Choosing Your Digital Audio Workstation

Step 4: What Digital Audio Workstation Should I Use?

Choosing your digital audio workstation (The software that you need to create the music) can be a difficult task. Especially if you’ve never used one before. There’s plenty of free and paid DAWS that you can use to create music.

Each digital audio workstations you use will be very similar. They will all have the same fundamental features, such as being able to record and produce audio, and built-in tools like EQ and Compression. DAWS range significantly in price. Some are free and others can cost up to $600+. In this section, we will cover which digital audio workstation you should use.

Should I Use a Free Digital Audio Workstation?

Yes and No.

Free digital audio workstations are great for beginner musicians or somebody who wants to simply record their voice or instrument without additional effects.

I do not recommend them for producing high-quality music. In most cases, they are lacking certain features that you need to create your music.

Although you shouldn’t use them as your daily driver, that doesn’t mean you can’t give them a test drive. I actually recommend all new musicians to test out free audio creation software such as Audacity before taking the plunge and spending some money on a slightly more professional option.

UPDATE: You can now get Sonar platinum, a professional DAW, for completely free. Bandlab Technologies acquired Cakewalk on 4th April 2018 and have re-launched the platinum features of the DAW for completely free. If you don’t have much money, or would like a DAW, you need to give this a try. More information under the “The DAWS You Should Use” section of this article.

I’m on a Budget, What DAW Should I Get? 

Limited versions of daws are versions of popular digital audio software that have been capped. They are much cheaper than the full versions and will have everything you need to create your audio.

The full versions will have features that only very advanced sound/audio engineers know how to use. Therefore you aren’t really missing out and they are considerably cheaper.

Free Daws:

This is the list of free digital audio workstations that you can use to produce your music. If you are on a budget or a complete beginner, this is the place you should start. I don’t recommend you use a free daw unless you really have to. They usually lack some features and aren’t a practical solution. If you can afford it, I would recommend that you buy a limited version.

Audacity

This is the first digital audio workstation I ever used, and it will always have a soft spot in my heart. What I like about Audacity is that it is very simple to use and it is very lightweight which means it can be run on low specification computers.

Audacity is a very popular, completely free digital audio workstation that can be used to create and produce audio. It’s capable of recording mono and stereo recordings and is capable of adjusting the sound input and panning of each channel. It also has built-in effects such as bass, fades in/out, pitch and speed adjustments and many more. It’s a great start for somebody who is new to creating music or wants to create basic voice-overs.

Below is an image of what Audacity looks like. It has a very simple layout and is very easy to use. All the button placements are in the position you would expect them to be and the learning curve for this piece of software is quite low. Meaning you can learn and pick it up very quickly.

MuLab

MuLab is a software-based daw that has been built for Mac OS and Windows computers. It was first released in December 2007 and is a relatively popular free daw. It’s a good tool which makes recording and editing music very easy and has a bunch of integrated synths, samplers, and other effects.

Here is an introduction video to MuLab:

Tracktion 6

Tracktion 6 is another free daw that is also very popular. Some people say it is the best free software-based digital audio software that you can get.

It’s capable of recording and using midi instruments and has a bunch of integrated virtual instruments that you can use with your midi controller.

The video below does an excellent job of describing and showing the functionality of Tracktion 6:

Free Limited – PreSonus Studio One 3 Prime

PreSonus Studio One 3 Prime is a great free digital audio workstation.

It is a limited version of their professional Studio One 3 Artist software package and is a great entry-level piece of software that is powerful enough to record and produce music.

Although it is limited, it still includes many key features of a professionally paid daw.

It is built for Windows and Mac OS and is a completely free software that covers future updates.

On their website, they have marketed this DAW towards students and entry-level artists.

If you cannot afford to buy a professional digital audio workstation, this is the free music creation software package I would choose.

The DAWS You Should Use

This is a list of the digital audio workstations that you should consider using for your home recording and music studio. These software packages are all advanced enough and have all the fundamental features to use in your studio.

Avid Pro Tools

Avid pro tools is an old timer and are widely used by many producers and artists. The first version was initially released on January 20, 1989. It is a proprietary DAW that runs on Windows and Mac OS and is used by many professional musicians. Including Eminem, Dr. Dre, and many other big artists.

Pro Tools has everything built into it to compose, record, edit and mix audio and according to their website, Pro Tools has redefined the music, film, and TV industry. This piece of software has been the industry standard for many years now and is a piece of software that I recommend you use in your studio.

