Is GarageBand a good DAW

The best DAWs in the world!

Which are the most popular digital audio workstations and what are their differences?

The best music producing software in comparison

Originally intended as a “virtual tape machine” for recording and editing sound recordings, many of today's DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) have become comprehensive all-in-one solutions, with which from notation and composition to arrangement, recording of audio and MIDI, editing and mixdown, depending on the specimen, even allow complex live performances to be carried out. The DAW market has grown rapidly in recent years and has produced contemporary music production software that enables flexible and innovative ways of working.

With this extensive selection of DAWs, of which there is usually the right version for different budgets, it is not easy to keep track of things. So which DAW fits your own workflow? They all have their advantages and disadvantages, which you should know before you spend many hours familiarizing yourself with the extensive software. If you know these and their unique selling points, you will quickly find out which DAW best suits your own way of working. We have put together the most popular DAWs to give beginners and those switching to an overview.


What's the best DAW?

The best DAW is the one that fits your workflow! Many DAWs have roughly the same core functions. The differences are in the details, which is usually noticeable in the structure of the work environment and the range of functions in individual sections. And it is precisely these details that you should look at before starting or switching. Since every music maker has their own expectations of a DAW, you should be clear about what you intend to do with the software. In the following overview, we refer to test reports and workshops at the appropriate points, which provide you with more details and delve much deeper into the subject.

1. Apple Logic

Apple Logic Pro X, originally developed by the Hamburg forge Emagic, is one of the most comprehensive and at the same time most user-friendly DAWs, and at a comparatively cheapest price. However, since the takeover of Apple, the all-rounder DAW has only been available for macOS, which requires the corresponding Apple computers. Due to this limitation on the operating system and hardware, the DAW is, so to speak, from Apple for Apple and is accordingly stable. In addition, as with many products, Apple also uses its own interface here. Therefore, no VSTs, but so-called AUs (audio units) are required to integrate third-party plug-ins. Almost all known plug-ins are now available in AU format.

Logic is the easy-to-use all-rounder DAW with which everything is on board, from notation to arrangement, audio and MIDI recording as well as mixing and synchronization, that you need in everyday production. With the environment, Logic enables the virtual MIDI studio and its routing to be changed flexibly. Using the ARA2 interface, Logic is able to seamlessly integrate editors such as Celemony Melodyne, as if the plug-in were integrated in the software. In the case of Melodyne, no transfer (live recording of the individual tracks) is necessary, as all audio information is immediately contained in the plug-in and editing can begin immediately.

The "monster": Logic offers an enormous range of functions - but not only that!

The supplied collection of instruments and effects leaves little to be desired, which can also be said of the sample and loop library, which can be downloaded by category. Since the introduction of Logic Pro X (2013), Apple has been delivering all updates free of charge, some of which surprise with major update features (or software takeovers such as the software synth Alchemy).

Incidentally, every Mac is factory-equipped with the free entry-level drug DAW "GarageBand". This offers a beginner-friendly, Logic-like user interface with which recordings and simple arrangements can be created, which can be opened in Logic X and further produced. As is known from other Apple products, Logic cannot be changed very much in terms of appearance and working environment, apart from a few details. What you see is what you get! We have prepared workshops for Logic Pro X and GarageBand to help you get started with Apple DAWs.

2. Ableton Live

The creative DAW “Live” from Ableton is, as the name suggests, for performers and producers who create the song structure live and do not follow the usual linear approach to composition. The latter is also possible, but the core concept and unique selling point is the session view, in which clips can be recorded and then run in a loop. Several clips of different tracks can be played in scenes, which makes the song structure, i.e. the arrangement, faster and allows experimentation and improvisation while the song continues in the loop. The whole thing works with both MIDI and audio recordings. Since an audio clip does not have to be a short loop, but can also be a whole song, the DAW also enables digital DJing and live remixing, which is why it fought for a place in the hearts of producers and DJs in the EDM field for producing and “DJing” Has.

In Ableton Live's Session View, audio and MIDI clips are performed live and the arrangement is recorded on the fly. The mixer is also conveniently located here.

With its modular development environment “Max for Live”, patches can be created via drag and drop without having to learn complex programming skills; Finished patches can be exchanged in a large user community, which has already produced many a creative booster. In terms of audio editing, however, the Live is poorly positioned. And even if multi-track recordings can be made without any problems, the DAW is less suitable for classic tape productions. Ableton Live can be described in one word as a “techno DAW”. If you want to learn more about the structure and functionality of Ableton Live, you should take a look at our workshop "Kickstart Ableton".

