Welcome to Part 2 of the DAW breakdown, guys. In this post I’m going to give you some brief overviews on each of the DAW progams I trialed, in no particular order.
Mixcraft ended up being what I’d call a bitter disappointment for me. Not because it was terrible, but because it was awesome save for one key feature I simply couldn’t do without. It was easy to use, loaded quickly, had an attractive, simple interface. It has a noise reduction tool, which someone used to Audacity would definitely consider a sort of security blanket. Unfortunately, I don’t live in a bubble, and, like Audacity, it picks up rather a lot of junk noise for me. I mean, A LOT. None of the other programs I trialed picked up nearly so much. Now, the improvement on Audacity is some extra features and versatility, but that alone, for me, is just not worth eighty bucks.
If, in a future edition, Mixcraft is able to up it’s sound quality to match its competitors, it will be a really strong contender. But, as I write this post, that’s the fatal flaw. The sound quality isn’t terrible, but it does fall behind the competition.
I want to be gentler with this program than I’m going to be, because there is some good here. Docking and undocking menus, the freedom to move things around, that’s pretty nice. The sound quality is perfectly respectable. Sonar works a lot like ProTools, which makes it easy for someone who knows PT to transition.
BUT – there are some big buts. The interface is extremely busy. You can minimize most of it, but this is a layout designed by a person who likes a cluttered desk, I’m sure. It’s as if they decided ‘we have a menu bar on top, but you’ll never need it because everything is open, all the time’. Some people might like that. I don’t. I’ve only rarely come across a program that actually makes me feel claustrophobic. It also reminds you you’re using the demo literally every 5 minutes with a little pop up in the lower corner. No shit. Saving is disabled. While I understand the logic here, I would like to be able to save, say a 30 second clip, heck, a 10 second clip. With no saving whatsoever, I can’t test the export function.
That, of itself is not a complete deal breaker. If the other features were above average, it would still be in the running. But they’re all pretty standard.
Worse yet is the install and uninstall process. To run a trial version, you not only need to register an account with cakewalk, but have to install their command center. Sigh. FINE. I have an email account specifically for people I don’t want to give my contact info. The installation is pretty slow, but not unreasonable considering the incredible amount of C++ that needs to be installed with it. It’s the uninstall that turned me off the program forever. Only the control center appears in your control panel. Uninstalling this does not uninstall sonar. Instead, you have to manually do it by going into your program files, locating all the folders and removing them. I think I got them all. Probably.
Not being able to uninstall a program without some tech savvy is totally unacceptable. It’s lucky that I have enough to do this, but this is an absolute deal breaker for me. I will never touch a Cakewalk product again.
PRESONUS STUDIO ONE (PRIME)
Presonus gives you two trial options. You can trial their Pro version, or you can install Prime, which is a free lite version that never expires. This gives them high marks in my book out of the gate. This is a company that is confident enough in its product that not only will they let you try it, they’ll offer you a lite version for free on the belief that you’ll like it enough that you’re going to want to upgrade. And I’ve got to say, their faith in the product isn’t misplaced. Most of the DAWs had trouble with my low mic signal. Studio One had significantly less than average, and I was able to use it without really cranking the gain knob, resulting in cleaner vocals.
The interface is simple and clean with drag and drop functionality. Recording is easy to figure out and use. Effects are clearly located on the right side of the screen.
Mixdown did require a tutorial, but I didn’t have to google anything else.
I did have to register an account to trial, which I don’t love (but again, I have a junk email addy), but since I was installing a totally free version, I guess I can understand it.
People love Reaper. I do get why. It’s a lot of bang for your buck. But, I have to be honest here, guys. Reaper and I got off to a rocky start. The install seemed to go smoothly. It recognized my interface right away, but when it came to recording, there were issues. I could clearly see how to do everything, but it was refusing to let me choose input 2, even though it knew there was an input 2 (that’s my instrument port, to be clear). It was only allowing me to select the mic. It could see it. Knew it was there. Stubbornly refused to accept it. It was straight to google to figure out what I was doing wrong. The answer: nothing. I had to input and apply the same exact settings four times before suddenly, as if by magic, my second input appeared as selectable. I can not explain why. I don’t know if it’s going to do it again.
It’s got that same clear sound as Studio One, that same nice ability to register my mic better than average, with that same nice sound quality that doesn’t pick up an excess of background noise, but the input thing is a serious concern.
Another weird thing it does that might not be a tech glitch but at a glance seems like one is, after you record a track, it asks if you want to save or delete it. If I select save, everything’s gravy. But, if I select delete…nothing happens. It literally just ignores me. I have to go to the track I just told it to delete and manually delete it. I’m not sure why it asks if I want to delete if it’s not going to do anything if I say yes. (Admittedly, this may be explained by checking a few tutorials).
But that brings up the point that within the first 15 minutes of using Reaper I had to google three separate things, which means it’s not particularly intuitive. It’s not HARD, exactly. It will be easy to learn. But from input to mixdown, I did have to look several things up, which I didn’t have to do with most of the others. It’s not bad. It’s not going to be hard to learn. It’s just not as straight-forward as the alternative.
That’s more or less the breakdown guys. I’m sure I forgot things. It’s almost impossible to remember everything when you test half a dozen programs (remember, I also did android apps) in a week.
Later, I’m going to possibly write an absolute beginner’s guide of sorts – things I learned in my first week or so of owning my very first audio interface, and include some observations about the solo, but that’s a post for a different day. I need to get my butt to bed.