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What is the best DAW?

The best DAWs of 2022 include:

  • PreSonus Studio One 5
  • Steinberg Cubase Pro 12
  • Tracktion Waveform Pro 11
  • Bitwig Studio 4
  • Reaper 6
  • Reason Studios Reason 12
  • Image Line FL Studio 20
  • AVID Pro Tools

Choosing a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) can be like choosing a new pair of shoes; they’re all going to be able to do the thing but some will fit you better than others. It may come down to a sense of style, the tightness of the fit, the quality of bounce or the amount of sparkles and finding the right DAW might take some research and experimentation. But don’t worry, you’ve come to the right place for some solid advice as I talk you through our top choices and why they might work for you.

Anything that calls itself a DAW is going to enable your computer to become a recording studio. This means multi-track audio recording, mixing and processing; it means MIDI sequencing, arranging and composition; it means virtual instruments, synths and drum machines. The DAW is the place where you capture and enhance your creativity, it’s where you record those moments of inspiration and build tracks, sounds and songs. All of the DAWs in this list can provide the platform for your music-making and they all have their own strengths and features that might make it the perfect choice for you.

I’ll be talking about the top versions of the software but many of the DAWs in this list have cheaper, simpler versions for small budgets that will have plenty of what you need to make music. Unless otherwise specified these DAWs are for macOS and Windows.

Best DAWs FAQ

What is the No 1 DAW?

Robin Vincent

The #1 DAW in my view is PreSonus Studio One Professional. It has the most comprehensive range of tools to tackle everything from home recording, singer-songwriters and bedroom dance producers through to composers, arrangers, music producers and recording bands.


What is the most used DAW?

Robin Vincent

The DAW that’s getting the most use is difficult to measure. But if you check the popularity of purchases on Sweetwater you’ll find that PreSonus Studio One Professional is the most popular followed by Ableton Live. If you switch to the Thomann music store in Europe then the most popular is FL Studio followed by Ableton Live.


What is the best DAW for PC?

Robin Vincent

If you are running Windows then the best DAW is PreSonus Studio One Professional. It was built on Windows and fits nicely with the flow and visual flair.


What is the best DAW for Mac?

Robin Vincent

On macOS you get GarageBand for free which is a decent DAW that’s a great place to get started with your music-making.

Best DAWs 2022

PreSonus Studio One 5

Studio One goes from strength to strength and version 5 is a phenomenal piece of recording software. The single-window approach, with the ability to drag-and-drop audio, plugins, instruments, and ideas, makes it simple to navigate and quick to build up your tracks. Everything is out on the page with masses of processes available right on the tip of your mouse.

With Scratch Pads, it can let you try out new ideas without messing up your mix. You can add in song markers, key changes, chords, and structures around all your parts. You can undo changes in the mixer and work on multiple ideas and try them out against each other. It’s such a forgiving piece of software it makes you feel you can always come back to a place where it was working before you went off down some crazy avenue.

It comes with a great range of virtual instruments that covers most of what you’ll be using all the time. The audio plugins compete with some of the best third-party ones and have some really fun and creative options. You can edit your MIDI as patterns, piano roll and as a full score, so you are never short of another view.

Studio One also pushes outside of the DAW by giving you a Mastering Suite for completing your album and a performance space where you can work up and gig an entire set using the same tools you use to craft your music in the first place.

Studio One can take you from the initial idea through to a finished product and onto performing it live. No other DAW offers such a complete package and it feels completely competent throughout.

Pros & Cons

  • Clear and tidy approach
  • Smooth workflow with audio and instruments
  • Exceptional mixing console
  • Professional effects and software instruments
  • Innovative song writing and editing tools
  • Show Page for managing live performance
  • Interface is a bit plain
  • Icons and elements can get very small
  • Fewer included instruments
  • Tends to use different terms to other DAWs for same functions

Street Price: $399 (subscription options are available)
presonus.com

Steinberg Cubase Pro 12

Often seen as the industry standard in creative music production software, Cubase has now reached version 12 and consolidates itself as one of the best in the business.

Steinberg invented most aspects of the DAW which everyone else copies and adapts to their own software. So, what you’ll find in here should be familiar to anyone who has ever used any other DAW software. All the major elements of recording audio and sequencing MIDI have been taken care of and Steinberg focuses on constantly re-evaluating the workflow and building in additional functionality.

It has some really cool features like the ability to pull in selected tracks from other projects or that it can retrospectively record MIDI so that you never miss a thing even if you weren’t in Record. Tools are combined within the mouse pointer and change depending on what you’re pointing at and you can build macros to control multiple things at once.

Cubase comes with an excellent array of virtual instruments and some seriously professional audio plug-ins. The Channel Strip in the Mix Console is amazingly good for crafting the tone of your audio tracks and the mixer history lets you go back and forth throughout all our mix changes. The Sample Track is a very creative way of pulling any audio from any place and using it as a sampled instrument complete with integrated modulation, slicing, and gliding.

