Best Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs)

The Top Ten
1 FL Studio

Fruity Loops Studio is probably going to be your best bet in the Digital Audio Workstation zone if you are looking for a good, advanced yet simple one. I have used Fruity Loops since version 7, and it is very user-friendly with a good-looking interface. It is the easiest and most advanced Digital Audio Workstation you will ever have.

Now, comparing this to Ableton, it depends on what you can do better with either one. For me, it's probably the best, and it includes FREE lifetime updates, performance abilities, several VST plugins that come along with it, and much more. It is the best Digital Audio Workstation you can get.

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2 Ableton Live

I've used so many different DAWs over the years, with each having its various problems. Live is the only one that actually is able to keep up with my compositional pace. It's very intuitive to use, and unlike so many others that feel like they were written by coders, Live was created by musicians, and it shows!

In its full Suite version with Max for Live, you have the feeling that you've tapped into raw sonic power with Live, and that if you can think of a musical idea, it can deal with it admirably. Having literally ridden the whole arc of digital workstation development from Studer Editech Dyaxis to the present day, trust me, this DAW is truly the pot of gold at the end of a very long developmental rainbow.

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3 Open Labs StageLight

I have used StageLight since it first hit the market. I can say hands down that this is the best software available right now, and for the price, it's an amazing deal. If you can find a more complete DAW with a more intuitive UI, then I'll buy it for you! StageLight is my new standard and preferred product of choice. You can't go wrong with it!

Pretty amazing even without considering the price. Finally, an app for people with touch screens. Absolute freedom from using a mouse is impressive. But taking the price into consideration, it is amazing software. I guess the idea is to sell sounds and features in-app for making money, sort of like games. I like it.

4 Pro Tools

The layout being similar to old-school analog interfaces is a great nostalgia trip for veteran audio engineers, but that's not all this DAW has to offer. Simply put, Pro Tools is a piece of software for audio engineers, rather than artists.

While Ableton and FL are good for composition, and Ableton shines at live performance, for recording, mixing, and mastering audio, Pro Tools is simply the best option on the market.

5 Cubase

I am a composer and producer, and I have had the opportunity to work with more than five DAWs. I think Cubase has all the tools you need to compose, produce, mix, and master music. In my opinion, it is the best professional DAW in the market.

Probably the most powerful DAW and very customizable, making a tidy, easy-to-navigate interface. Loops and instruments are not as comprehensive as Logic Studio, but it's just slicker, and the updates are very regular.

Cubase is probably the strongest jack of all trades in terms of DAWs, specializing in MIDI.

6 Propellerheads Reason

Although this is more of a production tool than a full DAW, it's the best on the market for those who want ultimate freedom to tailor sounds.

Where it excels is the real-feel workflow and profoundly versatile instruments:

1. If there's a sound in your head, you can make it a reality without compromising on account of limited functionality. The instruments have overlapping but unique functions and can accommodate any type of music creation.

2. You don't have 8 levels of windows to control the sound on one channel. It's all modular, so productivity stays high, the workspace clean, and everything is easy to monitor.

3. Routing audio and MIDI paths is almost mindlessly simple, like plugging into a soundboard.

It's as if this DAW is a physical piece of equipment. It's a much more organic experience and can really change the way you produce.

7 Apple Logic Studio

Best DAW I have ever used. It has a good interface and good plugins, including third-party plugins, making it an overall excellent DAW to use in a professional or home studio. You can create very good beats and record amazing vocals. There's no other DAW I would want to use ever! In my opinion, it is better than Pro Tools, which is deemed the best DAW out there.

As a pro user of Ableton, Logic, Pro Tools, Fruity Loops, and Cubase, I can say only one thing... LOGIC rocks! It is the best all-rounder for all business in music, film, etc.

It has the best in-app plugins, dynamics, and reverb modulation package. Great. Cubase has better algorithms for stretch and pitch, but this is something you can always do with third-party plugins. The only thing I don't like is that there hasn't been a PC version since V5.5 Platinum. Bastards.

I definitely don't like Apple hardware, but the software is great.

8 Steinberg Cubase

Pro all the way! They invented the computer DAW as we know it! That says it all. Right now they already have Cubase 6 out, and it includes a lot of features that are found in the Nuendo series.

To me, it's the best production software one could ever use. I have used it for 7-8 years now, and I still haven't maxed it out! You can do any genre of music on it with ease: rock, hip-hop, dance, electronica, movie scoring, you name it!

