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What is the Best Music Production Software (DAW)?

FL Ableton

In order to create or produce music, you need a Digital Audio Workstation or DAW for short. A DAW is a computer program that is similar to a full recording studio. You can run live instrumentation into it. You can insert a wide variety of virtual instruments and effects (plugins).

Perform recording, editing, mixing, mastering and rendering functions.

DAWs come in all shapes and sizes and accommodate the beginner as well as the most experienced producer.

How you choose your DAW is up to you and will depend on factors like your budget, your system, your skill level, and what you want to achieve.

This is how you are going to be making, editing, and rendering your audio. We understand the importance of functionality and performance.

Keep in mind that most DAWs will require the use of an audio interface device. This will convert the signal and allow direct line in to your PC, as well as the use of multiple inputs. These hardware devices price range can vary starting at $25. 

So we are tackling a question that really is a matter of preference, right?

Wrong. This evaluation will break down the specs and the winner will be determined by how readily available it is on every platform.

Meaning it needs to have both Windows and Mac versions, it must cater to the beginner and to the pro. It should offer the ability to record, create, edit, mix, and render.

We are going to start out with the free, yes FREE open source DAWs first. They are Tracktion 6, LMMS, and Audacity.

Let the evaluations begin.

Free Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs)




  • Supports Mac OS, Windows, and Linux.
  • Unlimited Audio and MIDI tracks
  • Automation
  • Video sync
  • Latency management
  • Step Sequencer
  • Freeze points
  • Track tags
  • Record line in
  • Import audio
  • Onboard effects
  • Technical support
  • LFO generators
  • Grouped clips


FREE. They do offer additional plugins (or full different DAW) for purchase.



Mac OS 10.7.5 or Later

Intel Core 2 Duo 2GHz Processor

2GB RAM (4GB Recommended)

Windows 7,8,10

Intel Core 2 Duo 2GHz Processor

2GB RAM (4GB Recommended)
Tested on Ubuntu 12.04

Intel Core 2 Duo 2GHz Processor

2GB RAM (4GB Recommended)


The interface is simplistic and if at any point you need help just click the help or when you first start up tip boxes will display on anything you hover over. Yes, this can be turned off. It isn’t aesthetically anything to write home about, however, that is what makes its ease of use appealing. If you are wanting to record live instruments.

Tracktion is one of the most underrated DAWs around. It does just about everything its competitors will do. Easy to use. Free.




  • Supports Mac OS, Windows, and Linux.
  • Sequencer
  • Automation
  • Piano Roll
  • Import MIDI
  • Consolidate instrument tracks
  • Built-in 64-bit VST instrument support with 32-bit VST bridge (64-bit Windows)
  • 16 built-in synthesizers
  • Built-in compressor, limiter, delay, reverb, distortion and bass enhancer
  • Sharing Platform on their website
  • Technical Support




At least 1 GHz and 512 MB of RAM. If you plan on using VST-plugins, it's also recommended to have multiple cores and/or CPUs.

LMMS does not require an expensive sound card and will run with a modest 2-channel sound card. Furthermore, you will need a MIDI port if you plan to use your MIDI keyboard to record or playback from LMMS.




Recording line in can be done if you manipulate the software. Most users use Audacity to record line in and then dump it into LMMS to edit. LMMS does have a sequencer and creating beats is easy. Great for beginners but doesn’t offer all the features a pro would require. It does support all types of plugins and offers some great stock effects. Mixing is made easy and for a free program, it does offer a lot of control.




  • Audacity can record live audio through a microphone or mixer, or digitize recordings from other media.
  • Import, edit, and combine sound files. Export your recordings in many different file formats, including multiple files at once.
  • Supports 16-bit, 24-bit and 32-bit. Sample rates and formats are converted using high-quality resampling and dithering.
  • Plugins - Support for LADSPA, LV2, Nyquist, VST and Audio Unit effect plug-ins. Nyquist effects can be easily modified in a text editor – or you can even write your own plug-in.
  • Easy editing with Cut, Copy, Paste and Delete. Also unlimited sequential Undo (and Redo) in the session to go back any number of steps.
  • Real-time preview of LADSPA, LV2, VST, and Audio Unit (Mac OS) effects. Plug-in Manager handles plug-in installation and addition/removal of effects and generators from the menus.
  • Pitch and time signature change
  • Chain Effects



Free Anniversary Collection Vol. 4


Please note that Audacity is only available for Mac as a 32-bit application that may be used on 32-bit or 64-bit systems. 64-bit only builds will be available in due course.

