When it comes to affordability, REAPER continues to make its name as a budget Digital Audio Workstation. REAPER, or Rapid Environment for Audio Production, Engineering, and Recording, has gone a long way since it was first released in 2005. But more than 15 years later, is REAPER still worth the money?
Is REAPER worth it today?
REAPER is still worth it today, considering the amount and quality of plugins it offers each user. These plugins are of professional grade, and the software is also quite light to use. On top of that, the $60 price it gets is quite hard to match and can only be beaten when other paid DAWs drop their prices.
REAPER continues to land in the top DAW list of other websites, a testament to the power it holds as budget-friendly recording software. But, unfortunately, you’ll be hard-pressed to find something that matches its power and price.
A Brief History Of REAPER
REAPER started as a freeware developed by Justin Frankel, who’s also the brains behind Winamp, in December 2005. Then, on August 2006, REAPER became a shareware software. In both instances, REAPER was a Windows application.
REAPER eventually branched out to the macOS and Linux platforms. To date, REAPER holds the recognition of being one of the few cross-platform DAWs that runs smoothly on Linux and continues to be distributed by Frankel’s company, Cockos.
How To Get REAPER
You can get REAPER by downloading it from the official website. On the website, you can choose which installer to download, the current version, and the changes available in the current version.
Once you download REAPER, you will be prompted that you have a 60-day trial period to use REAPER. Once the 60 days are finished, you will be prompted to input a license code, which you can get by purchasing the license for $60.
Some users have reported that you can still use it in evaluation mode, even when the prescribed period has lapsed, but that’s an ethical decision you’ll have to make.
One thing notable with REAPER is its compatibility with different operating systems. You won’t have a problem running it on Windows, macOS, and Linux, which doesn’t have as much compatible recording software.
REAPER has rather light system requirements as compared to other DAWs. All you need is a computer running:
- Windows: XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10, or 11, with Intel processors and 32 or 64-bit processing
- macOS: OS 10.5 – 12
- Linux: GTK+3 with ALSA, GTK+2 supported, x86_64, i686, armv7l, aarch64 compatible
For storage, you only need around 25 MB of hard disk space. You can even run REAPER from a flash drive!
While Cockos didn’t specify how much RAM you need for its memory requirement, it’s safe to say that 4 GB RAM will allow REAPER to run smoothly. In addition, some users have noted that REAPER looks more at the processor than the memory, which makes it lighter to use than other DAWs.
REAPER User Interface And Usability Overview
You’ll notice its loading speed when you start REAPER for the first time. The DAW loads quite fast, but the speed will vary on the number of VSTs REAPER will scan and load into its system. REAPER won’t take a minute to load if you don’t have many plugins.
REAPER will notify you that it is not a free application. You’ll be prompted by this window reminding you of how long you have REAPER installed, as well as the option to buy a license online.
The next thing that REAPER will ask is to identify the audio interface you want to use. For this, select your chosen audio inputs, ideally your audio interface, then REAPER will use that interface by default.
The user interface of REAPER might look simple, but it takes some navigation to get used to. Unlike other DAWs, where you instantly access key features, you could get lost in a sea of menus to find the features you need.
There’s a learning curve that needs to be overcome with REAPER. It gets complicated if you’re not a technical person, as part of the power of REAPER comes from the downloaded plugins. But, once you learn to install plugins, it will be a walk in the park to use REAPER as your DAW.
Components of User Interface
REAPER has six components in its main window, which are all essential in helping you create songs or even produce audio recordings, including podcasts. The layout is a bit different from other DAWs, as certain control bars on REAPER are located in different locations than other DAWs.
- Tool Bar
You can find the Tool Bar of REAPER in the upper left corner of the main window. Here, you can save your projects, toggle the metronome, undo or redo actions, and adjust the snapping properties of tracks when you move them around.
The Timeline is your guide on where exactly you are in the recording. For example, you can find here what measure the recording is at currently. Likewise, you can also use this to set loops in case you want to audition different recording takes.
- Track Panel
The Track Panel holds all available tracks on your project. Here, you can set the volume of each track and arm, mute, or solo a track for recording and mixing. However, unlike other DAWs, you can’t add plugins through the track panel, as this is done through the mixer window.
- Arrangement Window
The Arrangement Window or panel is where you see the current recordings on your project. You can drag recordings around the panel and put them where you see fit. Also, you can shorten or extend recordings with this panel.
- Transport Tool Bar
The Transport Tool Bar serves as the control of your software. You can control playback, record, and adjust the time signatures and tempo on this toolbar. Also, you can toggle the repeat option if you want the recording to rewind automatically at the end of the playback.
- Mixer Panel
The Mixer Panel is where a lot of the magic happens on REAPER. Aside from also being able to control the volume of each track, the Mixer panel is where you also add plugins to each track or the overall output of the project.
What Do You Get With REAPER?
REAPER offers users 34 effects plugins, including compressors, equalizers, and reverb. You can opt to add more with it, as it features compatibility with VSTs. You can get many of these free plugins on the REAPER website, aside from third-party VST plugin developers.
In addition, REAPER does not include virtual instruments, save for ReaSynth (pronounced re-synth). To activate ReaSynth, you can either:
- Right-click on the Track section on the left and select “Insert Virtual Instrument,” or;
- Go to the Track Menu and click on “Insert Virtual Instrument.”
Unfortunately, you need a dedicated MIDI controller to use ReaSynth. However, a simple MIDI controller shouldn’t set you back that much if you want to use this feature.
REAPER Compared To Other DAWs
As REAPER is a budget-friendly DAW, it would be good to compare it with other affordable options, such as the free ones and those that cost slightly more than its price of $60. For this, let’s look at REAPER and how it compares with Garage Band, Bandlab’s Cakewalk, and Presonus Studio One Artist.
