on getting tracks laid down instead of obsessing over whether you’ve achieved the perfect tone yet.

I’ve since bought both Record and Reason, and can’t see that there’s much missing in terms of the instrument and effects libraries that would make me regret not being able to use plugins. I figure if there’s something I need that’s not in there, I should probably just record myself playing the actual instrument anyway!

I will also say that Ableton Live is an excellent application as well and is especially nice as a workbench for developing song and arrangement ideas. It really allows you to just play around with the music in a way that I haven’t seen duplicated anywhere else.

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jeff ceniga August 25, 2010 at 1:49 pm

forgot about mackie tracktion 3 it is fairly simple to operate but very cool mixing and editing software with alot of cool features and compates with midi and most vst effects from other brands i have done 6 albums for artists and a ton of demo work with it in my studio i would consider it a cross between nuendo and protools and is affordable.

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joe sixpak August 25, 2010 at 1:51 pm

sonar does not hassle you with the dongle nonsense
cant lose it – cant break it
cant go bad – cant wear out
no connectors to go bad if you dont use one
.
sonar has all the features you need
and is a great product
.
support a company that doesnt try to treat you like a criminal
or
that puts your recording at risk cause it decides to interrupt in the middle to ask for a reply to validate your copy again
or
that interrupts , causing clicks and pops, while it reads the dongle to make sure its still there,
or ….. does one of many other things that would make you wish you had gotten sonar instead

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Ikwano July 8, 2011 at 10:20 am

Sonar is it!!! X1 the ultimate.

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Tom McGinniss August 25, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Whether or not you mentioned someone’s favorite is not as important as putting it out there that there are many options as many of your readers are new to this. Discmakers has been a part of my productions work since ’03 and I appreciate hearing from you as to the world of tech in general.

Thanks!

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monk August 25, 2010 at 2:06 pm

I’m a beginning singer, songwriter, musician and I use a free download called Audacity 1.3 Beta Unicode on my Windows Vista. I’ve recorded many songs while playing and singing simultaneoulsy into my pc mic. On one song I recorded up to 3 tracks so far. The software has volume boost as well as other enhancements such as equalize and normalize and bass boost. I’ve read that using a usb microphone might make a better recording than the pc mic I’m using. (eventually I would like to get a digital 8 track) The audacity file can be exported as Mp3 with an encoder that their website lets you know how to obtain. With another free program “Media Jukebox” I can take my Mp3 and turn them into CDA files on a cd. But, some day I would like to record in a studio and have a cd mastered professionally.

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Brandon August 25, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Well let me just that no matter what your preference is the problem i ran into was when your project grows and you start working with professionals is compatability so its Pro Tools all the way. Its easier to transfer on tothe bug hd systems and work with the pro i went through 3 daws before i finally just got on board i relised i was only holding myself back by not using Pro Tools

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Drewski November 23, 2010 at 2:56 pm

I agree with you brandon.
i am a sonar user, and never even wanted to go the pro tools route, until i heard about pt9 coming out!
universal harware compatibility! Oh and ADC (auto delay comp)
your right about being held back, wether or not we like it, pro tools is what people want to hear out of your mouth befor they commit to recording.

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PERRY MUSIC GROUP August 25, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Perry Music Group loves Logic Studio. Our creative division uses it daily to create all of our Advertainment, main stream radio ready music and gaming tunes. Logic is a great song writer instrument as it has royalty free loops to create whatever it is you can dream. Perry Music Group being the “Dreamer Of Dreams” with a motto of “What Ever It Takes” . Perry Music Group and Indie Star Records. Brings you the music you love with over 400 million record sales from our catalog of songs, Perry Music Group is the Indie Artist one stop shop. As an active member of the Independent Music Federation. Perry Music Group hopes to help stop piracy of music from the internet and get song writers and publishers the money they deserve. Perry Music Group is working with major corporations and creating a solution to down load theft and share ware piracy. feel free to contact our info is on the web. thank you for reading our post A / R Bryan Wayne Perry.

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Max November 23, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Is this a plug for Logic, or an ad for your company?

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Ken August 25, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Just a quick couple of comments to monk….

Audacity has some nice features, I agree. I’ve been a DP user for years both personally and professionally, but I still keep Audacity around for a few things.

