What is the best DAW for creating music? Which DAW will give me the most “professional” sound? And which DAW is the best bang for my buck (assuming money will be paid for the software)?
These are all questions I asked myself when I started making music on my computer. Looking back, I was probably more concerned with the software I was using than with knowledge of music theory or music production. I still think about this topic (albeit with a different viewpoint) and decided I would share my thoughts to hopefully help those starting out on their journey as music producers.
What Is The Best DAW For A Bedroom Producer?
The simplest, most honest, answer I can give is whichever DAW provides you, the producer, with the fastest workflow. Now I know that answer isn't great, but it's true. Most of the DAWs today sound equally professional. Of course, they are all slightly different, but a bounced product can sound pretty much identical across all DAWs if the same audio and processing are used.
Because there is no Digital Audio Workstation to rule them all, the “best DAW” will vary from person to person. Ask how familiar are you with it and how fast can you get your ideas to fruition? An extra question to ask is what operating system are you running on your computer, as some DAWs are OS-specific.
For me, personally, the best DAW is Logic Pro (made by Apple). For you, it could be:
- Logic Pro (Apple)
- Pro Tools (AVID)
- FL Studio (Image-Line) aka “Fruity Loops”
- Live (Ableton) aka “Ableton Live”
- Cubase (Steinberg)
- Acid Pro (Magix)
- Studio One (PreSonus)
- Reason (Propellerhead)
- Reaper (Cockos)
- Cakewalk (BandLab)
- Digital Performer (MOTU)
Or any other DAW out there!
Related article: Top 7 Best Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) On The Market
What Is The Best DAW For You?
If you've been producing for a while, you probably have a solid understanding of the digital audio workstation you use to create your music. In which case, that is most likely the best DAW.
Now I'm not saying to only ever use that one workstation. It's great to expand your knowledge and learn how to use multiple DAWs. You may even find a DAW you prefer over what you're using now. The ultimate goal, of course, is to make music in a fun and creative manner!
There's a plus to being a new bedroom producer: Freedom to choose a Digital Audio Workstation that best suits you! I'd suggest you download the free demo version of multiple DAWs (all the companies listed above do demos/trial except Logic Pro.. typical Apple..).
Try a few different DAWs to see which one feels most intuitive to you. Chances are that'll be the best DAW for you.
From my experience, I easily get frustrated not knowing the interface or hotkeys of an unfamiliar DAW. For me, time spent in a DAW is for making music (or money in the professional setting), and that's why I use Logic Pro X. I work the fastest in Logic and know how most of it works.
I have played around with Ableton Live and I'd recommend all bedroom producers do that same. Ableton is objectively the most creative digital audio workstation to work with since it can easily be used to produce music but also to perform music! Other DAWs can be used in live performance, but Ableton is king, in my opinion.
However, it seems I don't have the patience to learn a new workstation and produce music at the same time. Another excuse I have is that I run Logic Pro and Pro Tools in my professional work, and hitting Ableton or FL Studio hotkeys in the middle of a Pro Tools session slows things down and doesn't look good in front of clients.
For the sake of speed and familiarity, I stick mostly to Logic Pro X and Pro Tools, making them my best DAWs. For you, it could be very different!
Comparisons From What I've Used
So far I've been pretty vague so I'd like to present you with my thoughts on the DAWs I've used. I can really only truly offer you my experience, after all. I have not used all the digital audio workstations, but I will compare the 4 I have used to create music and other audio-based art.
The 4 DAWs I'm most familiar with are FL Studio, Logic Pro, Pro Tools, and Ableton Live. The following statements are purely my opinion.
- The best MIDI. With FL, you can slide between MIDI notes; easily adjust panning, velocity, and quantization; and drag samples into FL and immediately affect their pitch in the MIDI window (shout out to the Trap snare rolls!)
- Not great for recording audio. Now I thought this could be a computer spec issue, but my iMac and my Asus have the same specs and Logic runs smoothly with tons of plugins (on low latency mode) while FL couldn't keep up. I'm not sure if that's the case across the board, but it certainly was with me.
- The Mixer is alright. It's very customizable, but that's not always a good thing. I'm not a fan of having the 100 or so channels and assigning tracks to them. I like to have the channels, and aux sends/buses separate (which you could do, but it's not done for you). I will say that I love the stereo separation pot on each channel!
- Harmor is my favourite plugin for FL Studio. What a great additive synth this is. If you're at all into sound design and intense electronic dance music, I'd suggest checking out Image-Line's FL Studio, or at least Harmor.
- This is a Windows-only program (although they are in beta testing for Mac OS which is really exciting)
- One upfront cost and you'll have free lifetime upgrades! You really can't beat that.
