Best Audio/Music Production software (DAW recording software) reviewed

DAW recording software

Best Music Production Software buying guide: Find extensive reviews of the top Digital Audio Workstations (DAW/MIDI Sequencer) recording software on the market. This is where you do all the recording and editing of your sound tracks. Once you have got your computer sorted out, you will need a recording software to start working. This is basically a software program for managing your tracks, editing them, applying effects, and it is from here that you create your final mix.

Music Production Software DAW: Highlights

Depending on the product, you can expect to get few or all of the following (various aspects of music creation) in a DAW:

  • Multi-track recording
  • Song writing
  • Composing or transcribing
  • Beat programming
  • Sound design
  • Sequencer
  • Audio / MIDI Editing
  • Automation
  • Built-in processors and effects
  • Video support
  • Built-in Mixer – for Mixing, Re-mixing
  • Mastering
  • Film Scoring

Best Music Recording Software Packs

Want to record audio, create a new song, mix tracks, you need a good DAW, besides a good laptop or desktop, monitor speakers, and studio headphones. Here we take a look at the best music production /Midi Sequencer/DAW sequencing & recording software available for your studio, for music recording and producing.

Propellerhead Reason 10 Music Production Software
One incredibly powerful music recording and producing software application, Propellerhead’s Reason is a fast, lean and rock solid production environment that lets you stay focused on your music. This full-on music production software suite is packed with synths, samplers, effects and all the music production tools you need while paying added attention to adding vocal and guitar parts to your tracks. Several instruments, VST support, powerful MIDI/audio recording and a mixer modeled on an SSL console. read more

Steinberg Cubase Pro 9.5 Recording Software (Macintosh and Windows)
Absolute cutting edge in digital audio workstations! Featuring fully integrated tools for working with loops, beats and vocals, Cubase combines new composition features and tools to take musical creativity to new heights. Cubase Pro 9.5 is an advanced music production system With stunning innovations and additional enhancements that boost productivity and performance. read more
Buy on zZounds

Ableton Live Music Production Software (Macintosh and Windows)
Version 9 enhances the Ableton vision of creative, real-time digital music with a wealth of new techniques, effects and most-wanted workflow improvements in this midi sequencer software.
Buy on zZounds

Version 10 will be out soon, will keep you updated.

Avid Pro Tools Recording Software
The Avid Pro Tools 12 Recording studio Software is the serious music production choice for power, compatibility, options and ease of use without spending serious money. read more
Read more

Cakewalk SONAR Producer Recording Software (Windows)
Sonar gives you what you need for recording, composing, editing, mixing, and mastering. Get innovations that matter, from exclusive features to ignite creativity and perfect your tracks, to groundbreaking technologies that always keep you in control. Sonar Platinum delivers the go to production tools you want with the best collection of virtual instruments, mixing, and mastering effects found in any DAW.

Also Read: FL Studio

Music Software Skill Level Platform Pros & Cons Price Range

Apple Garageband
Beginner Mac / iOS Pros: Easy to use, Free
Cons: Only for Apple products
Check Price

Apple Logic Pro
Medium/ Expert Mac Pros: Stable, Nice plugins
Cons: Some plugins are a bit difficult to use
$$ Check Price

FL Studio
Beginner and Intermediate Windows / Mac Pros: easy to Use
Cons: Lack some pro features
$$ (Check Price)

Propellerhead Reason
Advanced beginners/ Expert Windows / Mac Pros: Loads of features
Cons: Can be overwhelming for beginners
$$$ (Check Price)

Avid Pro Tools
Expert Windows / Mac Pros: Amazing performance, Powerful
Cons: Bit Pricey
$$$ (Check Price)

Steinberg Cubase
Medium/ Expert Windows / Mac Pros: Versatile, Powerful
Cons: Resource- heavy
$$$ (Check Price)

Ableton Live
Medium/ Expert Windows / Mac Pros: Solid, Nice interface, Good for live performances
Cons: Pricey
$$$ (Check Price)

DAW Recording Software: The Heart of Your Recording Studio

A Recording Studio Software gives you all the controls/tools you need to create music from scratch. There are lots of software programs out there, each having its pros and cons, so choose one that is best suited to your situation.

