You must have heard this term several times if you’re a music enthusiast or especially if you’re into music production. In this post, we will know what Digital Audio Workstation actually is and what are some best free and paid DAW’s available in the market.
What is DAW?
So DAW is actually a computer software used in music production. It helps in recording, producing, editing as well as mixing music, some of the practical uses are- recording instruments, making sample-based beats, recording MIDI controller, etc. So the basic functions are as follows-
- Audio Editing
- MIDI Editing
- Audio Processing
- Built-in Plugins & Support for external Plugins and VSTs
- Live Performances
Having an audio interface and DAW will help you to enhance your musical work to the next level. So first of all let’s talk about some free DAW’s available so that even beginners could start their audio production journey.
Audacity is one of the most widely used open-source DAW available in the market. It uses a multi-track editor that helps you to edit and mix any sound. MP3, WAV, OGG, FLAC, etc. are supported by this so that you can import or export any file.
- You can visualize the selected frequency.
- Supports numerous plugins
- It is a cut, copy, paste and delete option so editing is easy
- Provides real-time preview that shows sound effects.
For those who want a DAW for their Mac, this is the best free option. It comes with a sound library that helps you to add sounds like a guitar, piano, beats without having the actual instrument. You can also share your work through social networks and email.
- Garageband allows you to create and mix more than 255 audio tracks.
- Has built-in learning lessons
- It allows you to set the produced audio as your ringtone
And as told above, It offers an easy and fast way to create and share music.
Cakewalk by Bandlab
If you’re looking for free DAW software for your windows, then cakewalk by band lab is one of the best options you can have. It enables you to record with unlimited MIDI and audio tracks. It enables you to quickly add beats or audio tracks of other instruments to your recorded audios. Moreover, you can mix several audio tracks without any problem.
- This free DAW software enables you to easily compose songs and performances with creative songwriting tools.
- The audios almost sound like studio-recorded
- It allows you to publish your recordings directly to social media apps like Facebook, Youtube, Soundcloud, etc.
Pro tools first
Pro tool first is available in the paid version as well as the free one. The free version includes AAX plugin support, Elastic Time and Elastic Pitch functionality, powerful audio recording and mixing tools, a line-up of over twenty native effects, and even the full version of the excellent Xpand! 2 synthesizers. Overall it’s a good free option available for musicians.
- Can use up to 16 tracks and 4 audio inputs per project.
- Includes powerful virtual instruments, a wide range of effects, ReWire support, time and pitch stretching, track comping, track bouncing, etc.
- Based on Pro Tools, it includes Xpand!2 instrument and over 20 native effects.
- Can be used on macOs as well as windows.
Ardour is another open-source audio workstation available for musicians. It is an extremely capable DAW with support for all major plugin formats and a wide range of audio editing and mixing features. The paid version is also available with just $1, $4, and $10 of a monthly subscription.
- It is available for Linux, macOS as well as windows.
- Easy to download on Linux, need to download the actual source code for mac and windows.
- One-time donation and monthly subscription available for the paid version.
- If you’re not sure if Ardour is for you, there’s also a free demo that you can download and run on your computer.
A DAW software for Windows that can be run from a network drive. This offers several plugins to add beats, special effects to your audio, and add music instruments. It supports 64-bit internal audio processing, so for a beginner, it is one of the best choices.
- It supports more than 64 routable channels.
- Drag and drop files to import, arrange, and render.
- You can apply effects in real-time.
- It also helps you to customize colors, toolbars, layouts, and icons the way you like.
Let’s see some of the paid DAW software available-
Logic Pro X
Talking about Daw’s, we cannot skip Logic Pro X, it is apple’s pro audio software product. If you’ve used GarageBand(discussed above), then you’ll find a lot to love in Logic Pro X. There are many fantastic built-in plugins that help you make your recordings great. If you’re looking for a one-stop-shop DAW, this could be it!
- New Live Loops and Sampler plug-in and serve as excellent stand-ins for Ableton Live and Kontakt
- A stunning array of bundled instruments and effects
- Great value for money
It is one of the popular DAW software for Mac and Windows. The several excellent plugins, extensive sound library, and massive functionality make it worth the asking price, and it’s worth noting that the more affordable Artist and Elements editions come with decent feature sets, too. It has a traditional design.
- Excellent new dynamic EQ on reworked Frequency 2 plugin.
- Sampler Track a lot more useful with the new Splice option.
- Features include multiple take comping, audio warping with quantize, MIDI and audio part in place rendering, group editing, time-stretch, monophonic pitch correction (VariAudio 3), audio alignment, and a lot more.
You must have heard about this DAW software commonly known as Fruit loops. This is an amazing deal for Hip-Hop, EDM musicians, and DJs at an affordable price as it offers free lifetime updates. Its paid version includes extensive automation capabilities, spreadsheet-like Playlist, flexible piano roll, etc. You can also download their mobile app- FL studio mobile.
- It comes with the note programming feature, which makes plotting notes more visual.
- The best thing about FL studio is, that it is easy and less complex to use, all native plugins that come with it are good enough to do professional-level work.
- It can record up to 125 simultaneous audio tracks.
- FL Studio is bundled with a variety of sound processing effects, including common audio effects such as chorus, compression, distortion, delay, flanger, phaser, reverb, gate, equalization, vocoding, maximization, and limiting
It is another great DAW software especially for musicians who want to record virtual instruments, electronic musicians can easily collaborate with producers working on virtually any platform. Its visual interface looks exactly the same as an actual studio rack. If you have the budget, then you can buy this DAW without thinking.
- It is the only DAW that will let you selectively route cables through a specific path be they either audio cables or CV connections where you’re controlling parameters of other synths.
- The reason was the first to offer the Combinator, a device that allowed multiple effects, instruments, and just a straight-up rack within a rack to be available inside one instrument or multi-effect device.
- Reason does support third-party VST plug-ins and even though they are third-party, they can be routed through crazy splitters, Combinators and effects in ways that other DAWs just don’t allow.
So these were some of the best paid and free DAWs available in the market currently, now let’s talk about the actual DAW buying guide- how to choose, what all features it should include, cost, etc.
“In The Box” Recording & Mixing
Today, most of the music pieces or music recordings are written, produced, mixed, and mastered “in-the-box,” meaning 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 known as plugins, providing you with just about everything you need to produce professional tracks right away.
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.
Some of the most common features of DAW that you should look forward are- virtual instruments, effect plugins, virtual effect plugin, pitch correction(although this feature is mostly available in paid versions), elastic audio, notation features etc. Consider all these things before buying a DAW as nowadays audio production is more important than the actual audio(kidding:-))