10 Best Digital Audio Workstation Software 2018 – Which is the Best?

What is the best digital workstation DAWWhat is the best digital audio workstation?

The truth, there is no “best” digital audio workstation. It all depends on what you want out of a music production software.

So in this post we’ll go through some DAW basics, and describe each of the digital audio workstations that is best for YOU.

How do we know what’s best for you?

Let’s take a closer look 🙂


Table of Contents

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Best Digital Audio Workstation – At a Glance

Digital Audio Workstation Experience Genre Windows or Mac Budget
1 Ableton Live (see price @ Amazon)      (read overview) Ableton Live 10 arranger Intermediate & Advanced Mainly electronic music, mixing, recording and composition Mac and Windows High Medium
2 Apple Logic Pro X (check price @ iTunes) (read overview) Logic Pro Intermediate & Advanced All genres Mac Low
3 Image-Line FL Studio                              (see price @ Amazon) (read overview) FL Studio Beginner to Advanced Mainly electronic music, mixing and composition Mac and Windows Low
4 Steinberg Cubase (see price @ Amazon)(read overview) Steinberg Cubase Intermediate & Advanced All genres, mixing, recording and composition Mac and Windows Low to Medium
5 PreSonus Studio One                              (see price @ Amazon) (read overview) Studio One Arranger View Beginner to Advanced All genres, mixing, recording and composition Mac and Windows Low to Medium
6 Propellerhead Reason                            (see price @ Amazon) (read overview) Propellerhead Reason Beginner to Advanced Mainly electronic music, mixing and composition Mac and Windows Low
7 Avid Pro Tools (see price @ Amazon)          (read overview) what is the best digital audio workstation Advanced & Professional All genres, mixing, recording and composition Mac and Windows High
8 Bitwig Studio (see price @ Amazon)      (read overview) Bitwig Studio Beginner to Advanced Mainly electronic music, mixing, recording and composition Mac and Windows, and Linux Low Medium
9 MOTU Digital Performer                          (see price @ Amazon) (read overview) MOTU Digital Performer Intermediate & Advanced Film score, Orchestra, and Band music composition Mac and Windows Medium
10 MAGIX Samplitude Pro X                          (see price @ Amazon) (read overview) MAGIX Samplitude Pro X Advanced & Professional All genres, mixing, recording and composition Windows Medium


What is The Best Digital Audio Workstation?

The Digital Audio Workstation is your tool for making, recording, mixing, mastering, and editing music. Whether it is your music or the music of someone you're working with, a DAW is a music production software that allows you to bring all the different elements of a piece of music into one computer environment under which you control.

From the pre-production composition and recording, to the post-production mastering, every DAW has within it the capacity to turn you into the next Flume or Skrillex, if you so desire.

Composition, sound design, and engineering

But DAWs are not only for the musically gifted among us. They're also for those preternaturally gifted in sound design and engineering. Those with the ears to hear what blends and levels of frequencies go into a commercially successful track, in other words, audio mixing and mastering engineers, use digital audio workstations to achieve high-quality mixes.

If you're a singer-songwriter or a musician that just likes getting your ideas down, or contributing to a mix as requested by another producer, a DAW becomes the best home studio recording software among others that you can own.

As a singer-songwriter or vocalist, you can produce your own pilot tracks to send to a producer to flesh out, recorded in the comfort of your home. Or if you're a guitarist or keyboardist, you can be a session musician to a production in another country right in your own home!

As hinted above, each person's preference is different, and finding out what is the best digital audio workstation to make music or to edit music is going to be based on your skill-sets and what you are trying to accomplish.

Choosing The Best DAW for You

The general parameters for choosing a DAW:
  • Your budget
  • Your experience
  • Do you want to perform live?
  • What sorts of music do you work with?
  • Do you use Windows or Mac?
Your budgetDigital Audio Workstation Budget

This is one of the first things to think about when you're wondering what is the best digital audio workstation for you, as they come at various prices.

Sometimes the prices are based on the philosophy of the company that makes them, other times they are new to the market and want to establish their brand. Many times, however, there are free trial versions that you can try before deciding to buy one.

It is important that you make a budget for a digital audio workstation. You may have all the gear, but the DAW is what ties them all together.

Having a genuine copy liberates you with the peace of mind that you own a product that is supported and that hasn't been compromised in any sort of way.

Music Production ExperienceYour experience

Is this your first time producing your music? How experienced are you at the engineering aspects of music, such as LFOs, EQs, compressors, and limiters? Do you know your way around a basic synthesizer? If your answer leaves much to be desired.... don't fret!

There are many learning platforms online and offline that'll help you to become a master at getting your ideas from your brain and through a pair of speakers... and hopefully millions of speakers!

Take a look at some of the exceptional courses offered online on learning music production if you need help finding your way around the topic of music production.

However, if you're more experienced, there are DAWs for you as well. Maybe you're thinking of switching to a different DAW and are reading articles on "Best Music Production Software" to help make that decision. This guide will help you with that.

Do you perform live?Live music production

This is important. Some DAWs are more suited toward live performance integration. Others are pretty music just studio software. While there is a lot of wiggle room within what each DAW can do, it's best to choose one based on what angle you're coming from in music production.

If you are a studio rat who likes pumping out beats or tunes, or EQing and mixing tracks, and don't care for too much stage presence, or if you like to integrate your music making while on stage, you can choose a DAW that suits either one of these preferences.

Best Digital Audio Workstation by GenreWhat sorts of music do you work with?

Another one that some people overlook. Some DAWs are good for electronic music production. Others for recording and engineering instrument tracks. And still, there are DAWs very suitable for scoring cinematic music for film or jingles.

Then, of course, you have DAWs that can handle all of them. Knowing what type or types of music you work with, helps to narrow down your options, bringing you closer to a decision.

Windows or MacMac or Windows when choosing a digital audio workstation

Lastly, there is the question of if you're a Windows user or a Mac user.

There used to be a time when Mac dominated the music production world, and in a sense, they still somewhat do (it's the industry standard in every professional studio).

