5 Music Production DAWs in Comparison – Pro Tools, Cubase, Logic, Reaper or Ableton?

DAW Comparison

If you’re just getting started on your music production journey, choosing the right Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) could be a daunting task. There seem to be so many to choose from, and all product websites claim they have you covered, no matter what your goals are.

And then there are the suggestions on Reddit and Quora – some users say Garageband is great, others swear by Audacity. But anyone who is really committed to recording their own music knows that there are other much better options.

In this DAW comparison, I present the 5 main apps that musicians should consider when looking to dive in to DIY music production.

The following is an excerpt from my new book COMPLETE CREATIVE CONTROL – The Art Of Recording Music Unveiled.

AVID Pro Tools

Pro Tools is my weapon of choice for recording, editing and mixing music. I’ve used it for most of my adult life so I know my way around pretty well.

It’s great for recording, mixing and editing, but not so great for virtual instruments, clip-based pitch correction or clinical audio operations (like speeding things up, slowing down etc.).

Nowadays it comes in several versions:

  • Intro – free, up to 8 tracks in a session, up to 4 simultaneous recording inputs
  • Artist – $9 per month, 32 tracks in a session, up to 16 simultaneous recording inputs
  • Studio – $28 per month, 512 tracks in a session, up to 64 simultaneous recording inputs
  • Ultimate – $99 per month, 2048 tracks in a session, up to 256 simultaneous recording inputs You can get stuck in with the free Intro version and see if it works for you before paying for a monthly subscription for the Artist version. With 16 recording inputs and 32 tracks you can get a lot done!

By the way, if you’re a student, you can get a pretty decent discount!

Steinberg Cubase

Cubase is a powerful software for composing, recording, editing, mixing and production. It has a lot of clip-based tools that you can use to adjust the timing or pitch of your recordings from the edit window. It is in that sense a bit more clinical than pro tools and caters a bit more to artists and producers looking to work with software synths and instruments.

You can get several versions of Cubase with different levels of features:

  • Cubase LE – free, (only for users of hardware with bundled Cubase LE) 16 audio tracks, 8 recording inputs,
  • Cubase AI – free, (only for users of Yamaha or Steinberg hardware)
  • 32 audio tracks, 16 recording inputs
  • Cubase Elements – $99,99 for the full version, 48 audio tracks, 24 recording inputs
  • Cubase Artist – $329,99 – unlimited audio tracks, 32 recording inputs
  • Cubase Pro – $579,99 – unlimited audio tracks, 256 recording inputs You can download a 30-day trial version of the Pro and Elements versions to have a good look at what it offers before you buy.

Apple Logic Pro

Logic Pro is another audio software that contains many features catering to all aspects of music and audio production. Similar to Cubase, it has a lot of options for editing and pitch shifting, composing with midi and software instruments, and can also be remotely controlled using an iPhone or iPad. Recording and mixing is of course well catered for like any DAW should.

It comes in one version only that costs around $240 and you can download a trial version for free.

Alas, if you’re a Windows or Linux user, you can strike this one from your list immediately. In only works on Apple hardware.


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Reaper is an open source music production software that is highly customisable and scriptable. The non-traditional routing options let you send and receive audio to and from virtually everywhere in the DAW, and mixer channels can be used for anything – audio, midi, bus etc.

It is a program that has very few limitations but it does stray from the workflows of traditional DAWs. The 60-day trial period will give you ample time to assess the software, and at $60 for a discounted but full-version license for personal, educational or small business use, it’s a steal. Standard professional licensing costs $225 which still makes it the cheapest software on this list.

Ableton Live

If you are looking to primarily produce electronic music with loops, beats and virtual instruments, chances are you have already taken a good look at Ableton Live.

The workflow and functionality of Ableton serves those looking to primarily build tracks with samples, loops and midi rather than acoustic instruments.

It’s also a great software for using during a live show to supply backing tracks, click tracks or for recording and looping with effects on the fly.

There are 3 versions, Intro, Standard and Suite:

  • Ableton Live Intro – $79, 16 audio/MIDI tracks, 8 inputs/outputs, 4 software instruments, 5GB of sounds
  • Ableton Live Standard – $449, unlimited audio/MIDI tracks, 256 inputs/outputs, 6 software instruments, 10 GB of sounds
  • Ableton Live Suite – $749, unlimited audio/MIDI tracks, 256 inputs/outputs, 17 software instruments, 70 GB of sounds

So which DAW is the best for me?

Well, that depends very much on what kind of music you are playing, what you are looking to achieve and how you apporach music production.

Pro Tools: Pro Tools is a DAW known for its professional-grade capabilities, making it a versatile choice for DIY musicians who aspire to produce high-quality recordings and mixes. While it may seem complex, it can be a valuable investment if you’re serious about your craft. It’s particularly advantageous if you plan to collaborate with studios or professional engineers down the road, as Pro Tools is widely used in the industry. However, it’s essential to note that Pro Tools may have a steeper learning curve and a higher price point, so be prepared for a more intensive learning experience and budget accordingly.

Cubase: Cubase offers an impressive set of features for DIY musicians. It’s particularly well-suited for those who enjoy composing their music and working extensively with MIDI and virtual instruments. Cubase provides a balanced mix of affordability and capability, making it accessible for independent artists across various genres. It’s a solid choice for DIY musicians looking to expand their musical horizons without feeling overwhelmed by complexity.

Logic Pro: Logic Pro is a user-friendly DAW with a comprehensive library of virtual instruments and plugins. This makes it a fantastic choice for DIY musicians who value an all-in-one solution and are part of the Apple ecosystem. Perform bass lines, piano, strings – whatever with a midi keyboard or use the intuitive drumkit patch to make a beat for you. If you have used Garageband, you will be familiar with the workflow of Logic Pro X, even though it is a step up in complexity. Logic Pro is versatile, suitable for various musical styles, and offers a smooth learning curve. If you’re an Apple user, this DAW can provide an integrated and creative environment for your music production journey.

Reaper: Reaper stands out as an affordable and adaptable DAW that DIY musicians can appreciate. It’s budget-friendly and user-friendly, making it an excellent starting point for beginners. Its customizable interface allows you to tailor the software to your preferences as you gain experience. Reaper’s versatility accommodates diverse musical styles and evolving skill sets, making it a valuable asset for DIY musicians who want a cost-effective and flexible solution.

Ableton Live: Ableton Live is a fantastic choice for DIY musicians who prioritize live performances and electronic music production. Its session view and real-time clip triggering capabilities are a creative playground for those who love experimenting with loops, electronic beats, and live shows. Ableton Live encourages a hands-on, dynamic approach to music creation, making it ideal for those who enjoy pushing the boundaries of their musical creativity.

DIY musicians should consider their goals, musical style, and preferences when selecting a DAW. Pro Tools offers professional-grade capabilities but may require a more significant investment of time and resources. Cubase and Logic Pro strike a balance between features and accessibility. Reaper is budget-friendly and flexible, while Ableton Live caters to those passionate about live performances and electronic music. Try out demo versions to see which DAW aligns best with your DIY music production aspirations.

Take your time and evaluate any of the DAWs above, plus any others you come across on the interwebs. See which one feels good to work with, fits your purposes and gives you the feeling you can create and be creative with.

You’re going to spend a lot of time working with the piece of software you choose, so choose wisely!

About The Author

Nick Braren is an audio engineer and musician with over 15 years experience in the studio, on stage, back stage and front of house. He is the owner and operator of Upaya Sound, guitarist and vocalist of Vandemonian, father of 2 and husband of 1. When he’s not in the studio or in the band room he’s either travelling in his van or at the beach – or both.

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