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Best DAW Music Production & Recording Software for 2017

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Best DAW Music Production & Recording Software for 2017

A DAW, or digital audio workstation, is software that turns your computer into a complete music production studio.

It enables you to record MIDI and audio tracks, edit parts, add effects such as reverb, delay, or EQ, and mix and master everything to create a finished song or track.

It’s the hub of your studio where everything comes together – audio tracks, MIDI tracks, virtual instruments, effects, and more.

Your DAW is also your main compositional tool, and it provides a creative environment where you can work efficiently.

Since a DAW is really the most important part of your music studio, it’s well worth taking the time to discover all the options available in the marketplace.

Is There A “Best” DAW?

The answer is no.  There is only the best DAW for you, one that fits your style of working and your budget.

There are many DAWs available, and most share common features for recording, editing, and mixing.  All of them will let you record and produce great-sounding tracks.

However, each DAW has its own approach to music production, with features and tools that differentiate it from competitors.

This article was designed as a roundup of the best DAWs available today.  We’ll go into the main features, and what’s new in their latest versions.

Getting an overview of all the major DAWs available will make finding the best one for you quite a bit easier.

Let’s get started!

Ableton Live is a longtime favorite DAW for both Mac and Windows-based computers.  In fact, it was rated #1 in a 2015 survey of over 25,000 users.

It was first introduced in 1999 and has since evolved into a unique DAW in the music production world.

Ableton Live has always been at its heart an audio loop/sample player that allows you to create and edit audio tracks that effortlessly playback in sync.

By working with parts that are comprised of loops, sound recordings, or MIDI data, you are free to work your creative magic in ways not easily achievable with traditional DAWs.

And that is Live’s main strength…. its unique layout and structure give you a different way to compose and arrange music than most other DAWs.

Sometimes the best results come from working in an unusual environment…..

Plus, Live is designed for use in live performances as well as in the studio.

This has made Live a DAW of choice for DJs, dance and EDM producers, and anyone who doesn’t have a traditional music composition and arranging education.

Over the years Ableton has added standard DAW features such as MIDI sequencing, audio recording, sampling, virtual instruments, effects and more, and the result is that today Live is one of the top DAWs for music production.

Ableton Live comes in 3 versions:

  • Live 9 Intro
  • Live 9 Standard
  • Live 9 Suite

Live 9 Intro is the basic version.  It comes with these key features:

  • 16 MIDI or audio tracks
  • 8 scenes
  • 2 send/return tracks
  • 4 audio inputs
  • 4 software instruments
  • 4 Sound Packs
  • 21 audio effects plugins
  • 700+ sounds (4 GB)

Live 9 Standard includes everything from Intro plus:

  • Unlimited MIDI or audio tracks
  • Unlimited scenes
  • 12 send/return tracks
  • 256 audio inputs
  • 33 audio effects plugins
  • Audio-to-MIDI tools
  • Video import
  • 5 software instruments
  • 14 Sound Packs
  • 1,100+ sounds (11 GB)

Live 9 Suite includes everything from Standard plus:

  • Unlimited MIDI or audio tracks
  • Unlimited scenes
  • 12 send/return tracks
  • 256 audio inputs
  • 36 audio effects plugins
  • Audio-to-MIDI tools
  • Video import
  • 11 software instruments
  • 26 Sound Packs
  • 3,000+ sounds (54 GB)

For a complete list of features for all three versions, check out this table:

Ableton Live 9 Version Comparison Chart

Ableton Live 9 Overview

Let’s take a look at how Live is organized.

Live has two separate environments for creating and editing music: the Session View and the Arrangement View.  You can toggle the two views at any time by hitting the Tab key.

Session View

Session View is at the heart of Live’s creative design layout.  It’s ideal for experimenting with a song’s arrangement, improvising, and for just getting ideas to expand upon later.

Ableton Live Session View - Best DAW/ Recording/ Music Production Software

At first glance, the Session View looks like a mixing board.

But what you’re seeing is a series of tracks with stacked Clips, which are containers for audio or MIDI, plus mix faders, panning, effects, and other controls.   A clip can be anything from a few MIDI notes up to a full song arrangement.

You don’t see any aspect of time that you usually would see with tracks running from left to right.  That is found in the Arrangement View. Instead, tracks are stacked from left to right.

In the image above you see 4 tracks in red, blue, green and yellow – an audio track for a jazz guitar part, a drum kit track, a Moog bass track, and a one shot SFX track.

In each track are one or more clips that can be played back.  Each track can contain clips for MIDI sequences, audio files, sound FX, or even complete songs.

Every clip has its own launch (play) button and can be stopped or started independently of other clips.  Playing a clip inside a track stops playback of any previously playing clip in that track.

Clips start playing back at the beginning of each bar so everything remains in sync at all times.  You don’t have to worry about trying to start a clip exactly right on a beat.

Session View is the preferred way of using Live in a live setting as it allows great flexibility in creating live mixes on the fly.

You can drag and drop clips in real-time, stop and start clips, and more.

And best of all, everything always syncs up perfectly and plays in time…..

The following video demonstrates this in more detail:

Ableton Live 9 Tutorial – Part 5: Session View

Arrangement View

In Arrangement View, tracks are laid out in a more traditional timeline going from left to right.  This is the traditional way most DAWs are organized.

Once in Arrangement View, each part can be edited or changed as desired.  You can also record new material directly into the Arrangement View.

Many users like to work out parts and arrangements in Session View, and once they are ready, record the parts into the Arrangement View.

The following video demonstrates the Arrangement Window:

Ableton Live 9 Tutorial – Part 6: Arrangement View

Built-In Instruments & Effects

Live 9 comes with over 3,000 sounds ranging from acoustic instruments, drums, hits, and effects.

You can load different instruments or effects, change or edit settings, route signals, and more, all in real time.  This makes Live a fantastic tool that keeps your creative ideas flowing!

Other Features

Live includes many powerful features that make it a must-have DAW:

Audio To MIDI Tools

Live has three audio-to-MIDI tools that allow you to convert audio files into MIDI parts.  These powerful tools open up lots of new creative avenues for your songs and compositions.

The Convert Drums to New MIDI Track tool analyzes an unpitched audio drum loop and extract the parts into MIDI data.  It even assigns parts like snare and kick drum to the correct MIDI notes, so it plays back correctly with a MIDI drum kit.

The Convert Melody To New MIDI Track converts an audio track with single note melody (like vocals or sax) to MIDI data.

The Convert Harmony To New MIDI Track is designed for polyphonic audio like guitar or piano.

Latest Features in Live 9.5

Updated Simpler Sampler

Live 9.5 comes with a recently redesigned Simpler sampler with a new interface and lots of features.

Simpler can be run in three different modes: Classic Mode, One-Shot Mode, and Slicing Mode.  Each mode gives you access to various features.

Classic Mode lets you map a sample across a MIDI keyboard.  It allows you to easily loop it, play it from a keyboard, and even play polyphonic parts from a mono sample.

One-Shot Mode is designed to work with hits and one-shot sounds.

Slicing Mode allows you to cut an audio file into slices.  This is especially useful for drums and percussion loops, and slices can be edited, rearranged, and manipulated as desired.

All three modes will automatically lock the audio to your project’s tempo, and any sound can be warped and shaped as desired.

Improved Waveforms, Meters and Colors

Live 9.5 now has improved waveforms views (more detail and better zoom functions), meters (now showing peak and RMS), and track/clip colors options.

More Included Sounds and Samples

Live 9.5 comes with more drum kits, presets, hits, and audio clips than previous versions.

Link Technology

Ableton’s Link technology allows Live and Link-enabled Mac iOS apps to connect and sync together over wireless or Ethernet connections in a local network.  This lets you explore collaboration with music partners on a much deeper level than ever before.

Once connected, all devices running the Link software will synchronize together and stay locked in time.

If any user changes the tempo, all connected devices will follow.  Each user is independent, and any user can stop and start their device without interrupting any other collaborator’s devices.

You can start work on your iPad, connect to Live on your laptop using Link, and sync them both up together.

Link works with a growing number of iOS apps and programs, including Reason, Max, and iMaschine 2.  You can even link different iOS apps on the same iPad or iPhone.

Summary

All in all, Live 9 is a top choice if you’re looking for a DAW for modern loop-based music production.

There are lots of third-party libraries available, and its features and price point make it a highly recommended DAW.

Ableton Live 9 Intro

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Ableton Live 9 Standard

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Ableton Live 9 Suite

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Platform: Mac OS X & Windows

Computer requirements:

  • Mac: OSX 10.7 or higher, 4GB RAM minimum, multicore processor, 1024x768 display
  • PC: Windows 7 or higher, 4GB RAM minimum, multicore processor, 1024x768 display

OS System Architecture: 32-bit and 64-bit

Plugin Format: VST, AU

Hardware Controllers: Compatible with Ableton Push, Akai APC40 mk II, and Novation Launchpad/ Launchpad Pro

Check out Ableton’s Push Instrument/Controller that takes Live to a whole new level!

Free Trial: 30-day Live 9 Suite trial

User Experience Level: Beginner to Advanced

Ideal for: EDM/Dance, Hip Hop, Electronica

Acoustica’s Mixcraft 8 Recording Studio, and Mixcraft 8 Pro Studio are high-quality Windows-only DAWs that are not quite as well-known to the music community as other DAWs.

However, Acoustica has been in business for over 15 years, and have created a devoted following over the years for their DAWs, loops, virtual instruments, and other music software programs.

In fact, they have won quite a few awards from music magazines such as Computer Music, MusicTech, Electronic Musician, and Keyboard.

While the Mixcraft 8 series doesn’t offer all the features found in Logic, Cubase, Digital Performer and other top DAW programs, it does provide tons of pro features in an easy to use, lower price point package.

It’s designed for users who want to get started in music production and recording, but don’t want to be overwhelmed with a program with tons of features, options, and choices.

There are two different versions of the Mixcraft 8 software:

Mixcraft 8 Recording Studio is the basic version that comes with:

  • Unlimited MIDI tracks
  • Unlimited audio track
  • 28 effects
  • 15 virtual instruments
  • 7,800 loops, sound effects, and samples

Mixcraft 8 Pro Studio is their premium version that comes with:

  • Unlimited MIDI tracks
  • Unlimited audio track
  • 56 effects
  • 21 virtual instruments
  • 7,800 loops, sound effects, and samples
  • Celemony’s Melodyne Essentials

For a complete Comparison Chart between Mixcraft 8 Recording Studio and Pro Studio, click here.

