Good Tools For Good Usage: Top 5 DAW's for Windows 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 Windows, the top five are:

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, the entire interface is visible 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 if you want to take it for a test drive,
Cons: 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.

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.

Imagine-Line FL Studio 12
Operating system: Windows
Pricing tiers: Fruity/Intro ($99), Producer ($199), Signature ($299), All Plugins Bundle ($737)
Info: Better known as Frooty Loops back in the day, FL started out simple as a powerful beat-maker and simplicity is still its hallmark, along with plenty of features and value. Even though it’s Windows only, some dedicated producers use Bootcamp or Parallels to run this on their Macs. This program has a long history and dedicated user-base, even after being forced to change their name due to a run-in with Kelloggs.
Pros: All but the Intro are full DAWs that give you everything to need to sequence, mix, synthesize and record audio, plus effects and plugins. The NewTone feature provides you with a cheaper version of AutoTune that is designed to be used on recorded vocals. Another standout feature is that Studio 12 supports VST3 plugins while Ableton, for instance, does not. FL has a lot of features that facilitate ease of use as well, and it’s one of the easiest DAWs for PC users to learn, being advanced yet simple. It has an attractive interface, excellent automation capabilities, and lifetime updates for free with the Producer and Signature editions, as well as a mobile version called FL Studio Mobile.
Cons: Fruity edition does not have audio recording, so it’s recommended for electronic musicians only.
Conclusion: FL is a top choice for hip hop artists, edm musicians, and djs, as well as any beginner who is used to using a PC. It’s a historic and solid program with great all-around capability (except the Fruity edition) and a simple interface.

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 its used to produce most of current pop music you hear on th 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.

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