But with Windows being more budget-friendly and gaining in processing power, the Windows environment has steadily crept up in becoming just as great as Mac in producing music.

However, some DAWs are PC only, some are MAC only, and some are a little more friendly with one than the other.

Time to start choosing...

So now that we've determined what is the best digital audio workstation for us, we can look into the best 10 music production softwares to date.

A good read through of this list will give you a basic understanding of how each DAW. Keep in mind that each DAW will have the same basic abilities. In fact, you could pretty much do the same thing on every DAW on this list.

What makes a difference is how the functions are presented to you, as well as workflow. This helps you to decide whether or not the virtual workstation environment is suited for your creative and editing requirements.


Best Digital Audio Workstation - Overview

Note: Keep in mind that this list in not particularly ordered in terms of "best" being at the top.


1 - Ableton Live 10

Considered best DAW for electronic music producers and live performances

Ableton Live Digital Audio Workstation

Ableton Live is a favorite DAW amongst producers. With a long list of names such as Flume, Diplo, Dada Life, Skrillex, Bauuer, Flosstradamus, Deadmou5, and so on, you can't go wrong with choosing Ableton Live as your workstation. Its workflow is simple and clean, uncluttered, and businesslike. Using this DAW makes you feel like a professional. It's considered such an important DAW that we've even put together an Ableton course guide to help find the right tutorials to learn Ableton.

Ableton is known for turning laptops into computer-instruments and, with the aid of DJ controller, a DJ workstation. This is thanks to its seamless MIDI sequencing between hardware and software, so much so that these DAWs are considered excellent by the pros in live settings. Hence the name "Live."

The latter point is, in fact, the main reason to get Ableton Live. This DAW should be at the top of your list if you plan on using your DAW in a live performance setting.

It is also suitable for recording studio conditions. The multi-track recording (unlimited in number) is standard for audio/MIDI tracks, including a cut, past, and splice feature. As a music creation software, this DAW is powerful when it comes to loop-based productions, improvisation, and building out song arrangements.

Best Ableton Live Features

Ableton Live 10

It comes stocked with 23 sound libraries for you to start creating music immediately (about 50 GB of sound, total, if you get Ableton Live Suite). Other features include the ability to assign envelops to allow automation and modulation of practically every parameter. If you want high-quality tempo-syncing between tracks and loops without compromising audio in the master output playback, a mode called Complex Warp will be a very useful tool for you. It comes with its own Sampler and Drum Racks, where you can load, edit, and create custom sample kits. The Operator, their FM/subtractive synthesizer is a real gem. They have a compressor based on Cytomatics "The Glue". In all, you get a total of nine instruments and 41 effects plugins within the Live Suite.

Serious music making

Ableton Live is recommended for users who are already familiar with DAWs. It is not a difficult DAW to use, per se, but it's not a beginner's DAW as well, in the true sense of the word. If you are a beginner, however, and are seriously interested in making top quality productions in the future, or eyeing a career as a music producer, buying a copy now and investing the time and money to learn it will prove worthwhile in the end.

See customer reviews @ Amazon

Ableton Live Verdict
  • Budget - Affordable to High Medium
  • Your experience - Low Medium to Expert
  • Live Performance Capable - The DAW most recommended for live performances
  • Genres - Electronic music genres, video game music, jingles, film score
  • Windows or Mac - Both

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2 - Apple Logic Pro X

Considered Best DAW for Mac based producers, and one of the best DAWs you can buy

Logic Pro X Digital Audio WorkstationApple Logic Pro X shares space with the veterans of music production software in the business. It has a longstanding tradition that users can rely upon, and continues to be a favorite among established pro level music producers and young producers alike. And for just under $200, it is actually the best value you can get in a DAW of this calibre. Unfortunately, it is only available on on a Mac.

However, another benefit is that there is only one version of Logic Pro. While with practically every other DAW on the market there is a choice between versions (free, limited, and full versions, with different features for each), there is simply one Logic Pro X, which does everything you want, and for one low cost.

It will be suitable if you are a near beginner to an expert producer scoring for feature films or producing the next hit song. Hence, this is one of the most complete music production programs to buy. Plus, if you started with the free Garageband (its "baby brother", so to speak) using Logic Pro X will feel like a seamless progression for you.

Logic Pro X Features

Logic Pro X Digital Audio Workstation

Its interface is easy to understand, making it good for beginners. It comes with Alchemy, a much-loved synthesizer, and a virtual Drummer to lay your drum tracks by utilizing an intuitively designed interactive drum set, just as if you had a real drummer! Logic also includes a score editor, for those who can read and write music, and would like to print their compositions. The MIDI functions are some of the best out there, including nine MIDI plug-ins for you to manipulate your sounds. It is also compatible with many of the third party VSTs out there, so you can broaden your sonic options. The installation package is just 2 GB, which adds up to 30 GB more that is available online once installed. No extra purchases required.

Even though its interface is welcoming and can be good for beginners, I'd recommend using this if you're an intermediate user or above. If you're truly a beginner, GarageBand is a better alternative to Logic Pro X, which is just a step away.

Logic Pro X Verdict
  • Budget - Low
  • Experience - Medium to expert and pro
  • Live Performance -  Possible
  • Genre - This DAW can handle any kind of music you through at it.
  • Windows or Mac - Mac only

See price @ iTunes

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3 - Image-Line FL Studio (Fruity Loops)

Considered best DAW for beat making and loop-based music

Image-Line FL Studio Digital Audio Workstation

A DAW buyer's guide would not be complete without FL Studio, by Image-Line. This DAW has been around in the family since 1998, so it is not new, nor is it old in the sense that Pro Tools and Cubase is. It's been around long enough to secure a household name among musicians and music aficionados, and continues to hold its place in the general consciousness of the music production world. And there is good reason for a DAW like FL Studio to be this popular.

In the early days, back when it was known simply as Fruity Loops, it had a reputation as being a music production software for beginners, with the intention that once you've mastered your craft, you'd move on to the big boys, such as Logic Pro, or even Pro Tools. It still carries a little bit of that reputation (perhaps reflected in company's desire to shake off that image by changing its name to FL Studio). Hence, it's sort of like the member of the family that remains eternally youthful and childlike at heart.

