What Is The Best DAW Software? – Here Are 12 Most Popular Choices

Here is our list of the 12 programs most suitable to receive the title of “best DAW software.” Check and see if any option excites you!

by Derrick Reeves | Updated: June 24, 2021

Digital Audio Workstation, or DAW, has been an essential tool for music producers since its inception. The best DAW software is the heart and brain of your whole audio setup, as it commands each gear on what to do.

That is why it is important to get a DAW that is suitable for your specific needs.

Here is the best DAW software

We believe that the clear winner of this list is Ableton Live. From the ease of use to specialized features, it is leaps and bounds ahead of the others.

Let’s take ease of use; the comping system of this software is among the smoothest and most responsive we have seen. It also has a variety of special functions like MPE support.

The 12 Best DAW Software Currently Active

And below are the current 12 most popular DAW software; each of them has a unique set of strengths and weaknesses.

Ableton Live - Best All-Around

Ableton Live - Best All-Around

  • Device type: PC and Mac
  • PC system requirements: Windows 10, AMD multi-core processor or Intel Core i5, 8GB recommended disk space, minimum 3GB if you only need the basic stuff, at least 76GB disk space for add-ons.
  • Mac system requirements: Minimum macOS 10.13, an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, 3GB of disk space for the basic package (8GB recommended), at least 76GB disk space for add-ons.

There is no downplaying the effect that Ableton Live has on the whole music industry.

With its debut back in 2001, this software was able to completely overturn the traditional rulebook for music design. It has established itself as more than a recording program.

The latest installment, Ableton Live 11, took things to a whole new level with some of the long-awaited features.

For instance, it now has an elegant comping system as well as MPE support. These features create an even faster and more creative workflow than what the Live 10 can offer.

To be more specific, there is a new “release” velocity feature in the MPE with the same principle as the “attack” velocity. This function, however, only applies to each note’s end, dragging the note out beautifully.

Image-Line FL Studio - Best Value

Image-Line FL Studio

  • Versions: Signature, Fruity, Producer, All Plugins Bundle
  • Device type: PC and Mac
  • PC system requirements: at least Windows 8.1, 4GB of storage space, 4GB of RAM
  • Mac system requirements: at least macOS 10.13.6, 4GB of storage space, 4GB of RAM

Originally named FruityLoops, this DAW from Image-Line holds a special position in the hearts of many producers of a certain generation. For this reason, it is mainly seen as a tool for EDM and hip-hop music producers.

Back then, FruityLoops was purely software for Windows, but the FL Studio ver. 20 offers a native Mac version.

This addition means now it is usable in the two most popular operating systems with no need for clunky workarounds. Pleasantly, you can use Windows’ license for Mac and vice versa.

The main reason behind our comment that it fits EDM and hip-hop more lies with the software’s focus on Patterns.

With the signals acting as building blocks, all you need to do is arrange them according to your taste. This kind of operation is incredibly suitable for genres that emphasize builds, breakdowns, and loops.

People not familiar with FL Studio can find the adjusting process a little jarring. The grassroots nature of this DAW still slips through with the way the workflow operates.

Apple Logic Pro - Best For Mac

apple logic pro

  • Versions: Standard
  • Mac system requirements: at least macOS 10.13.6, 64-bit processor

It has been quite a while since we have an actual “complete” update for this best DAW software for Mac. The last one, version X, came out in 2013, solidifying the software’s title as the smoothest DAW.

The newest update, 10.5, is more of an overhaul to this traditional DAW. With its Live Loops taking inspiration from Ableton Live, this update has turned Logic Pro into a contemporary music-producing platform.

You can make use of this feature to jam in many ideas before having to record them to your main timeline. This brings the non-linear style of cell-based loop playback into the picture.

The possibility for experimental and compositional use of this feature is simply endless. Most of all, you will be able to do some performance shenanigans while mixing on-stage.

Other improvements include a modern step sequencer, new electronic beat maker tools, and completely overhauled samplers.

The step sequencer facilitating the programming of melodic lines and beats according to a classic drum machine-inspired interface.

Steinberg Cubase - Best Block Arrangement

Steinberg Cubase - Best Block Arrangement

  • Versions: Elements, Pro, Artist
  • Device type: PC and Mac
  • PC system requirements: Windows 10, AMD Ryzen multi-core or Intel Core i series CPU, minimum 4GB RAM (recommend 8GB), at least 30GB of storage space
  • Mac system requirements: macOS Mojave, macOS Big Sur, or macOS Catalina, Intel Core i series, 4GB of RAM minimum (8GB recommended), at least 30GB of storage space

It was 30 years ago that Steinberg Cubase made its debut as a sequencer for MIDI. Since then, this DAW software has been spearheaded all types of music development.

