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The best DAW software for music production in 2024

If you think about it, a DAW is for a music producer what an artist studio is to a painter: the ideal environment to enhance creativity, a set of blank canvas ready to be painted, the perfect light, and everything you need to bring your imagination to life.

Just like a painter, there are other things you’ll need to create memorable works: colors (plugins), time, and most of all, a vision. But it all starts with a clear workspace and a blank page in front of us, and that is what the perfect DAW should provide you with.

Quick recommendations

Let me start by saying all the DAWs mentioned in this article are excellent, and I doubt you can go wrong with any of those. That said, I think Ableton Live, Logic Pro, and Reaper offer a tiny more than the others, each one in its own way.

Ableton Live is versatile and powerful, works magnificently both live and in the studio, and is one of the most popular DAWs among producers of all kinds.

Logic Pro (Mac-only) is affordable while still offering everything you need to deliver professional results, with a clear interface and reliable performance.

Finally, Reaper is way cheaper than most, yet provides a feature-rich workstation that can satisfy the needs of even the most seasoned producer (who doesn’t mind a slightly confusing interface).

Contents

Use these jump links to navigate to the desired section of the review.

Why you should trust me

I’ve been producing music since the early 2000s, and over the years, I’ve used most of the popular DAWs available, from Ableton to Cubase and FL Studio to Studio One.

Marco Sebastiano Alessi, author and contributor at Higher Hz

I’ve been involved in many productions, working in professional recording studios but also half-soundproofed garages, which means I’ve had the chance to experience the whole spectrum of DAWs and their potential in every context.

In this article, I’ll talk about the DAWs available right now, what they offer, and which one you should opt for.

There are very few things that can optimize your workflow like finding the perfect DAW for your style and needs, so whether you’re a beginner or seasoned producer, this article might help you understand your requirements better, and identify the best DAW out there for you.

How I chose and tested

This article is partially the result of years of testing and experimenting with various DAWs, so my personal experience with each of these environments played a crucial role when developing this piece.

However, as the ecosystem of digital audio workstations changes rapidly, I decided to go back and test out the latest versions of each DAWs, and many times, I was pleasantly surprised by the evolution of their workflow and the new possibilities offered to artists.

Best for recording studios: Pro Tools

  • Compatibility: Windows, macOS
  • Price (monthly): $9.99 (Artist), $29.99 (Studio), $99.99 (Ultimate)
Pro Tools DAW software
Image: Avid

Pro Tools has been the industry standard for decades, and rightly so. It’s a powerful DAW that offers post-production tools of the highest quality, and a workflow reminiscent of traditional recording studios, giving you everything you need to deliver professional results, whether you’re in a rock band or a sound designer for movies.

Offering both linear and non-linear recording, Pro Tools comes with a comprehensive assortment of plugins and sound libraries updated regularly. Gradually discontinuing its perpetual licenses, Pro Tools is available through different yearly subscription programs: Artist ($99), Studio ($299), and Ultimate ($599).

While an excellent option for seasoned producers and recording studios, Pro Tools notoriously has a steeper learning curve than most DAWs, which is why it is not as popular among bedroom producers and new artists. However, mastering Pro Tools will undoubtedly unlock the potential of your artistry in the long run.

What I like

  • Professional software that offers everything you need and more.
  • Ideal for large-scale projects.

What I don’t like

  • Pricey, with currently a confusing licensing situation.
Try and buy Pro Tools at: AvidSweetwater

Best for live sessions: Ableton Live

  • Compatibility: Windows, macOS
  • Price: $99.99 (Intro), $439 (Standard), $749 (Suite)
Ableton Live DAW (latest version)
Image: Ableton

When it came out in the early 2000s, Ableton took the industry by storm and quickly became the go-to workstation of many professionals, thanks to its fluid workflow and the endless possibilities it offered both in the studio and live.

Ableton Live comes with two different views for music production: the non-linear Session View for improvisation and experimentation, and the more traditional Arrangement View for timeline-based production.

Furthermore, Ableton’s Max4Live offers compatibility with the Max digital signal processing environment, allowing artists to create their own instruments within the DAW.

