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Which DAW is Best for You?

By Graeme Hague

What is the best Digital Audio Workstation for your music studio?
It isn’t just a question of “what shall I buy today?” it’s about a long-term investment not only financially, but in time and patience as you learn how the software works. The best program is ultimately the one you’re most familiar with and once you’ve learned how to take full advantage of the application, it’s unlikely you’ll be lured away to a competing product (much as they always try), if for no reason other than to avoid another steep learning curve. The software you buy and use now might well be the same program you’ll be booting up in five or even 10 years time.

In the past most software distributors filled a niche in the market and didn’t tread on anyone else’s toes. Sony’s Acid Pro was all about loops and samples, Adobe’s Audition (previously Cool Edit Pro) focused on the real world of multi-track recording, and Digidesign’s studio-orientated ProTool’s enjoyed the title “industry standard” with its own proprietary hardware. Although Cubase’s and Sonar’s multi-track audio and MIDI sequencers were similar in many ways, they waged a constant war over plug-in and virtual instrument formats; Steinberg’s VST against Sonar’s preferred DXi. They were still a black or white choice for users. Meanwhile, Emagic’s Logic got gobbled up by Apple to suffer a period of identity crisis.
With recent releases, the lines are blurring.

Both Acid Pro and Audition support MIDI with the latter having its own library of loops included. ProTools has a Windows version and the MBox (now at version 2) makes their “studio” software available to anyone. Cubase and Sonar got their time-stretching algorithms into shape to seriously manipulate loops and samples. Logic is back in the race nipping at their heels. Everyone, by the way, supports Acid Pro’s “Acidized” files.
Have they all morphed into the same thing or will one particular DAW still fit your needs best?
Okay, you should begin by asking yourself what sort of music you want to make. Are you a musician who will be recording yourself? Perhaps you fancy yourself as an engineer working with other people in a studio-like environment? You might aspire to use samples and loops, never actually picking up an instrument. It makes a difference. DAW’s available today are all well featured, but some do specialize in certain functions.

Sony’s Acid Pro 6 has completely embraced MIDI playback, editing and the support of VST Instruments.

Sony’s Acid Pro 6 release represented the biggest shift this software has taken toward being a complete DAW. It has MIDI recording, playback and editing plus support for VST instruments. A neat sampler, Native Instrument’s Kompakt, comes included. You can also record audio on multiple tracks-- as many as your hardware resources will allow. Acid Pro, as always, comes with a large library of loops and still is the leader in chopping, stretching or sticking them together into complete tracks.

Certainly Acid Pro is the real DAW deal now. The downside? Musicians who would like a more comprehensive selection of VSTs might be disappointed, although it supports plenty of third-party products. Also, it doesn’t have a Mixer View to assist in the traditional mix down task. But who cares about musicians? You don’t need ‘em! When it comes to looping and using samples this software excels. If you don’t know a ukulele from a tuba, then Acid Pro 6 could be for you.

Audition has a great Mixer View, something its predecessor Cool Edit Pro was lacking.

Adobe’s Audition (currently PC only, but expect a Mac version real soon) has also embraced VST plug-ins and MIDI support, but the latter only in a limited way. It offers little more than being able to play back MIDI from Imported MIDI tracks and send them to a hardware output. Audition still prefers to offer comprehensive real-time, wave file recording. It’s like having an enormous multi-track tape machine in the corner attached to an expensive studio console. That’s a good thing, in case you didn’t realize. The many plug-in EQ’s, reverbs and all the rest are very high quality and Audition does have a good Mixer View. Add in a powerful Edit Window for fixing problems and Audition stands out as a great DAW for people who like to make music the old-fashioned way- in front of a live microphone. 

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