A DAW or Digital Audio Workstation is the software program you use to create your music.

DAWs have made music creation more accessible than ever before—and they’re only getting more powerful!

Whether you’re just starting a song, or about to reach that final mastering step, you’ll need music recording software to make your vision into a reality.

Here’s the 10 best DAWs on the market right now:

  1. Ableton 11
  2. Logic Pro
  3. Studio One 5
  4. Bitwig Studio 4
  5. Audacity
  6. Pro Tools
  7. Garage Band
  8. Steinberg Cubase Pro 10
  9. FL Studio 20
  10. REAPER

This guide will give you everything you need to pick the best DAW app for you.

What is a DAW?

A digital audio workstation (DAW) is a software program used for composing, producing, recording, mixing and editing audio and MIDI.

DAWs facilitate mixing of multiple sound sources on a time-based grid.

There are lots of different DAWs out there, each with different strengths and weaknesses.

There are lots of different DAWs out there, each with different strengths and weaknesses.

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How to choose the best DAW for you

There are a few important points to consider as you choose which DAW you’ll use for your music.

The first is that despite different looks and workflows, they all essentially do the same thing—make music.

Once you grasp the basic metaphors of digital music production, your choice of DAW will seem a little less important. The main differences between them are mainly about features and workflow.

That means the only way to choose the best DAW for you is by testing them out and finding which one fits your needs best.

Download a free demo

Most DAWs offer free trials or lite editions to help you decide if they’re right for you. Once you’ve honed in on the ones you want to try, download the demos and see how things feel in practice.

If you’re just getting started with the core ideas of DAW software you might consider trying a free DAW.

There are a few great DAW apps that are available completely free. They might not have the functions the pros rely on, but they can certainly produce great music.

Starting slow with a free version first can save you a lot of time and money when it comes time to commit.

The 10 best DAW apps for creating music


Now that you know what to look for in a DAW, let’s check out at the best recording software.

Here’s the essential list of the 10 best DAWs currently available.

For a long time, Ableton has been well respected as the best music production platform for creatives.

This acclaim comes with good reason—Ableton’s inspiring session view made it very easy to audition loops and piece ideas together, making it a favorite among electronic producers.

Ableton is essentially the world’s best sampling looper—it includes incredible sampling and synthesis plugins that make it a sound design powerhouse.

Beyond its sampling and synthesis capabilities, Ableton’s entire plugin suite holds its own with excellent EQs, delays, reverbs, compression and much more.

And with the recent launch of Ableton 11, the DAW has expanded MIDI recall to make comping over ideas easier, syncing for live performance, a handful of new plugins and much more.

Ableton also offers deep compatibility with the insanely flexible Max digital signal processing environment with Live as Max4Live.

This makes Live one of the most versatile sound design tools out there—there’s a lot to love!

Price: $469

Pros:

  • Impressive MIDI comping
  • Great suite of plugins
  • Creativity oriented

Cons:

  • Interface can be confusing
  • Not suited as well for advanced production

Logic Pro is Apple’s pro audio software product.

Logic shares its user-friendly design philosophy with Garageband. If you started with Garageband, you’ll find a lot to love in Logic Pro.

Ever since Apple added an impressive suite of bundled plugins and impressive flex time and flex pitch features, Logic has excelled as a one-stop solution for audio production.

In 2021, Apple launched a huge update adding live looping, a better step sequencer, newly developed plugins and even an AI drummer tool that’ll write drum parts for your tracks.

The newest update elevates Logic as a highly capable yet user-friendly DAW that’s built for recording and production just as much as it is built for creation and songwriting.

And, at its $199 price point, you’re getting a great deal compared to other comparable tiers of DAW on the market.

Price: $199 USD

Pros:

  • Well rounded DAW with painstaking attention to detail
  • Tons of great plugins and software instruments
    Very fairly priced considering its features and add-ons

Cons:

  • Only works on Apple products

Studio One 5 is the newest edition of Presonus’ DAW product.

While Studio One is one the newer DAW platforms on the market, Studio One 5 comprises everything PreSonus has been working on since launch.

Studio One 5 works well in many applications, but it excels with arrangement and composition with its powerful ability to turn MIDI data into sheet notation.

The suite also features deep integration with hardware, making it easier to use outboard gear within Studio One’s workflow—especially considering the DAW controller PreSonus built for it.

The workflow in Studio One is focused on creativity and inspiration.

Its “songwriting first” design makes it easy to compose fast—you can even output printable scores and lead sheets from the parts you create in the DAW.

Studio One may seem like a bit of an underdog, but that gives it a lot of space to innovate and the results are impressive.

Price: $399 USD

Pros:

  • Highly oriented towards creativity but handles production work well
  • Powerful notation and arrangement capabilities

Cons:

  • Not as many included plugins and instruments as other paid DAWs

Bitwig Studio was launched in 2014 by a group of former Ableton developers after an extensive testing period.

So it’s no surprise that it draws some inspiration from Ableton including its own non-linear workflow, but it has pioneered its own unique composition approach with its modular design.

In its newest iteration,Bitwig Studio 4 delivers expressive MIDI support, better audio editing and a handful of new plugins and software instruments.

Unique modulation options, strong hardware integration, and songwriting-friendly tools make Bitwig a solid option for any creator.

Bitwig is easy to learn if you’re just starting out with recording software and gives you plenty of room to grow.

