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Reaper review: Powerful and highly-customizable

Cockos Reaper has been around for almost two decades, making it one of the well-established DAWs in music production.

Yet it always seems to be scoffed at when compared to Logic, Ableton, Pro Tools, and other seemingly more professional workstations. Why’s that?

While there are some reasons you might want to stay away from it, Reaper is also a resourceful workstation that packs a punch.

In this review, I’ll take a look at this powerful, yet largely ignored DAW, and identify who should give it a try, and who should continue to look elsewhere.

Final verdict on Reaper 4.6

The reality is that Reaper is a fantastic option if you’re on a tight budget and take a kind of heuristic approach to music composition.

If you look beyond the outdated-looking and minimalist interface, you’ll find a tool that’s as powerful as more blazoned DAWs, which will cost you three or ten times more.

Lightweight, fast, and stable, Reaper also offers the flexibility you need to maximize your workflow, so long as you’re willing to invest the time to master this DAW.

All in all, if you’re looking for a hands-on experience, Reaper will allow you to create the workstation of your dreams: fully customizable, unique, and powerful.

What I like

  • Fully capable DAW at a very low price.
  • Endlessly customizable.
  • Lightweight and stable.

What I don’t like

  • Steep learning curve.
  • Outdated interface.
Try Reaper at: Official site

Why you should trust me

Marco Sebastiano Alessi, writer at Higher Hz

I’m a music producer and record label owner. Over the years, I’ve tried as many DAWs as I could get my hands on, from Ableton to Studio One, FL Studio, Audacity, and of course, Reaper.

My work involves mixing and mastering other artists’ music, as well as creating my own compositions for publication or movie soundtracks.

As a result, I’ve always looked for DAWs that could offer a high level of flexibility and stability, and Reaper stands out when it comes to both of these features.


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

You can also check the Comparison section, where I put Reaper against other competing DAWs.

UI and layout 4.0

I think we all agree that Reaper’s opening interface is not much to look at.

If you’re accustomed to the shiny interfaces of FL Studio and GarageBand, Cockos’ DAW might feel like a bit of a letdown.

Personally, I’ve always loved minimalist interfaces: they make it easier to focus on music without worrying too much about appearance.

But even if you’re one of those who values aesthetics in your workflow, there are a plethora of themes you can use to customize your DAW.

This level of customization is something no other digital audio workstation offers.

It can take time to adjust and adapt a theme, but if you don’t get obsessed about it, it might change the way you make music for good.

Workflow 4.5

Once you find the perfect Reaper theme, you can start discovering what it offers when it comes to recording, editing, and producing audio and MIDI music projects.

First of all, you can record as many instruments as you like simultaneously, which makes Reaper a great option for bands, live settings, solo artists who use multiple instruments, and recording studios.

The DAW comes with the pro features you’d expect from any professional recording tool, including multiple takes, layers, overdubbing, punch in and out, loop recording, and varispeed recording.

The drag-and-drop interface allows you to use audio files in most formats without breaking a sweat.

When I first started making music many moons ago, Reaper seemed more suitable for audio recording. Now, it is also a fantastic MIDI DAW.

It does take a little while to figure things out (like editing multiple MIDI items at once), but once you get to know the tools you have at your disposal, the sky is the limit.

The piano roll is almost as intuitive as FL Studio’s, and to me, seems vastly more powerful and customizable. Yes, it’s not as intuitive as Ableton Live, but the control you can have over your MIDI instruments is exceptional.

As for editing and post-production, Reaper has nothing to envy to more expensive DAWs. You can split, resize, loop, and time-stretch audio tracks in a moment, and when it comes to mixing, the intuitive folder system makes group editing and routing a walk in the park.

Unlike other DAWs, Reaper does not come with countless built-in plugins, but those that are included in the download are enough to get you started, including a multiband EQ, multiband compressor, delay, limiter, and maximizer, multivoice pitch shifting, reverb, a basic vocoder, a synthesizer, a flexible sample player, drum synth, and a 3D surround panner.

Reaper works magnificently with any third-party plugin you might have. It recognized my plugin library instantly, and I was able to use it right away.

And the same happened with my audio interface.

To enable your MIDI keyboard, go to Options – Preferences – MIDI devices. Find your MIDI device, and enable it, both as input and output, and click Apply.

Then, when you want to use your MIDI keyboard, create a new track and assign it to your MIDI device.

For this review, I created a short track using both MIDI and audio files. With Reaper, you just need to make sure you’re assigning the correct source to every track, but once you get used to it, composing is effortless.

When you’re done and want to master your song, I’d recommend you add a Master Track. You can do so by clicking on View and enabling Master Track.

Whenever ready, you can export/render your track by clicking on File – Render.

Click on Render 1 File, and you’re done!

