In an age where DAWs are available like ice-cream flavors, it has never become harder to pick one. Hence, I have reviewed the top 10 DAW software in 2022 great for DnB, Electronic Music, Rock, Metal & Hip Hop.
In general, no, almost all modern DAWs have the features necessary to produce a song. However, you should select a DAW-based on the workflow and what additional features you prioritize. Some DAWs are better for working with audio, whereas others are ideal for electronic music with virtual instruments.
For example, if you want to become a DJ or produce electronic music, I suggest checking out FL Studio, Ableton Live, and Bitwig Studio. However, suppose you are more into recording live instruments, broadcasting, audio post-production, scoring, or even providing sound for a stage. In that case, there are various DAWs available that we’ll go through in this article.
What DAW Should A Beginner Use?
Your first thought should be the kind of music you want to make. I suggest trying out FL Studio for electronic music and Studio One or Cakewalk for others. However, there is no right or wrong choice; there’s only your preference. Similarly, you might even want to learn a specific DAW for a niche work.
Next, let’s head into our list of the best DAWs available so far. Note that the list is not in any specific order.
When producing music, we first compose it, whether it’s with a pencil and paper or inside your mind with a keyboard. Next, you have to lay down the idea and produce the music. This second step requires recording audio to capture our electronic and acoustic instruments. Similarly, it also requires you to record MIDI data and program virtual instruments.
If you’d like to know more about what DAW software is, its uses, and its history, have a look at my article here.
The 10 Best DAWs For Musicians 2022
1. Ableton Live 11
Artists That Use/Used Ableton:
Sub Focus, Subtension, STRANJAH, Sustance, Malux, Icicle, Monrroe, Joe Ford, DC Breaks, Current Value, Netsky, Halogenix, Caracal Project, Metrik, Icicle, Hyroglifics, DLR, GLXY, Document One, QZB….
Westend, Carl Cox, Jonas Saalbach, Stil Vor Talent, BEC, Machinedrum….
- Dance & EDM:
David Guetta, Tiësto, Marshmello, Armin van Buuren, Steve Aoki, DJ Snake…
Eprom, Skrillex, Flux Pavilion, Virtual Riot…
Ableton Live 11 is one of the most popular and complete DAWs in the world right now.
Ableton Live is the DAW that first innovated the performance-based workflow, making it a little different compared to any other DAW. It would probably be more accurate to describe it as an instrument rather than a DAW, although it is just as comprehensive as a DAW.
There are three editions of Ableton Live: Intro, Standard, and Suite. While the Intro edition limits the features, the Standard and Suite editions are primarily the same, with the differences being in the bundled content. The Standard edition comes with six instruments and 10+ GB of content, whereas the Suite edition features seventeen instruments and 70+ GB of content.
- Session View
The Session View page is where you can add MIDI and audio clips to create Scenes. Each Scene is a row of cells that hold the clips. And you can trigger the clips individually or together using the Scene buttons on the Master channel. Double-clicking a clip opens the Clip Editor, where you can edit audio and MIDI clips. The Session View page also doubles as the mixer in Ableton Live, but we’ll cover that separately.
- Arrangement View
The Arrangement View is for linear songwriting like in traditional DAWs. However, you can also use it as a sketchpad to create new clips or edit existing ones for the Session View. Or, you could record your performances in the Session View inside Arrangement View to create a song arrangement. The Arrangement View includes features like slicing, fading, copying, and stretching clips. And while recording, you can record multiple takes and “comp” or select the best bits of performance in each take.
Ableton Live features all the necessary audio and MIDI editors like the piano roll. The latest update even allows you to assign the probability of playback/velocity to each note. It helps create dynamic performances easy to achieve without recording multiple times. Furthermore, you can stretch clips in real-time with automation to create complex sounds.
Below the Session View, you’ll find the Mixer. It lets you set each track’s volume, panning, and routing/sends. Of course, you’ll need some effects to mix a song. Hence, Ableton Live comes with thirty-six high-quality audio effects in the Standard edition and fifty-nine in the Suite edition.
Ableton Live features both linear and clip-based workflow. The idea is to use the clip-based Session View for live performing while producing your songs in the linear Arrangement View. The Session View lets you create as many Scenes as you need. So, you could even create an hour-long performance session in a single project.
Ableton Live is a highly versatile piece of software that allows for a lot of explorations. Hence, the many features and the serious appearance of the interface may be overwhelming for a new user with no knowledge of DAWs. However, thanks to the many video tutorials and guides available online, anyone with enough dedication could learn this DAW.
Pros & Cons:
The most significant advantage of using Ableton Live is having a large content resource and helpful communities. Furthermore, the DAW has a vast number of features making it an excellent choice for electronic music producers who would also like to dabble in traditional music production. For example, you can create FX chains with multiple effects that act as a single effect processor, which is a much-wanted feature in many DAWs. Similarly, it has a large content library, especially the Suite edition.
Unfortunately, Ableton Live is a rather expensive DAW, making it difficult for musicians on a budget to own. Similarly, the learning curve may be higher than some other electronic music-oriented DAWs on our list. And it doesn’t have a dedicated mixer that many regular musicians and engineers expect, making mixing potentially unintuitive. On the other hand, many producers prefer this streamlined mixer. So, it’s subjective.
Ableton Live is a highly capable DAW that is suitable for just about any kind of music production, whether it’s EDM, hip-hop, rock, or jazz. Its strength is in sound designing and using loops for making music. Hence, I recommend it for experienced electronic music producers and live performers. You could also use it for conventional songwriting in traditional genres, although it might be confusing if you are used to hardware recorders and sequencers; and scoring. Finally, I wouldn’t recommend it for audio post-production.
2. FL Studio 20
Artists That Use/Used FL Studio
Camo & Krooked, IMANU, Buunshin, Emperor, Teddy Killerz, Arkaik, Koherent, Black Barrel, Spor, Klinical, Kyrist…….
- Dance & EDM:
Avicii, Martin Garrix, Deadmau5, Afrojack, Alan Walker, Madeon, Ummet Ozcan, Seven Lions, Julian Jordan, Blasterjaxx…
Murda Beatz, TM88, Hit-Boy, Metro Boomin, Cardiak, WondaGurl….
FL Studio is one of the most popular DAWs among electronic music producers because of its beat-making functionalities.
Previously known as Fruity Loops, FL Studio has become a staple among many music producers. The reason is its easy and almost game-like workflow. However, it doesn’t mean that FL Studio is a basic DAW. On the contrary, it’s a complete music production software with features that make it a favorite among professionals.
FL Studio is often labeled as the easiest DAW for inexperienced users. Its clutter-free interface and MIDI integration allow new users to make music right away. It features an excellent sequencer that gets you started with creating rhythms as soon as you open it. Also, it has one of the best piano rolls among DAWs.
- Future Proof
FL Studio has a highly compelling selling strategy. It offers four editions that cater to music producers of various skills and needs. And no matter which you purchase, you will receive free lifetime updates in that specific edition. Furthermore, upgrading to another edition requires you to pay the difference alone.
- Native Plugins
Each edition of FL Studio has a bundle of high-quality instruments and effect plugins. You’ll find many synths ranging from FM and subtractive synths to additive and physical modeling synths. Similarly, there are sample-based instruments with fundamental presets. Furthermore, you’ll find an array of effect plugins with excellent GUI and sound.
FL Studio features a built-in pitch and time correction software for editing vocals and other audio recordings. It works similar to Melodyne, although it lacks proper integration. And other than NewTone, the DAW also features a plugin called Pitcher, an auto-tuner. This plugin can produce T-pain style vocals, harmonize back vocals, and correct incorrect notes subtly.
