The Best Music Production Software (DAW) – Complete Guide

The Best Music Production Software (DAW) - Complete Guide

With the ability to show off our talent on platforms like SoundCloud, Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music etc. more of us are finding our passion in a home studio. Be it profanity-induced rap or soul music, the digital audio workstations (widely known as DAW) can lend a canvass for you to paint your music dream. With minimal equipment at your disposal, you can use these music production softwares to record, mix and master music. Finding the right DAW to suit your present and future needs is the key. Your creativity is boundless, so it should not be restrained by the shortcomings of a software. So we dug into the melodious realms and found the 10 best music production software/DAW spanning different expertise levels.

What is a Digital Audio Workstation? Should I try a free DAW software?

A DAW is quite simply a music production setup. This may refer to either a physical device/system or a software to record, mix and master audio. Physical systems include stand-alone boards, MIDI controllers keyboards coupled with appropriate software platforms. However, we are discussing the software DAWs here. These are music production softwares which allow you to merge tracks from various instruments/sources, cut, add, and create the musical masterpiece you could only hear in your head till now. Before you mull over which DAW to buy, check that you have a proper signal chain to relay the music. Software is only the last step. The audio reaching the DAW should be of top quality.

Buying a DAW is a major decision. A full-fledged digital audio workstation will set you back a considerable amount of money. If you are just dipping your toes in the music production scene, you might want to try some free DAWs first. There are many available freely, like Audacity, MuLab, Ardour etc.. You also get Mobile Audio Workstation apps for smartphones. If you want to explore the paid DAWs, you can do so without any expense with limited period free trial versions. Once you graduate from the capabilities a free DAW can provide, and you definitely will, buying a professional music production software is the next rung on the ladder.

How to choose a Digital Audio Workstation?

There are a few areas of research and introspection required before you buy a DAW:

  • Expertise: You experience in music production is a critical deciding parameter here. If you are a beginner, you can spend a couple of weeks acquainting yourself with the operations and workflow of a music production software. Once that stage is over, you can look at the entry-level or moderate level DAW, based on your aptitude in using the software. If you are already an expert, a DAW with maximum features and future-proofing should be the choice. Your DAW should have the ability to keep up with new formats and trends of music. Because the size of investment here, you are likely to use the DAW for 4-5 years.
  • Commitment: How committed are you to music production? If it’s a passing hobby, then go for the free DAWs, free trails or the entry-level software. But if you are planning to take up music production big time, look for moderately feature-ful DAWs. Even though you might take time learning it, it will be able to accommodate your abilities once you get better at using it.
  • Upgrade DAW: Do you already have a digital audio workstation installed? How do you know if you should upgrade? The key is to keep throwing challenges at your existing DAW. The moment your challenge becomes something that it can’t handle, you should start searching upgrades. Your creativity should not be stifled by outdated software.
  • Live performance: Are you planning to perform live? Some DAWs have more features aimed at live performance like smooth MIDI sequencing, presets etc. which are of primary use to DJs. The others are better equipped for studio production.
  • Budget: Since DAWs are an expensive affair, try to strike a balance between the most important features and price. Adding capabilities that you don’t need will be a waste of your money.
  • Research: It’s not about which is the best music production software out there. The question is which is the best DAW for you? You will have to put in some research to find a DAW that meets your learning curve, interest, future needs and budget.

Which is the best music production software?

Music producers around the world have raked up popularity for many DAWs. So the top 10 best DAW list is crème de la crème of the domain. They were selected based on:

Experience Level: We have selected the best music production software to include both entry-level DAWs and expert-level DAWs. This is a comprehensive list with popular DAWs that have proven their mettle amongst professional music producers.

Value-on-money: We checked the how well the software performs for the price. The best music production software provide all the required features of chosen expertise level at a reasonable price.

Performance: The top 10 digital audio workstations selected here are easy to learn or use or both. They make it worth your time with either user-friendliness and features.

Once you choose your favorite music production software and learn the ropes, try to stick to it. Most of the best DAWs covered here keep coming up with upgrades packed with newer and better features, so you can upgrade to a better version in the same software. Once you get used to one DAW, if you change it, you will have to re-educate yourself with the new DAW.

Top 10 Best Music Production Software (DAW) – Complete List

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NameFeaturePrice

Rating

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NameFeaturePrice

Rating

 1. Acoustica Mixcraft Pro Studio 7 18 pristine sounding virtual instruments, two new samplers, Alpha and Omni, and 52 professional audio effects.$$$ 4.5
 2. Image Line FL Studio 12 Producer Edition Includes over 32 software synthesizers including Sytrus & Maximus$$$4.2 
 3. Ableton Live 9 Includes 10 software instruments, 41 effects and Max for Live$$$4.2 
 4. PreSonus Studio One 3 Native Fat Channel plug-in from StudioLive AI mixers includes low-pass filter, gate, compressor, parametric EQ, and limiter$$$4.2 
 5. Propellerhead Reason 9 Unlimited MIDI and audio tracks$$$4.2 
 6. Avid Pro Tools 12.5 Over 60 virtual instruments (thousands of sounds), effects, sound processing, and utility plug-ins$$$4.0 
 