Image-Line FL Studio Digital Audio Workstation

Do not let the baby face fool you, though. This DAW has been responsible for some chart-topping hits in the business. Most likely a significant percentage of the music you're hearing in the clubs were produced on Fruit Loops. Some of the biggest names in music production swear by it. People like Port Robinson, Afrojack, Avici, Martin Garrix, and Camo & Krooked, just to name a few.

If the names also tell you something, that's right, FL Studio is essentially the go-to software for making electronic music. With tons of tutorials online on how to make trap, future bass, hip-hop, dubstep, etc., you can't get lost. It's also fairly easy to use, and a beginner can get to making music with it in a short space of time.

FL Studio Features

It may be considered the top beat making software among some beat producers, as it comes with its own famous Step Sequencer, where you can create beats, drum loops, and simple melodies easily and simply. The Channel Rack is where your instruments and sound generators go, and it comes with 30 synthesizer plug-ins and various effects to keep you busy for a while.

FL Studio Verdict
  • Budget - Low
  • Experience - Beginner and Intermediate
  • Live Permanence Capable - Yes
  • Genres - Electronic based music
  • Windows or Mac - Mac and Windows

See customer reviews @ Amazon

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4 - Steinberg Cubase 9

Considered best "composer's DAW" for any type of music

Steinberg CubaseSteinberg Cubase has been around for years (since 1989!), which makes it one of the most seasoned and mature DAWs on the market. They introduced their own VST plugin format and introduced real-time time-stretching. Added to that, many of the best VSTs and effects plugins you can find are made by Steinberg.

Steinberg has, through Cubase, pioneered much of what we've come to know as standard among DAWs. Many of the most established producers and composers use and recommend Cubase for its reliability and dependability. Pro users depend on it for being a powerhouse of a DAW, capable of practically anything you throw at it, whether it is an electronic music production with several lanes of automation, or you're scoring for a Hollywood feature film.

Examples of famous Cubase users are Breach, Zedd, Stimming, Sharooz, Noisia, to name a few, among many feature film scorers and composers.

Steinberg Cubase Features

Cubase features a signature key, score, and drum editor. Cubase is perhaps the most powerful DAW when it comes to working with MIDI data, a feature realized in its Key Editor. Score Editor allows for music scoring and editing within the DAW, which you can also print. The Drum Editor allows you to create and edit your beats and grooves to precision. In your installation package, you receive some of the best-rated plug-ins, such as the HALion Sonic, a "sound production instrument" which produces sampled acoustic instruments as well as synthetic sounds. Groove Agent is a virtual drum set and kit which gives you 30 drum kits to play with.

Steinberg Cubase Digital Audio Workstation

Additional tools and plug-ins include LoopMash, and REVerence Convolution reverb, to name a few. Its bundled library sound content consists of over 90 audio and MIDI plugins, and 8 instruments with over 3,400 sounds and presets.

Cubase can be a truly rewarding and exciting DAW to work with. It is one of the most advanced DAWs, however, and suitable if you're planning on spending some time learning to become a producer. You are not going to be limited by Cubase, but you will be limited by your knowledge of it and how powerful its tools are. If you plan on going all the way in a career as a music producer and composer, and willing to invest serious time learning and mastering your craft, Cubase is the DAW for you and for your home studio.

Cubase Verdict

  • Budget - Affordable to higher
  • Experience - Medium to expert
  • Live Performance Capable - Not a DAW generally suited for Live performance, although it is possible.
  • Genres - Any music you can imagine (or even invent)
  • Windows or Mac - Both

See customer reviews @ Amazon

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5 - PreSonus Studio One

Consider best DAW for beginners and advanced producers for its effortless workflow

Presonus Studio One 3 Digital Audio Workstation

PreSonus Studio One is becoming a favorite among a growing user base of new producers and veterans alike. This DAW just came out in 2008, making it one of the newer DAWs out there, but when you use it you'll realize just how mature it actually is. It has one of the most beautiful GUI, and oodles of features to keep the creative juices flowing. Studio One is definitely one the best software to make music out there, especially when wondering what is the best digital audio workstation for beginners.

It comes with features such as a Scratch Pad, which allows you to jam out ideas on the fly without compromising your arrangement on the arranger window. Its workflow is drag-and-drop based, meaning you don't need to learn how to route controls in order to create automation lanes, or adding instruments or effects. Everything about this DAW was designed for user-friendliness, thus making it one of, if not the best music production software for beginners.

But the more advanced you become at producing, the more you find that this DAW is actually as advanced as the other DAWs out there such as Pro Tools or Cubase. Studio one was actually developed by former Steinberg developers, hence Cubase users find that the transition is rather fluent. In some ways, even pleasant, as the workflow and design has, according to some, evolved to suit the current paradigm of music production software.

Studio One Features

Features include an Inspector Window which gives you immediate access to every control over that track without switching to a new window. Track Layers, where you can record several instances of a track over and over again onto what are called "layers". Scratch Pads, for getting down your ideas fast without compromising your arrangement. And a Listen Tool: instead of soloing a track, repositioning the playback cursor, and pressing play, simply select the Listen Tool and click on any area you want to listen to. No need to un-solo or mute anything.

Studio One is compatible and works well with both Windows and Mac. You can get a version of it for free (called Studio One Prime) which you can try. When you purchase the PreSonus AudioBox Studio, you get the Artist version (covered it and other audio interfaces in our Audio Interface Guide). The Artist version is actually perfect for musicians who are still simply interested in making recordings.

If you're a beginner or even advanced producer, composer, or recording engineer searching for the best digital audio workstation for your home studio, give Studio One a try.

