The Music Kitchen https://www.themusickitchen.com Home Studio Music Production and Music Business Resources for Musicians, Composers, and Songwriters Sat, 19 Aug 2017 18:29:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.5 Best DAW Music Production & Recording Software for 2017 https://www.themusickitchen.com/daws/best-daws-music-production-recording/ https://www.themusickitchen.com/daws/best-daws-music-production-recording/#respond Sun, 16 Jul 2017 19:54:05 +0000 https://www.themusickitchen.com/?p=30484 Looking for DAW music production and recording software for your studio? We review 16 of the best DAWs for music production and recording. All new for 2017!

The post Best DAW Music Production & Recording Software for 2017 appeared first on The Music Kitchen.

]]>

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

Check Price:
Amazon | zZounds | Guitar Center

Ableton Live 9 Standard

Check Price:
AmazonGuitar Center

Ableton Live 9 Suite

Check Price:
Amazon | zZounds | Guitar Center

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

Check Price:
Amazon | Guitar Center

Acoustica Mixcraft 8 Pro Studio

Check Price:
Amazon |Guitar Center

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

Check Price: Amazon frequently is less expensive!
Amazon | Apple.com

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

Click to download here.

Avid Pro Tools 12

Check Price:
Amazon | zZounds | Guitar Center

Pro Tools 12 with Annual Upgrade

Check Price:
Amazon | zZounds | Guitar Center

Avid Pro Tools 12 HD

Check Price:
AmazonGuitar Center

Pro Tools Software + Interface Hardware Bundles:

Avid Pro Tools Duet

Check Price:
AmazonGuitar Center

Pro Tools Quartet

Check Price:
Amazon

Avid Pro Tools Eleven Rack (For Guitarists)

Check Price:
Amazon | zZounds | Guitar Center

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

Check Price:
Amazon | zZounds | Guitar Center

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

Check Price:
Guitar Center

Cakewalk Sonar Artist

Check Price:
Amazon | zZounds | Guitar Center

Cakewalk Sonar Professional

Check Price:
Amazon | zZounds | Guitar Center

Cakewalk Sonar Platinum

Check Price:
Amazon | zZounds | Guitar Center

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

Check Price:
Reaper website

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

Check Price:
Amazon | Guitar Center

FL Studio 12 Producer Edition

Check Price:
Amazon | Guitar Center

FL Studio 12 Signature Edition

Check Price:
Amazon | Guitar Center

FL Studio12: All Plugins

Check Price:
Amazon

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

Check Price: (Amazon is usually cheaper)
AmazonMagix website

Magix Music Maker Live Edition

Check Price:
Amazon

Magix Music Maker Premium Edition

Check Price:
Amazon

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

Check Price:
Amazon | Guitar Center

Magix Acid Pro 7

Check Price:
Amazon

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

Check Price:
Amazon

Magix Samplitude Pro X3

Check Price:
Amazon

Magix Samplitude Pro X3 Suite

Check Price:
Amazon | Guitar Center

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

Check Price:
Amazon | zZounds | Guitar Center

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

Check Price:
Amazon | zZounds | Guitar Center

Propellerhead Reason 9 Essentials

Check Price:
Amazon | zZounds | Guitar Center

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

Free Download: Click here

Purchase: Click here

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

Free Download:
Presonus website

PreSonus Studio One 3 Artist

Check Price:
Amazon | Guitar Center

PreSonus Studio One 3 Professional

Check Price:
Amazon | zZounds

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

Check Price:
Amazon | zZounds | Guitar Center

Steinberg Cubase Artist 9

Check Price:
Amazon | zZounds | Guitar Center

Steinberg Cubase Pro 9

Check Price:
Amazon | zZounds | Guitar Center

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

The post Best DAW Music Production & Recording Software for 2017 appeared first on The Music Kitchen.

]]>
https://www.themusickitchen.com/daws/best-daws-music-production-recording/feed/ 0
DAW Buyers Guide | How To Choose DAW Music Production & Recording Software https://www.themusickitchen.com/daws/daw-buyers-guide/ https://www.themusickitchen.com/daws/daw-buyers-guide/#respond Sun, 16 Jul 2017 17:20:51 +0000 https://www.themusickitchen.com/?p=30463 Looking for DAW music production and recording software? This DAW buyers guide will walk you through what you need to know to find the best DAW for your studio.

The post DAW Buyers Guide | How To Choose DAW Music Production & Recording Software appeared first on The Music Kitchen.

]]>

Looking for DAW music production and recording software?  This DAW buyers guide will walk you through what you need to know to find the best DAW for your studio.

DAW Buyers Guide | How To Choose DAW Music Production & Recording Software

A DAW, or digital audio workstation, plays a central role in a music production or recording studio.

It’s the main hub for writing, arranging, mixing, and mastering music, and it needs to be both easy to use as well as a positive creative environment to work in.

DAWs significantly vary in features, so it’s important to know what to look for.

This buying guide will walk you through an overview of DAWs, their key features, and tips on how to find a DAW for your studio that’s within your budget.

Let’s get started!

Digital audio workstation (DAW) software is the heart of any digital music studio.

It provides the environment and tools necessary for you to take your musical ideas and turn them into tangible and listenable works.

So, what defines a DAW?

A DAW is any software program that turns your computer or laptop into a complete music production studio that lets you write, arrange, record, edit, mix, master, and export your music recordings.

DAW History

DAW software has come a long way over the last 30 years.

Early DAWs (starting back in the early 1980s) functioned solely as a MIDI sequencer.  You played notes on a keyboard or drum machine, and it recorded the note data, not the actual sounds.

When you played your sequence, the note data triggered sounds in a connected MIDI synth or drum machine.

There was no way to record audio.

I started using MOTU’s Performer software in the mid-1980s when it was only a MIDI sequencer.

I ran it on an early Apple Mac Classic computer that didn’t even have a hard drive (I couldn’t afford one!).

The Mac had two floppy drive slots – the program ran on one floppy, and I saved my song sequences on the other!

Technological advances throughout the 80s and 90s in computer hardware and memory created more and more powerful computers.  This eventually led to DAW software being able to record audio and add more advanced features.

Somewhere in the 1990s, MOTU’s Performer became Digital Performer.

I think it was around 2000 that the computer/DAW combo was powerful enough to run video while recording or editing music tracks.

The first time I got a QuickTime video to load into Digital Performer for a TV commercial I was scoring was a revelation!   No more shuttling videotapes back and forth dozens of times and dealing with sync issues between the video and audio.

For composers and producers like myself, there was no turning back – the future was here!

What Can A DAW Do?

Though the name digital audio workstation might lead some to think it’s only for recording audio, that’s only part of what a DAW can do.

In addition to recording vocals or live instruments, DAWs offers composition and arranging features and tools that include MIDI sequencing/recording, virtual instruments, notation, and mixing and mastering using built-in EQ, delay, reverb, compression, etc.

Here’s a typical session for a composer/ producer these days:

You start creating drum tracks by programming them from scratch or by using audio drum loops.

