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Choosing the best DAW (digital audio workstation) for your needs

In this guide, we'll explore the top DAWs on the market and offer recommendations for selecting the one that best fits your music production goals.

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A DAW, short for digital audio workstation, is the central hub of your music production process. It's where you will spend countless hours creating, recording, editing, and mixing your music. As such, choosing the right DAW is essential for realizing your creative vision and maximizing productivity and ease in your workflow.

It's important to keep in mind that the notion of a "best" DAW is subjective and depends on your preferences and specific needs. Although some DAWs are widely considered to be “industry standards”, there is no single DAW that is universally perfect for everyone. Simply put, the "best" DAW for you is the one that fits your needs and helps you achieve your creative goals.

In this guide, we'll explore the top DAWs on the market and offer recommendations for selecting the one that best fits your music production goals. Additionally, if you're new to the world of DAWs and want to learn more about what they are and what you can do with them, be sure to check out our guide on the fundamentals of DAWs.


    All DAWs have the same purpose of providing a digital environment for music production. They are designed for making music and feature essential tools for recording, editing, mixing, and producing audio.

    In terms of these core features, all the top DAWs are capable of delivering professional-level results with the right skillset. Although certain DAWs, like Ableton Live and FL Studio, are commonly associated with electronic music, they are equally capable of producing recordings for other genres, such as metal or classical music. DAWs are not genre-specific and any DAW can be used to create music in virtually any style.

    Unlike with gear such as audio interfaces or headphones, where products can be classified as high-end or lower-end models, and where there is often a noticeable difference in performance between the products, the differences between DAWs are not as clear-cut.

    Instead, the differences between DAWs lie in the specific features they offer, and how those features cater to different workflows. Some DAWs are designed to be more streamlined and intuitive, while others offer a broader range of advanced features and customization options.

    Ultimately, the best DAW for you depends on your specific needs and preferences, as well as your preferred music production style and workflow.

    What is meant by “workflow”?

    In the context of DAWs, the term "workflow" refers to the process by which you create your music. It encompasses everything from the composition stage, to recording and editing tracks, and organizing your project. Different DAWs offer different workflows, with some being tailored to certain styles of music or production techniques.

    For example, Ableton Live and FL Studio are designed with electronic music production in mind, featuring workflows geared towards loop-based production, working with MIDI, and real-time performance. Others, such as Logic and Pro Tools, offer more traditional linear workflows that are commonly used for recording and editing live instruments and vocals.

    While most DAWs offer similar capabilities and can perform the same tasks, the way you accomplish them can vary.

    An efficient and effective workflow is one that allows you to concentrate on your creativity and makes your music production process as smooth and enjoyable as possible. In contrast, a cumbersome workflow that frequently disrupts your creative flow can be frustrating, time-consuming, and demotivating.

    If you're new to music production, it can be challenging to determine your workflow needs upfront. Starting with a DAW that has a simple and intuitive interface, such as Logic Pro or REAPER, can be a good way to get familiar with the basics. As you gain more experience and insight into your creative process, you can explore other DAWs and workflows that may be a better fit for your needs.

    Factors to consider when choosing a DAW

    Hardware compatibility

    Hardware compatibility is a critical aspect to keep in mind when choosing a DAW. The most significant factor to check is the DAW's compatibility with your computer's operating system. While many DAWs work with both Windows and Mac, some are exclusive to one or the other.

    It is also important to consider the DAW's system requirements and verify that your computer meets them to avoid any potential performance issues.

    Additionally, it is also essential to ensure that any hardware you plan to use, such as audio interfaces and MIDI controllers, are compatible with the DAW you choose.

    Plugin compatibility

    Some DAWs only work with specific plugin formats. It's important to check whether the DAW you're considering supports the plugins you want to use.

    Neural DSP guitar and bass plugins are compatible with all the top DAWs.

    What are you going to use your DAW for?

    What kind of music do you want to create? Are you a singer-songwriter looking to record acoustic instruments and vocals? Or are you a producer focused on electronic dance music, hip-hop, or other genres that typically use virtual instruments and samples? Understanding your musical goals can help you choose a DAW that's best suited for your needs.