The MIDI Sequencer is the heart of your recording studio. This is where you do all the recording and editing of your sound tracks. Also known as a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), the MIDI Sequencer is where you mix all your tracks and make the final output which can be copied to a CD or saved as mp3/wav files.

What else can it do?
From creating synthesized lines, sequencing percussion lines and drum beats to modifying arrangement and structure, recording studio software programs give users the precision and creative control necessary to take raw tracks and transform them into professional-quality songs.

With additional support for hardware and MIDI controllers, recording studio software programs can operate as a hub, letting users make use of the software through line-out controls and implement, supplement and even combine sounds to make your tracks sound unlike any other.

Sound Libraries
Besides the sequencing software, you will also need various sounds and effects to create music. You will need different kinds of sounds such as synths, pianos, guitars, band instruments, orchestral and other sound effects. The more types of sounds you have, the more creative you can get and the more unique you can make your music to sound.

The basic recording software program that you choose does come with a basic set of sounds but then if you need more, you can go for extra sound and effects, which come in the form of software libraries and sound plugins.

Demo video of a popular Recording Studio Software:

Hardware or Software?

One thing to understand is that a sequencer can be a piece of software or it can be a feature provided within your electronic keyboard itself.

A workstation would have a full fledged sequencing ability, giving you all the tools to do your recording/editing work.

On the other hand if you would like to use your computer to do your recording work, you will need midi sequencer software.

Also Read: Hardware vs Software sounds for Music Production.

In the music recording world, software has become much more powerful and has replaced several hardware equipment, that used to be a regular feature in most recording studios! Be it for editing sound tracks, patch pieces together, enhancing musical tracks or to record musical tracks, these software programs can do them all and more.

Important Features in a Recording Software

Even before you decide what software to buy, you need to realize that you need a really powerful computer for it to work smoothly, as recording requires a great deal of computing power. The software product will specify what specs are required, but go for as high RAM memory, processor power that you can afford.

What else should you look for in a Recording Studio Software? Let us have a look at some important features of any sequencing tool.

  • Audio Production Features
    What tools are available to modify, edit and record tracks, and more importantly how easy are they to use. Though performance of the software is dependent on your computer (configurations) to some extent, you also need to find how it performs when working with many tracks, if the latency is low, and if it saves all the data in event of crash, and so on.

  • Tracks: Almost all the sequencing software lets you add more than hundred tracks. You can add both audio as well as Midi tracks. You can even import audio files into your MIDI sequencing software and incorporate them in your recordings.
  • Editor: An easy to use editor is an important feature to have as you will be making a lot of changes to your recording before you produce your final mix. Sequencers lets you edit audio/midi tracks and come with a lot of features to make the editing an easier task.
  • Mixer: Mixer lets you create the right balance between the various tracks in any musical arrangement. You can adjust the volumes of each track using the sliders provided.
  • Effects/VST Instruments : Effects like reverb, chorus, flanger, vocoder, etc. makes your recording sound more interesting and realistic. All the sequencing software come with a decent set of built-in effects which can be used in your recording but if you want the best effects available, you will need to buy them!
  • Input/Output
    Can it work with most popular hardware devices and MIDI controllers? Is it compatible with most popular audio file formats? Can it publish in various file formats?

  • Audio Processing: After mixing your tracks you need to use audio processors like equalizer and compressors to make your recording sound better and punchier. The sequencing software comes with built-in equalizers and compressors which can be used in your recording but the best equalizers/compressors do not come free. They are available as VST instruments which need to be bought.
  • How easy to learn
    Besides, you also need to find out what learning resources are available (user-guides, help tabs, FAQs pages and user forums) so that you can get the maximum out of the Recording Studio Software.


Here’s a video of a beat making software:

More features
Besides the above mentioned features, sequencing software come with numerous other features which lets you record/edit complex musical arrangements with ease. Some of these features are –

  • Freeze tracks to avoid accidental changes
  • Clean up your vocal tracks using features like pitch correction, dynamics, and vibrato
  • High quality time stretching
  • Automate your tracks/plug-ins during record and playback
  • Import video and add your score to the video as a thumbnail track


Music Production Software

Why Use Audio Production Software?

