With so many options to choose from these days, choosing your first DAW(Digital Audio Workstation) can be a tough choice. In this article we will compare and figure out what the best electronic music production software for beginners is. We will compare each DAW based on price, features, ease of use, workflow and aesthetics.
Let me start by saying that everybody has their preference and it is ultimately up to you to decide what feels right. The best way to find the DAW that suits you is to download the demo of each one and see what sticks. That being said, my personal favourite is Ableton Live 10. This is mostly due to the abundance of really high quality built in plugins, packs and sounds, and the insane workflow. It’s a bit pricey but totally worth it in my opinion. Make sure to read on to see the full breakdown and comparison of each DAW.
Ableton Live 10
Ableton Live is a full-featured DAW that is used by many big names such as Skrillex, Flume, Deadmau5, and Diplo. It is fully capable of recording, sequencing, writing, and can be used to perform live (hence the name). Out the gate Ableton Live 10 Suite comes with a massive 5000+ (70GB+) sound library which is great for beginners as you won’t need to splash out on sample packs. It also comes with a large number of extremely powerful built-in plugins; 18 Instruments, 46 Audio Effects, and 16 MIDI effects. I’d say I end up using the built-in effects and synths probably 80% of the time.
Ableton Live 10 is supported by both Windows and Mac.
Ableton Live 10 comes in 3 versions; Intro, Standard and Suite. The difference being that Suite and Standard come with more instruments, sounds, packs and effects, and Intro has limited MIDI, audio, and send channels.
- Lite = £69
- Standard = £319
- Suite = £539
The workflow is insanely fast. Everything is laid out neatly in a single view, you won’t be minimizing plugins and moving stuff around while trying to find a window you accidentally hid. You will have an unlimited number of audio and MIDI tracks and each one is assigned it’s own mixer track automatically, so you don’t need to mess with routing. This is a big point to consider as in FL you will have to assign everything you create or use in your project to a mixer channel, and then name the channel so you don’t get confused. And while this doesn’t seem like a lot of work, when you have to do this for 70+ channels in a project it eventually adds up and can get VERY messy. So if you don’t consider yourself a very organised person then Ableton will definitely come to your aid in times of chaos. There are also tons of videos on YouTube and other resources like templates, racks, custom effects, max4live devices – more than enough out there for you to get started and keep you progressing.
I use Ableton on average 5-8 hours a day and I honestly cannot think of anything I would want to change or fix. The cost is a bit high but you do get what you pay for. A lot of people complain about the piano roll but I don’t have any issues with it. This is most commonly a problem with people coming from FL as their piano roll is a lot more intuitive, looks nicer and has a better workflow. The only other con that comes to mind is the fact that major version upgrades come at a cost, while some other DAWs offer a lifetime of free upgrades.
FL Studio 20
FL Studio is arguably one of, if not the most popular DAWs out there. It is full featured meaning you can use it to record, compose, arrange, mix and master. There are ways to perform live with FL Studio but I would strongly suggest considering other DAWs if playing live is your main goal. FL Studio has been in development for over 20 years and was originally called Fruity Loops. Big name users of this DAW include Avicii, Martin Garrix, Madeon, Porter Robinson, Oliver Heldens and more.
FL Studio 20 is supported by both Windows and Mac.
FL Studio comes in 4 versions; Fruity Edition, Producer Edition, Signature Bundle, and FL Studio + All Plugins. I wouldn’t even consider the Fruity Edition as you cannot use audio clips or record audio, all your plugins are also FL Studio only and do not come with VST versions, so if you decide to move to another DAW you won’t be able to load your FL Studio plugins into it. If you want VST versions of the plugins you will need to go for one of the more expensive FL Studio Bundles. Producer, Signature and the All Plugins version are all full-featured and each include list of extra plugins that you definitely will want. The plugins themselves are incredibly powerful hence the jump in price.
- Fruity Edition = £89.00
- Producer Edition = £189.00
- Signature Bundle = £289.00
- FL Studio + All Plugins = £807.50
The main feature users tend to love is the piano roll, which is an important point as it’s where you will be doing the majority of your composing. It’s how you get musical ideas from your head into your DAW. In fact, I know a few producers who cannot bring themselves to leave FL Studio simply because of the piano roll. FL Studio comes with a lifetime of free upgrades which is a massive draw factor as you don’t want to be out of pocket every time a major release comes around. FL Studio also comes with many powerful plugins and synths such as Sytrus and Harmor (only included in the All Plugin bundle). Being such a popular DAW means that there are literally thousands of videos on YouTube and tons of other resources easily available.
I cannot stand the layout of the DAW, I initially started out in FL Studio when I was a beginner and found the layout incredibly annoying. The playlist, pattern list and plugin windows all cascade in front of one another and I kept losing things. This obviously improves with time as you get used to the software, but I found this to be a non-issue with other DAWs, while with FL Studio it was a massive pain. I don’t like the workflow when working with audio as you have to open a plugin called Edison to record and edit audio. With Ableton, you can record and edit audio clips directly without having to use a plugin. The audio routing is a massive pain too. If you want to control any audio or midi clip you have to assign it to a mixer channel before you can apply any processing to it. In other DAWs you will work directly in audio and MIDI channels, so applying processing is as simple as dropping a plugin onto the channel, no extra steps required. The cost is also a bit high if you want the full bundle with all the great plugins.
Logic Pro X
Logic Pro X is Apple’s answer to music production. This beautifully designed DAW has everything you need to record, mix, master and compose. It is the DAW of choice for artists such as Calvin Harris, Nicky Romero, Hardwell, and Disclosure.
Logic Pro X is only supported by Mac.
