9 best DAW programs for creating music on your computer

Choosing a software environment for recording and editing music is a complex and individual matter. Universal recommendations can not be: decent sound quality is able to give out each program from the collection, they all offer approximately the same functions and have a similar interface. Nevertheless, they are not at all the same, and the search for the ideal DAW can take years. In this article we tell you what is remarkable about this or that program for recording music, and we hope that this will save you a little time.

To begin with, we will reveal the meaning of several terms that will often be found in this article:

  • DAW (Sequencer) – A software environment in which music is recorded and edited.
  • VST, VSTi, AU, AAX, RTAS – plug-in formats – additional software that allows you to add new virtual instruments or processing effects to DAW.
  • MIDI – In the context of the article, these are external sound sources: keyboards, pads, controllers.
  • Piano roll – area of ​​editing batches of virtual instruments. The piano roll draws notes, denotes their duration and volume.

1. Ableton Live

Platforms: Windows, macOS.

Cost: from 79 euros for the version of the Intro to 599 euros for a set of Suite for a one-time purchase.

For whom: for electronics engineers. Especially those who play live.

According to a poll conducted by Ask.Audio, Ableton Live in 2015 overtook all other sequencers: 23.14% of respondents admitted that they use it as the main DAW-program.

Ableton Live combines the qualities of a classic sequencer and a control station for live sets. For these two roles, there are two display modes: Arrangement View for arrangement and information and Session View for improvisation and DJing.

Ableton Live
Arrangement View in Ableton Live. musictech.net

Arrangement View resembles the interface of most other sequencers, but with an important advantage: in the workspace, we see only the most necessary. The panel, not overloaded with buttons and knobs, is well seen even on the screen of a 13-inch laptop, and minimal skills of owning the program are acquired intuitively.

The developers do not just Live: they released the second version of the Ableton Push controller (Akai was the first one), and also created the Ableton Link synchronization protocol, which many prefer the aging MIDI Sync, tied to the Master / Slave relationship. All this was designed to be used in conjunction with the sequencer: Ableton Live perfectly interacts with MIDI and is integrated into live sets.

In Ableton it’s also convenient to work with samples and loops, configure automation and tweak plug-ins. It is used by many famous artists, for example M83, kedr livanskiy and well-known music blogger Andrew Huang (Andrew Huang).

Ableton Live →

2. Logic Pro X

Platforms: macOS.

Cost: 14 990 rubles. Also it is delivered to some groups of the population in the complete set of programs for education for 13 990 rubles.

For whom: For makovodov, who are closely within the framework of GarageBand.

Logic Pro X – a serious “apple” sequencer, and the transition to it – a natural evolutionary stage after working in GarageBand. Sequencer has several advantages, the most important of which is belonging to the Apple ecosystem. Everything that works with macOS works with Logic. Additional convenience provides the use of the touch panel and iOS-devices for remote control.

VST is not supported – only AU plugins can be used. However, many note that on board Logic Pro X already has all the tools and effects that you just might need. Special praise is awarded to the Drummer track – simulator of a virtual drummer.

Logic Pro X
A place for the application of artificial intelligence in music is Drummer, imitating the live game of different drummers. ask.audio

From the minuses of the program you can note the high cost and the working area, which is inconvenient to use on small screens. Despite the shortcomings, Logic Pro X can be found in almost any serious recording studio, and dozens of famous artists and bands use it. Among them, Disclosure and Foster the People, also in his love for the sequencer recognized, for example, Anton Sevidov from Tesla Boy.

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Logic Pro X →

3. Avid Pro Tools 12

Platforms: Windows, macOS.

Cost: Pro Tools First is available for free, the standard Pro Tools will cost $ 24.92 per month when purchasing an annual subscription, and the Pro Tools HD version for professionals costs $ 999 per year.

For whom: for owners of certain audio cards, which tend to squeeze the most out of their hardware and know what they want.

Perhaps the most serious sequencer in the collection. The seriousness of Pro Tools is provided not only by an abundance of functions, but also by a rich history: the first version of the program was released in 1991, had four tracks and cost 6,000 dollars. Its interface then strongly influenced the way we see sequencers now. The first song on the top lines of the charts, made in the DAW-program, was the work of Ricky Martin Livin ‘la Vida Loca, consolidated in Pro Tools in 1999.

The advantage of Pro Tools is the interaction with audio interfaces from the list of certified devices in a private way. This allows you to achieve maximum performance. This advantage also leads to a disadvantage: using the HD version of Pro Tools with uncertified hardware is fraught with additional bugs and lags. Pro Tools gives the impression of a modular workstation: the program requires a certain hardware, and some users recommend allocating a separate computer for DAW.