Audio Production Software for Beginners
Audio production software helps sound engineers, producers and musicians to record and edit music, as well as to remix and re-master finished tracks. And almost all the work happens on a computer! Also known as digital audio workstations (DAWs), audio production software products perform well on PCs as well as Macs.

Though the high-end ones can be out of reach of most enthusiasts, you do get lower-priced entry-level music production software for beginners as well. And the best thing about these products, is that you can upgrade to the pro-version later on, if you need more features.

The capabilities of consumer-level products are not drastically different from the complete professional versions.

Digital audio software vendors are competitive and take pride in shipping excellent products that are the creations of brilliant software engineers in cooperation with good musicians and audio engineers.

Most audio recording products are usually comparable in terms of features (at least most of them). Most of these, initially started as a beat-making software and didn’t let you record audio. However, they have now become much more advanced (with audio recording capability), and are more of a complete recording studio at your fingertips.

Expect tools and features to create tracks from scratch, such as beat and percussion sequencers as well as instrument and effects suites. You get functions to combine, manipulate, modify, remove, refine and replace track elements and audio file attributes. You should also be able to import and export a variety of file types and use plugins to achieve various functions and effects.

Most DAWs have full-featured built-in mixers that can record and edit audio, provide visuals of wave-forms and control equalization functions.

Mixers usually have controls that let you:

  • Adjust the volume
  • Add panning and effects plugins
  • Add them to multiple related tracks that you can route to submix busses
  • Mixer pan controls allow you to position sounds in various locations within the stereo soundscape
  • Use it to compensate for any delay introduced into a track during recording
  • These are good to start with, though later on you may consider getting a separate hardware based mixer for faster results.

    Here are some of the effects you can expect to get in these Digital audio workstations:

  • Guitar amplifier emulators and instrument synthesizers
  • Bass, middle and treble frequency controls
  • More equalization effects
  • Control over mono and stereo processing
  • ability to add compression, reverb and other effects.
  • As a beginner, you want lots of tutorials, and detailed documentation to use the software to the fullest.

    Look for:

  • Built-in help sections
  • How-to guides
  • Tutorials
  • Training videos
  • Online manuals
  • FAQs, and see if it has a
  • Supportive user forum.
  • You basically should have various channels for seeking help, and would need it at every stage of music production.

    Make sure the support staff is responsive and online correspondence with the manufacturer is easier.

    Most entry-level audio production software are surprisingly good for most production needs, before you feel the need for pro features, plugins and effects. Pick your entry-level product carefully, as you would most likely upgrade to a product from the same brand so that you don’t have to learn a new complicated product from scratch.



    Top Free Consumer-Grade DAWs

    There are several Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) available out there, but most of them are not free (although most of them do have a trial version which is free to use but have limited features).

    However, there are some free alternatives out there that offer some good learning experience (in recording, editing and music production).

    MU.Lab
    MuLab from MuTools provides an easy interface to record, create and edit multi-track music. Its surprisingly efficient and has decent amount of features.

    • MuLab supports MIDI and audio recording
    • Features sample player, drum set, synth, EQ and more


    Watch: MuLab 6 Intro

    MuLab is available for Windows and Mac OSX for free from: http://www.mutools.com/mulab-downloads.html

    Apple GarageBand
    GarageBandMac computers come with GarageBand — a free, consumer-grade DAW that lets you get started with music production. The software features a modest sound library, drum machine, synth controls for changing the sound of your audio, and a number of virtual instruments.

    • Easy to use software cor creating music – With or without an instrument. Plug in your guitar or mic and choose from a wide selection of sounds, amps and effects.
    • Create EDM and Hip Hop beats like a pro.
    • Great collection of sounds, including several, powerful EDM‑ and Hip Hop‑inspired synth sounds. The sounds can be tweaked to your liking.
    • Learn to play popular instruments like Piano & Guitar with a good collection of built-in lessons.
    • You can record, edit, add effects, mix and master. Its your all-in-one studio.
    • Easily share your finished song on Social sharing sites

    Apple recently released a major upgrade to GarageBand, with an eye on the lucrative Chinese market; the new version has features Chinese instruments (including pipa, erhu, and other Chinese percussion instruments) and hundreds of Chinese music loops. Additional features include Chinese language localization, ability to share music on social network (including video site Youku).