FL Studio is very stable and lightweight compared to many other DAWs. The reason is its vector-based UI and excellent coding. Furthermore, it makes your workflow quicker by introducing macros, shortcuts, and tools.
FL Studio uses a unique pattern-based approach to music production, ideal for hip-hop beat-making and EDM production. It treats every element (audio, MIDI, and automation) as individual clips or patterns, which are easy to loop and chop up non-destructively. This feature makes the DAW a favorite among electronic music producers, for whom chopping up audio and other clips is a staple in their workflow.
There’s a reason why FL Studio is often considered the ideal beginner’s DAW. The easy and fun interface makes a new user feel in control immediately. Furthermore, its fame has led to many tutorials and videos on the internet, making it an excellent choice for beginners. However, if you intend to make a lot of audio recordings, I wouldn’t suggest FL Studio as it isn’t its strongest suit.
Pros & Cons:
FL Studio has one of the most intuitive piano rolls on the market, lifetime updates, lots of high-quality plugins, and an intuitive GUI for new users. It brings a fresh approach to the world of traditional linear workflows in most DAWs. Similarly, it has a vibrant community of users worldwide, making learning even more effortless.
Furthermore, since it treats audio files as patterns, changing one pattern’s volume, pan, pitch, etc. makes the change on every copy of the audio clip/sample, unless you specify it to make a new copy. You can still chop and edit each pattern individually too. This behavior is excellent for electronic music production, where percussive one-shot samples are a staple.
Unfortunately, treating audio files as patterns also makes the pattern managing tool, Channel Rack, extremely crowded when recording. It makes it tedious to find the required recording when recording a band or multiple takes on your guitar. Similarly, you have to link each instrument to a new mixer track before you can begin mixing.
Furthermore, since each pattern has its own timeline, changing the time signature requires you to do so on the main arranger view and in each pattern manually. Conversely, all other DAWs change time signatures by assigning them on the arranger view alone. And finally, it doesn’t have ARA support.
FL Studio is a reliable and intuitive DAW to start music production. It also receives frequent updates, making it more and more capable. And since you will receive lifetime free updates, you can rest assured that you’ll get each new feature as soon as it’s released. I recommend FL Studio for electronic music producers of all skill levels. As many issues as there are in FL Studio, it also provides intuitiveness in electronic music production that no other DAW provides.
3. Apple Logic Pro X
Artists That Use/Used Logic Pro:
Friction, Wilkinson, Hybrid Minds, Danny Byrd, Kove, Klinical…..
- Dance & EDM:
Hardwell, Tiësto, Alan Walker, Nicky Romero, Calvin Harris….
Eric Prydz, Victor Ruiz….
- Also, great for Rock & Metal
Logic Pro has become a stellar recording, editing, mixing, and post-production package with an original charm.
Initially introduced by Emagic, Logic Pro is now Apple’s flagship DAW application for macOS computers. You are probably familiar with the free GarageBand application in macOS if you own a Mac. And Logic Pro is essentially GarageBand’s bigger sibling, capable of opening its projects seamlessly. However, although Logic Pro is an extremely capable software, it is surprisingly affordable, something you’d never hear someone say about an Apple product!
- A Complete Suite
Logic Pro offers a comprehensive suite of instruments and effect plugins with over 72 GB of content. Thousands of presets, instruments, over fifty groove patterns, and seventy effect plugins, including audio pitch correction, make the DAW ready for production out of the box. And unlike many other DAWs, the Logic Pro provides as many acoustic instruments as it does synth sounds.
- Live Loops
The Live Loops view consists of columns of square cells, where you can drag samples, loops, and recorded audio. Then, you can trigger these cells to perform live or create song sections called “scenes.” Once you’re done, you can transfer the arrangements in the Live Loops view to the default Tracks view (arranging page).
- Surround Mixer
The latest update of Logic Pro added excellent surround mixing with Dolby Atmos support up to 7.1.4. Using the mixer, you can change the volume and panning, add effects, create sends and busses, change each track’s input, etc. And if you’re on headphones, you can also simulate surround sound using binaural monitoring.
Logic Pro features a comprehensive audio editing toolset and several editors for MIDI editing. You’ll find a sequencer for programming drum patterns, a piano roll, and an excellent score editor for MIDI manipulation. The DAW also allows you to use remote control applications for iPad and iPhone.
Primarily, Logic Pro has a linear workflow. However, it also features some clip-based workflow features. So, if you happen to be someone who makes traditional music but would also like to perform live, then Logic Pro could be a good option for you.
If you are already a Mac user and have experience using GarageBand, then Logic Pro should be easy for you to learn. Even if you don’t have experience using GarageBand, Logic Pro is still a very straightforward DAW. Furthermore, thanks to its affordability, even beginners can purchase it without second thoughts. And they are equipped with everything they need to make music out of the box.
Pros & Cons:
Logic Pro is an excellent DAW that is extremely capable and fits any music production needs. You could use it to produce electronic music, rock, or even film scoring. Thanks to its built-in score editor, Dolby Atmos support, and SMPTE-locking feature for events, film score composers and post-production engineers will find Logic Pro suitable for their needs. Furthermore, it is highly affordable and provides you with an abundance of effects and instruments out of the box.
The biggest disadvantage of Logic Pro is that it’s limited to macOS only. Similarly, while its audio editing features are undoubtedly comprehensive, it is not state of the art. You may find a few quirks in its audio editing workflow compared to DAWs like Pro Tools, Reaper, and Nuendo.
Overall, Logic Pro is an excellent and comprehensive DAW for its price, ideal for musicians interested in various genres. I recommend it for people of all skill levels using Mac computers. Also, Logic Pro is a viable choice for niche works like film scoring, although it may not be as comprehensive for post-production.
4. Steinberg Cubase Pro 11
Artists That Use/Used Cubase:
Noisia, Mefjus, Ben Soundscape, Pythius, Keeno,
Alan Walker, Boris Brejcha,
- Dance & EDM:
- PsyTrance / GOA:
- Also, Great For Rock & Metal
Cubase is one of the oldest DAWs on our list, and it has remained a mighty contender to even the most modern DAWs available today.
Thanks to many celebrity composers using Cubase, it has become a default choice for film score composers. However, it does not mean that other kinds of music production are impossible in Cubase. On the contrary, since Cubase has been around for a long time, Steinberg, the company responsible for developing the VST technology, has had the opportunity to add a wide variety of features and perfect them. Hence, Cubase remains one of the most reliable DAWs available today.
- Detailed Editing
Cubase is one of the most comprehensive DAWs available for editing both audio and MIDI. Much of the audio editing in Cubase is done on the arrangement page, but you can do detailed pitch editing and time correction using the VariAudio editor. As for MIDI editing, Cubase features a piano roll, a drum editor, your staff notation editor, and an inline editor to edit MIDI clips on the arrangement page.
- Analog Mixer
Cubase features an excellent mixer that is similar to a hardware mixer. Adding to the appearance is a built-in channel strip that emulates analog hardware sounds. The channel strip includes a noise gate, a compressor, an EQ, a saturator, and a limiter. Other than these, you will find 79 audio effect plugins in the Pro edition. Furthermore, Cubase supports 5.1 surround sound, making it excellent for people who are just dabbling into surround mixing.
- Chord Pads
Cubase has a feature called Chord Pads, which lets you write chords with the click of a button. Furthermore, you can use the feature with a separate “chord track,” which lets you create chord events that affect pre-recorded MIDI data and audio clips. So, suppose you had a bar of D major chord with a guitar strum, root bass note, and some MIDI keyboards. You could use the chord track to turn it into an A minor or anything else instantly.
