Let’s take a look at the best digital audio workstations of these days for making modern DnB music.
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….
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 making Drum & Bass. 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.
2. FL Studio 20
Artists That Use/Used FL Studio
- Camo & Krooked, IMANU, Buunshin, Emperor, Teddy Killerz, Arkaik, Koherent, Black Barrel, Spor, Klinical, Kyrist…….
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 DnB, Hip-Hop 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.
3. Apple Logic Pro X
Artists That Use/Used Logic Pro:
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. Great for Electronic & Rock Music 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.
4. Steinberg Cubase Pro 11
Artists That Use/Used Cubase:
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. But with that being said, it makes it a great DAW for Drum & Bass. 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.
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:
It comes with features that make modern music production easier and faster. I recommend Bitwig Studio for the intermediate and experienced electronic music producers.
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.
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