Well, after deleting everything even remotely related to my latest toy except the basic drivers (see: ProTools, all of it’s plug ins, all of the other free software, a bazillion different versions of C++, etc), running a disk cleanup, checking for viruses, disc cleanup of both my basic files and windows files, after two boot ups, the lappy seems like it’s back to being the trusty workhorse I’m used to.

While I was at it, I also, once and for all, uninstalled Yousician from the lappy. I do still have it on my tablet. It functions reasonably on android, but on windows it remains a digital paperweight which no amount of reinstalls seems able to solve. That’s fine. I barely use it anyway, and when I do, it’s not on the PC.

So, with the laptop all squared away, the DAW research begins. I figure I’ll break down what I’ve been looking at. There are no final verdicts in this post, and I probably won’t have one for quite a while, but, I can give you a run down of the research I’ve done so far.

I’ve been chatting with a few of my fellow bloggers, but once again I give kudos to the avid internet reading of Vish from Ugly Bass Face, who directed me to a thread on TalkBass where there was some discussion on DAWs.

I took the bit of research I’d already done, and added to it all the DAWs mentioned in the thread. Then, I looked up the cost of each, because let’s face it, no matter how pretty and shiny something is, there’s not much point in delving too deeply into something I know is out of budget anyway. So, now, I’m compiling my results for you.

Mixcraft  $50-100
FL Studio $100-200
Cubase $80-500
Cakewalk Sonar $50-200
Cockos Reaper $60
Stagelight-Open Labs $10
Ardour unknown
Studio One $100-400

From this point, I ruled a few things out off the top without ever progressing further. I will not be buying any time soon. There are other things that need to be tended to first, like financial recovery after the holidays and finding I needed pretty much an entirely new winter wardrobe, and still trying to save up to replace my couch. So, a DAW purchase is likely a few months away unless I come across a completely remarkable bargain that I can’t possibly pass up (which happens, as evidenced by my recent bodhran purchase).

Still, I know what my income is, so I know realistically I’m looking at an eventual budget of about $100 on the high end and that does present me with some limits. Mercifully, my needs at current are not extensive.

So, from there, what I’ve ruled out off the top is mostly versions. There’s not much I crossed off entirely at this step, with one notable exception: Ardour. Now, from what I’ve been able to gather, Ardour is inexpensive(with actual costs unclear) and open source. But, I’ve also sleuthed out that it appears to be subscription-based. Costs seem to be buried under the “support” tab, and even there, what you get for what you pay remains unclear. Hunting down this information makes me think I’m ready for my career as a secret agent, and I’m sorry, but no, I’m not willing to get in bed with a) another monthly fee to my list of bills or b) a company that touts being open source, but then doesn’t have it’s costs front and center. You can’t be transparent and secretive at the same time, and this contrast leaves the wrong taste in my mouth, so I’ll be sidestepping it, and let someone else who feels more okay with a company so at odds with its own motivations to look into it’s overall value. I’m going with my gut on this one.

So, from there I broke things down to what is financially possible. I was looking specifically at what I could realistically get in the $100 or less price bracket, and this is what I came up with:

Mixcraft Home Studio 7 $50
Mixcraft 7 $100
Stagelight-Open Labs $10
Cockos Reaper $60
Studio One 3 (Artist) $100
Cakewalk Sonar Home Studio $50
Cakewalk Sonar Artist $100
Cubase Elements $100
FL Studio (Fruity) $100

I know, at a glance, list 2 looks longer than list one, but that’s only because there are multiple versions of some of these that fall in the sub-$100 category.

At this point I also want to draw your attention to the obvious: Stagelight-Open Labs is legitimately $10. That isn’t a typo. That said, I also don’t suspect that it’s a DAW as you would expect DAWs to be, but I’m leaving it on the list at this moment because it’s an app, which means it may well be something worth checking out on the tablet as a ‘to-go’ sort of DAW-lite option, since -to my knowledge- there is no such thing as Audacity for Android. Admittedly, my audio interface won’t work with my tablet (yes, I have tried), but that doesn’t mean having something slightly more advanced than Sound Recorder handy on the go wouldn’t be nice, so I’ll investigate it to that end. I’m not expecting this to be something that can work at the exception of all else, but for ten bucks, it’s probably still worth investigating to see what it can do.

Alright, so this leaves me with a lot of possibilities. None of them are entirely ruled out, but for the benefit of narrowing down a starting point, I decided to break it down further and start with trials of those that I can get for under the $100 mark. That cuts back the possibilities a fair bit:

Mixcraft Home Studio 7 $50
Mixcraft 7 $80
Cockos Reaper $60
Cakewalk Sonar Home Studio $50

Next up is to look at the trial versions. I’ll be running them one at a time, forming my opinions, uninstalling, then trying the next. The reason for this is that I don’t want the data from one interfering with another and influencing my opinion. This is a lesson in caution I’m taking after PTF caused so many issues with so many other things on my lappy. I want to try these programs in a vacuum, so to speak, to see if one is more prone to bugs than another.

I’ll be trying Reaper last, because it has quite an impressive trial period. It’s also going to require the least research to figure out what functionality the lesser versions lose.

Both Sonar and Mixcraft do offer free trials (I believe both 30 day trials), but there are no trials for the Home Studio editions that land at the sub-$100 mark, and if I like the trials, it’s going to take some further research to determine what functions I would be losing if I chose these budget options. That’s just not something I’m going to have to analyze as much with Reaper, so it makes sense to save the one that requires the least in depth analysis (comparison of version) before making a decision.

On budget alone, it looks like Reaper and Mixcraft are the top contenders. These are the only two that have a full suite (not a lightened up home edition) in the sub-$100 range. That doesn’t, however, mean it’s not worth looking at the others that hit the $100 mark. I just think it makes more sense to start by evaluating the things on the friendliest budget. If none of them vibe right with me, then I can expand my search up into the slightly higher price bracket where suddenly quite a few “artist” versions become available to me. I know well from my art program days that “home” editions often have some pretty harsh restrictions, and there are definitely times where they end up costing you more in functionality than they save you in cash. That said, some “Home” or “Elements” suites offer quite a decent amount of bang for your buck if your needs are simple. I can tell you, for example, Photoshop Elements has come a long way over the years, and my recent(ish) downgrade from the Creative Suite to one of the recent versions has gone without a hitch. (Fun fact: I’m just old-timery enough that I remember buying PS Elements 1. At the time, the limits made me grit my teeth on the cost of an upgrade, but now? My needs are simple enough that Elements has every feature I need. – the lesson is this: look and read. Not all Home/Elements editions are created equal.)

So, that’s where I’m at for the moment. I’m not jumping to purchase, but I am getting ready to start running through trials to find what I like, and what lappy likes, and I’ll update you on this subject again once a decision is made.