Alright, so you’ve determined that your computer is up to snuff for recording music. Congratulations! The computer is oftentimes the most expensive piece of the whole studio (especially starting out).

You’re creating a DAW, a Digital Audio Workstation. Now that you have a computer, you need some recording software.

“What should I get?” you ask.

Free Software

There are a ton of options, and many of them are free. If you’re not sure how serious you are about recording, you may need to start with one of the free programs. I’ve found Reaper to work well on the PC. If you’ve got a relatively new Mac, then you’re already off to the races with GarageBand, which is included for free.

Don’t let the studio snobs intimidate you, there is good music to be made with free software. A good friend of mine in Nashville has made some very good-sounding recordings with GarageBand and a cheap little audio interface. (I’ll cover interfaces in the next article.)

Free software is, however, free, so you will most likely run into limitations before long. At that point, you may be ready to spend a little money on some good software.

The Major Players

There are several major players on the market vying for your attention (and your money). They are as follows:

Now there are hundreds of users who swear by each of these platforms, and I’m not here to make a definitive statement about which one is “best.” As a consumer, I’ve used most of them. Having spend several years selling music equipment, I’ve sold them all to various customers, and I’ve developed differing opinions on each.

Here are my picks (for both Mac and PC): Pro Tools and Studio One

Why? Well, for one, I own them. :)

Here’s a quick run-down of why I like them:

Pro Tools

You’ll hear it all over the web, but Pro Tools really is the “industry standard,” if for no other reason than LOTS and LOTS of people have been using it for years. If you think there’s ever a chance you’ll want to work in a studio, it might be worth your while to become fluent in Pro Tools.

Also, Pro Tools has a simple layout, which is helpful for beginners. There aren’t a million buttons all over the screen to confuse you. And you don’t have to deal with a bunch of different windows. You only have two – the Mix Window and the Edit Window.

Pro Tools also includes some very usable virtual instruments. I’ve used MiniGrand (piano) and DB33 (organ) a LOT. Plus Xpand! includes lots and lots of patches, from crazy synths to a pretty realistic upright bass sound.

Studio One

When I first wrote this article back in 2009, I don’t think Studio One existed. Fast forward to 2013, and I’ve been using Studio One almost exclusively for close to two years.

It all started as a favor to my buddies over at Presonus. I just wanted to try out their software and see how I liked it. Initially I wasn’t a big fan, but after some major updates (and after finally trying to learn to use it the way they designed it to work), I’m a BIG fan.

In fact, I recorded and mixed my most recent album Help of the Helpless in Studio One.

The main benefits of Studio One: drag and drop workflow (actually helps you mix really fast), really smart layout for recording, mixing, editing, etc., fantastic integration with the onboard mastering suite. All in all, it just helps me stay creative and work FAST.

In Conclusion

The truth is that all of these programs will do the same thing. The difference lies simply in how they do it. If I told ten guitarists to play an E minor chord, I bet they wouldn’t all play it the same way, but none of them would be wrong.

Do yourself a favor, do a little research, but don’t make it a 6-month process. For every month you wait around for the “perfect” solution, that’s one less month that you could’ve been making music.

And that’s what it’s all about after all, right?

  • Ahmonster

    This last month I have been doing research and trying different Daws, They all pretty much do the same thing with just a few different tweaks. For an artist or producer just starting out and wanting to learn, ( I say this because you will be doing a lot of reading.) The top 3 I have found are Reaper, Lmms, and Ardour. If your just getting your feet wet and starting the ball rolling, one of these 3 will do the job for you easy.

  • Dan

    What’s the best way to test various daws to help you decide which works best for you?

  • MackDirty

    FL Studio not on the list?!

    • Joe Gilder

      Never used it, but I hear it’s awesome.

  • Cedric Mohammed

    I am using a steinberg interface and recording with Audacity and I have my buffer at 1056 and my computer is a intel(R)Core(TM)2 Duo CPU with 4.00 GB of RAM and is a 32-bit operating system. And the hard drive on my computer is solid state drive yet I am having problems recording. Keep getting bit of crack sounds like you here when a plug is touched. Does anyone have any solutions to my problem. Thanks in advance.

    • Joe Gilder

      Hmm…it could be any number of things, but I wonder if you recorded to a dedicated hard drive if that would help?

  • thunderfinger

    Being a guitarist, I found Reaper to be the best DAW for me although I am still learning how powerful this machine really is. I also think Presonus has a great workflow… I have messed with the others and frankly, I feel they are more in tune with today’s generation but I just can’t seem to get out of the 60s and 70s, when every instrument was actually played, not loaded. I have no ill feelings towards Pro Tools, but I believe they are going to really have to go through some big changes if they are going to stay the “industry standard” in the coming years.

