Digital Audio Workstation software–DAW for short–are programs that allow you to record, mix and master with professional grade audio interfaces. They feature multi-track recording/mixing/editing, import/export support for a variety of audio file types (codecs) along with my favorite feature…plugin support.
Plugins are additional software that piggyback onto DAWs. While the software that comes with DAWs can do a more than great job, plugins allow you to take recording, mixing and mastering to the next level.
The “industry standard” DAW is Avid Pro Tools. Pro Tools has been around for a very long time and most modern mainstream popular music was recorded and mixed with Pro Tools. As the years go on, this is changing. But PT is still the top dog when it comes to user base on the professional level.
Next, I would put Apple Logic Pro and Steinberg Cubase Pro as the next most popular DAWs. Ableton Live is another name I see a lot. But more and more people are switching to my favorite DAW…Cockos REAPER.
The reason for the switch is interesting. More and more people are discovering the excellent quality Acqua plugins from Acustica Audio. Their equalizers in particular are a cut above the plugin competition in my opinion. The problem with Acquas are that they eat up a lot of RAM and computer power. REAPER just happens to be one of the most CPU and RAM efficient DAWs out there. It also crashes less than other DAWs. It’s super customizable with many available themes. Those three reasons are why I switched to REAPER and have been using it for the past eight years.
I don’t want to steer you in any particular direction because DAW choice is a personal taste. So, I recommend downloading trial versions of the above DAWs and the ones I’ll list below to see which jives with you the best. If you decide to use a DAW that isn’t Pro Tools I would still recommend learning/using the free Pro Tools First on a weekly basis in case you ever need to collaborate on a music project.
Additional DAWs to Try:
Acoustica Mixcraft Pro Studio
Image-Line FL Studio
PreSonus Studio One
RML Labs SAWStudio