Logic only comes in one version and at a very reasonable price. You can get Logic Pro X for £199 through the app store. While the site doesn’t explicitly state that upgrades are free, existing users were given a free upgrade from Logic to Logic Pro X. So it’s probably safe to assume that updates are free. For this price you get 69 effect plugins, 23 instruments and 9 MIDI plugins. You also get a pretty large library of sounds (7000+) and patches for their instruments.
Logic Pro X is visually stunning in my opinion. This comes as no surprise as Apple seems to always nail aesthetics. Just look at this reverb plugin “Chromaveb”. I wanna open it and never close it. I wanna live in it. I wanna be inside it.
Logic Pro X comes with a whole host of really stunning, powerful plugins such as Chromaverb (pictured above) and Alchemy – a highly versatile sampler/synth hybrid with multiple engines including granular, additive, spectral, formant and virtual analog. In my opinion, this synth alone is worth the £200. This brings me to the price point. Anyone wanting to get starting in music production doesn’t want to drop £500+ on a DAW. Logic definitely takes the cake on this front.
Logic Pro X does not support VST, only AU. Most plugins come with both AU and VST, however, if you have a beloved plugin with no AU support then this could be a dealbreaker for you. It cannot run on Windows which is a massive setback as I tend to switch quite frequently between Mac and Windows and I do not like having to install multiple Operating Systems on my PC. I also found the learning curve to be rather steep coming from FL and Ableton, my intuition was all wrong and this can get incredibly frustrating. However, if you are a beginner then this should be a non-issue for you.
Steinberg is a well-respected company, known for popular VST synths like Retrologue and Padshop Pro, but most importantly, Cubase. For this review, we will be focusing on their latest version, Cubase 10. Jam-packed with highly powerful plugins and sounds, Cubase has everything you would need to record, compose, mix and master your tracks. However, it has no live performance features. Cubase is the DAW of choice for big-name artists such as Zedd, Noisia, and Junkie XL.
Cubase 10 is supported by both Windows and Mac.
Cubase comes in 3 versions; Cubase Pro 10, Cubase Artist 10 and Cubase Elements 10. The main difference being that Arist and Elements have limited MIDI, VST and Audio tracks, and fewer plugins. You can get Cubase Pro 10 for £480, Artist 10 for £265 and Elements for £85. Updates from previous versions are relatively expensive, going to 10 from Cubase 6.5 Costs a whopping £257, going from 9.5 to 10 is £85. I would place Cubase cost-wise in a similar ballpark to Ableton. So what does £480 get you? 8 VST instruments, 3000 + sounds, 75 audio effects, and 18 MIDI effects, which seems really low in comparison to Logic Pro X.
Cubase 10 has a beautiful, newly redesigned interface and includes great features such as mixer snapshots which allow you to essentially save your current mixer configurations such as fader positions, channel strips and EQ settings as a “template”. VariAudio is a new system which allows for precise pitch and time adjustments to be made to audio sources such as vocals, kind of like the popular VST “Melodyne”. They have also added a new tool called Audio Alignment which automatically detects the timing of audio clips to match others. Kind of like Ableton’s warp features.
I also really love the channel strips which come by default on all mixer channels. They look great and include all the common tools you would need when mixing; EQ, Limitier, Saturation, Compression, DeEsser and a Noise Gate.
For the cost of Cubase Pro 10, I would have really liked to have seen more VST Instruments and effects. Cubase also doesn’t support AU instruments for Apple users. This isn’t a huge deal breaker as 99% of plugins are VST anyways.
Presonus Studio One
With the first version of Studio One being released in September 2009, Studio One is still a relatively new DAW on the market in comparison to others. Studio One has come a long way since it’s inception and I’ve had many fellow producers raving about its awesome features and functionality. Some big names that use Studio One are; Headhunterz, Paul Drew from Project 46, KATFYR and more. Studio One 4 is full-featured so can be used to record, compose, arrange, edit, mix and master your tracks, and even includes a live quantize feature for performing live.
Studio One 4 is supported by both Windows and Mac.
Studio One comes in 3 versions; Studio One Prime, Studio One Artist and Studio One Professional. The main difference being Professional comes with built-in Melodyne pitch correction, has Harmonic Editing (A very powerful feature I will get into later), and the Project Page (Used for Mastering, DDP, Red Book CD Burning, digital release).
You can get Studio One Prime for FREE, Artist for £85.20 and Professional for £344.40.
Upgrades from prior versions to Studio One 4 cost £128 for the Professional Edition, while the Artist upgrades cost £42. So what does £344.40 get you? 37 Native Effects, 5 virtual instruments, 4 Note FX, plus AU, VST2, VST3, and ReWire support, you also get built-in Melodyne Pitch Correction which on its own costs £99.
Overall, people tend to love the single windowed UI which lends itself to a very fast and intuitive workflow. The features aren’t overwhelming but it does include things like Melodyne, and a new feature called Chord Track with Harmonic Editing which can detect chords from an audio file and display them neatly within the clip, you can then use this information to do other things, like automatically creating basslines that follow your chords. A great feature for when you get sent stems with no chord or key information.
For the price of this DAW it doesn’t really stack up to the huge built-in libraries and effects you get with other flagship DAWs like Ableton and Logic Pro X. They don’t offer 32bit OS support so in the unlikely event that you do still run a 32-bit OS then you cannot run Studio One.
For the overall cost to feature ratio I would still vote in favour of Ableton Live 10. It has an unrivaled workflow in my opinion (this could be because its the DAW I’m most used to). And it definitely has the largest built-in library of useful, powerful instruments, samplers and effects. If it’s EDM Production you are interested in then I would stick to Ableton or FL Studio, Logic’s workflow just didn’t feel very smooth and Studio One felt a bit lacking in the built-in effects and instruments department.
If you are a frequent user of any of the above DAWs we’d love to hear about your experience with them in the comments below.