Audacity is for Intel Macs running OS X 10.6 and later and Mac OS 10.12 Sierra and 10.13 High Sierra.

Audacity runs best with at least 1 GB RAM and a 1 GHz processor (2 GB RAM/2 GHz on OS X 10.7 and later and Mac OS).

For lengthy multi-track projects, we recommend a minimum of 2 GB RAM and 2 GHz processor (4 GB RAM on OS X 10.7 and later and Mac OS.

Older Mac operating systems/PPC Macs

For Mac OS 9 and Mac OS, 10.0 through 10.5, legacy Universal binary versions of Audacity with Intel and PPC support are still available.

Windows 10 (32- or 64-bit)

Windows 8 (64-bit)

Windows 7 (64-bit)

4 GB / 2 GHz 2 GB / 1 GHz

Windows 8 (32-bit)

Windows 7 (32-bit) (except Windows 7 Starter)

Windows Vista (Home Premium/Business/Ultimate) (32- or 64-bit)

4 GB / 2 GHz 1 GB / 1 GHz

Windows 7 Starter

Windows Vista (Home Basic) (32- or 64-bit)

2 GB / 1 GHz 512 MB / 1 GHz

We recommend using the latest version of GNU/Linux from your distribution that is compatible with your hardware specifications. Audacity will run best with at least 1GB RAM and a 2 GHz processor.




Very user-friendly and a great intro to sound editing for those who are starting out. Audacity is also a very light program in terms of software size. It performs almost the exact same as paid audio editors. The downside is that Audacity cannot properly tag MP3 format and isn’t for music creation. Audacity is reliant on pre-existing creations that can be imported and edited. There are complaints of the program constantly crashing which has been addressed but still hasn’t been completely fixed.


In the DAWs covered that cost nothing, I do believe we have a winner.

Our winner is user-friendly and available for Mac, Windows, and Linux.

Easy enough for beginners to utilize and offers enough quality tools and functions for Pros. An “all-in-one” that allows you to create as well as edit, mix and render. Unlimited tracks, built-in effects, and latency compensation.

Winner Free DAW

LMMS requiring the use of a secondary program in order to complete tasks makes it more of a hassle than its worth despite that it offers so much. Audacity as an editor renders sweet music to our ears, but it’s lacking the ability to actually create tracks through a step sequencer.

While you could create loops, the environment is not ideal. If the crashing issue could be at least 95% resolved it really would be more amazing than most free DAWs. Lets face it, what good are features that don’t work when you need them to.

Our winner is Tracktion - D7. If FREE is the way you need to go Tracktion D7 has the most to offer on all platforms and all skill levels.

Now that we have covered what is out there for free. Let's take a look at the paid DAWs. We will be looking at Avid Pro Tools, FL Studio, Logic Pro X, Studio One, Cubase, Reason, and Ableton Live. Let's see who gives you more bang for your buck.

Intro To Music Production

Regular Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs)


Pro Tools


  • Retrospective MIDI record - If you play a MIDI riff you like but don't have the record button enabled, retroactive MIDI recording allows you to place the take into your session's timeline.
  • MIDI editor.
  • It's now possible to duplicate and transpose notes in the Piano Roll editor via simple key commands.
  • Track Presets
  • With Track Presets, a single track or a group of tracks can be stored in a preset, complete with all the information about plugins, names, inputs, outputs, sends, and automation.
  • Supports 128 audio tracks and 512 MIDI tracks.


There are 3 tiers available for Pro Tools, one is a free trial, next is the middle of the road Pro Tools version that costs $599. You get some free tutorials and effects, 1 year of upgrades and standard support. Or you can buy an annual subscription that bills you $24.92 a month. Lastly, you can go month to month until canceled for $29.99.