7. Cakewalk Sonar Platinum Music Production Software Unlimited track count no matter what you’re recording – audio, instrument, or MIDI$$$4.0 
 8. Steinberg Cubase Pro 8 VCA faders for complex mixing and automation workflows$$$ 3.8
 9. Bitwig Studio Music Production and Performance Software Incredible control over audio and MIDI, with a fast, intuitive workflow$$$ 3.8
 10. Magix Samplitude Pro X2 The sMax11 limiter now has the option of behaving as a true-peak limiter$$$3.8 
  1. Acoustica Mixcraft Pro Studio 7

The Best Music Production SoftwareAcoustica Mixcraft Pro Studio 7 is one of those middle-of-road DAWs we were talking about, in terms of expertise. It is easy enough for a newbie to learn in good time but it’s sophisticated enough to grow with you. The Pro Studio 7 hit the ground running upon its entry in the DAW market because of its 64-bit version. Going through its features, we did a double take at the price, wondering if there’s something wrong with it for being so cheap. Turned out Mixcraft is just great value for money. With audio warping and quantization, it takes on the high-profile DAW in an open challenge. The familiar layout, the ease of use, the advanced set of features, 64-bit version, the price all together contributed to its top spot on the best music production software list. For the music lover that you are, you might want to also check out the best studio monitor speakers.

Features

The latest Acoustica Mixcraft DAW comes in two versions, Mixcraft 7 and Mixcraft Pro Studio 7. Both have the same core feature package. Pro Studio 7 has a few more plug-ins. Either one of them is enough for a home studio or a professional studio setup.  Acoustica finally did what even Ableton has not managed before. It comes in 32-bit and 64-bit versions. The latter can host both 64-bit and 32-bit plug-ins.

The layout of this DAW’s screen is something you can easily relate to, if you have worked on other DAWs. It has the track lanes on the left side, project workspace on the right and an undocking window at the bottom. You can view the Project, MIDI or audio editor, Mixer or Library sections at the bottom. The interface looks a bit dated compared to the latest professional DAWs in the market but it easier to comprehend for the budding music producers. Mixcraft is a Windows-oriented software. You can run it Mac systems using Apple Bootcamp or such confusing platforms. On Windows, it is back-compatible up to XP. It demands only a 1.5GHz CPU and 1GB RAM to work.

Both audio and MIDI can be recorded and mixed on the Mixcraft Pro Studio 7 DAW. MIDI controller connectivity has taken a huge leap over the predecessor. It now works with Novation Launchpad, Frontier design transport and anything that uses Mackie control protocol. This aids the show-stealing new feature of Mixcraft 7, the Performance Panel. This resides next to the track lists. Here you can drag clips and loops from a project or from Windows explorer into a grid. They will sync here and they can be triggered from a MIDI controller like the Novation Launchpad. The sync is automatic and uses the Audio Warping feature which Mixcraft 7 is the first to introduce in the Acoustica line. Warping is intuitive and neutral, just like its inspiration, the Ableton Live. It also supports Audio quantization, another debutant, and time/pitch stretching. Together, they make live jam sessions extremely productive.

This Acoustic DAW has added two basic samplers. Alpha is a one-sample slot while Omni is a multi-sample instrument. While simplicity is appreciated here, we can do with some advanced samplers. Another issue lies with the plug-ins. Many of them are available for free while Acoustica makes you pay for them. But Mixcraft music production software packs great plug-ins spanning expansive effects and all the traditional synths, beats, piano as well.  The Pro Studio model adds the Memorymoon M80 V2, tape emulators and other valuable plug-ins. Effects have been enhanced to add SideKick6 sidechain compressor, G-Sonique, AAS,  Studio Devil Virtual Bass Amp etc. It now supports 18 instruments and 52 effects in total.

The Mixcraft Pro Studio 7 DAW allows you to mix and process audio while scoring and editing. This closes the process of rendering right in the DAW than in a separate application. Apart from video playback and image display, you can transition, title and edit the video inside the DAW. MIDI programming also comes to the tips of your finger with grid layouts. Beats and patterns can be created on a grid and can be used as clips in the Performance Panel. You can export music in multiple formats. You can burn audio directly to a CD or share to YouTube, SoundCloud, Facebook, Vimeo, Mixcloud or Twitter with a single click.

Mixcraft Pro Studio 7 is the best DAW because it molds itself into the role it’s given: a training DAW, a pro DAW or even an upgrade from the sticky old versions of Cubase. Professional producers have had no issues using it and noobs have had no issues learning it.

Pros:

  • High value on money
  • 64-bit version and 32 bit version
  • 64-bit can host both 64-bit and 32-bit plug-ins
  • Performance panel
  • Audio warping and quantization
  • 18 instruments and 52 effects
  • Video playback and editing
  • Direct upload to online platforms and CD burning

Cons:

  • Samplers are too simple
  • Some plug-ins are available for cheap or free
  • More clicks to access plug-ins

 

  1. Image Line FL Studio 12 Producer Edition

Image Line Fruity Loops has been one of the most downloaded DAW of all time. Starting with loop sequencing, FL Studio has come a long way in the past 18 years. The 12th edition sees a total overhaul of some aspects of this music production software. The core experience is as user-friendly as ever. But they picked out the biggest user problems and turned them into opportunities. Not only is the latest FL 12 bigger and better, it has also been future-proofed to match up with the upcoming visual technologies. This is one DAW that requires a steep learning curve but can be conquered by beginners. And it can easily serve the creative interests of experienced music producers. The price tag is only moderate, so the return on your investment is high. The adorable name is not the only reason we put it on the best music production software list.

