Since the 90s when people first started getting into home recording, there have been digital audio workstations (DAWs), albeit some limited ones. Even today, people continue to debate which one is the best one to get started with — a task that seems even more difficult today with how many options there are to pick from.
OPTION ONE: ABLETON LIVE
Anyone who has heard of the term DAW has probably heard about Ableton Live, which has gained popularity for its ability to break down ideas into a simple sequencer. It’s more commonly just referred to as “Ableton,” dropping the “Live” portion — though it does provide capabilities to support a live performance, despite its fame for studio work.
Currently, Ableton 10 is underway, and the community is greatly awaiting its arrival. For now, users can take advantage of the latest version, which is 9; some of its features include a new file browser, support for multiple monitors, automation curves, as well as a large selection of new included sounds.
Without a doubt, most people tend to recommend Ableton when it comes to making electronic music since it has a wide range of capabilities and is easy to use. In particular, it features the most user friendly interface, particularly for beginners; not to mention, this interface is designed to work with electronic music as opposed to recorded audio.
Cons are few and far between for Ableton, especially for someone who wants a new DAW that won’t feel intimidating. There can be a few timing concerns due to the way plugin delay compensation is handled, but it’s otherwise simple to use, even if it lacks a bit in plugin variety
Price: $99 to $749
OPTION 2: LOGIC PRO X (OS X ONLY)
Along with Final Cut Pro, Logic Pro is a true flagship of Apple products. Like other programs by the company, Logic Pro has a modern, clean look that is quite easy to use. It also includes quite a selection of MIDI instruments ready to use. A few of them aren’t as great as others, but having such a diverse collection is still a great way to boost one’s library.
This is also true of the plugins included: With the large number of options included, you aren’t going to need supplementary software for quite some time. Two especially great features, Flex Time and Flex Pitch, will quickly become essential to your work process.
Unfortunately, the base plugins don’t have the same interface improvements as the EQ received in its most recent upgrade. It’s also not terrible easy to search through MIDI libraries. However, neither of these problems truly impact what is otherwise a competent DAW at a reasonable price point.
Price: $199, available through the App Store
OPTION THREE: IMAGE-LINE FRUITY LOOPS (WINDOWS ONLY)
In the music industry, Fruity Loops Studio is often overlooked by many professionals, but it’s an application that can hold its own weight considering it doesn’t have a full OS X version. It’s a flexible piece of modular software that lets you dive deep. Though the program was strictly for Windows in the past, there is a beta version available for OS X, though it’s currently a bit lacking compared to the full version.
This program has an intuitive workflow that lets you jump in right away. Many plugins are included with the base software, such as the Maximus Limiter and the SoundGoodizer, both of which are truly unique to the program. The piano roll is also useful in helping music composition as needed.
Currently, the only real reason you might skip out on Fruity Loops is if you don’t have a Windows computer. Though the program has a beta version, it is reportedly buggy and lacking real usability. The only way to run a relatively stable version on a Mac is to use Boot Camp for emulate Windows, which can be very taxing on resources. Because of this, if you are truly committed to using OS X, then you’ll need to look at a different program.
Price: $99 to $910
Comparing these three digital audio workstations together ultimately narrows it down to Ableton and Logic, with the former allowing easier tracking and creativity options. Logic Pro is a program designed for mixing, mastering and sound design, whereas Ableton works better for those looking to have fun creating music with little stress.
Beginners will want to start with Ableton for the intuitive interface as well as its popularity; because it is more popular, it has far more tutorials available from a larger community ready to help. Veterans may be more interested in starting with Logic Pro to access the tools a professional will need. As such, the ultimate choice in which of the two programs you should start with depends on your primary project goals.