    By the way, I run Linux with WINE and ALL of my 64 bit Windows software runs fantastic AND I get hundreds of great sounding open source apps for free. And I never have to worry about the system slowing down on me. For those who don’t know, Linux has distros especially made for musicians, such as AVLinux, KX Studio and Ubuntu Studio, all which come with everything you need to start recording and all for $0.00. Next, I am going to download the trial of Presonus and see if it works as well as Reaper. I actually believe Reaper runs better in Linux under WINE than it did in Windows.
    Reaper is a very powerful DAW and deserves more credit than it gets.. Just because they decided to price it at a level that anyone can afford does not mean its trash. I cannot think of anything I can do in Pro Tools that I cannot do in Reaper, although their video editing but they are improving that every release, but I am a musician not an actor so I don’t really care about that side of the industry.
    For those just coming into the field, I would definitely urge them to dl Reaper and see how you like it but definitely give it some time, there is more power there than you see at first glance, and you get the FULL version with no limits, All in all, its a great time to be a musician..

    • Joe Gilder

      You’re totally right. It’s a GREAT time to be a musician. Thanks for the comment!

  • Shawn Amkr Dickinson

    I agree that most DAW’s do the same things but, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using multiple DAW’s – I started with Pro Tools 7 LE – then I moved onto Cockos Reaper because I didn’t like limited choices of interfaces, loved the workflow far more plus the user community often does cool modifications to the program – its more light on your cpu/memory etc. But for production – I love having choices, starting with FL Studio, still use that – just upgraded to Propellerheads Reason 8 – loving it with their rack extensions. But I REALLY want Ableton Live 9 Suite with an Ableton Push Controller. My god – you can do everything with that live, and make every aspect of production without ever looking at the screen. So sick – been dying to get it since I saw Doseone killing it playing “Samurai Gunn” on youtube “Giant Bomb” show. Had I known about the push controller I would’ve bought Abelton instead of Reason even though I dig the hell outta reason’s layout – its like working with a real rackmounted equipment. Jumping from FL to Reason is nuts at first though haha. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. FL was made to chop samples IMHO though – even if I wanna use another DAW or I wanna add samples in post like vox ones – I’ll chop em in FL [or Audacity – chopping samples is the only thing Audacity should be used for haha don’t bother trying to make anything decent in that program. Better off trying to make Vox work in FL – although not desirable either haha. Havent tried Reason for recording vox yet but my man BADMiND swears by it for everything. Gotta check out the MPC Essentials program that came with my MPK61 too haha.

    • Joe Gilder

      If it works for you, great!

  • Andre

    very good article, it seems that Mylo recorded all his 1st album using only pro-tools. regards

  • Patrick Goudriaan

    Used the studio one demo, but it froze very often while doing a track adjustment, so ruled it out.
    Use Pro tools still, but it is a rather complicated tool, especialy if you want to stretch a piece of audio.
    Recently I discovered Sonar 3X(demo). It works very easy, natural , you can drag and drop about everything. Lots of extra’s on producer version. Minor problem, havent found out how to adjust all midi notes volume in a track 1 action.

    After doing several test takes with different DAW’s I (95% sure) probably will buy Sonar.

  • K DaProduca

    What do you guys think about using SONY ACID 10.0? I have been using SONY ACID for years, and nothing else, and I have made and sold music for a while now. I guess I just want your opinions about ACID!

    • Joe Gilder

      Man, if you’re making and selling music with Acid, I think there’s your answer. In reality everything from Pro Tools to GarageBand to Reaper to Acid to Logic all do roughly the same thing. I wouldn’t worry too much about whether Acid is “good” or not. As long as it’s not holding you back, I say stick to making good music. Switching DAW’s is a long, slow process anyway.

  • Derek Mosley

    Hey Joe. I am currently a new fan, customer and subscriber. I have been making music with FL Studio for a few years now. How do you feel about using FL to make beats/recording versus say Pro Tools per se. By the way, I do have a MP version of Pro Tools 9 but do not use it because I am used to FL Studio. Thanks for everything. -Derek Mosley

    • Joe Gilder

      Hey Derek,

      I havne’t used FL Studio personally, but honestly, all DAW’s essentially do the same thing. Just like there are dozens of different guitar types out there, they all do essentially the same thing, just in different ways.
      So I’d say whatever you’re comfortable with, go with that and focus on the music more than the tools.

      • Derek Mosley

        Focus on the music and not the gear. That seems to be a running theme with you. I LIKE IT! Gives hope. Thanks man.

  • Bassclif Clif

    I really want a Mac for Home Recording,but CAN’T AFFORD one.Checked-out a website called,where they have New & Older Macs.Been looking at a iMac 2.66 GHz Intel Dual-Core,4GB Memory running OS 10.6,which I think would be compatible with ProTools 8 & Mbox Mini(Blue & White version).I just want to make sure the Computer is compatible with the Software which states I would need a Intel-based Mac OS 10.5.Are they Compatible? I also have Studio One Artist with AudioBox Interface.