Avid Pro Tools 12
Built-in tools and effects Pro Tools (for example, drum sampler Boom and synthesizer Vacuum). avidblogs.com

The program is sewn with a decent set of tools and effects, it works well with MIDI and live sound. The range of possibilities of this DAW is wide, and it can take a lot of time to parse all the functions even with a confident user of sequencers. Beginners Avid offers a free First-version with the ability to record 16 tracks.

The sequencer has problems with VST integration, but it works well with AAX and RTAS plug-ins. Like Logic Pro X, Pro Tools uses the sound engineers of many professional studios.

Avid Pro Tools →

4. Image-Line FL Studio 12

Platforms: while only Windows. The version for macOS is in testing mode, but you can start the program using Boot Camp. There are apps for iOS and Android devices.

Cost: from 99 dollars for a one-time purchase.

For whom: for electronic engineers and bitmeykers working on Windows.

Image-Line FL Studio 12 is one of the most loved sequencers for those who like to combine samples and batch of instruments, but do not want to trouble yourself with a deep immersion in the mechanics of DAW programs. The way to turn on the sequencer before saving the project from FL Studio is probably the shortest, and to fill the simplest bit, you can not have any skills at all.

The interface of FL Studio really differs from the appearance of other sequencers, but the program has all the necessary functions. FL Studio is enjoyed by many famous artists, including Martin Harrick, Avicii, Tyler, The Creator or musician-videobloger Enjoykin.

Image-Line FL Studio 12
Workspace FL Studio: channel list, piano roll, playlist and mixer. All windows can be hidden or scaled. fr.audiofanzine.com

It’s extremely inconvenient to make a live recording, but it’s easy to work with track composition, samples, MIDI, VST and stuff notes in piano roll. Complete with the full version of the program are tools and effects, some of them deserve special attention. For example, Gross Beat, with which you can wind the tremolo and crazy glitches, or saturating and compacting mix Soundgoodizer, which has become a meme in the FL Studio user environment.

An important advantage for those who prefer to use the legal software: for FL Studio will have to pay only once, after which all updates will be available for free.

Image-Line has also developed mobile versions of the sequencer for iOS and Android devices. Projects from there can be exported to the full-fledged FL Studio.

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Image-Line FL Studio →

5. Steinberg Cubase Pro 9

Platforms: Windows, MacOS, iOS (only iPad).

Cost: the process of buying on the official website is very inconvenient. You must first buy a minor version of Cubase Elements, then pay for the upgrade. Cubase is easier to purchase from a Russian distributor “out of the box”, the cost in this case starts from about 5,000 rubles for Cubase Elements 9 and ends at 27,000 rubles for Cubase Pro 9.

For whom: for those who are looking for a decent and smart sequencer without unnecessary bells and whistles.

Another recording veteran is Cubase and Nuendo from Steinberg. The programs are written on the same engine and are similar to each other, but the first – so historically – is more popular with musicians. It was Steinberg who stood at the source of the technologies, without which it is difficult to imagine a modern sequencer: temporary warping (the ability to stretch sound fragments while preserving the key), VST and VSTi plug-ins.

For many years, Cubase does not leave the leading positions in the lists of popular DAW-programs. Products from Steinberg are used by Chvrches, Dub FX, New Order and even Hans Zimmer with Igor Matvienko.

An important plus Cubase is that as a shell it does not slow down even on weak computers. The rest of the program is similar to a classic sequencer with a set of necessary tools, effects and intuitive controls. True, many consider it uncomfortable because of the many working areas open at the same time.

In addition to the full-length version, there are stripped down variants of the sequencer for the iPad.

Steinberg Cubase →

6. PreSonus Studio One 3

Platforms: Windows, macOS.

Cost: the version of Prime is free, Artist costs 6,240 rubles, Professional – 25,151 rubles.

For whom: for those who are more interested in writing music than poking around in programs.

One of the youngest DAW programs and my personal favorite is Studio One. The interface of the sequencer is logic and convenience. Not bad built-in effects, the ability to concentrate all the controls on one screen (like leaving the same tracks), correct MIDI operation and convenient recording of live instruments is realized in Studio One so that it is pleasant to use. Distracted by the technical problems in the process is almost not necessary, it is enough to include Studio One and start creating.