- Arranger Track
The Arranger Track lets you assign a section of a song as individual events. You could name these events Intro, Verse, Chorus, etc. Next, the Arranger Track allows you to rearrange the order of these events to create new arrangements. Furthermore, you can save each arrangement to make comparisons or to create multiple versions of the same song. I find it handy when clients want me to make significant changes like repeating the hook, which I can do without having to select and copy each individual clip and automation envelopes manually.
- Expression Maps
Cubase’s Expression Maps feature allows you to intuitively assign articulations on supporting instruments no matter what kind of data input the specific instrument requires. For instance, let’s say we have a Kontakt guitar instrument that requires me to use a key switch to change its articulations and a violin that changes articulations based on a CC parameter. I could use Cubase’s Expression Maps to do both by assigning the articulations under each note on the piano roll. The Expression feature will automatically generate the required key switch or CC value using a “map” that you create or the developer provides.
Cubase is a linear DAW that works as traditional recording hardware does. You can add multiple tracks, record audio/MIDI on them, add audio/MIDI effects, and mix them to create a final song. Furthermore, thanks to its large content library, you can produce quality songs even without any third-party plugins and samples.
While Cubase is mostly straightforward with a well-designed user interface, I must say that it’s extremely comprehensive and full of features that a beginner might find overwhelming. However, if your intention is to work as a professional mixing engineer, film score composer, or post-production engineer, Cubase could be an excellent stepping stone. Your next step would be Nuendo, which is an advanced version of Cubase.
Pros & Cons:
Cubase is a highly capable DAW with a comprehensive collection of sound libraries, instruments, and effect plugins. Furthermore, it has detailed features for editing every element of music, including audio pitch/timing, drums, MIDI instruments, etc. Similarly, its arranger track, chord pads, project management features, and expression maps make the DAW ideal for both songwriting and large projects.
However, these features come at a moderately high price, hindering new users. Fortunately, Cubase comes in three editions, and the cheaper ones let you experience the DAW and start projects without spending a lot at once. Another thing many users dislike is that Cubase requires a dongle to activate it.
If you are already familiar with a linear DAW, you will find Cubase extremely easy to use. And the reason is that Cubase is the DAW that started the linear workflow in software form for the first time. It has become a standard in pretty much every DAW except a few. I recommend it for intermediate to expert musicians, film score composers, and aspiring post-production engineers. Many hip-hop and trap artists also use it as a vocal recording and mixing software alongside, say, FL Studio.
5. Bitwig Studio 4
Artists That Use/Used Bitwig Studio:
Although only seven years old, Bitwig Studio has established itself as a DAW with fresh innovations and creativity.
Bitwig Studio is a DAW that focuses on live performance and production with inspirations from Ableton Live. It has received regular updates enhancing its features and expanding its bundled content ever since its first release, making it one of the fastest DAWs to develop. And speaking of bundled content, Bitwig Studio comes with over 5 GB of sound content and over 90 instruments, FX, devices, and routers.
The Launcher is the first sequencer in Bitwig where you can create groups of clips called “scenes” with different musical ideas using both audio and MIDI. It lets you perform live by triggering each scene/clip or even arrange an entire song by recording your performance. While performing and switching from one scene to another, you can either make it play each scene from the start or pick up from where you left off in the previous scene.
The Arranger lets you edit the scenes as you would on a linear DAW and create new scenes out of them. You can do everything from adding new elements, adding fades, changing the length of the clips, etc. Furthermore, you can also use the Arranger alone to produce your music, bypassing the Launcher completely. Most traditional musicians will prefer working in this method.
- Edit Audio
You can record and edit audio clips directly on the Arranger page. It allows you to splice, copy, add fades, stretch, etc. However, Bitwig Studio features a Detail Editor Panel for detailed editing, where you can stretch audio transients using beat markers, slice up the audio using transients, and create envelopes for the gain, pan, pitch, and formant.
- MIDI Editing
Bitwig Studio features a piano roll and a drum editor. Essentially, the piano roll is where you can add and edit MIDI notes. Similarly, the drum editor does the same, but instead of showing you the entire range of the keyboard, it only shows the notes where there are existing MIDI events (notes).
The DAW features a competent mixer, where you can create sends and routings. It features an extensive collection of audio and MIDI effects. Furthermore, it features modulating FXs that allow you to send modulations (LFO, envelope, etc.) to software and hardware instruments and effects.
Bitwig Studio combines both clip-based and linear workflows. You can lay down new ideas in the Launcher sequencer and use the Arranger sequencer to create an arrangement. Or, you can bypass the clip-based Launcher entirely and use Bitwig as a linear DAW. Having this option means that you can record audio and MIDI inside both the sequencers, depending on how you wish to use them. For example, I think of the Launcher as a temporary sketchpad, where I can record an audio clip that I intend to use inside the Sampler.
Bitwig Studio is relatively easy to use. Of course, it has many features that are intended for advanced users, but you can still use its fundamental features as a beginner. It prioritizes a drag-and-drop workflow, which makes it even more intuitive. Furthermore, you’ll find many video tutorials and a well-written manual to help guide you.
Pros & Cons:
For a general music producer, Bitwig Studio is an invitation to explore and innovate new ways to make music. From modulating instruments and effects to using micro-tunings, this DAW offers a lot of flexibility. Furthermore, its audio editor, dual sequencers, automated beat-detection, MPE support, and touchscreen support make it a genuinely modern DAW.
However, Bitwig Studio is a fairly new DAW. So, although it is pretty stable, you’ll find the user community somewhat smaller compared to the giants on our list. Similarly, it doesn’t have a massive library of built-in sounds, which may make the DAW seem pricey.
Bitwig Studio is an excellent piece of software that is ideal for a home studio. It comes with features that make modern music production easier and faster. I recommend Bitwig Studio for the intermediate and experienced electronic music producers who wish to explore and experiment as they will be able to reap the benefits the most. It could also work for traditional music producers, but I don’t recommend it for audio post-production or scoring.
6. Presonus Studio One 5 Professional
Although it is one of the newer DAWs on our list, Studio One has demonstrated itself as a comprehensive DAW, ideal for many kinds of music production.
Studio One was initially developed by a startup company founded by former Steinberg employees Wolfgang Kundrus and Matthias Juwan. Kundrus wrote the specification for version three of the vast standard and had also worked on multiple Steinberg projects like Cubase, Nuendo, and HALion. Hence, Studio One draws a lot of inspiration for its visual aesthetics from Cubase. However, the difference is that Studio One focuses on intuitive drag-and-drop controls and remaining beginner-friendly.
- Three Pages
Studio One has three main pages: the Start Page, Song page, and Project page. Here, the Start Page is for configuring the system settings for audio and MIDI in-out, setting up an artist profile, and managing your song and projects list. And the Song Page is where the recording and music production happens. Finally, the Project Page, a standout feature of studio one, is for mastering and exporting your music.
- Chord Track
Studio One’s Chord Track feature has harmonic editing for both audio and MIDI. So, you can compose a new song by using the Chord Track to build your chord progression. Similarly, you can also use it to change existing events, audio, or MIDI. The harmonic editing feature ensures that editing the audio makes transparent results.
Studio One has two features to help you with arrangements. The first is the Scratch Pads, which allows you to test new arrangements without losing your current one. It essentially opens a new arrangement view where you can try out new ideas and introduce them into your final arrangement.
Similarly, the Arranger Track makes moving sections of a song easier. You can name each section of a song, change the order of the sections, and create multiple versions of arrangements.
- Content Bundle
Studio One comes with a large content library of 40 GB. It includes a variety of multi-sampled instruments, synths, and drum kits. It also contains many effect plugins, from guitar amps to analog processors. Furthermore, you will also receive Melodyne Essentials for audio pitch correction and time adjustments.
