Best DAWs 2020: the Pros & Cons

This article will go through some of the most popular programmes, and give you a balance of pros and cons for each

By Aron PeakContributing Author

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Music Production has skyrocketed in popularity over the last two decades, with higher end computing and affordable software becoming much more available. With so many options on the market (and so much more time on people’s hands due to COVID-19) there’s plenty of talk about which DAW is best for you.

DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation, and is the programme used to create music digitally. This article will go through some of the most popular programmes, and give you a balance of pros and cons for each. Let’s get started:


Logic Pro

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Logic Pro is a DAW and MIDI sequencer that was originally created in the early 1990’s and was eventually bought by Apple, who acquired the original company Emagic, in 2002. According to a survey conducted in 2015, Logic Pro is the second most popular DAW behind Ableton Live, and this is for good reason, as you’ll see from the summation below:

✅ PROS❌ CONS
+ Massive collection of built in instruments- Only Mac OS
+ Amazing bank of built in samples (arguably the best of any DAW)

- Can be quite overwhelming at first with a reasonably steep learning curve

+ Extensive editing features – tons of professional tools

- Ironically not that logical in many of it’s mechanisms
+ Comes ready with everything to create a professional track 


Logic is a fantastic and powerful piece software that is as popular now as it ever has been. Not only that, but unlike a number of other DAW’s, it has quite literally everything you need to create a professional production with what you get as standard…the built in plugins and tools are really that good! If you’re looking for Mac exclusive software, look no further.

PRICE: €190  (https://www.apple.com/logic-pro)


Pro Tools

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Pro Tools is a DAW created by Avid Technology for both Windows and MacOS, which is particularly effective for both music productions, sound for film and general recording and mastering processes. Not only can it run as a stand-alone software but also can be used to control external analogue to digital converters, PCIe cards and digital signal processors.

✅ PROS❌ CONS
+ Instinctive MIDI engine & advanced editing features- Take time to understand the intricate workflow
+ Very stable, rarely crashes- Steep learning curve

+ Comes with many high quality plugins as standard

- Expensive
+ Low Latency – runs very smooth- Heavy on CPU
+ Very powerful mixer – very precise with fantastic sound – great emulation of analogue gear 


This DAW is the top choice for many professional studios, and once you take a look inside the box it’s easy to see why - it’s an extremely powerful bit of software, with an incredible amount of features and astonishing versatility for a number of different uses. Top tier.

PRICE: €650 (https://www.avid.com/#Audio)


Ableton Live

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Ableton Live is available for both macOS and Windows, and unlike a lot of the other DAW’s on the market it was designed to compliment live performances in addition to being used for composition, recording and production.

✅ PROS❌ CONS
+ Great for live performances- Different working layout compared to conventional linear based DAWs
+ Very quick sound sample editing, slicing, and tweaking

- Not so ideal for band or film producers

+ Intuitive editing features

- Not the best stock plugins
+ Steady, instinctive learning curve 
+ Cheap 
+ Very low latency 


Ableton is noted as the most popular DAW on the market and this makes complete sense. It’s one of, if not the most,user-friendly programmes available, with a relatively flat learning curve and tons of intuitive features. In addition it is one of the most powerful tools for live performance, with a myriad of external hardware designed to work with it – such as being able to seamlessly link multiple computers to share one digital workstation! Highly recommended!

PRICE: from €89 (https://www.ableton.com/en/shop)


CUBASE

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As one of the earliest DAW’s to be released, Cubase is an extremely detailed and well renowned for all of your music production needs. From being released originally in 1989 on the Atari ST, it’s seen extensive development that hasfine-tuned the software over the years.

✅ PROS❌ CONS
+ Has been in the market for a long time- Takes some time to understand complex workflow
+ Intuitive MIDI engine & advanced editing features

- Steep learning curve

+ Extremely stable & rarely crashes

- Expensive
+ Has many world-class stock plugins- Arguably a bit out-dated - Looks clunky compared to most others


With a huge amount of built in instruments, dedicated experienced team and extremely robust software that is comparatively light on your CPU, it’s easy to see why Cubase is such a popular choice amongst the top professional audio engineers around the world. Further to this, the huge amount of VST instruments it comes with is incredible – a serious selection of high-end professional equipment ready at your fingertips from the get go.

PRICE: from €99 (https://www.steinberg.net/en/shop/cubase.html)


FL Studio

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FL Studio, originally Fruity Loops, isa DAW developed by Belgian company Image-Line, which is famous for it’s user friendliness and pattern based music sequencer. From its initial release in 1997, it has become one of the most successful DAW’s on the market, being incredibly popular with both bedroom and big studio producers.