Price: $399 USD

Pros:

  • Unique modular design workflow allows for some interesting customization
  • Great for creators
  • Easy to learn workflow

Cons:

  • Less suited towards recording, mixing and mastering

Audacity was released in 2009 as a completely free recording software. And it’s still free today!

Audacity is compatible with all operating systems and easy to download right away.

Audacity is compatible with all operating systems and easy to download right away.

It has everything you need to record audio on a timeline with no extra features.

It doesn’t record MIDI, so using virtual instruments like VST synths is out of the question—and plugin effects have to be applied destructively offline.

That means that Audacity might not be the best choice for a full mix.

But if you’re just getting started with the core ideas of digital recording, Audacity might be the perfect way to jump in.

Price: Free

Pros:

  • Fully capable audio production and editing software for free

Cons:

  • Doesn’t work with MIDI so software instruments are not compatible
  • Concerns over privacy and spyware after acquisition by MuseScore


Pro Tools is the industry-standard DAW. This is the one you’ll find in almost every professional studio.

Pro Tools was designed for traditional recording in a studio setting and it excels at every part of that process.

Pro Tools was designed for traditional recording in a studio setting and it excels at every aspect of that process.

Professional engineers love it for the speed of editing and the high-quality mixing environment.

It may have a slightly steeper learning curve than other DAWs, but it’s worth putting in the time if you ever hope to work in a professional studio.

Pro Tools comes in several configurations including the free, introductory edition Pro Tools First which is limited to 16 tracks.

The premium, hardware-accelerated edition is now called Pro Tools Ultimate and the standard native version is simply called “Pro Tools.”

Like other paid software, Pro Tools is transitioning to a hybrid subscription/license model with each subsequent edition named after the year of release (we’re currently on Pro Tools 2019).

Pro Tools also requires you to use the iLok hardware DRM platform, which may be off-putting to some users.

Price: $79.99 USD billed monthly

Pros:

  • The gold standard for audio production, recording and mastering

Cons:

  • Confusing pricing and overall higher price tag

GarageBand is almost a household name at this point. The free DAW developed by Apple has done more for democratizing music production than almost any other music software.

GarageBand is almost a household name at this point.

You may even be surprised to know what hit records have been made on it considering it’s a free program that comes with all versions of Mac OSX.

The helpful tips that GarageBand provides in-app are written in simple language accessible to all production skill levels—you can learn a lot that way!

Overall, GarageBand is a simple but effective tool for getting started with music production. And if you’re reading this on a Mac, you already have it. So make something today!

Price: Free

Pros:

  • All the essentials you need to start making music in your computer
  • Simple interface and basic plugins for audio production and editing tasks

Cons:

  • Only works on Apple products
  • Watered down features compared to its big cousin Logic Pro

Steinberg’s Cubase was one of the first commercially available DAWs and still has a strong following.

Cubase 11 is the latest version of the app and it’s packed with all the features you need to create a pro-quality track.

Cubase began as a MIDI only application and it’s MIDI editing capabilities are still among the strongest.

It’s audio and mixing features are no slouch either—this DAW can do everything the big names are capable of.

Steinberg pioneered the popular VST plugin format, so there’s great compatibility with free VST plugins, especially on Windows.

Cubase has a lot of great features, so it’s worth considering as you search for the best DAW for you.

Price: $878 USD

Pros:

  • Strong MIDI editing features
  • Great for audio production, editing, mixing and mastering

Cons:

  • Includes advanced features but at a higher price

FL Studio (formerly known as Fruity Loops) is a favourite among hip-hop and electronic producers for its no nonsense interfaces that can get you started making beats right away.

Many beatmakers got their first taste of creating loops and grooves with FL Studio and continue to use it to this day.

Many beatmakers got their first taste of creating loops and grooves with FL Studio and continue to use it to this day.

Version 20 includes extensive integration with AKAI’s FL Studio specific hardware and even a mobile extension of the DAW to keep you creating music anywhere.

It comes standard with a wide variety of native plugins including synths, samplers and virtual effect units.

Image-Line also offers free lifetime updates to the program. That means if you purchase once you’ll have access to every version from now until forever.

Price: $260

Pros:

  • Great step sequencer
  • Highly oriented towards beat makers

Cons:

  • Less optimized for music production tasks
  • Doesn’t come with many included plugins and software instruments

REAPER (Rapid Environment for Audio Production, Engineering, and Recording) comes from the same developers as the WinAmp audio player and Gnutella peer-to-peer network.

It’s a powerful, comprehensive and adaptive DAW without any engineering compromises.

REAPER comes with a free 60 day trial, but an individual license only costs $60 USD—it’s the best value in DAW software.

There are no track types in REAPER—each track you create can do anything you need it to (audio, midi, video, bussing)—which makes arranging super simple.

REAPER is an equally good option if you’re just starting out or if you’ve had your head in a DAW for as long as you can remember.

Beginners can simply press record to get started and experienced users can take advantage of the advanced routing matrix or use ReaScript to program anything from a macro to a full-featured extension.

Price: $60 after trial period

Pros:

  • Well built DAW platform with tons of capability
  • Very affordable
  • Skinnable interface and open source code make it highly customizable

Cons:

  • Comes with very few plugins or add-ons

Create, Mix, Repeat

Whether at a home studio or in a professional environment DAW software has made creating accessible and easy. With all the different apps out there to choose from, there’s no excuse to not be creating everyday.

If you’re asking yourself how to record music better or how to edit music better, Or how to mix music, chances are there’s a DAW out there that’s the answer.

Now that you know what the options are, get out there start looking for the DAW of your dreams.

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