Features

Many of you must have already worked on the previous versions of Image Line FL Studio DAW. You will be in for a surprise when you open up the 12th version. It’s like the interface was on Extreme Makeover and got new and improved insides as well. FL Studio 12 DAW has graduated to a vectorised, fully scalable look. It still retains the grey background, but now the vector graphics look cleaner and flatter. And even better, you can scale up the interface to 8K without the scene getting blurred. Image Line claims that 4K and 8K monitors can be used to work on the FL12. This is an excellent step for future producers for whom these HD screen would be more common.

Literally everything on their screen can be undocked and arranged as resized windows. You have a number of mixer layouts where you can decide the elements to be visible in the mixer.  More importantly, Fruity Loops Studio 12 DAW has implemented multi-touch support. Using the touch mode, you can now create the music with your fingers on the screen. Multitouch recognizes touch contact at multiple points simultaneously. With the vector-based interface, you can scale up the display so that your sausage fingers can operate the software. FL 12 music production software comes in three versions: Fruity, Producer and Signature, in increasing order of plug-ins included. While FL is simple yet capable, Producer Edition strikes the right balance between required features for professional production and price.

One of the niftiest upgrades is the new button that lets you switch between Step Sequencer and Piano Roll overview which makes the process less tedious. Notes programmed in the former are automatically updated into the Piano Roll, so you don’t need to copy/paste them. The Channel Rack gives you the Channel options menu in place of the Pattern menu. In this you can circumvent the detailed settings and connect a channel output to a mixer track. You can see the instrument, internal generators and samplers in this window. All 3 versions of the FL12 DAW have upgraded their plug-in bundle. You can view all your plug-ins in one place through the More Plugins button. Producer edition added the Edison Audio, Maximus, 3xOSC, Sytrus and many more plug-ins, some of them updated to go with the new vector graphics.

The Piano Roll sees some utility upgrades. A toggle button lets you deactivate auto zoom. So once the Piano Roll has fit the available screen space, it will remain that way when you open it again. The Editable Ghost option lets you tweak Ghost notes, i.e. the notes of channels other than the one you are editing. You can click on the ghost note to switch to the Piano Roll editor of that channel. The Fruity version of the Fruity Loops Studio 12 DAW has added Automation clips. The multitouch comes in handy while automating as it lets you work with several faders at once.

Do note that this digital audio workstation is Windows-based. Trying to run it on Mac will be a serious headache. It has a funky lifetime free update policy. So if you have a Producer version of Studio 11 DAW, you can freely upgrade it to Studio 12 Producer. Is that snazzy or what! You can move up the versions, say from Fruity to Producer, at an upgrade price.

Pros:

  • Full scalable vector graphics
  • Can be scaled with pinpoint accuracy to up to 8K resolution
  • Multitouch for touchscreen monitors
  • Improved workflow with Magnet docking windows
  • One stop plug-in panel
  • Lesser clicks for functions with cleaner, flatter interface
  • Upgrade of the same version( Fruity, Producer, Signature) to a higher edition( 11th to 12th, 12th to 13th etc) is free
  • Maximus and Sytrus plug-ins in Producer edition

Cons:

  • Only for Windows, not Mac

 

  1. Ableton Live 9

Ableton Live DAW has captured the soul of music production for a long time now. The upgrade to Live 9 comes after a long wait of nearly 4 years. Ableton has never been one for radical redesigning, at least on the face value. But as you dig deep, you unwrap features that are a pure joy to work with. Ableton Live succeeds in being the single most sought-after live production software. But more significantly, it is a basket where both thriving live performers and a hardened music producer can channel their creative talent. It has the agility to meet a part-time user’s quick needs. But you can also delve deep into the fine details of tuning the audio to create professional tracks. Ableton 9 debuted with the venerable Push controller. Live 9’s ability to intensively test and hone your creativity earns it a top place in the best music production software list.

Features

Ableton Live 9 DAW uses two views to divide and conquer the production work: Sessions and Arrangement. The Sessions View is your blank canvas for creating audio and MIDI clips on the go. This works independent of the audio engine. This is an approach for the hare-brained but brilliant producers. The Arrangement View is more conventional. It lets you edit tracks from left to right in a linear manner.  You take some time to get familiar with them. But since Live is such a popular suite, you have plenty of video training aids online. While these elements have been carried forward from the older versions, the browser has undergone major changes. It has been split into two columns with Categories and Places going on left pane and the resultant menu on the right side.  The Sounds option in Categories lists sounds by instruments rather than device.  This architecture is much more intuitive. The search bar works like the modern search engine with dynamic suggestions as you type.