Regarding the “…might make a better recording…” with the USB mic, I’d have to say that there’s no “maybe” about it. The built-in mic on any PC or Mac is nowhere near the frequency response range, nor the evenness of response levels across frequencies, as a large diaphragm mic is; and there are a number of decent USB-based large diaphragm mics out there these days. I’m quite certain you’d be amazed at the results you’d get by using one.

Also, while the MP3 export library *is* available for Audacity, if your destination is to burn a CD, PLEASE don’t export your tracks as MP3 first; MP3 is a format intended for internet delivery. Export them as AIFF or WAV (both are built into Audacity without any extra download needed), and burn your CD from those. On a PC you may need to stick to WAV, depending on your CD burning software. The sample rate and data size in those formats are far superior to MP3, and you’ll have better consonant clarity and airyness to your vocals as well as preservation of more dynamic range. If you’re an acoustic guitar player, the better mic and audio formats will make your instrument sound a lot clearer as well.

Of course, if you’re doing your mixing/monitoring on your PC’s built-in speakers, they may not be capable of reproducing the ranges you’re losing right now anyway; so you might want to eventually consider a set of full-range monitors at some point as well. Just some thoughts.

Enjoy!

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Scott from L.A August 25, 2010 at 2:50 pm

I’m a songwriter. I just want to do fairly basic song demos, yet have some decent features. Was working with MOTU’s Performer (sequencing, not recording software) eons ago. Went to Acid 5 years ago, which has been fine for recording (though silly stuff like a three band EQ?), but am really needing an truly uncomplicated sequencing/recording system which won’t take forever to learn, yet has decent reverbs, delays, adequate bass, guitar samples, etc., free or otherwise. Am pretty desperate, and confused w/ so many damned options these days… Any ideas out there?

Thanks in advance!

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Brian August 25, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Scott…
Give Presonus’ Studio One Artist software a try. It’s fairly new, but I’ve been thrilled with it so far (coming from Digital Performer and Cubase). They also offer a free trial of it on their website at http://www.presonus.com

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Todd August 26, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Scott,

I would definitely suggest trying out Propellerhead Record. The effects, mixing, and mastering in this package are top notch, and it’s really easy to work with. I used to work with Sonar and spent so much time pulling my hair out trying to figure out how to do every little thing it drove me nuts. Record is very straightforward, and, like Josh Sauder said, it actually makes recording fun again.

You can download the full version and use it in demo mode as long as you want. The primary restriction is that you can’t load saved song files. Other than that, you can access all its features. And version 1.5 just came out yesterday, so the feature list is now longer.

And, no, I don’t work for Propellerhead, though I’m pretty sure they’ve gotten more of my software dollars than anyone else ever has.

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George Eimer November 23, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Scott….We must work with what we have…A great engineer told me that sitting at gulf westeren studios 30yrs ago this great place did all of the movies that came out for eons…..just remember blue swad shoes by elvis had about 48 d/b s/nr…noise on the tape when they mastered it….It was a hit in every corner of the world… If your song is great who cares what you used to record it….You have what it takes to make a hit right now in front of you….Go for it!!!…G

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Ken August 25, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Brandon,

Contrary to the popular myth, NOT all professionals use Pro Tools. Yes, it’s what we all used in audio class way back when, and I’ve worked on it in other studios; but in my opinion, it’s bloated, non-intuitive, far too expensive, etc. Just a case in point: in my particular area, it seems that the most requested DAWs to share files have been FL, Reaper, and PT; with Reaper and PT fighting for the 2nd place slot behind FL.

I am a professional studio owner/engineer, and I get a *lot* of work which includes video. DP offers, for me, what I consider to be a truly intuitive interface, everything I need for audio and MIDI production, very little that I don’t need, flexibility in SO many ways, interaction with Final Cut which makes my life with video much nicer than it might be otherwise; AND with its OMF export/import function, anything I truly need to share between my workstation and some other engineer’s ProTools station *can* be shared, in either direction.

In the end, this all simply undercores what Nathan said in the very beginning – do your own research, find the DAW which does what you need within your parameters, and go with it. For me, that happens to be DP plus a few satellite apps for a few very specific needs.