Pro Tools Ultimate costs $2499, includes support, license and all plugins for 1 year. Then must be renewed.

If you want to use a 3rd party Interface, you can download the add-on for $299.

If you want to import VST or AU plugins, you have to buy an add-on. If you want a step sequencer, you have to buy an add-on.

There are 3 tiers of plugins you can purchase that range from $99 to $499 EACH.


Supporting both Mac and Windows O/S, there are exceptions.

With one visit to their website to get technical information you are greeted with a slew of will work with this, won't work with that, this version needs this but won't work with that.

Intel® PC Windows 8.1 (Standard and Pro 64-bit Editions) and Windows 10 (Home, Pro, and Enterprise 64-bit Editions)

Intel® Mac with Mac OS X 10.11.6, mac OS 10.12.6 or 10.13.3

Intel® Core i5 processor (Pro Tools Standard), Intel® Core i7 processor (Pro Tools Ultimate)

16GB RAM (32GB or more recommended)

Internet connection for installation

15GB disk space for installation

USB-port for iLok authorization (iLok 2 or iLok 3 required)

PCIe slot for HDX or HD Native card (incl. one power connection on motherboard), Thunderbolt-port for supported PCIe-chassis or USB-port, FireWire-port or Thunderbolt-port for CoreAudio-supported audio device

Supports 64-bit AAX plug-ins in Pro Tools

And there are more advisories.

Computer Optimization

Optimizing your system will simplify software installation and maximize the performance of Pro Tools. It is recommended that you follow our Computer Optimizations Guides for Mac and Windows before installing Pro Tools.


It is important to note that Avid tests and qualifies specific configurations. While systems that meet the minimum requirements may operate without problems, please understand we can only provide support for qualified systems. Below you will find detailed information about qualified configurations.




Established in 1989 Pro Tools has been around for some time.

What this comes down to, is you may want to buy an entirely new system and dedicate it strictly to the use of Pro Tools. They even give a list of about 8 machines for Windows and 8 for Mac that is compatible.

They mention compatibility and crashing a lot.

While this software will do the dishes, you better be sure you meet all the requirements and have a lot of money to invest.
This isn’t child play and will require some time acquainting yourself with the ins and outs. Pro Tools never ceases to amaze. Once you think you know it all, there is always another feature to be found.


FL Studio


  • Multitrack recording
  • Time stretch
  • Pitch shifting
  • Piano Roll
  • MIDI recording and control
  • Multitrack mixer
  • Automation
  • VST plugin support
  • Audio sends
  • Effects chain
  • Plugin delay compensation
  • Live performance clip triggering
  • Render 4k video
  • Lifetime free updates
  • Stock instrument and effects plugins
  • Stock sample library
  • Pattern-based step sequencer


Fruity Edition $99 (No audio clips, no audio recording, limited playlist features.)

Basic Edition $199

Full Producer Edition $899  (Includes all plugins and effects.)


WINDOWS: 7, 8, 10 or later

mac OS: 10.11 or later

4GB free disk space

4GB of RAM or higher recommended

The more powerful your CPU, the more instruments and FX you can run.



Subscription FL Studio


“FL STUDIO is designed to run on any computer system operating.”

When it came out FL Studio was Fruity Loops and looked at like a program for entertainment purposes to create cheesy techno.

A lot of musicians put it to some serious work and ended up creating songs that sounded as if they had spent thousands of dollars on it. Image-Line has really taken FL Studio above and beyond. From beginner to pro the interface is easy to use and FL Studio offers plenty of instrument and effect plugins as well supports 3rd party plugins. FL Studio makes it easy for literally anyone one on any platform to create, record, and edit anything they desire. Without going broke to do it.