3. Steinberg Cubase

The most famous of all DAWs is without question the all-rounder software Cubase from Steinberg. It is almost a synonym for DAWs, like "Tempo" for paper handkerchiefs, at least in Europe. Cubase is comparable to Logic in terms of functionality and is available for Windows and Mac at the same time. Cubase is not one of the most stable DAWs, but it is one of the most extensive. The user interface is more nested, which means a slightly steeper learning curve.

Steinberg Cubase: The all-rounder for Windows and macOS.

However, there is a more or less defined variant for almost every budget and area of ​​application. In addition, Cubase supports VST plug-ins, of which there are more than for Apple's AU format - but this is more the case with freeware plug-ins and outdated software. In terms of audio routing and bus assignment, Cubase is flexible and comes with a MixConsole whose channel strips are based on analog mixing consoles and which are already equipped with EQ, compressor, gate, saturation and more without having to load plug-ins. The all-round carefree package comes with official effects, instruments, samples and loops. We have also started a workshop for Cubase, which should make it easier to get started with the software.

4. Avid Pro Tools

Avid Pro Tools Pro Tools from Avid, formerly Digidesign, is one of the most widely used DAWs in the English-speaking world, and it really comes into its own when it comes to very extensive multi-track recordings and editing. Pro Tools has long been referred to as the industry standard in audio editing, but some DAWs have now largely caught up. The former bond to the Pro Tools HD systems or M-Boxes was lifted in order to provide Pro Tools with a larger user base. The price and product policy remains controversial, which is not least due to the inconsistent bug fixes. Pro Tools (similar to Logic Pro) has AAX, a proprietary plug-in format, which further limits the availability of plug-ins.

Avid Pro Tools: The professional DAW for professional studios!

If you want to build or compose beats, you have come to the wrong place with Pro Tools. As beautiful and impressive as the name “Pro Tools” may sound, when it comes to MIDI recording and editing, the DAW is a complete beginner thanks to its rudimentary MIDI features compared to Cubase, Live and Logic. Nevertheless, Pro Tools is the DAW in professional studios where the focus is on extensive audio recordings and mixdowns. In most home recording and semi-professional contract studios, which work with software instruments in the box in addition to audio recordings, you rarely come across the not too cheap and (for a "professional tool") very error-prone DAW from the Home Avid. In the workshop we will also show you everything you need to know about Pro Tools for the perfect start or switch.

5. Presonus Studio One

Studio One from Presonus is a relatively young DAW that quickly caused a sensation among professionals thanks to its extraordinary workflow booster features. The Presonus DAW was the first to enable the seamless integration of editors such as Melodyne using the ARA interface. In contrast to the Melodyne plug-in, the audio recordings can be edited immediately without first having to be transferred. For engineers who specialize in pitch and timing editing of vocals and instruments, Studio One or ARA is a blessing. In addition to Studio One, only Logic Pro X and the currently dying Cakewalk Sonar are compatible with the ARA and ARA-2 interfaces.

Studio One: The drag & drop DAW with special features for Mac and Windows.

A special sonar feature is the drag & drop function, which allows the user to assign an effect to individual audio regions. There are similar functions in Logic Pro X and Pro Tools, but not in connection with the simple and at the same time creative operating concept, which tempts you to "pull it up and try it out". Even advanced functions, such as the import of DDP or Red Book Standard for professional masterings, make some global player DAW look old. The user interface offers a consistent one-window philosophy and is accordingly clear. The included plugins offer more advanced options, loops and samples included are acceptable, but not outstanding. If you are looking for a relatively inexpensive alternative for macOS and Windows that can keep up with Cubase and Logic in many ways and also offers its own advantages, you will find the right software in Studio One!

6. Image Line FL Studio

FL Studio aka Fruity Loops is unique as a DAW thanks to its pattern-based step sequencer concept, which is reminiscent of groove boxes, and allows beats to be programmed very easily. The pattern sequences can be arranged into songs with a user-friendly brush tool and a flexible playlist (arrangement view), in which each track can contain MIDI, audio and automation at the same time. Not least because of this extremely simple composition concept, Fruity cannot really shake off its reputation as a beginner DAW for “hip-hop kiddies”. And that although the range of functions can easily keep up with many DAWs.

FL Studio aka Fruity Loops leads to quick results with a step sequencer and pattern arrangement (similar to groove boxes).

The company's own sample and plug-in content is very extensive and third-party plug-ins can be integrated via the VST and AU interfaces. Audio recordings and editing are possible, but also remind of the possibilities of groove boxes and accordingly cannot be compared with global players. After 12 years of Windows exclusivity, the fruity DAW is now also available for Apple disciples. And even if it is not a decisive argument: The software is started within a blink of an eye and is ready for use. As a DAW for beat producers who want to achieve official results quickly and easily in the hip-hip, trap and EDM area, FL Studio is unbeatable. Of course I didn’t miss the opportunity to write a workshop for Fruity Loops with suitable audio and video examples.