- Articulations and Editors
Studio One employs key switch integration for your orchestral libraries and other virtual instruments. It allows you to send key switch data without manually writing the notes. And for editing your MIDI data, Studio One features a piano roll, a drum editor, a sequencer, and a score editor.
Studio One is a DAW with a linear workflow. It is different because it prioritizes drag-and-drop workflow. So, Studio One is one of those DAWs that makes linear workflow as intuitive and easy as clip-based workflow. Furthermore, it also features a sequencer that behaves similar to FL Studio’s sequencer.
Studio One is one of the easiest DAWs to learn. If you are a beginner, you will find studio one easy, intuitive, and fun to produce with. That said, it may not be the most intuitive for loop-based production. However, if you tend to record audio or vocals, then Studio One is an excellent choice.
Pros & Cons:
The biggest advantage Studio One has is how intuitive and easy it is. Furthermore, it comes bundled with a large content library, making it suitable for beginners who don’t know where to start. Similarly, features like Splitter that lets you use multiple effect plugins separated by stereo channels and frequency, Event FX to add effect plugins per clip, etc., make Studio One extremely powerful.
There aren’t many disadvantages when it comes to Studio One. However, because of its traditional mixer design, routing and creating sends may not be very intuitive compared to other DAWs that allow routing between any track. Other issues include no surround audio support, which makes it unusable for many professional media tasks.
Studio One is a capable DAW that is also easy and intuitive to use. Its content library makes it easy to create music without having to use third-party instruments and effect plugins. Similarly, you can even record vocals and correct the pitch and timing to produce release-ready tunes right out of the box. I recommend Studio One for music producers who make hip-hop, trap, pop, rock, blues, jazz, classical music, and other similar genres. It is ideal for musicians of all skill levels.
7. Acoustica Mixcraft 9
You don’t often hear about Mixcraft, but it has a fan base that shows an impressive amount of support.
When Mixcraft was relatively new, it was often compared to Apple GarageBand. The reason was how easy and intuitive it was. However, with version 9, it has gone from being a beginner’s DAW to a serious contender in being feature-rich. If you’ve ever used hardware recorders, you’ll find Mixcraft super easy to use as it uses a traditional workflow.
- Perform Live
Mixcraft’s Performance Panel provides capable features for live performance and loop-based composition. Integration with a Launchpad, MIDI controller, or even your typing keyboard makes it easy to trigger audio and MIDI loops. You can also record straight to the trigger slots and edit the sound in real-time while performing.
Mixcraft comes with a large package of instruments and effect plugins. Although the UI may appear slightly outdated, the instruments are high-quality and allow you to create music right away. The effect plugins include Melodyne Essentials, ToneBoosters plugins, and Izotope Mastering Essentials.
Mixcraft employs impressive routing and grouping features. You can create nested submixes, group multiple tracks, create effect tracks and route MIDI. Furthermore, every track in its mixer contains an overdrive, compression, parametric EQ, oscilloscope, and spectral analyzer.
- Video Editing
Surprisingly, Mixcraft can also do some basic video editing. You can cut, crop, and crossfade video clips, add video transitions, create titles and scrolling text, etc. So, if you want to make some music videos for your YouTube channel, Mixcraft has you covered.
Mixcraft features a fully traditional linear workflow. The tracks go from top to bottom, and the arrangement timeline goes left to right. The built-in instruments may not appear to be super modern, but they sound fantastic and are usable. So, you can get creative right away.
As I’ve already mentioned, Mixcraft prides itself in being beginner-friendly. Even if it has many advanced features, its interface is still very intuitive and easy to use. Most of its pages are straightforward and do not overwhelm. The built-in channel effects also indicate a thoughtful addition for beginners who aren’t experienced at mixing yet.
Pros & Cons:
The biggest advantage of Mixcraft is the number of features it has for its price. The built-in instruments, effects, and mixing capabilities are extensive enough to create radio-ready mixes from the start. Furthermore, it is an extremely easy DAW to use.
The biggest issue is that it’s Windows-only. However, at its price point, other disadvantages are fairly negligible. Yet, I must say that the community support may be somewhat lacking, although there are quite a few video tutorials and text guides available.
Overall, Mixcraft is a capable DAW for general music production. It may not have the shiniest effect plugins and instruments, but it provides a lot of value for your money. Furthermore, it packs plenty of third-party plugins and instruments, which give you many kinds of sounds. I recommend it for beginner and intermediate musicians who make conventional music like rock, pop, and blues.
8. Cockos Reaper
REAPER (Rapid Environment for Audio Production, Engineering, and Recording) is an incredibly powerful and customizable DAW at a compact size.
Developed by the ingenious minds at Cockos, who created the famous Winamp media player, REAPER is a multi-platform DAW capable of giving applications many times its price a run for their money. The most surprising part about REAPER is its file size: at less than 15 MB of download size, you get a full-fledged DAW with over two hundred effect plugins, making it arguably the lightest DAW ever. Furthermore, you will notice that everything from its visual design and options prioritizes function and reliability.
The most crucial feature in REAPER is how customizable it is. You can change the appearance, modify the menu options to your liking, add scripts, and even code scripts yourself. There are thousands of themes available for REAPER. Similarly, adding scripts extends the functionality of Reaper and introduces various features that you might want. And some scripts automate a complicated task involving hundreds of actions at the click of a button or a keyboard shortcut. There are thousands of such scripts available created by fellow users, some paid and the rest free.
When you first Open REAPER, you will notice that it opens in less than 5 seconds. Similarly, plugins inside REAPER tend to consume less CPU and RAM resources, even when bridging 32-bit plugins in 64-bit REAPER. Furthermore, you can create a portable installation of REAPER that you can run from a USB drive or other removable media.
Each track in Reaper supports up to 64 individually routable channels. So, it supports anything from Dolby Atmos surround audio to complex 3rd order (and higher) Ambisonic sound. You can route a track to any other using drag-and-drop, creating submixes, FX sends, and busses. Similarly, you can even use its NINJAM integration to collaborate and jam with fellow REAPER users. If there’s any feature you’d like to see, it’s probably already available, or a free script on the forum can add it to your REAPER.
Subprojects allow you to add a project as a media clip within another project. So, when you make changes in the subproject, it automatically reflects the changes in the parent project. This feature is excellent for several things:
First, mastering an album becomes a breeze if you add each song as a subproject. You can make changes to the song’s mixes without manually rendering and replacing the songs in the album project. Second, if you work on giant projects like a game sound design or film scores/sound design, you can use subprojects for each cue, offloading CPU load, etc.
Regions let you create sections in your song that you can then reorder with ease to make new arrangements. You can even create a region over another region to move multiple regions together. Furthermore, you can render each or multiple regions with manually selected tracks using the Render Matrix.
- Bundled Content
REAPER doesn’t come with any synth or sampled instruments. However, it features an extensive collection of effect plugins. They include a pitch corrector, convolution reverb, EQ with unlimited bands, delay with unlimited taps, emulations of analog compressors, etc. However, most of the plugins have functional but dreary GUI. Still, if you think the interface matters little, you’ll find that the plugins sound fantastic.
- Modulation, Automation, And Clip Effects
You can modulate any parameter using an LFO or an audio follower (sidechain). This feature is useful when your software plugin or hardware instrument doesn’t feature a built-in modulator. Similarly, it features both general automation envelopes and FL Studio-style automation clips on steroids. You can even stack automation clips on a single parameter to combine their effect (LFO + ramp-up).
Another exciting feature is the per-take FX. You can drag and drop as many plugins as you want to an individual clip/take. This feature also includes adding instruments per clip.