Both Recording Studio and Pro Studio offer support for control surfaces, a full-featured video editor, the ability to publish content to social media sites like YouTube and Facebook, and a free remote mobile app.

What’s New in Version 8?

Version 8 adds quite a few features that really make Mixcraft a leading DAW in its price range:

  • A flexible new sound engine with delay compensation for sample-accurate timing
  • Sidechain routing in the audio path
  • VST3 plugin support
  • mp4, WMV, and AVI video support
  • improved sound browsing and auditioning
  • Access to 325,000 sounds with the built-in Freesound.org search and import functions
  • Improved automation
  • Mix Down To Stems feature
  • Nested submix capabilities

The following video shows the basics of Mixcraft in action. Note that the video is on Mixcraft 7, but it also applies to Mixcraft 8.

Mixcraft 7: Quick Start Guide

Summary

Mixcraft is a great option for someone who doesn’t need (or want to spend the time to learn) a higher-end DAW like Cubase, Logic, or Digital Performer.

It has lots of features, and it’s easy to navigate and use.   This makes it ideal for anyone who doesn’t want to become a sound engineer to be able to record their songs.

And finally, it’s priced for the home recordist/ hobbyist who doesn’t really want to spend a ton for features and performance they don’t really need.

It’s a great value for the price.

Acoustica Mixcraft 8 Recording Studio

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Acoustica Mixcraft 8 Pro Studio

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Platform: Windows (though it can run on a Mac running Boot Camp Assistant).

Computer requirements:

  • PC: Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8 or 10, 32-bit or 64-bit), 2GB RAM minimum, 1.8 GHz dual core CPU (Quad Core or higher)

Free Version/Trial: 14-day trial of Recording Studio version

Ideal for: All styles

Apple’s Logic was one of the first DAWs available for the Mac.

Logic was originally an Emagic program, but Apple bought Emagic in 2002 and, after making improvements, renamed it Logic Pro.

Logic Pro X was introduced in 2013 and Apple has continued to add features and enhancements to this powerful DAW ever since.  And in 2015, it was rated the #2 DAW in a survey of over 25,000 users.

Everything from best-selling records (Adele’s Hello) to hit soundtracks (LA LA Land) to thousands of cues and songs heard on TV shows, commercials, trailers, and more have been produced in Logic.

And to make this DAW even better, it’s priced at a very affordable $199.00, available as a download from the Apple Store.

Plus, once you purchase Logic Pro X, all future upgrades are free of charge!  Most DAW providers charge for future updates, so this makes Logic a real bargain in the long haul.

Logic Pro X vs. Garageband

Since Macs come bundled with Garageband for free, it’s frequently asked what the differences are between Logic and Garageband.

Garageband is mainly geared towards beginner to more advanced amateur producers and composers.  Think of it as the little brother of Logic.

Logic, however, is a professional level DAW.

Interestingly, some of Garageband’s look and feel has slowly been making its way into Logic, so maybe Apple is hoping to get some paid Logic customers from its free Garageband users by encouraging an upgrade.

Film/TV Composition

For those who work to picture, Logic has always been a top DAW choice.  It supports Quicktime movies and Final Cut Pro X XML files if you also work in or need to export to Final Cut.

MIDI tracks can easily be converted into score notation, both in traditional score format and tablature.

Layout

Logic is designed with a simple single window interface with all the essential functions – audio tracks, MIDI tracks, instruments, effects, mixer, etc. – visible within one screen.

The windows are customizable to your own style of working, but the factory layout makes it easy to start making music right away.

Version 10.3 brings a lighter cleaner look to the program, making it look less cluttered than previous versions. It also has a new font that is more readable on small screens.

Recent improvements to zoom functions, track color options, and key commands have made Logic even more efficient to use, especially on smaller laptop screens.

Features

Logic has all the bells and whistles you would expect from a major DAW.

It comes with lots of firepower right out of the box – er… download…

  • 2,700 instrument and effect patches
  • 750 sampled instruments
  • 5,600 loops

Logic Pro X 10.3 includes lots of new improvements and upgrades that will appeal to both amateur and professional users alike.  Let’s go into some of the latest features that make Logic stand out from the crowd.

Apple MacBook Pro Touch Bar Support

Logic Pro X 10.3 now supports the Touch Bar found on MacBook Pro 2016 models.  There are five different views that you can access with the Touch Bar:

  • Navigation –scroll throughout your arrangement
  • Keyboard – play instruments with a one-octave keyboard
  • Drum Pads – play a selected drum kit using 8 pads
  • Smart Controls – adjust parameters of your choosing, like mod controls, effects settings, etc.
  • Key Commands – access dozens of key commands and keyboard shortcuts

Selection-Based Processing

This significant new feature allows you to apply effects or plugins to a selected region or portion of an audio file.

For example, you can add delay only to the chorus of vocal, or a de-esser to fix a vocal’s sibilant notes on a verse. No more having to process a whole track just to fix one or two things.

Track Alternatives

The new Track Alternatives feature lets you create alternative versions or arrangements of a single track without altering your original.

Multiple alternative tracks can be created, and you can even comp the best parts from different tracks into a new track.  Each alternate track keeps the same channel strip and plugin settings so you can experiment with new arrangements quickly and easily.

Effects Rendering

Logic now allows you to render effects to any track or audio section.  This is very handy for managing your computer’s CPU to maximize performance.

iCloud Access for GarageBand

Now you can save your Logic session to iCloud, open it in GarageBand, and continue working.  Any new tracks will then appear in Logic when you open it again on your Mac.

iPad/ iPhone Remote

An iPad or iPhone can now function as a remote.  Not only can you control the DAW’s functions, but you can also play instruments and even use an iPad as a portable mixer.

The following video outlines the latest 10.3 updates.

LOGIC PRO X 10.3 UPDATE – What’s New? An In-Depth Overview of New Features and Interface

New Instruments

Logic has always had quite a few instruments, most notably the venerable EXS24 sampler and the ES2 and Sculpture synths.

In version 10.3, Apple has added two very powerful new instruments.

The first is Alchemy.   Its multiple sound-generating engines – additive, spectral, granular and formant – have made it a go-to synth for all styles of music, especially EDM.

Check it out here.

Drummer is a versatile tool for creating everything from authentic organic drum kits to electronic beats.

There are 28 different drummers in various styles, and you can customize beats to your liking – add more fills, simplify or add complexity to a beat, or change each individual drum sound.

It favorably compares with popular 3rd-party drum programs like Superior Drummer, and best of all, it’s included for free!

Check it out here.

All The Features

For an in-depth look at all the features in Logic, click here.

Summary

Logic Pro X 10.3 packs a lot into a very affordable package.

It works equally well both on powerful desktop computers as well as smaller laptops, without sacrificing performance.

Compared to the major DAWs like Cubase, Digital Performer, Sonar, and Live, Logic provides top-notch features, sounds, and effects at a much lower price point.

Plus, Apple’s free upgrades policy is in direct opposition to the industry’s trend towards subscriptions and paid annual upgrade plans.  This makes Logic Pro X even more of a bargain!

Highly recommended!

Apple Logic Pro X 10.3

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Platform: Mac only

OS System Architecture: 64-bit

Computer requirements:

  • Mac: OS X 10.11 or higher, 4GB RAM minimum, 1280x768 resolution display
  • Plugin Formats: AU (64-bit only)

Supported file formats: WAV, mp3

Free Version/Trial: None

User Experience Level: Beginner to Advanced

Ideal for: All styles

Avid’s Pro Tools is widely recognized as the premier DAW for professional audio recording and mixing for both Windows and Mac operating systems.

First introduced in 1989, it has evolved over the decades from an audio-only recording platform to a full-featured DAW encompass MIDI sequencing and virtual instruments.

Today, Pro Tools is used in everything from project studios to major studios as a complete DAW solution for composers and producers, as well as for audio post production.

It’s revered for its superb sound quality, almost crash-proof reliability, as well as its ease of use, especially when creative ideas are flowing and you need to get ideas down quickly!  It’s also designed to work on laptops as well as desktop computers.

It used to be that you had to purchase expensive Avid hardware to be able to use Pro Tools or purchase third-party interfaces that limited the sample rate to 48K.  With Pro Tools 12, you are now much freer to use other interfaces without sacrificing any quality or performance

While Pro Tools’ audio recording, editing and mixing capabilities are first class, it can be argued that its weakest point is MIDI sequencing.

However, Avid has added more and more sequencing tools and features over the years which now make this part of Pro Tools quite powerful.

It may not replace a DAW like Cubase or Digital Performer for MIDI sequencing work, but it’s slowly becoming a leading contender for best overall DAW.

No Native VST & AU Plugin Support

There is one significant limitation when using plugins with Pro Tools.

Pro Tools only supports its native AAX plugin format.

It does not support VST or AU plugins, which comprise the vast majority of plugins used in other DAWs.

This means that if you have some favorite plugins, they won’t work in Pro Tools unless AAX versions are available.

There are two solutions to this problem.

First, you can use an AAX plugin like Metaplugin that can host AU or VST plugins.

Secondly, you can use ReWire to sync another DAW running your AU or VST plugins.

These are not ideal solutions, but they’ll get the job done.

Let’s now take a look at each version of Pro Tools currently available.

Pro Tools 12 First

Pro Tools 12 First is a free version of Pro Tools.  It’s ideal for anyone who’s just getting started in music production, recording, and mixing.

Though it’s free, Pro Tools First is not a lite version of the software.  Rather, it has all the production tools and features of Pro Tools and Pro Tools HD.   It even includes the new cloud collaboration feature, with a few limitations.

The tradeoff is that the number of audio tracks, instrument tracks, aux tracks, I/O, instruments, loops, effects, etc. are substantially reduced from the paid full versions.

AND…

You cannot save Projects locally on your computer; you can only save up to three Projects to the cloud.

Additional Project Saves and the ability to save locally to your PC is available with a monthly Premium Plan that starts at $4.99/ month.

Despite these limitations, Pro Tools 12 First an excellent way to start using the Pro Tools platform without having to spend anything, or if you only work occasionally on a hobbyist level.

Click here to see all the features of Pro Tools 12 First.

Pro Tools 12

Pro Tools is Avid’s best-selling version.  You get all the powerful features and rock-solid stability that the DAW is known for.

It includes playback for up to 128 audio tracks, 512 instrument tracks, and 512 MIDI tracks.