Pro Tools is the industry standard DAW and is great for recording live performances, mixing large professional sessions, recording instruments with multiple takes AND can do it very fast. It has countless features. One feature that has always amazed me is that if you don’t have enough disk space or your hard drive is not very fast it can sometimes cause playback errors. To prevent this Pro Tools has a feature called ‘disk cache’. Disk cache can take your whole session and load it into your computer’s RAM (Random Access Memory) which provides far better performance.

Here’s a review video of Avid Pro Tools:

Presonus Studio One 4

Presonus studio one 4 is widely respected and used in the music industry. Just like any other DAW on this section of our list, this DAW has many built-in features. Such as a powerful drag-and-drop functionality, MIDI tracks, virtual instruments, FX channels, as many buses as you would like, multitrack MIDI editing and much more.

Presonus Studio One 4 has 3 versions:

  • Studio One Prime – Free version that is limited on features.
  • Studio One Artist – Paid version that is perfect for artists.
  • Studio One Professional – This version has all the features but is a lot pricier compared to the other version.

Presonus Studio One 4 does also have a demo/trial if you would like to try it out before spending any money. Although this version does not include: Audio extraction from video, CD burn service, Presence XT core library, new loop library, ReWire and Melodyne.

If you’re looking for a digital audio workstation, we highly recommend this one.

Logic Pro X

Logic Pro was first released in 1993 and then was acquired by Apple in 2002.  It is a paid DAW that has been built for the Apple Mac Operating System. This means it only works on Apple Mac Devices. You cannot run this software on Windows or Linux.

Logic Pro X is a great daw that is capable of producing very high-quality music. When I first used Logic Pro X I was slightly overwhelmed (That’s a normal feeling when you first start using a professional DAW), but after creating a couple of short audio tracks, and getting to know how to use their virtual instruments. I picked up how to use it very quickly. I have had a very good experience with Logic Pro X and never had any issues or problems when connecting up MIDI devices or microphones. Everything just works out of the box.

FL Studio

FL Studio is another widely known and used DAW. It was released on December 18, 1997, and is available on Android, IOS, macOS, and Windows. The android and IOS is slightly different than the macOS and Windows but has all the core features.

Just like all the other DAWs on this list, FL Studio’s desktop version (Mac and Windows) has the ability to compose, arrange, record, edit, mix and master audio. Fl Studio includes over 80 instrument and effect plugins. These plugins cover compression, equalization, delay, synthesis, filtering, flanging, phasing, chorus, distortion and many more.

FL Studio is a great DAW and comes with a free trial if you would like to test it out. Although I’ve used FL Studio before it has never impressed me enough to use it as my daily driver (however that is my opinion). Many people have had great success with FL Studio and produced great sounding audio, so don’t make that stop you from testing it out.

Cakewalk Sonar

Cakewalk Sonar is the only DAW on this list that operates only on the Windows operating system. Cakewalk Sonar is programmed in c++ and the company Cakewalk was initially founded in 1987.

Sonar has many different releases of their software for different purposes:

  • Music Creator 7
  • Sonar Artist
  • Sonar Professional
  • Sonar Platinum

Cakewalk Sonar isn’t the ‘go to’ DAW from my personal preference, but just like every other DAW on this list. It can record, edit, mix, add effects, pan, and do everything all the other professional DAWS do.

UPDATE: Cakewalk by Bandlab

You can now get Sonar platinum for completely free. Bandlab Technologies acquired Cakewalk on 4th April 2018 and have re-launched the platinum features of the DAW for completely free.

If you’re looking for a completely free professional DAW, look no further.

Download this software and give it a try for free. It’s a complete DAW with professional features.

More information: https://cakewalk.bandlab.com/

Our Advice – Conclusion

At the end of the day, the majority of daws all do the same thing and It will come down to the user’s personal preference. They all have plugins that are cable of adjusting the channel’s sound levels, panning, EQ, Compression and all sort of different options.

Our advice to new music artists would be to try out a free daw, so you can get used to producing music and then when you’re ready, upgrade to a paid DAW. We recommend using a free daw at first because if you do decide that creating music isn’t for you, it won’t matter as much as you haven’t spent your hard earned money on a DAW. Professionals digital audio workstations can cost hundreds to even thousands of dollars.

For more information on which digital audio workstation you should use, please read out in-depth DAW guide here.