REAPER is a linear DAW by default. However, it features an excellent, although a little drab-looking, loop plugin that allows you to record audio or import samples and trigger them using a MIDI controller or computer keyboard. Furthermore, you can add clip-based functionalities using third-party scripts. Similarly, since the DAW is essentially empty, you can add any instrument and effect plugins of your choice to get started with making music.
REAPER is an advanced DAW designed for extreme customization. So, the learning curve is undoubtedly steeper than the other DAWs on this list. However, the customizability also allows you to create a beginner-friendly version of the DAW by reducing the number of menu items and changing its appearance. Furthermore, you can find detailed user guides and video tutorials to help you learn REAPER.
Pros & Cons:
The most significant advantage of REAPER is its price. If you are a student or aren’t earning professionally yet, you can purchase this DAW capable of competing with the likes of Nuendo, Sequoia, and Pro Tools for merely $60. The second advantage is its customizability, which can help make transitions from another DAW easier. For instance, you can change the appearance, keyboard shortcuts, menu items, etc., to make REAPER match your previous DAW.
However, the biggest issue with REAPER is its appearance. Although adding themes can make it look a lot better, you will still find that many pages appear drab and unfinished. Similarly, the lack of built-in instruments might make beginners unsure of where to start next.
REAPER is a highly capable DAW suitable for both simple recordings and large, complex projects. It’s an advanced DAW with many features, making it a favorite among sound designers and audio engineers. Hence, I recommend REAPER for the musicians and engineers who know what they need so that they can customize REAPER into their perfect DAW.
9. Reason Studios Reason
Artists That Use/Used Reaper:
If you enjoy working with hardware gadgets and instruments, it’s impossible to dislike Reason.
Reason Studios’ Reason has been around for over 27 years now, and it’s one of the most comprehensive and flexible packages for producing music. Its hardware rack-inspired user interface sets it apart from any other DAW on the market. Furthermore, you can even use virtual cables to route the instruments, effect plugins, gadgets, and the mixer inside Reason.
Currently, there are two editions of Reason: Reason 12 and Reason+. The latter is a subscription model that offers you over seventy-five instruments, devices, and effects along with weekly sound packs and the latest version of Reason. You’ll also receive the Reason Rack plugin with both the subscription model and the perpetual license. It lets you have Reason’s instruments, effects, and hardware rack design inside another DAW.
- Studio Rack
The first thing you’ll notice about Reason is its elegant design. Not only does it capture the appearance of hardware rack devices, instruments, and effect plugins, it also emulates the sound of some of the famed hardware devices like the SSL 9000k analog mixer. Furthermore, it has a light and dark mode to match your preference.
- Built-in Plugins
Reason ships with nineteen instruments, over twenty-five effect plugins, four MIDI effects, and 29,000 patches, loops, and samples. The instruments in Reason are primarily suitable for electronic, pop, hip-hop, rock, and other similar genres. The DAW also features a built-in audio pitch and time correction plugin, which is handy for editing vocals. And finally, you can use MIDI gadgets like Scales & Chords and Dual Arpeggio to create inspiring sequences without delving deep into music theory instantly.
Reason let’s see you see the rear end of the rack hardware when you press Tab on your keyboard. From this page, you can patch cables between any two ports to create sidechain routings, add new effects, or even modulate parameters. Furthermore, you can use the Combinator plugin two combine multiple gadgets into one instrument or effect module.
Reason follows a strict hardware module. So, it’s a linear DAW with a traditional approach to recording and mixing. If you start from a blank project, the first thing you need to do is add instruments and effects. By default, each instrument is assigned a track on the arrangement page. Then, you can either record MIDI and audio on the arrangement page or use the piano roll to write MIDI notes with your mouse. The mixer in Reason also features several channel effects like EQ and compressor, but most of your mixing happens with “outboard” gears.
By now, you’ve probably noticed a pattern. You will probably find Reason a breeze to use if you are familiar with hardware gear. However, if you are inexperienced, you might find Reason unintuitive and tedious to use. The good thing about learning Reason is that since it is very similar to hardware, you can expect to master a lot of the skills required in hardware patching. Hence, Reason is often used in schools to teach hardware-based audio engineering.
Pros & Cons:
The best thing about Reason is its fresh approach to sound design for software DAWs. Furthermore, it comes with a large package of sounds, instruments, and effect plugins. It makes Reason suitable for beginners who have no idea where to begin. And its flexibility is also inviting for intermediate and advanced users.
However, Reason’s approach in music production may not be considered intuitive by modern music producers who are used to using software plugins. Similarly, when working on large projects, it’s easy to get lost in its virtual rack, especially when you forget to name each plugin.
Reason is a unique DAW with a vast number of plugins and instruments out of the box. If you’re experienced with other DAWs, Reason can be a great door into the hardware method and experiencing something new. Similarly, if you need more sounds, Reason Studios has many extensions, plugins, loops, and samples that you can purchase in their shop. I recommend reason to hardware enthusiasts, intermediate, and experienced music producers. I wouldn’t suggest Reason for scoring or audio post-production because it does not support videos.
10. Avid Pro Tools (Great For Rock & Metal)
Avid Pro Tools is a tried-and-true DAW once considered the industry standard and now almost a household name in the professional working environment.
If you walk into a studio, you will likely find Pro Tools on their computer. Having this software standard among studios makes it easy to transfer projects from one studio to another. However, there are more reasons than mere compatibility why this DAW is so famous. For instance, if there is a new technological development in the audio industry, one of the first DAWs to get that feature is Pro Tools.
- Audio Editing
Pro Tools has a traditional and clean UI design that focuses on audio editing. Using various tools, you can perform most of the audio editing on the arrangement page. Similarly, you can capture multiple takes, cycle through them during playback, and select the best performances using the comp tools when recording audio. Furthermore, you can perfect the performance by stretching the audio and editing the pitch using the Elastic Time and Elastic Pitch tools.
- Cutting Edge
Pro Tools includes the latest Dolby Atmos surround and Ambisonic audio mixing features. Furthermore, you can use the DAW with Avid’s proprietary hardware to boost its functionality even further with a large number of inputs/outputs, hardware control surfaces, and more. Furthermore, Avid’s Cloud Collaboration feature allows you to collaborate with your friends and colleagues online straight from Pro Tools. And finally, you can control Pro Tools wirelessly using the free Avid Control app on your iPhone, iPad, Android phone, and tablets.
- Powerful Bundle
Pro Tools comes with over 120 plugins and virtual instruments. These include compressors, EQ, excellent guitar amps, stompboxes, reverb, and the incredible UVI Falcon 2 instrument. Furthermore, it features the Avid Complete Plugin Bundle, which includes classic plugins like the Pultec EQP-1A, Focusrite d3 compressor, and Fairchild 660 .
- Classic Mixing
Pro Tools offers a traditional approach to mixing with terms and features familiar to anyone who has used a hardware console. You can create VCA groups, sends, and busses with ease. Similarly, the mixer offers integrated surround mixing and Netflix-recommended setups to help you create professional mixes.
Pro Tools offers an entirely linear workflow with a traditional mixer and routing system. As with other linear DAWs, you start by adding tracks in a black project, record audio and MIDI, add effects per track and mix to finalize the song. You can add automation on all the FX parameters and the controls inside Pro Tools. And you can edit your recorded MIDI clips using the piano roll or a score editor. Furthermore, Pro Tools supports the staff editing software Sibelius’ projects, which may be handy for finalizing classical scores for performance.
Although Pro Tools has many features, it’s still relatively straightforward to use. It’s not designed to be easy, but its simplistic layout makes it understandable. I would place it in about the same difficulty level as Cubase and Ableton Live. However, being a renowned DAW, Pro Tools has many YouTube tutorials and guide books to help you get up to speed.