Automation curves have been added to this DAW finally. You can record them into clips directly or use the Arrangement view. An automation recording button, a session record button, automation re-enable and Create New scene for Recording controls are provided in Session View. So you can now do session automation recording within Session View clips. The Consolidate Time to New Scene option in Arrangement Views allows you to place data from the timeline to a new scene in the Session View. This makes the Live 9 a lively music production software in contrast to the monotonous processes of other DAWs. You can also view the audio waveform within each device, which helps you form a visual picture of the music via Gate and EQ Eight. The overhauled controls are MIDI assignable, so you can handle them using this known controller.

Live 9 DAW sees the entry of its own Push hardware controller. Ableton Push is an intuitive controller pad. It can play or step sequence all your clips. You can slice beats, play and tweak  samples, warp samples to keep time with your music, or play single hits. You can get instant access to Live 9’s built-in devices, VST and Audio plug-ins and your sample library from the Push. The display on top shows the controlling feature levels of your device or sample. So, sound design right from the controller is made easy here. You can create, mix and fine-tune your music from the board. Push, like its partner Ableton Live 9, works for both performers and producers equally well. Another new device added is the Glue compressor that comes from the collaboration with Cytomic of Glue plug-in fame. The Glue compressor is based on SSL bus compressor and it brings warmth and a kick to the sound. It takes the headache out of parallel processing and works like a charm through the range of gain reduction.

The Ableton Live 9 music production software is integrated with the Max For Live now. You have access to a number of free patches from the same. This gives you freedom to go live without boundaries. Live9 has three versions: Intro, Standard and Suite. Even the Basic Intro has a broad scope of options, effects and plug-ins. Bu if you are opting for Live9, you might as well go down the whole way and buy the Suite. This should cover quite a few years of your career. It has many more instruments and much more extensive library than Standard. Do note that the Suite is an expensive option.

Pros:

  • Extensive features and platform for professional producers
  • Push controller
  • Browser has been improved
  • MIDI editing has been streamlined from Live8
  • Almost exhaustive library content
  • Max For Live
  • Glue compressor

Cons:

  • Has a learning curve, requires effort
  • No improvement in video features

 

  1. PreSonus Studio One 3

PreSonus entered the DAW market relatively recently, in 2008, with Studio One. Even though it was young in the business, it managed to impress the music producers. And now so many years and fixes later, the Studio One 3 has emerged as a trendsetter in the DAW race. The 3rd edition bought a lot of changes to the interface and some key features resulting in a total overhaul-like situation. However, PreSonus hasn’t fixed what’s not broken, so the current users of older versions of Studio One can relax and upgrade. It also lands all Mastering functionalities on your fingertips using the Project Page interface. The Scratchpad/Arranger toolkit of Studio One is a brilliant setup for creating and rearranging music. So we raced it straight to the best music production software list.

Features

Studio One DAW started out with a single window and the 3rd edition has stuck with it. Most of the screen is occupied by the Arrange window. Browser stays on the right and the mixer down below. The Arranger allows you to swiftly change arrangements by moving, copying, insertion and deletion of sections. The Arranger window is easy to use and encourages you to get more creative. The Scratchpad is a window that opens up next to the Arranger. You can drag the segments from Arranger into the Scratchpad for experiments. It allows you to play around with music without affecting the original arrangement until you hit the mother lode. Once you create something like that you can drag it back as it is. The options for comparing the original arrangement with music on scratchpad are infinite with these two windows. This is something exclusive to the PreSonus DAW. It shows remarkable maturity in the music creation paradigm.

The Multi-Instrument feature is another example of how the Studio One music production software is setting itself apart. This environment allows you to combine many instruments and MIDI effects as a simple instrument. This is the first time, this combining and routing tool has been so expertly integrated into the DAW rather than being available as a plug-in. You can drag instruments from your browser onto a blank screen. Each instrument has a layer and the resultant instrument is a layered hybrid. As they are added, a dedicated instrument window will pop open and allow you to combine specific instruments in specific areas of the keyboard. The Channel editor’s routing page shows each instrument or effect as an icon and maps them to the same input. The splitter tool is used to branch off the instruments for parallel processing.

The Project Page of PreSonus Studio One 3 DAW is a complete mastering environment. You can put your rendered music on this page of the DAW and sequence them. You can add pauses between the songs and look at it as a whole package. If post-mastering you hear some note that you want to change, you can go to the Song Page of that song and make the changes as required. Since this mastering environment is seamlessly annealed on to the DAW, these changes are automatically reflected in the Project master as well. This makes the process of mastering way easier and you get to behave like a perfectionist without wasting hours going back and forth between the DAW and mastering solution. The Studio One v3 DAW also embraces multitouch, making it compatible with touch-sensitive high-resolution monitors. The menus and buttons are larger to accommodate the touch functionality. But the traditional mouse and keyboard users have a bone of contention to pick with PreSonus over this as the sizes negatively impact them. But we are at that awkward phase of transition between regular screens and touchscreens, so we will just have to deal with it.

The Studio One v3 DAW also has Melodyne Essentials full version integrated on to Professional version. Tuning vocals with Melodyne has never been so accurate and fast before. The functionality of this DAW has become much simpler. On the surface, its screen is clean. But the deep functionalities are easily accessible within a button’s reach. It comes in the Artist, Producer and Professional versions. The last one has a whole lot of VIs, loops and sample. PreSonus also offers an iPad app. It works smoothly and allows you to control the production while moving around with your iPad.

