If you’re looking to record music, a good Digital Audio Workstation (or “DAW”… rhymes with PAW) is what you’ll want to get your hands on.

A DAW is essentially a piece of software which enables you to record, edit and produce music. In fact, professional music producers spend most of their working life utilizing some form of a DAW. Any DAW will contain all the things you need to produce music. That includes recording instruments and voices, using software effects to process and enhance your recordings, MIDI sequencing for composing with notes and patterns, and virtual instruments that can play your music.

Some like to function as a blank page for you to be creative on. Others like to build in tools to generate chord progressions, melodies and drum patterns. But all of them will let you mix your music down to a finished product, and that’s very exciting.

The list of available DAWs is extensive and the price range is quite enormous. While there are at least 50+ out there, here’s a quick list of the more popular ones:

  • PreSonus Studio One
  • Steinberg Cubase Pro
  • Tracktion Waveform Pro
  • Bitwig Studio
  • GarageBand
  • MOTU Digital Performer
  • Reaper
  • Reason

  • Image Line FL Studio
  • AVID Pro Tools
  • Audacity

  • Ableton Live

Available DAWs

Over the years I’ve only used 2 DAWs extensively, and I’ve tried trial versions of most of the others. The first I got hooked on was Cakewalk by Bandlab, which was known as SONAR many years ago. It has every feature a home musician would need, and it’s free. Seriously… no strings attached.

When SONAR turned into Cakewalk by Bandlab, the look & feel of it was still stuck in the early 2000’s. I just couldn’t get past that so I went in search for something currently, and something that was also under active development.

After trying trial versions of many of them, I eventually landed on Studio One by PreSonus. Its interface simply took full advantage of my ultrawide monitor, to the point where every pane (and the sections within them) are fully resizable. The overall layout and the ability to quickly find things just worked for me immediately. It simply has the most comprehensive range of tools to tackle everything from home recording, singer-songwriters and bedroom dance producers through to composers, arrangers, music producers and recording bands.

Setting up and installation is a breeze and involves directly downloading the setup files from the PreSonus website after you’ve created an account. Studio One greets you with the start page with the most common settings for the projects or “songs” as they are called.

The main arrange window features recording and playback controls at the bottom. The mixer, edit, and browse pages are all located in the bottom right corner and open into the arrange window which PreSonus calls a single-window workflow. Anyone with a large single monitor will enjoy the details in the interface however, on smaller devices it feels a bit cluttered. But if you do have a smaller display, you’ll find any DAW challenging when trying to get around.

Above all else, my favorite thing about PreSonus Studio One is how it works for so many different users. From artists and songwriters to seasoned mastering professionals – Studio One has a lot to offer each individual.

Studio One goes from strength to strength and version 6 is a phenomenal piece of recording software. The single-window approach, with the ability to drag-and-drop audio, plugins, instruments, and ideas, makes it simple to navigate and quick to build up your tracks. The interface is completely customisable so you only need to see the tools you’re using for a very clean and streamlined experience.

With Scratch Pads, it can let you try out new ideas without messing up your mix. You can add in song markers, key changes, chords, and structures around all your parts. You can undo changes in the mixer and work on multiple ideas and try them out against each other. It’s such a forgiving piece of software it makes you feel you can always come back to a place where it was working before you went off down some crazy avenue.

It comes with a great range of virtual instruments that covers most of what you’ll be using all the time. The audio plugins compete with some of the best third-party ones and have some really fun and creative options. You can edit your MIDI as patterns, piano roll and as a full score with integrated lyrics, so you are never short of another view. And for sound-to-picture composers, the integrated video track makes it a breeze.

PreSonus Studio One

Studio One also pushes outside of the DAW by giving you a Mastering Suite for completing your album and a performance space where you can work up and gig an entire set using the same tools you use to craft your music in the first place.

Studio One happens to be one of the only DAWs with a full mastering solution built right in. Once the production of a song is done, exporting all the tracks and automation to a dedicated mastering session is just a matter of a few clicks. The same mastering session can have multiple tracks coming in from different mix sessions. And any changes made to those mix sessions are automatically reflected in the mixdown .wav file in the mastering session. Sweet! For producers who mix and master professionally as well as their own content, this is a great alternative to buying a dedicated mastering suite.