Studio One only tops this list because it innovates more, whereas Cubase is rock solid and dependable. If I could have a tie, then they would share first place.

Pros & Cons

  • Been around a very long time
  • Excellent included instruments
  • Great channel strip
  • Fantastic integrated sampler
  • Solid and dependable
  • Interface can get crowded
  • Feels a bit big and bloated
  • Not as innovative as other DAWs

Street Price: $579
steinberg.net

Tracktion Waveform Pro 11

Waveform Pro has evolved and improved so quickly in the last couple of versions that it’s finished playing catch up and is now crafting a path of its own. It pioneered the idea of the single window approach that Studio One uses but has a unique approach to the workflow.

Many things are reversed, like the position of the browser and the track headers. It pulls everything into the track; there are no separate editors or inspector windows. If you want to edit the audio or MIDI you just get in closer. If you want plugins on a track you just drag them in there. It has the ability to build huge plugin chains for some really creative audio processing.

Waveform does strange things to the clips and objects you’ve recorded. You can treat them as patterns and apply all sorts of ideas and concepts to them. It’s dripping with creative and open modulations and ways of applying change and evolution to tracks and functions.

It has a reputation for being a bit cerebral because it puts all the parameters and possibilities out there for you to fiddle with. But you can customize the look and see only the parts you’re interested and so it doesn’t feel quite so complicated. It’s the sort of software that rewards deeper examination.
 
Waveform comes with a great range of instruments and effects—MIDI tools as well as audio ones—and can run across multiple platforms including Linux and the Raspberry Pi. There’s also a free version that’s not a cut-down or limited version, it’s simply the full version from a few versions ago.

Pros & Cons

  • Completely different feel to other DAWs
  • Fantastic integrated modulation system
  • On track tools and editing
  • Creative and open ended
  • Very customisable
  • Steep learning curve
  • It’s just different
  • Complex

Street Prices:
$199 Basic
$259 With more instruments and effects
$749 For a massive collection of extra content
tracktion.com

Bitwig Studio 4

Bitwig tends to go in a lot of different and interesting directions. While it offers the same multitrack recording with all the audio processing tools you need it has some extraordinarily creative engines going on inside which transforms it into a modular playground of sound design and musical possibility. It’s less of a blank canvas and more of an experimental instrument.

Along with the regular timeline Bitwig has a clip launching performance page where you can fire off loops and arrangements on the fly. You can build scenes for performances and stack up loops for remixing and finding new ways to express your tracks. If you’ve heard of Ableton Live, which would be the next DAW on the list, then this is a similar idea.

It’s in the building of instruments, modulation and manipulation that Bitwig really shines. The ability to attach modulators to every parameter, the get things moving, to vary and change the function of a track. You can dive into the Grid environment and build synthesizers, samples and complex CV based instruments that sound like nothing you’ve ever encountered. And it’s all under your command.

New in version 4 is the ability to enable Operators which act on your notes with randomisation, repeats, and chance. You can spread new possibilities into your sequences, capture or introduce expression and then bend the sound through the modulators. Bitwig also introduced vocal comping to give the multitrack recording a more professional edge so that once you’ve finished fiddling with all the sound design you can still record the perfect vocals.

Bitwig is different, refreshing, exciting and the right choice if you’re looking for a new way to approach music production.

Pros & Cons

  • Live performance clip launching
  • Innovative workflow from loops to timeline
  • Huge system of interconnected instruments, effects and modulation
  • The Grid modular synth
  • Enabled for Touch control
  • Doesn’t have all the audio tools
  • Can get complex
  • Doesn’t feel as serious

Street Price: $399
bitwig.com

Reaper 6

Reaper goes from strength to strength as the almost free fully-fledged multi-track audio and MIDI DAW built through community feedback and aspiration.

The power of Reaper is remarkable. It has a tiny installation footprint and comes with none of the fluff or baggage of the main DAWs. It’s focused, clean, and is compatible with every system, interface, and plugin format you can think of. It has, at times, felt dated and behind the curve but with Version 6 they’ve brought it back into contention and up the charts.

This is all about straightforward music production with a very versatile arrangement window that can mix audio, MIDI, video, and still images for multi-media productions. It comes with a whole host of plug-ins for sound processing that are extremely efficient on the CPU. You can even farm out plugins to other computers over a network.

The interface is completely customizable to your requirements where everything from the color to the graphics and the layout can be changed and tweaked.

Reaper is always an underdog and does suffer from looking a bit basic in places. But it has an enthusiastic user base that makes it one of the best supported DAWs out there and for much less investment than any of the others.

Pros & Cons

  • Great value
  • Community enhanced and supported
  • Powerful audio processing
  • Versatile and yet straightforward workflow
  • Can look basic and dated
  • Doesn’t feel innovative
  • Can be hard to get into

Street Price: $60
reaper.fm

Reason Studios Reason 12

Reason is not just a DAW it’s an entire synthesizer workstation that gives you a huge rack of synths, drum machines, samplers and effects for generating multi-layered tracks of epic proportions. Each synth or device is an inspiration, filled with presets and possibilities that take your music to new places. The rack is a playground of electronic sound that is visually stunning and easy to use.