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jeanette August 25, 2010 at 3:17 pm

I really like Mixcraft by Acoustica. Sounds great, easy to use, doesn’t crash…(my old Cubase did..). The best part is it only costs about 80 bucks..Free to try for 14 days. Perfect if you’re on a tight budget..and who isn’t these days.

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Tim Dolbear August 25, 2010 at 3:40 pm

Samplitude and Sequoia, even Disc makers uses Sequoia in all their mastering suite, yet its not in the article…

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Michael Jones August 25, 2010 at 3:49 pm

This battle goes on forever. Everyone has a favorite. I’ve tried or seen just about all of them. I use Cakewalk SONAR Producer primarily now, and I love it and hate it. I also use Pro-Tools, Cubase, FL Studio, Reaper, Ardour, and many others, and love and hate them too. They all have benefits and drawbacks. There is no perfect solution, but the bottom line is you must keep your creativity going with whatever you choose or your thought will be lost in a technical roadblock. You must like the sound (and yes, they all sound a little different) and the plug-ins are worth the money on most of the “Big Four” DAW suites. Free (i.e. Ardour) typically means there is very little workflow enhancement and little if any bundled software. The plug-ins and instruments that are on the internet to download (while good) is never good enough for everything and you spend more time trying out different plug-ins to solve your issue then creating. It’s like gear lust, mizer edition.

Anyhow, find the one you love by trying as many as you can and support interoperability between the DAWs because no one I know who is serious uses just one.

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Stephen August 25, 2010 at 3:55 pm

I guess I’m still the only one who uses Nuendo, then… At least that’s what it seems like to me. For features and stability, it can’t be beat. One failing is that it used to suck for video editing, but that’s probably been fixed by now. You see, I’m running Nuendo 2.7 or something (they’ve just released version 5). I installed it on a dedicated, optimized Windows XP system that I don’t use for anything else. I often record up to 80 tracks or more and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve lost information due to a crash over nearly 6 years of using it. I don’t do exotic digital signal processing, but piling on tracks over tracks over tracks is my method and this thing works like a champ.

The one thing that it’s hopelessly unsuited to do is exporting to any useful format for mixing in a professional studio. That usually requires exporting to either ProTools or individual files for each audio track (a pain in the neck at 40+ tracks).

My main task at this point is to investigate the interoperability options for Nuendo’s latest version projects to and from ProTools. If that can be done, I’ll bite the bullet, buy a brand new computer and install it from scratch like I did the last time. If not, well, I think I may be throwing my money in the direction of the Devil (I mean ProTools) so that when I have projects ready to mix, I can actually find a studio that could import and understand them without huge investments of time and added technology.

One thing I love, love, love about Nuendo is the ability to group tracks (and even minimize them at the group level). I created a template early on with 18 groups of 10 tracks each. Then when I’m recording individual parts, I fill one group’s tracks and call the group whatever part it is. It’s great for creating choral sounds with a single voice part, or grouping sets of takes together that need to be compiled and mixed later.

There’s my two cents. We’re up to about a quarter now, aren’t we?

Stephen.

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Root August 25, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Mixcraft 5 has free DAW, has to be the easiest I have seen to use and, for most beginners, the quickest way to having a song recorded because it has a large library of prerecorded instruments and loops included.

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Jim Smith August 25, 2010 at 4:44 pm

The current crop of DAW software packages almost universally sound better and do more than anything that was available even 7 or 8 years ago. They all do so much, in fact, and do them in so many ways, that it can take a very long time to determine what they can really do and equally long to figure out how you would want to organize your workflow with any particular package. All strive (and to a certain degree achieve) to be complete “studios in a box”.

With the death of direct, human interactions in customer service, figuring out what you might want to buy, as well as figuring out how to use it after a purchase, the learning curve is only aided by forum interactions and buying third party manuals in many cases. The same process is really the only way to “window shop”, too. Most of the existing programs will do almost anything you could imagine you wanted to do with audio, so finding your comfort level with any particular one can be a very lengthy process.

The prices are all over the map, but do not necessarily indicate anything real about quality or compatibility……..and, truthfully, compatibility and file exchange ability is almost universal these days, at least aside from things working on one or the other of the main platforms. Which is all to say that there are some truly inexpensive programs that sound absolutely beautiful and give absolutely professional results.