NEW: Cloud Collaboration

New in Pro Tools 12 is the ability to share and work on projects with up to 10 people around the world through the Avid Cloud Collaboration for Pro Tools function.

This allows users to work with the best talent anywhere – collaborating, sharing projects, recording, and more.  It even includes a chat feature that lets you communicate in real-time.

Please note that since the Cloud Collaboration feature is new, as of yet there’s no Avid-supported community, network, or user group devoted to finding collaborators.  This may come in the future, but for now you’ll have to use your own network to find people to work with.

Pro Tools 12 also has added some new and improved features:

  • Easier audio layer editing
  • New Soundbase browser to find sounds, beats, effects, and more
  • Improved Smart Tool for fades
  • Freeze plugins with Track Freeze to improve system performance
  • Track Bounce that exports stems for delivery
  • Project Revisions: lets you experiment but get back to your original idea quickly with an undoable Revision History
  • Control iOS for iPad lets it function as a controller for recording or mixing

Click here to see all the features of Pro Tools 12.

Pro Tools 12 HD

Pro Tools HD is Avid’s flagship software geared towards more towards post production and studios that need (and can afford) the best!

It includes playback for up to 128 audio tracks, 512 instrument tracks, and 512 MIDI tracks.

It includes all the features from Pro Tool, but it also includes post-production features like:

  • Dolby Atmos support for theatrical/ home theater use
  • Avid NEXIS support to connect teams for collaboration and increased productivity

Click here to see all the features of Pro Tools HD.

A Look At Pro Tools 12

The following video is an excellent introduction to Pro Tools:

Pro Tools for Beginners Tutorial – Part 1 – Navigation

Buying Pro Tools and Pro Tools HD

While Pro Tools First is a free download, Pro Tools and Pro Tools HD are available to use/own three different ways:

The first way is old-school: you buy the software outright and get all updates included for 12 months.  After 12 months, the software will still work, but you won’t get any more updates.

If you don’t want to miss critical updates, Avid offers an annual Upgrade Plan that extends updates for another 12 months.

Also, know that some plugins are only available with a subscription or annual plan.

The second way is via a monthly subscription model where you always have the latest version, but get a monthly payment for as long as you want to use Pro Tools.

Most musicians are not fans of subscription models as they always try to keep expenses low.  But software makers are all slowly moving to this model to increase revenues, so it is the way of the future, like it or not.

And finally, Pro Tools bundled with an interface is probably the most cost-effective method.  Make sure to check out the bundle prices compared to buying the software alone.

Summary

Avid’s latest updates further cement Pro Tools 12’s reputation as a premier DAW.

It comes with plenty of plugins to handle the most complex of mixes, and recent versions have included lots of loops and sounds.

And because Pro Tools is an industry-standard DAW, it’s easy to share sessions with collaborators or with another recording studio.

Especially for recording and mixing audio, Pro Tools can’t be beat!

Avid Pro Tools First

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Avid Pro Tools 12

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Pro Tools 12 with Annual Upgrade

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Avid Pro Tools 12 HD

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Pro Tools Software + Interface Hardware Bundles:

Avid Pro Tools Duet

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Pro Tools Quartet

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Avid Pro Tools Eleven Rack (For Guitarists)

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Platform: Mac & Windows

Computer requirements:

Pro Tools First:

  • Mac: OS X 10.8.5 or higher, Intel i5 Core 2 Duo processor, 4GB RAM minimum, 1280 minimum horizontal monitor resolution
  • Windows: Windows 7, 8.1, 10, Intel i5 Core 2 Duo processor, 4GB RAM minimum, 1280 minimum horizontal monitor resolution

Pro Tools:

  • Mac: OS X 10.8.5 or higher, Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM minimum, 1280 minimum horizontal monitor resolution
  • Windows: Windows 7, 8.1, 10, Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM minimum, 1280 minimum horizontal monitor resolution

Pro Tools HD:

  • Mac: OS X 10.8.5 or higher, Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB RAM minimum, 1280 minimum horizontal monitor resolution
  • Windows: Windows 7, 8.1, 10, Intel Xeon processor, 16GB RAM minimum, 1280 minimum horizontal monitor resolution

Plugin Formats: AAX Native

Notes: Requires a USB port for iLok2 authorization

Free Version/Trial: Pro Tools First free version, 30 day trial of Pro Tools or Pro Tools HD

User Experience Level: Beginner to Advanced

Bitwig is an innovative DAW produced by German company Bitwig GmbH for Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux operating systems.  It’s designed as a DAW for both studio and live performance use.

First introduced in 2014, Bitwig 1.0 was a surprisingly strong offering; it was full of advanced features and easy to use right out of the box.

And because Bitwig was a new DAW, the developers took advantage of the latest coding protocols to minimize code bloat and keep the program lean and surprisingly fast.

Bitwig frequently gets compared to Ableton Live in its layout and workflow, and as the program was designed by some Ableton ex-engineers, this is not a surprise.

Bitwig’s design is a bit more dense than Live, but the overall layout will be familiar.  Thus, Ableton users find that there’s a short learning curve with Bitwig.

However, Bitwig is not just a Live clone.  Though the developers included many Live-type features, they made sure to create something new.

Clips

Like with Ableton Live, all MIDI or audio data is stored in clips.

All clips can be stopped and started, edited, and manipulated independently.  Audio is automatically “stretched” to fit the project’s tempo, making tempo syncing between clips straightforward and automatic.

One of Bitwig’s strengths is that a clip can contain multiple audio files, which makes creative arranging and editing a breeze.

Also, the Clip and Arrange windows can be laid side by side for drag and drop experimentation.  This is ideal for single monitor setups, and something that Live users would love to have, as Live has a two-window approach.

Cool Features

Bitwig 2.1 brings some nice features to your screen(s) that are not found on other DAWs, including Live.

Five Monitor Profiles

Since Bitwig users can run the gamut from beginners working on a small laptop all the way to studio pros working on multiple monitors, the program comes with 5 display profiles.

These profiles run from a single small screen to a three monitor professional setup, and each profile includes Arrange, Edit, and Mix Window layouts that are customizable.

These profiles allow you to get the most out of your screen space, no matter what size or quantity of monitors you are using.

Bitwig also supports the latest Retina and Hi-DPI displays, as well as tablets like the Microsoft Surface.

17 New Devices

In Bitwig terminology, devices are effects.  Bitwig Studio 2.1 comes with 17 new devices, including:

  • Spectrum analyzer
  • Dual pan
  • Phaser
  • Pitch shifter
  • Note echo
  • Note harmonizer

Powerful New Modulation System

Bitwig now offers 24 modulators that can be added to any device and configured in almost endless ways.  For those of you who like to tweak your settings, this gives you unparalleled creative freedom in shaping sounds.

Plugin Sandboxing

This new feature places all plugins in a “sandbox” that keeps your project running if one crashes or malfunctions.

New Sound and Presets

Included are 150 new presets for the different devices, 7 new drum kits, 174 drum samples, and a multi-sampled electric guitar – over 8BG of content in all.

The following video gives a good overview of Bitwig 2:

Bitwig Studio 2 Overview

The next video shows Bitwig in action with the new Amp Device.

Bitwig Studio 2 Key Feature: Amp

Summary

Bitwig is a well-designed DAW with a modern look and feel.  There are extensive features for both MIDI and audio recording and editing, and the instruments and sounds are excellent.

Plus, for more engineer-type users, the extensive modulation system is a powerful tool to create new sounds and sonic possibilities.

It’s also an excellent alternative to Live.  It doesn’t have all of Live’s features, effects, and functionality, but it brings its own set of strengths to music production.

There are some things users hope will be added to Bitwig in the near future – support for video, ReWire, and AU plugins  – but overall, Bitwig is an easy-to-use DAW that is highly recommended.

Bitwig 2.1

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Platform: Mac, Windows & Linux

OS System Architecture: 64-bit

Computer requirements:

  • Mac: OS X 10.9 or higher, 4GB RAM minimum, 64-bit Intel CPU, 1280 X 768 resolution display
  • Windows: Windows 7, 8, or 10, 64-bit dual-core AMD or Intel CPU with SSE3 support, 4GB RAM minimum
  • Linux: Ubuntu 16.04 or later, 64-bit dual-core or better x86 CPU with SSE3 support

Plugin Formats: VST 2.4 and VST3.  Does not support AU

Supported file formats: WAV, AIF, mp3

Negatives: No ReWire  or video support

Free Version/Trial: Demo download has Save and Export disabled

User Experience Level: Beginner to Advanced

Ideal for: All styles, especially electronic music

Cakewalk’s Sonar has been top Windows-only DAW for composers, songwriters, and producers for over 25 years.

It’s a full-featured pro-level DAW that lets you compose, record, edit, mix, master your work, as well as export your tracks directly to YouTube, SoundCloud, Facebook and other platforms.

Unlike most software makers who roll out updates infrequently, Cakewalk rolls out updates on a monthly basis. And you get all updates for 12 months once you purchase or “rent” the software.  More on this below…

The latest version of Sonar has added many improvements.

The most notable changes are the updates to its Skylight user interface.  The main Control Bar is now customizable fit your screen size, very convenient when switching between desktops and laptops.

What New In Sonar?

In recent months Sonar has added:

  • Improved touch zooming and scrolling
  • Comping with Melodyne clips
  • Improved Project Save functions
  • An Adaptive peak limiter
  • Enhanced pen support
  • Ripple editing to rearrange sections without leaving gaps between clips
  • New Transform Tool to more easily edit data
  • mp3 export function

All versions now include the following:

  • Touch screen support
  • 64-bit mix engine for transparent and dynamic mixes
  • VST3 support
  • Audio Random Access (ARA) support: The ARA plugin extension helps Sonar and pitch correction plugin Melodyne (included with some versions) communicate more efficiently, resulting in more accurate results in less time.

Four Sonar Versions

Sonar comes in 4 versions:

  • Sonar Home Studio
  • Sonar Artist
  • Sonar Professional
  • Sonar Platinum

What About Sonar X3?

Sonar X3 was the previous 2013-2014 version of Sonar.

While Sonar X3 is still being sold as of this writing, you’d be better off getting one of the current versions.  X3 will likely be discontinued or not supported in the future.

Sonar Home Studio

Sonar Home Studio is the entry-level version with a low $49.00 price.