If you want to learn FL Studio, be sure to check out my Top 11 Best Online Resources To Learn Image-Line FL Studio DAW.
- Great MIDI. It's easy to record, edit, and program MIDI with Logic. I really love its ‘humanize' function.
- Good for recording audio. I'm not a big fan of the overlapping recording feature. The recording of audio and MIDI is simple to set up with the mixer and easy to do.
- Love the mixer. It's the most intuitive to me. It's easy to route, and Logic automatically creates a track whenever you want to add another software instrument. You send to an aux/bus and it will be created for you. The mixer shows the tracks you have and routing is very easy.
- I really like Logic's compressor. It's actually my go-to (which is not typical of stock plugins.. but I love it)
- This is a Mac OS-only program. I highly doubt Apple will ever create a Windows compatible version 😉
- Very affordable price, but no free upgrades.
If you want to learn Logic Pro, be sure to check out my Top 11 Best Online Resources To Learn Apple Logic Pro X DAW.
- Worst MIDI. Cannot stand to use MIDI in Pro Tools. It's tougher to edit, and even set up a MIDI track seems time-consuming compared to other DAWs.
- Excellent for recording audio. So many options in Pro Tools for multitrack recording. It is by far my favourite to track in. It is also by far the easiest DAW for me to edit with. The amount of flexibility with tracks and editing are part of the reason Pro Tools is industry standard.
- A great mixer in Pro Tools. It is very easy and intuitive to route in Pro Tools' mixer. The only thing is that you need to create a track before routing to it (unlike Logic).
- Honestly, I haven't explored many Pro Tools stock plugins. I use this DAW strictly for sound design and voice-over work. When I do use plugins with Pro Tools, they are typically Waves plugins.
- Like most DAWs, Pro Tools is compatible with Mac and Windows
- One up front fee and subscription costs afterward.
If you want to learn Pro Tools, be sure to check out my Top 11 Best Online Resources To Learn Avid Pro Tools DAW.
- Decent MIDI. Perhaps because I'm so used to Logic, Ableton seems a bit unresponsive when editing MIDI data. The separation between drawing and editing modes seems weird to me.
- Good for recording audio and MIDI. I like the Midi overlap and really enjoy triggering the audio once it's been recorded.
- The mixer in Ableton is strange to me. The signal paths for tracks are presented in a horizontal fashion. This is different than most other DAWs and so it takes some getting used to. I do like that there are automatically reverb and delay sends on any track, which helps in speeding up the ‘quick mix' process (although you could build templates in any DAW to do the same thing).
- I really like the stock plugins in Ableton Live. Their FM/additive synth Operator is really cool. I love their stock delays as well as the Simpler/Sampler instruments. I think Ableton Live has the coolest, most versatile, and creative plugins of any DAW.
- Like most DAWs, Ableton Live is compatible with Mac and Windows
- Pretty expensive DAW, but I'd say it's worth every penny! Upgrades are offered at discounted prices.
If you want to learn Ableton Live, be sure to check out my Top 11 Best Online Resources To Learn Ableton Live DAW.
These are only some of the main criteria I'd use to determine the best DAW. The best DAW for you, again, is whatever allows you to get your ideas out the fastest and whatever provides you with the greatest sense of freedom and creativity. That all being said, here are my top 3
My Top 3 DAW Recommendations For Bedroom Producers
If your goal is to get creative in writing and producing your own music with various types of genres, styles, and methods, I'd suggest these 3 DAWs:
- Ableton Live: I believe that Ableton is at the forefront of creativity in the world of digital audio workstations. I see them as a leader in their field and things are only getting better! My excuse for not using Ableton as my main DAW is that I work professionally with Logic and Pro Tools and it gets confusing working with even those 2 during professional sessions.Buy Ableton Live 10 Suite from Amazon here.
- Logic Pro: This is the best DAW for me. I am accustomed to how everything functions and I can easily produce the ideas in my head. Like anything, it takes time to learn a DAW, and I've spent most of my time with Logic. In my experience, it's the easiest to program and record MIDI and audio. It also has my favourite mixer setup to date. Buy Logic Pro X from the app store here.
- FL Studio: This is a great DAW. People tend to think of FL Studio as a “toy DAW” or a program for beginners, but it's an absolute beast. I love FL Studio but am not a big fan of Windows.Buy FL Studio 12 Producer Edition from Amazon here.
The best DAW question has a highly personalized answer. Every producer has their own preferred way of doing things, and certain DAWs cater better to certain producers than others.
What is your ‘best DAW?' and which digital audio workstations have you made music with? I'd love to open a discussion on this.
As always, thanks for reading and for your support.