One that was left out of the list above is Adobe Audition….very low cost, huge feature set, produced by one of the largest and most stable software companies…… Since I personally make a lot more use of other programs, and since I actually do most of my recording to dedicated recorders and mix “out of the box”, this is in no way an endorsement, just a statement of fairly obvious fact. Equally strong statements could be made about all of the other major packages, including their “light” or LE versions.

We are lucky to have so many high quality choices, but unlucky, in some ways, to have to do the research so intensely on our own across the sprawling internet…though almost nothing available is a really poor choice……..And, as the other poster so eloquently stated, PT is certainly not the only “professional” system out there by any means. There are heavy duty professionals using everything else on the list, including some stuff that is almost free.

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Bill August 25, 2010 at 4:45 pm

It’s a shame that Tracktion isn’t being properly supported. I ‘downgraded’ my last PC from Vista to XP to keep using it. I have Cubase, Sonar, PT, etc but for work flow it can’t be beat. I miss MIDI scoring, however.

Time marches on; it looks like Reaper or EnergyXT for the next generation machine – sigh.

Tip of the Day: Adding Fruity Loops as a VSTi or DXi to any compatible DAW brings cool ‘scratch pad’, drum box, and dance production functionality. Their included plugs sound good and their Sytrus FM synth is the best sounding virtual I’ve heard (and loads DX7 patches).

Cheers,

Bill

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T Penn August 25, 2010 at 5:00 pm

I personally believe you missed a great package… Accoustica’s Mixcraft 5. User friendly for musicians who want a professional quality result without having to attend a school on stuido software engineering techniques. The price is right, the package is full and the learning curve is short.

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Lawrence August 25, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Hi All,

I think all the DAW’s mentioned will get you great results. I’ve used Sonar for years because it’s where I started, and I still really like the work flow. It’s also an all-in-one solution (especially the Producer Edition) – no third party software is required for mixing or mastering.

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Howard August 25, 2010 at 6:20 pm

I’m with Jim Smith. I’ve found that Adobe Audition (formerly Cool Edit Pro) has been my workhorse for year after year. Not only is it great for tracking, it is virtually unsurpassed for its editing and mastering capabilities. Most DAWs provide basic mastering as an afterthought. Adobe Audition provides for spectral analysis, sound reduction and removal, CD creation and more as standards – and has for years!

While ProTools has been the standard in recording studios for years, Adobe Audition has been the standard in radio studios for years. Why? Probably because it boasts the same quality and reliability. But also because it is compatible with more freeware and 3rd party plug-ins, video, and it’s simply much easier to use. Although Audition has MIDI capabilities, if you do a lot of intense MIDI recording and editing I’d look elsewhere. I collaborate in Michigan using Audition with a friend using ProTools in Sydney, Australia. No worries with transferring and converting files between platforms and sample rates either.

As mentioned by Tim Dolbear, Samplitude gets major kudos and is an under-represented DAW in the Americas. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more robust and well-rounded DAW that works leanly on underpowered computers. I don’t use Samplitude simply because the GUI of Audition has become an old familiar friend. But, Samplitude and Audition are major omissions to this blog, in my opinion.

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Universo Cesar August 25, 2010 at 6:57 pm

Do you own research. Test drive if you can.
It’s not what you use…it’s how you use it!
Peace.

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Forest August 25, 2010 at 7:05 pm

I’ve tried nearly all mentioned here (excepting Mixcraft) and for me mixing audio always goes back to Adobe Audition. For audio editing/sequencing it’s really, really intuitive and has some great sounding (if not very pretty to look at) plugins. Sure it sucks for midi, but so does Pro-Tools. I’ll put one in for Samplitude too ! Of course I like it probably because it reminds me of Cool Edit (but with extremely nice midi), which is where Audition came from. I suppose we all have to just find the one that “makes sense” to us. Logic is good like that for me too. Reaper is an extraordinary deal.

FYI – For those just getting started and/or that have no money (most of us here I’m sure have no money, but that’s largely because we spend it on things like DAWs and microphones), I also found a very cool freebie recently called Podium you should check out. It doesn’t really come with plugins (well, like two I think), but you can just get some of the better free ones (Melda, Bootsy, Kjaerhus, etc…) and you’re off and running for free. Wish all that was around when I started … I’d be able to buy a nicer microphone.