Using virtual instruments, you then play and record other parts like piano, strings, synths, and percussion.

Next, you record as many vocal or live instrumental parts as you like, edit them, and shape them by adding EQ, reverb, delay, compression, or other effects.

Finally, you mix and master your tracks to create a professional sounding final song.

 “In The Box” Recording & Mixing

Today, the vast majority of music recordings are written, produced, mixed, and mastered “in-the-box,” that is, everything is done completely within a DAW.

Recording studios and production facilities used to require a tremendous outlay of capital to buy separate studio components like mixing boards, reverbs, delays, compressors, MIDI keyboards, patch bays, and more.

Today, a high-quality DAW puts most of this in software form, providing you with just about everything you need to produce professional tracks right away:

  • Almost all DAWs come with a variety of instruments and effects.
  • You’ll get a complete virtual mixing board with all the elements you’d find in a hardware mixing console: effects sends, aux busses, volume and effects automation, mix save and recall functions, and much more.
  • Depending on the software, you’ll be able to record just about as many tracks as you’d like, even on a modest laptop.

Having all this in one digital package means less hassle connecting gear with cables, and the whole process of making music becomes much easier and more fun.

And not to mention quite a bit less expensive!

Plus, full-featured DAWs will also include lots of essential features used by music pros:

  • scoring to picture video functionality
  • score notation creation, editing, and printing
  • pitch correction
  • time correction
  • extensive audio and MIDI editing

Analog Vs. Digital

Moving to a digital DAW brings up the ongoing debate about analog vs. digital…

Going back about 20 years, it was harder to be in the digital camp.  Back then there were valid reasons to favor analog recordings compared to digital recordings.

In a nutshell, early digital recordings sounded harsh and brittle and just did not compete with analog recordings in terms of depth, dynamics, or sound quality.

Today, digital recording quality sounds fantastic, and the ease of having digital editing, unlimited track counts, virtual instruments, effects plugins, instantly recallable mixes, and other features make digital recording the way to go for just about everyone but old-school audio purists.

There’s really no reason not to have a DAW-based studio these days.

What Other Gear Will I Need?

While the DAW software provides most of what you’ll need to create music tracks, there’s some additional gear required to create a complete music studio:

  • A MIDI keyboard or drum controller to play instruments
  • An audio interface
  • A sound card
  • Studio monitors

DAW Features

Let’s take a look at some of the main features of DAWs:

Virtual Instruments

A virtual instrument is a software version of a synthesizer, piano, strings, brass, guitar, drums, bass, and more.

Virtual instruments are one of the most exciting parts of modern music production.  The quality and variety of instruments and sounds available today are truly amazing!

Some virtual instruments are software replicas of hardware instruments, like Synthogy’s Ivory II which is an emulation of a great sounding grand piano.

Many are designed from scratch as virtual instruments, like Izotope’s Iris 2 synth.

Most DAWs come bundled with a set of virtual instruments – from just a few to dozens, depending on the program.

Higher-end DAWs like Cubase, Digital Performer, or Sonar generally include a greater number as part of the package.

For example, Cubase 9 comes with Groove Agent SE, a great-sounding drum sampler with lots of drum kits and grooves.

Groove Agent VI - DAW Buyers Guide | How To Choose DAW Music Production & Recording Software

Almost all DAWs are open-ended, meaning that you’re not limited to just the instruments that come with your DAW.

You can add as many instruments or effects as you like, and there are hundreds of third-party virtual instruments available for purchase.

Virtual Effects Plugins

A virtual effects plugin is a software version of a delay, reverb, EQ, compressor, or other effect.

Some of the best ones are emulations of classic hardware units, such as the Waves SSL G Buss Compressor found in the very expensive SSL consoles.

SSL G-Master Buss Compressor - DAW Buyers Guide | How To Choose DAW Music Production & Recording Software

Today’s virtual effects are almost indistinguishable in terms of sound and features compared to hardware units costing many thousands of dollars.

Plus you’re not limited to only using an effect on only one track – you can run multiple instances of each effect.  It’s like having dozens of effects units for the price on one!

You also get the flexibility of having precise control, with all settings easily recallable or automated in a mix.

As with virtual instruments, you can add as many effects to your DAW as you’d like, and there are also thousands of third-party virtual effects available for purchase (and many for free!)
(Amazon link)

Pitch Correction

Everyone knows the Autotune vocal sound used on countless hit records.  That effect is most often achieved by using the Autotune pitch correction plugin on a vocal track within a DAW.

But Autotune is just one of quite a few pitch correction plugins.

Some DAWs provide pitch correcting plugins as part of the package; for example, Sonar and Studio One come with Melodyne, a very popular alternative to Autotune that has first-rate pitch-correction and editing features.

Other DAWs use various other manufacturer’s, or their own plugins to provide pitch correction and editing functions.

Elastic Audio

Most DAWs offer some form of elastic audio, also known as time-stretching.

With this feature, an audio track or loop that you import will automatically adjust to whatever tempo you are working in.   Drum loops, for example, will stay in perfect time with the rest of your tracks.

Some DAWs offer advanced features where you can even speed up a track a bit, but keep the pitch and key the same!

Score To Picture

If you are looking to compose music to picture for film, television, or other media, most DAWs support importing of video files that you can lock to your sequence.

Notation Features

If you work with live players, most DAWs will allow you to create, edit, and print your score and parts for performance with live musicians.

How To Choose The Best DAW Software

There really is no one “best” DAW.  They all have their strengths and weaknesses.

Rather, the DAW you should choose is the one that best fits your current situation and your future needs.

The most important points to consider are:

  • Computer operating system and hardware
  • Your goals
  • Your budget

Computer Operating System: Windows vs. Mac OS X

The first point to consider is if you are working on a PC or a Mac.

While many DAW programs are available for both Mac OS X and Windows operating systems, some are only available for one operating system.

For example, Apple’s Logic Pro X is only available for Mac OS X, while Samplitude is only available on Windows.

Which Is Better?

For many years, most professional composers and producers primarily worked on Mac-based DAWs.  The reason was that Apple’s computers were much faster and more easily adaptable to creative endeavors than Windows-based computers.

Because of this, DAW software developers were slow at first to develop many popular Mac programs for Windows computers.

Today, though, all this has changed, and most top DAWs are available for both Mac and Windows.

Computer Hardware Requirements

No matter if you are using a Mac or a PC, you need to understand how your computer’s hard drives and RAM memory affect your DAW’s performance.

Hard Drives

Since hard drives store data and DAWs generate tons of data while in operation, using multiple hard drives with your DAW is highly recommended.

If at all possible, you should run the computer’s operating system and DAW on one hard drive and store all your virtual instrument’s sounds on different hard drives.

This reduces the load on the computer’s CPU and leads to better performance.

SSD Drives

For best performance, solid state drives, or SSD drives are super-fast and highly recommended.

Unlike regular hard drives that have a spinning disk inside, SSD drives have no moving parts.  This makes them able to access your data much more quickly, significantly improving your DAW’s ability to play complex arrangements without issues.