With version 12 Reason adds the Mimic Creative Sampler which is perfect for the modern beatmaker and designed for quick triggering, chopping, slicing and messing things about. You can combine it with drum machines in the style of an MPC or 808, you can run it through classic and modern effects and you can combine it with layers of other synths, samplers and sounds and hide the complexity behind a macro-based Combinator interface.

You have dozens of instruments and effects, all wired together, all with the potential to affect one another while being manipulated by MIDI effects and sequencer devices, LFOs and CV utilities

The rack can also be taken out of Reason and dropped into another DAW as a huge electronic sound-generating plugin so it’s great as your only DAW but also for running with other ones. All the time it has a full audio engine for sound recording with a huge console-style mixer with audio processing. In the arranger, you can lay out your tracks, re-arrange audio alongside your rack of synths.

The latest version has gone high-definition so it looks amazing on any type of screen and they also offer a subscription service so you’re never run out of content or get left behind as the software evolves.

Pros & Cons

  • Just look at all those synths, samplers and drum machines
  • An awesome rack of stuff to play with
  • Interconnected CV style modulation
  • Huge mixing console
  • Can run as a plugin in other DAWs
  • Audio recording support feels lacklustre
  • The looks are not for everyone
  • Lacks some traditional tools

Street Prices:
$499 Reason 12
reasonstudios.com

Image Line FL Studio 20

FL Studio is a great DAW because it works differently. The whole vibe of this software emerges from the simple form of a step sequencer. It has been step sequencing way before anyone thought it was cool and has been the favorite music software of underground electronic artists for decades.

In the mixed media of the DAW it can’t all be about step sequencing and Version 20 bears little resemblance to the early incarnations but it carries a lot of what makes it awesome through to today.

It’s a very visual program using color in unexpected places, animated displays, and the fabulous plug-in picker which throws up a scattering of thumbnails to help you choose the right effect or instrument. And it comes packed with both. There are more included instruments than any other DAW, from fierce synths to glowing pads, authentic instruments, drum machines, and samplers. It’s a dance music paradise and so much more.

The last few years have seen FL Studio embrace and build up the audio production side. The mixing console goes from strength to strength with innovative routing and combination options. The track view is never-ending and completely adaptable. You can treat audio as linear or as clips, loops, or one-shot samples. It doesn’t have the tight structure of other DAWs and prefers to give you the freedom to layout and process your audio and MIDI in whichever way you choose.

There are performance elements that let you take this on your laptop and remix your music in a live environment. But that also encourages a way to remix and generate new ideas in the studio.

FL Studio doesn’t perhaps have all the hardcore audio production tools of Cubase or Studio One but it oozes creativity and encourages experimentation. It refuses to be a blank canvas or a tape machine, it’s your partner in music production.

Pros & Cons

  • Immense system for dance music production
  • Comes with a huge bunch of synths and effects
  • Innovative looping in the timeline
  • Everything is customisable
  • Very fluid
  • Sometimes I have no idea what’s going on
  • Lots and lots of windows
  • Too fluid for some people

Street Price: $189+ depending on bundle
image-line.com

AVID Pro Tools

Pro Tools considers itself to be the industry standard in recording software and with good reason.

It is probably the DAW most widely used in professional studios. It was designed to replicate a hardware studio and integrate with it to become the recording center and so the way that it works is comfortingly familiar to people who are used to working with professional recording gear.

Pro Tools works with two views; the Mixer and the Arranger/Editor. Everything you ever want to arrange or edit can be done in the same view that lists all the tracks and all the recorded audio and MIDI. You have a simple toolset that tackles all the most common tasks and the workflow is very fast and logical.

The Mixer is fast and powerful with multiple inserts and routing options a button click away. It doesn’t have the slick looks of many other DAWs but it has the power to handle huge projects with ease.

It comes with a wide range of professional-grade plugins to process and sculpt your audio and a handful of virtual instruments for sound sources. Although Pro Tools’ forte is audio it does have a comprehensive MIDI creation and editing side that has come along in strides over the last few versions.

AVID has pioneered the online Cloud Collaboration format where you can share projects online securely with other Producers so that they can add to your work wherever they may be.

Pro Tools is a comprehensive recording and producing solution that’ll always be a good choice for experienced engineers and producers.

Pros & Cons

  • You will find it in professional studios
  • Feels very serious
  • Immensely powerful and detailed editor
  • Undisturbed by innovation
  • Straight forward editor and mixer approach
  • Looks boring and complex
  • Lacks creative innovation
  • For best stability it needs a dedicated computer

Street Prices:
$34.99 Monthly subscription
$299 For 1 year upfront
$599 If you just want to buy it
avid.com

All street prices listed at the time of writing.

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