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Todd August 26, 2010 at 12:09 pm

The Kore Player from Native Instruments has some fantastic sounds in it if you’re looking for free plugins to use with Podium or anything else that supports them (I use it with Ableton Live LE).

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J.P Romano August 25, 2010 at 7:23 pm

I’m a song writer, composer, guitarist and producer. I started using pro-tools version 6, I didn’t really like it too much as I found a lot of limitations. Then I decided to try something else so moved to Logic version 7 wich was absolutely the biggest piece of garbage I have ever had to deal with, work flow was non existent, updated to version 8 and things got better but still I didn’t feel I could really do it all. Then someone suggested Ableton Live, I tried version 7 and fell in love with the user interface. Now version 8 is even better! If what you want is to get a musical idea on a digital format quickly and easily Ableton Live is your answer. This DAW is absolutely seamless and could be used for anything from pre-production to songwriting to performance and DJ performance to mixing and mastering. It really does it all and whatever else I still have not discovered yet. Download a free 14 trial at http://www.ableton.com you can thank me later. Cheers!

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The Fezz August 25, 2010 at 11:07 pm

we use Adobe Audition. it’s a good fast work horse. Instead of doing 40 tracks, we do one super long track then cut out the bad parts. a pretty cool usb mic for the money is the Blue Snowball. in the time most poor souls take to work on one song we’ve produced 4 or 5 cds and moved on

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Abby August 25, 2010 at 11:22 pm

Just to throw my two cents in. I initially bought an audio interface package with speakers, mic, etc., and a version of Ableton Lite that only allowed four tracks. It was a simple set up and the sound I got was good for my simple demos. I then later upgraded to Sonar Home Studio XL. While of course there is more to this software than the free Ableton Lite CD I received, I have been pissed off with the Sonar software. I can’t make a decent sounding demo. Everything is confusing to me and the manual does not cover half of what you really need to know. I took some demos to a studio to do my second album and they were popping and only coming out one speaker. I’ve been so frustrated with it. And the sound quality of the demos I made with Ableton was of such better quality, I wish I could turn back time and get the full Ableton version. So thanks, J.P., for mentioning your pleasure with Ableton. Maybe I’ll just switch to it because I have been pretty disappointed with the other. If only I had a personal tutor for the Sonar software, maybe I could make something of it. But I don’t know of anyone close enough to me to come to my house and help me get it off the ground properly. I now wish I had just bought a separate digital recording unit that could burn CD’s.

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KarmaGuy August 25, 2010 at 11:48 pm

Rather than complain about what you did or didn’t list .. I just wanted to say thanks to DiskMakers for all the written materials the have sent and all the tips and forums. It is greatly appreciated !!!!! I’ll be using you guys for replication soon.

I myself have used Ableton Live since v.4 and have upgraded thru to v.8.1.5, I use several plug ins like Stylus RMX, Omnisphere, SonicSynth2, just to name a few, and a Line6 KB37 interface with Podfarm for my GTR tracks. I’m also a Reason user since v.2 currently running v.4… ( v.5 just came out .. i’ll be upgrading to that with Record 1.5 package ) with a bunch of Propellerheads refills. The support I’ve gotten from all these companies has been outstanding ( see I did my research …. VERY IMPORTANT !! ) I’ve been pretty happy with M-Audio controllers ( ProKeys 88 and Oxygen 8, the KB37 is also handy in my rig ) and I’ve had my eye on the Akai APC-40 it’s a perfect companion to Ableton Live. The frosting on the cake is the Korg M3-88 Enhanced workstation. I don’t know … I feel pretty unlimited, but comfortable. Oh yeah I highly recommend TC Helicon VoiceLive products for awesome vocals and harmonies, what you want and where you want them. All this has taken a certain amount of reading, studying and trial and errors but it has been so worth it. I can be studio based or go live anywhere with my rig.

Thanks again to DiskMakers … You guys rock in my book.

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lochsloyca August 26, 2010 at 2:14 am

:O anyone for Record/Reason?! Great stuff though :)

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Bill August 26, 2010 at 7:27 am

Propellerhead’s Record is pretty awesome as a multi-track for the digital age (and they have the SSL sound nailed) but the lack of support for VSTs is a deal breaker for me.

