10 Tips for Choosing the Right DAW

Choosing your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)

For the modern day musician, pairing a computer with a Digital Audio Workstation, or DAW, is the first essential step for building a home studio.  It is important to choose from the very beginning what best serves you creative needs while staying within budget. Here are some tips that will help with choosing your preferred DAW.

 

Tip1: Stay Unbiased

One of the biggest challenges for choosing a Digital Audio Workstation is to not get influenced by music companies’ marketing strategies or by people that have strong opinions towards their DAW of choice. Remaining unbiased while looking at your options is the first step for a fruitful research.

Tip 2: The Perfect DAW

Digital Audio Workstations come in many different forms and they all have strong and weak points. Regardless of what some people claim, there is no such thing as a perfect DAW. So, instead of seeking for the best DAW ever made, be realistic and look for a DAW that includes the major features you need for a natural workflow that fits your own personal style—even if it is not “perfect.”

 

Tip 3: Take Control

Don’t let the software dictate what you need! It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that you need all the shiny things a DAW offers. Instead, make a list of your “must have” functions to keep you away from being distracted by bells and whistles. Always keep focused and base your decision-making on the elements you truly need.

Tip 4: Demo  

Most companies offer trial versions of their software. Just go ahead and download the DAW you would like to try. Make sure though to familiarize yourself with the manual, watch online videos by highly-skilled professionals, and don’t get frustrated with every single thing you don’t know how to do. Be patient, as it takes some time to truly understand the workflow and capabilities of the DAW you are evaluating.

 

Tip 5: Learning Curve

Some DAWs offer more creative tools than others, but usually that comes with a cost. As a rule of thumb: the more features, the lengthier the learning curve. Before committing on purchasing a DAW take into consideration how much time you would like to spend learning the software as well as how complex you would like your DAW to be. In fact, you don’t really need to fully master a DAW to make it work in your favor. You can learn only those elements necessary to fulfill your creative/professional needs and skip the difficult parts.

 

Tip 6: Price Tag

Cost not only is a major deciding factor in buying a DAW, but it also influences our preference perception. You don’t want to end up with a piece of software that does not do the work simply because it was cheaper than other candidates. For this reason, during the initial stage of your research it would be better to focus on whether you like a DAW or not. After you have picked out your favorite DAWs you can think of a financial plan.  Don’t forget to check the price difference between various versions of a Digital Audio Workstation (limited and full versions) as well as for educational discounts.

 

Tip 7: Big or Small Screen?

The DAW’s layout will play a very important role in your workflow and eventually affect your productivity. Some DAWs utilize minimal screen space and even a laptop screen is sufficient to keep you working without any major fallbacks. Contrary, some other DAWs excel when used across multiple screens or with a very wide high-resolution monitor. That is another important element that should have in mind during your research.

 

Tip 8: Sound Quality

There is a lot of discussion online about how end users experience the differences in sound qualities between DAWs.  It does not worth wasting energy on this matter. All major DAWs sound equally good and meet the professional audio standards. However, if you already own a DAW and you have doubts regarding the quality of your music productions, instead of jumping to another DAW, look for better hardware as well as improving your room acoustics.

 

Tip 9: Being Compatible

It’s a good idea to use the same DAW as others around you. This way you can get immediate assistance when needed, learn the software faster, and be able to work in multiple locations simply by transferring your projects between computers. For instance, if you are in school, you could learn what your institution offers so can work both from your home computer and the school facilities.

Becoming versed in more than one Digital Audio Workstations is another option for maximizing productivity and being compatible with even more artists. For this reason, several film composers use DAWs with advanced MIDI and scoring tools such as Cubase, Logic, and Digital Performer, but deliver their work as a ProTools session to be compatible with professional studios for the final mixing.

 

Tip 10: To Dongle or Not to Dongle?

If you are a recording artist or your professional duties call for being constantly on the move, think twice before committing to a DAW that utilizes a USB dongle to hold the software’s license. The last thing you want is to run back home to grab the dongle while the orchestra is waiting for you to start the recording session. If you decide that you really like a DAW that requires a USB-dongle to operate:

  1. Make sure you get a hard case for the dongle so it won’t get damaged during traveling.
  2. Have an alternative DAW installed in your computer that does not require a USB dongle just as a back-up solution in case of an emergency. Better safe than sorry!

 

Here is a list of some of the major Digital Audio Workstations currently in the market:

Avid –ProTools (HD)
Presonus – Studio One
Steinberg – Cubase | Nuendo
Apple – Logic | GarageBand
Cakewalk – Sonar
Ableton Live
FL Studio
Propellerhead – Reason
MOTU – Digital Performer
Cockos Reaper
Bitwick Studio
Harrison MixBus
Adobe Audition
Acoustica – Mixcraft
MagicX – Samplitude | Sequoia | ACID
Merging Technologies – Pyramix
ReNoise
Tracktion