Prohomemusic brings to our readers the top 10 best DAW music production software 2018. There is an unending debate and articles online about which DAW is the best, with various fan boys fighting hard to defend their own. This brings us to the ultimate question.
Which is the best DAW music production software?
There’s no such thing as the best DAW, all we can have is the best DAW of choice. The major task that every basic music production software out there today do, is to serve as a host in which the three sound sources in music production are arranged and processed into a song. Long gone were those days when there was a widespread notion that a certain music production software is the “industry standard” if you are aiming for a professional standard music. DAWs are to music producers and sound engineers what a canvass is to a painter. What you make of whichever one you choose to use will depend solely on your ability and creativity.
The truth is – with the audio technology available from various audio software developing companies today, this era has brought us unlimited resources to exploit. We have numerous music softwares out there and each of them can do whatever type of music you want to do. All that really matter is how well you can utilize your chosen DAW to make good sounding music.
Notwithstanding, I must acknowledge that these Daws have different user interfaces and unique workflows, but they are all meant to make music at the end of the day. Also, the arguement that some are well tailored towards making some particular music genres might hold a bit of water. But the fact is; any DAW can be used to make any genre of music.
How best to choose a DAW
The best thing to do is to research about the available choices and select at least three DAWs you think might suit your genre, personality, and workflow. You should also take the physical appeal into consideration while making your choice, because user interfaces and how fast you get familiar with them can inspire your music making. Take all the three you chose on a test ride by demoing them till you find the one that clicks with you. Thankfully, almost all of them have trial versions. Whichever you like most, you should stick with and start getting used to it right away.
To make your quest easier, below is a list of top 10 best DAW music production software 2018 that you can choose from. This list doesn’t imply that the softwares that are not included in the list are not as effective as the listed ones or are not worth checking out. It is just to give our own little opinion on options you should try out. Here goes the list in no particular order of ranking:
FL Studio by Image Line
A product of the Image Line company, and a favourite among the new school producers. FL Studio started out as a step sequencer software, after which it underwent series of updates till it became a fully-featured DAW on its 6th version. Now on the twelfth version, this DAW is not only appealing because of its cool looks, but also popular because it is the easiest DAW to learn. This DAW is known for its user friendly interface and intuitive newbie friendly workflow. It is popular among electronic, house and hip-hop producers. It comes with numerous high standard plugin effects and synths like: Hamour, Sytrus, Toxic Biohazard, Maximus, Soundgoodizer, Drummaxx, e.t.c. It is widely agreed that FL studio has the best piano roll and midi editor among all the contenders. So if you’ll mostly be working with synths and midi, it is a no brainer choice to go with. Especially if you don’t own a midi keyboard controller yet, the option to use your computer’s keyboard as the piano roll controller could come in handy. The next major upgrade version which is rumored to be FL Studio 20 is expected to be released later in the year. Maybe the Mac users will finally get a stable version after a long time beta testing.
Strength: Has the best piano roll and midi editor. Once bought, user is entitled to a lifetime update
Shortcomings: It is available on Windows only, though stable Mac version is underway
Price: Fruity edition – $99, Producer edition – $199, Signature bundle – $299
Ableton live which debuted some eighteen years back was initially designed as a tool that suits live performances, which till this day is still one of its strengths. Ableton live 9 boasts of a very good audio warping engine and a pretty flexible workflow. A notable advantageous feature is that this DAW gets a lot of custom made midi controllers from hardware music equipment makers, especially the Novation company. Even Ableton specifically built the DAW a companion hardware product called Ableton Push .
So if you want a DAW for live performance and with totally compatible hardware controllers to go with it, this is your best choice. A newer version, Ableton Live 10, was announced in late 2017 and its release date is February 6, 2018.
Strength: Numerous fully compatible custom made midi controllers. Flexibility and creative workflow for both musicians and DJs.
Shortcomings: It is costlier than almost all others.
Price: Live 9 Standard – $399(free upgrade to 10), Live 9 Suite – $639( plus free upgrade to 10)
Presonus Studio One
This is one of the new school DAWs. It was released in 2009 by Presonus, which is a known brand in the hardware market of musical equipment. Its latest edition, Studio One 3 brings cool new features like newly added synths like Mai Tai and new tools like Presence XT sampler, Scratch Pads and the Arranger Track. Within its short time of release, studio one has proven itself to be a solid warrior in the DAW wars.
