What is the Best DAW?
Grab your guitar, crank up that awesome tube amp, get in front of the mic and…what? If you are ready to record that screaming new tune you wrote you must be asking yourself, “what software do most producers use?”, or “what is the best DAW? Well those are great questions and it’s a little more complicated that it sounds. It would be nice to say, “download this neat thing and you are all set” but that’s not the case.
Here we are going to discuss DAWs, or Digital Work Stations. They are the heart of the home studio and any discussion of recording, mixing or producing is going to start there. The reason this discussion is more complicated than a single answer is because the product landscape is huge as are the uses of these particular products. A rap producer will be using a vastly different set of tools from someone recording heavy metal or country or anything else. Once you know what direction you want to go then check below for the best way to get there. Fortunately, everyone needs a DAW so…
Step 1: The Digital Audio Workstation
In many music videos you will see a hard working producer or engineer behind a huge 24 track mixing board turning knobs and pushing faders while a giant tape machine spins in the background. A Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) is all of that on a single computer with a lot more power. The DAW is the centerpiece of your production experience and will tie together all of the hardware and software you put together to build your recording studio. Keep in mind that the term studio is used to mean anything from a multi-room sound proof castle to the top of a card table where the laptop is balanced. Either way you can record great music if you know what you are doing. As per the warning above to know what you are trying to produce, that doesn’t apply to the DAW. You must have one regardless of what you are going to make. The DAW will be used to record your music, mix and edit and finally to master your files. A DAW can handle real analog instruments, vocals, real drums (yay!) or MIDI files and instrument plugins that can fool many a trained ear. Professional studios at times make available analog tape recording with real hardware interfaces but more often than not you will find the big players and the home players using the same DAWs. With the DAW at the center of your production remember you will also need a computer that can handle what you need to get done. As that is beyond the scope of this article ZMINsoft recommends you check out this Wire Realm article. The info there is sold but keep in mind you don’t need a Mac. They are great if you can afford it but PCs have really caught up to the Mac when it comes to music production. Stay in your budget! Let’s choose a DAW!
Yes, we are going to talk about Pro Tools first. We can hear the voices of a thousand producers shouting, “But its expensive and there are cheaper options that are comparable”. This is true however Avid’s Pro Tools is the market leader and if you are going to take a college class on music production this is the DAW that will be used.
If you walk into a professional studio it is almost certain they will be using Pro Tools. Also, while in the past Pro Tools was really expensive, with the monthly subscription option it’s a little better (~$25 per month). This isn’t as important as the availability of plugins and the amount of information and support you will find with Pro Tools. If there is a plugin, it’s available for Pro Tools. Also, if you are having a problem, 50k people have already had that problem and there are 800 videos on YouTube on how to fix it.
Here are some highlights:
- Compatible with both Mac/PC
- 64-bit Memory
- Tempo control on many levels
- Comes with 70 effects plugins built-in. Enough to start sessions immediately.
- Every plugin known to man available after-market
So, this costs a little more, but it may be worth it. Also, previous versions of Pro Tools were a little buggy with PCs as the software was originally made only for the Mac. This has not been the case for several years but the legend lives on so you may hear people say it’s better on the Mac. It’s the same on the Mac or the PC.
The video below goes through the main interface features and shows them in action so take a moment o cehck it out.
This DAW has a much simpler interface and for beginners this will be easier to pick up in the short term than Pro Tools. The software is sold and has been in use for a long time. New users will love the high level interface but more experienced producers may find the experience lacking. You will find the usual features native such as:
- Pitch Shifting,
- Pitch Correction
- Cut/Paste measures, phrases, tracks
The version available now includes several plugins as well as some synth software rolled in. If you have an interface and a midi controller of some kind you can start experimenting immediately.
Starting at around $99 for the smallest pack FL Studio is significantly cheaper than Pro Tools which may be enough reason to give it a shot. While it is likely that most experienced users will move on to another DAW eventually that is no reason to not give FL Studio a shot.
Check out the review below of the new FL Studio 20.
Apple Logic Pro
Logic Pro is an old standard for a reason. Starting at $199 there is a lot of value here for a beginner or an advanced user. The interface is smooth and easy to learn and has:
- Stack Tracks Functionality
- Built in Virtual Drummer
- Instrument Layering
- Advanced Plugin Controls
- Built in Arpeggiator
- A Lot More
The editor will let you make MIDI tracks using the keyboard as a controller as well as chain synths and plugins.
The community built around Logic Pro is enormous and as was previously stated about Pro Tools you will have no problems finding support and informative videos.
Logic Pro doesn’t have as many bundled plugins as Pro Tools, and it costs a bit more than FL Studio but as an all around DAW it would be tough to go wrong here.
Below is a beginners guide to Logic Pro X.