For over a decade of production and mastering through various DAWs, I always fall back to Cubase to get the job done. It rewires seamlessly with Reason and Live, has endless MIDI routing and compatible VST plugins, and most of all, it is incredibly well-organized. This is genuinely the Swiss Army knife of audio production and engineering.

9 Adobe Audition

I like Adobe Audition for its amplitude analysis, so I use it for mastering. Combined with a plugin like Izotope Ozone, it cannot be beaten when it comes to mastering.

Use any of the other DAWs on the market - they are all good, and there is very little to separate them for recording and mixing. But then do yourself a favor and transfer your mixdown to Adobe Audition for the mastering stage. You won't be sorry.

I cannot find fault with it. Editing is its strong point, all the way from surround sound to spectral analysis. It is not heavy on CPU usage. Multitrack functionality is good. Red Book CD burning options are fantastic. It will use any plugin you can throw at it and any hardware interface you can mention. I cannot find fault with it.

10 PreSonus Studio One

Tried Cubase early on but with next to no satisfaction. It was too complicated and resource-hungry, so I wasted my money.

A few years later, I was given a legit free copy of early Studio One and found it way more intuitive and processor-friendly. I have just continued using and upgrading it as releases and money allowed, and I am plenty happy with it. There is still a vast universe of stuff I don't know or use, but I can produce music that I like and casual customers will pay for and come back again, without me having to go deep diving into the knowledge base.

Supplied presets and plugins provide worthwhile starting points for whatever I need, and I know I can always learn to use the heavy-duty tools if I need to.

The Contenders
11 Cakewalk Sonar

If ONLY Cakewalk would hire people to write the code for Mac, it is the right time to do so as they both use the same CPUs now. I think if this was done, Cakewalk SONAR would open a lot of eyes and take the music world by storm.

The DAW itself is frightfully capable in all things music. It lacks just a bit, or maybe a bit more than that, in the video area, but when it comes to music and ingenuity, it rules, and NOTHING sounds better. It has as good a sound engine as Sequoia or Nuendo. I wish Cakewalk would let it out of its PC cage and let it fly.

Even though I am a diehard PC user, they really do need to make it Apple compatible.

12 Magix Samplitude

Considered by many to be in the top four. More popular in the UK and Western European markets. Starts at affordable, less expensive versions and goes up to a major player, Sequoia, which is full-blown pro but rather costly.

Fairly intuitive and similar to others, you go from laying and editing tracks, to mixdown, to burning CDs, publishing, and exporting. Compatible with VSTs and Mackie/HUI, M-Audio, Behringer, etc. controllers. Plenty of add-ons and effects. Newer versions come with 128 tracks and multiple simultaneous recording track inputs, depending on the sound card, interface, etc. Works on ASIO straightforward base.

Not so popular in US retail music stores because of the low cost and profit factor. Samplitude/Magix has been around for a very long time. They seem to know what they are doing. It seems to me that the only limitation of this software is your own computer and hardware.

As with any DAW, setting up all of your hardware, keyboards, sound cards, controllers, and digital-to-audio interfaces can get confusing with a lot of trial and error and going back to the manual. But like with most DAWs, once you get it all together, it's a piece of cake. Experience is the best teacher here. I believe that the best DAW is how well the user works with it. We tend to favor the ones that we are familiar with. Good luck to all, hope you find a system that fits your needs and makes you happy.

13 Cockos Reaper

I started using this when I had the demo version for free, but I paid the license fee because it was so good and easy to use. Having said that it is easy to use, don't underestimate how complex and comprehensive its features are. I am still learning more and more about it and finding new features the more I use it (about 3 years now).

I also tried some other DAWs when I first tried out Reaper, but mostly they just didn't have the features I needed, were very unintuitive, or were outrageously expensive. I could not find a better product in terms of quality and value for money.

If you want to digitally record multi-track, multi-instrument music in a professional and quality manner with initial ease of use backed up by a range of sophisticated features, I can't imagine there is a much better product out there than Reaper.

14 Avid Pro Tools

If you want to play with the big boys, you've got to have the same toys. In professional music, it means shelling out big bucks for a Pro Tools system. Pro Tools is currently the industry-standard tool used in countless popular contemporary recordings and music productions. Many will argue that Pro Tools is the best.

Pro Tools has an intuitive interface that makes it suitable for amateurs and newcomers, while at the same time, it provides great depth and power for industry professionals. The downside, however, is its price and its limited compatibility and high hardware requirements. Still, if you want to have the best music production software that money can buy, you better check out Pro Tools and the range of products they offer.