    • Joe Gilder

      Sounds like a technical support question for the manufacturer.

  • Bassclif Clif

    I’m looking for a Audio Interface that will work with most DAW Software(ie: Gararge Band,Sonar,Studio One,ProTools).Tired of having to buy Compatible Audio Interface everytime I buy new Software.Any Suggestions?

    • Joe Gilder

      Why do you need to work with multiple DAWs? Choose one and stick to it. You’ll make far more music.

  • bingo

    great vids, to the point. I was so flip flop about what to use. This really helped me. I was looking at the audio interfaces like mbox, presonus, Focusrite etc now I’m just focused on what look best 😉

    • Joe Gilder

      Hey, having good-looking gear is important. :)

  • Rob Loomis

    Two enthusiastic thumbs up (who know’s who said that?) for Studio One. Fast workflow, drag and drop, and simply the best customer service on the planet. Rick Naqvi and the rest of the people at Presonus are the real deal.

    • Joe Gilder

      Agreed. Rick Naqvi is one of my favorite people. :)

    • Edward Babin

      Brian Regan said that. Boom. A year later and you got an answer. Do I get a prize?=P

      • Rob Loomis

        Hey, better late than never!

        You get… an ice cold fish head with a turnip and a spork. 😉

        • Edward Babin

          I was wishing you had one of them left; wishing upon a star!

  • Ben

    You’ll probably get to it when you talk about your interface, but so many interfaces come with fully-functional (if somewhat trimmed down) DAWs. I started out with the software that came with my interface and dug right in.

    • Joe Gilder

      Great point!

    • Gabe

      Yup, that’s how I got Studio One, it came with my AudioBox USB (a great little interface, by the way). I know the Avid interfaces come with Pro Tools, and there are probably others. ‘Tis a great deal.

      • Ben

        I had bought an AudioBox USB when my Mbox 2 Mini croaked (primarily because I heard S1 was really cool, but also because I knew it would work with PT9 if I didn’t like S1), and I could hear a constant loud buzzing on every track I recorded. Thought it might have been the cable I was using, but the buzzing was present when nothing was plugged in, even. Took it back to Guitar center and got a VSL22 instead because they were out of AudioBox interfaces. Also a great interface. S1 is kind of neat, but I’d rather just stick to what I know.

        • Gabe

          You must have gotten a bad one, or something, because mine doesn’t do that.

          “S1 is kind of neat, but I’d rather just stick to what I know.”

          Yup, good call, I agree. :)

          But, this is the internet, so I’m supposed to say something like this:

          “U R AN IDIOT S1 IS THE BEST HATER!!!!!!!!!!1″


          • Ben

            NO YUO!!!!!!!! lol 😉
            Yeah I figured mine was just a bad one, but since GC was out of ones to swap me for, I upgraded to the VSL22. The only difference from what I can tell is supposedly the preamps are better, but otherwise they look identical. Love it, though, they make some nice hardware

        • Joe Gilder

          Sticking with what you know is always a good idea.

  • Thanos

    Logic Pro X is out! Check it out guys! Brings many new things to the table!

  • Bazzle

    Reaper is not free. It just doesn’t lock you out of the program, but if you use it for longer than 60 days without paying, you are in violation of the terms, and it is illegal usage.

    Just saying, but the program is only 60 bucks, so ever audio engineer should own a copy.

    • Joe Gilder

      Thanks for the update, Bazzle!

    • Shawn Amkr Dickinson

      Most affordable, best workflow in my humble opinion – of course, and it’s just as powerful as Pro Tools as far as I’m concerned. Maybe not for Video Editing but I’ve never messed with that.

      • Shawn Amkr Dickinson

        not to mention frequent updates [and as I mentioned before the users can add features, as can you if you know how to code I suppose, and if they’re dope enough additions to the program – they get included as an official part Reaper in the next update most times.

  • Gabe

    Workflow is everything.
    I hopped from FL Studio, Reaper, and finally settled on Studio One. Nothing wrong with the other software (they’re both great), but Studio One is best for the way I like to work. For someone else, it might be totally counter-intuitive.

    • Joe Gilder

      Haha. Exactly. No one-size-fits-all solution.

  • Crankcase08

    I use Mixcraft 6, which is for PC only. From what I’ve read, every version has taken a big leap forward and it’s now receiving a lot of praise for it’s intuitive interface and features. The developers, Acoustica, have a motto: “Software should be easy to use”, and Mixcraft definitely lives up to this. Another big plus is that their developers are on call for most of the time on their forum, and I’ve found that replies come from either them or other users in a lot less than 24 hours. It’s reasonably priced and is fully workable as a trial for (I think) a month, after which time it’s still usable, but mix-down is disabled until a registration code is bought.

