Digital Audio Workstations (DAW) are software that works to create a recording studio environment using your computer. DAW software is used for everything from composing, recording, mixing, and mastering.
We’ve rounded up some of the most reliable and cutting-edge DAW software on the market, whether you need a DAW for Mac or PC.
Top 10 Digital Audio Workstations for PC and Mac
These ten DAWs stand out among the crowd and deliver a user experience that will keep the music playing.
Avid Pro Tools is one of the best music production software available for Mac and PC. This DAW is industry-standard and optimized for all kinds of producers to create music. Pro Tools has a few critics due to its popularity. However, it’s still a powerful software that is great for intermediate DAW users to industry professionals.
The software stands out with tablet compatibility and the music collaboration aspect. Connect with musicians around the world to develop or refine your next hit. With music collab software on the rise, it can be helpful to have a DAW that connects you with a single click.
Part of what stands out is the hardware available. Pro Tools support most hardware, but it works best with Avid Dock and other Avid products. Avid Dock is designed to create a fully integrated workflow, but it is not necessary to use Pro Tools. Feel free to use your favorite hardware with Pro Tools
The biggest downside of Pro Tools for a lot of people is its cost. There is a free version of Pro Tools, but it is limited. A full version plus the available plugins can get pricey.
- Massive cloud storage for all your music projects
- Supports tons of plugins for different needs
- Advanced packages and hardware are expensive
Overall, Avid Pro Studios delivers an expert experience for creating any genre music you want.
Reason Studios is a cutting-edge, reliable DAW for PC and Mac. Producers who make major pop and hip-hop tracks favor Reason Studios+. Notably, Key Wayne, who produces for Beyonce and Ariana Grande, uses Reason Studios+.
Reason Studios features tons of sound packs, instruments, and effects regularly curated to keep your inspiration flowing. Making new tunes that push your limits is what Reason Studios does best.
You can even use Reason Studios’ sound design plugin The Rack with other DAWs, so there’s no need to change your setup right away. Use The Rack in tandem with your other software for a streamlined experience, and access the user benefits of Reason Studios.
Reason Studios offers a free trial of Reason+ for anyone who wants to test out what this DAW can do.
- Additional resources are available
- Easy to set up – connect your MIDI and start working
- Not beginner-friendly
This software is a solid option for producers with experience making music and is excellent for sparking creativity.
Acid Pro Suite is a powerful DAW available for Windows. It’s a versatile option for anyone looking to purchase software rather than pay for a monthly subscription. This software is simple enough for beginners to use and still powerful enough for pros.
Acid Pro Suite has been live for years and is a stable option. This DAW maximizes the user experience. One handy feature is Groove Pools, short rhythms that users can stick together and easily import or move around the track. Looping is also simple with Acid Pro Suite, which can simplify a significant aspect of music-making.
For all its highlights, Acid Pro Suite will need a powerful computer to run. The software isn’t available for Mac and can slow down old Windows computers. It is overall a less expensive option than other DAW software as long as your computer can handle the workload.
- Easy to navigate user interface
- Affordable purchase
- Not compatible with Mac OS
- It uses lots of RAM
Overall, Acid Pro Suite is an excellent option for anyone looking to get serious with their music-making and who doesn’t want to get purchase intensive software.
4) FL Studio
FL Studio has been on the market since 1998 and earned its spot as an industry darling. Some of the features aren’t as extravagant as other options, but for a novice or someone who isn’t pursuing music as their main gig, this DAW is a stand-out.
FL Studio is another less expensive DAW option for both Mac and Windows. FL Studio is a one-time purchase and features a lifetime of free updates. Many alternatives boast pricey updates in comparison. Some plugins are free, but typically add-ons do come for a competitive cost. You probably won’t be priced out of your software choosing FL Studio.
For years this Windows-exclusive software was unavailable to Mac users, but now it’s available for both major operating systems.