Both features make it an incredibly powerful tool for loop sampling and composing, and the high-quality plugin library makes it a versatile, end-to-end production powerhouse.

The latest Ableton Live 11 added new plugins and features such as MIDI recall, live performance syncing, a brand-new synth, and improved auto-warping, further enhancing the power of one of the most beloved DAWs out there.

What I like

  • Looping and sampling couldn’t be easier.
  • Ideal for live sessions.

What I don’t like

  • For large-scale projects, Pro Tools and Cubase are better.
Try and buy Ableton Live at: Ableton

Best for songwriters: Studio One

  • Compatibility: Windows, macOS
  • Price: $99.99 (Artist), $399.99 (Professional)
Studio One 6 DAW software
Image: PreSonus

Considered a sort of underdog for many years, I believe Studio One is one of the most flexible, powerful, and rapidly evolving DAWs out there. I’ve been using it for a couple of years and couldn’t be happier: it’s stable and has a carefully designed workflow perfect for arrangement and composition work.

Some of the things I love about Studio One: Smart Templates that can enhance your creativity and help you save time; the seamless Melodyne integration to improve your vocals; metadata processing, automatic music distribution, and the possibility to create disc description protocol (DDP) to share your works with the world professionally.

Its latest update (Studio One 6) includes the above-mentioned Smart Templates for easier recording, mixing, mastering, and live shows, but also the unique feature of outputting printable scores and lead sheets.

Last but not least, the new version of Studio One allows you to mix in Dolby Atmos, which is the future of the industry, if you ask me.

What I like

  • Interface, workflow, and templates designed for songwriters.
  • Excellent post-production tools.

What I don’t like

  • If you work with loops, go for Ableton.
  • CPU-demanding.
Try and buy Studio One at: PreSonusSweetwater

Best for Mac: Logic Pro

  • Compatibility: macOS
  • Price: $199.99
Logic Pro DAW software
Image: Apple

The best option for Mac users, and especially those used to the GarageBand environment, Logic Pro is a comprehensive DAW that costs little and delivers a lot.

The latest update of Logic Pro has elevated the DAW to new heights, bringing in the Live Looping option and composition mode similar to Ableton Live, as well as integrated Dolby Atmos and Spatial Audio music production.

All this while still providing the exceptional features it’s known for, like its impressive collection of virtual instruments and effects plugins, with over 5,900 presets and almost 15,000 royalty-free loops.

User-friendly and reliable, Logic Pro is the natural choice for all Mac music producers. For less than $200, you get an end-to-end audio workstation that has it all.

What I like

  • Intuitive interface.
  • Extensive library.
  • Fairly priced.

What I don’t like

  • Mac-only.
Try and buy Logic Pro at: Apple

Best for EDM and hip-hop: FL Studio

  • Compatibility: Windows, macOS
  • Price: $99.99 (Fruity), $199.99 (Producer), $299.99 (Signature), $499.99 (All Plugins)
FL Studio digital audio workstation
Image: Image Line

I remember taking my first steps as a producer using FruityLoops almost two decades ago. A friendly interface with unique pattern-based tools, a piano roll, and a drum machine. These features and many more made it a beloved workstation, especially among new EDM and hip-hop producers at the time.

I also remember how impressed I was when someone showed it to me again in 2019 and how much its environment had evolved over the years.

Fast forward to 2024, and FL Studio is an all-in-one solution DAW powerhouse. Long gone are the days when the platform was great just to sketch out ideas!

FL Studio 21 has a unique non-linear workflow, allowing separate windows for arrangement, sequencing, and mixing. Some producers find it cluttered, but it has neat menus and toolbars with quick access and a sidebar with shortcuts, making it great for composing with a MIDI keyboard, sequencing, and sampling. Its MIDI controller integration, together with Ableton, is perhaps the best in the market.

A standout feature is its lifetime free updates. Trust me, if you’re in for the long run, it means you’ll end up saving thousands of dollars and still have the most updated version of your DAW of choice.