Studio One Verdict

  • Budget - Low to Affordable
  • Experience - Beginner to medium; advanced users will appreciate its workflow
  • Genres - This DAW can handle any kind of music you through at it. Add to it the Notion software and you can write and print actual scores
  • Live Performance Capable - Not its speciality, but possible
  • Windows or Mac - Both

See price @ Amazon

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6 - Propellerhead Reason 10

Considered Best DAW for electronic music producers

Propellerhead Reason Digital Audio WorkstationPropellerhead Reason is a unique addition to this list because of its rack extension feature. If you are an audio engineer, or come from that background, or desire to be more fluent around studio consoles, the layout of this DAW will be more than useful to you.

Music production lecturers, from our experience, seem to love this DAW for that very reason. In using Reason, you get to appreciate the arrangement and setup of an actual recording studio. Its rack extension provides the user with inputs and outputs for setting up their effects plugins, virtual instruments and synthesizers, just as one would in a real studio setup, or as it used to be in the old days before computer-based audio workstations replaced multitrack tape recorders. This makes Reason also a fun and engaging DAW to use, as it also employs drag-and-drop into its interface, making the workflow and set up smooth for new users.

Reason has one of the best mixing consoles among other DAWs, with plenty of plug-ins and virtual instruments to play with. There was once a time when Reason did not support 3rd part plug-ins, which would have been a good ... um ... reason ... to buy another DAW. But since version 9, users can be comforted by the possibility of implementing their favorite third-party plug-ins. As with all the DAWs on this list, it supports MIDI hardware and controllers.

Propellerhead Reason Features
Propellerhead Reason Digital Audio Workstation

Some other features include Player Devices, which support the ability to do some creative songwriting with Scales & Chords, Dual Arpeggio and Note Echo. It has an advanced time-stretching and loop integration tool. Instruments include a semi-modular synthesizer called Thor, a granular/wavetable synthesizer called Malstrom, an analogue subtractive synthesizer called Subtractor, the Kong drum sampler, a step sequencer drum machine called Redrum Drum Computer, Softube Guitar and Bass amps, and many others. Installation includes over 3,000 loops with almost 6000 drum and percussion samples.

If you're primarily interested in writing electronic music, with the use of some powerful synthesizers and samplers, then this is best digital audio workstation to get.

Reason Verdict
  • Budget - Low to medium
  • Experience - Early intermediate to professional
  • Live Performance Capable - Possible
  • Genres - Reason is mostly great for electronic based music genres
  • Windows or Mac - Mac and Windows

See customer reviews @ Amazon

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7 - Avid Pro Tools

The Industry standard DAW for professionals

Avid Pro Tools Digital Audio WorkstationAvid Pro Tools is considered the undisputed king of all DAWs. Whether or not that title sits well with any other DAW user is irrelevant, at some point of the journey for any music you create or contribute to in some way, once it is released professionally, it will most likely have passed through the desk of a Pro Tools engineer.

This is because Pro Tools is the industry standard, and the Pro Tools file type is about as standard in the music production world as a Microsoft Word document is to word processing world. If you are working toward a professional mixing engineer career, or you want to work in a recording studio, you will need to learn Pro Tools. Not learning Pro Tools would more hurt than help your career. But there is no worry about it, as courses exist that'll teach you to become a certified Pro Tools engineer.

That said, this is the most advanced DAW out there. Whatever it is you need to be done, Pro Tools will and can do it. With it, you have the ability to compose, record instruments and vocals, mix and edit audio tracks, and master songs and albums, plus whatever else you can think of that involve music and sound production.

Any of the plug-ins found in any other DAW is found in this, and chances are they could be better or more advanced in some ways.  Added to the fact that it comes compatible with third-party plug-ins and virtual instruments, and you have a monster DAW.

A real professional studio engineer with competence at Pro Tools is a sound engineering wizard. This is not a DAW that pull punches, in terms of sheer processing power and editing ability. Pro Tools is an excellent investment for those who are serious about music production. Whilst with other DAWs you may become a little insecure and want to switch or try other platforms, this DAW will be with you for a lifestyle.

Some drawbacks with Pro Tools is that it can seem a little set in its ways. Being the industry standard means being slow to change. The design principle has yet to enter the same paradigm as many other DAWs, and the workflow is something you have to get used, instead of, in the case of Studio One or Logic, being organically suited for creativity.

Avid Pro Tools Digital Audio Workstation

It can still be fun to use, as anything can be, yet one gets the impression of professionalism before play with this DAW. So, if you're the sort to not be intimidated, and want to become the serious master of any music desk you're called to working, Pro Tools is for you.

You can get a free version of Pro Tools called Pro Tools First when you purchase the Focusrite Scarlett Solo. You can also check out the audio interface guide for home studio where the Focusrite is mentioned.

Pro Tools Verdict
  • Budget - High
  • Experience - Expert and professional
  • Live performance capable - Possible
  • Genres - All
  • Windows or Mac - Mac and Windows, but works best on Macs as that was its original platform

See price @ Amazon

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8 - Bitwig Studio

A favorite among live electronic music producers and performers

Bitwig Studio Digital Audio WorkstationFrom the establishment king we arrive at the newest contender to the DAW family. Bitwig came on the DAW scene just in 2014, but it promises to be a very capable production software. Being a newer DAW, one can expect it to be compliant with modern day design principles, and modern day music production trends, including an emphasis on a workflow structure that enhances creativity. The GUI is similar to Ableton Live, in fact it was created by former Ableton developers, so former Ableton users will find it a clean transition.

With Bitwig one gets a DAW that feels fresh, as it's not being held back by a tremendous legacy which it needs to defend. While Pro Tools can be considered a little square and for "true engineer" types, Ableton for electronic musician superstars, Fruity Loops for beat makers, and Cubase for music production nerds, Bitwig has none of these stereotypes attached to it. You get a DAW with no labels. And it does practically everything any of the other DAWs listed here does.

One of the cool things about Bitwig, which makes it a truly modern DAW, is that it takes the Ableton strength of being a live performance DAW, and turns it into a platform that's essentially a complete semi-modular instrument. It does this by its modulator system, where you can assign modulators to any of Bitwig's instruments and effects devices directly. You still have VST support, though, including VST3, so you can plug in your favorite plugins and VSTs without hassle.