Performance 5.0

Let me start by saying I haven’t come across a DAW that’s as stable and reliable as Reaper.

Without the bells and whistles of other digital audio workstations, the Cockos’ team (two programmers) has been able to pack everything a producer needs without creating a CPU-demanding tool. It’s truly an impressive accomplishment if you ask me.

Downloading and installing Reaper takes but a couple of minutes, and the licensing upgrade is immediate (I received it right away and the DAW updated automatically).

You can run it on a 15-year-old computer with 32-bit Windows XP, and while you might not be able to compose an orchestral piece, you’ll still be able to make tunes.

Multitracking, multitasking, low-latency real-time performance: I challenge you to overload Reaper!

I’ve used it for ambient live shows where I perform with guitar and MIDI keyboard, with a virtual guitar rig and VST plugins running simultaneously and in real-time. It never crashed.

Reaper works on Windows, macOS, and Linux. Personally, I’ve always used it on Windows and Linux, but a quick search online will show you that even on Mac the DAW performs admirably in terms of stability and loading speed.

Value for money 5.0

Reaper costs $60 dollars if you’re an individual, a small business making less than 20k a year, or a non-profit or educational organization. The full license costs $225.

The full license price gravitates around those of “standard” DAWs like Ableton (Live Standard roughly $300) or FL Studio (Producer package is a bit less than $300).

Yet it’s the $60 discounted license that should leave you speechless: it gives you everything included in the commercial license, giving you impressive value for money, so long as you fall within the broad categories this license is designed for.

Plus, Reaper comes with a 60-day unlimited trial version that allows you to create and save the music you make. Once again, that’s something most DAWs won’t provide, as you either can’t export tracks or don’t have full access to the workstation’s features.

You get free upgrades up to the next full-point version, meaning that if you download today the most recent 7.16 version, you’ll get free upgrades up until v8.99, so probably for a few years.

Cockos’ team might be small, but the community around Reaper is exceptionally helpful. Most artists using these DAWs like to get their hands dirty, so they know all the nuts and bolts that define the workstations.

Finally, Cockos’ forum hosts a vibrant community of producers that can give you the tools to make the most of this audio workstation or help you transition from a more intuitive DAW to Reaper.

All of this is added value to an extremely affordable DAW, which, when mastered properly, can easily compete with vastly more expensive music production tools.

Try Reaper at: Official site

Compared to other DAWs

So, why would you choose Reaper above the countless options available to modern music producers?

As I said earlier, this DAW is not for everyone, and in this section, I’ll focus on the differences between Reaper and other popular audio workstations.

Of course, an in-depth review of each comparison would require a book-long article, so here you’ll find only the distinctive features that set the two DAWs apart.

Reaper vs Ableton Live

Reaper and Ableton Live feel, and essentially are, completely different DAWs.

Ableton Live is designed for live performances, with seamless integration with loop-triggering controllers and an interface crafted for live settings.

Reaper, on the other hand, feels more like a linear tool perfected for composing and arranging music, with a customizable layout that can enhance production workflow, especially in post-production.

Reaper vs Audacity

I’m a long-time Audacity user, and to this day, I still use it for quick fixes on podcasts and radio shows.

That said, if you’re looking for an all-in-one solution to compose, edit, mix and master music, Reaper is definitely what you should go for.

Audacity is a handy, free recording tool you can use for basic audio recording and editing.

For what it offers, this free DAW is quite impressive: it’s a multi-track, non-destructive editor with plenty of useful tools to edit and enhance audio files. It’s also compatible with third-party plugins.

Yet, if this is your only DAW, you’ll soon find its limitations frustrating: no MIDI support or built-in instruments, basic interface, no automation or looping options, and basic mixing features, among others.

Reaper vs Pro Tools

Pro Tools is the standard tool in the music industry: you find it in major recording studios as much as in the bedroom studios in your college dormitory.

The reason behind this DAW’s popularity beats me, but with so many artists and engineers using it, getting PT to make music will surely simplify your collaboration and post-production process.

That said, unless you’re an audio engineer (or planning to be one), I’d recommend you give Reaper a try before spending four times more to get Pro Tools.

You’ll soon find that it offers just as much in terms of flexibility and audio manipulation, with a much less CPU-demanding system.

And if Reaper’s interface is not your cup of tea, you can always make it more Pro-Tools like.

Reaper vs FL Studio

Just like with Ableton Live, Reaper and FL Studio are both great but serve rather different purposes.

To me, FL studio is great for sequence-heavy genres, like electronic or hip-hop. It comes with an iconic piano roll and sequencer that makes beat-making extremely intuitive.

FL Studio’s built-in plugins are great for both sound editing and post-production; it has changed so much since the Fruity Loops days!

Reaper is more of an all-rounder music production tool which tends more towards the audio recording side.

