Back in the 1990s the first versions the modern digital workstation began to appear

Everyone has argued ever since about which one is the best

As improvements come on the scene the debate continues

If you’re just starting out these arguments can make your decisions very difficult

So to help out, I created a post that’s an in-depth guide to all of the best digital audio workstations

Before we get started here’s a question you’re probably wanting to ask…

Should I go with free or paid DAW options?

There are free DAW options out there……

Audacity is one

Reaper is another

If you decide to go one of these free versions I guess you can stop reading this post right now

If not….. Read on

Limited versus full versions of your DAW

Instead of using a “piece of junk” free DAW, I would recommend using what is called limited or stripped down version of paid DAW instead

Most companies offer a stripped-down version of their main software for people on a budget

Truth be told, most of these are plenty robust enough to keep anyone new to digital recording busy for quite a while

Personally, I have used the full version of Cubase for many years an would argue that I still only used about 10% of its capacity

It’s not that I am cheating here or anything like that, it’s just that these pieces of software are so deep that it’s really unnecessary to know more than a fraction of their capabilities

The Top DAW Softwares

Side note here before you start reading.

If you have already started using a particular digital audio workstation then stick with.

The generally all do the same thing if you’re already used to the workflow will find the change to a different system quite jarring.

So here’s the list

1) Presonus Studio One

Well known for their quality pieces of hardware at reasonable prices….

Presonus has recently added a DAW to their lineup

With the help of developers at Steinberg, the makers of Cubase…

Presonus brought Studio One onto the scene in 2009

Since then it quickly became considered as a serious option to each other DAW’s

There are three versions. Check them out

  • Studio One PRIME – 
  • Studio One ARTIST – 

2) Cakewalk Sonar

Not my favorite option for the simple fact that is PC only

Since my previous rant in the article on computers made it very clear that I’m not fan of PC it seems natural not to like software that works only on PC

That being said, there’re a couple of things that are good about Sonar

1) Very affordable

2) Sonar uses serial numbers to open there system rather then the USB dongle’s that are so annoying used by other systems

Click on the links below to see reviews for each version

  • Cakewalk Sonar ARTIST – 
  • Cakewalk Sonar PROFESSIONAL – 
  • Cakewalk Sonar PLATINUM – 

3) FL Studio

Previously known as Fruity Loops

This did not go over well with Kelloggs, the makers of breakfast cereal so name had to be changed

FL Studio is a big hit with Hip-Hop and EDM producers.

On advantage of this system is sitting that has free lifetime updates

If you get the producer or signature version you will never have to give the money again

Click the links below to see reviews and prices for each version

  • FL Studio 20 FRUITY – 
  • FL Studio 20 PRODUCER – 
  • FL Studio 20 SIGNATURE – 

Note: The Fruity version does not record audio so avoided want to do audio tracking.

There is also a mobile version for people on the move.

4) Propellerhead Reason

This is not your typical DAW

Besides being a stand-alone DAW, it Also operates as a bundle of virtual instruments can be used with other Digital audio workstations

With this system, electronic musicians can work with other music producers on any platform

It also looks and acts like a piece of analog equipment

It stimulates the design of a racket studio here even allowing rear access for patching cables

Click the links below to see prices for each version

  • Reason 10 INTRO – 
  • Reason 10 (FULL) – 

5) Abelton Live

One thing sets this software apart from others

It was originally designed as a live performance instrument

It has since been modified as a complete recording and tracking package

Since it was designed for live performance it is designed for its Visual interface well on a laptop screen

Secondly, many hardware controllers from third parties integrate well with the system

Some of them include

  • Ableton Push 2 (w/Live 9 Intro)
  • Akai Professional APC Mini – 
  • Novation Launchpad – 

If you need a tool for life performance Abelton is the preferred choice

Click the links to see more on Abelton

  • Ableton Live 10 INTRO – 
  • Ableton Live 10 STANDARD – 
  • Ableton Live 10 SUITE – 

6) Motu Digital Performer

Probably the oldest digital audio workstation out there

It first appeared on the scene be back in the early 1990s

In a way, it was the precursor to the first version of ProTools

A “ Midi only” Version existed as far back as 1984

Originally a Mac-only option, it has recently been released for Windows as well.

Probably a good idea since they will be losing a lot of business otherwise

Check them out here

Digital Performer 9 – ( Affiliate links )

7) Steinberg Cubase

This is the other prehistoric ( kidding) DAW in existence

Originally it was designed as a “midi only” application way back in its release date in 1989

Cubase is my DAW of choice personally

It was a toss-up between Cubase and Protools when I was first in researching

A very smart man that worked at a music store talked me out of ProTools stating that Cubase was a far better application for somebody in my situation

Cubase with its parent company Steinberg introduced the concept of VST Instruments and VST plugins back in 1999 and 1996 respectively.

VST Systems have been adopted by many other DAW’s since and become somewhat of an industry-standard

Cubase arguably has one of the most devoted user bases and a very active forum which has been very useful to me in solving problems in many cases in the past.

Check out Cubase and its various versions in the links below

  • Steinberg Cubase Elements 10  – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
  • Steinberg Cubase Artist 10 – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
  • Steinberg Cubase Pro 10 – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)

8) Cockos Reaper

Reaper was started in 2004.

It’s an acronym for “ Rapid Environment for Audio Prototyping & Efficient Recording”

Reaper, having no advertising budget relied strictly upon the enthusiasm of the users in order to reach its market

The company is known for its very frequent updates improvements to the software design

Another thing that makes reaper very attractive is it’s extremely low price

In reality, software it Is almost free since its license for private use is only $60

A commercial license is available for $225

And, in fact it’s the entire purchase model is ball and Terry and based upon user honesty

They have a very active forum which can be extremely helpful when you’re starting

To download hey free trial buy the software click here

9) Apple Logic Pro

Apple’s Logic Pro recording software was originally conceived by a company called Emagic

Later they were bought by Apple

Logic has grown dramatically since then proving that it was a good investment

Obviously, since it is an Apple product it is only compatible with Mac computers

Which, if you were paying attention in earlier posts you would know is good by me since I am hey Mac user only

There are number of advantages to having a Mac only software that I won’t bother to list here

Suffice it to say it has a very dedicated user base despite not being available on Windows

If you want to purchase watch pro you will have to go to Mac app store and buy a download

Last but certainly not least is…..

10) Protools by Avid

ProTools is the universal standard DAW in a professional recording industry

This has some advantages and disadvantages

One advantage is the ability to import sessions in any studio in the world that utilizes ProTools

Since it is common to track and mix and multiple studios in the professional world this can make for a Seamless transition when this is necessary

That being said, all of this integration comes with the sacrifice of other features

While difficult to list or express, take my word for it having system that this cross-compatible can make for some difficulties

Flexibility is probably the biggest sacrifice that I have seen and friends that use ProTools

Many will argue that I’m overstating the case but I have seen firsthand the limitations.

If you are a professional and are considering working in multiple studios the ProTools is the obvious choice

If not, my advice is to choose from the list of starting with either Cubase or Logic Pro

If your decision is to go with ProTools click the links below

  • Pro Tools First – the beginner version, which is totally free, and can be downloaded here.
  • Pro Tools – the intermediate version, ideal for independent musicians
  • Pro Tools Ultimate – the professional version, which offers many more features than the regular version and is ideal for professional recording studios.

Now what?

Well, now that you’ve made your decision and bought your Recording software……

Be prepared for the installation process.

This can be a bit tricky so my recommendation is to join the forum that is dedicated to your particular software choice

There will be plenty of people there to help you when you run into snags which will be an inevitable initially

Good luck and happy recording