BitWig's Best Features

It comes with over 8 GB of presets, sounds, samples from some of the most respected sample labels. Among its 11 virtual instruments, there is the Polysynth, as well as 28 audio effects and 24 devices such as Chain, Replacer, Arpeggiator, and Note Filter.Bitwig Studio Digital Audio Workstation

With Bitwig you get a truly modern DAW. If you're a producer who likes using their DAW like an instrument, and wants the most intuitive feel you can get from a music production software, we recommend that you give it a try. It could possibly be for you the best digital audio workstation for you.

BitWig Studio Verdict

  • Budget - Medium
  • Experience - Late beginner to medium and semi-pro
  • Live Performance Capable - Ideal for live performance and music making
  • Genres - Electronic based music
  • Windows or Mac - Mac and Windows, and Linux

See customer reviews @ Amazon

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9 - MOTU Digital Performer

Considered best DAW for orchestra and band music composers

MOTU Digital Performer

MOTU Digital Performer is considered by many the best digital audio workstation for composers and film score producers. This DAW has a strong following from many jazz, classical, and orchestral musicians and performers. If you fall into this category, this DAW could be for you as well.

When it comes to film scoring or composing entire orchestrated tracks, Digital Performer is considered extremely fast and powerful. It's not particularly a DAW for mixing and mastering engineers who need a powerful sound engineering tools -- rather if what you want is powerful DAW capable of handling massive amounts of tracks recording and triggering orchestra and instrument samples, then Digital Performer will do just that. And that's why this is a musician's/composer's favorite.

Digital Performer's Best Features

It's interface is designed around music creation and composition. It's semi-modular, meaning you can organize windows into a consolidated view, or you pop out windows if you use multiple monitors or a large monitor. The GUI then is extremely powerful. You can easily switch between sequencer tracks, mixer, and so on.

Something impressive about it is the way the MIDI data is handled inside of Digital Performer. Anyone doing symphonic arrangements knows how frustrating it can be to trigger a note of a string sample, for instance, but the timing is off. Digital Performer has a way of compensating for that by using the Smart Selection option. If you have notes triggered that comes a little before a beat so that the sample plays in time, they will be played and not left out. As film scorers, none of your notes are going to play super on beat, like in house music, so this is a useful feature.

You can organize your projects into multiple sequences called "Chunks." This means that you can add them to different mixers and instruments without having to create brand new project. How does this work?

Well, when you're scoring for a film, you know that one section will require one type of musical theme, and another would require a different theme. What do you do? Keep switching between projects? Or do you keep adding instruments and busses and channels and have a hard time mixing them down? This is where sequencer "Chunk" comes in handy. You have one project, but you have several different "productions" within the one project playing seamlessly as you create. That's a powerful tool to have.

Professional editing tool

MOTU Digital Performer

Expect to get the standard level of VST plugins you'd get in any DAW, plus compatibility with the major 3rd party plugins on the market. Also, audio editing and mixing is on par with any of the other best DAWs on this list. You still have the ability to do pitch correction and processing, editing loop based music, and control everything within the DAW using automation.

This DAW used to work on Mac only, but now it's compatible with Windows 8 and up. This means a great opportunity for Windows users to get the best of music production film scoring and orchestra or band based music composition on their computer

Digital Performer Verdict

  • Budget - Medium
  • Experience - Low to Intermediate
  • Live Permanence Capable - Yes
  • Genres - Film score, Orchestra, and Band music
  • Windows or Mac - Mac and Windows

See price @ Amazon

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10 - MAGIX Samplitude Pro X

Considered best professional standard DAW for Windows only PCs

MAGIX Samplitude Pro X

MAGIX Samplitude Pro X is essentially the Pro Tools of Windows. It really is one of the most powerful and best digital audio workstation you can buy. As a DAW it is one of the most complete all-in-one music production systems you can find for professional level audio, which even includes live performance capabilities. And it's one of music production's "best kept secrets"--only those "in the know" will have much to tell you about Samplitude.

Why did we say the "Pro Tools" for Windows? As you probably may have known, Pro Tools for a long time was a Mac only DAW. Not everyone one wanted to work on a Mac, for one reason or the other. That is fair. Samplitude was one of the only options you could find that had the power to produce and process music at the professional level required. Part of the reason for this led to them not being so popular, as Mac took dominion over the music production industry especially in the US. But in Europe, Samplitude (a German made product) continues to be immensely powerful.

Samplitude has actually been around for a long time. Almost 30 years! The current version number is X3, means 13. There have been thirteen versions of this, so you can imagine the sheer amount of development that has gone into this DAW over the years.

Samplitude's Best Features

Objected-oriented editing is Samplitude's most praised feature. If you come from another DAW, it might take a little getting used to, but you'll find it rewarding. And many other DAWs are starting to implement this feature.

What Object-oriented editing is, is that it allows you, the user to cut, edit, process, move around, etc. your audio files and recordings without ever touching the original file. Everything in your music is organized into "objects" which you can open with your "Object Editor" to manipulate.

Samplitude also has a powerful tempo-matching feature. It has the ability to detect and adapt to the tempo of your recordings, beyond the base settings provided. Once you import an audio file into the program, the transients are detected and processed in the background until the tempos have been detected and mapped within your DAW.

The audio engine in Samplitude has consistently been considered beyond its class, and is one of the reason why so many professionals use it. A lot of people will say that every DAW will sound the same, but realistically, you will find that if you did a comparison, the sound created by you in Samplitude will be exactly what you hear when you export and burn the track onto a disk. This is not always the case in DAWs, but this is entirely certain here.

Melodyne is integrated into Samplitude as well, meaning that you the best pitch processing and correcting plugin on the planet to date. And the fact that it comes integrated means no additional buying, and no need issues with compatibility.

Samples galore!

MAGIX Samplitude Pro X buyMagix Samplitude Pro X comes with 24 virtual instruments. From grand piano  recorded in an international concert hall, to real church organs. You also get high quality synthesizers, drum kits for any genre. Expect over 70 GB worth of content for your sample library, perhaps the best in this DAW list in terms of content you get right out of the box.