    • Kim:Farms and Fields

      I do too! I guess not many engineers do but it has really helped me, particularly brand new even to the terms. I suppose I’ll eventually switch over to Pro Tools if I actually think I’ll need this long term (I’m only mixing/mastering out of necessity right now–solo budgeted project) but for now Mixcraft 6 has been a huge blessing! Nice to see another (very rare) Mixcraft user! :)

    • Declan Di’Nventor

      I also am using Mixcraft 6 over Pro Tools . I’m mainly keeping Pro Tools around just to have it incase later on I record someone else’s band and they will only use Pro Tools . But I just was pulled toward Mixcraft 6 when I first seen it . It’s actually just fun to use and the plug-ins and all are really awesome . You have to be a Pro Tools fan I guess and you should know it if you plan to have your own recording studio in the future . But for me , I’m a Mixcrafter all the way , and I’m recording my first real album using it specifically as I write this . Also this is a great page , I’m loving that their is no bias in your video above and you get to what’s important . Knowing how to use what DAW you have by choice or by funds limited to . Great stuff @Home Studio Corner !

  • Bob

    The Imac comes with Garage Band. Is the money I would be spending to buy Pro Tools LE worth it? Basically the question is this. Am I really getting more out of Pro Tools LE that I can’t get with Garage Band

    • Joe Gilder

      Pro Tools DOES have more features, but if you’re just starting out, you might not really notice a difference until you get some experience.
      Also, check out Presonus Studio One. You can get it for free (the artist version) when you buy one of their interfaces. Very cool. I’ve been using it a lot.

    • Studio Cat

      I’ve progressed from GarageBand to Logic Pro and very happy with that but I spent a good few years working with GarageBand before upgrading, partly because of money but partly because I really wanted to understand the limitations of it before moving onto something better. having grown up with 4-track tape recorders and 8-track digi recorders, GB was way advanced. the limitations I found were mainly to do with automation, but learning ways to get round that problem improved me as a producer. upgrading the Logic Pro meant I was able to load up all my old GB files and see how Logic organised them. I’d say if you’re recording live instruments, GarageBand is capable of anything you need it to do, if you’re into creating dance music, e.g dubstep, playing around with side-chain effects you need something bigger but I strongly recomend you test GarageBand to breaking point before you upgrade. this helps you decide which system and which version is right for you

      • Joe Gilder

        I wish more people were like you. :)

    • Gabe

      I’ve mixed songs that I’m very happy with in GarageBand, and guys have recorded entire albums in it as well.
      It is, however, really limited, and I would recommend getting something a little more powerful, like Pro Tools or Studio One. Check out the free version of Studio One, it has everything you need to get started.

      • Joe Gilder

        It’s definitely limited, but that can sometimes be a good thing.

  • 2infamouz – Home Studio Guides

    Yeah DAW’s are definitely a nescessity lol. There’s so many to choose from, I say use what works for you. They can almost all produce the same results, just a matter of how well you know the program.

  • Dean

    My current DAW is Propellerhead Reason 6, I love this software for millions of reasons.

  • Jean Chambers

    I notice you do not even bother to mention REAPER, eventhough it has many pro features.  Maybe, because it is so inexpensive???

    • Joe Gilder

      There are a bajillion different pieces of software. No offense to any that weren’t mentioned. I’d never heard of Reaper at the time of writing this article (3 years ago)

  • Chuck

    You should update this post with info for Pro Tools 9/10 since Avid nee Digi no longer force you to buy one of their interfaces to use the software. An iLok is required though (if any greenies made it this far down in the comments)!

  • Kenny

    Quality freebies are nice to get. Sound Toys is offering a new mic-pre for free here:

  • Anonymous

    That sounds very easy to make a video.

  • Anonymous

    useful  article!!!!

  • Pingback: Blog Thiago Basso » Blog Archive » 12 Necessidades de um Home Studio Necessidades # 2 – DAW software de gravação /()

  • mark

    Some software not included above:

    Fl studio ( Windows ) many noobies start with it ( price/value )
    Reason ( Windows and Mac)
    Sony ACID Pro ( Windows )
    Motu digital performer ( Mac

    cheap ones:
    Mixcraft ( Windows )
    sequel 2 ( Windows )
    Magix music maker,Samplitude ( Windows )
    Energy XT ( Windows,Mac,Linux )
    Zynewave ( Windows )
    Cakewalk Music creator ( Windows)
    Samplitude by magix

    Ardour ( linux) free
    Zynewave ( Windows )
    LMMS ( Linux and Windows ) free
    MU.LAB ( Mac OSX and Microsoft Windows) free


  • ray

    Deciding on which sequencer is one of the most important decisions when putting together a computer based recording studio.
    Then don’t mess around with toys and $50 buck midi programs! Sure they may have the same features as the big boys, but trust me, it just isn’t the same. There is no substitute for the user friendliness of a top of the line (or near top of the line) sequencer used by the pros. While everyone needs to budget money for the studio, and it is a very expensive enterprise, this is one area where a compromise may prevent you from reaching the heights.

