Good Tools for Good Usage: Top 5 DAW's for Mac Users

On the hunt for a new DAW, or your first? We compared the most buzzed about DAW’s across the board and listed the top five from best to worst according to operating system. For the Mac, the top five are:

Logic Pro X
Operating system: MacOS
Pricing tiers: $199
Info: Logic Pro X tops the Mac list and not the Windows because it is Mac only. This is excellent for long-time Mac users as it’s a natural step up from GarageBand. It’s super intuitive for Mac users and it’s interface has that classic Mac styling.
Pros: Intuitive tasks, lots of high-quality built-in plugins (often referred to as the best), can be used for composing, producing, and mixing, can do everything well, flexible enough to work with any setup, and does everything you need to go from absolutely nothing to a completed track. Logic is a complete recording studio and there’s a ton you can so with the existing plugins. The software is a full production suite where you can record and edit audio, play digital instruments, apply effects, and end up with a fully mastered product. Logic works with any audio interface that is compatible with Mac, so anything you buy for your Mac is compatible. You can set it up to record a simple track with just vocals or record a multi-piece band through a complex audio interface setup so the software can grow with you and suit multiple project settings and setups. While it supports third party plugins, the built-in plugins cover a wide variety of sounds and effects with very high quality. The synths included in the software, including Alchemy Synth, are exceptional tools that let you go to great lengths in editing the sounds. The synths, instruments, and effects are highly adjustable and sound great. Logic has a good balance between midi/synth and audio/recording capability. Logic also has an iPad or iPhone controller app, and an excellent drummer.
Cons: Only available for Mac, which can make it hard to collaborate with non-Mac users. There’s only one edition (but it’s relatively affordable compared to similar editions of other software). One thing to note is that Logic only accepts Apple’s audio format for plugins and is very integrated with the Apple system. It also only accepts 64-bit versions of plugins, so you won’t be able to use any that haven’t been updated, though most should be fine. The cons of Logic are pretty minor. It’s not the most competitive audio-editing software, compared to Pro Tools, for instance, and the workflow is set and can’t be customized. Your relationship to the built-in sounds might depend on your prefered genre, and unfortunately, you can’t take it for a test drive as there is no trial period or free trial version.
Conclusion: Logic ultimately has the best quality for the price on MacOS. You can cover most of your bases very well. It can do recording, beat making, and audio manipulation like the best of them, and the price makes it accessible to most.

Ableton Live 9
Operating system: MacOS, Windows
Pricing tiers: Intro ($99), Standard ($449), Suite ($749), 30-Day Suite trial, Educational Discount
Info: Ableton Live started out as a tool for live performance and grew to a full-blown DAW over the last 10 years. It’s a favorite of DJ’s and other live performers who use the software as an instrument on stage, though its intuitive loop-based workflow allows for instant bursts of creativity to be recorded and looped on the spot.
Pros: Excellent for MIDI and live performance, easy to launch and loop clips with added effects and mix your tracks live, especially good for electronic music production, can see the entire interface on one screen, very flexible midi controlling, clean, simple aesthetic with a layout designed to increase workflow, great as a songwriting tool, feels like an actual instrument.
Cons: can be intimidating at the outset (but totally learnable), intro package is not great so it’s not the best for beginners, huge price difference between intro and standard, not the best for audio editing, limited automation.
Conclusion: Ableton Live is excellent for DJ’s and electronic musicians who want to perform live and already have experience with DAW’s and know what they’re looking for, or any musician or writer looking for a new and creative way to quickly create loop based compositions.

Steinburg Cubase Pro
Operating system: MacOS, Windows
Pricing tiers: Elements ($99.99), Artist ($299.99), Pro ($549.99)
Info: Steinburg Cubase is one of the grandfathers of the modern DAW. The first version, which was midi only, was released in 1989, during the era of the Atari ST, but it still remains relevant today. Over the years, Steinburg has pioneered many of the staple features of the modern DAW, including inventing the VST format, and they’ve kept up all along the way.
Pros: Good all-around (with no particular strengths), great plugin integration, excellent audio manipulation, top of the line midi and plugin capabilities, strong notation for orchestration, transcription, and film composition. They have a cloud collaboration service for handling long-distance collaborations, and a try-before-buy option, unlike Logic,
Cons: Similar to Logic Pro X but more expensive. Otherwise, there are no major holes or oversights in the program, due to the fact that it has been around for so long and they’ve had time to work out all the kinks.
Conclusion: Cubase Pro is a solid program that covers all bases and does everything well. If you like to dabble in different genres and you want a reliable, well-thought-out software, this is a good pick.

Avid ProTools
Operating system: MacOS, Windows
Pricing tiers: First (Free), Standard ($599, or $25/month for one year subscription, or $29 monthly), Ultimate ($2,499, or $999/year)
Info: ProTools is a household name that has become the industry standard used in studios around the world and it’s used to produce most of current pop music you hear on the radio. You might think, why choose anything else, but there are many with gripes and doubts about the software as well, and it’s not great for beginners.
Pros: Exceptional depth, First edition is free, offers a monthly subscription service if you don’t want to buy it outright, Avid Cloud Collaboration offers cloud-based storage aimed at connecting you with other musicians, emphasis on workflow, great for complex studio setups, and there’s lots of audio hardware designed by Avid to work specifically with ProTools.
Cons: Not beginner friendly, First edition is very limited, has come under criticism for potential issues with its creative workflow as well as Avid’s strict licensing and commercial practices, requires a dongle to be connected to the computer for licensing reasons.
Conclusion: This is the best option for dedicated career producers who want to be able to walk into any major recording studio and work the desk. If you are this type of musician, then this isn’t a choice, it’s a necessity.

PreSonus Studio One 3
Operating system: MacOS, Windows
Pricing tiers: Prime (Free), Artist ($85), Professional ($340)
Info: PreSonus Studio One 3 is a fairly new player in the DAW game that has risen to the top very quickly (as evidenced by the low edition number after its name). People love it because it’s fresh and innovative, and despite its youth, it’s well-thought out without kinks or issues.
Pros: Intuitive, drag and drop interface, everything you need in a modern DAW, excellent work flow, and the Artist Edition comes free with any Presonus audio interface. Studio One utilizes new ideas and innovative work-flow interfaces, like scratch-pads, and includes lots of instruments and effects from third parties that partner with Presonus. It has a demo version and several pricing tiers so you can customize it to your needs, and it even gives the option to use key commands from other major DAW’s while you’re transitioning to the new program. It also shows all relevant info for the song on one page so you don’t have to switch back and forth.
Cons: Lacks a little in Midi Editing.
Conclusion: Many count this as their number one choice, probably because it is so new, it’s unencumbered by old programming and full of new solutions. It’s fresh and the design is built on the backs of the DAWs that came before, learning from their mistakes and expanding on what worked.

Ultimately, choosing a DAW is going to depend a lot on what kind of music you’re making and what your recording, editing, and performance needs are. I’d recommend starting with trial versions of DAWs that have them and familiarizing yourself with what you like and don’t like before choosing. That being said, if one program stands out as being perfect for your needs, go ahead and start learning that one because working on trials of ones that aren’t right for you will be a waste of time. Happy music-making!

Guest Post by Allie Mazon