REAPER vs. Garage Band
REAPER and Garage Band are DAWs that are compatible with Apple. They allow multiple-track recording, but that’s it. So how do the two software differ?
Garage Band is free for all Apple users. REAPER, meanwhile, costs $60 but is also available for Windows and Linux users.
When it comes to features, Garage Band gains an edge over REAPER.
- Garage Band comes with bundled instruments and loops, which is more than enough to get you started with creating music.
- Even if you don’t have an audio interface or midi controller, you can use Garage Band as it is, unlike REAPER, which needs a MIDI controller to operate ReaSynth.
- The user interface of Garage Band is easier to navigate.
REAPER, meanwhile, has a few powerful plugins.
- There are plenty of free plugins from other developers to add to this DAW.
- Likewise, you can also map Kontakt to REAPER to create samples.
- REAPER is lighter to use than Garage Band, as it uses less memory and processing power.
Regarding cost, Garage Band has an edge since it’s free. But, unfortunately, it’s only compatible with Apple devices. While costing $60, REAPER has an advantage with its compatibility and more powerful plugins.
REAPER vs. Cakewalk by Bandlab
Another DAW worth comparing with REAPER is Cakewalk. Formerly a proprietary software, Cakewalk is now free to use, just like Garage Band. This DAW takes off from its predecessor, Sonar, which was sold to Gibson Brands Inc., the same company that owns Gibson Guitars.
Comparing Cakewalk with REAPER yields very distinct differences.
- Most noticeable is the interface, which is easier to navigate on Cakewalk.
- REAPER’s interface, as mentioned, isn’t exactly the most friendly, given the grouping of certain components.
- Cakewalk has the advantage over REAPER with its customizable page layouts, which are as easy as click-and-drag to create.
- REAPER has limited customization for its aesthetics, as you can only change the colors of tracks, which helps in grouping components of a song for mixing.
If there’s any free software capable of going head to head with REAPER for professional use, it’s got to be Cakewalk. However, while it’s free, Cakewalk has the disadvantage of being Windows-only, unlike REAPER, which is also available for Mac and Linux users.
REAPER vs. Presonus Studio One 5 Artist
Studio One Artist is another viable software to compare REAPER to. While it costs around $100 on the Presonus website, you can get Studio One Artist for free with every purchase of a Presonus Audio Interface.
Between Studio One Artist and REAPER, you can expect a smoother workflow when working on Studio One Artist.
- You also get eight sample and loop libraries to use for your songs.
- Studio One Artist also has a more robust mastering system, which improves the quality of your releases.
- It’s also worth noting about Studio One Artist is how it saves on memory by not running plugins when a track section doesn’t have any recorded material.
REAPER, meanwhile, is much more stable to run compared to Studio One Artist.
- This stability is rooted in its minimal CPU and memory requirements.
- Regarding exporting your file, REAPER gains an edge with its mp3 exporting capabilities, a paid add-on for Studio One Artist.
- REAPER, unlike Studio One, works with Linux.
For its pricing, getting Studio One Artist will cost you $100, which comes with more features. You can get more if you upgrade to the Professional Edition, which will cost more. REAPER is still cheaper by $40, but you get a few features that make this DAW a very competitive software.
What Are The Pros And Cons Of REAPER
REAPER offers a lot of advantages, as well as disadvantages, considering how much a license costs.
For its advantages, you can expect the following:
With its light system requirements, REAPER has fewer chances of crashing in the middle of a recording or editing session. In addition, you can easily stack plugins as you deem fit in your recordings.
At $60, it will be hard to find a DAW that can compete at its price. Considering the affordability, REAPER is one of the best options, next to free software. If you’re looking to start music production and could afford to spend a little on software, REAPER is a good choice.
- Regular updates
Continuing support is one of REAPER’s strongest assets. The software gets regular updates to ensure that the DAW performs smoothly while slowly adapting to the needs of its users.
- Offers multiple tabbing support
- If you like recording random ideas with your DAW, the multiple tabbing features will be useful to you. REAPER lets you open multiple projects simultaneously through tabs, which lets you click and drag ideas from one project to another.
REAPER has its share of disadvantages, such as:
- Cumbersome menus
One can easily get lost with the menu system that REAPER employs. Perhaps, the only way to get around it is to memorize all the hotkeys that activate certain commands.
- $60 price is not for everyone
While one of the main selling points of REAPER is its price, it comes with some strings attached. The $60 price is just a discounted price for personal or educational use. If you plan to use REAPER for professional or commercial use, which costs $225, you may want to try other options.
- Takes time to get used to
Even those used to other DAWs will need time to get familiar with REAPER. The learning curve may vary per person, but with the intensive menus, it takes a little longer to know where to look for certain features.
- Doesn’t have many virtual instruments
Granted that you purchase REAPER at its $60 discounted price, the lack of virtual instruments only shows you get what you pay for. But there’s no difference except for the price between the two licenses of REAPER. That said, paying $225 for a commercial REAPER license can be a rip-off if it lacks virtual instruments.
Considering the challenges you may encounter with REAPER, it is still a formidable DAW to consider. However, at $60 for a personal license, you can use REAPER as a way to get used to professional-grade DAWs before switching to more expensive recording software in the market today.
Should you decide to get a license for REAPER, you have the option between a discounted license, which works for personal use, and a commercial license, which is for those making money from using REAPER.
And when you manage to master REAPER, you’ll probably get used to its capabilities and not even bother switching unless there’s a compelling reason to do so. But for those doing these recording projects for personal use, REAPER is more than enough to get you by.
John Narciso is a guitar player and music technology hobbyist. He loves exploring guitar effects processors in pedal and plugin format and free music applications. His music preferences tend to be diverse, listening to genres spanning from metal to alternative rock and a little hip-hop.