TL;DR – Here are our top 10 DAWs for artists to use in 2022.
- Logic Pro
- Ableton Live
- Studio One
- Pro Tools
- Bitwig Studio
- FL Studio
- Reason Studio
Keep reading for the details on each one.
Long gone are the days where you had to rent a recording studio if you wanted to release your songs.
With the music industry moving at an increasingly faster pace, entering the studio whenever we want to release a single has become a counterintuitive process even for the most established artists. Luckily, we music producers have a solution right at our fingertips.
If you’re interested in music production, then you may have heard already about DAWs. In this article, I’ll explain why a Digital Audio Workstation is the first thing you need before getting any hardware or musical instrument. Next, I’ll analyze the most popular DAWs so that you’ll be able to choose the one that suits your needs best.
Let’s dive in!
What is a DAW?
A digital audio workstation (DAW) is software for music production: it’s an all-encompassing tool that can be used for recording, mixing, and mastering audio. DAWs are not limited to the music industry but can be used to edit all sorts of audio-related content like soundtracks, sound effects, or podcasts.
DAWs convert analogue sound into digital, which is represented as a waveform on the main screen of the DAW, where you can edit the audio file in raw form. It’s easy to manipulate audio on DAWs using familiar computer commands like cut, copy, paste, and undo: something unthinkable with analogue recorders back in the days.
Today, DAWs can be found in recording studios of all levels, filled with effects and plugins that make music sound professional and ready for publication. We can safely assume that a vast majority of music released today has been recorded or edited using a Digital Audio Workstation.
So, which one should you choose?
Let’s start with Apple’s exclusive DAW and GarageBand’s professional upgrade. Logic Pro comes with all the necessary tools for music production: it supports MIDI controls, and you can easily compose using music notations or guitar tabs.
As customary with Apple devices, you can use Logic Remote to control Logic Pro on your Mac from anywhere on your iPhone and iPad, using multi-touch gestures to play virtual instruments, mix tracks, or control Live Loops remotely.
Logic Pro has integrated Dolby Atmos tools for mixing and exporting sound as spatial audio, and you can export your mixes directly on Apple Music: a useful feature for audio engineers working with sound effects or audio design.
You can buy Logic Pro on the App Mac Store for $200, with a 90-day free trial version to test all its features.
- Dolby Atmos Spatial audio.
- Logic Remote.
- GarageBand compatibility.
- Mac only.
Live was initially designed as software for live performance but eventually integrated plenty of more features for composing, recording, arranging, mixing, and mastering audio. With Live, you can work with two different views: the arrangement view and the session view.
The arrangement view is the traditional interface you may find on any other DAW, while the session view offers a grid-based view of all the clips included in the live set. This combination of views makes Ableton Live very popular among DJs and live performers as they can do live sets and produce new music using the same software.
The interface in Live is intuitive and easy to use for beginners: it doesn’t feel intimidating the first time you see it, and once you get a grip on it, it’ll still provide you with everything you need to make music.
Ableton Live is available in three editions: Intro, with essential features and limited sound library, for $99; Standard with full features for $450; and a complete Suite edition including more virtual instruments and linked-track editing for $750.
You can download a free trial version of Live Suite for 90 days, and it’s available for both Mac and Windows users.
- Perfect for live performances.
- Good workflow.
- Seamless integration with MIDI controllers.
- Native plugins.
Cubase was developed by Steinberg, the first company to introduce VST instruments and effects, which later became the standard with all other DAWs. Cubase is one of the oldest DAWs out there, improving over the years and making it a popular choice among modern producers despite the tough competition nowadays.
Cubase released its 12th version this year, which includes many features requested by the community of musicians and audio engineers over the years. They got rid of the USB eLicenser, so now you can use Cubase without a dongle, finally!
Some of the new features include better integration with MIDI controllers, preset scripts for popular controllers, and an editor to set up your MIDI controllers to work with Cubase. In addition, VariAudio now supports scale assistance to correct pitch or create melodies.
Cubase 12 is available in three versions: Elements for $100, Artist for $330, and Pro for $580. You can try the Pro version for 30 days without restrictions.
- Stock plugins
- Dolby Atmos integration
- Not beginner-friendly compared to other DAWs.
Studio One has become a favourite workstation among musicians and sound engineers in a short time, mostly thanks to its arrangement and composition tools which can quickly transform your MIDI device into a sheet notation tool. Furthermore, the integrated plugins and virtual instruments offer plenty to start making music in no time.
Multi-format export allows you to save time exporting files in different audio formats with their own settings, as well as adjust loudness for specific streaming platforms for digital releases in real-time.
You can start by trying Studio One Prime, the free version. If you’re happy with it, you can upgrade to the Pro version for $400 or change to Studio One Artist for $100. They also offer a subscription called PreSonus Spheres that gives you access to Studio One Professional, Notation, and many other PreSonus software for $15 monthly.
- Intuitive Drag & Drop functionality.
- Show page for live performing.
- Free version available.
- 64-Bit operating system only.
- Stability issues.
Pro Tools has been the standard in the music industry for a long time, especially in bigger recording studios: it’s highly trusted for post-production in general, including in projects for television and movies.