    B4 you buy any software go to the manufacturer website and check system requirements. Also if you are buying PC get a pc designated for audio production to avoid conflicts. Some comapnies to buy from are:

    Other production soft not mentioned:
    Fl studio ( Windows ) many noobies start with it ( price to value)
    Reason ( Windows and Mac)
    Sony ACID Pro ( Windows )
    Motu digital performer ( Mac )

    Some cheap ones:
    Mixcraft ( Windows )
    sequel 2 ( Windows )
    Magix music maker,Samplitude ( Windows )
    Energy XT ( Windows,Mac,Linux )
    Zynewave ( Windows )
    Cakewalk Music creator ( Windows)
    Samplitude by magix

    Ardour ( linux) free
    Zynewave ( Windows )
    LMMS ( Linux and Windows ) free
    MU.LAB ( Mac OSX and Microsoft Windows) free

  • CMF

    Pro tools without a doubt is the flagship software for PC users, but its limited in the sound designing sense.

    Ableton live fills this void well with its no fuss, quick approach to audio manipulation.

    Personally I prefer Ableton live.

    • Joe Gilder

      Definitely. If your eye is on sound design, Ableton is almost a no-brainer. If you like Ableton, you REALLY need to check out Nick’s Tutorials. Great Ableton and sound design tutorials.

  • Dave

    I recently purchased Propellerhead Record and enjoy it thoroughly. But to make my band’s previous recording, I used Kristal Audio Engine which is a pretty basic DAW. (Although this might belong under the Audio Interface section, I use Line 6 Toneport with Pod Farm software.)
    I know most folks on here will probably look down on my choices because it’s not “professional enough”, but I don’t have the money to splurge on a lot of stuff and Kristal and Line 6 was sufficient enough for me :-).

  • Michael

    Hi there

    May I add Audio Audition 3.0 by Adobe… This program is not often mensioned, but the fact is that this program is great…
    Many know the old Cool Edit, and actualy Audio Audition is the same program, but with a totally new and up to standard mixing console…

    In my book Audio Audition 3.0 is the best audio editing program out there, and when everything is edited, why not mix it in the same program… Is has a very nice mixing layout, with easy to use effect racks, busses, master bus, automation and everything… And it supports VST and DirectX…
    I run a large Waves bundle on it and it works great…

    And a very nice thing in this program is that you can freeze a track if out run out of CPU :o) Simple click freeze on a track you how already adjusted all the plug-in on and the track renders a wave wet, and free's all the CPU this track took up… You can always un-freeze it again if you need to do adjustments anyway… This is very nice if you are not running on super computers…

    And I winder why so few talk about this peace of software… I also run ProTools, but most projects I do in Audio Audition, simply because it's easier…

    • Joe Gilder

      I've heard good things about Audition. I have no doubt it's great. I
      just think Adobe doesn't market it all that well to the studio folks
      out there. They seem to focus mainly on radio stations.

      That's my guess. People don't use it because they haven't heard of it.
      Everyone's heard of Pro Tools. I know it may not be logical, but
      that's probably what's going on.

      • MichaelHe

        You're probably right about the marketing from Adobe… Maybe they found it was easier to promote to radios etc, instead of a market rule by ProTools, Cubase, Logic and so on…

        Anyway you can see some nice videos here
        This program is just the killer for editing :o) very nice…

        • Brage

          I use Adobe Audition 3, and it is just awesome. Especially the freeze track option which makes the pc work faster and better.

  • Joe Gilder

    Hey Sam,

    I think we’ve all been there at one point or another. No worries here.

    I’m glad to have a do-it-yourself-er on the site. You’ll bring a unique perspective to the discussion that I know next to nothing about. (Linux what?) :-)


  • Julian

    Good call on putting that right Sam.

  • Scott Bradley

    Thanks for making that right, Sam


  • Adan

    No worries Sam. We all get that way at times. :)

    Seriously though, give Mixbus a look if you’re a big Ardour fan. Ardour 3 looks pretty sweet, and Mixbus is basically Ardour with the Harrison Mix engine & DSP.


  • Sam

    Hey, guys, sorry for the flame-bait. I was tired and drunk and pissed off at the world that night. I need to write blues songs when I’m in that mood, not troll random, respected forums.

    My sincerest apologies.

    As far as this whole Ardour thing goes – I like to use it for re-mastering already bounced stereo tracks, in which it is really flexible and unbelievably accurate at metering everything.

    Sorry that I am an arse.