    If you primarily plan to use your DAW for recording live instruments and vocals, look for a DAW with robust audio recording and editing capabilities like Logic Pro, Cubase, and Pro Tools. If you're going to create electronic music, you may want a DAW that has a wide variety of built-in virtual instruments, samples, and MIDI loops, such as Ableton Live or FL Studio. If you are aspiring to work professionally in the industry, Pro Tools might be the most suitable choice for you since many studios and production companies use it as their primary DAW. If you’re a bedroom guitarist planning on using Neural DSP guitar plugins to demo your songs and don’t need any built-in samples or virtual instruments, you may consider a stripped down option like REAPER.

    Nonetheless, it's important to keep in mind that the choice of DAW does not restrict the type of music you can create. Instead, it influences the way you approach the music production process to achieve your desired outcome. While each DAW has its own unique workflow, it's possible to create virtually any type of music with any DAW. The key is to find a DAW that aligns with your workflow preferences and is comfortable for you to use.

    What comes bundled with the DAW?

    Each DAW comes with its own set of bundled resources, with some offering more comprehensive packages than others. While some DAWs might include a wide array of high-quality virtual instruments, others may focus on providing a diverse range of effects and mixing tools. However, whether you need these resources or not ultimately depends on your music production goals.

    Additionally, keep in mind that even if a DAW has fewer built-in resources, you can always expand its capabilities with third-party plugins.


    The cost of DAWs can vary significantly, with some options priced at several thousand dollars and others available for free or under $100. The pricing structures can differ greatly not only between different DAWs but also within different versions of the same DAW.

    Typically, DAWs are available for a one-time purchase fee, while others may require a monthly or yearly subscription. One-time purchase fees typically grant a perpetual license for the current version of the software, with occasional free minor updates. Major version upgrades may come with additional costs.

    Subscription-based models usually provide continuous access to the latest version of the software, including all updates and new features, as long as the subscription is active.

    Many DAWs offer different tiered packages, with higher-priced options providing additional features and functionality. Tiered packages often start with a basic or introductory edition, designed for beginners or those on a tight budget. These editions typically include essential features for music production, such as a core set of editing tools, effects, and virtual instruments, but may limit the number of available tracks, plugins, or bundled resources.

    Mid-tier packages deliver a more comprehensive set of features such as a broader range of editing capabilities, effects, and virtual instruments, as well as added features like advanced automation, additional routing options, and expanded file format support.

    Top-tier packages typically offer an extensive set of features and functionality that includes exclusive tools, effects, and virtual instruments not found in lower-tier editions. These packages also provide sizable sound libraries and advanced features, such as surround sound support, integrated pitch correction, and advanced sound design capabilities.

    If you're just starting out, a lower-tier option will likely have enough features to get you started. Later on, if you start to notice the limitations of the lower-tier, you can always upgrade to a higher-tier edition. Many companies offer upgrade paths, allowing you to transition from a lower-tier to a higher-tier at a discounted price.

    Take advantage of free trials

    One of the best ways to determine if a DAW is right for you is to utilize free trials. Most DAWs have limited-time trials, allowing you to explore the features, interface, and workflow without spending any money. By testing out multiple DAWs, you can gain hands-on experience and determine which one best fits your needs.

    Free trials typically last anywhere from 14 to 90 days giving you enough time to thoroughly explore and test the core features. Some trials may have limitations, such as reduced functionality or limited access to certain features, but they still provide a valuable glimpse into the DAW's overall workflow and capabilities.

    To make the most of free trials, approach each DAW with an open mind and invest time in learning the basics of each one. Having a specific project or goal in mind can also be helpful to test the DAW's performance in a real-life scenario.

    Consider how each DAW aligns with your workflow preferences and creative goals as you explore them. Take note of how comfortable you feel using it and whether it has all the essential features you require. Assess the intuitiveness of the interface and determine if the learning curve is something you feel you can manage.

    By the end of the trial period, you’ll have a clearer understanding of the DAW’s workflow, enabling you to make a more informed decision when it comes to investing in the full version.

    Best DAWs

    Our top picks

    In this section, we will explore some of the most popular DAWs and their key features, giving you a better understanding of each one's unique offerings and strengths. This information will serve as a starting point in your search for the best DAW for your needs.

    It's important to remember that all DAWs share the same core capabilities and are suitable for any music style. This means that no matter which DAW you choose, you can achieve the same results.

    It is worth mentioning that in addition to the DAWs highlighted in this guide, there are many other capable alternatives available. Moreover, the DAWs mentioned here offer numerous features beyond what we cover in this guide. We will provide a basic overview of each option to help you get started on your search.

    Keep in mind that the best DAW for you depends on your unique needs and preferences.

