The low-down and dirty DAWs for Beginners Guide: Part 1

Okay guys, I’ve gone through all of the DAW programs – on very brief trial – and compared them to figure out what I like. As I sit, I have a bit of a tie-breaker, so I can’t give you a final verdict without some more in-depth analysis, but I have narrowed the list down to the two strongest contenders and vetoed everything else, so I am at a point where I can talk to you about each of the programs and rank them on various things.

I was trying to decide just how to go about this, but I think what I’ll do is break out categories with “best of” each, then work my way through giving you my brief experiences with each. I will mention a “worst of” only when I feel the program in question was particularly bad in a certain category. Then, in Part 2, I’ll break down each program I trialed in a bit more detail and give you my impressions of each.

There are also a few that I chose not to trial:

I did not trial FL Studio – a bit of conversation and research told me quickly FL Studio has digital music making at the forefront of its interests. After testing Stagelight for Android (which has rather a bit on common with FL Studio), I decided this would be a bad match for me. If my priority is recording, then I need a DAW that also has that as the priority, or it will just be a lesson in heartbreak. Besides, only the Fruity Version is in my price range. This ends up not being the most practical choice I can make, so wasn’t worthwhile in my case.

I did not trial Cubase – while one of my blogging buddies (the V-Pub/For Friends Without Borders) offered to try and get me a lite version, after talking to him I did some looking about, sure they must have an online trial version. They don’t. Steinberg has an online trial of most of their other software, but for some reason, not Cubase. So, the only way to trial this software is to know someone who already owns it. This bugs me. Every other DAW has some kind of trial version, so the skeptic in me says ‘what’s so terribly wrong with Cubase that Steinberg has chosen not to include it in it’s trial software? Do they think it won’t stand up to the competition? What’s the deal here?’ It just didn’t vibe right with me considering it’s par for the course for every other company I looked at, so I decided to skip it entirely.

My trials were all very brief. Most of these programs I was able to tell were not what I was looking for within only about an hour of testing since my needs are very minimal. So, I won’t be comparing features. I don’t need many, so I honestly am not the person who’s going to give you the best analysis of that.

So, here goes:

Best of:

The most bang for your buck goes to Reaper, followed my Mixcraft 7.
Honorable mention goes to Studio One for having a totally free, non-expiring lite version called Studio One Prime.


Best of:
Most of these installed quite easily, but the winner here is Mixcraft 7. Installs and uninstalls at damn near the speed of light.

Worst of: Cakewalk Sonar – I’ll explain in Pt 2.


Best of:

Mixcraft 7, Presonus Studio One – both of these went from turn it on to recording with no manual reading in less than 5 seconds.

Worst of:

Much to my surprise, Reaper – due mostly to technical issues. I’ll explain in my Reaper breakdown.


Best of:

This one is a tie for me-Cockos Reaper and Presonus Studio One are the winners here. Though most of the others were perfectly respectable.

Worst of:

Mixcraft 7 – barely sounds better than Audacity. Picks up an incredible amount of junk noise by comparison to all others.


This is hugely subjective. Some people like everything one click away. Others like a clean looking interface with minimal baggage. I’m in the latter camp, so take my opinion here with that in mind.

Best of:

Mixcraft 7 and Presonus Studio One. But Reaper comes in a very close second.

Worst of:

Cakewalk Sonar – just way too busy for my liking.

Cockos Reaper and Presonus Studio One.

Reaper has more features for less money, but many of those features are things I don’t actually need, and I really like the layout of Studio One, so with a difference between the two, for my purposes, of about $40, I’m still undecided on which way I’ll go.

For the moment, I’m using Studio One Prime, which I can likely use for the indefinite future since this lite version does have all the features I genuinely need at the moment. Everything beyond that is bells and whistles. Whether I end up choosing more bells and whistles, or an interface I just plain find attractive in the long run will depend on how each does on further testing. Since I can’t buy right away anyway, I have some time to explore both programs a bit more thoroughly, get used to them, and then decide.

In Part 2, I’ll talk about each program in a little bit more detail, and what I liked and hated about each one.

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