Whether you’re a top-level pro or a pure novice in audio, you’re more than likely working on the computer. Here are the best DAWs of 2022.
The world of the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is inextricably linked to modern production. It doesn’t matter if you’re at the very top of the professional studio mountain, or just finding your feet — you’re most likely performing the bulk of your audio tasks with software.
In 2022, people are connecting with their DAWs and in-the-box production like never before. So we thought it was about time we checked out the best DAWs of 2022. There are a lot of established players in this field, but they continue to evolve.
Steinberg’s Cubase (Mac/PC)
Having been around since 1989, Cubase has established itself as a reliable and creative music production software. The DAW allows you to save time while engraving MIDI scores via its smooth integration with Dorico, which is accompanied by a sleek and intuitive modern interface.
Cubase 12 is the latest version and added a bunch of new features. It’s got MIDI remote integration (create and map any MIDI device), VariAudio with Scale Assistant (Cubase’s own pitch correction tool), Audio to MIDI chords (create MIDI from audio recordings), and FX Modulator (Cubase’s own advanced, multi-effect modulation effect).
Cubase 12 has also said farewell to the dongle and added a bunch of extra visual tools to their SuperVision Modules — a VU meter, spectrum keyboard, phase balance, level and loudness histograms.
For more details head over to steinberg.net/cubase
Apple’s Logic Pro (Mac)
Logic Pro — Apple’s premium extension of their beloved GarageBand — is a DAW that invites users to their clean and intuitive ‘Apple’ workflow. Keeping with the company’s MO, Logic presents a full-ecosystem for creating various types of music. The diverse nature of this music production software is only highlighted from the range of artists that use it; from Kendrick Lamar to Ed Sheeran to Brian Eno.
Being an Apple product, the software is leaning into the spatial audio side of things. The latest update has integrated Dolby Atmos tools for mixing and exporting songs as spatial audio. Huge news in the audio world.
Logic Pro is up to 10.7.4 with the previous 10.7.3 adding new features like spatial audio monitoring via Apple’s various headphones and optimized performance for M1 Max and M1 Ultra on the new Mac Studio onto the already huge update of 10.7.
Since Logic Pro X’s 10.5, they’ve been somewhat influenced by Ableton Live — and that’s not a bad thing. Logic’s Live Loops offers non-linear pathways of putting together sequences which works great with their Sampler, Step Sequencer, Drum Synth, and Drum Machine Designer.
For more details head over to apple.com
Presonus’ Studio One (Mac/PC)
Studio One is Presonus’ venture into the world of music production software. Released in 2009, the DAW has skyrocketed to success through its integration with the pitch-correction software Melodyne, modern features like Arrange, Patterns, and Scratch Pad, and through the effortless incorporation of Presonus’ hardware.
Studio One 5 was a massive update for them in 2020 which included a range of updates like Ampire and Show Page. Ampire offers real-time guitar amp feel, modelled from their own guitar amps and pedals and Show Page allows for the live playback of backing tracks, virtual instruments, and plug-in racks from a single interface, straightforward for live performance use.
The most recent update Studio One 5.5 has an integrated mastering environment, Track Automation, Clip Gain Envelopes, and Listen Bus on the Project Page, Target Loudness on export (for Digital Release), and drag and drop MIDI files to Chord Track to extract chords.
For more details head over to presonus.com
Reason Studios’ Reason+ (Mac/PC)
Reason Studios’ Reason+ is a bold choice for music creators. Through the lack of third-party plugin and virtual instrument support, and preemptive vision of the modular craze, Reason+ (FKA Propellerhead) offers something entirely unique. It’s now packed with over 75 instruments and effects suited to the unique workflow and is a definite contender with the other DAW heavyweights.
The Reason Rack is the centrepiece of the DAW’s workflow, and while the Reason 11 update didn’t change a whole lot about the music production software (it added 5 effects and improved workflow), Reason Studios now allows the Reason Rack to be compatible with any DAW. This is huge, as the Reason Rack can now be used in any workflow, opening it up to a much bigger audience.
Reason+ has moved to a subscription model with the first month at just 1 euro! After that it’s 19.99 euro’s per month — cancel anytime — and they have weekly sound packs.
For more details head over to reasonstudios.com
Bitwig’s Bitwig Studio (Mac/Pc/Linux)
Made to be a standalone instrument for music-creation, Bitwig released Bitwig Studio in 2014 to an already rich market. Leaning heavily on principles of modular synthesis, Bitwig invites users to create and connect sound-making components in intuitive ways. It can still do all the things of other DAWs, like record audio, provide virtual instruments and mixing tools, but offers its own distinct view.