Sequencer approaches the top positions of DAW-ratings, but is not yet ready to compare with mastodons either by popularity or by the number of proposed innovations. But his merits are noted by composers, DJs and authors of music for cinema and advertising, and the guitarist On-the-go Maxim Makarychev admitted that he considers Studio One much better than Logic.

In addition to the fact that Studio One does everything right, the sequencer does not have any particular advantages. You can note the functions of Track Management or Scratch Pad. The first allows you to customize the display of track data and save it to the preset, and the second is to create quick drafts on the secondary screen to see how the changes affect the track.

PreSonus Studio One 3
On the right side of the screen is the Scratch Pad, in which you can sketch without changing the main project. youtube.com

Of the cons of the sequencer we can note not the most convenient piano roll and the need to use a large enough monitor with the program – otherwise the entire tirade about the convenience of Studio One loses its meaning.

PreSonus Studio One →

7. Propellerhead Reason 9.5

Platforms: Windows, macOS.

Cost: 369 euros for the first purchase or 129 euros for the upgrade from version 9.0.

For whom: for those in whom not only the musician lives, but also an engineer who likes to understand complex systems.

Reason always stood apart: the interface of the sequencer looked much more complicated than the usual set of tracks, and the program itself did not support plug-ins and audio recording.

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Now everything has changed. Propellerhead introduced all the key skills of modern sequencers into the product, while preserving the previous advantages of the program. The main difference between Reason and other stations is that it does not hide the mechanics of the processes and settings that occur. Synthesizers, samplers, processors and mixers are selected on a panel resembling a rack stand (in other words, a cabinet with equipment), and are connected with each other by virtual cables.

Propellerhead Reason 9.5
A rack on the computer screen. musictech.net

Previous versions of the program were used in conjunction with other DAW and VST, in which it was possible to apply the settings rack rack Reason. The latest version of the sequencer is a self-contained product suitable for recording music and supporting the work with the Ableton Link protocol.

All this makes Reason a little strange, the most difficult, but perhaps the most interesting of the sequencers presented.

Propellerhead Reason →

8. GarageBand

Platforms: macOS, iOS.

Cost: is free.

For whom: for Apple computer owners who prefer not to bother with searching, buying and studying complex programs.

GarageBand – a simplified version of Logic Pro X, which should not be underestimated. Perhaps the sequencer lags behind the full-format stations by technical characteristics, but the appearance of GarageBand is an important event in the world of amateur music. Now, any owner of the “apple” gadget can create quality music, regardless of the skills of working with DAW-programs and the knowledge of sound engineering.

Do not compare GarageBand with programs to create dilettante crafts from eJay: here you have to compose, and not combine the finished loops. The ease of the sequencer affects cross-platform: applications for the iPhone and iPad are functional enough to make something worthwhile in them, and projects can be exported to GarageBand or Logic Pro X on macOS.

GarageBand
Near each track, the developers carefully left the tool icon. alternativeto.net

If your apple is adorned with an apple and you think with which DAW programs to start, the best candidate will be a simple, effective and free GarageBand. It has built-in tools and effects, a virtual guitar pedalboard, emulator amplifiers, a virtual Drummer drummer and the ability to install AU plug-ins.

Also GarageBand (naturally, not as the main DAW-program) is used by many well-known artists, for example Rihanna, Nine Inch Nails and Noel Gallagher.

GarageBand →

9. Cakewalk Sonar

Platforms: Windows.

Cost: the annual subscription costs from 99 dollars for Sonar Artist to 499 dollars for Sonar Platinum. There are discounts for students. So, for the platinum version of the program students will have to pay 349 dollars a year.

For whom: for those who for some reason do not like other sequencers, and those who have to work very hard with parties in piano roll.

This powerful and easy-to-use sequencer is sometimes called Logic Pro X for Windows. The advantages of Sonar include an elegant and customizable interface, Drums Addictive Drums and samples from Cakewalk in the kit and a convenient piano roll.

You can see that Cakewalk does not number the version of its station. This is due to the fact that she switched to a subscription system with a monthly payment. In addition to three major editions of Sonar, the developers offer Sonar Home Studio at half the price, which has many limitations, but is great for mastering the skills of working with the sequencer.

Of the unobvious advantages of Sonar, you can note the function Pattern Tool – this is an additional brush in the piano roll, which allows you to quickly copy musical fragments.

Cakewalk Sonar →


Lifkhaker already conducted a brief educational program on the creation of a home recording studio. The choice of DAW is perhaps the most difficult stage on the way to this goal. And which sequencer do you use? Share the answer in the comments.

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