RAM Memory

Random Access Memory, or RAM, plays a crucial part in your computer’s overall performance.

Your computer stores parts of its operating system and programs that are in use in its RAM.  This enables its processors to quickly access the data it needs.

RAM memory, however, fills up as you run your programs and applications.  If your RAM gets full, your computer has to move data to the hard drive to continue operating.  This slows down your computer’s performance.

Having plenty of RAM lets your computer work at an optimum level.

And most importantly, lots of RAM is necessary if you are looking to run multiple virtual instruments at the same time.

Most DAWs require a minimum of 2 to 4GB of RAM.  More is almost always better.

RAM prices are continuously getting less expensive each year, so adding more RAM should not affect your ability to eat three meals a day.

Connectivity

You’ll need to connect additional hard drives, an audio card, an audio interface, and other hardware to your computer.

When working with digital audio and video, faster is always better!  So be sure to look into your computer’s connectivity and see if you can upgrade it to the fastest connections if necessary.

Laptop vs. Desktop

Desktop computers have the advantage of having PCIe slots so that you can connect audio cards internally.  Direct connections usually provide the fastest signal throughput and therefore the best performance.

Laptops, having no accessible internal slots, connect with audio hardware through standard USB, Firewire, or Thunderbolt ports.

USB, Firewire, and Thunderbolt

USB ports are available on all computers.

USB 3 is currently the fastest USB connection.  It has more than 10 times the bandwidth of USB 2.  So you’ll definitely get better results with USB 3 than earlier USB versions.

Firewire (FW) ports are found on most Macs, and on many newer PCs.  A square connector indicates an FW 800 connection which is twice as fast as older FW 400 drives with an oval-type connector.

Thunderbolt 2 is currently the fastest form of connection available for computers.  It comes standard on new Macs and is slowly being implemented on PCs.

DAW Plugin Formats

Your DAW uses independent applications known as plugins for virtual instruments and effects like EQ, delay, reverb, or compression.  These plugins run inside the “host” DAW and provide lots of functionality.

There are different plugin formats for virtual instruments and effects.

The most common formats are:

  • AU (Audio Units)
  • VST
  • RTAS

AU (Audio Units) Plugins

The AU or Audio Units format is the native format for Apple Mac OS X.

It’s part of Apple’s proprietary Core Audio technology that is implemented within the Mac OS X operating system.

The AU format is considered very stable and is used in many DAWs like Ableton Live, Cubase, Nuendo, Sonar, FL Studio, Samplitude, Acid Pro, and Digital Performer.

VST Plugins

VST or “Virtual Studio Technology” plugins first appeared in Steinberg’s Cubase software in 1996, and throughout the years it has become the most popular and most widely implemented plugin standard for both Mac and Windows-based DAWs.

Today VST is supported by just about all DAWs including Digital Performer, Cubase, Nuendo, Ableton Live, Logic Pro, Garage Band, Studio One, and many others.

VST3 plugins are the latest version of VST plugins, though earlier versions are almost always fully supported by DAWs.

RTAS Plugins

The Real-Time Audio Suite, or RTAS format, was developed by Digidesign for Pro Tools.  RTAS plugins can only be used with Pro Tools systems.

Plugin Compatibility

It’s important to know what format or formats your DAW uses because different formats are not compatible.  For example, VST plugins may or may not work on a host DAW that uses AU plugins.

Also, plugins developed for Mac-based systems won’t necessarily work with Windows-based systems.  For example, a VST plugin coded for Mac may not open in a Windows-based DAW.

Always make sure that any plugins you purchase are in the format your computer and DAW can use.  Most virtual instruments and effects come with both AU and VST versions.

32-bit vs. 64-bit Architecture

Newer computer operating systems run using 64-bit technology, while older ones use 32-bit.

Plugins may be written for 32-bit or 64-bit operating systems.  DAWs can usually be run in 32-bit or 64-bit mode (depending on your computer and its operating system).

64-bit operation is becoming the standard, and many DAWs run more efficiently in 64-bit.  There is more memory available to plugins under 64-bit than 32-bit.

Note that 64-bit plugins won’t work on 32-bit systems, though 32-bit plugins will likely work with 64-bit systems.

If this is an issue, bridge software is available (for free or at a very reasonable price) that lets you run different plugin formats.

Your Goals & Experience Level

Now that you understand the more technical aspects of DAWs, It’s important to think about your goals for your music studio.

Are you seriously considering a career in music, or are you a weekend hobbyist?

Future Needs

Before buying a DAW, it’s essential to think about your future needs when considering different DAWs.

If you’re just starting out, you may be tempted to get a free or very inexpensive DAW.

Think twice about this – as you progress, you might quickly outgrow its limited features or wish you had more sounds, effects, and instruments.

For example, if you are just looking for a DAW to record a podcast, then a free or basic version of a DAW would probably work just fine.

Most free or inexpensive DAWs provide a least 8 tracks of recording, basic editing of audio and MIDI, and enough free effects plugins to produce a professional sounding final product.

But if you later decide to use it to record music tracks, you might find it’s too limited.  Then you’ll have to start all over and buy and learn a whole new DAW.

Price & Features

DAW software comes at many price points, from free to well over $1,000.

Free or very inexpensive DAWs will provide the basics, but won’t include more advanced features that can give your music that extra edge.

My best advice is to buy the best version you can afford, not the least inexpensive.  You get what you pay for!

Multiple Versions of DAWs

Some manufacturers offer multiple versions of their software which greatly helps solve the issue of what to buy.

Usually, the core software is identical among versions, but you get more instruments, effects, and tools with the more advanced (and expensive) versions.

For example, Cakewalk’s Sonar comes in four different versions:

  • Sonar Home Studio ($49.00)
  • Sonar Artist ($99.00)
  • Sonar Professional ($199.00)
  • Sonar Platinum ($499.00)

Sometimes the difference between a limited version and a full version may only be $50 or $100.

For most non-professional users, an intermediate version is usually best.

You’ll get enough features, instruments, and effects to work without feeling like you’re missing crucial items.

And if you need more features, you can always upgrade to a more advanced version.

Career-Minded?

If you’re looking towards a full-time music career, I’d recommend starting with a full-featured professional-level DAW you can grow into.  While the learning curve is greater, you won’t outgrow it anytime soon, if ever.

If you need help, there are quite a lot of online music production courses and classes on learning many popular DAWs.

A couple of sites to check out are:

  • Lynda.com
  • Pointblankmusicschool.com

Final Thoughts

Choosing a DAW is one of the most important decisions you will make as a studio owner, composer, songwriter, producer, or musician.

Spend some time checking out the major DAWs available.  Check out YouTube videos of different DAWs to see which ones appeal to you.

It’s a big decision, so don’t rush it.

For a comprehensive look at most of the major DAWs, please see my reviews of the top DAWs for both Mac and Windows.

If one catches your eye and ears, download a trial.

After playing around with it for awhile, you’ll quickly see if it works for you or not.  Keep demoing different DAWs until you find one that feels right.