    Ableton Live

    Ableton Live features two distinct, user-friendly workflows. The standard Arrangement View provides a traditional music production setting. The innovative Session View caters to live performances or creating and experimenting with loops and musical ideas, and building tracks in a non-linear, real-time environment. This dual approach has made Ableton Live a favorite among electronic music producers, as it allows for seamless transitions between music production and live performance.

    The workflow in Ableton Live is streamlined and efficient. Both Session and Arrangement Views are easy to navigate, offering a smooth user experience that is easy to grasp.

    Additionally, the higher-tiered versions of Ableton Live come with an extensive library of high-quality effects, virtual instruments, and samples, providing abundant resources for music production.

    Overall, Ableton Live delivers an outstanding level of flexibility and provides powerful tools for creating, editing, and arranging music. While it's particularly popular for electronic music, it's also well-suited for virtually any genre.

    Compatibility: Windows, macOS

    Price: Ableton Live is available in three editions

    • Intro: $79

    • Standard: $349

    • Suite: $599

    Key Features:

    • Intuitive and clear user interface

    • Arrangement View: a traditional linear timeline for recording, editing, and arranging

    • Session View: a unique non-linear workflow for real-time music creation and performance

    • Extensive collection of built-in virtual instruments, audio effects, and MIDI effects

    Trial or free version: 90-day free trial

    Apple Logic Pro

    Logic Pro is a comprehensive, feature-rich DAW for macOS. It offers an intuitive user interface and a wide range of tools that cater to both beginners and professionals. It comes with a robust set of built-in effects, samples, and virtual instruments, making it popular among musicians, songwriters, and producers of all genres.

    The Logic Pro workflow is well-organized and features a user-friendly interface that lets you easily navigate its wide range of tools.

    One of the standout features is its extensive library of high-quality effects and virtual instruments, including everything from orchestral instruments to classic synths and creative sound design tools.

    Overall, Logic Pro is a powerful and versatile DAW that excels in providing a polished and professional music production environment for macOS users. Its broad range of features and extensive library make it an excellent choice.

    Compatibility: macOS

    Price: Logic Pro is available for a one-time purchase of $199.99

    Key Features:

    • Intuitive and customizable user interface

    • Comprehensive set of recording, editing, and arranging tools

    • Advanced automation and flexible track management

    • Extensive library of high-quality virtual instruments, audio effects, and samples

    Trial or free version: 90-day free trial

    Steinberg Cubase

    Cubase has a long history of excellence in the music production world, earning a loyal following and a notable presence in professional studios. Its dependable performance, comprehensive editing and mixing capabilities, and large selection of professional-grade built-in effects and virtual instruments contribute to its popularity.

    The workflow in Cubase is fast, flexible, and intuitive, enabling you to effortlessly access tools, features, and functions within the software. The adaptable nature of Cubase's workflow allows for customization of your workspace to accommodate your preferences and production styles.

    Overall, Cubase delivers an outstanding music production experience on both Windows and macOS. Its extensive range of features, extensive library, and proven track record make it a great option.

    Compatibility: Windows, macOS

    Price: Cubase is available in three editions

    • Cubase Elements: $99

    • Cubase Artist: $329

    • Cubase Pro: $579

    Key Features: 

    • Advanced recording, editing, and mixing tools

    • Powerful MIDI capabilities

    • Streamlined and efficient workflow

    • Well-balanced feature set across all three editions

    Trial or free version: 60-day free trial

    Avid Pro Tools

    Pro Tools is often regarded as the “industry standard” for music production and audio engineering and is widely used in professional studios. It is a powerful, feature-rich DAW that excels in audio recording, editing, and mixing, making it an excellent choice for working with live instruments, vocals, and complex audio projects.

    The workflow in Pro Tools is both efficient and precise, specifically tailored to simplify complex, multitrack projects. With an array of track organization and management options, you can easily navigate through large projects while maintaining a comprehensive overview.

    Pro Tools comes with a vast selection of professional-grade effects for shaping and enhancing your audio, as well as several high-quality virtual instruments. While Pro Tools primarily excels in audio processing, it also offers a robust MIDI creation and editing suite.

    Additionally, the cloud collaboration feature allows you to conveniently share projects with other producers or clients online and enables collaborators to contribute to your work seamlessly.

    As an all-in-one recording and production platform, Pro Tools remains a reliable choice for seasoned musicians and producers seeking a robust and versatile solution.