  • Scott Bradley

    from Wikipedia:

    A shill is an associate of a person selling goods or services or a political group, who pretends no association to the seller/group and assumes the air of an enthusiastic customer.

    *Cough* BS *cough*. I can tell you right now that Joe gets absolutely ZERO benefit from Sweetwater for mentioning them here. Who knows, maybe Digi and Apple sponsor him, but I can say with most certainty that Sweetwater does not.

    As for Sam’s comment – point well taken but Sam needs to realize that this article and really, this website is geared toward people who have no desire to explore the inner workings of an operating system (or a DAW or a web browser, etc) to the extent that he is suggesting.

    Good for you, Sam, for bending these machines to your will. Not everyone has the expertise that you indicate or the desire to obtain it.


    • Adan

      I just finished a 2 hour video tutorial on Ardour2/Harrison Mixbus, so i can empathize with both sides. It’s a good looking product that does a lot of things right.

      It’s also essentially a 1.0 product. Has some Great sounds, & Great features, and really outstanding customizability, but still, compared to the stability of the Pro Tools/Sonar level software, it’s not there for daily recording purposes yet.

      Mixing though? For $80, it’s outstanding.

      And Sam doesn’t seem to understand what a shill is. Shills get paid for promoting something, under the guise of an ordinary user. Joe is pretty open about the fact that he once worked for Sweetwater (they pay no commissions on referrals, no company does. I should know, i refer *lots* of people to them), and here in the States, Pro Tools is the industry standard, whether we like it or not.

      And a linux mind operates not-at-all like a mac mind. Mac people enjoy machines that just work. Linux people enjoy making their machines work. I’ve used both. I haven’t the daily time to bend the latest linux distro to my will. :)

  • Sam

    I think you’re a shill for Sweetwater, Pro Tools, and Mac.

    I could probably grab any project in a proprietary format or not and import it into Ardour and get everything I need done efficiently for no cost but my time. Yes, I am a die-hard linux user. I use it for everything. Sure, some of the things aren’t set up perfectly from the start – but at least as a user you have the opportunity and free tools to get the machine to do exactly what you want.

    You know what else? I can export any ardour project to work with any of your proprietary softwares. Because guess what, all of these systems work with a published standard.

    You know why? Because I have talent in knowing how things work and affecting how machines communicate both internally and among other machines.

    All of these software things you suggest are really for people that don’t understand how to get their machine to do what they want beyond clicking on pre-programmed functions.

    I understand your logic and why you have come to the conclusion that you get what you pay for. That is any simple-minded persons conclusion. I was drawing similar conclusions in grade school. But now, I’ve realized you also pay for what you get. And more often than not, it’s frustration, and an inability to just fix a problem yourself. What do you do when your Mac stops working? You can’t fix it, so you have to pay someone. Or purchase a replacement part that is not commoditized.

    • Joe Gilder

      Thanks for the comment, Sam. I’m really glad Linux works so well for you.

      I created this website because I genuinely like recording with Pro Tools on a Mac, and there are thousands of people who enjoy using that same setup. I’ve learned how to use it. I love it, and I want to share with others how to use that system. I worked for Sweetwater for 3 years, so I’m a big fan of them as well. Also, I’m not sure what “shill” means.

      • Ben of BenandJacq

        From the free (you get what you pay for) encyclopedia:

        “A shill is an associate of a person selling goods or services or a political group, who pretends no association to the seller/group and assumes the air of an enthusiastic customer. The intention of the shill is, using crowd psychology, to encourage others unaware of the set-up to purchase said goods or services or support the political group’s ideological claims. Shills are often employed by confidence artists. The term plant is also used.”

        And as one who knows Joe on a non-online level, Sam: you are wrong about him.

    • Scott Wynn

      “I could probably grab any project in a proprietary format or not and import it into Ardour and get everything I need done efficiently for no cost but my time.” Tells me you haven’t actually ever tried it. Which also means you have probably never worked on any project of any significance. Ardour doesn’t even support importing of OMF sessions. But really, lets face it Sam, music production is less about the inner bowels of an operating system, and more about having a good ear. If you took time to listen to any of Joe’s work, instead of flaming a post with your tinfoil hat on, you’d probably realize he’s pretty good at what he does, regardless of what he uses.

  • Ben L

    »If you’re on a Mac – Pro Tools or Logic

    Why? Well, for one, I own them. You’ll hear it all over the web, but Pro Tools really is the “industry standard.” If you think there’s ever a chance you’ll want to work in a studio, or send your files to a studio to be mixed, you’ll need to have Pro Tools […] Another added benefit is that Pro Tools LE is a an exceptional value. You simply buy one of their audio interfaces (Mbox family or 003 family), and Pro Tools LE software is included. That’s huge.«

    Hi Joe,

    First of all great blog!

    Your statements above persuaded me to go out and buy a Mbox2 Mini for my Macbook Pro.

