By Jordan Jones
Making music doesn’t have to be difficult. The rise of home studios should be eye-opening to artists serious about their career. New DAWs (digital audio workstations) provide a convincing opportunity to beginning musicians, and throughout my own experience using dozens of platforms for my music, I have a list of some of my favorite ones.
Here are my top ten best DAWs for new and advanced musicians alike. (Note: This is in no particular order.)
GarageBand is a Mac/iOS exclusive. Absolutely free to use, it comes with a great selection of mixing/mastering tools compacted with a smooth interface simple enough for any beginner.
While this probably won’t be your “end all” choice for the rest of your musical journey—partly because of its simplistic approach—GarageBand is still a great starting place for any producer! With a whopping price of $0.00, what do you have to lose?
Audacity is a spectacular alternative for non-Mac and Mac users alike! While also free of charge, Audacity offers a silky and easy-to-use interface, dozens of stock tools for mixing/mastering, and a simple yet effective method of organizing tracks all along your project.
This is my go-to free DAW for all of my vocals. Audacity offers more than some pay-in options, in my opinion, and it is far easier to get better sounding vocals for those who are still learning the basics.
My last free DAW on this list, BandLab is oftentimes wrongfully overlooked. Similar to GarageBand, BandLab is also available on mobile devices—including versions for both Android and iOS, however.
There aren’t quite as many editing tools as I’d like, and the UI is a little clunkier than other free DAWs, but there are factory default mixing modes that can be a real game-changer for appropriate songs. BandLab comes built-in with several mixing defaults such as radio, bass-boost, treble-boost, and more. Thus, all it takes is a simple press of a button to have a fully-mastered track on the go!
REAPER is a comprehensive DAW that’s been in the industry for years. You can start with a 60-day free trial to test it out, and the licensing price is only $60 for full access to the program (this number has changed in the past, however). As with most high-end DAWs, REAPER has a brilliant and well-adaptive service that rivals virtually every platform in its own way.
It does come with a rather small cast of plug-ins, but the smooth and precise interface makes music production simple for anyone looking to purchase their first, affordable audio workshop!
- Pro Tools
Quick note, I haven’t actually used Pro Tools before, but it is by far one of the most high-performing DAWs within professional studios. Recording, mastering, and production on this platform are top-of-the-art in performance.
The only turnoff with Pro Tools is the complicated, high-demand pricing. One license for update coverage up to a year is $600, and the subscription options vary at about $300 a year with restricted access once it expires.
That aside, though, if you’re fortunate enough to throw $600 at any studio, Pro Tools will not disappoint. It has several resources for instruments, vocals, and mixing alike!
- Logic Pro
Logic Pro is Apple’s professional audio studio. For a price of only $200, this DAW comes with everything you’ll need right at the point of purchase. It is incredibly compatible with most Mac computers, and the several instruments and AI tools make the experience on the platform top-notch.
- Studio One
Studio One is perhaps the most user-oriented DAW in the industry. Just like every other platform on this list, there are plenty of plug-ins and resources for handling the basics right away! Studio One shines for those looking to make music from scratch, and for only $400, it provides a lot in terms of creativity and freedom to really explore the ends of music production! Definitely a must-have if you’re looking to create beats, patterns, or samples of any kind!
- Steinberg Cubase
Steinberg Cubase is brilliant for advanced producers. This has somewhat fallen out of the conversation recently, but its unique and custom VSTs and stunning features are nothing to sleep on. At a price of around $550, the capabilities of this DAW can last a lifetime for advanced producers and creators.
- FL Studio
This is my personal studio of choice. FL Studio has it all: image-line production, a futuristic UI, plenty of stock plug-ins along with a one-time payment of $500. Whenever it comes to high-end DAWs, it honestly comes down to a matter of preference. And the streamline mixing experience of FL Studio puts it just a step above other high-end DAWs for me.
Finally, we have Ableton. Ableton has a very simple, easy-to-navigate interface that does everything right. Ableton’s stock-plugin suite easily compares with some of the best EQs, compression, reverbs, and delays in the industry. Ableton is a no-play, all-serious DAW that keeps the face basic and possibilities endless.
For a price of around $500, Ableton will almost certainly be a DAW that you buy once and never have to spend another dime on your workshop again.