- Posted: 14/03/26
Choosing A D.A.W. (Digital Audio Workstation)
For the second article in the SPS we are taking a short look at three widely used Digital Audio Workstations. I will go ahead and admit…I am a long time Apple Logic Pro user, so I may be slightly biased, but I don’t want to write about why one DAW is better than the other. I think it would be more helpful to just talk about the process of choosing a certain DAW and the questions you want to consider when doing so. So…let’s do it!
- What type of Music do I predominantly deal with (Mostly audio or heavy soft synths)?
- Will I need a lot of Plug-Ins? Am I able / willing to shell out for third-party offers?
- Will I be recording a lot of tracks simultaneously?
- Editing Audio… Will I need to do a lot of it?
Ok ok, enough with the questions, you get the point! These, of course, aren’t the only questions you’d want to ask, but I think these questions will lead you to narrowing down the DAW choice that works best for you. We covered acoustics in the first article because of how important that is to your sound and your mix choices, and now we move to DAW’s simply because this affects your mix work flow. If you’ve been on the lookout for a DAW upgrade or just in the DAW market for the first time you know there are offerings galore, everything from Motu to Apple to Steinberg to Avid or Magix Samplitude. If you work in the project studio scene or in the larger studio arena typically you will only come across a select few of the D.A.W’s on offer. This article will reference 3 only because we could talk all day on this, but from my experience (I’ve mostly worked in Pop, R&B and Hip-Hop) these are the products I come across most.
Apple’s Logic Pro
Avid’s Pro Tools
Let’s just address all three products on the basis of how they answer each question we illustrated earlier, and the first one is:
What type of Music do I predominantly deal with (Mostly audio or heavy soft synths)?
Determining your primary work load is one of the best ways to narrow down your music recording software choices, and although Avid Pro Tools is known as the industry standard for any, and all, studios. I have found through my experience working in Pop/R&B/Hip-Hop genres you will get accustomed to also hearing a lot of talk of using Apple’s Logic Pro as well. Pro tools is known across the recording industry as the "audio king". Its’ ease of editing audio, in general, surpasses Logic and Cubase at every turn. This isn’t to say that you can’t handle all of these functions in any of the D.A.W’s, but some are more suited for particular things, and Pro Tools has been developed to record massive amounts of simultaneous audio and edit it an intuitive way. Logic and Cubase are known as software sequencers because of their vast ability to work well with midi and software synthesizers. I’d advise anyone who works heavily with electronic music or synthetically generated sounds as in Hip-hop, Pop or EDM to be familiar with either (or both) Logic or Cubase. If you are going to record a lot of live audio (rock, punk, classical) I would consider focusing on Pro Tools because of its audio editing capabilities. As I said before, any of these programs will work, but some are smoother at things than others.
Will I need a lot of Plug-Ins? Am I willing to shell out for third-party offers?
This is definitely a thought to consider when choosing a D.A.W, specifically because of the vast…..um did I say vast? I mean V A S T difference between what these programs offer for use right out of the box. I think most users of all three programs would agree that Logic is the winner here. You are supplied with everything you need from EQ’s, Compressors, TDR (Time-delay/reverb) and effects plug-ins as well as metering and ancillary utility plug-ins to record and mix a track. While you may like or want third-party plug-ins that, in some instances, accomplish the tasks to a better more high-fi degree than the stock plug-ins, you still can’t deny that you are given the tools to accomplish projects right out of the "box" in Logic Pro. Cubase (I’m not a current user of Cubase and probably would feel like a fish out of water if I had to run a session) does offer around the same amount of audio plugins that Logic does, but to a lesser quality. At least you are offered a starting point in Cubase. The industry standard Pro Tools is the “stingiest” with the stock audio plugin bundles. I will admit though, you will find yourself really using the more famous plugins that are Avid compatible. D-verb is an example of a classic basic plugin that is included with Pro Tools, and has been used on countless major label productions. Users are not supplied with anywhere near the amount, and variety of plugins, however, that the other programs offer. Choosing Pro Tools comes with the knowledge that you almost certainly will be purchasing third party plugins. Most, if not all, mix engineers who mix “in the box” end up purchasing third-party plugins because some companies just specialize in doing things better than others *cough* Melodyne *cough*, but it’s important to note that Logic and Cubase, at least, will help you hit the ground running whereas Avid’s Pro Tools will allow you to hit the ground running …but to another store to purchase more plugins.
Will I be recording a lot of tracks simultaneously?
While the speed of your computer, specifically your hard drive will matter most when deciding on how many simultaneous tracks you can record, it’s still something to consider when choosing your D.A.W. There are “lite” versions of many D.A.W’s including the three that we are discussing here, and one of the major limits on “lite” versions is the available track count. This of course isn’t just simultaneous track count, but absolute track count as well. Relating performance to this same issue, even in the full versions, Pro Tools lends itself really well to recording simultaneous audio, latency management and I/O capability is handled well. Most of my work with Logic has been with singer/songwriters, so I have never had to tax the Logic system to see what it can do, but I can attest to the modest latency management and the (even though not difficult) still more cumbersome audio editing tools. Cubase in this instance is much like logic. It can handle the task, but the audio tools are not what they are in Pro Tools. I do like a lot of the new features in Cubase 7 however, and although I don’t want to really get into specifics on each product, I can say that Cubase has some amazing proprietary features that are absent in the other two D.A.W’s. Consider your computer’s capabilities and audio interface first when thinking about the issue of simultaneous tracks, but your DAW decision might hinge on this especially if you will be on one of the extreme ends of the spectrum.
Editing Audio, Will I need to do a lot of it?
For the last question we’ll cover in this article, we’ll just refer a little more to editing audio. I have mentioned that Pro Tools is hands down built for audio and one of the best software programs to manipulate it, but it’s really the tools in the Edit window that make it so user friendly. The Edit features and tools that are offered to slice, nudge and stretch your audio so that you can adjust it to your heart’s content are readily available and easy to use. The ease of use issue is really where Logic falls behind. Of course any Logic key command user can make up for the more cumbersome features, but the Pro Tools edit window is generally more intuitive. Since, I’m not a frequent Cubase user, I was excited to hear about the “chord track” functions that were added in version 7 and this seems like a songwriter’s dream in the arranging/composing stage so Cubase could take leaps and bounds in this area, but the chord track is not so much about editing recorded audio as adjusting and improving the overall harmonic structure of your composition through added elements. Cubase’s vari-audio function does allow mono track audio adjustments however, so this may be enough to put Cubase above Logic in terms of audio manipulation and I can attest that through version IX (although X was released a while back); Logic does not have this capability.
I’d suggest if you don’t have a place to start when determining which recording studio software to select, it’ll help to use these, or a variation of these, questions. There are many other questions to ask, such as: "Will I need this to perform live?" D.A.W’s are all generally based upon the same principles though, so there aren’t many that completely can’t do certain options, your decisions should be based around your work flow, and the program that will aid you in working smoother with less headaches so you can record, mix, or edit with as little frustration as possible…and hopefully a little inspiration too.
**If you have any comments on this or any other article, catch us in the forum and let’s discuss! **