A Digital Audio Workstation or simply DAW is one of the most vital tools used by music producers, composers, sound engineers and anyone who is a part of the audio and music industry. For newbies in the industry and the uninitiated, DAW is a software for recording, editing, manipulating and playing musical or sound–related digital audio files. The Indian film and music industry have drastically evolved over the years in their use of state-of-the-art technology and sophisticated software. The proof lies in the development of our own domestic DAW Swar Studio to cater more specifically to our unique Indian musical needs.
However, the DAWs widely used globally are the more popular choices in India as well. Here’s an attempt to list the most popular DAW software and highlight the key features, pros and cons of their newer versions. This is not an exhaustive list but an introduction to what the popular software are about. Be sure to click on the links highlighted in blue to find out more.
Platform OS X, Windows
It offers two views– Classical Arrangement for laying down musical ideas and Session View for improvisation and experimentation. Live comes in three versions: Intro, Standard and Suite. Its custom MIDI controller from AKAI has been well received.
It is perhaps the best software out there for live performers and DJs and arguably the best DAW for electronic music.
Apart from the MIDI effect, Live’s instrument, drum and audio effect racks have also been hailed.
It is way pricier than competition.
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Logic Pro X
Platform OS X (10.9 and up)
The latest Logic Pro X version boasts of the ‘next gen sample manipulation synthesizer’ Alchemy. It can be well integrated with iPad as well and can be handled remotely via Apple’s iPad app Logic Remote. The enviable ‘Drummer’ feature provides a huge array of acoustic and electronic beats.
This software is probably the best value for money with almost every necessary feature and various additional plug-ins and enhancements and a very attractive price.
Apple’s low-budget DAW, Garageband’s users (usually beginners) can comprehensively transition to this more professional DAW without many surprises.
It does not run on Windows.
Beginners could find it complicated.
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Pretty much like Ableton, FL Studio is very popular with electronic music creators. Due to its loop-based nature it is popular among hip-hop music producers and musicians too. It comes in four editions: Fruity, Signature, Producer and All Plug-in Bundle *
What makes FL Studio attractive to existing users is free downloads of updated versions for lifetime.
It is simple to use and is excellent value for money.
It still has to bring out the Mac version.
FL might not be the best software for audio needs.
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Avid Pro Tools
Platform OS X, Windows
This pioneer DAW software is designed keeping professionals in mind. Its list of add-ons apart from the regular functions and bells and whistles expected of a DAW software sets it apart from competition. It enables users to share tracks with ‘anyone – anywhere’ * and is compatible with multiple studios. It comes in three versions: Pro Tools, Pro Tools First and Pro Tools HD.
It is the industry standard. Competition has yet to match up Pro Tool’s unique capabilities and ease of use. It’s compatibility with multiple studios adds a feather in its cap. It may possibly be the one of the best DAWS for audio. The User Interface is simple to use.
It is one of the priciest DAWs around for professional use.
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Platform OS X, Windows
The current 8.5 version enables collaborating with other Cubase users and sharing work in cloud via VST Transit. This version’s refined MixConsole, powerful Retrologue 2 synth and ‘direct file exchange with Wavelab’ * (for audio refinement) are the features to look out for.
Cubase is arguably the most intuitive (easy) software when compared to most others in competition.
New improvements allow easy and faster workflow.
Refinements in features like adding and importing tracks and audios make it a highly coveted software.
There is an additional cost to upgrade from the older version to the newest one.
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Platform OS X, Windows
Reason offers a variety effects and plugins that can be synced with a virtual instrument present on the software simply by dragging and dropping. The new version 9 features ‘Players’, a new kind of rack device.
The new version’s pitch correction tool ‘Pitch Edit’ and arpeggiator ‘Dual Arpeggio’ have been received with a lot of positivity.
Reason also allows a free 30 day trial without any restrictions.
Third-party plugin is not available.
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Platform Linux (Wine), OS X, Windows
Complete customization is Reaper’s USP. From key commands, tools, menus to mouse settings, just about everything can customized. A user switching from any other DAW can fully customize and adjust Reaper as per his needs.
Reaper is available in one single version for everyone for more flexibility and ease of use.
No other competition can beat the price structure. The 60-day free trial allows unlimited access to the users without any restrictions.
Due to its ease of use and fantastic affordability Reaper is a top choice for beginners, pros, home studios and professional ones alike.
The fact that it works on just one single track for all can go against it. It also lacks a loop library.
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Sonar’s Installation Manager Command Center lists, downloads and installs all the Cakewalk products with their serial numbers owned by the user. The newest version has revamped its Skylight Interface with more features and improvements. It comes in three versions: Artist, Platinum and Professional.
Its flawless Melodyne pitch correction is worth a mention.
It is the first DAW to offer a very attractive monthly payment model to its users.
It does not have Mac compatibility as yet.
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Presonus Studio One
Pretty much like Cubase, Studio One’s ‘drop and drag’ feature makes the DAW intuitive. In the latest version 3, the tools ‘Arranger Track’ for building arrangements and ‘Scratch Pad’ for experimenting with them have been included.
Studio One comes in three versions: Prime, Artist and Professional
The ease of use of the browser function makes Studio One a very fast software.
The inclusion and introduction of new features like detail editor make it very intuitive and competitive.
Most of the new features are not available in the free versions. Users have to upgrade to the Professional version for these features.
MIDI features still need to be improved.
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Platform Mac OS X, Windows, Linux
Check out Bitwig’s ‘Clip Launcher’. It has dual functionality of drafting a composition’s layout or of simply being used as a performance tool. This feature makes Bitwig stand its own ground despite being a relatively new entrant in the field of DAWs.
This is the only DAW that runs on Linux directly. Reaper runs on Linux via Wine.
Its cross-platform compatibility makes it a top choice for many.
Being a newer software, it still has to win the confidence of DAW users to help them make the switch.
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While choosing a DAW it should be kept in mind that no one DAW is perfect .It is a software after all, and you can expect shortcomings here and there. Your budget and experience in handling a software also come in play. Sometimes users like to integrate the features of multiple DAWs for optimization. For instance, you might come across a situation where you may want to use Ableton Live with Pro Tools for optimal output. So it is best advised to identify your needs, prioritize them and then make your selection based on these factors.