7. Bitwig

The music production and performance software Bitwig from the Berlin manufacturer of the same name is available for Mac, Windows and even Linux. The newcomer software combines the concepts of many DAWs, but is particularly suitable for sound designers and sound tinkerers who want to flexibly combine "everything with everything". Similar to Reason, the DAW is modular and comes as an all-in-one package with an extensive range of instruments, effects and so-called devices, such as auxiliary devices, MIDI effects and modulation accessories, which can be freely combined.

Many sound designers and sound tinkerers swear by the flexible modular DAW Bitwig!

Using a CV modulator, the DAW is even able to process CV signals that come in via the input of audio interfaces. A feature called "Sandbox" prevents Bitwg from crashing due to faulty VST plugins - if only there was this in every DAW. As in Ableton Live, clips can be fired either in the linear arrangement view or also live to arrange songs or perform live. Bitwig is one of the youngest DAWs in the group, but offers many parallels to the tried and tested DAWs.

8. Propellerhead Reason

The Swedish outsider DAW Propellerhead Reason is the only DAW whose principle photorealistically reproduces a real recording studio. The heart and original concept of the whole thing is the Reason Rack, in which instruments such as synthesizers, samplers, drum computers and effects devices can be connected with audio and CV cables on the back of the rack - everything virtually in the box, of course. The DAW is completely modular and invites you to experiment with its realistic presentation and attention to detail. Even the rack screws can be loosened, as a gimmick, mind you.

The virtual, photo-realistic recording studio: Propellerhead Reason.

For a long time, Reason was only suitable for groove production. With the updates, more and more features were added that slowly but surely turned the beat production tool into a DAW. Probably the greatest wish of the user community was only implemented very late: plug-in support! The "all-in-one concept" was made expandable with the more or less failed rack extension store. After 17 (!) Years, Reason was expanded to include support for AU and VST plug-ins. The audio recording and editing features have also evolved, but cannot keep up with the all-rounder DAWs. Even if Reason would like to be more, “the old Swede” is still mainly to be found among beat producers, remixers and singer / songwriters and less in the classic recording studio. Reason is available for both Windows and Mac.

9. Reaper

Reaper comes from the American development team "Cockos", which has already brought the world the media player "Winamp". In terms of functionality, the software can keep up with many DAWs, but differs from other concepts in terms of flexibility. A special feature of the DAW is that there is only one type of track called “Track”, which can be audio, MIDI, instrument, effect and both mono and stereo.

The inexpensive DAW Reaper is flexible, offers some of the features of global players and does not require high computing power.

The content of a track can be used with MIDI files, MP3s or WAV files, for example. An instrument or effect can therefore be loaded flexibly into the inserts of a track. The look of the user interface can be changed freely. The software is available for Mac, Windows and Linux. In addition to AU and VST plug-in support, Reaper comes with its own effect format called JS and Reascript, with which you can develop your own effects. The full installation only takes up around 50 MB, a portable version can be started from the USB stick - you don't need to expect the sound and sample content supplied. For private users there is a comparatively inexpensive version for 60 euros. In our Kickstart Reaper workshop, we go through the most important sections step by step and explain the differences to conventional DAWs.

10. Motu Digital Performer

'The DAW Digital Performer from the audio interface manufacturer MOTU is primarily based in America, but is also enjoying increasing popularity internationally. The DAW has a one-window user interface that allows you to navigate through the sections, such as editors, piano rolls, mixers, arrangers, etc., using tabs (similar to a web browser). Not only the design, but also the division of the work environment can be freely configured, whereby the user interface of the DAW can be personalized to suit your own workflow. The range of functions is now very close to the big top dogs Logic and Cubase, which allows almost everything from notation to mastering.

Motu Digital Performer, the smart alternative for Pro Tools.

With features such as the “multi-song function” for opening several song projects in one project, Digital Performer has its own workflow booster.The software supports in-house MAS plug-ins, but also VSTs and audio units, which are converted into MAS format using wrappers. As a result, many software instruments support more MIDI outputs than is the case with audio units, for example. Another advantage is the automatic routing of the plug-in outputs to the internal buses. Digital Performer is now available for Windows and Mac.

For everyone who delves deeper into the subject of "mixing" and wants to see how a song is mixed from start to finish, we have a video course recommendation:
-> Rap Mixing Course (Affiliate Link)