What I like

  • Iconic sequencer.
  • Lifetime free updates.
  • Powerful mixing tools.

What I don’t like

  • Those not into EDM or hip-hop might want to look elsewhere.
Try and buy FL Studio at: Image LineSweetwater

Best for orchestral music and film scoring: Cubase

  • Compatibility: Windows, macOS
  • Price: $99.99 (Elements), $329.99 (Artist), $579.99 (Pro)
Cubase DAW software
Image: Steinberg

The oldest DAW on the list, Steinberg Cubase made VST plugins and block-based arrangement view popular and is especially favored by the film composers’ community. It’s suitable for recording-heavy projects and orchestral VST mockups, but even minimal electronic music producers will appreciate its no-nonsense interface and rich sound library.

The recent update added powerful compositional tools like audio-based chord detection and VariAudio Scale Assistant. Cubase has a superb mixing console with features like Control Room and Workspaces to streamline workflow, automation features, and a surround-sound mixing environment.

While best suited for music composition, Cubase’s most recent updates focused on transforming it into an all-encompassing audio workstation with post-production tools that allow artists to record, mix, and master music within the platform with ease.

What I like

  • Great for heavy, orchestral-like projects.
  • Excellent MIDI compatibility.

What I don’t like

  • Expensive.
Try and buy Cubase at: SteinbergSweetwater

Best affordable DAW: Reaper

  • Compatibility: Windows, macOS
  • Price: $60 (discounted license), $225 (commercial license)
Reaper DAW software
Image: Cockos

If you’re on a budget but still want a professional workstation, Reaper is an exceptional option. Heavily customizable, with options for live audio and virtual instrument recording, Reaper also comes with a complete mixing console, accurate notation editing, and video scoring support.

With a price starting at $60, it costs a fraction of other high-end DAWs but offers nearly as much. One of Reaper’s unique features is that it allows users to customize menus, toolbars, and macros, as well as change the interface’s color scheme.

The old aesthetics and counterintuitive MIDI editor make it demanding for beginners and those coming from more straightforward DAWs (Logic or Ableton), but once you get a grip on it, you’ll have a powerful, versatile, and affordable workstation at your disposal.

What I like

  • Extremely affordable.
  • Customizable.

What I don’t like

  • Not for you if you like clear interfaces.
Try and buy Reaper at: Reaper

Others worth mentioning:

While not officially included in my list of the best DAWs, there are three workstations I’d like to talk about that are also close to my heart: Cakewalk, Audacity, and Bitwig Studio.

Either free or reasonably priced, these three DAWs can do wonders depending on the style you focus on, so you should definitely give them a try, especially if you’re on a tight budget.

Inspired by the good old Sonar and revived by BandLab in 2018, Cakewalk is a free DAW offering advanced editing tools, built-in effects, and support for VST3 plugins.

With a user-friendly interface accessible to beginners but also professional-level tools, Cakewalk is an excellent choice for musicians and producers using Windows who don’t want to spend a dime but still get a fully functional DAW.

While nowhere near as feature-rich as the DAWs mentioned above, Audacity can be a fantastic option for your needs if you’re a recording artist. It’s a free, open-source audio editor for anyone looking for a straightforward tool for audio recording and editing.

Audacity offers essential features like multi-track editing, noise reduction, and basic effects, and its latest updates also come with full VST plugin compatibility, making it more powerful than ever.

Finally, Bitwig Studio, which I just got together with my latest portable MIDI keyboard. Created by former Ableton employees (and you’ll no doubt notice that), Bitwig Studio is a modern-looking DAW with unique features like The Grid (a modular sound design environment) and seamless hardware integration.

It has a comping engine and single-window interface, making it perfect for both linear and non-linear workflows. Bitwig provides easy automation, professional time-stretching features, and effortless MIDI controller support. Fairly priced (just a little more than Reaper), Bitwig is a workstation that might surprise you.

Final thoughts

That’s really all I know about DAWs. Now, all you have to do is spend a day or a year testing them all out. Do let me know in the comments below about your experience with these or other DAWs.

Have fun!

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