Remember, you’ll be working with it for many years. It will become your partner in your musical endeavors, so choose wisely.

And finally, look to buy the best version of the software you can afford.

Good luck!

 

The post DAW Buyers Guide | How To Choose DAW Music Production & Recording Software appeared first on The Music Kitchen.

]]>
https://www.themusickitchen.com/daws/daw-buyers-guide/feed/ 0
How To Get Your Music Placed on Film/TV: Cue Makeover #1 https://www.themusickitchen.com/learn/filmtv-cue-makeover-1/ https://www.themusickitchen.com/learn/filmtv-cue-makeover-1/#comments Mon, 20 Feb 2017 01:36:37 +0000 https://www.themusickitchen.com/?p=30323 Want help getting your music licensed or published for TV/film placements? Check out our cue makeovers that fix common issues that get your music rejected.

The post How To Get Your Music Placed on Film/TV: Cue Makeover #1 appeared first on The Music Kitchen.

]]>

Have you been trying to get your music placed in TV shows, film, or commercials but you’re just not having any luck?

If you’re frustrated by your lack of success, you’re going to like this new series of articles.

As a veteran music composer, plus the owner of Audio Addiction Music Library, a a successful production music library with tens of thousands of placements over the years, I’ve had a first-hand look at hundreds of composer submissions.

Unfortunately, most submissions that get rejected have the same issues…

The 5 main issues that block a composer/songwriter’s success are:

  • Unfocused writing
  • Poor production quality/mix
  • Poor composition structure
  • Missing elements that successful music cues have in common
  • Unprofessional presentation

How To Get Your Music Placed on Film/TV: Cue Makeover Series

So, in this series, I’m going to focus on fixing these 5 common issues and help composers and songwriters create the best music tracks they can.

Here’s how this makeover series works:

In each episode of this series, I’m going to review a composer’s music cue or song and help them correct anything that isn’t working.

I’ll listen to their demo and give my critique.  I don’t hold back because I want them to learn to take criticism, something you have to do if you want to succeed in the music business.

I’ll then walk them through the whole process of how to revise their cue, give pointers on how to improve it, and then have them make the necessary changes.

It usually takes a few revisions before we end up with a final track that has an excellent chance of being able to be placed successfully.

If I really like the final results, I may publish it in my Audio Addiction Music Library!

Let’s get started with our first cue makeover!

Composer Profile: Kenechiii A.

Cue Makeover Series Episode #1 | The Music Kitchen

Kenechiii A.

Kenechiii is a composer from Kansas who has “been in love with music ever since I can remember.“  He is determined to one day leave his day job and make music his full-time gig.

He is self-taught keyboard player and composer, without ever taking music lessons.

Kenechiii currently works a night shift which leaves him time during the day to write and produce new tracks and to work on getting his music out to music libraries, producers, and music supervisors.

He’s joined organizations such as Taxi, but he has not had any tracks picked up yet by any publishers.

Studio Gear

For his studio, Kenechiii uses Apple’s Logic and the basic plugins that come with it.

He uses his Mac’s USB port as his audio interface, records with an USB mic, and mixes on headphones.

Music Cue: The Meat Inside Your Body (version 2)

Let’s take a listen to this instrumental track with some choir samples…

An acoustic guitar opens the cue, but within 0:03 seconds what sound like a baby talking comes in.

That’s it.  It’s over for this cue…

I would stop listening altogether at this point…

His demo would right then go into the rejection pile.

How Music Pros Think

It only took 3 seconds for me to make this decision.

That’s all you’ll usually get from busy professional music publishers, music editors, A&R staff, and music supervisors.

I can tell if someone knows what they are doing within 15 seconds.  This track only took 0:03.

People make quick decisions, so you have to make sure that you always showcase your best work!

But for this cue makeover, I’m going to listen to the whole track and give some notes.

The Title

Right off the bat, the title doesn’t work.

Do I really want to listen to a cue called The Meat Inside Your Body?  If anything, I’m expecting to hear a gnarly grungy track that’s kinda nasty sounding.

But after listening, that is not the case, so the title needs to be changed.

A good title should be catchy and reflect the music’s sound, tone, and character.

This title misses the mark.

Also, I don’t need to see that this is version 2 – that needs to go.

Sound Effects

The baby voice and kids cheering sound effects have to be removed.

Not only do they not make sense in the context of the music, almost no TV show or movie is going to want those sounds on the music track.  This immediately eliminates the track from getting placements, even if it was fantastic.

Acoustic Guitar

The acoustic guitar sounds a little like it’s been played on a keyboard, not by a real acoustic guitar player.  That’s not ideal, but it’s not bad.

However, at 0:14 a delay comes in on the guitar that is too loud and has too many repeats, and this makes the guitar muddy and unfocused.

The delay needs to be toned down.  The delay also needs to be on the guitar from the beginning, not suddenly coming in for no reason.

Track Structure

The first 0:28 of the tracks is basically an intro.  That’s way too long.

The track finally starts to build at 0:28 with a Bon Jovi “Dead or Alive” vibe.

The cue has an interesting vibe now, so I keep listening.

But it doesn’t really do much again until 1:27 when the drums finally come in.

Once the drums come in the cue shows promise, but where’s the bass?  The production is incomplete.

The drum programming is good, but I suspect Kenechiii is using drum loops, not playing or programming drums from scratch.  Nothing wrong with that, though, but I always make a note of a production’s strengths and weaknesses.

The cue is in a minor key, but there’s some clashing with strings that are playing the major third.  This needs to be addressed.

At 3:35, the cue breaks down to drums, strings, and vocal samples, but it goes on too long.

Then at 4:18, ocean waves appear!  The cue ends with almost 2 minutes of ocean waves!

Total length is 6:55. That is way too long for a TV/Film cue!

Revision Plan

I went through my notes with Kenechiii, and I had him work on the following:

  • Change title
  • Take out child’s voice in beginning
  • Take out sound effects in beginning
  • Make intro only 4 to 8 seconds
  • Fix the digital delay on the guitar
  • Set up template with delay and reverb busses to better manage effects
  • Make track only 1:30-2:00 minutes long with is good length for instrumental cues
  • Add bass to the band
  • Remove ocean waves and give it a real ending
  • Build in more excitement and interest: a B section, starts & stops, etc.

Revision 1:

Kenechiii followed up with a revision a couple of days later.

Let’s listen:

The Title

The cue’s new title is Things Apart You Together.

The title doesn’t really make any sense.

And more importantly, it doesn’t give you any visual picture of the music track.

As I mentioned earlier, the track is reminiscent of Bon Jovi’s Dead Or Alive.  That’s a good title – it’s catchy, descriptive, and memorable.

The title needs another rethink…

Acoustic Guitar

The delay is still too loud and distracting, muddying up the guitar.

Effects like delay, reverb, or chorus should add ambiance, excitement, depth, etc. to the sound.  The delay isn’t adding anything but rather taking away from the vibe.

