Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) are a contentious topic to say the least. Ask ten people which DAW they use and you’re sure to get at least ten different answers. When I was trying to settle on a DAW for myself I ran into many of the same problems any of you who are reading this post are probably running into right now. The problems boil down to too much choice and few people willing to explain exactly why they use the DAW they use. So, in this post, I’m going to talk about my own DAW journey by looking at the most important factors that led me where I am.
The first and most important item on the list is my audio interface. I have a PreSonus audio interface which came with a copy of Studio One Artist. So, when I first started recording, naturally, I started using Studio One Artist and the included plugins. One thing I dislike about Studio One Artist, and a place where I think Steinberg has a leg up on PreSonus, is the inability to use third party plugins in the Artist version of the software. Cubase Elements has a limited track count, but you can use third party plugins. Studio One Artist has unlimited tracks, but you cannot use third party plugins unless you either upgrade to Professional or pay for the ability to use third party plugin within artist.
I quickly decided that an upgrade was needed and after trying Studio One Professional 4 I decided it would not be Studio One. There were simply too many features missing; for example, there was no gain control on tracks or channels, and you had to add the Mix Tool plugin to lower the gain of a track or pull down the volume of the clip on the track itself.
My first stop after Studio One Artist was Cakewalk by Bandlab. This should be the obvious choice for anyone interested in recording as opposed to producing with beats and loops. Should be but isn’t. Sonar has a long history of unfixed bugs, and unfortunately Cakewalk by Bandlab carries on that tradition.
The next stop was Pro Tools. After all, it’s the industry standard and comes with a ton of stock plugins. In all fairness to Pro Tools, it’s a great DAW. It’s also an expensive DAW that you (probably) rent and has (in my opinion) ridiculously low track counts. If you want to record at 96kHz (which I do) then you are limited to 64 voices. It’s unclear to me if 64 voices equate to 64 mono tracks (i.e. 32 stereo tracks) or 64 tracks period. In any case, Pro Tools wasn’t going to work for me.
This led me to Reaper. No doubt that Reaper is the most powerful DAW on the market. It’s also (in my opinion) the lest well designed piece of software I’ve ever come up against. Sure, it’s a tweakers paradise, but if you just want to make music, Reaper seems to be just a bit too flexible. Couple that with the horrible GUI, even with the best themes out there it still looks like crap. Does this matter? I don’t know.
Right now, I’m using Studio One Professional 4.5 for Dark Goddess’ song “Sleepy Hollow.” But I’m also using Reaper for Dark Goddess’ song “Colonel Buck.” I think the only way to really pick one DAW is to try a few out that seem close to what you want, then do an entire song in each one. I hope that after doing complete songs in each DAW I’ll have a clear winner and I’ll be able to focus just on making music.
Which DAW do you use? Let me know in the comments below.