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cliff keller August 26, 2010 at 12:41 pm

I’ve used Sonar, ProTools, and (currently) Logic. they are all good. my suggestion for the person just getting started is to consider picking whatever platform your “helpful” friends have wired. that way you get free tech support. you’ll need it.

Good article, a topic that really baffles the beginner.

Cliff

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Mr. Blonde August 26, 2010 at 3:18 pm

I’ve been using Fruity Loops and Cool Edit 97 for the last ten years, and I have nothing to complain about. My stuuf doesn’t always have the resolution or clarity I’d like it to, but I upgraded to a firebox, and that helped. Best advice is to pick a DAW that has an easy to pick up interface, and plugins/software that won’t be completely incompatible in 10 months. Pro Tools, like somebody above said earlier, is your best bet if you’re going to try and work wih a pro, simplyy for ease of conversion. Otherwise, comfort level and compatability are key.I tried to use Cubase and even though it’s light years ahead of cool edit, I couldn’t figure out the interface and just gave up. It was just way more than I needed

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Larry August 26, 2010 at 5:10 pm

As someone mentioned earlier, Magix Studio Products are fantastic! One of the best kept secrets in the professional and home recording DAW business. Samplitude is the next generation in the their quest for perfection. I have been with them since they stated their product lines and boy the improvements. The reason I like Samplitude so much, is the total intergration and the ease of operation and all inclusion of softsynths, midi, effects,CD burning all in one complete package. This works well in my studio and didn’t break the bank. With the money I saved I can afford more plugins and better mics. Thanks for reading me!

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Erock B August 26, 2010 at 5:17 pm

I use Ableton live for writing and performing, but use reaper for tracking and mixing

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D Smith August 26, 2010 at 11:02 pm

For me, after trying many DAW’s…Reaper rules.
Very reasonable pricing.
You don’t have to wait months for fixes or new features.
No upgrade pricing.
If I’m correct… this is the same guy that gave us WinAmp.
He’s an audio freak.
What more could you ask for.

Dan
Rolling Marble Studios

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Roger August 27, 2010 at 3:26 pm

I have been using sonar and I love it. My recordins sound great in a car and on boomboxes. However, I am not sure how my recordings may sound over the radio? Does any one a sure fire way to test if their recordsing will sound good over fm

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Robert Auld November 23, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Roger, there is not foolproof way to test if a track will sound good over FM analog radio. (I say analog, because digital radio is different in processing and other matters.) However, a few guidlines:

1. Do not overcompress you recording. FM radio stations all use limiters and compressors to manage signal levels. Putting a heavily squashed recording through the FM signal chain just adds compression on top of compression, which usually leads to bad, fatiguing sound. Keep enough dynamic range that your recording sounds natural, not too squashed.

2. Don’t worry too much about the absolute loudness of your recording. FM radio processing will automatically raise the level of softer recordings and reduce the level of louder ones to the broadcaster’s target level. Trying to make your track stand out by making it really loud in mastering will just lead to overcompression, which does not get along well with FM analog processing (see #1).

3. Avoid extremes of equalization in the bass and treble. Huge bass can cause dynamic pumping (the level of the whole track goes up and down with each bass transient) with some FM processors, or will cause the overall level to be lower than it should be. Too much bright treble will be clipped and rolled off by FM processing because of the treble boost used in analog broadcasting–an excessively bright recording runs up against analog FM’s headroom limits.

4. Be careful that you do not have noise problems (hiss or hum) during quiet passages in your recording. Analog FM will tend to bring up the level of those parts, and any noise will become more audible.

In general, if you have a well balanced, carefully mixed recording, it should sound fine on FM. If you have a wide dynamic range recorded, expect it to be reduced a bit. With most good recordings, this is not a problem.

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T Zero August 29, 2010 at 3:28 am

I had some initial problems getting ProTools & Komplete up and running, switched to Logic and though it worked out right out of the box, I found the learning curve pretty steep. Popellerhead’s Record is a nice option for getting stuff down quickly. Logic may have more bells & wistles. And Recod is proprietary software, so plugins won’t work with it, but it comes with most everything you need. You might have a few teething troubles, but less than other DAWs, since it’s designed to look and work like a real SSL Board and Rack Mounted Gear. It’s designed more for musicians than computer geeks. I’m even thinking about adding Reason to get the Record 1.5 upgrade.