    Compatibility: Windows, macOS

    Price: Pro Tools is available in three editions 

    • First: Free

    • Artist: $9,99/month or 99/year (subscription) 

    • Standard: $29.99/month or $299/year (subscription)

    • Ultimate: $99.99/month or $599/year (subscription)

    Key Features: 

    • Advanced audio recording, editing, and mixing tools

    • Intuitive and customizable user interface

    • Advanced automation capabilities

    • Seamless integration with Avid hardware and third-party plugins

    • Comprehensive library of plugins and virtual instruments

    Trial or free version: Pro Tools Intro (free, limited version)

    Cockos REAPER 

    REAPER stands out as one of the most affordable, fully capable DAWs on the market, boasting a highly customizable interface and an extensive array of built-in tools. REAPER is remarkably lightweight, with an installation size of under 70 MB, and demands minimal system requirements. Despite its affordability and compact nature, it is used by notable music industry professionals such as Tim Henson and Hans Zimmer, demonstrating its versatility and capability as a fully-featured DAW.

    The workflow is efficient and user-friendly. With customization at its core, REAPER enables you to adapt the interface and functionality according to your preferences. This degree of personalization allows you to create a comfortable and tailored workflow that suits your needs.

    Overall, REAPER provides exceptional value for money by offering a comprehensive set of features and capabilities at a fraction of the cost of many other DAWs. This makes it an excellent choice for anyone seeking a budget-friendly, yet fully capable music production solution.

    Compatibility: Windows, macOS

    Price: REAPER offers a discounted personal license for $60 and a commercial license for $225

    Key Features:

    • Customizable user interface

    • Efficient workflow for recording, editing, and mixing

    • Wide compatibility with third-party plugins and virtual instruments

    • A selection of essential built-in tools and effects

    • Lightweight and resource-efficient

    Trial or free version: 60-day free trial

    Image-Line FL Studio

    FL Studio caters to music producers of all skill levels and is particularly popular among electronic music creators and beatmakers. Compatible with both Windows and macOS, FL Studio boasts a user-friendly interface and features a comprehensive set of built-in tools, effects, virtual instruments, and samples.

    The workflow in FL Studio is streamlined and geared towards fast, efficient music creation, making it ideal for quickly experimenting with musical ideas. One of FL Studio's standout features is its pattern-based step sequencer, which lets you quickly program drum patterns and melodies. Additionally, the intuitive piano roll editor enables you to compose intricate melodies and harmonies with ease.

    Overall, FL Studio is an accessible DAW that caters to beginners and professionals. Its easy-to-use interface, pattern-based workflow, and extensive library of virtual instruments and effects make it a choice worth considering.

    Compatibility: Windows, macOS

    Price: FL Studio is available in four editions

    • Fruity: $99

    • Producer: $199

    • Signature: $299

    • All Plugins Edition: $499

    Key Features:

    • Fast, efficient music creation

    • Intuitive interface and pattern-based workflow

    • Step sequencer for quick drum pattern and melody programming

    • Extensive collection of virtual instruments, effects, and samples

    Trial or free version: Unlimited time, save-disabled trial available

    PreSonus Studio One

    Studio One combines the strengths of electronic music focused DAWs, such as FL Studio and Ableton Live, with the audio-centric capabilities of options like Logic Pro and Cubase.

    Features like Smart Templates, an intuitive drag-and-drop workflow, a customizable user interface, and robust integrated tools streamline the music creation process making it both easy and efficient.

    Studio One excels in the realm of composition because of innovative features like Chord Track and Pattern Mode. Additionally, the DAW's high-quality stock effects plugins make it a great choice for mixing projects as well.

    Overall, PreSonus Studio One has emerged as a top choice for music creators seeking a versatile and powerful DAW that caters to both electronic and audio-focused production. Its combination of user-friendly features, compositional tools, and mixing capabilities make it a strong contender in the world of DAWs.

    Compatibility: Windows, macOS

    Price: Studio One is available in three editions

    • Artist: $99.95

    • Professional: $399.95

    • Sphere: $14.95/month or $164.95/year (subscription)

    Key Features:

    • Intuitive single-window interface and efficient workflow

    • Scratch Pad for experimenting with ideas without affecting the main project

    • Chord Track for composing complex harmonies and arranging chord progressions

    • Extensive collection of virtual instruments, effects, and loops

    Trial or free version: 30-day free trial

    Reason Studios Reason

    Reason is a creative and captivating DAW that offers a unique music production experience, emulating the feeling of working in a high-end studio.

