A DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is a digital system designed for editing and recording digital audio. The best daw systems may refer to audio hardware, audio software, or both. Software DAW’s are the ones who are mainly used by music producers in our era since computers have become the main hosting devices. In many professional recording studios you will find imposing computer-compatible mixing consoles. Conversely, in a home or portable studio, there is only the necessity of having a laptop with a music production software and a recording interface.
Since computers have replaced most integrated DAWs, audio editing and post-production is now performed primarily with software rather than hardware. This has led to the democratization of the whole music production process. In fact, all you need today is to create music is a software DAW. Such audio production programs are available for both Macintosh and Windows systems. In this article, we will concentrate on, Ableton Live, Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Fruity Loops and Reason which are some of the most praised music production programs. While each DAW has certain specificities, advantages and disadvantages, these programs have similar functions.
Choosing the best DAW: 1. Ableton Live
The originality of Ableton Live compared to other DAW’s is that it is strongly oriented towards live performances. Ableton live is also known for being a more contemporary software which really takes into account user preferences.
It is one of the most intuitive music sequencers: facilitating the learning process but also contributing to a faster workflow than other DAW’s. The workflow is made intuitive by a more straightforward approach to samples, and the numerous clip triggers which are made available for live performances.
A particularity of Live is its 2 available working views – the “arrangement” and “session” views – which offer unprecedented versatility. When the user desires to use Ableton for live performances the session view is very handy. On the other hand when you just want to compose, the same linear arrangement which is available in other DAWs can be used. Ableton Live also provides a more attractive and ergonomic interface. Visuals are very readable and appealing. Seemingly, everything is accessible. For example, the MIDI-control setup is quick and straightforward. You don’t need to look for specific drivers to map your external hardware. Hardwares tools such as the Akai APC or Novation Launchpad will be instantly usable.
“Ableton live can be seen as the ‘convenient’ DAW which appears to be the most straightforward”
Additionally, the Ableton Live community is very present online since it is one of the most used DAWs and this can be helpful at times. The company doesn’t seem to forget beginners by providing a very complete manual and topic-specific tutorials which are made available online. It is also worth mentioning “Max for Live” which is a visual programming environment that allows users to build instruments and effects for use within Ableton Live. Max for Live is one of the most innovative experimentalist features of the software.
One downfall of Ableton might be that a transition from a more classical DAW such as Logic Pro or Pro Tools to Ableton is not the most uncomplicated process. Furthermore, the warping feature which in itself is supposed to be very helpful isn’t able to automatically detect BPM. Also, to be considered is the price of the software which more expensive than other not less capable DAWs such as Reaper and Logic. To sum things up, Ableton live can be seen as the convenient DAW which appears to be the most straightforward. Features such as Live packs, sampler drag-and-drop, warp markers, racks, semi-minimalist interface, etc.) allow experimentation in a very unique way.
Video Tutorial For Beginners – Ableton Live 9
Choosing the best DAW: 2. Avid Pro Tools
Pro Tools is regarded as the top industry standard because it is used in most large studios. This sequencer makes it easy to transport and use project files (which are usually incompatible between different DAW’s) everywhere.
It is also praised for its post-production convenience which has a frame accurate sync and fast editing tools, with great processing options (routing, bussing). Once you get to know the keyboard shortcuts, it can prove to be a straightforward sequencer with a fast workflow. Moreover, the transition from another DAW to this one is much more convenient than with Ableton Live. Pro Tools is definitely more turned towards editing audio and applying diverse effects. This is one of the reason for its mainspread use in studio’s, and more generally in the post-production phase.
In certain aspects, the software remains superior to other host softwares. For example, a recent feature which was implemented is the fantastic time-stretching algorithm. This feature allows you to slow down, speed up, lengthen or shorten a piece of audio flawlessly. In that aspect Pro Tools does a lot better than its rivals.