Of course, mixing and editing plugins are at the professional level. You can use all your favorite third party plugins if you ever get bored with the ones that came with the Suite Pro X version.

In all, a great professional alternative to Pro Tools for Windows based home and profession recording and music production studios.

Verdict
  • Budget - Medium
  • Experience - Advanced to professional
  • Live Permanence Capable - Yes
  • Genres - All genres
  • Windows or Mac - Windows only

See customer reviews @ Amazon

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Final Thoughts

That's it for the buyer's guide on the best digital audio workstation software.

In this post, you were helped to determine what is the best digital audio workstation for you, based upon choosing within a few basic parameters, such as:

  • your budget
  • your knowledge and experience of music production
  • if you plan on performing live with a program
  • musical styles and genres
  • if you use a PC or a MAC

Hopefully you found the information here useful, and was able to make the choice best for you.


Some Other Notable Mentions

These DAWs are also great options to look into. Two out of these have stopped development (SONAR and ACID) while another one is more of a "post production" DAW for film.

Check 'em out.


Steinberg Nuendo

Steinberg Nuendo

If you're into sound designing, then this is the DAW for you.

Steinberg Neundo is an advance digital audio workstation which specializes in the post-production work. So it's not really a music based DAW. But if your focus is on video, film and TV sound and music, game audio, and ADR (additional dialogue replacement), then this is the DAW for you.

Once you get into the video post-production world, you'll find that it requires quick and convenient handling of production elements that recur repeatedly over time. Elements like specific sounds, effects, or sound tracks. You can create your sound tracks in this, but if you're working on an entire film or even a video series, you'll need something that can do a little more than the DAWs on this list can do. And that's where Neundo comes in.

The same is so for video game music and sound production. Video game music production is getting more and more popular, and if that's a field you're interested in, the Neundo is going to be hands down your best option.

Nuendo Features

With Nuendo, expect to be able to pan your audio and sound through a truly 3D audio system, whether 5.1 channel or 7.1 channel. Other daws only give you the ability to pan left of right. You'll notice that when it comes to creating and adding music and sound to videos and films, this alone will not be enough. You'll need to be able to place specific sounds in specific location. The "VST MultiPanner" feature is what allows that.

Nuendo comes with powerful video support, so you know that you won't have any issues when it come to editing your sounds and music to picture.

Another feature includes also the ability to analyze vocals to change individual pitches and notes in a song or even in speech.

Sound Design King

As far as sound design is concerned (a very important aspect of film music production), Nuendo is really the best. "Sound Randomizer" makes sure you don't have any hassle when it comes to doing the tedious work of finding new sounds.

To explain, let's say that you found a sound "theme" for you video game (could be a foot step or a gun shot) that's integrated into your music. Normally, you'd have to duplicated the sound and do something about it to change it over and over so that it's obvious that you didn't just "copy and paste" the sounds. By adjust only four parameters within Sound Randomizer, you get endless results from just one sound each time it's triggered.

You also get HALion Sonic SE 3, which is similar to HALion Sonic 3 which comes in Cubase, but is stripped down to serve the purpose of film and game sound design. You also get to create amazing synth sounds using the Retrologue 2 analog modeled synthesizer plugin.

Of course, expect the ability to create and edit scores using its Score Editor.

In all, simply the best post-production music production software for film, TV, video, and video game music making and editing.

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Cakewalk SONAR

Cakewalk SONAR Digital Audio Workstation
Cakewalk SONAR (no longer in development) seems to be a popular and exciting DAW among enthusiasts. No DAW buyer's guide would be complete without a mention of SONAR. And when taking a look at it, it's easy to see why.

SONAR sports an attractive yet professional and clean GUI, and comes feature rich with many of the plug-ins and effects one would find in a modern day DAW. Features such as the dynamic Control Bar and Matrix View allow for quick and flexible arranging. Mix Recall, which allows for quick switching between A/B comparisons, is something that you would find extremely useful when comparing mixes on the song. Melodyne Essential comes integrated for pitch and time correction. If you're interested in doing your own mastering, Landr is included as well.

The Platinum version of SONAR comes bundled with 23 instruments and 69 effects plugins. Including a sampler called Rapture, and two other synthesizers named Dimension and Z3TA.

Cakewalk SONAR Features

A great reason to get this DAW is that you receive some of the best 3rd party plugins out there. When you buy a DAW, most likely you will find yourself cashing out for some 3rd party plugins, but along with the already mentioned Melodyne Essentials, you get two drum emulators, the Addictive Drums 2 Producer Bundle and Session Drummer 3. These are some awesome drum modules and can even be a replacement for a drummer, as even producers who are drummers sometimes use them instead of recording themselves. The Tone2 Bifilter2 filter/distortion is also included, as well as an awesome analogue console emulator named ProChannel, which you can use to recreate that sweet analogue sound of a studio mixing console.

If you're interested in an affordable DAW that is a little less mainstream but still has a huge following, pro features, and all the power you'd need as an amateur or semi-pro producer or recording engineer, or musician/singer-songwriter, then this is the best digital audio workstation for you.

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ACID Music Studio 10

ACID Music Studio 10 Digital Audio Workstation
If you're looking for what is the best digital audio workstation that is cheap and for beginners on a low budget, this is the DAW for you. ACID Music Studio 10 is based on Sony's Acid Pro, a slightly more expensive and advanced (though somewhat dated) DAW. ACID has been around since 2001, so it's well established and has a following. It has all the essential elements of a DAW, such as the ability to record external instruments and vocals, mixing tracks, and editing. It comes with basic VSTs and sounds and loops. You can plug your MIDI controller and control surface into it just as any other DAW, and is compatible with 3rd party plugins.

Even though it may not be as advanced, you can get the work done with ACID Music Studio 10. Acid may be the humblest of DAWs but it has its accomplishments. It's big brother, Acid Pro, pioneered pitch-shifting and tempo-matching of loops and audio files that we now find as standard among the majority of major DAWs.