Strings

The strings are playing the major third that’s sometimes clashing with the guitar’s minor key notes.  This was not addressed from my initial demo notes.

Track Structure

The intro is now only 0:07, so the cue gets right into the body quickly.  That’s good!

The structure is:

Intro | A | A | A breakdown (no guitar) | A | Intro | Fill break | A

The track still needs a new section to add some variety and excitement.

Track Production

The drum programming has been expanded and is pretty good – he’s got lots of different drum fills now that give the track excitement and drive.  Kenechiii gets an A for drum programming!

Mix On Studio Monitors, Not Headphones

When I still I don’t hear any bass, I asked Kenechiii why he didn’t add any.  He said he did, but when we talked further about it, he told me he mixes solely on headphones.

While checking a mix on headphones is smart as you’ll hear details that you might have missed listening on monitors, it’s virtually impossible to mix solely on headphones and get professional results.

So, it’s likely the bass was too loud on headphones, so he mixed it so far down that it wasn’t apparent on listening on studio monitors or consumer speakers.

Interestingly, he said he has a pair of studio monitors, but he hasn’t hooked them up in years.

He is now hooking them up for Revision 2 of this cue.

Always Check Your Mix Before Your Send It Out

Once the band enters the whole mix is a little distorted.

I think Kenechiii hit the output level too hot, or clipped the signal too much with a mastering plugin.

Kenechiii was not aware of the distortion because he did not listen carefully to the final mix.

Anything can go wrong with a final mix – frequently it’s not even your fault but some technical glitch – so always check everything.

Remember, you only get one chance with most professional listeners.  Don’t lose them because you were careless.

Kenechiii added a new sound element – kinda like a pipe hit – that comes in a 0:02 on the left speaker, then at 0:05 on the right speaker.  It is mixed too loud and needs to be addressed.

Ending

The two minutes of ocean waves are gone – that’s good – but now the track just stops at the end – there’s no ending!  Definitely not good!

Revision Plan

I went through my notes with Kenechiii, and he’s now working on Revision 2.

(Coming soon!)

The post How To Get Your Music Placed on Film/TV: Cue Makeover #1 appeared first on The Music Kitchen.

]]>
https://www.themusickitchen.com/learn/filmtv-cue-makeover-1/feed/ 1
How To Get Your Music Placed on Film/TV: Episode #2 – Demo Reel Presentation https://www.themusickitchen.com/learn/filmtv-demo-reel-presentation/ https://www.themusickitchen.com/learn/filmtv-demo-reel-presentation/#respond Sun, 19 Feb 2017 23:34:57 +0000 https://www.themusickitchen.com/?p=30312 Want to place your music in TV and film? Learn how to best present your music when pitching to music publishers, music libraries, and music supervisors.

The post How To Get Your Music Placed on Film/TV: Episode #2 – Demo Reel Presentation appeared first on The Music Kitchen.

]]>

This is the second episode in my How To Get Your Music Placed on Film/TV series.

This article is going to cover how to vastly improve your chances of getting your music placed or licensed in film/TV/media productions by improving your demo reel presentation.

A professional demo reel will give you an edge over the competition when you present your music to music publishers, music libraries, and music supervisors.

It will make sure you showcase your music in the best possible light and demonstrate that you know what you are doing.

Demo Presentation

In Episode #1 of this series, I did a cue makeover with a track from Kenechiii A., a composer who sent in his demo for consideration for my Audio Addiction Music Library.

To learn how to submit a track for a cue makeover, please click here.

This article is going to take a step back from Kenechiii’s cue makeover and go into his initial demo presentation. Kenechiii made most of the mistakes that I find composers make when submitting music, and we’ll go through them one by one.

By the end, you’ll learn just what to do (and not to do!) to put together a demo reel that gets listened to, and hopefully, gets your music tracks licensed or published for film and TV productions.

Demo Reel/ Playlists

A demo reel is simply a collection of your music tracks that demonstrates your music and abilities as a songwriter, composer, or producer.

In days past, demo reels were put together on physical CDs or videos and mailed to recipients.

These days, demo reels are almost always presented online in streamable mp3 or video format.

Unfortunately, more often than not, demo reels are not put together correctly and don’t showcase a writer’s work in a professional manner.

Soundcloud Playlists

Kenechiii’s makeover cue was sent to me as part of a Soundcloud playlist of his work.

Soundcloud is a very popular free service that allows composers and songwriters to post their music in playlists and then send links to anyone they want to hear their works.

Soundcloud playlists are a great way to for music supervisors, music libraries, or publishers to listen to your work quickly and easily.

However, in Kenechiii’s case, I found so many things wrong with his presentation that I got his permission to use it as a case study in “what not to do.”

Demo Playlist

Kennechii’s Soundcloud demo playlist consisted of the following 10 tracks:

How To Get Your Music Placed on Film/TV: Episode #2 – Demo Reel Presentation

Below are the first 4 Soundcloud tracks so you can listen, with my notes:

Track 1: Rock Vibe Commotion Moving Montage 3:

The track starts off with a distorted guitar that sounds like it was played on a keyboard.

A fake guitar part isn’t great, and having my first impression be that he’s skimping on the production quality is not a good way to start off.

But, I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt and listen a bit longer….

THEN, at 0:12 a snare comes in… and it’s over for me to keep listening to this track.

Why?

Immediately I know that the production quality is sub-par.

The snare sound is wrong for the track – it’s thin and sounds like a drum machine, and it doesn’t fit well in the mix.

Then, at 0:16, some wimpy toms come in.

This cue is toast now…

I can immediately tell this track was done by someone still learning the basics of his craft.

If I listen to the rest of the track, my immediate impression is confirmed.  The composition, structure, sound choices and production quality are all poor.

As a listener, I’m waiting for the band to kick in – full drum kit, bass, rhythm guitars, etc.  It never happens.  There is no production value.

As a cue meant for TV/film/media, no producer or editor will choose it.

Even worse, any hope of Kenechiii being a composer I can publish in my music library with is dashed.  I’m already thinking it’s time to move to the next composer’s demo.

TIP #1: First impressions count! 

Always put your strongest track first!  Your goal is to make the listener want more!

This is how it works:

You only get a few seconds to make a strong impression.

Kenechiii’s first track did not make a good impression.

It’s always better to send someone 1 or 2 tracks that are well produced and finished, rather than a bunch of tracks that are partially produced.

If you put dozens of tracks that are incomplete sounding and poorly produced, you’ve shot yourself in the foot.

And it is not uncommon for me to receive dozens of tracks to listen to.

As it turns out, one of Kenechiii’s more promising cues (close to being a finished viable cue) was towards the end of the Soundcloud playlist.

The truth is, I would not have even listened that far.

After listening to a couple of tracks that have glaring issues, I would just move on to the next writer’s demo.

Track 2: Hip-Hop Vibe Tropo’s Tropology 1 (5c)

This cue is vastly better that the first one.  It should have been placed first on his reel.