    A central feature in Reason is the Rack, which simulates a hardware rack and is used to visually stack and interconnect virtual instruments, effects, and utilities in a modular fashion. This allows you to easily create intricate chains of effects, design complex synth patches, and explore new sonic possibilities by dragging and dropping devices into your desired order.

    Bundled with Reason is an extensive library of high-quality built-in effects, virtual instruments, and samples. Although Reason is a standalone DAW, the Reason Rack plugin allows you to use Reason's built-in tools, effects, and virtual instruments as a plugin within other DAWs.

    Overall, Reason is an innovative and captivating option that simulates you being in a high-end studio. It’s an excellent choice if you’re looking for a creative and immersive music production experience.

    Compatibility: Windows, macOS

    Price: Reason is available in two editions

    • Reason 12: $499

    • Reason+: $19.99/month (subscription)

    Key Features:

    • Unique modular environment and workflow

    • Simulates the feeling of working in a high-end studio

    • Extensive library of built-in effects, virtual instruments, and samples

    • Use Reason's core tools as plugin within other DAWs

    Trial or free version: No free trial but the first month of a Reason+ subscription costs one dollar

    BandLab Cakewalk

    Cakewalk is a comprehensive, completely free DAW that offers a wide range of features and capabilities for Windows users. BandLab acquired the software from its original developers, Gibson, and now offers it for free without any limitations on features or capabilities.

    The workflow in Cakewalk is efficient, user-friendly, and particularly intuitive for beginners. Its Skylight user interface provides a highly customizable workspace with a variety of pre-designed templates, each tailored for a specific function and workflow. For example, the Mix template displays tools and windows most relevant to mixing, while the Arrange template focuses on tools for arranging music.

    The default template is ideal for beginners, as it presents only the most essential controls for music production. As you become familiar with the basic features, you can smoothly transition to the more comprehensive Advanced template.

    Additionally, Cakewalk includes a Help module that offers information on the functions and usage of all settings and controls. It dynamically displays contextual help when hovering over a button or feature, providing clear explanations of the functions as you navigate the interface.

    Cakewalk also comes with a wide selection of effects, virtual instruments, and samples.

    Overall, Cakewalk is a powerful and accessible DAW suitable to both beginners and professionals, making it an excellent choice for Windows users.

    Compatibility: Windows

    Price: Free

    Key Features:

    • Intuitive Skylight interface and efficient workflow

    • Comprehensive collection of virtual instruments, effects, and samples

    • Advanced ProChannel mixer with extensive routing options and effect chains

    • Completely free with no limitations on features or capabilities

    Trial or free version: Cakewalk is free

    Next steps

    Now that you have explored some of the top DAWs and their features, it's time to determine which one best suits your individual needs and preferences. Utilizing free trials is a great way to test out multiple options and discover which one is the best fit for you. During the trial period, approach each DAW with an open mind and learn the basic functions before moving on to the next one.

    Once you've chosen a DAW that aligns with your needs, it’s important to invest time in learning its ins and outs. You can further enhance your knowledge and skills by reading documentation, watching tutorials, and engaging with online communities.

    Remember, there isn't a definitive "best" DAW; it's about finding the one you are most comfortable working with. Furthermore, all the DAWs mentioned in this guide are used by professionals, meaning any of them can produce professional results with the right skillset. In other words, you don’t need the most expensive DAW to achieve professional-level results.

    The key factors in creating high-quality music are your understanding of sound and music production, as well as your proficiency with your DAW and other essential tools like effects. Focusing on developing your knowledge of music production and audio concepts will make you better equipped to create great music.

    With Neural DSP guitar and bass plugins, you can effortlessly record your guitar or bass playing with world-class tones. Our plugins have earned a reputation for their outstanding sound quality, user-friendly interface, and versatility. Artists like John Petrucci (Dream Theater), Rabea Massaad, Tim Henson (Polyphia), Joe Duplantier (Gojira), Cory Wong, Plini, and many more rely on our plugins to create their signature sounds. We offer a 14-day free trial for all our plugins so you can test them out without any commitment.

    Additionally, be sure to check out our guides on studio monitors and headphones to help you find the best gear for your recording setup.

    Guides for getting started with plugins

    All our plugins have a 14-day free trial

    Download a free trial of any of our guitar or bass plugins and take your tone to the next level.