Pros:

  • Arranger/scratchpad to find alternatives on multiple windows
  • Multi-instrument allows to combine effects and create single instrument
  • Melodyne integrated
  • Complete mastering with integrated project page
  • Attractive flexible pricing
  • Multitouch-enabled
  • Free iPad app

Cons:

  • Advanced MIDI editing features are missing
  • Lack of Notation function

 

  1. Propellerhead Reason 9

Propellerhead Reason is that DAW that consistently broke tradition and carved out its own unique journey of evolution. At every step in the last 16 years, music producers have found it to be an excellent tool to lean on, even if not the best and the most modern one. Reason 8 did not have a lot of new incentives to offer but Reason 9 DAW is a whole different story. Propellerhead has picked up the slack and tightened its boots with the Reason 9. Not only is the software smarter, it has integrated some internally developed MIDI tools which challenge the boundaries of creativity. Reason 9 has not only caught up with the other DAWs but it has brought new features to the field. Its in-house solutions to all your creative needs, instead of depending on third party plug-ins, can be a huge advantage. With all the progress this DAW has made, it deserves a spot on the best music production software list. You might want to also check the best VST Plug-in Software.

Features

The star attraction of the Propellerhead Reason 9 DAW package is the new category of rack devices called Players. You find them in the browser menu. These are MIDI tools that should be used along with sound-generating instruments. There are three of these Players incorporated in the Reason 9 but Propellerhead has opened up scope for more. The Scale and Chords Player lets you select the scale on one side. When you play, it allows you to either discard the notes that don’t belong to that scale or correct them. The other side generates up to 5 notes from the input note in the key you have chosen. You can play around with the chords here. You can set the key and scale from amongst 12 keys and 13 preset scales and a number of self-created scales.   Open chords will play notes of a chord transposed by octave steps to spread the notes wider. This adds to the rich quality of your input sound. You can choose the inversion of the chord or even add tertiary notes to a chord. Once the key of a chosen scale is set, you can use the Alter button to change the chord in different ways relative to the chosen key. The chord exceeds or recedes from the chosen scale in this option. If nothing, it is great fun to try this.

The second Player in the Reason 9 DAW is the Dual Arpeggio. This is a sophisticated arpeggiator that can create two arpeggiations from one MIDI input. You can run the two arpeggio together or separately. You can set different key ranges, rate, transposition, direction etc.  for both. Creating arpeggios is very easy with the interface of this music production software. You can transpose one arpeggio on another and create complicated and highly evolved sounds from just one MIDI input. Dual Arpeggio is mono and polyphonic. With a Direct Record Switch on the Player, you can have MIDI notes directly recorded in a Sequencer track and available for editing. The third Player is Note Echo. It creates a MIDI delay for you instead of you having to transfer the notes ahead on the timeline. You can choose the number of iterations here and even the step length.

While PreSonar Studio One 3 integrates Melodyne, Reason 9 DAW has its own cure. Its Pitch Edit mode lets you correct the pitch of the input. It will automatically correct the pitch of vocal notes with a single button press. You can also go through the process manually, step by step, if you are particular about pitch correction. Pitch Edit cannot deal with the chords polyphonically like the Melodyne. But it relieves the pressure that multiple sessions of Melodyne could put on the CPU. This digital audio workstation also provides a new Audio to MIDI feature. All you have to do is drop the audio file on an instrument track and select Bounce Audio Clip to MIDI, and your MIDI conversion will be ready. This is especially useful while creating remixes because you can add information to the same track rather than collecting multiple tracks. With Bounce in Place features, you can now bounce your audio clips with effect into a new audio clip or MIDI instrument portions into an audio file.

The Propellerhead Reason 9 DAW is a surprisingly lightweight software. It saves your resources by building key capabilities within the software rather than using plug-ins for everything. We haven’t even scratched the surface of the new features in Reason 9 here. Propellerhead redeemed itself big time with this version, so it is going to turn a whole slew of producers into Reason users.

Pros:

  • Integrated Players are highly efficient MIDI manipulation tools
  • Players can bring drastic changes to original music
  • Dual Arpeggio
  • Light on CPU resources
  • Converts audio to MIDI
  • 1000+ new instrument patches
  • Bounce in Place feature
  • In-built Pitch editor

Cons:

  • Bouncing Audio to MIDI is not polyphonic

 

  1. Avid Pro Tools 12.5

For many years Avid Pro Tools has been the go-to DAW of the top professional music producers. This is an expert-level program and it might befuddle the starters. Its 12th edition did not garner the success it had previously enjoyed. So the Pro Tools unleashed a bevy of updates. Now at version 12.5, it is close to what we envisioned from the new era of this juggernaut DAW. With cloud collaboration in play, it has truly changed the way music is created globally and shared. You can now produce in a team that’s situated miles away from you with ownerships of tracks assigned diligently. Their online community gives you the network where you can find musicians to collaborate with using the cloud capabilities. Avid Pro Tools 12.5 clinches the title of one of the best music production software from its main version 12.