This software is the first one to introduce composers to the famous block arrange screen, which most DAWs use nowadays. It has also invented many other influential techs like class-leading audio editors, also known as WaveLab, and virtual studio techs.

Steinberg has served for so long it has seen the rise and fall of the music industry. It saw the bloom that is the 90s, it survived the dark days of music piracy.

Yet, Cubase still remains a leader of the DAW market, with updates arriving regularly each month. Cubase 11, its latest version, improves things significantly like a smoother music arrangement system.

PreSonus Studio One - Best Volume Automation

PreSonus Studio One

  • Versions: Prime, Artist, Professional
  • Device type: PC and Mac
  • PC system requirements: 64-bit Windows 10, at least Intel Core i3/AMD A10 processor, 4GB RAM minimum (8GB Recommended), 40 GB of hard drive space for Studio One Professional, 20GB of hard drive space for Studio One Artist
  • Mac system requirements (Mac): at least macOS 10.13 64-bit, Intel Core i3 minimum (the support for Apple Silicon M1 comes early 2021), 4GB RAM minimum (8GB Recommended), 40 GB of hard drive space for Studio One Professional, 20GB of hard drive space for Studio One Artist

Compared with how it was back then, one can clearly see the improvements. Studio One is now among the first DAW choices when the producer aims to perform volume automation with surgical precision.

The fifth version of this software received many significant developments. From the Clip Gain Envelopes to the score editor, each and every vital feature has some sort of improvement.

There is another highlight in the flexible consolidation capability. With its help, you can bounce samples or instruments freely to single audio.

The interface has also received an upgrade to be more modern as well as responsive. It is truly representative of the new age of music production technology.

Cockos Reaper 6 - Best Customization

Cockos Reaper 6

  • Versions: Standard
  • Device type: Linux (experimental)/PC/Mac
  • PC system requirements: Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, and 10 32-bit need 12GB of storage space; Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, and 10 64-bit need 13GB of storage space
  • Mac system requirements: OS X 10.5 to 10.13, 18GB of storage space for 32-bit; OS X 10.5 to 10.14, 20GB of storage space for 64-bit (there is a special OS X 10.15 Catalina variant)

Despite not being as old as the other options on this list, Reaper is remarkable due to its sophisticated capability to MIDI/audio route.

The responsiveness of this best DAW software is simply wonderful. Everything from item editing to fader moves to zooming and scrolling feels fluid and quick.

This software is among the best when it comes to regular updates. Once you buy it, you will receive an update every few weeks.

The updates consist of feature improvements and bug fixes, sometimes new functions. You will not need to fork out any additional money for them.

Reason Studio Reasons - Best Iteraction

Reason Studio Reasons

  • Versions: Intro, Standard, and Suite
  • Device type: PC and Mac
  • PC system requirements: minimum 64-bit Windows 7, AMD or Intel multi-core processor, at least 4GB RAM (8GB if you want large Rack Extensions or ReFills), 4 GB of system disk space for the basic package. Additionally, there needs to be 20 GB of scratch disk space for add-ons.
  • Mac system requirements: minimum 64-bit Mac OS X 10.11, Intel multi-core processor, at least 4GB RAM (8GB if you want large Rack Extensions or ReFills), 4 GB of system disk space for the basic package. Furthermore, there needs to be 20 GB of scratch disk space for add-ons.

With Propellerhead Software’s name change to Reason Studios and the launch of version 11, Reason has received quite some changes. Among them is the Reason Rack Plugin, enabling the core tools of this DAW to be utilizable as a plugin in another DAW.

You also get the ability to utilize all the SSL-modelled mixer elements of this DAW as individual devices. This availability alongside the Rack instruments works specifically well in conjunction with the Reason Rack Plugin.

The new 11.2 updates are added in the MIDI Out function, which lets you control external gears with ease. Gone are the days where you must place every single piece of equipment at arm’s reach.

Bitwig Studio - Best Workflow

Bitwig Studio

  • Versions: Standard, 16-track
  • Device type: Linux, PC, Mac
  • PC system requirements: minimum 64-bit Windows 7, Dual-core Intel or AMD CPU (SSE4.1 support is a must), at least 12GB of free disk space (full content installation), 4GB RAM
  • Mac system requirements: minimum 64-bit Mac OS X 10.13, Intel CPU, at least 12GB of free disk space (full content installation), 4GB RAM
  • Linux system requirements: minimum Ubuntu 18.04, 64-bit dual-core x86 CPU (SSE3 support is a must), at least 12GB of free disk space (full content installation)

It has already been 7 years since the debut of Bitwig Studio. This relative infant DAW software has come quite a long way.