The Grid is the focal point of Bitwig Studio (now updated to version 4) offering a fully-modular environment inside the DAW. Included is a range of 150 modules that can be configured in an open-ended UI. What sets it apart from other DAWs offering similar features (like Max) is the incredibly simple user-interface.
For more details head over to bitwig.com
While the DAWs on this list have all so far been fairly expensive, Reaper offers a $225 alternative that can still keep up with the competition — sorry folks it use to be $60. The DAW really puts the customer first, with just a 20 MB download size and consistent free updates. Although Reaper doesn’t include any built-in virtual instruments, it offers a blank canvas for recording audio or third-party VSTs you have previously downloaded.
Version 6.67 was the latest big update — literally just last week (as of mid September 2022) — the main updates being; retina-ready graphics and FX plugin embedding. While largely updating what’s already there, some other features of Version 6 include; MIDI CC Envelopes, Auto-Stretch Timebase, Routing Diagram, and a new theme.
For more details head over to reaper.fm
Ableton Live 11 (Mac/PC)
Ableton Live is at the forefront of electronic music production. It offers a unique recording workflow and live performance facility tailored to working with loops, beats, and audio in unconventional ways. Ableton Live’s unique features include Session View, Drum Rack, and its myriad of VSTs and effects. The DAW has been used by artists such as; Skrillex, Flume, and Ludwig Göransson, the producer of Childish Gambino’s Redbone.
Ableton Live 11 has seen a huge amount of new features like comping and chance, MIDI Polyphonic Expression, a very cool Spectral Time looping audio effect and a stunning new reverb called Hybrid Reverb.
The previous update, Live 10, added Wavetable — a synthesiser that can shape, stretch, and morph sounds with ease through its intuitive interface. With that update some new tools and effects were also added, like Echo, Drum Buss, CV Tools, Creative Extensions, and more.
For more details head over to Ableton.com
FL Studio (PC/Mac)
FL Studio emerged out of the incredibly successful Fruity Loops step-sequencer released by Image-Line in 1998. Building on that success, the now fully-fledged DAW features an environment that is moulded for beat-makers, but most of all encourages play. Image-Line provides free lifetime updates for the DAW and over time have created a workflow that can do a little bit of everything.
In FL Studio 20, they added Mac iOS support, the ability for multiple time signatures, as well as a bunch of all-round updates. These updates include reworks of the workflow, audio recording, Graph Editor, and Sample Channel.
For more details head over to image-line.com
Pro Tools (Mac/PC)
Pro Tools is the industry heavyweight. It’s the DAW at the heart of almost every major studio around the world, setting a lofty standard for music production and recording. Ultimately it’s the modern tape machine: the interface is classic and well-established, and the software isn’t largely attached to any genre or big names due to its universal use.
Pro Tools favours a subscription model these days. And while some may lament the inability to ‘own’ the software permanently, it also means that AVID is providing updates to the grand old lady on a regular basis. It’s so ingrained into the audio recording vernacular, it’s hard to see it being dislodged any time soon.
For more details head over to avid.com
Available only to Apple users, and the only free DAW on this list, is GarageBand. The DAW provides a free multi-track recording interface that’s incredibly simple, and yet is really all you need. GarageBand provides the opportunity for everyone with a Mac or iPhone to record music and was even being used by Steve Lacy to record Kendrick Lamar’s track Pride and Ego Death by The Internet.
Also weighing heavily in Garageband’s is its adaptability for mobile. The recent iOS update added 50 new instruments to the software and allows you to record for 3 times as long. Previously tracks were limited at 23 minutes, while now you can get your ‘Necks’ on and record songs up to 72 mins long.
For more details head over to apple.com
Although not regarded as a conventional ‘DAW’, Max deserves its spot as maybe the most unique way of creating sound on this list. Max is a visual programming language that through piecing together objects, allows you to create your own synthesisers, self-generating sounds, or really whatever you want. Max also integrates into Ableton Live through Max For Live, allowing you to use your home-built works in Ableton’s workflow.
Max 8 introduced the MC system into the software: standing for multichannel, the MC system really just lets you use Max a bit more like a DAW. The performance was improved, and some other features were added like MIDI and Key Mapping, Vizzie 2, and Node for Max.