If you are interested in only the essentials of a digital audio workstation, and need a no frills DAW that gets the basic work done of recording, mixing and editing, and rather not cash out hundreds to thousands of dollars on the other big names, then you cannot go wrong with ACID Music Studio 10.

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FAQs

What does DAW stand for?

DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation. A digital audio workstation is basically software that allows you to record and mix different audio pieces. If you have multiple instruments, audio, sound effects, etc. that you want to overlap or mix in a single audio file, you’d use a DAW.

Beginners will often confuse a DAW with any other audio editing software since they both have similar functions. The main difference between the two is that most audio editing software doesn’t overlap or mix multiple tracks at the same level of ease as a DAW. Some don’t even let you mix audio at all.

Is Garageband a DAW?

Garageband is one of the most popular digital audio workstations for many reasons. Given its price point, it provides excellent editing tools for beginners. While it’s not necessarily the most professional DAW, it definitely is worth the money and can produce some high quality mixes.

As with the rest of your audio/sound producing equipment, you’ll want to upgrade eventually. You don’t get the same varieties of options with Garageband as you do with the more costly DAW’s. That being said, more emphasis should be placed on audio interfaces, MIDI controllers, and studio monitors before you go too far past Garageband.

How can you optimize Windows for a DAW?

In order to optimize Windows for a digital audio workstation, you should first make sure you have a minimum of 8GB of RAM. 8GB isn’t too much for most modern laptops and computers, and honestly 16GB would be much better if possible. Many people also find it useful to never connect to the internet while producing if possible.

Another good improvement for your DAW and Windows is a new sound driver, specifically an ASIO sound driver. ASIO sound drivers are made for sound and audio production, and have much better capabilities than a standard or cheap sound driver. Also consider upgrading or purchasing an SSD (solid-state drive) to help speed up sound processing on your computer.

Read more about optimizing Windows for music production.

How do you set up a digital audio workstation?

To set up a digital audio workstation, you should first dedicate a laptop or computer to your audio production process. If you can manage it, never connect that laptop/computer to the internet to prevent lag or latency. You also want to make sure that your laptop/computer can handle audio production, and ensure that it has the proper RAM, SSD, etc. Steer clear of older laptops, since they overheat and will likely be permanently damaged if used for audio production.

Each DAW is slightly different from the next, so it’s important to find a good fit for you. Don’t go out and spend tons of money to get the same DAW as the professionals and expect to be caught up in a couple days. Start slow, and with cheaper software until you learn the in’s and out’s. Digital audio workstations are the most difficult part of an audio production setup, so have patience when moving forward.

What is "latency" in a DAW?

Latency in a DAW is when the sound from your audio equipment and DAW don’t line up. You’ll start hearing sounds about 0.5 seconds to several seconds later, which obviously inhibits your ability to produce decent audio. You can’t really avoid ever having latency in audio production, so it’s important to know how to combat it.

One of the best tools in fighting latency is purchasing an audio interface if you don’t already have one. Audio interfaces are literally meant to reduce latency from audio equipment, and help heighten sound quality as well.

Another amazing tool to reduce latency on your DAW is to lower the buffering. While it will slightly increase your chances of having small pops and glitches, you won’t have to worry about latency as much. Try adjusting the buffering to find a happy medium between the two.

What are "plugins" in a DAW?

In a digital audio workstation, plug-ins are software bits which allow the user to have more functions, such as virtual instruments and mixing tools. Plug-ins work the same way as widgets do in websites, and give you more options and expand the possibilities. All you have to do is download the software of the plug-in into your DAW, and you’re all set.

What is "quantize" in a DAW?

On a DAW, quantizing is a process that aligns all sounds on a tempo grid. Timing sound can be difficult, so quantizing on your digital audio workstation is important if you want smooth mixes. Quantizing will start the sound, or beat, at the start of each tempo beat (or section of the grid), instead of having sounds that are slightly off tempo.

Quantizing is a key function of a DAW, and is essential for any audio producer from beginner to professional. It can be very frustrating to have sound that’s slightly off, so always make sure you quantize your audio tracks after you record each section to ensure that they’re all aligned.

How do you connect an analog mixer to a DAW?

To connect an analog mixer to a DAW, you have to find out how many channels, or different sources, you’re going to be recording from. Use the correct amount of channels on your mixer and plug it in. Then, record each audio track separately to allow smooth sound without other audio interruptions extra instruments. You can also record them all at the same time if you have plug-ins that allow it.

What is a proper recording level in a digital audio workstation?

The proper level of recording for a digital audio workstation is between -20 and -12dBFS. You want to record your audio at a more quiet level, since you can always raise the output volume later. Audio recorded at a lower gain always translates to a smoother quality than when you record at a higher gain.

15 Comments on “10 Best Digital Audio Workstation Software 2018 – Which is the Best?”

  1. I’ve personally used numbers 3 and 4 on your list. I prefer Sonar over Cubase, but that’s just my personal opinion. I know Logic Pro seems to be very popular among producers at the moment, as I see it mentioned everywhere. A friend of mine uses Pro Tools and swears by it.

    The one I currently use is FL Studio, which I see made spot #9. I’d personally rate it higher than programs like Cubase, but you have pretty much covered the best software out there with this list.

  2. Hi Darren. Thanks for you comment! They are not ranked in order of greatness. It’s random order (I’ll add a note to the post soon to clarify, so thanks!). It’s pretty subjective I find to say which DAW is better than another, since they all have slightly different strengths that are suitable. Like if you’re a live performance producer you may want a DAW for that, than if you’re an engineer, a person that works with film score, or recording a lot in the studio.

  3. I’m planning to buy a laptop for digital audio. I found your article very interesting and informative. Thisi s a great list of digital audio workstation that I could use with my future laptop. But my problem is that I’m not sure if I’m getting windows or apple. Out of this 10 products which platform is more compatible windows or apple?