“Audio engineers will find their happiness with this post-production focused software”
Nonetheless, even if it possesses all these qualities, Pro Tools isn’t as user-friendly as other softwares. The truth is that Pro Tools is not really aimed at music production. Virtual instruments are scarce and less qualitative than on rival sequencers. MIDI features and functions aren’t really suited to the everyday music software user. Besides, the CPU* usage is considerable. If Avid boast the closed plugin environment of pro tools, the software can only host RTAS and AAX plugins. The lack of other formats seriously limits creative possibilities. This restricted plugin environment is supposed to improve stability.
Users have complained about the the company behind Pro Tools. It has been sad that lagging features have never been reviewed and that certain elemental features, available on other DAWS, were overcharged on Pro Tools. Having all of these flaws, we would have imagined the sequencer to come at an attractive price, this is unfortunately not the case. Nevertheless, audio engineers will find their happiness with this post-production focused software.
Video Tutorial For Beginners – Pro Tools
Choosing the Best DAW: 3. Logic Pro X
Logic Pro 9 had been one of the most praised sequencers for more than a decade. Recently Apple decided to review the software’s interface from top to bottom. For users who are still owning a copy of the previous version, we strongly recommend you to consider the upgrade.
There are a considerable amount of evolutions which make this upgrade worthy. A new flex pitch function is straightforward to use and produces comparable results to a vocal dedicated software like Melodyne. Compared to the previous version, there have been a significant amount of new MIDI plugins such as the arpeggio which will undeniably bolster your creative process. The sequencer design is much more modern and is definitely more ergonomic than before. Built in sounds are very impressive for this price range. “Drummer” allows for unparalleled rhythmical approaches with kits covering a vast array of genres such as dance and dub. The sound quality of the latter is astonishing.
Generally, we can say that Logic Pro X comes with an extensive amount of sound libraries, loops & sampler instruments. The software is complete in terms of resources. The only thing that might be lacking is qualitative brass hits or staccato strings. We really appreciate the “Alchemy” plugin which is a very all-round and helpful tool. Furthermore, basic plugins such as the linear phase EQ or the compressor give a good basis for the mixing process. Another noteworthy addition is the “Logic Bitcrusher” which is warm and can be usefully implemented during sound processing. Underrated, the “Retro synth” is also a very capable synth which is light on CPU and can create complex and unique sounds via FM wavetable modes.
“Even though Logic Pro X does contain some flaws, the workflow, which is one of the most important aspects to consider in music production, is quite enjoyable.”
On the downside, both the “Ultrabeat” Drum sampler and the “ESX24” sampler will not contribute to an easy workflow. For the former, it remains an inferior drum sampler to the ones that are available in other DAW’s. For the latter, basic sampling will prove to be easy but more complex sampling will be more difficult to master. Automation is much less straightforward than with Ableton Live and it sometimes doesn’t work correctly with 3rd party plugins. The piano roll is also less fun to use than the one you get in FL studio. The bottom line is that even tough Logic Pro X does contain some flaws, the workflow, which is one of the most aspects to consider in music production is quite enjoyable.
Video Tutorial For Beginners – Logic Pro X
Choosing the Best DAW: 4. Fruity Loops Studio (Version 12)
Used by established music producers like Kaytranada and Madeon, Fruity Loops may look like a beginner software. Nonetheless, it is more capable than most DAWs on the market. Without any doubt, the first feature that comes to mind is the automation feature which is very complete and much more accessible than in other sequencers. In our opinion, it is only topped by Ableton Live in that aspect. This creative freedom provides for a very experimental playground. Basically included sounds offer a great palette for creative possibilities.
Fruity loops is also great for its MIDI controller integration. As with Ableton you don’t have to download additional drivers to make your external hardware work. This also applies when plugging in an external device during your session. The DAW has often been praised for its piano roll, which is very complete in its features. This makes the composition of musical sequences very straightforward. Well thought out, the software is also very ergonomic and CPU-friendly. Furthermore, music producers often criticize Pro Tools or even Logic Pro for being very rigid softwares. FL studio is a much more flexible and customizable software which will definitely adapt to your needs.