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Bonifacio Dominguez August 29, 2010 at 7:04 pm

Looks like you hit on a winning article. You can always tell by the response; good, bad and the ugly. Thanks for the info and keep up the good work. I have been looking at pro-tools since most of the industry that I talk to is using it. I am still plugging along with my AW4416 , but doing a lot of my final mix on the computer since I love looking at the wave and listenning at the same time. Keep up the good work.

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Jennifer Seyler September 10, 2010 at 2:34 pm

We have a great mic, mac, and use live instruments whenever possible…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NGQ4XbFtf4Y

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JL September 21, 2010 at 1:19 pm

SONAR Producer 8.5 user here. Been with Cakewalk for years: Home Studio, Remix, Project 5, Sonar 4, 8, and now 8.5. Learning curve is huge but the possibilities are pretty immense. Seriously though, a class is practically required. It is possible to train yourself: they have a heavily-supported user forum and good thorough YouTube channel in addition to numerous online indie-user videos.

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George Eimer November 23, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Well… I finally had to roll out the MCI-24tk one year ago…Then a younger friend….gave me Sonor 5 producer i got a 64 bit clone off line & 24″ screen….Been a recording eng over 25yrs…With many many yrs of expereance in all styles..I find i HATE this and i LOVE this digi crap…..LOL..But i’m not sure about all the debates frankly….I have analoge brain and ears…..I get the same from my Sonor 5….as i did way back in the day….My customers old and new and young with digi studios of there own marrvel at the rich sound i have…..and ask why fat thick sweet….It’s the same as 2″ TAPE…LOL…So if you know HOW TO do this recording game all you need is a fairly nice recording package…It’s really only 2″ tape anyway…lol…Packed away in your computer somewhere…lol..Isn’t it????…Yrs ago a bass player from a huge R/B girls group came in to lay some trks for one of my customers…And very calmly stated how in the hell did you get my bass to sound so good?…I said i just took you direct…..and later added a touch of ..UREI 1178…Thats all!!!…So in conclusion The Engineer makes the sound Not all the fancy dancy plugins….and the super duper progames…There just tools from your tool box…Then my friend wants to come down who gave the 5 wow man guess what i got the new 8.5..I said well when you become an engineer you wont need all this new software !..Maybe i will get into trouble now…LOL..LOL.Peace!!!!

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George Eimer November 23, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Now i guess i did not tell you i feed the Sonor with a Soundcraft 1600 Console did i…..OOP’S sorry…..Lay your trks cleanly …KISS…KISS…A big key there…KISS…..Cut all… Keyboards, Rythm guitars, strings,congas,..with 2 trks in stereo It eats up trks…Generate the stereo image from the get go….Even better yet dubble cut some of the trks, R guitar, bgv vocals, strings…Always create the stereo image on trk…The drums are the most important…Add nice smooth reverb sounds…and keep it simple…..PAN–3-9…..4–8…..Wherever they fit…..

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George Eimer November 23, 2010 at 3:20 pm

In the mix….. kick,snar,hat,bass-g,lead voc—0—-Center……Begaining engineers and all really never ever listen to poor sounding music or badly recorded music and songs….Music brainwashes you always listen to great sound ing sounds….punchy,sweet,fat,in tune,nice efx…..pretty soon you will be making the same great sounds…..If a friend says hay listen to this if sound ugly dont listen to it….really it will damage your brain sound….

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Michael Aiken November 23, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Yes, once again Adobe Audition has been totally left out of a DAW review and it’s one of the best programs, if not THE best out there, regardless of price. Sure, it doesn’t have a fancy, colorful GUI like some of the others, it’s more professional than that. It gets the job done, and it does everything you could possibly need from recording to mastering and burning without any expensive plugins, and it works with anybody’s hardware (except Digidesign’s, who won’t release their drivers in order to keep you chained to ProTools). I’ve used it for years, and of course upgraded it every time a new release came out since it’s CoolEdit days. I understand that there probably won’t be another release after 3.0, but then there’s nothing else that Adobe could do to it. It already has it all. I’d put it up against any other program on the market..

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Glenn Hardy November 23, 2010 at 7:33 pm

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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