Having a great digital audio workstation (DAW) is absolutely essential in modern day music production. They give you all the digital tools you need for recording, producing, mixing, mastering, sound design, and more!
Each DAW has it’s own pros/cons and workflow. Some suit particular styles of music, and others really shine for use with on-the-fly performances. These from expensive suites to free versions with different features and abilities. Many of these options are feature-rich, mature software applications. For example, the first version of Pro Tools was released around 30 years ago. The industry has been innovating on plugins and digital audio manipulation for a long time!
Because there are so many options on the market, we decided to go ahead and make this list of top 10 DAWs for you. Here you can find anything from free, lighter options suitable for beginners to heavy-weight professional applications.
1. Ableton Live 10 Suite (Windows/Mac)
Ableton Live was a real game changer when it was released. This DAW is a fantastic option for both live performances and studio work, thanks to it’s dual views. Its session view works perfectly with grid-based hardware controllers (such as Ableton Push and AKAI APC40MKII), which makes it very intuitive for quickly building tracks and performing on stage. It’s arrangement view works more like conventional DAWs, which is great for laying out and finishing tracks in the studio.
One of the most talked about DAWs, Ableton Live is now on its 10th version. This DAW continues to mix recording options together with music-making features that changed the world of music when the first edition of this DAW came out.
Ableton Live 10 has as great design and user interface, with clean and sleek graphics.
The most talked-about topic when this DAW came out when Live 10 come out was its Wavetable synth, which is really great and different new effects (Echo, Drum Buss, and Pedal).
This DAW in a Suite version comes together with a huge amount of additional sounds to use, really paying off for extra bucks spent for that version.
2. Apple Logic Pro X (Mac)
Apple Logic Pro X is Apple’s professional outtake of their DAW power, after Garageband (a free DAW, which is number 10 on this list). This is a paid DAW and works on Mac computers. Like it’s the younger brother, this is a very user-friendly DAW, so you shouldn’t have any problems getting to know how to use it.
This is a great, all-round, piece of software, which is good for both recording and mixing to creating sounds, as it comes with a huge sound library and enormous amounts of built-in plug-ins, for which you would normally have to pay thousands of dollars just to get them all in that quality.
It’s one of the best DAW’s in the world, made for studio and home use, intended for professionals.
3. FL Studio
Iconic FL Studio (originally FruityLoops), with its yellow pepper logo, is one of the most recognizable DAWs for the masses, as it’s iconic status came from the ease of use and low price (lifetime free updates really helped), with great quality of sound. This DAW was mostly used by EDM and hip-hop artists, which helped spread it to the masses.
The latest version of the FL Studio is the first one to be available on the Mac OS X and completely compatible with the Windows version. It offers the standard quality of the sound recording and sound creating, as well as the plug-in and sound bundles. This is a great DAW for a beginner looking to learn how to produce music.
4. PreSonus Studio One
This is a newer generation of the DAWs, launching only several years ago, but in a short time, it became one of the top contenders in this market. Studio One is available for Mac and Windows users as well as iOS users on iPad and iPhone and Microsoft Surface.
This piece of software is a complete DAW made for professional use but accentuates the composing work. It has several different features made to ease the composing process, like automatic MIDI chord shifting or printing out scores or sheets of the music you just composed in the DAW.
5. Steinberg Cubase
Steinberg Cubase is one of the oldest DAWs in the world. It’s still alive and kicking, with many different versions released since it was first introduced. Like every other version, this is a high-end, professional, studio software made for serious work and not for goofing around.
Of course, it has great MIDI features and you can find a lot of free VST3 plug-ins, as Steinberg made this format for Cubase and other software they produce. This is one of the most popular and well-known DAWs in the world and for a good reason, so if you’re looking for a certified, all-round, reliable DAW this is your choice
6. Pro Tools
Avid Pro Tools is the industry standard as far as the DAWs go. This software was made for classic studio recording and is favored by music technicians and producers because of its ease of editing and high-quality sound it puts out. But, this is a complicated piece of software and is not really recommended for home use by beginners. You can buy this product but you can also get in on the subscription model, paying only when you need it.
7. Cockos Reaper (Mac/PC/Linux)
Reaper is one of the smaller, yet fully capable DAWs out there. It’s the cheapest DAW on the market but with it comes full package you can get, so you won’t lose anything vital from other, more expensive DAW’s. Also, this software is great because it’s really user-friendly, meaning that even the total beginners can start producing music right away, learning as they go.
Despite what so many people say online, Reaper is not free software!
Note: Linux builds of Reaper are currently experimental and unsupported.
8. Bitwig (Mac/PC/Linux)
One of the youngest contenders on this list, Bitwig is a DAW made by a group of former Ableton developers, which is very noticeable when you start it up. Even though it’s still relatively young, this DAW can take on others head-on and is great for beginners looking to learn how to get into music production. It is intuitive and composer friendly, with different options made especially for composers creating music in this DAW.
9. Motu Digital Performer
One of the oldest DAWs in the business, Digital Performer finally became available for Windows. This piece of software is made by professionals for professionals – if you’re a beginner expect to have a lot to learn about how to fully use this DAw, but if you’re experienced, there will be nothing you can’t do with it.
10. Garageband (Mac)
GarageBand, an official free DAW for Mac is probably one of the most famous DAW’s out there, especially because it’s – free.
It was a great move by Apple to include this amazing piece of software together with their OS. There are also free versions for iOS.
Garageband is a full working DAW, famously user-friendly (as the correct assumption was that most people haven’t worked in the DAW before) enabling even total beginners to learn how to record and produce music. It’s been used in studio settings too, with real success, and a lot of hip-hop and rap producers and artists use it regularly.
We hope that this list helped you make a choice for the right DAW. Many of the DAWs on this list have a free trial period, demo versions, or ‘lite’ versions for free, so don’t be afraid to experiment with different ones to find the one that suits you the best.