    Well, I shouldn’t have done that! It set me back $ 400 and practically rendered my whole system useless in the process. Only solution was to uninstall Pro Tools LE and disconnect the Mbox soundcard for good. So now I’m back to Logic and saving for an Apogee One sound card instead of diving into Pro Tools!

    I have now researched the matter and found out that Digidesign apparently are selling products that are supposed to be mac compatible but aren’t in reality! []. Also, the tech-support at Digidesign is non-existing!

    Obviously, I can not recommend the Mbox2 Mini/Pro Tools LE combo for any Mac user. Seriously, you’ll regret it…

    • Joe Gilder

      Hi Ben. If you’re on the very latest Mac OS (Snow Leopard), then yes, I don’t believe Pro Tools is compatible. I’m sorry you had issues, but compatibility is something we should always research before buying software. Also, if you buy from Sweetwater, you get FREE tech support directly from them. They’re amazing.

      Sorry you had issues! Enjoy Logic!!

      • Ben L

        Hi Joe,

        Yes, I know I should have researched the OS compatibility a little better, but I did ask at the store and every other major software product (Photoshop CS4, Lightroom 2, Logic, Ableton Live 8, Guitar Rig 4 and other NI-products) has been running on Snow Leopard for months now without any issues whatsoever! I guess you’re still using Leopard then?

        Unfortunately, I can’t buy my music gear from Sweetwater because I’m living in Denmark. I just hope that Digidesign will work hard to make Pro Tools 8 LE and the Mbox2 Mini sound card compatible with Snow Leopard in the near future. They really need to make this a priority since every new Mac comes with Snow Leopard installed…

        Anyway, I really enjoy your site. Thank you!…

  • Ron Ball

    I noticed that most of the comments are centered around Pro Tools, because of the fact it is industry standard, be cause I believe people got locked in to it from the beginning.

    I used to use Pro Tools and after doing recordings with Cakewalk Sonar at some of my friends studios, I went with Cakewalk Sonar 8.5 Producer Edition, which is loaded to the hilt with plugins. I fell in love with Sonar, there is really so much you can do with this DAW, Audio and MIDI. Granted the learning curve is not easy, but, once you learn it, its great, so don’t knock the other DAWs. They all can do great things, It’s really up to you, the engineer.

    • Joe Gilder

      Hey Ron! Good to hear from you, man. You’re right, HSC leans pretty heavily towards Pro Tools. I have nothing against the other DAWs, though. 😉

  • Vincent Le Pes

    I think you should check out Ableton Live a bit more…I noticed you barely mentioned it in passing, but, for many users, it’s a much better interface. If you are prone to ‘playing around’ to get your sound, if you want a DAW that you can take into the studio as easily as you take it on the road, and if you want a clean and highly customizable interface – then I’d highly recommend it. The session view alone was a big seller for me, allowing you to save off tons of little clips and piece them back together in a loose, jam type workflow. I agree Pro Tools is very powerful and definitely the current industry standard, but for some types of musicians, myself included, nothing beats Live for flexibility and dive-right-in workflow. Hook it to Reason as a Rewire slave and you have a whole orchestra of sounds at your fingertips with one of the easiest interfaces I’ve ever used :).

  • MIke

    Well, I for one use Cakewalk Sonar because it sounds 20-40% better (sorry – inside joke). Actually, most of these packages can put together professional grade recordings.

    Although the equipment and performance are important, don’t discount your room acoustics. A few hundred dollars and some clever do it yourself work can make dramatic differences in the quality of your room. There’s some great reading on the subject at Ethan Winer’s site: I’ve used some of his articles to help me design some bass traps that are amazingly effective. I’m also a fan of this place: Good people all.

    By the way, I really do use Sonar – I’ve been using it for years and am very happy with its features and quality. Protools is not bad, but it’s not cheap; and for this extra money, you really only get a name and a lock into their hardware.

    I also know people who use Logic, Reaper, DP, Cubase, etc. It all works – find the one you like and make some music.

    • Joe Gilder

      “find the one you like and make some music.” I couldn’t agree more, Mike. Thanks for visiting!

  • Ben Powers

    You might consider Ardour. It’s basically as capable as Pro Tools, but Free software (GPL licensed, like Linux) and runs on Linux and Macs

    I wrote an (admittedly outdated) tutorial on Ardour here



    • Joe Gilder

      Yeah, I’ve heard good things about Ardour. Nice tutorial, Ben!

  • Irv P

    I recently purchased Pro Tools 8 (unopened) and currently use my Digi 001 for my productions. TOTALLY PROFESSIONAL GEAR that if used properly, can provide the best audio works ever! If you are a novice composer, I would suggest using Cakewalk (PC) or Logic (MAC) until you understand the power of “PRO” DAW’s.