- The software is reliable
- The low-cost is affordable
- The user interface is slightly outdated compared to more pricey options
Overall, if you’re looking to dip your toe in the pool when it comes to DAW, consider checking out FL Studio.
5) Ableton Live
Ableton Live is a robust DAW best suited for DJs and electronic music. It’s convenient for Windows and Mac users alike. This DAW comes in three different versions with different price points, depending on your composing and performing needs.
The full version makes hundreds of sounds and effects available, and all levels of the software are straightforward to set up for live performance. While the user interface isn’t as visually appealing, this ease of use is critical in live performances.
This software can even cut third-party audio editing programs out of the picture when used to its fullest.
- Reliable for live performances
- Competitively priced plugins
- It does not have a pitch correction tool
Ableton Live is a premier choice for anyone looking to beef up their electronic music game since the lack of pitch correction can make recording audio somewhat tricky.
Steinberg Cubase is a dynamic DAW that’s been on the market for decades. Cubase has software for both Mac and Windows. Steinberg is a pioneer of virtual studio technology, and Cubase is a fantastic option for a fully digital setup.
The editor is optimized for MIDI usage, and the virtual controls are as great as a physical option. Chopping is easy and graceful with fluid user controls, and exports are quick.
Cubase supports a massive amount of instruments, plugins, and effects. Plus, mixing and sequencing are painless due to the company’s long history of serving composers. You can also connect with other users to work on tracks together or get help where you need it.
- Versatile mixing software
- Connect with other users to collab
- It uses dongle connectors instead of a USB
Cubase is a powerful software that’s made waves in the industry. Some features might be less extravagant due to the large DAW landscape in recent years. However, due to the reliability of the DAW, this is a solid pick for consistent and great-sounding tracks.
PreSonus Studio One is a malleable option for working professionals in the music industry. This one-time purchase is available for Mac and Windows users, plus it has handy apps for tablets and smartphones.
For users already familiar with other DAW software, this one-screen program shouldn’t be too difficult to start using. Going in stone-cold can make using PreSonus Studio One more confusing since it’s designed with professionals in mind.
Studio One’s major benefit is that it expedites workflow. Everything you need is visible on-screen and at the ready. Connecting hardware is simple, too.
- Streamlined use
- Excellent for composers and producers who don’t want to deal with extra fluff
- Not beginner-friendly
- Can’t easily save specific track templates
PreSonus Studio One is a workhorse that gets it done. This is a solid option for professionals who know what they want out of a DAW and don’t need extra trimmings to get to work.
Cakewalk’s SONAR is a comprehensive DAW software that can compose, record, mix, and master tracks. This software is available as a one-time purchase or through a subscription, so choose whichever fits your needs best.
This DAW is useful to keep every step of production together without worrying about transferring files or extra exporting steps. Get right to work and stay focused without wasting extra time using third-party software.
One great feature of SONAR is the Mix Recall function, which allows the user to pull up mix setups easily and quickly. Two other substantial features are the VocalSync Editor and Piano Roll function. The VocalSync function is an AI that analyzes vocals and pairs them with the track. The Piano roll function is a powerful MIDI setup that’s simple to use.
Another heavy-hitting feature is Prochannel. This feature mimics a real-world rack of studio equipment, so if you’re missing studio time, you might find solace in SONAR. The rest of the user interface is also made to resemble a real-life studio for any producers who miss clocking in hours at the booth.
- VocalSync Editor makes recording voices a cinch
- Extremely reliable software
- Not Mac compatible
This digital audio workstation for PC is a sturdy option for recording and everything else you might need. It’s not as big and has fewer plugins than some other options, but the software is reliable and likely won’t lag or crash if used correctly.
Motu Digital Performer is seriously one of the best music production software for Mac and Windows. Digital Performer is a unique DAW with features that make producing and composing multiple songs at the same time simple and straightforward.
Performer debuted in 1986 as a simple MIDI setup and has been a real competitor ever since. Now, it’s a highly customizable DAW that can match any need. Even the user interface color can be customized to keep you in the zone. You can use a huge variety of equipment with Performer, too, so nothing you need to work will be left behind.
