All producers consider that the best DAW is the one they are using. The question is: Which is best? FL Studio, Ableton, Logic, Cubase or Pro Tools? We will analyze their characteristics, workflow, learning difficulty, support, price, and compatibility.
Before the original topic, check this post on What’s The Most CPU Efficient DAW where we compared 5 different DAWs.
Formerly known as Fruity Loops, It is a DAW developed in Belgium by Image-line Software in 1997. Next to Ableton Live is one of the preferred DAW by producers, DJs, and looping artists looking to create loops, beats, and all types of music from scratch, especially electronic music.
FL Studio is a pattern-based DAW, but it is also multi-track software that allows us to record, mix, and mastering. FL Studio contains a sequencer, several synthesizers, sample libraries, drum machines, and effects such as reverb, chorus, flanger, equalization, and delay.
Image-line implemented its technology for plug-ins, also allow using the use of VST, VST3, and VST2, Buzz, ReWire, and DirectX via Fruity Wrapper, supporting 32 and 64 bits plug-ins architecture. An advantage of this DAW is its updates are free and for life.
A fantastic feature of FL Studio is the included stereo image in the mixer without loading extra plug-ins. This option is below panning and is definitive for your mixes. When a project, song, or clip completed, you can export or save to the following formats:
-WavPack compressed wave files
-FL Studio Loop File .flp
-Zipped Loop File .zip
Also focused on music production, Ableton Live is an industry benchmark program, designed for composition and live music. Its latest version comes loaded with all the powerful features of previous versions and substantial improvements.
Another notable feature in this DAW is Max for Live, a plug-in that allows you to optimize program control for live sessions.
Let’s talk about DAWs traditionally more focused on editing, mixing, and mastering. The most prominent and “veteran” are Cubase and Pro Tools.
Pro Tools was the first DAW with a professional interface and set the parameters for the future Digital Audio Workstations. Created in 1989, widely used in professional environments, recording studios, and multimedia (movies, videos, concerts).
Pro Tools has the essential components in a DAW, improved to edit audio with ease. In Pro Tools, you can redo sounds and correct nuances and tonality flexibly and precisely. With the Smart Tool, cutting clips, editing notes, and adding fades are very practical.
Another great feature of this DAW is the ease, in some of its versions, to play video.
One of Pro Tools’ biggest competitors since its introduction is Cubase. One of the most complete music production software packages on the market is ideal to start producing, or for an industry professional.
Cubase visually is clean and straightforward, one of the characteristics that preserved since its beginning, and that can slow down the workflow, cause every time you want to do something, a new window opens. We must manage these to do our work quickly. It is advisable to have several screens.
Cubase in their Pro 10 version comes with VariAudio 3 for pitch correction, plus Snapshots of MixConsole to store a mix. It is a tool to line up audio, which allows users to align tracks and be perfectly synchronized quickly.
VR and video game producers will be pleased Cubase now includes the Steinberg Virtual Reality production suite, designed to produce virtual reality (VR) content.
Logic Pro is Apple’s solution for music producers and arrangers and specially designed for its macOS platform. It stands out for having one of the most intuitive interfaces, a modern design, and an extensive library of plug-ins, instruments, effects, and sounds, which has more than 4300 instrument and effect patches and 10,000 loops.
It also featured the Score Editor, a tool focused on musicians, music students, and producers working with music notation. Also, you can get the score of a MIDI already created.
Logic Pro Library
In audio editing, Flex Pitch stands out, to fix detuned voices and change audio melodies; Flex Time manipulate the tempo.
Don’t forget to mention its live capabilities, which give the artist various tools to perfect the sets. Live Loops, allows you to compose and improvise, Logic Remote enables you to manage music sessions from iPad or iPhone.
Although some DAWs go more in-depth into some function, they all have very similar characteristics. Choosing the right DAW for you will depend more on the type of work you are performing, the musical style you want to produce, and the tools and plug-ins you use in your daily workflow.
The workflow of a DAW is synonymous with fluidity, efficiency, and how quickly an audio project is performing in addition to the convenience of using the tools and the possibility of creating shortcuts, customizing workspaces, and the intuitiveness of the interface.
We found some DAWs with a more intuitive workflow like Logic Pro, or programs like Pro Tools, which is characterized by having a slightly denser interface.
First, the workspace’s choice depends on the performing work: Software Instrument, Audio, Drummer, External MIDI, and Guitar, or Bass. Next, we will find the main workspace. At the top of the user interface, groups of tools: tools movement, display, and other parameters as Cycle, Replace, Count in, Click, etc.
In addition to having an extensive library and its almost infinite native plug-ins, Logic Pro X has the basic windows of every DAW: mixer, inspector, toolbar, and sequencer predisposed in a highly intuitive way.