Strength: Comes with inbuilt Celemony’s popular tuning software- Melodyne
Shortcomings: limited keyboard modifiers customization
Price: Studio one artist – $99.99, Studio one professional – $249
Apple Logic Pro
This one is the native Apple’s Mac music software and so it is the favourite among Mac users. The first version was built back in 2002 by a relatively unknown company named Emagic, after which it was bought by Apple. Logic pro X on its release had some newly added synths like the amazing Alchemy, the next-generation sampler cum synthesizer with over 3000 presets. The latest Logic pro X 10.4 update includes the Smart Tempo feature and several powerful effect plug-ins like the algorithmic reverb – ChromaVerb and some vintage modelled EQs. As the only Apple’s fully featured native DAW, it is only available on their Mac platform. Hence, it is the most popular DAW among Mac users and more and more producers are using Mac now.
PRO: Easy to use as logic tried to keep the interface as pragmatic as possible
CON: Clumsy audio editor
REAPER by Cockos
Cockos REAPER is an amazingly affordable fully featured DAW that has been around since it was publicly released in December 23, 2005. This DAW is better than most of its counterparts that sell almost ten times its price. The licensing method is world’s most lenient, because it is based on the morality of the user. Potential users can download a fully functional copy of the very lightweight DAW(about 6mb file) on their site….. You have the chance to demo it for a whole 60days, after which you are required to pay a peasant $60 for a private discounted license, and $225 for a commercial license. What’s amazing is REAPER won’t stop working at the expiration of the demo period, just a pop up of a note anytime you launch it reminding you to pay for the software if you like it. Hence, REAPER is technically free. Any paid license covers the current version with all of its future updates and a free upgrade to the next major version and all of its subsequent updates, when they are released.
REAPER has got to be the fastest, most stable and CPU efficient DAW around. When it comes to full compatibility with all versions of plugins, especially the VST2 and VST3, it can’t be beaten. Thus, it works with majority of both free and commercial plugins available without stress. Considering its folders technique, REAPER has the most intuitive mixer routing and bussing among all others. Another awesome feature is the inbuilt windows bridge technology, which by default allows for running 32-bit plugins alongside 64-bit processes on a 64bit computer. REAPER is that DAW that you will likely stick with after trying it out. With numerous free online tutorials and one of the best users forum with numerous users often ready to help, you are guaranteed to learn the ropes fast enough.
Strength: Amazingly affordable. The best DAW in CPU optimization and stability. Handles VST like no other. Can run on a crappy computer hardly crashing
Shortcomings: Midi editor/piano roll, though customizable, could be better.
Price: REAPER Private discounted license – $60, Commercial license – $225
Cubase by Steinberg
This is one of the earliest DAWs, in fact the most popular one after Pro Tools in the nineties. The first version, released in 1989 was originally only a MIDI sequencer that ran on the Atari ST computer, and later on Mac and Windows. The next major upgrade brought on board Cubase VST which featured the Virtual Studio Technology support. This great Steinberg invention was to later be a standard for audio plug-ins till date, which enabled the development of third-party effects. Cubase has gone through a lot of development over the years, and it is currently on Cubase pro version 9.5. The latest version features new improvements like the new Metronome which has customizable click sequence and the ability to assign different patterns to adjust to signature shifts in the Signature Track. Also, the automation editing has been greatly improved with advance features. The automation now features smooth transition curves and detailed automation lanes, plus the new Range tool that marks a range on the automation lane for quick and easy adjustment of the selection. The effects insert slots have been increased, now there’s room for users to add up to 16 VST effects directly to each audio track.
Cubase is an awesome DAW for recording audio and midi. It has cool wave editing features, and mixing with its mixer is breeze once you’ve learnt the ropes.
Strength: Stable integration of third party plugins due to Steinberg being the creators of the VST plugins format
Weakness: The default sampler could use more in-depth editing features, glitchy compatibility MacOS High Sierra.
Price: Cubase Elements – $99.99, Cubase Artist – $309.99, Cubase Pro – $559.99
Pro tools by Avid
This is the most famous DAW for recording, editing, mixing and mastering. Pro tools is regarded as the “industry standard” because it is the most commonly used default DAW in most commercial studios and among veteran sound engineers. However, this tag seems to be highly controversial these days, as many new school producers tend to love the latest funkiness other new school DAWs bring. However, Pro tools stays true to its pedigree by maintaining the conventional formal DAW workflow that depicts serious business. By default, pro tools comes with over 60 highly usable stock plugins ranging from virtual instruments to drums, pianos, synths, and sampling instruments. With loads of online resources and tutorials to help you make music, spending time to learn this DAW will be a good choice because it is that one DAW that will always be here years to come. So, once you are good at using it, you might never have to totally switch to using another DAW throughout you career.