The clanging bell that sound like a railroad station bell is distracting and should be removed or mixed better.  I’m not sure why it’s on this track…

Moving on, once the track kicks in it has a cool vibe.

It’s a little long at 4:16 in length.  Not much changes after the first minute or so.  I’d edit it down to around 2:00.

The end is a little weak with just the synth for 15 seconds.

All in all, it’s not bad, but it needs work.

Track 3: Country’s Country 4 Film/T.V. Cue (with great edit points and button ending)

This cue just doesn’t work – it’s an unfinished demo idea.  It has no depth, no development, and the arrangement, production and mix sound like it was hastily done.

My impression of this cue is that it is just made up of loops pulled from sample loop CDs of slide guitar, banjo, and country-style drums.

The cue never develops, and I know why – he could only repeat the first section over and over because he didn’t have enough loops to flush out a full arrangement!

Experienced listeners will catch these small things that lead to rejections!

There is also no bass, so there’s no bottom end to the cue, making it sound wimpy.

This cue should never have been on a demo reel that is supposed to showcase his best work…

Track 4: The Meat Inside Your Body

This cue has numerous issues and is unusable as is, but I chose it for the cue makeover in Episode #1 of this series.  You can check out the transformation here.

Demo Presentation Guidelines

In addition to the track specific flaws, there were some more general issues I came across that made this an ineffective demo submission.  The next 5 tips will help you avoid making these mistakes.

TIP #2: Make Your Titles Descriptive

Here is the title list again.

How To Get Your Music Placed on Film/TV: Episode #2 – Demo Reel Presentation

A good title will create a snappy visual representation of the music for the listener.

These titles are all pretty weak – most of them are confusing and a mixture of descriptions and titles.

A title like Rock Vibe Commotion Moving Montage doesn’t reflect the music’s style at all.

I would expect something like a fast, out-of-control grunge rock track which this track is definitely not.

In actuality, there’s no commotion, and it barely rocks.

Avoid Unnecessary Info

Track 9’s title shows it is version 13!  The listener doesn’t need to know that this track needed so many revisions.  So many versions demonstrate a lack of focus and ability to make a creative decision and go with it.

He also includes “for film and TV” or “with great edit points and button ending” at the end of some titles.  This is unnecessary and should be removed.

TIP #3: Always Include Whole Tracks

Track 9 is a snippets track.

It is always best to send full-length versions of tracks, not a montage or short snippets.

If I like a snippets track, I then have to contact the writer to send the whole track, and then wait until I receive it to listen to it.  This takes up valuable time could be put to better use.

I also want to hear if the writer is able to develop and expand upon musical themes/ideas.

So, always include full-length versions of songs or instrumental tracks.

TIP #4: Most Tracks Should Be Between 1:00 and 3:00

Many of Kenechiii’s tracks were over 3 minutes long.  One was almost 7 minutes long.

For film/TV use, most music users like tracks between one and three minutes long.

TIP #5: Forget Quantity – Include Only Your Best Work

Composers frequently feel like they need to fill up a playlist with lots of tracks.

Generally, anywhere from 1 to 10 tracks is appropriate.

BUT, always think quality, not quantity.

If you only have 1 that you feel is your best, just include that.

If I like what I hear a lot, I’m going to request to hear more.  If I don’t, well, it doesn’t really matter how many you send…

TIP #6: Check Your Playlists Before You Send Links Out

Finally, before you send links out to prospective users, make sure you check your playlist to make sure it is working properly and all tracks play correctly.

Kenechiii initially sent me a link to his Soundcloud page, but Soundcloud said it could not find his playlist!

This is sadly quite common and entirely avoidable.

For busy music pros, a mistake like this could mean that they just pass on your submission without even listening to a note.

Don’t let that happen to you.  Always check everything beforehand.

Wrap Up

I’ve covered some of the most important issues that I see with composer demo submissions.

These 6 tips will help you greatly increase the odds of getting to the next level with your music: getting licenses and placements that make you money.

So, always take the time to make sure everything looks and sounds as professional as you can.

Remember, you only get one shot to impress someone with your music.

Don’t waste it!

The post How To Get Your Music Placed on Film/TV: Episode #2 – Demo Reel Presentation appeared first on The Music Kitchen.

]]>
https://www.themusickitchen.com/learn/filmtv-demo-reel-presentation/feed/ 0
Ultimate Guide To Choosing The Best Mic Preamp For Your Home Studio https://www.themusickitchen.com/mic-pre/mic-preamp-buying-guide/ https://www.themusickitchen.com/mic-pre/mic-preamp-buying-guide/#respond Mon, 13 Feb 2017 18:02:19 +0000 https://www.themusickitchen.com/?p=30165 This mic preamp buying guide will teach you how to choose a mic preamp that best fits your intended uses and, of course, your budget.

The post Ultimate Guide To Choosing The Best Mic Preamp For Your Home Studio appeared first on The Music Kitchen.

]]>

One of the easiest was to upgrade the sound of your vocal and instrumental tracks is to purchase a dedicated microphone preamp.

A great mic preamp will make a huge difference in your recordings, especially if you’ve been using the mic preamps in your mixer or audio interface.

Mic preamps significantly vary in features and quality, so it’s important to know what to look for.  

This buying guide will walk you through the types of mic preamps available, their key features, and tips on how to find the best mic pre for your studio that’s within your budget.

If you’ve been disappointed with the sound of your vocal or instrumental recordings, you may be missing a key piece of the recording studio puzzle: a dedicated microphone preamp.

A microphone preamp is an essential tool for getting professional-sounding recordings in your studio.  Paired with a high-quality microphone, your mic pre will let you capture vocals and instruments with greater clarity, detail, and dimension than before.

There’s a reason top recording studios spend the money needed for top-quality microphones and mic preamps: they deliver outstanding results that help create hit records and recordings that stand the test of time.

This guide will answer common questions on how mic preamps work, the types of preamps available, and how to choose a mic preamp that best fits your intended uses and, of course, your budget.

Let’s get started!

 

What Does A Mic Preamp Do?

A microphone preamp is simply an amplifier.  Microphones generate a very low-level signal that must be boosted to a line level signal that is usable by your audio interface or mixing console.

A mic preamp will boost that mic signal almost 400 times from its original level to get to line level.

Quality Counts

With this much amplification, it’s vital that the mic preamp is designed and built with quality components.

Poorly designed and cheaply made preamps will deliver thin-sounding, poor quality audio with high noise levels.

Now, these mic preamps in the average mixing console or audio interface are usually decent and completely usable…

BUT, in most cases, you won’t get the best sound from them.

Why?

Well, high-quality mic preamp design and components are expensive.

A manufacturer who designs and builds a $500 mixing console with eight mic preamps has to cut corners on quality.  They won’t use the best audio components – they really can’t if they want to make a product that also produces some profit for the company.

There is also the issue of space – there isn’t room inside a small $500 mixing console to include the best quality components and design for eight microphone preamp channels.

However, a $500 mic pre that only does one thing – mic preamplification – can incorporate better quality parts and superior design.  The sound quality will be much higher with a stand-alone unit.