Pros & Cons:
If you work in the industry, the biggest advantage of using Pro Tools is that you can rest assured your project files will most likely open just fine in another studio, excluding the third-party plugins. Similarly, it has all the features necessary to create industry-standard productions for films, games, and TV. You might also enjoy its streamlined UI design that ensures straightforward and focused audio-editing workflow.
However, Pro Tools currently uses a subscription model that becomes extremely expensive over time, especially for a home studio. And although it has many industry features, it still lacks fundamental functions like clip effects, arranger tracks, chord tracks, loop-based tools, grid-warping, VST support, etc.
Overall, Pro Tools is an advanced piece of software that industry-professional producers and mixing engineers prefer for compatibility. While it might lack the bells and whistles of modern DAWs like Studio One and Cubase, it’s still fully capable of producing quality music from your home studio. I recommend Pro Tools if you find yourself working with other studios often.
The 3 Best Online DAW Apps 2022
Soundation is an excellent way to get introduced to DAW software.
Whether you are a beginner looking to learn the ropes of music production or an experienced producer looking for a travel-friendly solution, Soundation is a relatively capable online DAW. By no means will it replace a proper rig, but it does provide a thriving community of users and web-based virtual instruments, effects, and cloud storage.
- Built-in Plugins
The instruments and effects available in Soundation are of decent quality. These tools provide music producers with all the necessary components to create a track. Most of the instruments and effects are basic production building blocks, such as a standard GM-2 MIDI instrument, effects like reverb, compression, delay, 8-band parametric EQ, a synthesizer with four oscillators, a Wub Machine synth, and more.
- Built-in Loops
If you want to make pop, EDM, or hip-hop, you can get started quickly using the loops and samples in your package. However, the number of loops you receive depends on your purchased account plan. The biggest has an impressive number of over 20,000 loops and samples.
- Cloud Storage
Recording audio and even saving your project requires you to use some storage. Hence, Soundation offers three plans with 10 GB, 100 GB, and 1 TB of cloud storage. You can use the storage for saving your projects, audio recordings, storing samples and loops from your computer, etc.
Soundation is a basic web-based DAW software that can get you started in the world of music production without a lot of effort. Furthermore, it offers a free plan that lets you create three projects with 1 GB of cloud storage. Of course, you could also render and delete your old projects to make room for new ones if you need more than three slots. I recommend checking out the Soundation free plan to aspiring music producers who don’t know where to start.
Soundtrap is another online DAW that focuses on remaining simple and easy.
If you have no experience using a DAW, Soundtrap offers a beginner-friendly interface that allows you to make a wide range of music and even podcasts. It comes with several built-in instruments, effects, and automation capabilities. The product has four different plans that cover various needs.
Soundtrap is available as a web-based DAW on a computer. However, you can also find the free Soundtrap apps available for iOS and Android. Although, mobile apps aren’t quite as feature-rich as the web application on a desktop. Still, the phone apps allow you to lay down a new idea quickly that you can then advance further using a computer.
Surprisingly, Soundtrap features the renowned auto-tuning software Antares Auto-Tune built into the DAW. After you’ve recorded vocals, you can use Auto-Tune to correct the pitch of your recording subtly. Or, you could also use it to create a T-Pain-style autotuned voice.
Soundtrap allows you to interview for a podcast without having to run any other calling program. So, you can call from inside Soundtrap, record the calls in excellent quality, and it even transcribes the conversation for you. For this feature, you can opt for a cheaper Podcast subscription plan.
- Loops & Instruments
The DAW features thousands of loops in each subscription plan and hundreds of instruments and samples. These include acoustic instruments, drums, synth sounds, and more. Similarly, you’ll also find a collection of effect plugins that allow you to mix your tracks.
Soundtrap is one of the best online DAWs available today. You can use it to lay down new ideas, record podcast interviews, and even produce complete songs. Although, it does require you to get creative as it doesn’t support any third-party instruments. I recommend Soundtrap for people making podcasts or currently learning music production.
3. Amped Studio
Amped Studio is an online music production software that offers surprisingly functional features.
So far, Amped Studio is arguably the most intuitive and usable online DAW ever made. It supports unlimited tracks, simultaneous MIDI and audio recording, and has plenty of built-in content. There are also features like pitch and beat detection that allows you to hum a melody or beatbox to create MIDI notes and drum beats. Furthermore, that feature’s intuitiveness is something that even traditional DAWs lack.
- Content Library
The DAW features nine virtual instruments and ten effect plugins. These instruments include OBXD and DEXED, emulations of the classic synths. However, these instruments are of WAM format, which is open-source. So, there will likely be third-party instruments available in that format later on. Other than the instruments, over 10,000 loops and samples are available in Amped Studio.
Most of the features and the user interface in Amped Studio are highly intuitive and well-designed. You can use built-in beat and pitch detection features to make music by singing and beatboxing. Furthermore, learning Amped Studio will help you learn standard DAW software too.
- VST Remote
Amped Studio allows you to use VST via a VST host that you have to install on your Windows/macOS computer. However, the software is currently in the beta stage. So, you might experience a few bugs. And presently, you can only use one VST plugin at a time with no automation. Still, it’s an excellent step forward.
Amped Studio is currently my favorite online DAW. Even the free account features five instruments, ten effects, and an unlimited number of projects. Furthermore, it has a chord creator feature that allows you to write MIDI chords effortlessly. I recommend Amped Studio for both beginners and experienced music producers who are looking for an online solution to lay down new song ideas.
Best Free DAW Software 2022: Top 6 Free DAWs
1. Presonus Studio One 5 Prime
Studio One Prime is the free version of Studio One, and it’s perfect for audio editing.
Studio One Prime provides everything you need to get started in music production and audio editing. It’s most suitable for people who wish to record audio and edit them. For example, you might be working with hardware instruments, recording a podcast, or even sound-designing for an indie film. The DAW also features some excellent basic instruments.
Studio One Prime lets you add an unlimited number of tracks and busses. However, the catch is that it doesn’t support third-party VST plugins. Still, its built-in effect plugins sound fantastic, and so do its instruments. The DAW comes with Presence XT, which is a powerful sample player with many instrument patches.
- Arranger Track
As with Studio One, the free version also features the Arranger Track. You can use it to divide your song into segments, reorder them to create new arrangements, and save them. It’s also handy when you need to move multiple clips on different tracks.
Studio One Prime features the guitar effects plugin Ampire. It includes realistic amp and cabinet simulations with guitar-specific effects. If you are a guitarist on the hunt for some new guitar tones, check this one out!
Studio One Prime employs several different editors to make MIDI editing easy. It includes a piano roll, a drum editor, and a pattern editor. The latter allows for intuitive drum and melody composition with a drum-machine-like approach.
Studio One Prime is a linear DAW suited for audio recording and editing. It lets you add an unlimited number of tracks and busses, and you can edit the audio in-depth. Furthermore, its built-in effect plugins are more than capable of producing radio-ready productions.
As with Studio One, Studio One Prime is an extremely easy-to-use DAW software. Furthermore, it has intuitive tooltips and an information section, where it helps you understand what the knobs and buttons do. Similarly, you’ll also find a well-written manual and many video tutorials to help you get through.
Pros & Cons:
Studio One Prime gives you a taste of the power and reliability the paid software provides. It includes over 2 GB of sample content and a comprehensive collection of effect plugins. And its tools and features are handy for recording and editing audio and MIDI.