Ableton Live  10


  • Capture by arming MIDI and play live will match tempo and timing
  • Edit multiple MIDI tracks
  • Automation
  • I/O renaming
  • Split stereo mixer
  • Create groups within groups
  • Onboard effects
  • Stock instruments
  • Sample library
  • Time signature change
  • Track freeze


Intro = $99 (16 tracks)

Standard = $449 (unlimited tracks)

Suite = $749 (unlimited tracks + MIDI effects)



Windows 7 (SP1), Windows 8 or Windows 10 (64-bit)

64-bit Intel® Core™ or AMD multi-core processor (Intel® Core™ processor or faster recommended)

4 GB RAM (8 GB or more recommended)

1366x768 display resolution

ASIO compatible audio hardware for Link support (also recommended for optimal audio performance)

USB port (USB 2.0 or better) for program installation

Access to an internet connection for authorizing Live (for downloading additional content and updating Live, a fast internet connection is recommended)

Approximately 3 GB of disk space on the system drive for the basic installation (8 GB free disk space recommended)

Up to 76 GB disk space for additionally available sound content

OS X 10.11.6 or later

Intel® Core™2 Duo Processor (Intel® Core™ i5 processor or faster recommended)

4 GB RAM (8 GB or more recommended)

1280x800 display resolution

Core Audio compliant audio interface recommended

USB port (USB 2.0 or better) for program installation

Access to an internet connection for authorizing Live (for downloading additional content and updating Live, a fast internet connection is recommended)

Approximately 3 GB of disk space on the system drive for the basic installation (8 GB free disk space recommended)

Up to 76 GB disk space for additionally available sound content



Subscription Ableton


The introduction of Wavetable, the new in-house synth, destroys the complexity of wavetable synths reputation and is surprisingly easy to grasp without ending up with a headache. A beginner could load up a preset and begin crafting their own sound. The Capture feature is actually really neat until you factor in that it is constantly running in the background. While it lacks some advanced features Abelton has really come around over the years and isn’t a struggle like it used to be. They also upped the quality of their sound packs and rolled out other effects and instruments. Abelton is highly preferred in the DJ community and does great in live situations.




  • Windows and Mac
  • Record line in
  • Overdub
  • Edit
  • Sequencer
  • Automation
  • Pitch editor
  • Time stretch
  • Supports VST
  • Send Inserts


Reason 10 Intro = $99

(16 audio/midi tracks, some instruments,effects and samples.)

Reason 10  = $399

(Unlimited audio/midi tracks, all instruments, effects, and samples, master bus compressor, group channels, time stretch and slice editing.)


Mac OS X

Fast, stable internet connection for installation and registration

Intel Mac with multi-core processor

4 GB RAM (8 GB or more recommended for large ReFills or Rack Extensions)

4 GB free system disk space required, plus 8 GB for optional content. Additionally, the program may use up to 20 GB scratch disk space.

Mac OS X 10.7 or later (64-bit)

Monitor with at least 1280x768 resolution

CoreAudio compliant audio interface or built-in audio hardware

MIDI interface and a MIDI keyboard recommended


Fast, stable internet connection for installation and registration

Intel or AMD multi-core processor

4 GB RAM (8 GB or more recommended for large ReFills or Rack Extensions)

4 GB free system disk space required, plus 8 GB for optional content. Additionally, the program may use up to 20 GB scratch disk space

Windows 7 or later (64-bit)

Monitor with at least 1280x768 resolution

Audio Interface with ASIO driver

MIDI interface and a MIDI keyboard recommended



Subscription Sample Packs & Plugins


If you love the look and feel of actual gear, Reason has no shortage of VST’s that emulate the real thing. They also have the largest amount of VST instruments and effects. One more thing, they work with other DAWs. The ability to simulate a live instrument and playing it is amazing. I don’t think setting up my patch bay is the ideal way to spend a day, but for that real feel, Reason even allows that hands-on task. Creating music feels more organic and the work flow is organized and easy to navigate. They offer rack extensions so you can expand your rack as far as your imagination will go.




  • Windows and Mac
  • Offers iOS
  • Key editor
  • Score editor
  • List editor
  • Chord assistant
  • Insert sends
  • Wave meters
  • VST connect collab
  • Inserts have pre/post fader


Cubase Elements = No longer available

Cubase Artist = $309

(32 instrument tracks, 32 VST slots.punch points, cloud storage, track visibility.)

