I am going to preface this post with the understanding that I will not make any particular recommendations as to which DAW software you should use or buy or what each brand can or can’t do.
Many Equipment dealers have extensive information about each of the DAW software packages they offer. Many have very experienced sales folks and have very viable recommendations.
What I’m going to do in this post is just give some general information which may or may not be addressed by some of the other sites regarding the best beginner DAW.
DAW stands for digital audio workstation. It takes a computer, and with the added DAW software and an audio interface makes the computer into a recording platform.
You put audio in, manipulate it and then play it and eventually create an audio file. There are all kinds of DAW’s on the market. Some DAW software can be used with a MAC, some on a Windows based P.C. and some will allow you to use either.
There are other platforms but those two are by far the most popular.
If your audio content will be nothing more than a podcast with a stereo signal, and you basically are just going to be editing (cut, paste, and move audio around) a free software like Audacity will work great. Audacity does much more. But… if you are going to get into mixing audio music recordings, there are better choices in my opinion.
Modern DAW’s do many things at once.
They are a multi-track recording machine, a studio recording console, a midi recorder/editor, and can feature virtual instruments along with guitar/instrument sound plugins like amp models and effect pedals.
The best beginner DAW is going to be determined by a few conditions.
1. How committed are you at learning and then using a DAW.
2. How much time will you spend using a DAW.
3. How much money are you willing to spend?
4. Do you have experience with other types of software that had an aggressive learning curve?
5. What are your input, output, virtual instrument and plug in needs?
6. What type of audio content are you going to record?
7. Do you have a computer that will handle the software you will choose?
There are many different offerings of DAW software by different companies.
Some of the more popular are:
And many more. I am not going to go through the pro’s and con’s of each designers software. There are plenty of other sites doing that.
It is difficult to say which one is the best DAW for beginners, because each do their thing a little differently.
Cost is also a factor.
First of all, there is the cost of the actual software. You have to consider whether your current computer will suffice to do the kind of work you are wanting to do. The cost of a new computer will dramatically increase the over all investment.
You also have to take into consideration the amount of simultaneous inputs you are going to need.
Every DAW needs an audio interface. This interface does a couple of things. It is where you insert audio signals into the computer. There can be both microphone inputs and line level inputs. Some interfaces give you a specific number of each and some will allow you to switch between the two on each input.
If you are recording your own voice and one instrument, you may be able to get by with an interface that has just two inputs. If you want to record your whole band at one time, you’ll need enough inputs for guitars, keyboards, drums and vocals.
The inputs that can be used for a mic have a microphone pre amp built in. This is usually a 3 conductor XRL type connector. If your microphone needs phantom power, make sure that is available.
The line level inputs will usually be a balanced input. This is usually a 3 conductor ¼ inch connector. The line level inputs will usually accept an unbalanced line level also. This is usually 2 conductor ¼ inch connector.
Some may have RCA analog inputs but that is getting more uncommon.
It may also have RCA or XLR inputs/outputs for digital signals.
Your interface should also have midi ports.
The audio interface also acts as your audio output. It may have an output for headphones, for line level, for digital out and a monitor out. It can also have various ‘selectable’ outputs that can be switched in and out in the DAW software.
For instance, if you have a snare drum sound from a drum kit that is wimpy, you could assign that track (assuming the snare is on it’s own track) to a single output and then patch that output into a electronic drum generator and assign a new snare sound and bring that back in on another track.
The concept for the DAW studio is as follows:
A computer (that is fast enough and with enough memory) with DAW software installed.
An audio interface that allows you to get all the inputs and out puts you need.
A monitor system. (see my monitor recommendations here)
The commercial studio is no different with the understanding that everything needs to be multiplied and more bulletproof.
What the modern DAW offers is the ability to own world class recording and world class mixing all within the confines of your personal computer.
This is sometimes refereed to as recording and mixing in the box. It’s all done in your computer and on your computer screen.
Also, DAW’s with virtual instruments built in are convenient in that you can start using the instruments right away to create music.
To access the sounds you will need some sort of midi keyboard or controller.
The learning curve of a DAW software should also be a consideration. The number one obstacle in picking your first DAW is going to be your learning curve. That is going to cost you the most time. While some DAW software is designed to mimic an analog studio, others are more slanted at certain types of production like making loops and creating beats.
The best way to judge if a DAW is going to be easy or hard to learn is to watch tutorial videos of the product.
Most products even offer trial periods where you can download and use the product for a limited amount of time.
I came from a background in an analog studio so when I jumped into using Pro Tools it seemed very intuitive to me. I still had a big learning curve, but all the buttons were where I thought they should be.
I would recommend, if possible, getting DAW software that you can periodically update without costing a boatload of money. Free updates keep you in the loop with all the latest tech advances.
I currently am using an OLD version of Pro Tools on an OLD antiquated G5 Mac. I also use an old digidesign interface. It’s the very first DAW software I ever used and though I have used and been around other DAW’s, I’ve never felt inclined to change it out because it does everything I want and need. And it is bulletproof.
It is definitely old school as far as DAW’s are concerned
I like stuff that works every time you go to use it. Shure and AKG microphones, certain guitars, boss pedals, JBL monitors, and the version 7 of pro tools running on a G5 mac with loads of memory. It works every time. It is like my digital/virtual 24 track studio.
It is woefully outdated and there is no support for anything I use, so I am on my own as to repair and maintenance.
But, I like it.
Next time we’ll talk about some DAW specifics and a couple new DAW’s I’m looking at when I do update.