Since it doesn’t use much CPU, it’s great when working on heavy projects; but for MIDI music, FL is outstanding.

Reaper vs Logic Pro

At $200, the Apple-only Logic Pro comes with a lot of juicy FX and instruments, plus the most intuitive interface you can find, so I’d definitely recommend it if you’re just getting started and want to have some music ready by the end of the day.

Just like Pro Tools, it’s one of those DAWs industry people use and expect others to be familiar with.

If you’re a Mac user, Logic Pro is the most logical option.nHowever, the flexibility and customization options offered by Reaper are miles away from those offered by Logic Pro.

If you’re an artist who values the personalization of workflow and sound signature, Reaper is the answer to your needs.

Reaper vs Studio One

That’s a hard one for me as I downloaded Studio One four years ago, and never looked back.

PreSonus’ DAW is intuitive, powerful, extremely stable, and comes with a rich sound library. All of this nicely packaged in an elegant interface with seamless hardware integration.

Despite all this, Reaper still holds a special place in my heart. It’s way cheaper than Studio One, it’s more customizable, and more CPU-efficient.

If you want to focus exclusively on making music, and not setting up your workstation, Studio One might be your best bet, whereas if you’re willing to spend time crafting a unique DAW, Reaper is simply unbeatable.

Reaper vs Cakewalk

Cakewalk by BandLab has been discontinued, which is a shame as it offered a lot, for a free DAW.

Cakewalk Sonar and Cakewalk Next replaced the good-old BandLab, and while Next is designed for entry-level music producers, Sonar is a powerful and versatile DAW that feels like an enhanced version of its predecessors.

From automations to high-end post-production tools, Sonar might easily be one of the best DAWs out there right now.

However, both Next and Sonar are available exclusively through the BandLab Membership, which, to me, makes it sound like you’re not owning your music production tools.

Still, if you’re OK with monthly subscriptions, I’d suggest you give Sonar a try; it’s totally worth it.

Frequently asked questions

What/who is Reaper best for?

Reaper is for music producers on a tight budget who are looking for a powerful, all-rounder DAW they can personalize and adapt to their needs.

It’s great for tech-savvy artists who want to have full control over their creative workflow and are not afraid of steep learning curves.

Can I add VST plugins to Reaper, and how to do it?

Yes, and it’s very easy to add VST plugins to Reaper:

  1. Download the VST plugin.
  2. Choose or find the plugin folder. You can find or set this folder in Reaper under Options > Preferences > Plug-ins > VST.
  3. Copy the plugin. Move the VST plugin file to the folder you chose.
  4. Rescan for plugins. In Reaper, go to Options > Preferences > Plug-ins > VST and click Rescan to detect the new plugin.

What is ReaPack package manager, and do I need it?

ReaPack is a package manager for Reaper, and you definitely need it if you’re planning to make the most of this DAW.

It makes it easy to browse, install, and manage scripts, effects, and extensions created by Reaper users.

ReaPack package manager for Reaper
ReaPack package manager for Reaper

ReaPack provides access to a wide range of user-created plugins and can be customized to add new script repositories.

Is Reaper good for beginners?

If you’re looking for a beginner-friendly DAW, Reaper is not it.

Reaper has a steeper learning curve than most DAWs, and while this will ultimately give you full control over a highly-powerful workstation, it’ll take you longer to familiarize yourself with its interface than with other DAWs like FL Studio or Ableton Live.

Is Reaper good for mixing?

Reaper is phenomenal for mixing, especially when it comes to heavy audio files. It’s stable, CPU-efficient, and versatile enough to bring professional results to life.

Do professionals use Reaper?

Reaper offers precisely what more notorious DAWs offer (and then some), so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many professionals use it for their audio production.

Also, given its affordability, it tends to be a great option for upcoming artists on a tight budget who are willing to learn the bolts and nuts of DAWs.

What famous producers (artists) use Reaper?

Electronic music producer Tycho, as well as metal guitarist Tim Henson, use Reaper for their music production.

Also, many successful productions were made with Reaper, including Caro Emerald’s Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor.

Should I upgrade from Reaper?

Reaper is a fantastic DAW, once you learn how to use it. It takes time and patience to fully master it, so I’d recommend it only to those artists willing to invest time on learning a DAW that’s not as intuitive as the others in the market. But the effort is totally worth it!

Final thoughts

I hope you enjoyed this review-guide on Reaper, an often-neglected DAW that offers everything you need to bring professional music to life.

One last thing I’d like to stress about Reaper is its vibrant online community.

Reaper’s forum is home to hundreds of artists worldwide, making music and tweaking the DAW to make the most of it, and are always eager to share their knowledge with the rest of the community.

If you decide to give Reaper a try, make sure you follow these forums to speed up the learning process, and connect with other like-minded artists along the way.

Have fun!