Cubase Pro = $559

(Unlimited audio tracks, 64 VST slots, multitrack editing, sampler track, key and drum editor, music notation, score editing, chord pad assist, time stretching, pitch shifting, punch points, cloud access, track visibility, and supports all common audio types.)


64-Bit Windows 7 / 8.x / 10

Filesize: 12 GB

OS X 10.11 / mac OS Sierra / mac OS High Sierra

Filesize: 12 GB




Steinburg has been the leader in MIDI technology since the dawn of time. Cubase’s first actual version being a MIDI sequencer on an Atari ST computer in 1989.

A subsidiary of Yamaha and the creator of multiple audio protocols theses guys know audio. Cubase is capable of just about anything, however, it can be pretty intense and may be a little too much for a beginners first DAW.


Logic Pro


  • 1220 definable key and MIDI commands
  • 90 recallable screens
  • 200-step undo history
  • Full plug-in latency compensation, also for external audio and MIDI gear
  • 1/3840-note resolution for MIDI events
  • Audio file and I/O resolution up to 24-bit/192kHz
  • High-end dithering algorithms (POW-r, Apogee UV22HR)
  • 64-bit summing engine
  • Up to 16 independent voices per part
  • Over 4000 predefined chord grids
  • Tablature supports up to 16-string instruments with any tuning
  • 69 effect plug-ins including Pedalboard, which includes 35 stompboxes
  • 23 software instrument plug-ins
  • 9 MIDI plug-ins
  • 2894 Patches for Audio, Auxiliary, Software Instrument, and Output tracks
  • 7238 Apple Loops covering a wide range of genres
  • 38 Ultrabeat electronic drum kits with 950 unique drum sounds
  • ReWire support for Propellerhead Reason, Ableton Live, and other compatible applications
  • Support for all standard surround configurations
  • Play AIFF, WAV (BWF), CAF, SDII, Apple Lossless, eligible MP3, and AAC (noneligible files will be converted to PCM)
  • Record AIFF, CAF, and WAV (BWF)
  • Bounce to AIFF, WAV (BWF), CAF, MP3, and M4A (Apple Lossless, AAC)


Logic Pro X 199.99


macOS 10.12 or later

4GB of RAM

OpenCL-capable graphics card or Intel HD Graphics 3000 or later

256MB of VRAM

Logic Pro X requires 6GB of disk space for a minimum installation or up to 63GB of disk space for the full Sound Library installation

To use Logic Remote, you need an iPhone 6s, iPad Pro, iPad (5th generation), iPad Air 2, iPad mini 4, or later with iOS 11.



Not available for the exact Logic Pro. However Garage Band is similar if you want to try it out you can get it HERE

Subscription Audio Courses & DAW Templates


When it comes to music Mac has always taken the cake. What doesn’t it do and what doesn’t it offer? A windows version. While all the Mac users gripe about how nothing is compatible and blame the software makers rather than the OS they choose, well here is your chance Windows users.

Why is this not available on all platforms?

Logic Pro doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how to use it. The interface is smooth and the functions are incredible. It supports tablature, comes loaded with effects and instruments. Record Line in by selecting the drop-down menu and select your device. Simple as that.

The Grid Sequencer allows you to generate, record and it follows your MIDI keyboard input. With an Add-on called Main Stage, you can use it to play live.


Studio One


  • Powerful drag-and-drop functionality
  • Native high-DPI and cross-platform multi-touch user interface
  • Unlimited audio tracks, MIDI tracks, virtual instruments, buses, and FX channels
  • Single and multitrack comping
  • Arranger Track
  • Editable Folder Tracks
  • Track display list with presets, linkable to console channel display
  • Transient detection with editable markers
  • Multitrack MIDI editing
  • NEW: Instrument and Drum Editor
  • NEW: Drum and melodic patterns for pattern-based arranging
  • Multitrack Track Transform (advanced freezing capability)
  • Automatic latency compensation
  • Easy sidechain routing
  • NEW: Easy-to-use drag-and-drop live sampler (Sample One XT)
  • Compatible with any ASIO-, Windows Audio-, or Core Audio-compliant audio interfaces
  • Use Pro Tools, Cubase, Logic, or Sonar keyboard shortcuts—or create your own
  • MP3 encoding and decoding


