Recommended DAWs?


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)
***signal routing
***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)
***supports DXi
***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
***ReWire compatible
***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.


Well this would appear to be the deal-breaker for Audacity… but…
How about “Real time preview”?

Currently in Audacity we have “preview”:
You make your settings, then preview a few seconds, then change the settings, then preview a few seconds …

In the next release of Audacity we will see the introduction of “real-time preview”. Definitely not perfect yet, and only for VST and LADSPA effects at the moment, but this is something that will be improving a lot over the next few versions.
How it works:
You open the effect, press the “Play” button, and you can twiddle the controls and hear the effect in real-time while it plays. When you are happy with the settings, apply the effect.

Other than that, try Reaper. Free to try and fully functional (unlimited) trial (honesty system for paying the very reasonable $60 personal license).
Includes a bunch of very useful effects.

“AU” effects are Mac only.

That sounds like a great addition to Audacity and I’ll be pumped to use it when it comes out. I still plan to use Audacity heavily for tons of stuff, because I love how it works. Possibly even still the majority of stuff. I just prefer working with sound files vs. plugins, piano rolls etc (although those can be nice as an option). And there are plenty of effects that I can apply to the actual waveform, because I KNOW that’s what I want to do with that sound. But I want a way to preview in real time the combination of multiple effects all at once.

Yeah? You think it meets all by “dealbreaker” criteria? I’m just trying to figure out these things before I buy (or even do a trial), because learning a new DAW is a daunting and time-consuming process, and time is my most precious commodity these days

I don’t know if you’ll find a good answer… There is such a huge learning curve, that most people only really know one DAW. Some people might know two fairly well, if they’ve switched from one to another. (I’ve only fooled around with REAPER).

I don’t really trust reviews, because these are usually more of a comparison of features and the reviewer isn’t really “living with” and using all of the DAWs they review. Plus, almost every review of audio software or audio equipment leans positive… You usually have to read between the lines to find anything negative. The review of $100 microphone can be indistinguishable from the review of a $1000 mic if you take-out all of the references to price.

*REAPER (is this actually free?

No. It’s $60 USD after the 60-day free trial. From what I understand, it doesn’t stop working after 60 days, but it puts-up a “nag screen” to inform you that the free-trial is up and you must pay if you want to continue using it.

The $60 price applies to hobbyist, small business, or non-profit use. If you are a pro studio making more than $20,000 from REAPER, you need the pro license… But, only the license is different. There is only one version or REAPER.

The upgrade policy is generous. The current version is 4.77 and if you buy a license now, you get free upgrades through 5.99. After that, the upgrade price will be reasonable (although it’s unknown now.)

REAPER doesn’t come with any virtual instruments, and I get the impression that its not the best tool for MIDI.

It also has a reputation for not being a good audio editor. Many people use an external editor with it.

***Good for live gigging i.e. integrating live performance with pre-recorded material

My philosophy is, Don’t use a computer for anything that’s critical to the live performance. Computers are the least reliable things we own… A microphone or guitar amp can last a lifetime with no major problems, but we all have computer problems once in awhile. If you want to use a computer for live performances, I recommend having a back-up system ready-to-go.

People do use REAPER live, but it makes me paranoid! :smiling_imp:

I’m not a musician, but once every million years or so I do a DJ gig. I bring enough equipment that for the most part, the failure of any one piece of equipment won’t stop the show. (I’ve actually only got one mic, so I might get another one if I ever do another gig.)

The same goes for recording of critical one-time events where there’s no chance for “take two”. If you are going to use a computer, have a back-up system recording in parallel. (The backup recorder doesn’t have to be a computer.)

Yup, exactly. Most people seem to be committed to one thing or another, so it’s hard to get good advice about the limitations of things, because people often don’t totally understand what they are or even recognize them as limitations.

I know! Which is why I want to figure out the bare minimum before I even try a free trial version. Just installing and setting it up would eat up half my “music” time for a week or more. And I don’t have tons of free space on my laptop. And my workflow is so dependent on learning and using keyboard commands, so I obviously don’t want to do that more than once!

Hey, can someone take a look at this page -
and see if you’re reaching the same conclusions that I am? It looks like the only difference between the Artist version of PreSonus Studio One Artist (on sale for only $20!) and the Producer version ($200) is no “MP3 import and export” and no “Support for AU, VST2, and VST3 plug-ins and ReWire applications.”

First off, does that mean, you can only export tracks as wav or FLAC or something? If so, no big deal, right? Converting is a snap with Audacity.

Secondly, does that really mean that the Artist version can’t use VSTs? I know that’s what it says, but I’m just finding it hard to believe, so I’m just looking for a second opinion.

And what about 64 vs 32 bit? That’s about the only thing offered on the Pro version ($400) this is even making me consider it at all. I really don’t need/want all of those instruments, loops etc anyway. My computer is 64 bit, so it can “handle it” in theory. Is this something that really makes a big difference?

I might eventually want the mastering capabilities eventually, but that’s months down the road minimum, and I can always upgrade later. Does anyone else see any other differences that might justify an extra $200 for the Pro version?


Only the basic version (Melodyn Essentials) is included, but if you have a few hundred $'s for the full version, then you can use it inside Studio One Pro.

Considering that the Artist version appears to not support additional plugins, the absence of a multi-band compressor is pretty important for mastering. (Reaper includes a multi-band compressor, and VST support).

I’m actually covered on Melodyne.

That’s a good point. Thanks. Yeah, I think I would have to go the $200 Producer version at a minimum. Not having VSTs is a problem. Grrrrr….

But I’m finding out some other very cool stuff about PS S1. It has a waveform view, it allows placement of audio files at any time point you want. It also allow you to easily apply effects to any portion of a sound file rather than the whole thing, which is huge. These are all on my dealbreaker list. Can anyone confirm if REAPER does these things?

And applying effects to any portion of a sound file is as simple as just defining the region through adding a simple cut, and then dragging and dropping the effect right onto. No automations necessary. It sounds like that’s a fairly unique thing among DAWs. You can actually drag and drop any instrument, plugin effect etc. from anywhere to anywhere, which is pretty slick.