It features:

  • 64 tracks
  • 8 stereo inputs/ outputs
  • 8 busses
  • 5 instruments (drums, bass, strings, and electric piano, plus Rapture Pro)
  • 27 effects
  • Cakewalk Loopmasters Content Collection
  • Periodic updates

Sonar Artist

Sonar Artist is $99.00 and features the following:

  • Unlimited tracks
  • Unlimited inputs/ outputs
  • Unlimited busses
  • Demo of Melodyne Essential
  • 12 instruments, including Session Drummer 3, Roland Groove Synth, and Square 1
  • 28 effects
  • EDM Percussion Loops
  • Monthly updates

Sonar Professional

Sonar Professional is $199.00 and features the following:

  • Unlimited tracks
  • Unlimited inputs/ outputs
  • Unlimited busses
  • Unlimited patch points and Aux tracks
  • Melodyne Essential
  • 19 instruments, including Addictive Drums 2 (1 ADPak), Session Drummer 3, Roland Groove Synth, Square 1, and Cyclone
  • 56 effects
  • EDM Percussion Loops
  • Monthly updates

Sonar Platinum

Sonar Platinum is the top of the line version at $499.00, and features:

  • Unlimited tracks
  • Unlimited inputs/ outputs
  • Unlimited busses
  • Unlimited patch points and Aux tracks
  • Melodyne Essential
  • Drum Replacer
  • VocalSync
  • Surround Mixing
  • 23 instruments, including Addictive Drums 2 (3 ADPaks), Session Drummer 3, Roland Groove Synth, Square 1, Cyclone, Lounge Lizard SONAR, Strum Session 2, and TruePianos Amber
  • 69 effects including tape emulator and tube saturation
  • Cakewalk X-Mix Content Collection, Cakewalk Sample Magic Content Collection, Cakewalk Loopmasters Content Collection and EDM Percussion Loops
  • Monthly updates

A complete comparison chart between the four versions can be found here.

Cakewalk In Action

The following videos showcase some basics as well as some cool features found in Sonar Professional and Platinum:

SONAR Get Started: Skylight User Interface

SONAR Get Started: Melodyne Essential (Professional and Platinum)

SONAR Get Started: VocalSync (Platinum only)

Two Purchase Models

Sonar was the first major DAW to move to different purchase models:

First, the budget-priced Sonar Home Studio can only be purchased outright.

For Sonar Artist, Professional, and Platinum, you have two choices.  You can buy them for a one-time charge, and you own the software. Included is 1 year of updates.

OR…

You can purchase it in 12 monthly installments, and then you own the software.  You get all the updates for free during this initial 12 month period.

The one-time charge ends up being quite a bit cheaper, especially with Sonar Platinum.  But if finances are tight, then the monthly pay feature is an option.

Rolling Update Renewals

After one year, you can purchase additional one-year “rolling updates” that give you the latest versions with all the new features, bug fixes, and anything else they’ve added.  These updates are done monthly.

The price is the same as your original purchase price, so this will add up over the years. But you’ll always have the latest version of Sonar to work with.

Summary

Sonar’s latest versions have made it much easier for both beginners and advanced users to work efficiently and quickly.

Add in its great-sounding instruments, effects, and audio engine, and you have one of the best complete music production DAWs for Windows.

And, no matter what your finances are like, you’ll find a version of Sonar that will help take your music to the next level.

Cakewalk Sonar Home Studio

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Cakewalk Sonar Artist

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Cakewalk Sonar Professional

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Cakewalk Sonar Platinum

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Platform: Windows 7 | 8 | 8.1 | 10

OS System Architecture: 32-bit or 64-bit

Plugin Format: VST

Supported file formats: WAV, MP3, WMA, WMV, RM, WAV, AIF, PCA, and AC3

Free Version/Trial: A full-featured demo version of Platinum is available, but exporting and saving projects is disabled.

User Experience Level: Beginner to Advanced

Ideal for: All styles from EDM to film scoring

Cockos Reaper?  What’s that?

If you have never heard of Reaper, it could be because it’s one of the best-kept secrets in DAWs, and it’s only available from the Reaper website.

Reaper is a full-featured DAW for both Mac and Windows.  Over the years it’s attracted a growing number of users who love its feature set, ease of use, and very affordable price.

It’s found a home in both project and professional studios, as well as post-production houses, schools, game production studios, and other professional environments.

That’s saying a lot for Reaper’s design, quality, and reliability!

Reaper features 64-bit internal audio processing, studio quality effects, and lots of pro features like mix automation, grouping, surround mixing, control surface support, and custom layouts.

It also supports thousands of third-party plugins, effects, and virtual instruments in VST, VST3, AU, DX, and JS formats.

Speed

Reaper is known for its very concise coding, which not only gives it a small footprint (the program download is only 10 MB!) but gives the program rock-solid stability from freeze-ups or crashes.

Most users are amazed on how fast the program loads – usually in under 1 second!

This makes Reaper an ideal DAW for anyone without the budget for a high-performance computer.  It runs well on low-end desktops and laptops, even while running lots of tracks and plugins.

It’s Completely Customizable

Reaper is unlike any other DAW in that it is completely customizable – menus, layouts, themes, and more can be changed to fit your work style and screen size.

You can customize key commands, toolbars, tools, and menus. You even have quite a few options for customizing how the mouse functions.

For even more customization, advanced users can access its API, with support for scripting in several different coding languages.

One Version

Unlike many DAWs that have different versions available for sale, Reaper comes in only one fully functioning version that you can try out for 60 days.

Price & License

Reaper is only available at the Reaper website.

For individuals and businesses that use Reaper commercially but gross less than $20,000, the license price is $60.  The same license price applies to non-profit and educational users.

Commercial users who gross more than $20,000 pay a $225 license fee.

A  license lasts for 2 major version upgrades; as of this writing you’ll get unlimited free updates through upcoming version 6.99.  This includes bug fixes, new features, and all improvements.

The license key can be installed on multiple computers, but you will only be able to run Reaper on one computer at a time.

Portable Too

You can even install a portable version of Reaper on a USB drive, network drive, or even in Dropbox!

Reaper Overview

Reaper comes with:

  • Unlimited tracks
  • Unlimited effects
  • 512 different inputs and outputs
  • 64 audio channels per track
  • Full MIDI control and editing
  • Notation score editor
  • Video functionality and editing
  • markers

Although it includes more than 230 audio/MIDI effects, it doesn’t come with any synths, sample libraries, or virtual instruments.

Reaper supports:

  • VST, VST3, AU, DX, JSFC plugins
  • ASIO, WaveOut, DirectSound audio drivers
  • Wav, aif, ogg, mp3, flac, REX audio formats
  • Mp4, avi, .mov video formats
  • ReWire
  • MIDI

Working With Reaper: The Basics

Reaper was designed to be easy to use.

Once you create a new Project, the primary working environment is the Arrange Window. The Arrange window is timeline-based going from left to right.

Unlike most DAWs that have dedicated tracks for MIDI, audio, video, busses, etc., a Reaper track can be configured to be anything you want.  Audio and MIDI parts can be placed on a single track, even back to back if you want.

Sounds (loops, audio, etc.) are loaded from the Directory and can be dragged and dropped into the timeline for any track.

Each track has a control panel area that lets you change volume, panning, muting, and more, plus add effects.

Right-clicking on anything – a track, audio file, ruler, menu, etc. – bring up many more options.

Mixer Window

While low-level mixing can be done in the Track control panel, a separate Mix window brings up traditional mix faders with additional controls.

To see Reaper in action, check out the following video that shows the basics of using Reaper:

Reaper 5 Introduction

Summary

Reaper is a great low-cost alternative to much more expensive DAWs.  It’s lean, fast, and very stable, and runs like a charm on older desktops or laptops.  You can even run it from a portable thumb drive!

The main drawback of Reaper is that it does include any synths, sample libraries, or virtual instruments.  It does, however, come with hundreds of audio and MIDI effects, all running at 64-bit for the best quality.

If you already have a collection of virtual instruments or are looking for a DAW primarily for mixing, you can’t be Reaper for the price!

Cockos Reaper 5

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Platform: Mac & Windows

OS System Architecture: 32-bit and 64-bit

Computer requirements:

  • Mac: OS X 10.5 to 10.12, 1 GB RAM minimum
  • PC: XP through Windows 10

Plugin Format: AU, VST 3, AU, DX, JS

Free Version/Trial: 60-day free trial of full version

User Experience Level: Beginner to Advanced

Ideal for: All styles & genres

Image Line’s FL Studio music production software is another very popular DAW for both Mac and Windows.

The program began life in 1998 as Fruity Loops.   Fruity Loops’ earliest versions were basically MIDI step sequencers, and a simple sequencer is still at the heart of its design and workflow.

Over the years it has evolved from its humble beginnings to become one of the favorite music production tools for creating beats and for EDM, both in the studio and live onstage.

It’s a go-to program for artists such as BT, Deadmaus, and Tritonal, as well as many project studio owners.

As a professional-level DAW, it has all the features you want – dynamic audio recording and editing (except in the entry-level Fruity Edition), MIDI sequencing and editing, lots of virtual instruments, built-in effects, and powerful mixing and mastering capabilities.

Critics have sometimes called FL Studio a bit simplistic, but that is actually one of its strengths.  It’s easy to use and fun!

Four Versions To Choose From

There are four versions of FL Studio:

  • Fruity Edition ($99.00)
  • Producer Edition ($199.00)
  • Signature Edition ($299.00)
  • FL Studio: All Plugins ($899.00)

Fruity Edition

Fruity Edition is the entry-level version.

There’s a basic MIDI sequencer, 11 virtual synths, effects plugins, and a collection of loops.  Version 12 adds automation clips for better automation capabilities.

The major drawback is that you cannot record audio into the program.

Producer Edition

The Producer Edition adds the ability to record and edit audio. It also includes a larger selection of virtual synths and effects, plus thousands of great sounding loops and sounds.

Version 12 adds a new FM additive synth called Sytrus, and a multi-band compressor called Maximus.

Signature Edition

The Signature Edition includes everything in the Producer Edition, plus some excellent new plugins.

Version 12 adds New Tone, an audio pitch and time editor, Pitcher for real-time pitch correction, Gross Beat, a time and volume manipulation plugin, and Harmless, an additive/ subtractive synth.

FL Studio: All Plugins

The FL Studio: All Plugins package is their top of the line version.  It’s their Signature Edition with all plugins and effects unlocked.

You can check out the complete comparison chart of the different versions here.

What’s New In FL Studio 12?

New Native Mac OS X Version

Version 12 now includes a native version for Mac OS X.  You must be running Mac Lion 10.7 or later.