Performer sports a powerful looping function called POLAR (Performance Oriented Loop Audio Recording) that allows continuous recording and layering of those perfect loops. It’s an expedited looping process that takes the difficulty out of recording new sounds.
MOTU Performer also lets you work on multiple sequences at the same time. It also supports powerful live mixing and a number of versatile plugins. All of this makes it a great option for scoring and live performing alike.
- 720p and 1020p video support is useful for scoring films and games
- Prioritizes workflow for quick and simple music production
- Fewer effects and sounds available than other options
- The user interface can appear cluttered
Overall, Performer is a fantastic tool for anyone in the industry who wants a fresh take on DAW and is looking for a personalized work experience.
It would be difficult to talk about DAWs without touching Apple Logic Pro X. This powerhouse of a DAW is streamlined with enhanced user interface options for swift and steady work.
This industry-standard software is useful for everything from composing to adding effects and mastering. It supports a massive variety of plugins and boasts a huge library of sounds. No matter which genre you produce, the workflow is reliable and easy to use.
Logic Pro X boasts live notations, comprehensive automation features, and a new Live Loop function. Live Loop opens up nonlinear music production and lets creativity shine.
The Flex Time and Flex Pitch let you adjust tempo and pitch, respectively, with only a few buttons. The ability to fine-tune your tracks to perfection is closer than ever before.
You can even work on the road with compatible apps for Apple devices.
- Real-time notation
- Live Loop allows you to record loops as you go
- Ability to adjust tempo and pitch
- Not available for Windows users
- It can be overwhelming for beginners
Overall this industry-standard piece of DAW software is an all-around Hercules. Many of the settings and ideas in Logic X Pro are seen throughout a variety of DAW but compiled into one singular software. Someone may avoid Logic Pro X if they work on Windows, dislike Mac software, or are overwhelmed by too many options.
But for a budding professional, it may be just what you need to take your tracks to the next level.
What to Consider in a DAW
For years there were only a few options available for professionals, but now the business is booming, and there is a DAW out there for every music-maker.
There are tons of options available for pros and novices alike. No matter your skill level, budget, equipment, or setup, there’s a way to make music virtually. You don’t need to leave the house to get work done or rent expensive studio time. This makes mixing music accessible to musicians of all backgrounds.
Digital audio workstations typically support music recording and editing, with some offering more steps. What you purchase could end up having a direct impact on the sound quality of your music.
There are a few aspects to seriously consider before purchasing a DAW:
- Your MIDI controller: make sure that your MIDI is compatible with the DAW.
- Audio plugins: check out which plugins are available for the software. Not every DAW will support the same plugins or even similar ones.
- Operating system: a popular DAW for the operating system you don’t have isn’t useful. Make sure that your purchase is fully compatible with the OS you are running since some DAW software get significant updates each year.
- Genre: Some DAW is better suited to different genres. One that has a weaker vocal recording ability might actually be optimized for EDM than rock or rap. There are also DAWs that are made with scoring films or video games in mind. Checking out which other producers use the software will give you a better idea if it suits your needs.
- Usage: if you’re a beginner to DAWs who makes tracks a hobby, a robust program for professionals might not be of use. While industry-standard software is some of the best DAWs out there, think about how much time and money you want to invest into the software.
- Budget: this software is usually offered as a one-time purchase or a subscription model. Make sure you’re aware of the true costs, though, as many companies will charge around $100 for each upgrade. If you want to spend less, try to find DAW with free upgrades.
All of these factors combined will be vital in choosing the digital audio workspace that best suits your needs.
All of these DAWs are popular for a reason. They are considered to be some of the best DAW software out there and have MIDI capabilities, audio plugins, and other features that make them favorable for different needs.
While some industry-standard heavy hitters are on the list, like Logic Pro X or Avid Pro Tools, smaller DAW like Reason Studios+ are reliable and will change the way you make music.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.