I’ve been researching DAWs, and I’m getting to that “information overload” point, but I’m still not really getting to the bottom of what I want to know. So, can you please take a few minutes to read this? I’ve taken great care to condense my criteria into easy bullet points so as to not waste too much of your time.
Essential criteria (a DAW not having this functionality is a dealbreaker for me)
***ability to run real-time effects (I love Audacity, but this is the main reason I can’t use it as my DAW long-term)
***runs natively on Windows (no Logic for me)
***It needs to have an interface that, like Audacity, is all about the WAVEFORM! I want to see the sound, not a piano roll representation, or an icon of a plugin with a crude approximation of a melody curve or whatever. I want to see the waves, with the transients, and be able to see with an excruciating level of detail (zoom in to sample level if I need to) how they line up with one another.
***does not cripple your ability to use 3rd party anything. There is nothing that burns me up more than being forced to buy one company’s products simply because they want to lock you into their platform
***allows EASY placement of audio files at any time point you want, down to the millisecond, just like Audacity. I cannot stress this point enough. No sequencer-style interface/timeline that forces you to a grid.
***ability to apply non-linear, non-destructive editing and automation of real-time effects (including panning, volume, EQ, pitch etc) to any portion of a sound file rather than the whole thing, with total control of all parameters in each channel independently (volume/fade, channel/panning, wet/dry ratio etc.), even if the control is through fairly time-intensive macros or manual editing or whatever. I don’t need it to be “easy” or “ intuitive” – I just need it to be POSSIBLE.
***has to support VST, VST3, WAV, FLAC
***works well “out of the box” – I don’t want to have to buy tons of add-ons, and I’m TOTALLY okay with doing the majority of my effects through free plugins and Audacity
***has a sophisticated (native) mixer and EQ, and has at least some kind of mastering capabilities
***majority of functions (moving between views/screens, accessing mixer etc) can be accessed/implemented with keyboard commands (I HATE when everything is mouse-oriented)
Optional criteria (nice to have, but not a dealbreaker)
***It would be really nice if a free download trial version (not unduly crippled) was available so I can test it. Disabled ability to run plugins is okay, as I’m interested in core, native functionality
***supports MIDI (but I can do this in FL Studio if I have to)
***has a piano roll-type interface for instrument plugins (but I can do this in FL Studio if I have to)
***CPU-intensive operation not compulsory. I have an old laptop, so for now it would be great if it was CPU-friendly. Yes, I know this conflicts with some of my stated criteria like real-time effects and signal routing – I’m working on getting something new.
***lower in cost is great, but I want to hear about ANYTHING that fits my criteria
***Good for live gigging i.e. integrating live performance with pre-recorded material (I don’t really plan to use it this way, but that’s a bonus - it seems most people agree that Ableton is king for that)
***good instruments “out of the box” (but I’m TOTALLY okay with using free VSTs, Kontakt for samples, other free plugins)
***allows for creation of new sounds from scratch, such as granular synthesis
What I DON’T need it to do at all: sequencing, destructive/constructive editing, sampling, looping, beat creation – I can do all that with Audacity. I’m also not interested in “Logic is good for hip hop, Reason is great for EDM, but only morons use REAPER” types of assessments. I just want to know what it can and can’t do. Genre is irrelevant to me.
I do some recording, but it isn’t my bread and butter. However, I do work with sound files primarily, usually WAVs. So I don’t necessarily need something really geared toward people who do a lot of recording, but I DO need to have the mixing capabilities and workflow that are optimized for people working primarily with sound files (as opposed to direct signals. plugins, MIDI etc).
Here are the DAWs that I have at least some knowledge of, and are still in the running, because I haven’t found out that they break any of my “dealbreakers”:
*PreSonus Studio One – I think this is my current fave. I think it does everything on my “dealbreaker” list. Anyone know differently?
*Pro Tools (although the cost is daunting, especially for all the really good effects and instruments)
*REAPER (is this actually free? is it good? it looks like it actually might meet all my criteria)
*Cubase – don’t know much
*Cakewalk Sonar – don’t know much
*Adobe Audition – don’t know much
*Ableton Live. I must admit I am mystified by the interface, and how it all works. I’ve read that it’s pretty lacking in terms of linear song tracking ability, and it’s designed to be used with external controllers, and I have no intentions of going that route.
Can anyone offer any insight? Also, PLEASE let me know if any of the DAWs I’ve listed do NOT meet my stated criteria.