Prime Version - Coming Soon

Artist Version - $199.95 (32 bit Audio Processing)

Pro Version - $399.95 (64 bit Audio Processing)



10.11 or higher (64-bit only)

Intel® Core™ 2 Duo processor

(Intel Core i3 or better recommended)


Windows 7 (SP1 + platform update), Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 (64-bit only)

Intel Core Duo or AMD® Athlon™ X2 processor (Intel Core 2 Duo or AMD Athlon X4 or better recommended) Intel Core 2 Duo or AMD® Athlon™ X2 processor

(Intel Core i3 or AMD Athlon X4 or better recommended)

Mac and Windows systems

4 GB RAM (8 GB or more recommended)

Iternet connection (needed for installation and activation)

Monitor with 1366 x 768 resolution (high-dpi monitor recommended)

A multi-touch-enabled monitor with TUIO support is required for touch operation

40 GB hard-drive space

Studio One Remote for iPad®

iPad Pro®, iPad 2, iPad mini®, and newer models

iOS 8 or later

Studio One Remote for Windows

Compatible with Microsoft Surface 3 (and higher) and Surface Pro 2 (and higher)

Windows 8.1, Windows 10, or later (Windows RT not supported)

2 GB RAM minimum (4 GB RAM or more recommended). Tablet must be x86-compatible (not ARM-based).



Coming Soon


No real hardware support for your external synths. If you want to use Third-party plug-in support (AU, VST2, and VST3 plug-ins and ReWire applications) on the Artist version you have to buy an Add-On.

To import song data you also have to buy the pro version.

No arpeggiator in Artist version? Are you kidding me?

You can USB line in record with an audio interface device.

If you want to have a customized experience and use your external tools you are obligated to drop $399.95 which unless you want to simply play around which is about all you can do with the artist version priced at $199.95 is a pretty expensive useless toy. It is easy however to start up and create what they have allowed you to have. Still trying to find how to export to .WAV format. Even in Pro rendering an MP3 is lossy audio. There isn’t much pro about lossy audio as your only rendered version. If you want a step sequencer you will need to import one, but remember you can only do that with the Pro version.


Still with me? That was an intense amount of information. It’s time now to make a check list of the things we want to achieve in our music production. May as well start with how much money you have to spend followed by your system specifications and what it can handle. Now, are you a band looking to record a rough demo, a band set up in a home studio wanting a professional outcome, a bedroom producer making beats and loops for fun, a producer making beat and loops with the intent to distribute and profit, an electronic musician looking to create and then play live? What do you need? These are the things to consider when looking for what DAW is right for you. 

Everyone has their favorite DAW and/or some form of brand loyalty.

However, this is geared mostly towards new users, or current users who have found their current DAW doesn’t preform the way you need it to.

There is one DAW that is easy enough for beginners and has enough capability to do the functions a pro demands. You can record line in, you can create, edit, mix, and render. You can use it at home, in a studio, and live. It comes with some instruments, effects, and sounds no matter what tier you decide on. It is available on Windows, Mac, and Mobile.
It works with 3rd party plugins. System requirements are basic for it to operate. It also won't break the bank. Any guesses? I mean its pretty obvious.

Best DAW

Congratulations, Image-Line. FL Studio caters to everyone, handles everything, is the most compatible, and won't have us eating Ramen Noodles in the dark just to create music. We would like to thank all of our participating DAWs and just because you didn’t win doesn’t mean you won't fit someone's needs. A nonbias criterion was set and the winner was chosen based on that criteria.

Why O Why Logic Pro X can there not be a Windows version? If there had been one I can honestly say, sorry Image Line, Logic just conquered you.

Be sure to bookmark this page for a quick reference comparison data sheet. Next time we will be covering the topic, “How to stay motivated when producing music?”


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