✅ PROS❌ CONS
+ Great for beat making, loop-based compositions & generally electronic music production- Not for film music producers
+ You can get away using mouse clicks. You don’t even need a MIDI controller

- Limited availability of some of the advanced editing tools

+ One of the best DAWs to do advanced automations

 

 

There are some distinct limitations with this DAW, sure, and it is far more suited for electronic music, as recording external instrumentation/vocals isn’t conducive with its core components. On top of that you’ll most likely want to invest in a number of 3rd party plugins, as the core stack isn’t fantastic. With that being said however it is an extremely versatile, flexible and easy to use piece of software that gets everything you need to do inside the box, quickly and efficiently.

PRICE: from €89 (https://support.image-line.com/jshop/shop.php)


Reason

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Reason is a DAW created with the analogue advocate in mind, emulating hardware racks, synths, samplers, signal processers, sequencers, mixers all of which are operated in a literal digital replication of the live environment.

✅ PROS❌ CONS
+ Many analogue based virtual instruments- Complicated user interface
+ Versatile accurate live sampling capabilities

- Rewire can be time-consuming and not as smooth

+ Integration with many different DAWs

 
+ Incredibly flexible 
+ Brilliant representation of analogue gear in digital space 
+ Developed by an extremely passionate team 

 

Despite the initial complications, lack of user friendliness and high skills ceiling, Reason is an incredibly powerful DAW, that will not only teach you a lot about electronic music production, but also teach you valuable tacit skills that you can transfer into real life scenarios. If you are an EDM or Hip-Hop producer and are looking for some excellent samples, you’ll also be pleased with the fantastic stock sounds. If you are an individual that has experience using live racks and outboard gear, or if you’re a particularly visual learner that wants a far more hands-on approach with your DAW, then definitely take this into consideration.

PRICE – from €320 (https://www.reasonstudios.com/shop/product/reason-11)


Reaper

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Reaper is a complete digital audio production, offering a full multitrack audio and MIDI recording, editing, processing and mixing, that is available both on Windows and Linux.

✅ PROS❌ CONS
+ Reasonable price- Standard boring layout (you can customise it with skins)
+ Customizable UI skins for the DAW

- Steep learning curve

+ Lightweight and very stable

- You probably want to use 3rd party plugins on top of it
+ Warmer sound with Reaper, with more headroom- Prone to crashing
+ Fast workflow once understood 

 

Despite being difficult to get your head around, Reaper’s capability are extensive and it is extremely flexible both in terms of what the user can do to customise the programme, and in the number of audio based tasks it lends itself to expertly. If you are willing to put in the time and purchase a few 3rd party plug-ins, Reaper is an unstoppable force that is a fraction of the price of most of it’s main competitors.

PRICE: from €50 (https://www.reaper.fm/purchase.php)


Garageband

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Garageband is a DAW specifically for MacOS, and is very similar to Logic Pro but on a much more simplified scale. It’s ideal for creating podcast especially, but also a great starting point for making music and editing audio.

✅ PROS❌ CONS
+ Free for MacOS users- Limited features and capability compared to other DAW’s
+ Has many of the essential effects as Logic Pro

- Only comes with a Mac

+ A wide variety of virtual instruments

 
+ Fantastic built-in drum sequencer 


As stated previously, Garageband does lack the flexibility of Logic Pro, as well as the many powerful mixing and mastering plugins. It is however a free to use software for those on Mac, so what else can you expect? If you are looking for a free entry-level intro to music production – look no further.

PRICE: FREE


Overall Winner – Ableton Live

It’s important to start the conclusion off with “it doesn’t really matter which DAW you use, it’s about what’s right for you…they are all “good enough”” With that being said, if I’m being pushed for an answer I would say Ableton Live. If I started again, it’s definitely the DAW I would choose to learn (and this is coming from a Logic Pro user!). The reason are simple, it’s cost effective, intuitive, has amazing features, comes on both MAC and Windows and takes collaboration and live performance to the next level.

About Aron Peak

A passionate writer with diverse interests, an eclectic range of styles and over 5 years of experience writing for the likes of global music festivals, market leading technology companies and national arts and lifestyle outlets. Aron is also a professional music producer and runs his own record label Bare Bones. Over the past 7 years he has had multiple releases that have been supported both in the UK and Internationally (e.g. BBC Radio 1, EDC Las Vegas etc), and has toured across the world as a DJ.

Contact Aron Peak at aron.peak@musicngear.com

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