Why Buy A Dedicated Mic Preamp?

If you want to get the most out of your studio, you’re going to need a dedicated mic preamp.

High-quality mic preamps not only create high-quality professional recordings but add very desirable character, clarity, depth, and dimension to your mic’s signal.

This is what you are really paying for in a quality mic pre.

For example, Neve, API, Focusrite, Universal Audio, and Avalon mic preamps are known for the excellent sound quality they add to a recording.

The richness and detail they add – with deep lows, smooth mids, and shimmering highs – and the character they bring to recordings have helped produce thousands of hit records that create emotional connections with listeners.

Even pro studios with million dollar recording consoles purchase a good half dozen dedicated top-quality microphone preamps.

The built-in mic preamps in these high-end consoles are excellent, but specialized mic preamps can bring additional colors, tones, and features that their console’s mic preamps don’t.

So, to sum it up, if you want to get pro sounding vocal and instrumental recordings, you’re going to need great mics and great mic preamps.

Mic Preamp Features:

Inputs:

Almost all mic preamps use standard XLR jacks to connect professional-level microphones.

If not, they’ll have a line-level ¼” input for connecting instruments like guitar or bass.   This input is frequently called a DI or direct input.

Instrument or DI jacks allow you to record directly into your DAW, which makes them very handy for modern track production if you want to access the mic pre’s tone or if you don’t want to mic an amp.

The input is usually a balanced TRS (tip-ring-sleeve) jack that provides better noise rejection from hum, radio, or RF interference than an unbalanced TS (tip-sleeve) jack.

On multi-channel mic preamps, you may also find a D-Sub connector that lets you connect multiple channels to your audio interface using a breakout cable or snake such as a D-Sub to XLR or D-Sub to ¼” snake.

Outputs

Almost all mic preamps use standard XLR jack for each mic pre channel output.  If not, you’ll find ¼” TRS jacks. Some mic pres have both for additional flexibility.

On multi-channel mic preamps, you may also find a D-Sub connector that lets you connect multiple channels to your audio interface using a breakout cable or snake.

Additional Features:

Phantom Power

All mic preamps (except the cheapest models) supply the 48-volt phantom power required by condenser mics and some newer ribbon mics.  Phantom power is provided through the mic’s XLR cable.

Built-In A/D Converter

Some mic preamps will include a built-in analog to digital (A/D) converter that allows you to connect directly to your recording device or DAW.

Stereo Link

Some mic preamps include a stereo link switch that lets you combine stereo-ready modules, or to set the gain with one knob across both channels.

Low-Cut Filter

Many mic preamps include a low-cut filter (also known as a high-pass switch) that lets you reduce low frequencies, usually below 150 Hz.  This helps eliminate low-end rumble, noise and microphone pops from making it onto your recorded tracks.

Types of Mic Preamps

The four basic types of mic preamps are:

  • Tube
  • Solid-state
  • Hybrid
  • Channel Strip

I’ll cover each of these preamp types in a moment…

Colored vs. Transparent Sound

Both tube and solid-state mic preamps have their own sound characteristics that are generally labeled as colored or transparent.

Mic preamps that color the sound are usually described as adding “warmth” to the recorded sound.    That coloration comes mainly from harmonic distortion or saturation of the signal that the mic preamp’s circuitry generates.

Most tube mic preamps color the sound, as tubes inherently produce harmonic distortion that is musical and pleasing to the ear.

The Avalon VT-737SP and Universal Audio Solo/610 are examples of popular tube mic preamps.

However, solid-state mic preamps also can color the sound, through both the preamp’s circuitry and their components, primarily the transformers.

The renowned solid-state Neve 1073 or API 512C mic preamps are desired for the signature sound they provide.

Transparent mic preamps do not color the sound at all.  They deliver clean, crisp and accurate sound.  They just transfer the microphone’s original sound to the recording in as pure a manner as possible.

The Great Transformer Debate

When considering mic preamps, the subject of transformers vs. transformerless designs always comes up.  It’s a topic hotly debated in audio circles among audiophiles.

In technical terms, transformers are used in audio circuits for a variety of applications, such as increasing or decreasing the signal voltage or impedance of a circuit.

In practical terms, transformers add color to the sound; users frequently liken it to a “warm vintage” sound.

Transformer-less designs create a more transparent and uncolored sound.

There are both high-quality transformer-based designs, like the Daking Mic Pre/EQ and Millennia M-2B, and transformer-less designs like the Grace M101 or Millennia HV-3C.

Most transformerless designs will be solid-state.

Good transformerless tube mic preamps are difficult to design and are very expensive, like the Massenburg GML8304 mic pre.

Transformer In/Out Switch

Some mic preamps allow you to switch the transformer in or out.  This lets you choose if you want to record with a colored sound or with a more clear and transparent sound.

The Warm Audio TB12 Tone Beast Microphone Preamp goes one step further.  It incorporates two different transformers.  You can switch between them to achieve different sounds.

Tube Mic Preamps

Tube mic preamps use one or more vacuum tubes to amplify the mic’s signal.

On many tube mic pres, you’ll see the telltale glow of the tube(s) when the unit is on, which looks kind of cool!

12XAX7 and 12AX7A tubes are very popular and are used in many mic preamps.

Tube Mic Preamp Pros:

Tube mic preamps are known for their warmth and musicality.  They produce a very warm, open, “fat” sound.

A tube’s characteristic sound is achieved by the way that it amplifies sound.  Unlike solid-state amplifiers which tend to be very clean, tubes distort the audio signal in a musically and aurally pleasing way.

Tube distortion emphasizes second-order harmonics that sound good to our ears.

Tube guitar amps are especially prized for the way they distort an electric guitar’s sound, resulting in fat, crunchy power chords and solos that sustain and sing beautifully.

Finally, tubes act as natural compressors and tend to even out note attacks by “soft clipping” them. The resulting smooth sound is prized and used on many vocal and instrumental recording sessions.

Tube Mic Preamp Cons:

Like most things, tubes eventually wear out and have to be replaced.

However, this is not a major consideration for two reasons:

First, tubes don’t wear out that often and can last many years, depending on use.

Second, most tube mic pres use one or two tubes, and the most commonly used 12AX7 tubes are only around $10 each.

Also, as tubes age, their sound can change, which can negatively impact the sound quality of the mic preamp.

As mentioned earlier, tubes slightly compress the attacks of notes.  Thus, a tube mic pre may not be the first choice for recording instruments that have sharp attacks, like snare drums, percussion instruments, or even acoustic guitar.

On the other hand… it could be the perfect choice if you are looking for a smooth “vintage” sound…

Tube Mic Preamp Specs

One final thing to know is that if you compare specs on tube vs. solid-state mic preamps, tube mic preamps fare poorly based purely on technical specs, with high harmonic distortion and noise floor levels.

BUT… the important thing to know is that it’s their inherent harmonic distortion that makes them sound good!   You can safely ignore these warnings, especially with higher-end models.