15 Mixcraft

I've tried many DAWs: Ableton, Cakewalk, Magix, etc. I gave up on them, and the money I spent. There is only one that is user-friendly, and that's Mixcraft! I recently looked at a "top ten" list of DAWs. The writer explained that it's normal to take a couple of days to get problems worked out and be ready to use the DAWs on the list.

Which makes sense, since Mixcraft wasn't on the list. I guarantee you, install Mixcraft, and you'll be creating songs instead of "getting all the problems" ironed out. There are no problems. Mixcraft 8 Pro Studio comes with Melodyne Essentials. Very nice!

16 Motu Digital Performer

DP has been in the shadows of Pro Tools for as long as I can remember, but it has always been the more flexible, full-featured DAW. The most recent incarnation gives you tons of usable plug-ins, instruments, and endless routing, editing, tracking, and mixing possibilities.

It is a studio workhorse, head and shoulders above any other DAW for scoring video. Totally undervalued.

DP has been and is my favorite DAW. It offers everything that any DAW has and does it more elegantly and with higher quality. It is incredible. DP has been my choice for many years.

17 Steinberg Nuendo

For me, Nuendo is a super complete DAW. In it, I can record, edit, and mix with great audio quality and efficiency. Besides having an easy-to-use interface, it leaves nothing to be desired compared to the others.

I have used other DAWs as well. Nothing beats Nuendo. It's best for mastering and production. You should have good gear. I switched to Nuendo five years ago and have been doing great. Sorry for other DAWs.

The only DAW for serious film design and production. Automation leaves everyone else in its wake.

18 ACID Pro

Been using Sony Acid since the late '90s, back when it was Sonic Foundry. I find the audio recording and plugin support great and easy to use. I also prefer the MIDI editing. I can't really compare it to other DAWs, but for me, it does almost everything I need.

I have recently been working with Propellerhead Reason 6, and that seems to handle everything and more that Acid can't

Bad: MIDI sequencer, maps, automatic knobs. Needs a lot of upgrades.

Good: The render of mixdown takes too long compared to any new DAW, but the sound is better than any on this list. Just try to mix the same parts in any software, and you'll see the difference. Sonic Foundry was one of the best companies in the '90s. Trust me.

19 Single Cell Software - Caustic

Highly innovative, friendly user interface, suitable for all producers from beginners to pros. Anything is possible with Caustic. There are no limits. Free for Windows and Mac. Genius mobile version for Android and iOS is only $7.99.

Large online community where friendly users can share their songs and content. Caustic is incredible because it provides endless possibilities to the creative producer. Great for sound design as well. Easily create your own unique samples and synth patches. However, if all you desire to produce is beats or sample-based music, Caustic has you covered here too.

Like I said, there are no limits. Create the most personal, unique music designed entirely by you or make hits with industrial quality, it's up to you. If you want a high-quality DAW for very little cost, Caustic is the correct choice. Great software at low cost saves you money for other studio necessities. Choose Caustic. After making beautiful music in a relatively short amount of time, the scales will fall from your eyes, and you won't ever look back.

20 Logic
21 BitWig

Similar to Live, but has new features, i.e., a better and more customizable interface, clip and arrange views, and sandboxed VSTs (meaning that when the VST crashes, the whole project doesn't also crash).

Currently, it has no Rewire support, and an advanced collaboration feature is in the works. This means that this new DAW will grow bigger and catch up with the other bad boys once other features come in.

It should not be 19th. At least get this new kid to 15 or closer!

I have worked with five professional DAWs, and I must say that BitWig surprised me. It is very intuitive, takes the best of Ableton Live, and I can predict that it will be one of the best DAWs in the future.

22 NI Maschine

Great all-around DAW system. I love the 16 pads and MIDI for keys. I come from the MPC world, so this works great live and in the studio. The editing and sample capabilities are easy and awesome! Best price and great sounds!

This is a great DAW. Anyone can use it, even if you're just starting to make music. It will be twice as good after its upgrade next month.

This is a great DAW. If you don't know about it, then look it up.

23 Cool Edit Pro

Very reliable for audio recording, with great effects and easy to use.

24 Merging Technologies Pyramix

As a mastering engineer, I used Mac-based Sonic Solutions in the 1990s. The company went belly-up, and the winner after that became Merging with the PC-based Pyramix. It can do anything you can possibly dream of, except make coffee.

Power, flexibility, features, adapts to your style. A little longer learning curve simply because it does so much! Sonic performance second to none.

25 Ardour

Been using it since version 2, with all the bugs and flaws of legacy design. Now with version 4, it is just brilliant. Name your price, from $1, or build it yourself from source.

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