Strength: Great track record legacy. The common DAW in big studios
Shortcomings: Not a favourite among new school producers and “beatmakers”, especially electronic musicians
Price: Pro tools first, Pro tools, Pro tools HD – Subscription model – Visit; Pro Tools Pricing
Reason by Propellerhead
One of the best DAW musical production software particularly good for electronic music. Reason was first released in the year 2000. Its workflow and outlay takes a totally unique lane quite different from the conventional ones in most DAWs. Over the 17 years plus of development, it kept evolving and now it is at a stage where it is up there with the old big boys of DAW world. Its main focus from onset was to stay all self sufficient by providing users all they’ll ever need to make music with, without having to depend on third party plugins. This decision ensured system stability because every ongoing processes where optimally maximized for the program for efficiency. Thus, it eschewed and decided not to jump on the VST and VSTi train until the recently released version 9.5, due to the high demand by its users who felt they are missing out on the goodies other DAW users are enjoying.
This DAW runs smoothly on both windows and Mac, and is definitely worth trying out. Who knows? It can be the best one for you.
Strength: Awesome self synths, effects, and mixer routing method which mimics hardware
Weakness: Lack of scalable vector GUI, hence minuscule on hi-resolution devices. VST support needs more CPU efficiency.
Digital performer by Motu
Moments after the advent of MIDI, this software was released in 1985 as a music sequencer named “Performer”. It was based on the Macintosh platform, and was used for arranging and performing with synthesizers and other devices compatible with the then-newly developed MIDI standard. In 1990, it was later named “Digital Performer” after MOTU added the ability to synchronise digital audio with its MIDI capabilities. It has undergone series of revisions and updates ever since, and keeps enjoying the loyalty of its long term users who wouldn’t drop their beloved DAW for anything else.
Now on it’s ninth major edition, digital performer is an impressive DAW, especially for composing and film scoring. One of the most interesting, useful feature overlooked by other DAW developers is its “Chunks” feature. This is by far the most obvious difference to other DAWs, and unfortunately the hardest to explain to people who don’t use it. Trying to explain this in a nutshell – “machinesworking”, a gearslutz user said: “Chunks are more or less whole sequences of MIDI, audio and instrument tracks, or racks of busses and instruments that can be accessed by any sequence. So you could for instance work on a song as pieces, sequences while having your instruments in a Rack that’s accessible to all sequences. Then toss them together in one Sequence Chunk while still having you’re instruments in a Rack etc.”
Other notable and unique features are; clippings, Channel insert settings, advanced MIDI editing, Polar, built in pitch automation, etc. The recent version 9.5 upgrade brought on board a new pitch and time stretch algorithm. Plus the plugin performance window which displays CPU usage rate, so you can see the high resource consuming plugins. The dedicated forum site – Motunation has a lot of useful tips and information to guide you through your learning. Plus MOTU tech support is excellent and always willing to answer just about any question.
Strength: Awesomely featured midi editor suitable for scoring
Shortcomings: cluttered interface; minuscule fonts and size of things, which calls for major GUI overhaul; lack of efficient track freezing function.
Price: $ 499
The newest among the big players. This DAW rose into prominence so fast with its first release back in 2014. It has some slight similarities with Ableton Live as it is has a clip based sequencer. It also has a slightly similar interface with live too. The reason for these similarities is not far fetched, as Bitwig Studio was said to have been developed by former Ableton developers.
It however has unique cool features like Open API, Sandboxing, View Flexibility, and Network Syncing. The most impressive of these features being the sandbox feature, which technically separates the audio engine from the main program’s operations. For instance, if your audio engine crashes as a result of a problematic VST plugin or audio interface drivers, you won’t lose your entire project or the progress you are yet to save. Hence, Bitwig hardly crashes in the middle of a session. Another notable feature is you can load multiple projects at once, and copy parts of sounds you used from one to another quite easily.
As a new school DAW, Bitwig strives to be a jack of all DAW features and a master of them all. Whatever purpose you will need this for; studio work or live performance, it is sure going to deliver effortlessly. You should check out its convincing and amazing features.
Strength: Brings the new school appeal. Available on Mac, PC and Linux
Shortcomings: As a fairly new DAW, it still has a few loose ends to tie.
Price: Bitwig Studio Standard – $399, Bitwig Studio Edu – 269
There you have it people. That’s our list of top 10 best DAW music production software 2018. If you are just starting out, you can adopt the testing method suggested earlier in the article to help you choose the best one for you. In case you need to get some third party plugins to work with in your chosen DAW, heres a list of 10 best VST plugins released in 2017. You can also check a list of the best VST plugins collection to acquire for pro sounding mix . If there’s any other good DAW you thought should have made the list, you can suggest them with reasons in the comments section below.
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