Despite receiving the immense amount of pressure and comparison to Ableton Live, this software was able to thrive. The original developers of Live have worked wonders on Bitwig Studio.

Yes, there are still some similarities in the way they handle their workflow, but the difference is noticeable. A prime example is The Grid, which can bring a complete modular environment into the toolkit of Bitwig.

The new “fun and quick” Polymer synth is a hybrid modular, opening you up to many more possibilities.

Apple GarageBand - Best Loop Sequencer

Apple GarageBand

  • Device type: Mac
  • System requirements: minimum macOS 10.13.6, 4 GB of RAM, and 4 GB of disk space for the basic package

You buy a Mac, and the first thing you see on it is Apple GarageBand. This relationship has lasted for 17 years since the day John Mayer introduced the world to this software at MacWorld.

During this time, this application has matured quite a bit. It has dropped the “newbie-only” stigma without completely alienating them.

Even the ones who have next to no knowledge about music production can sequence its supplied audio loops. On the other hand, professionals will be able to make use of the huge collection of instrument programs accompanying it.

There is also the capability to record many tracks at once, allowing for an incredible mix and match experience. The beat generation is very impressive, as the software supplies a large selection of virtual guitar amps.

Furthermore, you can move the projects easily between your iPads, iPhones, and Macs.

Acoustica Mixcraft - Best Synth System

Acoustica Mixcraft

  • Versions: Recording Studio and Pro Studio
  • Device type: PC
  • System requirements: Windows 7 SP1, 8, and 10, both 64 and 32-bit, minimum Dual Core 1.8 GHz CPU (Quad-Core recommended), 8GB RAM

Most people have not heard about Acoustica Mixcraft yet, but it doesn’t mean that they are not successful. Instead, this DAW is more of a secret between the pros, as the features make it essentially unfriendly to the beginners.

There is the modular synth system of the Cherry Audio, offering a total of 45 modules, from oscillators to arpeggiators. This huge collection can satisfy any pro, but its pressure on newbies is also immense.

You also get a new TB bundle with many useful effects such as Barricade, Compressor, Reverb, Bus Compressor, etc. Again, these are especially useful if you know what you are doing, but fledging producers can mix them up with the more basic Mastering Essentials.

We do want to say that Mixcraft seems to be working on a solution, and they are going in the right way. The new automation feature makes it much easier for less experienced mixers to work with tempo and pitch.

Avid Pro Tools - Best For Music Experimentation

Avid Pro Tools

  • Versions: Standard, First, Ultimate
  • Device type: PC and Mac
  • PC system requirements: minimum Windows 10 and Intel Core i5, at least  16GB of RAM (recommendation 32 GB), 15GB of disk space for basic installation
  • Mac system requirements: minimum macOS 10.13.6, Core i5 Intel processor, 16GB of RAM (recommendation 32 GB), 15GB of disk space for basic installation

There is just no denying that Avid Pro Tools deserves to be the standard of DAW software. It is simply not built for a small bedroom studio, but for the fanciest of recording workstations.

Now, you can easily update tracks as well as timeline sections even while using the playback function. This results in you being capable of experimenting with loop points, presets, effects, etc., when the music is still playing.

The Avid Cloud Collaboration is another celebrated change, which allows you to store projects on the cloud. This feature and the Avid Marketplace help you to have an easier time connecting with the online audio community.

Cakewalk - Best Interface

Cakewalk - Best Interface

  • Version: Standard
  • Device type: PC
  • System requirements: minimum 64-bit Windows 7, Multi-core AMD or Intel CPU, at least 4GB RAM and 3GB disk space

Cakewalk may not ring a bell with some people, but its original name, Sonar DAW, sure will. It is, after all, the introduction to the world of music producing for many producers.

After acquiring Sonar, BandLab did not simply change its name but also its identity. They removed all unnecessary shackles like the paid version or the third-party feature.

Of course, the thing that built the fame of this DAW, the Skylight user interface, still remains. There are also the flexible ProChannel modules, on which we all experienced our ideas back in the day.

Conclusion

From our experience, sometimes the best DAW software for one producer can be bad for another. You should always trust in your instinct and focus only on the program you work the easiest with.

We do want to recommend Ableton Live as the best starting point. After all, it has a responsive and easy-to-understand user interface, which is especially important for new producers.

 

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