Scalable Vector Graphics

One of the biggest improvements to version 12 is that the user GUI interface has switched to vector graphics.

This allows infinite scaling of just about every element in FL Studio while keeping the best resolution no matter what size monitor screen(s) you are using.

Everything in FL Studio looks very sharp and runs very smoothly.

And not only can you scale size all windows, but you can also move and place them anywhere you would like on your screen(s).

Mixing Improvements

Version 12 adds lots of new features to the mixing board:

  • Mixing board scalability
  • Advanced mixer routing
  • Six mixer layouts for a variety of monitor sizes

Improved Multi-Touch Support

Version 12 adds improved multi-touch monitor support – it now includes the mixer and fader groups.

Play parts with your fingers, move faders, change filters, and much more, all without using your mouse.

Other Features In Version 12

  • Novation Launchpad Pro controller support
  • Improved VST plugin installation and discovery
  • 64-bit plugin support

Free Lifetime Updates!

Unlike many DAWs that require regular update purchases, either on a 12-month plan or for major new release versions, FL Studio comes with free lifetime updates.

Image Line has had this policy in place since 1998, and according to their website, they don’t plan on changing this anytime soon.

FL Studio In Action

The following two videos outline the latest version of the software.

FL Studio 12 | Launch Video

FL Studio 12 | Getting Started Tutorial

You can access FL Studios’ complete video tutorial series on YouTube here:

Summary:

FL Studio 12 has always been designed with the user in mind.  It’s fun to use and doesn’t require a huge learning curve to start actually making music.

Unless you are a total beginner, I’d skip the Fruity Edition (no audio recording is a major flaw!) and go with the Producer series, Signature series, or the complete All Plugins bundle.

Each of these versions come with a wide assortment of virtual instruments, sounds, and effects.

The multi-touch screen support makes working with the program fast and easy, and the high-resolution scalability makes it a joy to use on any size screen(s).

And best of all, FL Studio 12 is very affordable!

Add it all up, and the combo of features and price make FL Studio 12 well worth checking out!

FL Studio 12 Fruity Edition

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FL Studio 12 Producer Edition

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FL Studio 12 Signature Edition

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FL Studio12: All Plugins

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Platform: Windows XP, Vista, 7,8, 10 & Mac OS X 10.8 or 10.9 required for FL Studio For Native OS X

OS System Architecture: 32-bit or 64-bit

Computer requirements:

  • Mac: OS X 10.7 or higher, 1 GB RAM minimum
  • PC: 2 GHz Intel Pentium 4 / AMD Athlon 64 (or later) compatible CPU with full SSE2 support, 1 GB RAM minimum

Plugin Formats: VST

Supported file formats: WAV, mp3, OGG, FLAC

Free Version/Trial: Full program 30-day trial, but save function is disabled

User Experience Level: Beginner to Advanced

Ideal for: All styles from EDM to film scoring

Magix is well-known for quite a few music software products: Music Maker, Samplitude, Acid Music Studio/ Acid Pro, and Sound Forge.

I’m going to review three of these DAWs here, starting with Music Maker.

The fourth, Sound Forge, is for audio recording and editing only and isn’t a complete DAW.

Magix’s Music Maker is a Windows-only DAW geared towards beginners and hobbyists, rather than serious semi-pro or professional users.

You won’t find all the advanced functions and tools you’ll get with Logic, Cubase, or Digital Performer, but it does have enough features that let you create great-sounding tracks.

One of its strengths is its drag and drop approach to composition.  This makes it quick and easy to experiment and create new arrangements.

And if you are just starting out, having a more limited scope is a benefit; there’s a shorter learning curve, and you’ll be able to start actually making music faster, rather than spending lots of time reading the manual.

Despite being an entry-level DAW, Music Maker comes with quite a few outstanding virtual instruments, loops, and effects.

4 Different Versions

Ther are four different versions of Music Maker:

  • Music Maker Free
  • Music Maker Plus Edition
  • Music Maker Live Edition
  • Music Maker Premium Edition

Music Maker Free

The Music Maker Free is the most basic version.  It’s free to download and use and comes with:

  • 425 sounds & loops
  • 8 tracks
  • 8 effects
  • 1 Soundpool
  • Limited versions of Concert Grand, Vita 2 Sample player, and Revolta 2 virtual instruments

Soundpools

Sondpools are collections of loops that can be mixed and matched with ease.  Drag & drop them into your project, and all loops will automatically sync to your project’s tempo.

Additional Soundpools are available in a variety of styles such as hip-hop, house, techno, dance, jazz, ambient, and more.

Music Maker Plus Edition

The Music Maker Plus Edition comes with:

  • 5,000 sounds & loops
  • 99 tracks
  • 24 effects
  • 6 Soundpools
  • 7 virtual instruments, including full versions of Concert Grand, Vita 2 Sample player, and Revolta 2
  • MAGIX Audio Remote – a second screen app that lets you operate the Live Pad mode, and also control instruments and transport functions
  • VST3 interface

Music Maker Live Edition

The Music Maker Plus Edition comes with:

  • 6,000 sounds & loops
  • Unlimited tracks
  • 30 effects
  • 8 Soundpools
  • 9 virtual instruments, including the Orange Vocoder ME by Zynaptiq
  • MAGIX Audio Remote
  • VST3 interface
  • Live Pad mode with 30 Live Sets for EDM, Techno, Hip-Hop, and more. Live Pad mode gives you pads you can set up with sounds and play live
  • Mastering package

Music Maker Premium Edition

Music Maker Premium Edition is their top of the line package and comes with:

  • 8,000 sounds & loops
  • Unlimited tracks
  • 30 effects
  • 12 Soundpools
  • 12 virtual instruments, including all those in Live Edition
  • MAGIX Audio Remote
  • VST3 interface
  • Live Pad mode with 30 Live Sets
  • Mastering package

The following video demonstrates the layout of the program with a short techno track created in the Premium version.

Music Maker Premium in Action

Summary

If you’re just starting out, Music Maker is a solid choice.

It’s easy to use, and with four different versions you’ll find a version that’s right for you.

Beyond the basic free version, the other 3 versions are quite comprehensive and provide all the tools needed to produce broadcast-quality tracks.

Plus, each higher version adds a wider variety of sounds, sample, and effects to expand your music-making capabilities.

Though Music Maker is not quite up to the level of Cubase, Logic, or other top DAWs, it does give you a lot of features and sounds at an affordable price.

Magix Music Maker Free

Download here.

Magix Music Maker Plus Edition

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AmazonMagix website

Magix Music Maker Live Edition

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Magix Music Maker Premium Edition

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Platform: Windows 7, 8, 10

Computer requirements:

  • PC: 2GB processor, 2 GB RAM minimum, 1280x768 minimum monitor resolution

Plugin Format: VST3

Supported file formats: FLAC, mp3, OGG Vorbis, WAV, WMA

Note: The program cannot import Mac-based audio or video files like m4A and AAC.

Free Version/Trial: Yes

User Experience Level: Beginner

Ideal For: All styles but especially recommended for loop-based music styles.

Acid Music Studio 10 and Acid Pro 7 are one step up from Magix’s Music Studio.  They are Windows-only based DAWs that provide audio recording, MIDI sequencing, and mixing.

Both versions have an unlimited number of tracks and can work at up to a 24-bit/192 kHz sample rate.

Acid has long been known for its looping and time-stretching capabilities, and both versions excel in manipulating audio.

Acid Music Studio 10 retails for around $60, while Acid Pro 7 is at the $150 price level.

Though they have more features than Music Maker, both of these versions are still aimed towards the hobbyist user. Serious users with professional inclinations may find the programs a little simplistic.

Also, support seems to be lacking a bit from Magix.

Formerly Sony Acid Pro

You may have heard of Sony Acid Pro.  Sony sold Acid to Magix in 2014, and the software is now under the Magix brand.

Acid Music Studio 10

Acid Music Studio 10 is the lower-level version and includes all these features:

  • Extensive MIDI editing
  • Freezable MIDI tracks that play back as audio files to conserve computer’s CPU when using virtual instruments
  • Direct upload to SoundCloud
  • 3,000 loops

Acid Pro 7

Acid Pro 7 includes all the features from Music Studio 10 plus:

  • Real-time pitch & tempo transposition
  • Real-time MIDI processing
  • Flexible routing options in the Mixing Window
  • Support for MACKIE Control Universal and Frontier Design TranzPort control surfaces
  • Groove Mapping technology for changing up material
  • 90 virtual instruments
  • ReWire and ASIO support
  • Remixing features such as the Beatmapper and Chopper tools for creating stutter effects and rhythmic variations
  • ACID Pro Effects Rack with iZotope effects
  • Real-time rendering
  • 1 surround mixing

A complete comparison chart between the two versions can be found here.

Summary

Both Acid Music Studio and Acid Pro are very affordable DAWs that, in my opinion, are really best for beginners who are just getting started.

One note of caution is that Magix does not seem to be supporting the programs regularly.   Acid Pro 7 hasn’t seen a major overhaul in many years, and both have a pretty outdated look.

For more serious users, Magix’s Samplitude is a better, though more expensive, alternative.  (See next review)

Magix Acid Music Studio 10

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Magix Acid Pro 7

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Platform: Windows 7 | 8 | 8.1 | 10

OS System Architecture: 32-bit

Plugin Format: VST

Supported file formats: WAV, MP3, WMA, WMV, RM, WAV, AIF, PCA, and AC3

Free Version/Trial: 30-day free trials

User Experience Level: Beginner

Ideal For: All styles but especially for loop-based music production

Samplitude is Magix’s flagship DAW for Windows only.  It’s well-established in the DAW marketplace, having first been released in 1992.

Samplitude has what is likely the most comprehensive feature set for any Windows-based DAW.  There are many menus and submenus to explore, and there are multiple options for configuring it to fit your style and workflow preferences.

It’s also known for its rock-solid performance without crashing.

Samplitude has always been known for its great sound.   It uses advanced floating point calculations to produce transparent and sonically neutral sound.

It also offers multi-core support to ensure optimum performance.

Let’s go through the three versions of Samplitude.

Samplitude Music Studio

Music Studio is a pared-down version of the more advanced Pro X3 version.

It has the same audio quality as Pro X3 but without some advanced features.

You can record up to 64 tracks at 24-bit/96 kHz, with up to 16 mono tracks or 8 stereo tracks a the same time.

The program works in both 32-bit and 64-bit environments.