  4. Hi, John! It depends. For instance, Logic is Mac only. Pro Tools is Mac and PC, but works better on Mac. Cakewalk and ACID are PC only. For everything else it’s pretty much even. I’m actually preparing a post to release soon where I compile a list of laptops, PC and Mac, that I think are great for music production (using the criteria I used to purchase mine two years ago). What I can say, though is that it all depends on what you want, and what your own preferences are. I’ll cover this in the review but this is what I suggest.

    If you are already a Mac user, who is familiar with the Apple platform, and can afford it, then purchase a Mac. You can’t go wrong. What do you get if you purchase a Mac? Most DAWs are compatible. And Macs are the music industry standard in the business. Plus, if you want to use Logic or Pro Tools, then a Mac is advisable.

    (A note on Pro Tools. They are for people who really want to get into audio engineering. It’s the industry standard DAW. And it’s a good DAW, but unless you have ambitions of being employable as an engineer for a professional studio, I’d suggest getting another DAW, because it’s one of the most advanced ones out there.)

    PCs are more flexible. Both in terms of hardware and what you can do with the software. My suggestion is simple, if you’re already a PC person, just get a PC and start choosing your DAW by eliminating Logic and Pro Tools (live performance friendly? Ableton or Bitwig. Electronic music? FL Studio or Reason. Beginner? Studio One or Cakewalk. An advanced all rounder? Cubase. Etc. 

    If you’re familiar with PC but decide to get a Mac, though it’s not hard, you’re going to need getting accustomed to things (I’ve done this. And I’ve moved back to PC).

    Look out for my laptops review post soon! I should have it up by Tuesday latest.

    Cheers!

  5. Hi John. As I promised in my last comment, I completed and published my list of music laptops. If you want to take a look at them, click here.
    Let me know if you have any question or clarifications.
    Hope my guide helps!
    Cheers.

  6. Hey, love your site.
    If I have Studio One 2 do you know if it’s possible to download an upgrade from Presonus without having to buy entirely new software?

  7. Hi, Dom. To upgrade, first, you’ll need to purchase an upgrade so you can get a new product license key. Then follow these instructions upgrade Studio One from your DAW’s home page.
    This would be cheaper than buying an entirely new software, of course.
    To buy a new version of Professional would run you over 400, while the upgrade is just 150.
    Once you have version 3, you get free updates (currently 3.5 is the newest). Just click on “check for updates” and follow through to having your installed version updated.
    Hope that helps.
    Let me know if you have any further questions
    Cheers

  8. Hello,
    A DAW is for a music producer what a canvas is for a painter.
    Owning a canvas and the right tools doesn’t make you a painter and the same applies with your digital audio workstation.
    But definitely all the above DAW’s will get the job done. And not only in your home studio but other semi-pro or professional recording studios.
    I personally use Ableton Live and Logic Pro and cover pretty much all my needs in electronic music production.
    Cheers…

  9. Ableton and Logic are basically the most popular options and they’re excellent DAWs. Very good choices because they cover the best of both worlds when it comes to music making: Live production as well as general recording and sound engineering.
    Thanks for stopping by DJLayLine,
    Cheers!

  10. Hey! Thanks for your question.
    10 is actually a pretty small number if you think about considering every DAWs for a top 10 DAW post. When I do another DAW list I’ll definitely do some more research on Reaper and see if it gets to knock anyone else off the list.
    To answer your question, right now, based on what I’ve found, Reaper might take Samplitude’s spot. Only thing is that after being impressed by the sheer power of Samplitude, and having one of the most neutral audio engines, it became really tough to not include it on the list. MOTU also got a spot because it’s a favorite in the classical and orchestra scoring crowd, so that niche needed to be covered (and they don’t usually do).
    Reaper is a great DAW in my opinion and I’ve heard great things about it from a couple producer friends. And it also has a lot of positive user reviews. Comparatively, Reaper is a lot like Cubase, but no way was Cubase going to not be on the list either…
    Anyway, would love to hear what you’d knock off the top ten list so that Reaper would get a spot. What’s your suggestion? And why?

  11. I´ve been checking out most of these. Mixcraft 8 is the one I decided for and I´m very happy with my choice. Short learning curve, much more intuitive than Logic and Cubase which I’ve found myself losing musical inspiration with. Mixcraft came bundled with everything to get you up and running with no further installs, softsynth, head of effect, a library of analog instrument (drums, piano etc) and MELODYNE integrated!!!

  12. Hi Fredrik E, Mixcraft 8 is definitely a great choice, even though not as common. I personally don’t have any experience with it, but I’m glad you’ve found the best daw for you. I’ve always heard great things about about it, and will definitely have to feature Mixcraft DAW in a future post, so thanks for your comment!

    Cheers

  13. I work as a consultant with many different types of acts and studios. While this list is good for the averaged home user, if you want to be taken seriously and work with others in that capacity, you better know Logic Pro and Pro Tools. These are far and away the most universally used in major production studios. I’ve spent over 25 years working with studios and top artist and I’m surprised this isn’t mentioned in the review. Some studios may have use for FL is you are into rap or hip pop, but even then they will most likely convert into one of the other two. Ironically Sonar is no longer being made, but it is still incredibly popular and seen quite a bit by many upcoming artist and is easily converted and transferred into Pro Tools which is a bonus. Sadly the music industry, like any other, can be cut throat and every advantage helps. Use and learn the industry standards if you want to be serious and taken serious. This is a conversation I’ve had with artists and try to imprint this on them.

  14. Hi Tom thanks for your input.

    I actually mention in the guide that Pro Tools is the industry standard if you wanted to be taken seriously. You’re experience is correct: Pro Tools and Logic Pro are the “de facto” top choices for music production for professionals. However, like you said, some producers are just average home studio owners, others just want to make electronic music. So I’ve found that many producers enter music production for different reasons, and Pro Tools might be too much for what some people need, plus the learning curve to get it to do what Live or Bitwig can do in live performances is too steep. Logic Pro is awesome, but is useless for Windows based producers. So my suggestion is to start with what you need: if you can master one of the other DAWs, the two DAWs you mention will certainly be more accessible.

    All the best, and thanks for stopping by!

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