Features

Cloud Collaboration is easily the most noticeable feature of Avid Pro Tools 12.5 DAW. When you start a new session on Pro Tools now, it flashes a message asking whether you want to create a local Session or an online Project. The projects are saved on a cloud. So they can be accessed remotely by another producer. When you create an online project it is stored in a cache and relayed to the cloud once you Okay it. Similarly, when you download a project, it is stored in a cache in your local drives. Being the owner, you can regulate what tracks are uploaded on the cloud. You needn’t release the whole project. Uploading and storing processes are optimized by the DAW. There is a dedicated transport accelerator to speed up the download/upload of projects. A compression algorithm makes sure that the files occupy less space on the 500Mb cloud storage assigned to you. The look and feel of both local Sessions and online Projects are same. These two formats are interchangeable. You can create a local session of an online Project.

There are multiple cloud collaboration subscription plans including a free plan. You need an Avid account to share your project with you cohorts. The cloud collaboration feels the same as working on a local session. The sharing part is smooth. Avid has also expertly managed Track ownership issues. It highlights who is working on the shared project at any point of time. The owner and two others can simultaneously work on a project. So you can give your band slots to record and mix their work. Each project also has an Artist chat window so you can chat and figure out things with other people involved in the project. The Pro Tools 12.4 DAW introduced Track Freeze and Track Commit features. When you want to add more collaborators to improve specific areas of your Project, you can create stems using these two features. You can upload these selectively and have somebody work on them.

Many of the HD version-only features of the Avid Pro Tools DAW have been brought into the standard version with the updates on 12th edition. The HD has enormous DSP capabilities that demanded large sessions which only studio euipment could handle. With the increasing processing capabilities of native sessions, the HD features are migrating to standard version. Pro Tools 12 moved from TDM to HDX processing and also the AAX plug-in format. Track Commit and Track freeze have eased the transition. It supports AAX native and AAX AudioSuite plug-ins and AIR Xpand!2 workstation instrument. Eleven Effects, a group of 16 AAX plug-ins simulating multiple guitar stomp boxes, is included in the Pro Tools DAW package.

The subscription plans of Avid Pro Tools DAW are confusing and even a bit exorbitant. If you wish to possess this fantastico music production software, be ready to shell out the greenbacks. That being said, after a few stumbles, Avid Pro Tools has established its rhythm with the 12.5 edition. The 64-bit AAX plug-ins have substantially improved audio quality. Pro Tools unleashed the updates in a sustainable way making sure that the cloud collaboration is totally sorted when the software lands in our lap. In doing so, they have future-proofed Pro Tools against upcoming technology. The resultant workflow is eons ahead of many other DAW in the game.

Pros:

  • Excellent integration of Cloud collaboration
  • Track ownership and changes can be tracked easily
  • Fast transfer speeds and low cloud storage space used
  • Ability to collaborate throughout the globe
  • Upgraded Avid Video Engine
  • 64-bit version
  • AAX support

Cons:

  • Subscription plans are costly and dicey

 

  1. Cakewalk Sonar Platinum Music Production Software

Cakewalk Sonar DAW literally made owning and operating a music production software a cakewalk with their newest edition. Unofficially, this is the X4 version which comes with a new payment model, a fully equipped Artist version and some very useful new features. Cakewalk has been a pioneering force in terms of introducing features like Multi-Touch and 64-bit versions. The fact that they provide all the mixing and editing features right in their Artist version shows their commitment towards making DAWs affordable and features accessible. The Platinum version discussed here provides the full feature set and a comprehensive bunch of plug-ins. Sonar’s brilliant abilities and user-friendly interface mixes it a spot on the best music production software list.

Features

The immediate change that you notice with the Sonar Platinum Windows-only DAW is the Command Center. This is an installation software which controls the authorizations and installations. It keeps tracks of the serial numbers of all Cakewalk products you own. The download and installation processes are automated through the Command Center. Though the button presses are less, some steps take time and patience. For example, with the Platinum pack, you have to separately register for Melodyne, Dimension Pro and Rapture. The last two belong to Cakewalk, so they should be built into the DAW.

The Skylight interface that Sonar has used since X1 is one of the more intuitive interfaces. It was game-changing move for the Sonar DAW. On the surface, the interface hasn’t changed much since X3. The improvements are only barely perceptible but they add value to the user experience. All the areas of the screen can be moved, docked, resized. The icons have better visibility due to better contrast. The Quick Start guide helps you with navigation and even provides link to some very useful videos and tutorials. A simple right click gets you many options to customize the screen according to your workflow. Both the FX bins and Sends restricted display have been removed. You can now stack them up and see the added plug-ins at a single glance.

The new feature to look out for on this DAW is the Mix Recall. When you are considering different mixes of the same project, you might have to save them under multiple names and what not. Sonar’s Mix Recall feature saves multiple alternate mixes within the same project. Once you have created a mix, Sonar stores it along with the automation data and plug-ins used. If you create an alternative mix to this and don’t like it, you always come back to the previous mix you have saved. The Pro Channel functionality of this DAW is retained from the previous version. It allows you to view multiple plug-ins and modules in a standardized view instead of haphazardly stacked windows. Its VocalSnyc technology allows you to sync up the vocals from different takes or during overdubbing. You select a guide track to snyc other tracks to and the VocalSync does your job for you. A MIDI Pattern tool allows you to click on MIDI data and paint it to other locations instead of dragging and dropping.

