Digital audio workstations

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Ableton Live 10, a popular DAW.

A digital audio workstation (DAW) is software used for recording, editing, and producing music. They are arguably the most important tool in the modern producer's toolkit.

At a minimum, a computer-based DAW (the focus of the page) must be used in conjunction with a computer, a sound card or audio interface, and at least one input device for adding or modifying music data (audio or midi).

Choosing a DAW

There is no straightforward answer for which DAW a produce should use. Depending on who you ask, you will get a wide variety of answers and no shortage of shit-talking. Many producers take pride in the DAW that they use. After all, it is a piece of software that producers spend countless hours in front of. In many ways a DAW is to a producer as an instrument is to a musician.

The reality is that most producers simply stick with the first serious DAW they use. As a producer learns the ins-and-outs of a particular DAW, it becomes harder to switch. For this reason, if you are just starting out, you have the advantage of being able to research and pick your DAW based on what is most important to you. Once you make a choice, the most important thing you can do as a producer is master your DAW. Invest time in understanding how the software works and production will come easily to you. The most skilled producers have lowered the barriers to creation by so much that musical ideas flow out of them, unhindered. And remember, always RTFM.

Comparison of DAWs

Below is a comparison of common DAWs. Rows highlighted in bold represent the most popular software. These DAWs are generally considered to be "safe choices". [citation]

DAW Comparison Chart [1]
Make Model OS Plug-In Interface Price USD Well Known Users
Ableton Live M / W AU / VST ASIO / Core Audio $119 - $899 Bassnectar, Justice, M83, Odesza, Diplo, Skrillex, Flying Lotus, Glitch Mob, many others [2]
Adobe Audition M / W VST ASIO / Core Audio $20.99/mo
Apple Logic Pro M AU Core Audio $199.99 Disclosure, Hardwell, Nicky Romero, Brian Eno, Boys Noize, Calvin Harris, David Guetta, many others [3]
Apple GarageBand M / iOS AU Core Audio Free Steve Lacy, Justice, Rihanna, Usher, Grimes, Haim [4][5]
Audacity Audacity L / M / W AU / LV2 / VST Core Audio / WDM Free
Avid Pro Tools M / W AAX Native ASIO / Core Audio Subscription Model Dr. Dre, Pharrell Williams, Alicia Keys, Timbaland, Owl City, Dave Navarro [6]
Bitwig Bitwig Studio L / M / W VST $169 - $399 Vessel, Claude Young, Opuswerk, John Tejada, Mamiko Motto, Zombie Nation [7]
Bandlab (previously Cakewalk) Cakewalk (previously Sonar) W VST ASIO / WDM Free Wu-Tang Clan, Adventure Club, Ray Charles, Slipknot [8]
Cockos Reaper M / W VST / JS / DX ASIO / Core Audio $60 - $225
Image-Line FL Studio M / W / iOS / Android VST ASIO / WDM $99 - $899 Metro Boomin, BOI-1DA, 9th Wonder, Lex Luger, Hit-Boy, Avicii, Porter Robinson, many others [9]
NA / Open-Source Ardour L / M / W AU / LV2 / VST Free
NA / Open-Source LMSS L / M / W VST Free
PreSonus Studio One M / W AU / VST ASIO / Core Audio $99.95 - $399.95 KATFYR, MVP Loops, James Reynolds, Pete Stewart [10]
Propellerhead Reason M / W VST Core Audio / WDM $99 - $299 Kill the Noise, Weval, FaltyDL, Super Flu, Tora, Cid Rim [8]
Steinberg Cubase M / W VST ASIO / Core Audio $99 - $559.99 Hans Zimmer, Chvches, Zedd, Kraftwerk, Nils Frahm, Tiesto [8]