It is also worth noting that FL Studio offers a performance mode. This feature is fully integrated when you’re performing with hardware controllers like the launchpad. It also allows you to freely automate your tracks in a live session. Much more focused on musical creation, than post-production FL studio targets musicians. In that regard, the full credit goes to Imageline. The company has managed to build up a great reputation for taking into account user’s demands, improving the software accordingly. A last efficient feature in terms of workflow is the sidebar, which is speeding up the whole process.
“Much more focused on musical creation than post-production, FL Studio targets musicians.”
Having enumerated all the advantages, FL Studio has its fair share of downfalls. The workflow on this DAW is different than other sequencers. In that sense, the transition to Fruity Loops might be difficult. The way musical information is presented can also be quite daunting. In the end, FL studio might not be made for everyone. However, in our opinion it remains one of the most decent music sequencers. If you opt for this product, keep in mind that the basic Fruity edition won’t allow you to handle audio files. The more complete producer edition is the best one for beginners.
Video Tutorial For Beginners – FL Studio 12
Choosing the Best DAW: 5. Propellerhead Reason (Version 9)
“Self-contained” is probably the most adapted word to used to describe “Reason”. This DAW provides an extensive amount of built-in plugins, which are called rack extensions. With Reason 9, a considerable amount of upgrades were added. One of the great advantages of using Reason over another plugin is the faculty to be able to produce completely in the box with a vast array of plugins. Furthermore, reason provides additional (payable) plugins which can complete your existing setup. It is worth mentionning that connectivity between Reason and Ableton has been made possible with Ableton link.
Additionally, The workflow can be described as unique, very much inspired by hardware interfaces. The interface feels appealing and sleek without removing any of its flawless and creative workflow. More specifically, a lot of users have praised the modular routing which is provided with this DAW. The process of creating music on Reason is really enjoyable and quite similar to playing a game, resulting from the interface’s malleability, presentation and design.
“Reason remains one of the forefront runners in music composition and arrangement, whilst possessing limited possibilities for final mixes and masters.”
Because of its extensive features Reason is one of the most suited DAW for writing electronic music tracks. It possesses a very complete list of tools which can please any type of musician. As a consequence, the basis instruments are sufficient to instantly start creating tracks. Conversely, Reason is not the go to software for editing and recording audio. Pro Tools or Logic would be more adapted in that aspect. Therefore, mixing engineers should consider other options, even though audio capabilities have been added and a specifically modeled SSL mixer.
Reason was conceived as a software which isn’t supposed to require any additional software for the creation of tracks. This can also be described as its weakness, since 3rd Party plugins were not compatible until version 6.5. However, in 2017 Propellerhead enabled users to use VST plugins with the software which is a significant improvement. All things considered, Reason remains one of the forefront runners in music production software, whilst possessing limited possibilities for final mixes and masters.
Video Tutorial For Beginners – Reason
Softwares for music production are very complete in their functions but can also be very different from each other. As with headphones, studio monitors or other products in music production, software selection boils down to personal taste. Having said that, each DAW is known to have a specific criteria which makes it stand out from the crowd. Ableton Live is a software that is known for its orientation towards live performances, straightforward approach and faster workflow. Pro Tools doesn’t do as well in terms of presentation, arrangement and organization of ideas. Nonetheless, it is praised by professionals for its post-production convenience.
Somewhere in between, Logic Pro X can be heralded for its rich musical library and the qualitative sound processing softwares that are made available. Underestimated, Fruity Loops is one of the most enjoyable softwares to use on the list with great features such as MIDI controller integration and performance mode. Finally, Reason has the advantage to offer the possibility of an “all in the box” approach whilst being less performant than the other softwares for final mixes and mastering. To conclude, the choice of a DAW should not be taken lightly as it will be your main music software for years to come.