    Watch: Apple CEO Tim Cook jam on the new Chinese version of GarageBand


    Watch: T-Pain mixes a beat with the new GarageBand

    To Conclude

    Music Production Software There are various kinds of software out there that help musicians and producers create music, with the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) music production software being the most powerful one. You can checkout the trial versions of some of these to get an idea of their capabilities; the high-end Pro Tools HD system is used commonly by professionals.

    Long back, all the functions mentioned above were carried out by dedicated hardware. Most of it has now moved to the software domain, and you can make these a part of your home studio. What you choose will depend on what your needs are, what types of sounds you want, and what type of music you want to create using your Music Production Software.

    1 Comment

    Add a Comment
    1. Comments:
      David Ostrosser · Collège de l’Outaouais
      I will certainly never use a Steinberg product again as long as their ridiculous licensing/registration process is in place…March 24 at 6:24am

      Lester Murray
      I have an MRS 1608. It spits discs. I have a midi controller (Yamaha S30 keyboard). A Gaudin composite with acoustic, electric and 13 pin output to Roland GR20 guitar synthesizer, laptop and tower computers, Europower mixer p.a., Sennheiser condenser mike and regular mike, an M-Audio FastTrack guitar/mic recording interface. I still don’t understand how I’m supposed to mix this altogether with backing tracks. I’ve downloaded a bootleg of Ableton 7 Live (haven’t tried to activate with the key gen) to see if I could pre-set sounds on the keyboard and/or guitar (I play both live and sing predominantly Beatles with a harmonizer) so I wouldn’t have to switch Live (that it would be pre-programmed to change at the precise moment). If you were doing a solo with two instruments (with oodles of different sounds on both) plus singing with a harmonizer where would you start. I’ve tried manuals, You Tube and various articles to try and get it through my skull but I either don’t know what I’m looking for or it’s sitting right in front of me…March 24 at 9:30pm

      Lester Murray
      P.S. I’ll read the articles tomorrow and see what I can or can’t see.

      Suresh:
      I think it is more of a personal choice. I know this sounds cliche but it is. The best sequencer for you will depend on your personal preferences. Like how you need the GUI, what platform you will use – say windows or Mac, whether you want the software to be very easy to use or you want to have more control over what you can do…things like that.

      Usually, whatever software you start using, you tend to have a preference towards that later on as well, since you have already done the difficult part of learning to use its nuts and bolts, and you prefer a familiar environment.

      So I think you should go through the features of all these software sequencers and go ahead with the one that you feel comfortable with. You also need to realise that music is above technology and all these features may not necessarily help you in creating the music of your dreams. Some of the most amazing MUSIC that were recorded decades ago are still popular, and they were recorded on some plain reel tape recorders. This is IMHO…Dec 02, 2010

      Gizmo:
      Suresh…valid points. But still, I would like to know which sequencer / DAW (Digital audio workstation) is industry standard? What do professionals or the gurus use?…Dec 02, 2010

      Suresh:

      I think Pro-Tools is the most widely used among professionals / advanced users followed by Logic. Next would come Cubase and Sonar. I think they are evenly matched, may be a bit tilted towards Cubase. Propellerhead Record / Reason seems to be the dark horse, but I doubt if the professionals take it seriously though. We will have to wait and see. Any professional composer around and would like to comment?

      TMZ:

      I think, Cubase is the most popular and widely used sequencing software (includes home studio users), though most commercial studios use Pro-Tools and Nuendo. But, it all depends on who is comfortable with what software. Once you work on a particular sequencer, you tend to stick with it. If you take any commercial studio, even if they have multiple sequencing software and engineers, their engineers may have their own preferences and each of them will use a different one.

      CoolGuy:

      Have heard this question many times before, but should not a musician think more about his music first, and then think about the tool (in this case the sequencer)? Depending on the type of music you like, you will need the core sounds, and that will decide whether you need hard synths, soft synths, acoustic instruments, etc. Is it not?

      I think one should try out the demos of the best sequencers, see what type of sounds they are good at, and then pick up what you like.

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