It can be very intimidating and harder to learn compared to the competition, but if you take your time and learn how to use it, you’ll have a professional recording studio at your disposal at all times.
Pro Tools has adopted the subscription model and offers three tiers: Pro Tool Artist with the essentials to start creating music for $9.99 monthly; Pro Tools Studio with a complete toolset for music production for $31.99 monthly; and Pro Tools Flex, the most advanced suite for post-production and high-end music from $99.99 monthly.
- Reliable software.
- The industry standard for audio post-production.
- Free tutorials on their website.
- Monthly subscription
- iLok authorization
Similar to Ableton Live, Bitwig was designed for live performance, but it also offers good quality tools for recording, mixing, and mastering. It was developed by former Ableton employees, and in fact, the two DAWs have many things in common.
Bitwig offers linear and non-linear workflows for sound design, recording, and live sets, but what really impresses are its modulation tools, which open up endless possibilities for soundscape creation. In its latest release, they added new features like comping, operator, and exporting to MP3.
Bitgiw Studio is still a new DAW, but it’s becoming increasingly popular among music producers.
Bitwig offers two versions: Bitwig Studio 16-track, with a selection of tools to start, for $100; and Bitwig Studio, the complete edition with more than 130 instruments and effects, for $400.
- Good workflow.
- Hardware integration.
- It tends to crash when overloaded.
Previously known as Fruity Loops, FL Studio is another iconic DAW that’s been around for some time and is beloved by many EDM and Hip-Hop producers who started their musical journey with this DAW thanks to its intuitive interface.
FL Studio is possibly the best DAW to start making beats with. You can create a basic drum pattern in seconds and develop a sonic palette way faster than with any other DAW. However, as you start honing your music production skills, you might find FL Studio’s compositional capabilities limiting compared to other workstations.
The good thing about FL Studio is that whenever you buy a license, you will get future updates for free, something other DAWs do not offer. FL Studio provides plenty of plugins to start creating from day one, and you can also use its VST plugins on other DAWs.
FL Studio has four versions available: Fruity Edition for a virtual music studio for $99; Producer with audio recording and six native plugins for $199; Signature bundle with additionally native plugins for $299; and the All-plugins edition for $499.
- Free updates.
- Community support.
- The user interface might seem chaotic for those used to other DAWs.
Reason Studio excels in music recording and is an incredible tool for sound design. Furthermore, the Combinator plugin allows you to integrate your favourite devices and customize them to create your perfect rack.
In their latest version, Reason upgraded the resolution graphics to allow zooming for a better view. This zoom feature adapts to different size monitors and especially for laptop users.
Reason can be acquired for a monthly subscription starting at $19.99, including full access to Reason Studio, future upgrades, Rack extension, and weekly sound packs. But if you’re not into subscriptions, you can buy Reason Studio for $499.
- Rack extensions.
- Zoomable interface.
- It’s a bit buggy.
- No significant improvements over the years.
Cakewalk by BandLab is a complete music production package that you can use to compose, record, mix and master your songs for free. This DAW offers the best value for beginners and advanced users on a tight budget.
Cakewalk features high-quality virtual instruments like drums, piano, or strings that sound incredibly professional, plus a comprehensive built-in library of vocal and pitch editing effects that you can find only on expensive DAWs.
If you have never used a DAW before, this is the best you can start with, though its interface can be a little overwhelming. However, there are many online tutorials for new music producers that’ll help you hit the ground running.
Cakewalk supports third-party VST instruments that you can buy from other developers. Considering Cakewalk is free, you can spend on other extras like VST, plugins, or MIDI controllers to expand your sound palette.
- It’s free.
- VST3 support.
- ARA support.
- Windows Only.
Rapid Environment for Audio Production, Engineering, and Recording (REAPER) is a DAW perfect for all levels, from beginners to professionals. It has a clean interface that’s intuitive for those who never used a DAW before but sophisticated enough for more experienced producers.
The stock plugins have a simple interface that may look outdated, but they do the job. You can also add third-party VST instruments and effects to REAPER and customize it to look similar to other DAWs you’re already familiar with.
One of the best features of REAPER is that it’s lightweight and one of the fastest DAWs in the market. It doesn’t use too much RAM, allowing you to work with unlimited tracks without crashing, even on a subpar laptop.
Developers encourage you to try REAPER before purchasing it. You can try its full version for 60 days, and after that period, you can buy the discounted license for $60 or the commercial license for $225. Once purchased, you can install it on multiple computers, but make sure you’re only using REAPER on one computer at a time.
- Great value for the Price.
- Linux compatibility.
- Complex for beginners.
- Stock plugins.
There is no such thing as “the best DAW”.
Technically speaking, every DAW can do the same things in different ways, and many hits and great compositions are produced daily using different DAWs; if a software weren’t good, producers wouldn’t be using it in the first place.
I’d suggest you try some of the DAW listed here. Once you pick one, explore it and search for tutorials online. Try to learn everything you can before switching to a different DAW. When you get a clear understanding of how a DAW works, you’ll be able to change to a different one quite easily.
The best DAW is the one you feel more comfortable with and lets you create your music freely.
Good luck, and stay creative!