Popular Tube Mic Preamps

Here are some high-quality popular tube mic preamps:

Check out my reviews of the best tube mic preamps here.

Solid-State Mic Preamps

Solid-state mic preamps use transistors, not tubes, to amplify a mic’s signal.

The sound of a solid-state mic pre comes from its design, its amplifier components and circuitry (op-amps), and its transformers (if it is transformer-based).

Solid-State Mic Preamp Pros:

The benefits of solid-state preamps are:

  • Clean, transparent sound
  • Minimal distortion
  • Ability to handle higher gain levels without distorting

Transistors provide a more consistent and efficient means of amplification than tube preamps, with less heat and distortion.

Solid-state mic preamps arguably capture more detail and a more “natural” sound than tubes.

As such, they are the preferred mic preamps for classical recording, especially for audiophile recordings.

Solid-State Mic Preamp Cons:

Lower-price solid-state mics preamps can be cheaply made and can sound harsh, grainy and noisy.

Top-quality solid-state mic pres that deliver a rich, full sound can be quite expensive, which is an issue for more budget-minded studio owners.

Popular Solid-State Mic Preamps

Popular high-quality solid-state mic preamps are:

Hybrid Mic Preamps

Hybrid mic preamps are a combo of tube and solid-state designs.

The idea is to combine the best of both worlds; they are usually designed as solid-state mic preamps with a separate tube stage for warmth and color.

Typically, solid-state components drive the input stage, and a tube drives the output stage.

Popular Hybrid Mic Preamps

Some excellent popular hybrid mic preamps are:

Channel Strips

A channel strip is a microphone preamp combined with other signal processing circuitry all in the same enclosure.

The most common additions are EQ and compression/limiting, though other features like a de-esser or an aural exciter are sometimes included.

A channel strip is designed to provide everything you need to record, all in one convenient package.

As everything is in one enclosure, you get the benefit of a complete signal chain, less noise from connecting separate units, and ease of use.

And you save money by not having to purchase extra patching cables!

All in all, a channel strip can be a very versatile and affordable option for home recordists.

Popular Channel Strips

Some popular channel strips are:

Single Channel and Multi-Channel Preamps

Microphone preamps are available in single-channel models, dual-channel models, four-channel models, and more, up to eight mic preamps in one enclosure.

However, one downside to be aware of is the more mic preamps a unit includes, the less quality each mic pre may have.

I’d be wary of multi-channel mic preamps under $200 or so – the quality usually isn’t there at that price point.

For most home studios, your best bet is to purchase a single or dual channel mic pre. That should take care of most recording session uses.

However, if you are looking to record drums, then a quality 8-channel preamp like the Focusrite OctoPre MkII Dynamic or the Audient ASP800 may be your best bet.

These 8-channel mic preamps are highly regarded for their excellent sound at an affordable price.

Mic Preamp Formats: Rackmount, Desktop, or Lunchbox

Mic preamps are available in three formats:

  • Standalone desktop models
  • Standard 19” rackmount
  • 500 series “lunchbox” modules

Rackmount Units

Rackmount preamps are studio standards.

Many are single-space (1U) units, but some are double-space (2U) size.

Rack mounted gear certainly looks cool, and having your mic preamp racked also helps keep cables out of view for a cleaner looking studio.

One potential drawback is access to input and output connectors if your mic pre is rack mounted.  It can be difficult to access the rear connectors if the rear panel is not easily accessible or there are lots of cables blocking the connectors.

Desktop Models

Standalone desktop models have an advantage in that they are portable.  It can be placed close at hand with all the controls readily available to tweak during a recording session.

For one-man band studios this is very desirable; while playing or singing you can record while still having access to the mic pre’s settings.

500 Series Lunchbox Mic Pre Modules

A 500 series mic pre is a module built in the 500 series format commercialized by pro audio pioneer API.  The idea was that studio owners could create their own rack of modules – not only mic pres but EQs and compressors – customized to fit their needs.

Modules are placed in a 500 series enclosure, sometimes known as a rack, chassis, or portable lunchbox.

Enclosures usually have anywhere from two to 10 slots for modules.

The enclosure provides power and connectivity to all modules, plus 48V phantom power.

Note: Some enclosures have D-Sub connectors.  You will need breakout cables or a snake at an additional cost.  Be sure to check this before you purchase so there are no surprises!

The 500 series format is standardized, so any 500 series module can be used in a 500 series chassis.

500 Series Advantages

The first significant advantage is that 500 series mic preamps are quite a bit cheaper than their desktop or rackmount counterparts.   They are smaller and don’t have to include the power supply or connectivity functions that the enclosure provides.

This allows manufacturers to focus on adding only the high-value components needed for top quality sound in each module, making them very cost-effective and a great value for the price.

However, the initial upfront cost is higher, as you have to buy the enclosure AND the modules.

Some popular 500 series mic pre modules are:

A few popular enclosures/ lunchboxes are:

Which Mic Pre Should I Choose?

There are three essential factors to consider when selecting a mic pre for your studio:

  • The sound you want
  • Your future needs
  • Your budget

The Sound You Want

Here are some general guidelines for achieving different tones:

  • If the vocalist or instrument you record is thin sounding, a tube mic pre will help fatten up the sound.
  • For instruments such as acoustic guitar, a tube mic pre can add warmth. But many engineers prefer to capture the instrument’s natural sound and opt for a solid-state preamp that does not color the sound
  • Drums: a fatter sound is achieved with tube mic pres which compress the sound a bit. Solid-state mic pres bring out the attacks.
  • Classical music recordings tend to use solid-state preamps for a pure, uncolored sound.

Your Future Needs

Always consider what your studio may require in the future. You may have a small studio now with only one microphone, but it’s likely that it will grow over time.

The most common “upgrade” is having two mic preamps so you can record instruments in stereo like acoustic guitar.

So, a dual channel model may be the best solution.

I started out with one mic pre.  Today I have three – one solid-state channel strip, a tube channel strip, and an inexpensive USB mic pre.

Don’t forget about going the 500 series module route.  Purchasing a 500 series enclosure and individual modules can let you choose a wide variety of mic pres for lots of flexibility.

Your Budget

Money, of course, plays a big part in what mic preamp you purchase.

I highly recommend getting a quality mic pre that you won’t outgrow soon.  Generally, you’ll be looking at mic preamps that start around $300 or so per channel.

Really inexpensive preamps under $100 will have issues with noise, gain, and overall sound quality.  It’s recommended to avoid those.

Final Thoughts

Choosing the right mic pre begins with understanding the various types and designs of mic preamps available.

From there it comes down to deciding the type of the sound that you want.  Whether you like a clear, transparent, pure tone or want to add some vintage warmth, there’s a mic pre that delivers it.

As always, quality will win out on quantity, so always try to buy the best mic pre you can afford.  You won’t regret it!

 

The post Ultimate Guide To Choosing The Best Mic Preamp For Your Home Studio appeared first on The Music Kitchen.

]]>
https://www.themusickitchen.com/mic-pre/mic-preamp-buying-guide/feed/ 0