The Digital Audio Work Station is the core application for music producers and sound engineers. This is where you build songs, master them and do everything in between. Most of us can’t afford all of them, so this article will help you make some decisions on which ones work best for you.
Trial: 30-day free, no restrictions.
Pros: Feels like Pro Tools and Logic pro. Very user-friendly and intuitive interface. Works great with most VSTs and third-party plugins. Scales well, meaning it can use SSD drives, load massive samples and other high-end things like that.
Cons: Cubase is a little dated, sometimes you’ll find it lacking in some newer features. Real exotic VSTs sometimes are not compatable as well. It’s also quite pricy if you want the version that comes with everything you need.
Cubbase has been around a long time and expanded from an Atari tracker released in 1989 up to a full blown digital audio workstation. It’s great for recording stuff live, running VSTis and is an overal stable and familiar environment.
Trial: Express Version $99
Pros: Comes with professional sounding plug-ins and samples. You can make great music right out of the box. Shares the familiar interfaces you’re used to if you’ve used Pro Tools or Cubase. Works with major company’s plug-ins and audio units.
Cons: The fact that it can’t run VSTs (it’s a mac OS issue really) is it’s biggest problem. Also, it’s kind of overdue for an update as far as memory needs go. If you’re looking at buying orchestral packages that load huge samples, Logic 9 has a 2gig limit on loading samples, so be prepared to bounce lots of tracks and spend some time loading and unloading instruments.
Although Logic is MAc only, it is really a great piece of software. In fact, it’s my DAWs of choice! It’s included plug-ins are almost as good as professional pricey ones and you don’t need much more than what’s included to be making close-to-pro mixes. It really needs an update to fix a few little memory annoyances and to take advantage of modern hardware, but none of these things will stop you from making some awesome tunes. I really don’t recommend the express version as its missing things you definitely need like a multipressor. You might as well spend the extra $100.
Fruity Loops Studio
Price: $99.00 and up
Trial: Only one save per song.
Pros: Has great effects and powerful synths right out of the box and has pretty intutive controls for chopping up samples, changing their tempos and doing other mash-up/ remix-centric activities. It’s also just super cool looking, and hey, you can’t beat the price considering the included synths like BioHazard, Wasp and others purchased alone would cost way more than the price of FL Studio.
Cons: To me, FL Studio feels like one of those old self-contained DOS programs where every piece of the interface was designed from the ground up. In some ways, it’s cool, but if you’re used to ProTools, Cubase or Logic Pro, you’ll sort of feel like you’re in an alien world where the workflow is convoluted and confusing. Things don’t always do what they do in the rest of your Operating system. Of course, if it’s your first DAWs you’ll have this learning curve anyways.
FL studio has been around a long time but seems to have developed in a way that aims more at remixers and mashup creators. It seems to be their DAWs of choice. It’s also one of the sleekest looking of all the DAWs interfaces. This, however, can cause some confusion. You shouldn’t have too much trouble finding help and tutorials online for some of FL Studios more obscured functions. It’s also pretty cool to have full access even in the trial version. You really know waht you’re getting after the trial, and truthfully, you get a lot.
Price: $99 and up
Trial: 30 days
Pros: Non-linear editing with clip view, very simple MIDI and keyboard mapping, lots of 3rd party effects with Max 4 Live. Provides a very flexible way of making music, you can create your own effect racks, groups, and buses easier then in some other DAWs
Cons: Steep learning curve because the interface is so different, built in EQs don’t sound very good, many of the preloaded effects sound less than professional unless you really tweak them.
Some professional long-time musicians have eschewed all their equipment for a keyboard and Ableton. That says something about this next generation DAWS app. It’s also made for live use which is something few of the other DAWS can claim.
Price: $295 and up
Trial: 30 days
Pros: Sounds great, Industry standard for recording and mixing. Can handle recording multiple inputs with no latency (HD version). Professional level EQs and effects built in. Can handle edits at a very high detail, you get your money’s worth on this one.
Cons: Expensive, and sometimes very vague when things go wrong. Throws up mysterious errors that don’t help you in any way.
Pro Tools has been the industry standard for DAWS for about 20 years. You will find a lot of the other DAWS pretty much follow the Pro Tools workflow and GUI.
It’s worth taking some time to play with the different options for Digital Audio Workstations. Many people use more than one since there are definitely some advantages unique to each application. Any of these will have you making some great music and you won’t outgrow them quickly.