However, the lack of VST plugin support makes its usability severely limited. Although, you can add VST plugin support if you purchase the feature for about $70. At that point, though, I suggest upgrading to the Studio One Artist instead, which adds more instruments and features, or moving on to another cheap DAW.
Overall, Studio One Prime is a decent free DAW. It offers excellent audio recording and editing features with usable, albeit limited, virtual instrument support. I recommend it for people interested in working on audio recordings or if you want to try Studio one before buying it.
2. Cakewalk by BandLab
Cakewalk by BandLab is probably the most comprehensive free DAW currently available.
Previously known as SONAR, Cakewalk by BandLab has been around for over 35 years. So, it’s arguably the most feature-rich free DAW available today that is comparable to a paid DAW. It provides a comprehensive set of effect plugins and basic instruments to start music production. Furthermore, it is getting frequent updates that add more features and add stability to the software.
- Arranger Track
Cakewalk’s Arranger Track allows you to create regions in your song. You can reorder these regions to create new arrangements, and you can save each new arrangement in a single project file. You can recall an arrangement with a single click of a button. Similarly, it also has a mix recall feature that works nicely with the arranger track.
- Factory Bundle
Cakewalk comes with an extensive collection of studio-quality effects. There are two kinds: the effect plugins that you add as inserts and those you add in its channel strip called ProChannel. The effects include an Overloud Rematrix Solo (convolution reverb), analog compressor, tape and console emulation, tube saturation, and Overloud BReverb.
It also comes with four excellent virtual instruments: drums, bass, keyboards, and strings. And other than that, you’ll find a MIDI GM2 instrument called Roland TTS-1, which works well as a placeholder instrument.
- External Plugins
Cakewalk supports VST 2/3 instruments and effect plugins. You can find many VST plugins on the internet, both free and paid. Furthermore, Cakewalk has ARA support. It allows you to use Melodyne seamlessly with audio clips in Cakewalk.
From recording, producing, mixing, and mastering, Cakewalk offers an extensive number of features and tools to cover every part of music production. It has a piano roll, step sequencer, loop-based matrix view, and a staff notation editor for editing MIDI. Here, the Matrix View allows you to import or drag and drop audio and MIDI files into cells that you can trigger using MIDI commands or your mouse. It’s an excellent way to perform live and record new song ideas on the arranger page.
- Articulation Maps
Cakewalk has an articulation management feature that allows you to intuitively add key switches and CC values either manually or using your MIDI keyboard. You can use it to make programming virtual instruments effortless. Furthermore, the feature also allows you to import Cubase’s Expression Map files.
Cakewalk is a linear DAW. Its mixer is similar to a hardware console with separate buss and send tracks. However, the Matrix View allows you to incorporate loops and clips in your music production. Once you have instruments in your project, you can use the Matrix View to trigger MIDI data in any instrument track by assigning them to different rows.
Cakewalk is relatively straightforward. So, even a beginner should have no problem learning it fast. Furthermore, it comes with an extensive guidebook, and there are many video tutorials available online. However, some of its features, like the Synth Rack View, the Matrix View, etc., may be new for some users.
Pros & Cons:
Cakewalk is a full-fledged DAW available for free. It includes high-quality effect plugins and instruments. Compared to other free DAWs, Cakewalk offers the greatest number of features, and it’s often even compared with paid DAWs as it used to be one itself.
However, if you compare it to a paid DAW, it may appear somewhat outdated in appearance. Similarly, it can be slightly more CPU intensive than other DAWs. Still, I only mention the issues compared to the top paid DAWs available today, which is technically unfair.
If you don’t have the budget to purchase a DAW yet, you should try Cakewalk. Heck, you should try it even if you do have a budget! It offers everything you’d need to produce any kind of music, mix surround sound, and edit audio recordings. I highly recommend it to musicians on a budget or producers of any skill level who prefer a linear workflow.
3. Ableton Live Lite
Ableton Live Lite is the free version of Ableton Live that comes with many hardware and software registration.
Live Lite 11 is a light and flexible DAW that allows you to make music with eight tracks. It features a comprehensive collection of effect plugins and software instruments to get you started in music production fast. However, note that Live Lite is only available on specific hardware purchases (like audio interfaces, MIDI keyboards, etc.).
- Session View
Like in Ableton Live, you can use the Session View to load audio recordings or MIDI clips and trigger them to perform live. Or, you can use it to come up with ideas for a song. However, Live Lite limits the total number of Scenes you can use to sixteen. Still, it’s plenty for short performances and song production.
- External Plugins
Live Lite supports both VST 2/3 and AU plugins. So, if the included bundle isn’t enough for you, you can find free or paid VST plugins to use inside the DAW. I must mention that only a few free DAWs provide this feature.
You can create up to two send tracks. These are helpful for adding effect plugins on multiple tracks at once. And if you need more sends, you can render the previous tracks and use the empty sends again.
- Instruments & Effects
Live Lite has four instruments and a collection of 134 effect plugins. There are 274 Instrument Rack presets, over 200 loops, 1,600 drum hits, and 660 other samples. While these may not be comprehensive enough to produce complete songs, the external plugin support helps a lot.
Like Ableton Live, Live Lite is also a clip-based DAW, prioritizing live performances. You can use MPE keyboards, MIDI controllers, MIDI keyboards, etc., with Live Lite for your performances. It also includes MIDI effects that help you develop new ideas faster. Furthermore, advanced warping and real-time time-stretching make this free DAW a considerable choice for any kind of music production.
When you download Ableton Live Lite, it takes you to a page where you can watch a bunch of videos that help you learn the software. So, it’s relatively easy to understand. Even if you are previously used to a linear DAW, Live Lite has both the Session View and the Arranger View. So, you could use it as a linear DAW too.
Pros & Cons:
Live Lite gives you an excellent introduction to the features of Ableton Live. It supports third-party plugins, making it a step ahead of many other free DAWs by big brands. Furthermore, its Tempo Following feature adjusts the tempo of your project based on the incoming audio in real-time. It’s an essential feature when recording a band.
The biggest issue is that Live Lite only provides eight tracks and two sends. Unless you make simple four-piece music, you’ll probably need more than eight tracks.
Overall, Live Lite is a decent free DAW. Many of the features are the same as the paid Ableton Live, like audio stretching, track freezing, automation features, etc. However, is it worth purchasing hardware just for the software? No, you’ll probably need better software later on. But if you intend to buy Ableton Live, later on, it’s undoubtedly helpful to learn and get familiar with.
4. Apple Garageband
GarageBand, which comes free with every Mac, makes music production simple for beginners and professionals alike.
Unlike the early versions, the current GarageBand has a surprisingly serious appearance that resembles the paid Logic Pro X. Despite the fact that GarageBand lacks Logic’s incredible versatility, an extensive collection of instruments, and excellent mixing/mastering tools, it’s virtually as capable in other areas.
GarageBand features built-in lessons for piano and guitar with video demos from original artists and animated instruments. It keeps things fun and easy to follow when learning a new instrument. And to top it all off, you even get instant feedback on your playing if you use a MIDI instrument. Of course, you can turn the feedback off if you don’t want it.
GarageBand lets you add up to 256 audio tracks, where you can add effect plugins to mix. Furthermore, it allows you to record multiple takes and save the one you like best. Similarly, if your take isn’t perfectly on time, you can use Flex Time to drag transients into place.
GarageBand is also available for iOS. So, you can create a track on your iPhone or iPad, save it to iCloud and open it straight on your Mac computer to develop the idea further. Or do the opposite by starting a song on your computer and adding a few new tracks using your iPhone or iPad. Creating music on the go has never been easier! n the current scenario, you can also enjoy Garageband on Windows using VMware or through BlueStacks.