Music Studio comes with:

  • 19 virtual instruments, including Pop Drums, Robota and BeatBox drum machines, Vita 2 sample player, concert grand piano, accordion, and more
  • A selection of effects, including a limited version of Vandal guitar and bass amp plugin and Zynaptiqs Orange Vocoder
  • Audio pitch shifting and time stretching capabilities
  • Track freeze to reduce your computer’s CPU usage
  • Free Magix Audio Remote app
  • 2,000 sounds and loops

The following video gives you a look into Music Studio:

MAGIX Samplitude Music Studio– Introductory video tutorial

Pro X3

Pro X3 is the most popular version of Samplitude.    You can run up to 999 audio and MIDI tracks, and 256 inputs/outputs.

The Pro X3 version comes with:

  • 20 virtual instruments, including Pop Drums, Concert Grand, Cinematic Soundscapes, and Church Organ
  • Limited version of Vandal guitar and bass amp plugin
  • ARA VST extension
  • Melodyne Essential
  • Zynaptiq’s Orange Vocoder ME
  • Limited edition of Spectral Editing
  • 12GB sound library

Spectral Editing

One incredibly useful feature found in Pro X3 that is not found in most DAWs is spectral editing.

Spectral editing gives you a visual spectrogram of the track, enabling you to locate and remove short unwanted sounds like chair squeaks or coughs.  It’s pretty amazing, and a lifesaver if you record live tracks on location.

Revolver Tracks

Revolver tracks are track variations you can create at mixdown.  Creating a revolver tracks allows you to try out alternate parts or edits without affecting the rest of your mix.

Below is an introductory overview video of Pro X3:

MAGIX Samplitude Pro X3 – Professional Audio Editing & Mastering

Pro X3 Suite

The X3 Suite version adds quite a bit more to the standard Pro X3 package:

  • Full version of Sound Forge Pro 11
  • Full version of Vandal guitar and bass amp plugin
  • A selection of plugins from Magix’s high-end Sequoia mastering DAW, including DDP Export for exporting files for CD replication/ mastering and a mp3/AAC preview before export plugin
  • 24 virtual instruments in total, including the popular Pop Drums, Concert Grand piano, Cinematic Soundscapes, and Church Organ
  • Sampler with 70GB sample library
  • Full version of Spectral Editing
  • Analogue Modeling Suite
  • Cleaning and Restoration Suite
  • True Peak Limiter
  • Izotope mastering tools

What’s New In Pro X3?

The latest X3 version of Samplitude has lots of new features:

ARA VST Support for Melodyne

Samplitude includes the ARA VST extension for the included Melodyne pitch correction plugin.

ARA stands for Audio Random Access technology, which tightly integrates with Melodyne for very accurate communication between Samplitude and Melodyne.  The whole process of pitch correction and editing works much faster and more efficiently with ARA.

Audio to MIDI

This new feature lets you create MIDI data from any audio track.  Easily double a vocal with an instrument, or turn a vocal beatbox performance into actual MIDI drum parts.

New Mixer Setups

Samplitude now comes with a variety of mixer window setups that are optimized for various stages of your workflow, from sequencing to tracking to mixdown.

Tempo Automation

With its new automatic audio tempo adjustment feature, Samplitude now automatically calculates the tempo of any audio file and will stretch it to sync perfectly with your project.

Using the most advanced zplane Elastique algorithm, it produces the highest degree of tempo/pitch shifting quality available.

Birdline Platinum Skins

Samplitude comes bundled with a variety of skins developed by Birdline Software that used to be sold separately.  The skins allow you to change the look of the program and definitely up its cool factor.

Summary

Samplitude stands out as one of the best Windows-only DAWs available.  It’s a powerful program with tons of features, and the included sound libraries and virtual instruments are top-notch.

It’s priced as a competitor to DAWs like Cubase or Sonar, but it holds its own in terms of performance, features, stability, and ease of use.

Add in the inclusion of Melodyne for professional-sounding vocals, and Samplitude becomes a recommended best buy!

Magix Samplitude Music Studio

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Magix Samplitude Pro X3

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Magix Samplitude Pro X3 Suite

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Platform: Windows 7, 8, 10

Computer requirements:

  • PC: 2GB processor, 2 GB RAM minimum (32-bit), 4GB (64-bit), 1024x768 minimum monitor resolution

OS System Architecture: 64-bit

Supported file formats: WAV, MP3, AAC, AIFF, FLAC, OGG Vorbis

Free Version/Trial: 30-day free trial of Pro X3

User Experience Level: Beginner to Advanced

MOTU’s Digital Performer was one of the first DAWs available way back in the 1980s.

I‘ve been a user since the early 80s when it was just Performer – there was no digital then!!

I ran it on a Mac Classic with two floppy drives – one for the program, and one for saving files.  There was no hard drive – I couldn’t afford one back then!

Since then, through many versions, DP (as Digital Performer is known) has evolved into a leading powerhouse DAW loaded with features. There are dozens of menu items and functions, and most can be assigned to key commands to speed up your workflow.

DP seamlessly combines audio recording, MIDI, loops, virtual instruments, and effects with extensive editing capabilities.  Plus, it is completely customizable to fit your screen size and your own workflow.

While it’s an ideal platform for all styles of music production, recording, mixing, and mastering, DP is a favorite for film scoring or those writing music to picture for TV shows, commercials, and trailers.

It has extensive support for video files, and working to picture in DP is a breeze.

And finally, DP runs on both Mac OS X and Windows-based PCs so just about everyone can use it.

Main Features

DP has just about every feature you can imagine for recording, sequencing, editing, mixing, and mastering.

You get:

  • Unlimited sequences
  • Unlimited songs
  • Unlimited tracks
  • 90 effects and virtual instruments
  • Unlimited audio voices
  • Unlimited undo history
  • Unlimited V-racks (virtual effects racks)
  • Maximum mono busses: 198
  • Maximum stereo busses: 99
  • Maximum sends per channel: 20

Working In Digital Performer

Here’s a quick tour of each of the main areas of DP.

Consolidated Window

There are many ways to work in DP.  The Consolidated Window (below) lets you see just about everything you need to on one screen.

MOTU Digital Performer - Best DAW Music Production & Recording Software

The Consolidated Window has nine tabs that let you select different views.  I’ll go through each one separately.

Tracks Tab

The Consolidated Window defaults to the Tracks view, shown above.  The track list shows audio, MIDI, busses, virtual instruments, and master fader tracks.

On the left of each track, you have the input and output routings, take numbers, color groupings for track types, track names, and MIDI and audio automation status.

The main center area shows an overview of your MIDI and audio tracks.  This overview can be zoomed in and out as desired.

The right side column can be configured to show any data you wish.

Sequence Tab

The Sequence Tab shows an overview of audio files and MIDI data.  I like to use this view for audio only, as there is a separate MIDI tab.  This is the main screen for editing audio.

Digital Performer Sequence Tab - Best DAW/ Recording/ Music Production Software

Drum Tab

The Drum tab opens up a step sequencer.  It’s a fast and visual way to program drums and percussion parts.

 Digital Performer Drum Sequencer - Best DAW/ Recording/ Music Production Software

MIDI Tab

The MIDI view lets you work with MIDI notes and controller data. Its look is customizable.

Digital Performer MIDI Tab - Best DAW/ Recording/ Music Production Software

QuickScribe Tab

This tab lets you view your MIDI data in score format.  It’s fully editable in this window.

 Digital Performer QuickScribe - Best DAW Music Production & Recording Software

 

Mixing Board Tab

This view gives you a fully automatable mixing board with plugins, buss routings, and EQ/ effects settings overviews.  You can save and recall multiple recallable mixes instantly.

Digital Performer Mixing Board - Best DAW/ Recording/ Music Production Software

Song Tab

The Song view lets you see your work in sections, like a verse, chorus, bridge, etc.  This makes it easy to create complete arrangements.

Waveform Tab

This view lets you zoom deep into an audio file or loop to do editing down to an individual waveform level.  Very useful for removing pops and clicks.

 Digital Performer Waveform Editor - Best DAW/ Recording/ Music Production Software

Meter Bridge

This tab opens up a view of inputs, outputs, busses, instruments, and tracks levels.

Built-In Instruments and Effects

DP comes with lots of virtual instruments and effects plugins.  It also supports all major plug-in formats.

It also supports AU (Mac only) and VST plugins.

Digital Performer Virtual Instruments - Best DAW/ Recording/ Music Production Software

What’s New In DP 9?

Digital Performer 9 has added lots of new features, plus many workflow enhancements.

Reduced Latency On OS X

DP 9.1 added this highly anticipated update!

Now, Core Audio latency under OS X has been cut in half.  This significantly improves audio performance when using virtual instruments.

Pre-Gen Engine

The new Pre-Gen engine pre-renders a virtual instrument’s audio output.  This dramatically reduces its CPU load, resulting in significantly increased CPU performance.

DP would occasionally show a CPU warning when I would run multiple virtual instruments, so a significant improvement in CPU performance is highly welcome!

MX4 MultiSynth

Once a standalone virtual synth (I bought it long ago), MX4 is now part of DP 9.  It’s a hybrid synth combining subtractive, wavetable, FM, AM, and analog emulation modes.

Seven New Plugins

DP has always come with a wide selection of high-quality effects.

Several of the new effects are standouts, such the MasterWorks FET-76, an emulation of the classic Universal Audio 1176LN compressor; MultiFuzz, an emulation of the classic QuadraFuzz; and MegaSynth, a very versatile synth that lets you turn your guitar, bass, or other instrument into a synthesizer!

Wait, There’s More!

DP 9 also has the following:

  • New Spectral Display to view the frequency content of a track for better EQ balancing
  • Floating plugin windows
  • Retina display support
  • MIDI Learn for audio plugins – map knobs, faders, and switches to control plugin parameters
  • Automation Lanes – see different types of automation data in its own lane, for improved editing and control
  • MusicXML Export – now export notation files to Finale and Sibelius.

The following video outlines Digital Performer 9 latest features.

Digital Performer 9 – What’s New

Summary

Digital Performer is a top DAW that provides almost limitless possibilities when creating or recording music tracks.  It’s a sophisticated tool for working in music production at the highest level.

With so many features, tools, menus, and creative possibilities, there’s quite a learning curve involved in becoming proficient with the program.

DP does come with tutorial files, and there are numerous third-party educational resources for anyone wanting to learn it quickly.

That said, it’s probably best suited for someone who is very serious about music production and recording.

The most recent improvements and features have made DP better than ever.  No matter if you are producing beats, writing songs, or scoring films or TV shows, DP 9 should be at the top of your list.

