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Spotlight: DAWs

Digital Audio Workstations
Published April 2012

At the heart of most modern studios is a computer running a Digital Audio Workstation, or DAW. The choice of DAWs available has increased significantly over the last few years, but if you're new to the field it's still hard to know which one will suit you best. Here's a selection of the most popular packages, to help you decide.

SADiE 6 £1757-£2579$2616-$3841


SADiE, or 'Studio Audio Disk Editor', is commonly used for mastering, as well as radio and TV production. It's a Windows-only DAW, and it doesn't have any MIDI functionality — but it is widely known as one of the most powerful and intuitive audio editors available. SADiE is available in a range of versions, including the Radio Producer and Mastering suites.

Review: /sos/jan11/articles/sadie-6.htm

Prism Media Products +44 (0)1353 648888

Prism Media Products +1 973 983 9577

Steinberg Cubase 6 £508$500

Steinberg Cubase 6Steinberg Cubase 6

Cubase has a lineage going back to Notator, a MIDI-only sequencer for the Atari. Consequently, its MIDI-editing functionality is very mature, and it has some unique MIDI-related features, such as the Note Expression automation system. That said, it's been a highly capable audio editor for many years now too, and has advanced facilities for multitrack audio editing, pitch correction and more.

Review: /sos/apr11/articles/cubase-6.htm

Steinberg +49 40 4223 6115

Steinberg +1 877 253 3900

Apple Logic Pro 9 $199$199

Apple Logic Pro 9Apple Logic Pro 9

Apple's Logic Pro DAW is extremely popular with Mac users (it hasn't been available for Windows since Apple bought its original developers, Emagic). Logic includes some powerful software synthesizers and samplers, a large suite of plug-ins, and several gigabytes of optional audio content, such as samples and loops. Both the program and extra content are available to buy and download from Apple's App Store.

Review: /sos/oct09/articles/logic9.htm

Cakewalk Sonar X1 £390$399

Cakewalk Sonar X1Cakewalk Sonar X1

Cakewalk's PC-only Sonar has been around for over 10 years, and as such is a mature platform, with a highly evolved set of audio and MIDI recording and editing tools to rival any of its competitors. Perhaps its biggest selling point today is the vast array of soft-synths and plug-in processors included in the full version.

Review: /sos/apr11/articles/sonar-x1.htm

Roland UK +44 (0)1792 702701

Cakewalk +1 617 423 9004

Propellerhead Reason 6 £349$499

Propellerhead Reason 6Propellerhead Reason 6

This synth-oriented sequencer has long been a favourite of dance-music producers. Its interface, with its virtual racks and cables, is heavily inspired by classic synth and sampler hardware of the '80s and '90s. The latest version also incorporates the functionality of Propellerhead's audio platform Record, including an SSL-inspired mixer.

Review: /sos/nov11/articles/reason-6.htm

Sound Technology +44 (0)1462 480000

Line 6 +1 818 575 3600

Ableton Live 8 €549€549

Ableton Live 8Ableton Live 8

Ableton Live is unique among the main DAWs, in that it is optimised for live performance. It therefore has an immediacy that users appreciate, as well as powerful loop-slicing, tempo-sync'ing and time-stretching abilities. And, crucially, for a piece of software intended for use on stage, it is known for being very stable.

Review: /sos/jun09/articles/live8.htm

Focusrite +44 (0)1494 462246

Ableton US +1 646 723 4550

MOTU Digital Performer 7 £449$795

MOTU Digital Performer 7MOTU Digital Performer 7

Popular with film and TV composers, MOTU's Digital Performer has many features relating to video sync'ing. It's also got comprehensive audio and MIDI editing abilities, and the latest version includes several guitar-related plug-ins, too. It's presently Mac-only, but the newly announced version 8 (pictured), which should be available later this year, promises to be compatible with Windows machines too.

Review: /sos/mar10/articles/dp7.htm

Music Track +44 (0)1767 313447

MOTU +1 617 576 2760

Cockos Reaper 4 $60/$225$60/$225

Cockos Reaper 4Cockos Reaper 4

A newcomer to the DAW game, Cockos' Reaper has become extremely popular in a short space of time, thanks partly to its relatively low cost, but also to its ease of use and impressive feature set. It's available with licences for either personal or professional use (hence the two prices), and its development team are constantly releasing updates to address bugs and add new features.

Review: /sos/oct11/articles/reaper-4.htm

Presonus Studio One v2  £299$399

Presonus Studio One v2Presonus Studio One v2

Another newcomer to the market, Presonus' Studio One employs extensive drag-and-drop functionality, making it very approachable for novices. Version 2, released last year, incorporates video support and essential mastering facilities, and has Celemony's Melodyne pitch-correction software built in.

Review: /sos/dec11/articles/studio-one-v2.htm

Source Distribution +44 (0)20 8962 5080

Presonus +1 225 216 7887

Avid Pro Tools 10 £539$500

Avid Pro Tools 10Avid Pro Tools 10

Probably the best-known DAW, Pro Tools has traditionally been focused on audio editing, where many believe its strength still lies. MIDI features have been added over the years, though, so that it's now also a highly capable MIDI and soft-synth platform. It can work with any audio interface, or it can be bought as part of Avid's own high-end HDX DSP system.

Review: /sos/mar12/articles/pt-10.htm

Avid +1 650 731 6300

Steinberg +1 877 253 3900