More than 65% of the world’s top music producers use a digital audio workstation (DAW) for their music production.
That’s amazing news because it means you could be a top pro too, with the right tools and, of course, talent, the sky’s the limit for home production now.
We’ve been out to test a bunch of DAWs for you, so that you don’t have to and our favorite picks are all capable of making you the next Quincy Jones.
PreSonus Studio One (PC and Mac)
We can’t believe how powerful this suite is now and it’s certainly a worthy contender for your consideration when buying a DAW.
The score editor is a delight to work with and it’s based on PreSonus’ Notion for those with some familiarity already – that makes it very easy to learn.
Though we’d like to see them release the print functionality from Notion, as you can only track the score on your screen for now.
Our only real complaint about Studio One is that it can end up feeling very complicated if you try and do too much at once, that’s a user issue rather than a software one, but a fairly common problem all the same.
Ableton Live (PC and Mac)
Ableton Live is the biggest player in the DAW world and if you want to buy the biggest, best, and class-leading workstation then there’s simply no alternative.
There are three different levels of product Intro, Standard and Suite and as you might expect each step up incurs a higher cost and delivers a ton of new features.
Intro is fine to get started with and it’s best to upgrade as you need features if you want to learn what is a fairly complex tool, quickly.
If there is an industry standard, then Ableton Live is it and if you opt to use this package as your workstation, you’ll find that you’re in the company of many top pros.
It’s worth noting though that the last update wasn’t as meaty as previous updates and we wonder if they’re slowing down on features now?
You should also be aware that there is a known issue regarding plugin delay compensation and it’s an ongoing problem that’s unlikely to get resolved quickly.
You can get a free trial though, to get a feel whether it’s for you before paying a penny.
Apple Logic Pro (Mac ONLY)
Apple users may just want to opt for something that’s a core part of their own platform and Apple Logic Pro is the main Apple, Ableton competitor.
It’s a lot more substantial than the lightweight “Garage Band” (though Garage Band is a nice stepping stone in using DAWs) and you really can develop the most complex of tunes on it as long as you’re happy to follow the fairly rigid workflow.
One thing we’ve noted with Apple Logic Pro is that it tends to follow the pack rather than lead it, which is fine, because it means you’re never dealing with experimental tool sets but you’re also never ahead of the curve either.
Perhaps, the biggest concern with Apple Logic Pro though is that it really hates some third-party plugins and you never know when a compatibility error is going to crash things out.
So, give it a free trial at the link below and see if it works with your favorites before laying out the cash.
Acoustica Mixcraft 9 (PC Only)
If you want to keep your costs down then Acoustica is a great product to consider, it was a bit on the basic side when it first emerged but now, it’s an excellent option that won’t break the bank.
Don’t opt for the very cut-down version which is $50 cheaper because you lost a lot of functionality, instruments, etc. and at that point, it’s not such great value for money.
The full version has an excellent UI which is super easy to use though, perhaps, a little dark in visual tone – it didn’t bother us when trialling the software but we can see why some users don’t like it.
The one question we struggle with when it comes to Acoustica is not whether it’s good enough because it is, but whether you’d want to change from another DAW to it?, and in the end, we think you should because it’s such an incredible bang for buck.
Image-Line FL Studio (PC and Mac)
Image-Line FL Studio is one of the more popular choices amongst professionals and, in particular, EDM producers who swear by the plugins functionality to make it very easy to extend it above and beyond the “boxed” version.
We also really love the fact that you get free updates for life, that makes the slightly steeper price tag feel like mega-value in the long run, use this for 2-3 years and you’ll be loving it too.
The new(ish) Mac version is every bit as good as the PC version and adds even more flexibility to this powerful DAW.
The only thing we’re not 100% keen on is the UI which really can feel like it’s trying to pack too much into too small a space at times.
However, you might see that as a positive reflection of all the features you can access.
Final Thoughts On Best Digital Audio Workstations
Making music has never been easier and producing that music into something even more polished just requires the right DAW.
Each of these DAWs ought to help you create the sounds of your dreams, so why not try one of the free trials today and get started?
While you’re working out how to get the most from your new DAW, why not listen to our best music for studying or put together a playlist of your favorites on our best free music apps?