MOTU Digital Performer 9

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Platform: Windows 7, 8, 10 & Mac OS X 10.6.8 or later

OS System Architecture: 32-bit or 64-bit

Computer requirements:

  • Mac: Intel Core Duo CPU 1.83 GHz or faster, multiple processors or multi-core processor is required; 2GB RAM required, 4GB or more recommended
  • PC: Intel Core Duo CPU 1.83 GHz or faster, multiple processors or multi-core processor is required; 2GB RAM required, 4GB or more recommended

Plugin Formats: VST, MAS, AU (Mac only)

Supported file formats: WAV, MP3, AIF, AIFF, ACID, OMF, Apple Loops, REX, Quicktime, m4A, mp4

Free Version/Trial: Full program 30-day trial

User Experience Level: Beginner to Advanced

Ideal for: All styles, but especially popular for film/TV scoring

Available for both Mac and Windows, Propellerhead’s Reason was the first DAW software to give the user a complete “studio in a box.”

Since its introduction in 2000, Reason paved the way by providing virtual instruments, samplers, MIDI sequencers, synths, effects, a virtual mixer, and other music production tools all in one hosted environment.  And it all worked seamlessly!

Reason has always been a favorite with electronic music producers.  Its synths and samplers are definitely geared towards electronic rather than organic sounds.

For many music pros, Reason was never in the same ballpark as Cubase, Pro Tools, Logic, or Digital Performer.

It was fun to play with but wasn’t a “serious” music production tool.

While known for its MIDI sequencing, instruments, players, and synths, it wasn’t a go-to program for recording or editing audio.

BUT, over the years, and especially now with Reason 9, it has evolved into a full-featured DAW with just about every feature you find in top DAWs.

Audio recording and editing?  Check.

Drag and drop interface? Check.

Lots of virtual synths and effects?  Check.

Fun to play with?  Double check.

Flexible Layout & Design

Reason is designed for the user to be able to create music without having technical distractions slow them down.

It’s all about the workflow.

Unlike many DAWs, all functions are readily accessible and easy to find – there are no hidden screens or sub-menus that hide important features.

This makes it easy to stay in creative mode and not have to stop to take care of technical aspects of composing, recording, or mixing.

Reason is a very flexible program; it allows you to rout just about any instrument or effect anywhere you like.

By hitting the Tab key, you can access the back panels of all units to see how things are patched together.

Everything is shown connected via old-school patch cables that actually swing as if you turned the rack around physically.  It’s always been a very cool visual touch.

Reason can be used as a self-contained music studio, or its modules can be accessed (via ReWire) by other DAWs. This allows you to use its powerful instruments and sounds in sync with another DAW.

Reason supports REX loops (of which over 900 come with the program).  REX is a technology that cuts up audio into slices and allows tempo syncing and editing of audio loops within your project.

The program also supports Ableton’s Link technology that lets you sync music apps across WIFI.  Link syncs everything up so it all apps play in sync.

Reason In Action

The following video walks you through some of Reason’s features:

Recording and Sequencing

Reason’s Sequencer window lets you record and edit both MIDI and audio tracks.

When you record MIDI data or audio, the data is stored in clips.  Clips are an efficient unit of data, in that if you copy and paste a clip, all the data (notes, automation, etc.) is copied and pasted also.

MIDI data can be quantized for perfect precision, or you can use the ReGroove Groove Mixer to give your MIDI tracks some human feel.

Browser

The browser is used to find instruments, effects, and sounds rapidly, and you can drag and drop them into your session.

Once you load an instrument, the patches and sounds for that instrument appear, letting you quickly find the sounds you want.

You can scroll through the patches or use the built-in Search function to find what you are looking for.  Double-clicking a patch allows you to audition it.

One nice time-saving touch is that you can search for a sound or sample, drag it to the Rack, and it will load the appropriate instrument to play it.

You can also drag instruments and patches directly into the Sequencer so you can stay in one window while you work.

Mixing

Reason’s mixing environment is modeled on the famous SSL 900k analog mixing desk.  It has built-in compressor/ gate/ expander and EQ on every channel, flexible routing, eight effects sends, full automation, group and parallel channels, and much more.

It also features the highly acclaimed SSL Master Buss compressor to add that warm and punchy “SSL sound” to your mixes.

Finally, there is a spectrum analyzer window with a graphic EQ overlay that lets you adjust the overall sound of your mixes quickly and easily.

Rack Extensions

Rack Extensions are 3rd party produced instruments, tools, and effects designed specifically for Reason.  There are currently about 300 Rack Extensions available.  All Rack Extensions come with 30-day trials that let you really get to know what you’re buying before you have to pay for it!

Instruments & Sounds

Reason comes with a variety of virtual synths, drum machines, sample and loop players:

Virtual synths:

Loops And Beats:

Samplers:

Reason comes with over 5,000 instrument sounds and over 3,000 loops right out of the box:

 Reason Sounds List - Best DAW/ Recording/ Music Production Software

Effects

It comes with over 1,000 effects:

 Reason Sounds and Effects List - Best DAW/ Recording/ Music Production Software

Some of the most popular effects are:

What’s New In Reason 9?

VST Plugin Support

VST effects and instruments are finally available in Reason 9.5!

It’s been a major gripe with users for many years that Reason didn’t support third-party plugins like VST or AU, and Propellerhead finally added this user feature request.

Reason 9.5 – VST in Reason

New MIDI Devices

Reason 9 introduces 3 new MIDI devices they call Players – Dual Arpeggio, Note Echo, and Scales and Chords.  Think of these devices as MIDI plugins.

Dual Arpeggio is just what it sounds like, with 2 full-featured arpeggiators that can be run independently if desired.  A cool feature is the Direct Record button, which will record the output of the arpeggiators to a track.

Note Echo is a MIDI note echo or delay.  The repeat volume, length, and pitch can be controlled for creative delay effects.  The delay can also be tempo synced if desired.

The Scales and Chords device is geared towards non-musicians, yet it’s fun to play with for schooled musicians also.

  • Scales mode allows you to play notes and it will generate chords based on the scale.
  • Chords mode lets you choose and key and scale, play a single note, and it will generate chords in that key. It’s a fun idea generator no matter what your skill level is!

Pitch Edit

For audio recordings, the Pitch Edit function will correct pitch issues and enable you to fine-tune your performances.

There is also a powerful non-destructive Time Stretch function that lets you stretch a recording to fit any tempo.  For example, drag in a drum loop and use Time Stretch to lock it into your sequence’s current tempo.  It’s fast and easy!

Automation And More

Automation is of course supported for both MIDI and audio tracks.  All knobs, buttons, or faders can now be automated (including those in instruments and effects), so you have virtually unlimited options to create the perfect track.

You can also use the Reason’s Blocks to create your music.

Blocks are segments (like a verse or chorus) that you can create and then later place them in the order you want.  They are very handy for creating structure in a composition, and you can create variations of each block for creative possibilities.

Reason 9 In Action

The following video is an overview of Reason 9:

Summary

Reason has carved out a unique place in the DAW market, and this latest update has made this great DAW even better.

New themes give the program a current modern look, and lots of new features and improvements have been added.

Reason will continue to be a go-to DAW for music composition and production, especially for electronic styles of music.

It can be used on its own or connected via ReWire to another DAW to access its sounds, instruments, and effects.

So not only is Reason a DAW, but it’s a sound source for any other DAW.

All in all, it’s highly recommended!

Propellerhead Reason 9

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Propellerhead Reason 9 Essentials

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Platform: Windows 7 or later, Mac OS X 10.7 or later

OS System Architecture: 32-bit or 64-bit

Computer requirements:

  • Mac: OS X 10.7 or higher (64-bit), 4 GB RAM minimum, 1280x768 monitor resolution
  • PC: Windows 7 or later, Intel or AMD dual core processors, 4 GB RAM minimum, 1280x768 monitor resolution

Supported file formats: WAV, mp3, OGG, FLAC

Supports: Ableton Link, ReWire, REX

Free Version/Trial: 30-day trial of full version

User Experience Level: Beginner to Advanced

Ideal for: All styles of electronic music

Renoise is an unusual DAW for Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux that’s designed quite differently than most other DAWs.

It’s a tracker-based DAW.

A tracker works on a grid system with events (audio, MIDI, etc.) placed in a vertical timeline.  Most DAWs work horizontally in a time-based left-to-right design.

Trackers go back to the early days of DAWs (like Atari) and were the most common design before modern DAW production software evolved.

However, Renoise uses the older tracker system in a modern way.

In a Renoise sequence, the music runs vertically from top to bottom in a grid that is called a pattern.  These patterns can be arranged into songs.

Love It or Hate It

There lies both its strength and weakness.  It’s an entirely different workflow as compared to Cubase, Pro Tools, Logic, etc.

Many users really like it as it forces them to approach music composition and production in an unconventional way, usually with fresh results.

Others dislike it; it’s not uncommon for users to get frustrated with its design and workflow.

To add to the frustration, you can’t record audio into Renoise.  You can only import audio into the sampler and use it in there.

That may be a dealbreaker for some…

Because of its unusual design, a video demo makes much more sense than trying to describe it in words:

Renoise Beginner’s Tutorial Part 1 – Getting Started

Most users set up and use keyboard shortcuts to replace a lot of mouse moves. Almost every function can be assigned to keys  that greatly speed up workflow.

There is also a large Renoise community that has created many add-on tools to increase Renoise’s flexibility and features.

What’s Included With Renoise 3.1?

Renoise is a full-featured DAW.

It includes:

  • 26+ native effects
  • Sampler Editor
  • Flexible mixer
  • Multi-channel I/O
  • Multi-core support
  • Render to sample
  • Full automation control
  • API for customization through the Lua programming language
  • 800+ MB of samples and XRNI instruments for registered users

Summary

Renoise is one of those programs you either love or hate. It does take some time to get used to its structure and workflow.

It’s probably won’t be your first choice of DAW given its quirks, unless you are a programmer/engineer.

Not being able to record audio is also a big issue…

For most people, it makes an excellent second DAW that helps you come up with ideas you wouldn’t otherwise have come up with. It’s a great tool for experimenting with sampling and comes with lots of effects.

It’s also very stable, with no history of crashing among many users.

It supports VST and AU plugins so you can use your favorite ones inside Renoise, and as it supports ReWire you can even sync it up with other DAWs to take advantage of its strengths.

