Music production

here are the 11 best DAWs of 2020

Whether you’re a high-end pro or a pure audio novice, you’re most likely working with it on the computer. Here are the best DAWs of 2020.

The world of DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is inextricably linked to modern production. It doesn’t matter if you’re at the top of the professional studio mountain or just finding your feet – most likely you do most of your audio work with software.

In 2020, the year of isolation, people are connecting with their DAWs and into box production like never before. So we thought it was time to check out the best DAWs of 2020. There are plenty of established players in this field, but they keep evolving.

Cubase

Present since 1989, Cubase has established itself as a reliable and creative music production software. The DAW saves you time when burning MIDI scores thanks to its seamless integration with Dorico, which comes with a sleek and intuitive modern interface.

Cubase 10.5 is the latest release and added a bunch of new features. Capitalizing on its MIDI score integration, you can now export rendered video (including audio) directly from the DAW, streamlining soundtrack work. They also refreshed some of their best effects and VSTs with some updates to Spectral Compare EQ, MultiTap Delay and Padshop 2.

Cubase 10, music production software, daw

Pro Logic

Pro Logic, Apple’s premium extension to their beloved Garageband, is a DAW that invites users into their clean and intuitive “Apple” workflow. In line with the company’s MO, Logic presents a complete ecosystem for creating different types of music. The diverse nature of this music production software is only highlighted by the range of artists who use it; from Kendrick Lamar to Ed Sheeran via Brian Eno.

Logic Pro X 10.5 Update was one of the biggest to date, with an overhaul of their loop system. Perhaps taking a bit of influence from Ableton Live, Logic’s Live Loops offer non-linear ways to put sequences together. It works great with their new Sampler, Step Sequencer, Drum Synth and Drum Machine Designer which have all been updated in 2020.

Logic Pro X, music production software, daw

Studio 1

Studio 1 is Presonus’ adventure into the world of music production software. Released in 2009, the DAW has been a runaway success thanks to its integration with Melodyne pitch correction software, modern features such as Arrange, Patterns and Scratch Pad, and thanks to the effortless integration of Presonus hardware.

The last version, Studio One 5, appeared earlier this year. It includes a range of updates like Ampire and Show Page. Presonus has modeled its own guitar amps and pedals, which are included in Ampire, providing real-time guitar amp feel. View Page allows live playback of backing tracks, virtual instruments, and plug-in racks from a single interface, simple for live use.

Presonus Studio One, music production software, daw

Reason Studios

Reason Studios is a bold choice for music creators. Thanks to the absence of third-party plug-ins and virtual instrument support, and a preemptive take on the modular craze, Reason Studios (FKA Propellerhead) has created something quite unique. It now contains more than 70 instruments and effects suitable for the unique workflow and is a sure competitor to other DAW heavyweights.

The Reason Rack is the centerpiece of the DAW workflow, and although the Reason 11 update didn’t change the music production software much (it added 5 effects and an improved workflow), Reason Studios now allows Reason Rack to be compatible with any DAW. This is huge, as the Reason Rack can now be used in any workflow, opening it up to a much wider audience.

Reason 11, man

bitwig

Designed to be a stand-alone instrument for music creation, bitwig was released in 2014 to an already rich market. Drawing heavily on the principles of modular synthesis, Bitwig invites users to create and connect sound components intuitively. It can still do all the things other DAWs do, like record audio, provide virtual instruments and mixing tools, but offers its own separate view.

The grid is the focal point of Bitwig (now updated to version 3.3) offering a fully modular environment inside the DAW. Included is a range of 150 modules which can be configured in an open user interface. What sets it apart from other DAWs that offer similar functionality (like Max) is the incredibly simple user interface.

Bitwig Studio, music production software, daw

COMBINE

Although the DAWs on this list have all been quite expensive so far, COMBINE offers a $60 alternative that can still keep up with the competition. The DAW really puts the customer first, with a download size of just 20MB and consistent free updates. Although REAPER does not include any built-in virtual instruments, it does provide a blank canvas for recording audio or third-party VSTs that you have previously downloaded.

Version 6 was the last big update, the major updates being; Retina ready graphics and FX plugin integration. While largely updating what already exists, some other features of version 6 include; MIDI CC envelopes, auto-stretching timebase, routing diagram and a new theme.

REAPER screen, daw

Ableton Live

Ableton Live is at the forefront of electronic music production. It offers a unique recording workflow and a live performance function suitable for working with loops, beats and audio in unconventional ways. Ableton Live’s unique features include Session View, Drum Rack and its myriad of VSTs and effects. The DAW has been used by artists such as; Skrillex, Flume and Ludwig Göransson, the producer of Childish Gambino Redbone.

Ableton Live 10 features Wavetable, a new synthesizer that can easily shape, stretch, and transform sounds with its intuitive interface. New tools and effects have also been added, like Echo, Drum Buss, CV Tools, Creative Extensions, etc.

Ableton Live studio, music production software, daw

FL Studio

FL Studio was born from the incredibly successful Fruity Loops step sequencer released by Image-Line in 1998. Building on that success, the now fully-fledged DAW features an environment designed for beatmakers, but above all encouraging play. Image-Line provides lifetime free updates for the DAW and over time has created a workflow that can do a bit of everything.

In FL Studio 20 they added support for Mac iOS, the ability for multiple time signatures, plus a bunch of comprehensive updates. These updates include changes to the workflow, audio recording, graphics editor, and sample channel.

FL Studio 20, dad

Professional tools

Professional tools is the heavyweight of the industry. It’s the DAW at the heart of nearly every major studio in the world, setting a high standard for music production and recording. In the end, it’s the modern tape recorder: the interface is classic and well-honed, and the software is not widely tied to any genre or big names due to its universal use.

Pro Tools favors a subscription model these days. And while some may lament the inability to “own” the software permanently, that also means that Avid is regularly delivering updates to the grand old lady. It’s so entrenched in the vernacular of audio recording that it’s hard to see it dislodged anytime soon.

Studio Pro Tools, music production software, daw

GarageBand

Available only for Apple users, and the only free DAW on this list is Garageband. The DAW provides a free multitrack recording interface that’s incredibly simple, yet that’s really all you need. Garageband offers anyone with a Mac or iPhone the ability to record music and was even used by Steve Lacy to record Kendrick Lamar’s track Pride and Death of the ego by Internet.

Its mobile-friendliness also weighs heavily on Garageband. The recent iOS update added 50 new instruments to the software and lets you record 3 times longer. Previously tracks were limited to 23 minutes, whereas now you can get your “Necks” and record songs up to 72 minutes.

GarageBand, music production software, daw

Max

Although not considered a conventional “DAW”, Max deserves its place as perhaps the most unique way to create sound on this list. Max is a visual programming language which, by assembling objects, allows you to create your own synthesizers, self-generated sounds or really anything you want. Max also integrates with Ableton Live via Max For Live, allowing you to use your house works within Ableton’s workflow.

Max 8 introduced the MC system into the software: for multichannel, the MC system really lets you use Max a bit more like a DAW. Performance has been improved and other features have been added such as MIDI and Key Mapping, Vizzie 2 and Node for Max.

Max 8


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