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What is a DAW ?
A Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) is a software which does all the audio/music production/processing routines from recording to arranging, and from mixing to mastering to final rendering into your favourite audio format, this little article will provide some basic informations on different DAW, (for production teaching purpose I use Reaper due to it's fair license policy (60 day trial) and it's also my most fav DAW) so I will review reaper first, then will introduce you to other popular DAW's in no particular order.
Reaper Digital Audio Workstation
IMHO Reaper is the best DAW out there, it provides super fast work flow, highly customizable, a great license scheme and above all, the trial version runs fully functional forever, yes it's a small software (8MB or so) and doesn't comes with any instruments except a simple software synthesizer, but Reaper has good collection of Effects some of which is not even available in other DAW's ( only con I have with Reaper is there's no notation editor like Cubase or LogicPro ) and with third party instruments and effects it's just as powerful as any other DAWS which comes with inbuilt plugins, and having to hunt for third party plug-ins to use in Reaper will take us into the galactic world of VSTi's, where one surely will get lost :) ofcourse we learn a lot more with that experience, Reaper license is fairly priced at only 60 dollars for those who makes less than 20,000$ per year, eventhough Reaper will run perfectly fine after the trial period, you should always consider supporting the developer team with the low priced license of 60$, btw, there's only one edition of Reaper, be it the trial, the 60$ version or the 225$ (for those who make more than 20,000$/yr) the software is same unlike other DAW's where there will be like 2-3 versions with different limitations
I think this is the most popular DAW, if you search in youtube for any production tutorial, most of them will be in FL studio, some says it's because, FL Studio is the most pirated DAW out there, and another reason is it's very easy to use hmmm.. anyways, yes with this thing we can make music in seconds (or minutes :) ) it comes with lot's and lot's of instruments and effects and loops and one shot samples and what not, but why I don't prefer FL Studio is it's workflow, it's not that great, when we want to fine tune some tracks parameters such as automation, arranging or mixing aspects etc, it comes nowhere near to Reaper, the Demo version is fully functional (projects can be saved, but can't open again) so please take a test drive to check if it suits you, FL Studio Producer Edition is priced at $199.00, there's basic version available for 90$ and full software with all plugins costs around 1000$
Another popular DAW among EDM producers, ableton is currently number one in the world ( MusicRadar Polls 2014) (Reaper is 3rd and Logic Pro is 2nd) it is a special piece of software giving 2 different workflows, the traditional timeline based and session / clip based environment, where one can arrange/create lil loops as clips and play it live, in different order and make a timeline recording/track of that, one can also use it for DJ-ing purposes, Ableton also comes with lot's of instruments and effects and singleshot samples and loops, now why I don't prefer Ableton is it's interface is not neat/user-friendly like Reaper, again since I am reaper user and it's my fav, I compare other DAW's with Reapers ease of use, that doesn't make Ableton bad, it's as good as every other DAW's listed here, I will say try as many DAW's and then when it's feature suits the music you make, stick with that one and learn all it's advanced stuffs, Ableton intro version costs 100$'s, Standard version 449$ and suite version 749$, offers a 30days free trial.
Well those who don't know, this is the granddaddy of DAW's, in development since 1989 created by Steinberg the company who introduced the Virtual Instrument Plugin technology, composers like Hans Zimmer use Cubase, well there's nothing much to review, it's a great piece of software, it has a musical notation editor also plus lot's and lot's of functionality, in a sense Reaper's workflow is kinda similar to Cubase, Cubase Elements 7 costs 100$, Cubase Artist edition costs 249$ and Cubase pro costs 599$, Cubase offers 30 day trial for it's Elements series without any need of USB-eLicenser, Pro version trial needs an USB-eLicenser dongle
A different kind of DAW, Reason by Propellerhead is a self contained music production DAW (like FL Studio, but no proper VST support) but one can purchase additional instruments/effects as reason's rack extensions ), Reason comes with few but powerful instruments and effects and you can do just about anything, instruments and effects resembles a real studio environment where we stack multiple hardware units to get things done, I will say it's a good DAW, but it's costly in the sense of buying racks extensions, and no VST support, no notation editor etc.. there's a full trial version available ( audio export and project re-opening is disabled), so you can try it as long as you want, and if it suits you, buy it, Reason essentials costs 100$ and Pro version 399$
This is an industry standard DAW like protools, has got it all, instruments, effects, notation editor, well if you are a Mac user look no further, price is 199$ via app store
Protools (Industry standard, most recording studio uses this), Maschine (not a real DAW, but one can make real music), Bitwig Studio ( The newest DAW, kinda similar to Ableton, has some cool new features too), Studio One (There's a free version too with 'no VST' as limitation, but there's an inbuilt instrument 'Presence' which contains lot's of cool sounds) these are also some nice piece of software along with others such as Mutools, Sony Acid, GarageBand, Nuendo, Mixcraft Pro, Samplitude, Sonar etc. am not gonna review these as I haven't tested it, by the way it's doesn't matter what DAW you use, what matters is what you do with it, and well for learning electronic music production I suggest you to stick with DAW's like Reaper, FL Studio, Ableton etc., when you get into intermediate stage, be sure to check each and everyone, you can always do a youtube video check on different DAW's to learn it's features )
Look no further!, this is simply the best freeware DAW out there, Podium is a one man army software, if you like the free version, consider buying the full version for 50$ ( limitation in free version is that dual core processing is disabled for plugins, and only 32 bit )
last but not least, the only major open source DAW, it's fun and also easy to use, kinda similar to FL studio, be sure to check it, why ? cause it's free and open source :)
Have fun making music! :)
(prices obtained on Jan 2015, expect changes, always keep an eye on official/non-official online stores for offers)