There are two windows to maximize workflow in Logic Pro X, toolbar, and Smart Controls. The first allows us to establish shortcuts making the work more efficient, as well as various configurable editing features, and second, it helps us quickly adjust the sound of a track without having to edit channel settings or open individual module windows.
In Logic Pro X, we must bear in mind automation can be a bit complex. Also, the platform only receives AU plug-ins, and if you want to have the entire library, you will need 72 GB of memory.
Let’s take a look at the Ableton Live workflow. The focus of the program design is elementary to use and optimized for live improvisation.
It is essential to talk about two features that simplify the workflow: the ability to edit multiple MIDI clips at the same time, and the option of organizing the library into collections.
Ableton Live workspace comes as follows: browser on the left, which has an intuitive, customizable area where we can import libraries and have everything under control. Above the browser are the native effects, installed VSTs, samples, and other libraries by default. At the bottom, some frequently used folders.
In the center, we will find two views, session view, identified as “Ableton mixer.” Here the audio and MIDI tracks created are accumulated from left to right.
We also find some boxes; in which we can work with loops. Use this full view to create live sessions in shows. The other view available is the arrangement view, which refers to the sequencer and multi-track. We will find the tracks distributed horizontally. If having any doubts about what something is for, placing the mouse over it will show us information related to that function.
Now let’s move on to Cubase. The central section is where we capture MIDI information, audio, automatizations, etc. On the left of this section, we will find the tracks section, where we can insert audio tracks, instruments, effects, synthesizers, or drum machines.
On the left is the inspector section, we are going to see information about the object that we select. We can move the Cubase interface from left to right, or up and down, and quickly resize it. Above, we find the tools to draw, delete, cut, paste, among others. Further up, we will see the entire section where there are options to modify the appearance of Cubase and the projects’ internal workings.
The mixer is at the bottom, and you can move it up and down, or resize it. In the browser window, there are four sections: Media, where you insert the plug-ins, effects, presets, loops, and samples. The other three parts are VSTi, control, and meter.
All routing and workflow are simple, details like control room where you can control talkbacks separate monitors or orchestration capabilities are superb.
FL Studio, the favorite for electronic music, is known for its learning curve and smooth workflow. The latest updates include an option that allows us to drag and drop audio and instruments on the names of the tracks in the playlist and automatically generates a playlist track, a new channel. They will link it to an insert in the mixer.
The FL Studio user interface has five windows:
The first window that appears in the initial FL Studio is a sequencer seen horizontally, in which we can add samples and decide at what moment these will sound.
Finally, there is Pro Tools. The interface and workflow have not changed much since its inception. Designed with a generation in mind, which came from using analog systems, this reason protocol retains most of the functions in the same places and with the same keyboard shortcuts from previous versions. Audio editing and playlist are versatile; however, working with MIDI can be a bit more complicated.
When starting the program, you must go through the initial configuration window in which you defined various parameters and configurations; then, we will be in the editing window. In this, you will find settings of displacement, time, and the primary toolbar. Also, you can choose to see other options such as comments in a customizable way, mic preamps, Instruments, Real-Time properties, among others.
Pro Tools has a characteristic which can generate like or dislike because the mixing window is not visible at the same time as the edition sale. To see this window, which will fill the entire screen, you must go to the window option and choose a mix.
Difficulty (To Learn)
DAWs, are complex programs at first, but as you go deeper into their tools, mastering them will be a matter of time. All Digital Audio Workstations have similar features and workspaces, so you can consider that by learning one, the learning curve will be natural for other software of the same style.
Here we will talk a little about how it is to start in the digital audio production and editing world of each of the DAWs:
It’s generally easier to learn to use for amateurs than other DAWs, thanks to the design of its piano roll and step sequencer. This program is an excellent option to start in music production.
The intuitive and graphically striking interface of Logic Pro X makes it also an easy DAW to master. It does not mean that in a month, you will be professional, but yes, that the learning curve will be intermediate compared to other, more sophisticated software.
Due to a large number of items in your library, it will take a long time to get to know them and delve into them.
About Cubase, we can find relative levels of difficulty, because comparing it with FL Studio or Ableton in the field of recording and editing, Cubase is a simpler one. But comparing its sequencing interface, Cubase would lose the bet for being a little more complicated in this section.
Ableton Live will require instruction to get the most out of it. The good news is that it has an impressive guide for its level of detail and depth.
Pro Tools is perhaps one of the most complex DAWs in terms of learning, not only because its interface mimics old consoles’ analog functions, but also because of the large number of tools and features. However, if you become proficient as a beginner, you could handle any other DAW.
Technical support from Image-Line, creator of FL Studio is only available online. The knowledge base lists the most frequently asked questions. It also has a technical support forum. The support staff is all around the world, with a response within a few hours.