A free demo is available at the Renoise site.  The demo is fully functional with a few limitations:

  • rendering to .wav is disabled,
  • rendering selections and plugins is disabled
  • No ASIO support in Windows

If you decide to purchase it, it’s quite inexpensive at $75.00.  Your purchase includes free updates through version 4.1.

Renoise

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Platform: Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux

OS System Architecture: 32-bit or 64-bit

Computer requirements:

  • Mac: Intel Mac with OS X 10.4 or higher for 32-bit, 10.6 or higher for 64-bit.
  • PC: Windows 7, 8, or Vista, 32 or 64 bit.  Any CPU with SSE

Linux: glibc >= 2.12 (e.g. Ubuntu 10)

Plugin Formats: VST, AU, LADSPA, DSSI

Supports: ReWire

Supported file formats: WAV

Free Version/Trial: Demo version has some limitations.

PreSonus’ Studio One is a full-featured DAW for both Mac and Windows-based computer systems.

It combines pristine audio quality with an intuitive interface that makes working with the program fun and easy.

Many users find they can start recording and editing very quickly after starting it up.

Like many DAWs, Studio One features drag-and-drop functionality throughout the program, allowing you to import loops, audio content, effects, and more with ease.

It’s compatible with AU, VST2, and VST 3 plugins, plus ReWire effects and instruments.

And with support for multi-touch touchscreen monitors, you can get literally hands-on with recording, mixing, and mastering!

Version 3 had added lots of new features – including the Scratch Pad (more on this below) – that make it more powerful and easier to use than ever.

And if you’re moving from another DAW platform, Studio One 3 lets you import key commands from Pro Tools, Logic Pro X or Cubase.

Three Different Versions

Studio One 3 comes in 3 versions:

  • Studio One Prime
  • Studio One Artist
  • Studio One Professional

Studio One Prime is the free basic version.  It comes with these key features:

  • Unlimited audio and MIDI tracks
  • 32-bit resolution
  • 9 audio effects
  • 1 virtual instrument
  • Complete set of editing and arranging functions
  • Trial version of Melodyne Essentials 4 time and pitch correction
  • 56 GB of content, plus 3 additional loop and sound content packages

Studio One Artist expands upon Prime and includes these key features:

  • Unlimited audio and MIDI tracks
  • 32-bit resolution
  • 30 effects
  • 5 virtual instruments
  • Expanded set of editing and arranging functions
  • Trial version of Melodyne Essentials 4 time and pitch correction
  • 56 GB of content, plus 3 additional loop and sound content packages

Studio One Professional is the top of the line version that includes these key features:

  • Unlimited audio and MIDI tracks
  • 64-bit resolution
  • 37 effects
  • 5 virtual instruments
  • Expanded set of editing and arranging functions, including the Scratch Pad
  • Full version of Melodyne Essentials 4 time and pitch correction
  • Studio One remote for iPad
  • Built-in support for AU, VST2, and VST3 plug-ins and ReWire applications
  • Video import and video track playback
  • 14 GB of content, plus 13 loop and sound content packages
  • Ability to open EXS, Giga, and Kontakt sound libraries

For a complete list of features for all three versions, click here.

Overview

There are three workspaces within Studio One – the Song Page, the Arranger Track, and Scratch Pads.

Song Page

The Song page is the main work area in Studio One.

Prosonus Studio One - Best DAW Music Production & Recording Software

It includes the timeline-based Arrange View, editing functions for audio and MIDI, and mixing controls.

The Browser can also be accessed from the Song page.

Browser

Recently updated, the Browser lets you load instruments, samples, and plugins, and access more than 10,000 audio and music loops by dragging and dropping.

You can also search for loops or other audio files via keywords.

Want more sounds?  The Browser also links with the PreSonus online shop where you can purchase sample libraries, loops, and add-ons like the Studio One Prime – Pro Plug-Ins Bundle of five pro-quality effects.

Arranger Track

The new Arranger Track lets you change, edit, and copy and paste sections of your song with drag-and-drop ease.

Scratch Pads

With most DAWs, changing an arrangement creates a newly edited version that, if you’re not happy with the result, has to be undone step-by-step with the Undo function.

Scratch Pads solve this problem of changing your song’s arrangement without being able to revert back to the original.

It’s really a separate Arrange page that you can mess around with without affecting your main work.  You just drag sections or parts into the Scratch Pad, try things out, and then decide whether you want them to keep your new arrangement or throw it out.

There are unlimited Scratch Pads for each project so you can edit and alter arrangements all you want.

Sounds

Studio One 3 comes with a solid selection of loops and sounds.

The Professional Version comes with 15 GB of sounds while the other versions come with 1.56 GB.  You get a wide assortment of acoustic and electric instruments, drum loops, pianos, and orchestral sounds.

Summary

Studio One is a solid choice for an easy to learn and use DAW.  It’s got plenty of professional features, plus lots of great sounds, instruments, and effects.

Having Melodyne included (in Studio One Professional) and multi-touch screen support makes this DAW worthy of a serious trial.

PreSonus Studio One 3 Prime

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PreSonus Studio One 3 Artist

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PreSonus Studio One 3 Professional

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Platform: Mac & PC/Windows

OS System Architecture: 32-bit or 64-bit

Plugin Format: AU, VST2, VST 3, AU

Free Version/Trial: Yes

User Experience Level: Beginner to Experienced

Ideal for: All styles

Steinberg’s Cubase has been a top music composition and production DAW for both Mac OS X & Windows for almost 30 years.

It’s known for its excellent sound, user-friendly layout, and intuitive workflow that helps you focus on making music, not solving technical issues.

There are actually three Cubase program versions available for purchase:

  • Cubase Elements 9
  • Cubase Artist 9
  • Cubase Pro 9

Cubase Elements 9

Cubase Elements 9 is a budget-priced beginners version of Cubase that is geared towards home studio recordists.

It’s a stripped-down version of Pro (with fewer inputs/outputs, tracks, effects, controls, etc.) while still retaining the same sound quality Steinberg is known for.

It includes:

  • 32-bit/192 kHz Steinberg audio engine
  • 24 inputs and outputs
  • 48 audio tracks
  • 64 MIDI tracks
  • 24 instrument tracks
  • 16 VST instrument slots
  • 40+ effects
  • 3 virtual instruments

Cubase Artist 9

Cubase Artist 9 is the mid-level version ideal for more experienced producers, songwriters, and composers.

It offers more I/O, instrument tracks, VST instrument slots, effects, etc. at a higher price point.

It includes:

  • 32-bit/192 kHz Steinberg audio engine
  • 32 inputs and outputs
  • 64 audio tracks
  • 128 MIDI tracks
  • 32 instrument tracks
  • 32 VST instrument slots
  • 70+ effects
  • 8 virtual instruments with over 2,600 sounds

Cubase Pro 9

Cubase Pro 9 is their most comprehensive version geared towards music professionals. It comes of course with the most comprehensive features, tools, and sounds.

It includes:

  • 32-bit/192 kHz Steinberg audio engine
  • 256 inputs and outputs
  • unlimited audio tracks
  • unlimited MIDI tracks
  • unlimited instrument tracks
  • 64 VST instrument slots
  • 1 surround support
  • 90+ effects
  • 8 virtual instruments with over 3,000 sounds

What About Steinberg Nuendo?

It’s frequently asked what the differences are between Steinberg’s Cubase and Nuendo.

Nuendo is like Cubase’s professional big brother.

Nuendo adds many features used in film and TV post-production work, game audio, ADR/Foley, video, and other professional applications.  It also has more robust music-to-picture features than Cubase, making it a favorite for film scoring work.

It’s also a lot more expensive, especially if you add the Nuendo 7 Expansion Kit that brings Cubase’s music production tools to the program.

What’s New In Cubase 9 Pro?

Cubase 9 was an important update, adding tons of new features and improvements.  The most notable are below.

Lower Zone

The Lower Zone is a new fixed area along the bottom of the screen. It contains a new fixed Transport bar plus a scalable Mix Console window.

The Lower Zone gives you access to all of Cubase’s tools and editors right in the main Project window.

Sampler Track

Responding to user’s requests for an updated sampler, the new Sampler Track makes working with and manipulating audio tracks quick and easy.

Dragging in an audio file automatically creates a Sampler Track in the Lower Zone.

All sounds placed in a Sampler Track are automatically mapped chromatically across a keyboard for playing additional parts.  Plus, you have access to all editing parameters.

Included is a new Caleidoscope sound effects library designed especially for the Sample Track.

Cloud Collaboration

Cubase 9 now allows you to share your work or collaborate with other Cubase users.

Maximizer Mastering Plugin

The Maximizer mastering plugin has been redesigned to make your mixes louder and at the same time more transparent.

Mix Window Undo/Redo History

Need a mix history undo?

Now each mix element that you change, like a snare’s volume level or the EQ on a guitar track, is added to a sidebar list.  Not only can you visually see each change you made to your mix, but you can undo and redo changes chronologically.

Production Grooves

Cubase 9 Pro now comes with over 400 drum loops and presets spanning most current styles of music.

Plugin Sentinel

Cubase now uses its Plugin Sentinel to cordon off any plugins at startup that may cause issues.  It’s a welcome feature that helps reduce crashes and poor performance due to outdated or poorly coded plugins.

64-Bit Mode

Note that Cubase 9 only runs in 64-bit mode.  You will need a plugin like 32 Lives to be able to use older 32-bit plugins with it.

To see Cubase 9 Pro in action, please check out the following video:

How to Work in the Project Window of Cubase | Getting Started with Cubase Pro 9

Summary

Cubase is one of the leading DAWs available today.  You really can’t go wrong with it as it has all the advanced tools, features, sounds, effects, and more you need to write, produce, mix and master professional sounding tracks.

Though it is not inexpensive, it is very stable and reliable.  And the latest version not only sounds great but looks great, with a modern user interface that is also customizable to fit your workflow.

It’s everything that you’d want in a DAW, plus a little more!

Steinberg Cubase Elements 9

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Steinberg Cubase Artist 9

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Steinberg Cubase Pro 9

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Platform: Mac OS X & Windows

OS System Architecture: 64-bit

Computer requirements:

  • Mac: OS X 10.11 or higher, 4GB RAM minimum, 1366 X 768 resolution display
  • Windows: Windows 7, 8.x, 10, 4GB RAM minimum, 1366 X 768 resolution display

Plugin Formats: VST (64-bit only)

Free Version/Trial: None

User Experience Level: Beginner to Advanced

Ideal for: All styles

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