- Instruments & Effects
The DAW features several high-quality virtual instruments, including drums, synths, keys, etc. The Drummer instrument is a virtual session drummer that features built-in loops and rolls. Similarly, there are excellent audio effects with emulations of classic hardware, such as the Pultec EQP-1A equalizer. And if the factory instruments and effects aren’t enough, you can add third-party AU plugins to your DAW.
GarageBand is a linear DAW. You can add up to 256 tracks and mix them straight from the arrangement page. It features a piano roll for editing MIDI and a surprisingly robust audio time correction feature. These features make GarageBand far more than a fun app to play with.
GarageBand is one of the easiest DAWs to learn. If you have even the vaguest ideas about music production, you probably won’t need any video tutorials or guides to help you get started. Instead, it becomes a learning experience: it features piano and guitar lessons, a built-in guitar tuner, and easy-to-use instruments.
Pros & Cons:
For an application that comes free with every Mac computer, GarageBand is surprisingly capable, stable, and intuitive. You can add third-party plugins to expand your sounds. Truth be told, you don’t even need to upgrade to Logic Pro for music production, although it would make mixing and editing easier.
The only issue with GarageBand is that it doesn’t feature a dedicated mixer. Instead, you have to do everything from the arranger page. While it’s perfectly usable, it can be somewhat tedious and unintuitive.
GarageBand is an excellent way to introduce yourself to Logic Pro. However, the free software also features impressive tools and functions that allow you to produce full songs. Furthermore, adding third-party plugins will take GarageBand’s capabilities even further. And all of that is available in one of the easiest DAWs on the market. I recommend this DAW for musicians of all skill levels using Mac computers.
LMMS is the only open-source DAW that provides as many features.
LMMS is a multi-platform DAW with a lot of virtual instruments and effect plugins supporting Linux, Windows, and macOS. It was initially made for Linux, hence the name “Linux MultiMedia Studio.” And while its interface may be somewhat daunting, it’s pretty straightforward to navigate through after a quick look at the manual.
- Built-in Plugins
LMMS comes with a fair number of virtual instruments, including emulations of hardware like Roland TB-303, chiptune synths, FM synths, wavetable synths, subtractive synths, additive synths, physical modeling synths, etc. Similarly, it features several sample-based instruments that support a large number of formats, including SF2 and Giga, for which you’ll find plenty of free instruments online.
Similarly, you’ll also find a mixer that can load up to 64 effect plugins per track. And there are quite a few effect plugins, too, including reverb, delay, EQ, compressors, and more.
- Controller Rack
This feature lets you implement LFO modulation on various devices in your project. It’s handy for adding movement and life to your sounds. One example would be auto-panning an instrument.
- External Plugins
LMMS supports VST plugins on Linux (with Wine) and Windows. However, macOS LMMS doesn’t support external plugins. Still, there are plans to make VST available in all three platforms in the future. Hopefully, it arrives soon.
LMMS is a hybrid DAW that utilizes both clip-based and linear workflow. You can create clips of sequencer beats and place them on the timeline like you would in FL Studio. However, the tracks on the arranger page are tied to mixer tracks like in a linear DAW.
The cluttery interface makes LMMS somewhat challenging to grasp, even for an experienced producer. However, some rigorous manual reading or video tutorials should help you learn it reasonably quickly. On a brighter note, though, it has a helpful tooltip system that provides some info about the various controls you have in LMMS.
Pros & Cons:
The good thing about LMMS is that it’s open-source. Similarly, it comes chock full of virtual instruments and effect plugins. And if you use Windows, you can also use VST instruments inside this free DAW.
However, it doesn’t allow you to record audio, although there are ways to import audio into the DAW. Most of the LMMS users I know tend to use this DAW only for producing the instrumental, taking the audio recording part into Audacity or Cakewalk, for example. Furthermore, the lack of VST support on the macOS platform shows inconsistencies in its development.
LMMS is a free but powerful DAW with a workflow similar to FL Studio. It may not have the most powerful mixer and a flashy user interface, but in the world of free DAWs, it’s one of the better options. I suggest it for beginners who are interested in electronic music production.
SoundBridge is an excellent free DAW with a surprisingly gorgeous GUI.
When I first saw SoundBridge, it reminded me of GarageBand. It has a simple layout with a pleasant appearance and some serious power to offer. It also has multiple skins to change the appearance, which is a nice touch. Furthermore, it supports VST plugins on both PC and Mac.
SoundBridge only contains the vital parts necessary for music production, ensuring that the workflow is straightforward. It features an arranger page called the Sequencer, a mixer, and a piano roll. Several pages like the audio editor, automation editor, etc., appear based on what function you are using. For example, the audio editor allows you to change the pitch or stretch the audio clip you have selected.
SoundBridge includes a full-fledged mixer that allows you to add built-in high-quality effect plugins and route both audio and MIDI. The audio effects include a five-band EQ, a noise gate, a limiter, a compressor, a reverb, a chorus/flanger, a delay, a phaser, a bit-crusher, and filters.
RitMix is a drum machine that has an MPC pad section and a 16-step sequencer. It’s the only virtual instrument in SoundBridge, and it’s available as a VST plugin. However, remember that you can install VST plugins to expand your sounds. Furthermore, SoundBridge also provides about 270 MB of samples.
SoundBridge is a linear DAW with a focus on remaining simple. You can add as many tracks as you want, record audio and MIDI, add automation, and create final mixes. Furthermore, it doesn’t have any unnecessary features that might distract you from your creative flow.
SoundBridge is an easy DAW to use. So, it’s undoubtedly beginner-friendly. Further, once you create an account to download SoundBridge, you can visit the SoundBridge forum, where you can connect with fellow users or read helpful articles about music production.
Pros & Cons:
SoundBridge is intuitive, looks pleasing, and provides all the essential functions you need to create music. You can record audio and MIDI, mix them with built-in or third-party VST effects, and create high-quality renders. Also, their website is full of helpful tips and tutorials that can make learning easier for you.
For a free DAW, there isn’t any apparent disadvantage we can talk about. However, some functions like automation, freezing tracks, etc., are a bit awkward and unintuitive. Similarly, some features like stretching audio and pitch shifting can cause the DAW to crash, although it rarely does with newer versions.
Overall, SoundBridge is an excellent free DAW that may not be as powerful as the paid ones, but it has a unique charm of its own. It doesn’t have built-in instruments except for the drum machine, but you can add third-party VST instruments and plugins. I recommend it for electronic music producers who prefer a modern appearance.
With so many choices available, we’ve never had a better time to get started with music production. Every DAW on this list provides something unique to the workflow, and none of them are better or worse than the other. So, the best way to pick a DAW is by deciding on a genre first.
Let’s suppose you want to make electronic music most of all. In that case, your choices come down to Bitwig Studio, Ableton Live, FL Studio, and Studio One. However, your choice must depend on your experience and preference from here on out. Each of them prioritizes something different than the other. So, try downloading the trial versions of the ones that appear promising and try them out for a week or so.
Similarly, if you intend to record a lot of audio and produce rock, blues, jazz, etc., I would suggest looking at Studio One, Cubase, Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Cakewalk, and Acoustica Mixcraft. And if you want to get into film scoring, try Cubase, REAPER, Cakewalk, and Logic Pro. Furthermore, I would recommend REAPER, Logic Pro, and Pro Tools for audio post-production.
Choosing a DAW is pretty much like falling in love at this point. You have to accept its shortcomings and love its advantages. And with that note, we reach the end of this article. I hope I was able to help you in your journey of selecting a DAW. Happy music-making!
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K. M. Joshi is a multi-award-winning composer and sound designer, specializing in film, game, and TV audio. He enjoys making cinematic music, rock, blues, and electronica.