The Platinum version of the Sonar music production software comes with 16 virtual custom amps, Overloud TH2  Producer Amp sim and Addictive Drums 2 Producer Bundle. You get 9 ProChannel models and its open to more. It houses 21 instruments and 57 audio effects.  The most notable of these is the ReMatrix Solo.  Its Overloud’s zero latency convolution reverb. Apart from the conventional box subscription policy, Cakewalk also provides a monthly membership plan. In this plan, you keep getting custom content from Cakewalk every month on payment basis. After 12 months, you get ownership of the software.

Pros:

  • Latest features
  • Mix Recall
  • Interface management is solid
  • ProChannel feature
  • All features available in Artists version

Cons:

  • Need to renew membership in 12 months

 

 

  1. Steinberg Cubase Pro 8

Steinberg Cubase DAW has forever been the music production software that serves as a yardstick to the performance of other DAW. Since it’s so commonly used, people have started taking it for granted. Cubase remains replete with features and now carries the ‘Pro’ tag along with its name. They have been fairly regular with their updates so we have lost track of the new features. The Pro 8 DAW is a threshold which has set a milestone in updates with the render in-place feature. The interface and functionality are much more refined and quick in their operation. You have a fully stocked virtual instrument artillery. MIDI editing has also seen advancements with Chord Pads and tempo detection. With so much going for it, The Cubase Pro 8 deserves a spot on the best music production software list at the very least.

Features

Cubase 8 DAW does not look fundamentally different from the 7.5 version. The screens are darker now and easier to view in the dull studio lights. But all panes are equally dark so it’s hard to make out their boundaries. It has better contrast so you can see the icons and notations better.  Overall the GUI looks cleaner. A Media Bay window is prominently displayed on the right hand side. This is useful for folks who are heavily dependent on this function. Others can undock it. Cubase is slowly making its way towards a single-window workspace. You have a virtual instruments window which gives you all the parameters defining the instrument. Using the instruments in your production environment is much easier now. There’s also a track control window which is organized by track type and gives you a live preview.

The render in-place function has been one of the much-demanded changes from the Cubase Pro  DAW. It allows you to bounce audio and MIDI inside the DAW, so you don’t have to go through bouncing out and re-importing procedures. You get to choose what should be put in the bounced file and where the rendered file be saved in the local drives. With a Dry option you can render and transfer all effects and setting to the new file. Rendering can also happen without the master output effects. Another notable upgrade is in terms of the MIDI Chord Pads. This allows you to use any input device to play and record chords on a MIDI track. The Chord Assistant suggests chords to help you compose music around it. The Chord Pads are a highly function and relevant feature. A MIDI tempo detection option creates a tempo track from a MIDI file. It helps to analyze a part that hasn’t played to a MIDI click and alter project grid to it.

Cubase DAW’s mixer aces the game with VCA faders. You can now link multiple fades as a single entity and control them together as a single fader. The relative positions of the member faders are retained. This is extremely useful when the track is balanced. When you want to fade all the tracks together, this comes in handy.VCA faders can also be nested by assigning multiple faders to a master. You can automate the VCA faders and simultaneously mix all channels assigned to them. The bundled effects and instruments have improved. Apart from Quadrafuzz, new amps, new stompboxes, envelope shaper effects have been added. An automation feature named Virgin Territory has been added. This refers to a part of the automated track that hasn’t been automated. When the feature is on, it rids the area between two automated sections of automation.

This new version of Cubase DAW is highly responsive and more suited to the needs of the professionals than the earlier editions. They have made a marked upgrade in both looks and performance. There are a number of major and minor features to explore here. Even if it takes time to absorb all of it, it’s worth learning all about Cubase.

Pros:

  • Render in-place
  • VCA fading as a single entity
  • Chord pads
  • MIDI editing made easier
  • Automation has been streamlined
  • Improved performance speed
  • Workflow is smarter

Cons:

  • Closing tabs requires a few clicks

 

  1. Bitwig Studio Music Production and Performance Software

Bitwig Studio is a new kid on the block, but boy is it prodigious! Taking some inspiration from Ableton 9, the Bitwig has grown tremendously in a few upgrades. It has all the latest trends in the digital audio workstation market. And uniquely, it’s a 3-platform DAW, i.e. it works on Mac, Windows and Linux. Bitwig is known for its highly stable, cost-effective performance. And there’s no this version and that version to put you in a dilemma. Every edition comes with a single version which packs the maximum features Bitwig has to offer in the package. It is fast-tracking itself towards becoming the go-to DAW, hence its place in the best music production software.

Features

The Bitwig DAW has a single window interface. Browser and inspector docks can be handled by the user. The sleek looks require minimum clicks. The screen is kept simple on purpose. Ableton users can instantly relate to the screen design.  All sections have resizable boundaries, so you can play around with these windows. Because of the simple interface and moderate amount of features, it is fairly easy to learn Bitwig DAW. A beginner can easily put it through the paces, all the while getting acquainted to possibly the next big thing in the DAW market. The group track feature is the most noticeable feature out of Bitwig’s playbook. You can select a few tracks and make a group out of them. This is not just for outward organization. You can use the group as a single package and assign them audio-routing features together. This lets you use a single fader control for the group and is very useful for drums, percussions, the like.

