To make recordings on your computer, you need software. The natural thing to do would be to turn to a DAW, or digital audio workstation, which is used to produce music with the help of samples and virtual instruments. In the DAW universe, there are a lot of teams claiming they have the best software, and if you’ve never used one before, you might think they look quite complicated. To ease you in, I’ve written this blog that can help you find the perfect beginner DAW.

What’s The Best DAW For Beginners?

What’s a DAW?

DAW is short for digital audio workstation, computer software designed for sound recording, editing, arranging, mixing, and even mastering. DAW software runs off the computer’s hardware, which means that in the simplest of scenarios, it records the signal that enters the line input of the computer and can then be played back via speakers or a headphone jack. If, on the other hand, you plan on leaning a little more towards the professional side, you’re going to need an audio interface.

DAWs for Beginners?

We can imagine that as a beginner, your two most important demands have to do with the price tag and the ease-of-use.

  • There are loads of free and low-cost DAWs out there. The only real risk you run with these is that you’ll likely outgrow them in terms of skill. That’s why we recommend you pick a DAW that continues to grow alongside your own development. Popular DAWs are Cubase, Ableton, FL Studio and Studio One, and each one has its own entry-level edition. Once you finally feel limited by a more basic version, you can always upgrade to a professional one.
  • When it comes to difficulty, the easiest-to-use DAW is the one that most closely matches the way you like to make music. Creating EDM in Pro Tools, for example, is no walk in the park, simply because the software hasn’t been designed to specifically accommodate this. The same goes for recording a rock band in FL Studio; the DAW simply sends you down an EDM-themed path a little too often.
  • It takes time to master a DAW, that’s just part of the deal. But you’ll also discover that the basic functionality of comprehensive DAWs isn’t all that complicated or difficult to use. Once you’ve picked out what you need, I recommend looking up a beginner’s tutorial and checking out videos on Youtube. This is worth the time and effort because it’ll save you a lot of time spent on trial and error.

Mac or Windows?

While most DAWs are compatible with both Windows and Mac, there are a few exceptions. At the time of writing, Logic and Garageband are only accessible on Mac, while Acid Pro and Mixcraft only work on Windows systems.

Pro Tools:
What’s The Best DAW For Beginners?

Which DAW Suits My Style?

These days, the differences between DAWs aren’t as huge as they were, say, twenty years ago. Virtually all DAWs let you record and edit audio and MIDI and throw in effects (depending on full vs. trial version). DAWs can be roughly divided into two types: the all-round DAW and the genre-specific DAW.

  • Pro Tools, Cubase, Logic and Studio One are all examples of first-rate all-round DAWs. Simply put, they do the same thing but have their controls in different places. Sure, any given developer will introduce a unique feature from time to time, but it won’t be long before the others follow with something similar. The question should perhaps be: do you like the interface, and does it get you into a nice work flow?
  • DAWs that cater more specifically to certain genres include Ableton Live (see image), FL Studio (Fruity Loops) and Reason. Their workflow is based on electronic music and in the case of Ableton, you can even get various hardware controllers so you can use the software during live performances.
  • Most professional studios use Pro Tools. It’s the best choice if that’s the kind of crowd you (want to) work with.
  • Ask your friends what they are using. It’s easy to share tips, tricks and even files if you’re using the same DAW!

Ableton Live:
What’s The Best DAW For Beginners?

Which DAW Sounds the Best?

All DAWs should actually sound exactly the same. Export a couple of tracks to a stereo file and the end result should look the same, regardless of the DAW used. There are, however, different in the quality of included plug-ins, aka the effects and virtual instruments. If you’re aiming for complete, pro-grade productions, go for an extensive DAW that comes with a bunch of effects and instruments. If all you want to do is make a few simple recordings and a couple of basic tweaks, any basic DAW will do.

Plug-Ins: Effects and Instruments

Speaking of effects and instruments, pretty much any DAW comes with essentials such as an EQ section, a compressor, reverb and delay. More expensive DAWs generally boast even better effects and multiple flavours of each type, like digital EQ and tube-style EQ. Virtual instruments have also been an integral part of the modern music industry. These software-based instruments range from acoustic pianos to synthesizers and drum kits, and can be played using a MIDI keyboard or controller, or by programming them note by note using your mouse or keyboard. DAWs usually come complete with a sizable collection of instrument plug-ins, but more can be bought separately as needed.

  • Please note: To use them in a DAW, third-party effect and virtual instrument plug-ins may require the correct plug-in format compatibility. Popular formats include VST 2, VST 3, AU and AAX.

Some effects in Cubase:
What’s The Best DAW For Beginners?

A virtual instrument in Studio One:
What’s The Best DAW For Beginners?
What’s your favourite DAW and why? Let us know in the comments!

See Also

» All DAW Software
» Controllers & MIDI Devices
» Audio Interfaces
» Instrument Plugins
» Effect Plugins

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