Support for Cubase lies in email or phone contact. Steinberg suggests consulting your Online Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) service first for problems. Many times the answer to the issues is found there.
You’ll find Apple technical support for Logic Pro on a FAQ section, user guide, questions with the community, email, and for more specific cases, give you two numbers to call, or the option to phone call.
The team of Ableton Live will provide support to the users directly to the computers through TeamViewer. The user must confirm each session in advance.
Pro Tools on its website have video tutorials, guides, and articles from the Consultation Center. You will find different sections to solve your doubts regarding activities, downloads, renewals and updates, technical sheets, compatibility, and even how to get a certification.
They have a learning community and a space for community discussions. If none of this solves the doubts or problems, we can communicate directly with them through messaging in the section “Create a case” or by phone call.
Regarding costs, DAWs have different licenses according to the needs of the producer. However, we can find that Logic Pro X has a single license of around $200.
FL Studio has a competitive commercial value compared to other tools of its style. After purchasing a copy of FL Studio, it can be updated for free whenever a new version comes out. The FL Studio Fruity Edition version is priced at $99, includes several generators (software synthesizers).
The Producer Edition version costs $199 and includes a mixer and the ability to record multi-track audio. Also, the FL Studio Signature Bundle has optional components for $299, and the FL Studio All Plugins Bundle version is worth approximately $899 and includes all optional parts.
Cubase, for amateur, professional, and a version dedicated to artists, prices range from $522.99 for Cubase Pro 10.5, $329 for Cubase Artist 10.5, and $99.99 for Cubase Elements 10.5.
Ableton Live 10 comes in three editions: Introduction, Standard, and Suite. They share common features, but Standard and Suite have additional features, instruments, packages, and effects.
The downloaded version of Ableton Live will cost $99 for Live Intro, $449 for Live Standard, and $749 for Live Suite. The boxed version of Ableton Live 10 will cost $99 for Live Intro, $499 for Live Standard, and $799 for Live Suite.
Pro Tools has different licenses; Pro Tools First is the free license, aimed at musicians, singers, and artists who do not have or have little audio editing experience. It is limited in several functions. This license comes with a one-month trial that costs approximately $35, and you can interact, explore, and produce, and if you like, acquire it for longer.
There is a monthly paid version with a one-year subscription. You pay about $30 every month, for twelve months. You can also prepay a year; it will be a single payment of approximately $300—Pro Tools Perpetual at the cost of roughly $600.
A one-time purchase that will last a lifetime comes with a 1-year support plan and software updates, including access to all new versions, bonus plug-ins (including Uvi Falcon), and support, renewable annually.
In Pro Tools Ultimate, there is a monthly payment option of approximately $80, with a one-year subscription. If you pay the year in advance, it will cost you $800. You also have the option to pay about $90 for a month.
Logic Pro X is compatible with macOS 10.14.6 or newer, and a 64-bit processor is required. Speaking of its integration compatibility, it works great with other macOS apps like Apple Loops, Garage Band, and you can even add new tracks from iCloud.
In turn, it allows you to export and share songs directly to SoundCloud. It also provides import and export XML to support Final Cut Pro X workflow.
Pro Tools is a DAW that works on Windows and macOS, both free and paid versions. Regarding the compatibility of Pro Tools, it is essential to highlight a security feature that this software has. If you want to use it on your PC, you must have the iLok copy protection method; When you start the program, this software will look for your “key” and validate the data contained in the hardware with that of the registry, and it will operate normally.
Regarding the compatibility of Pro Tools with other software, this is very limited; it generally integrates with other Avid products. One of them is Avid Link, a community of music composers and audio professionals with whom you can collaborate and increase your creative opportunities.
Cubase is compatible with Windows and macOS, and the majority of consoles MIDI devices available in the market. The latest version of Cubase requires at least 64-bit on Windows 10 and macOS Mojave / Catalina. 8 GB of RAM and an Intel i5 or higher CPU and 30 GB of free memory needed.
Ableton Live works on Windows and macOS operating systems. It has Ableton Link technology integration, supports WAV, AIFF, MP3, Ogg Vorbis, FLAC files, and has support for VST and AU instruments and effects, for delay compensation, and REX files.
It is essential to note the minimum system requirements must include Windows 7 or higher or OS X 10.11.6 or higher, 4 GB of RAM, and a minimum of Intel® Core ™ i5 processor.
FL Studio is available as a native 64-bit application for macOS. The latest version is fully compatible with most current audio formats and with plug-ins in VST, AU, DX, and FL Native formats.
Projects created on macOS and Windows are fully interchangeable and compatible, including compatibility with third-party plug-ins. It is important to note that it has a paid mobile version called FL Studio Mobile for mobile or tablet. The software is compatible with ASIO and WDM drivers and will allow us to export our songs to WAV, MP3, OGG, or MIDI file formats.