The browser of this DAW is at the center of its functionality. You can browse for items/features based on instrument, location, vendor, category etc.  It displays all the VST plug-ins you have ever installed. If you have created a MIDI part, you can now swap sound, instruments and effects. All loaded devices have their settings saved as preset. These presets can be auditioned via Bitwig’s library.   When opened up, the browser occupies a lot of screen space. Luckily enough, there’s a fold button to manage that. The search options on the browser cut down the music production time significantly. Since there’s plenty of sample content provided by Bitwig factory library, this is a great help. The collection of samples is wide enough to sustain a new musician for a few years without shelling out more cash for external samples.

Bitwig has a smooth Piano Roll. Using it is both productive and time-saving. MIDI data can be optimized to show only the notes being used. This DAW supports layered editing, with layers of different types of data. You can lock the layers for the fear of accidental editing. You can save the MIDI Controller mappings for every project. You can create keyboard shortcuts for different functions.  An editor lets you change these shortcuts for keyboards and MIDI controller.  Bitwig is moving to the big leagues with Expressive MIDI protocol. This is a futuristic trend which Bitwig already has a finger on. It can run 32-bit and 64-bit VST plug-ins simultaneously without using bit-bridges. These plug-ins run their own processes, so they don’t bring Bitwig crashing down with them. Its stability stems from this fact.  It supports high resolution displays for both Mac and PC. There are a number of small changes and features bubbling just under the surface of this DAW. While it has borrowed some of the cooler aspects of Ableton Live, it brings plenty of new features to the table.

Pros:

  • Easy to use screen
  • Dexterous browser
  • Ability to group tracks
  • Supports Expressive MIDI
  • Runs both 32-bit and 64-bit plug-ins in a version
  • Fast and stable

Cons:

  • MIDI routing needs improvement
  • Audio Unit is not supported
  • Limited features and tailored instruments in some cases

 

  1. Magix Samplitude Pro X2

The Magix Samplitude is not a name you hear as often as the bigwigs Cubase, Fruity Loops, Pro Tools etc.. But it has been around while and had distinguished itself from the mainstream DAWs in many ways. The Pro X2 DAW runs only on Windows and has better audio editing options for audio tracks than MIDI tracks. It is a complete package with comprehensive CD mastering functionality. So you can start from recording and end at mastering your audio right inside the Samplitude DAW. It implements some top-of-the-line features like Elastique, Comprisonics, Ghost Faders etc.. which set it apart from traditional DAW. Its maverick shine draws the curtain to the best music production software list. And if you happen to use a keyboard for your music production, check out our best MIDI keyboards list.

Features

The Pro X2 DAW from Magix Samplitude offers a demo version that you can use to get a look and feel of the software. You can either upgrade to the regular or suite version.  The interface of this DAW is kept minimalistic. It gives you immediate access to all the important functions. The layout is more utilitarian with the timeline taking most of the space. It has toolbars at the top and the bottom. A tab strip at the bottom carries the editing tools. Projects are arranged by tabs. You can switch between MIDI editor and arranger by simply switching tabs. This makes the interface more organized to use.

Magix Samplitude Pro X2 is another DAW that has VCA faders. You can assign multiple faders to one VCA fader group and use one as a VCA master. Any fader can be assigned as a VCA master. Now changing the level of the master fader will change the levels of all the fader together but relative to each other as they were originally. Pro X2 has the unique capability to show the collective level of the individual faders as a single new level called the Ghost Fader. Unlike Cubase DAW, the Samplitude does not allow nested VCA faders yet. In Pro X2 you can now route a track, aux or bus to multiple stereo outputs. You can view aux sends, outputs or sidechains related to the outputs. At this point of time, the mono outs are not supported for multiplicity, but that is expected within the net upgrades.

The Pro X2 DAW saw improved automation with zPlane’s Elastique. You can stretch your audio to change audio time and pitch. The Elastic audio replaces some older time stretching techniques that were part of this DAW. This change paves the way for flex-time and audio warping in the upcoming editions. Elastic Audio is applied across multiple tracks now, so changes in one part will reflect in others. Magix has some proprietary plug-ins in the Pro X2, but it also supports standard VST plug-ins. You are now allowed to layer these plug-ins in the order you like, which was restricted in the previous versions. In the standard version of this music production software, you get a bundle of Magix instruments. In the better Suite version you get a lot of other effects and instruments. You get the Vandal guitar full, version, Cleaning and Restoration suite, a ton of sampler content etc. But the price difference is steep, so evaluate your needs before you choose the versions.

Samplitude Pro X2 DAW is like that trustworthy, hardworking and smart colleague who looks silent and reserved in the face. The best thing is that you can rely on this DAW even if there’s no bling on the surface. The MIDI tracking and editing options are enough for the professionals.  Audio tracking and mastering options are fairly advanced. That being said, Pro X2 is not for the budding musicians. It takes some experience to utilize its full power.

Pros:

  • Simple, clean interface
  • VCA faders
  • zPLane Elastique time-stretching enabled
  • Multiple audio outputs tracking
  • Suite version has comprehensive sampler content

Cons:

  • Windows only
  • Clinical interface
  • Audio Warping is yet to debut
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