    Don’t spend alot of $$ until you READ and find which setup is right for what you specialize in (recording, composition, songwriting, video apps.) because it can get costly….but don’t be afraid to try several computer and analog gigs to see what works best for you.

    • Joe Gilder

      Thanks Irv. It’s near impossible these days to buy equipment that doesn’t sound decent. Like you said, it really comes down to getting into a DAW and learning it.

  • Cary Horner

    Ah… Reaper! We were using Reaper in my studio before we switched over to Pro Tools M-Powered. The difference? Pro Tools sounded so much more creamier and warm than Reaper. The Reaper tracks we made were really cold and edgy compared to the tracks we made in Pro Tools.

    Make no mistake though… Reaper IS a full DAW for pennies on the dollar. Initially, Cockos stated that if you made money using it, they wanted you to pay for it, but you could still use it for free. I thought this was still the case, with heavy emphasis on the pay part. Either way, you can use it to your hearts content, every feature. It’s pretty technical too. It helps to be pretty fluent with PC computers for setting up file organization and it’s extremely helpful to know a good bit of recording terminology when going through the preferences and file setup options.

    So yeah, it’s the real deal and they’ve got great support for their product too. Constant updates and a good user forum on their website. If you need a place to start recording on the PC but can’t afford one of the pay-for options (the “big boys”), it’s a great way to go. You do need to know more than the basics of recording to really understand the manual though. It’s not going to teach you how to record. It will only teach you how to implement what they expect you to already know using Reaper.

    The effects, as well as most things in Reaper, are modular too! You can chain them in any order you want, sort of like the ultimate guitar effects rig. Pretty slick.

    • Joe Gilder

      I haven’t used Reaper in-depth. Thanks for the quick review! That’s helpful. There are a lot of happy Reaper users out there.

    • Bazzle

      If you are hearing a difference, it is because of something along the digital monitoring chain, and not the DAW. Audio from Pro-tools and Reaper null every time they are tested, as long as pand and levels are matched. Could be your DAC even.

      Something in digital domain can affect the monitor chain but would still null with output of other DAWs.

      But I can assure you there is no difference between the reaper and protools audio output.

      • Joe Gilder

        Yeah, I’ve heard of a fair amount of AB tests, and things tend to “null” a lot between different DAWs.

  • Lia Abrams

    Pro Tools 8 is a little better but a little difficult getting used to esp. if you havent learned 7.4.2 completely yet. Logic is a lot like garageband but better. I love Logic its really good for programming midi if your going to record do not do it on Logic though. Pro tools would be best for recording. In Pro Tools 8 they have 3 different key board focus buttons (A-Z) one for groups, tracks and regions beware of that. I dont use Reason much but it is good if you want to put a click into Pro Tools for a drummer. =]

    • Joe Gilder

      Generally speaking, Pro Tools caters more towards recording, and Logic caters more towards MIDI and composing. However, with Logic 8 and Pro Tools 7 & 8, they’ve both really begun to close that gap.

      • Lia Abrams

        Yes they have.

  • Kevin H. Patterson

    Nice article, great website.

    Just wanted to offer one more perspective for Mac users, and offer a small plug for DP.

    If it wasn’t for Digidesign locking in Pro Tools to their own hardware, I would probably be a Pro Tools user. But the vendor lock-in is something I really don’t like.

    I found Logic to have a very steep learning curve and the interface not very intuitive. It does have a TON of included plugins and loops, VIs, etc., though.

    So I discovered Digital Performer. Its actually one of the oldest DAWs, and it has been refined and enhanced over many, many years. It’s always been a native Mac application and runs very smoothly. MOTU, the maker of DP, also sells a range of very nice, feature-packed audio interfaces. Even though DP sports a high level of integration with MOTU’s own interfaces, it isn’t locked in in any way and works perfectly with other brands as well.

    I’ve found DP to be very intuitive, and it also has an excellent manual. It really works well I think for musicians, composers, arrangers, etc.; it excels at the creative side of “making music”, more so than other programs which are designed mainly for recording or some other specific task. It does many things well with a nice balance between MIDI, scoring, notation editing, multitrack recording, mixing, and mastering.

    So if you’re on a Mac, be sure to give it a look. You can get a significant discount on it too if you own or buy one of MOTU’s excellent audio interfaces. They also have an excellent user community over at So far I’m very happy with it.

    • Joe Gilder

      Great plug, Kevin. I’m certainly not a DP hater. I love MOTU, great company.

  • Jonathan

    Reaper is a staple for me too, there is a Mac version in beta right now too. However, it’s not free. Neither does it have all the limitations you’re bound to run into with the other cut-down options you list.

    • Joe Gilder

      I haven’t spent a lot of time with Reaper, but it seems to be pretty ridiculously full-featured for a free program.

      • Jonathan

        … and it’s still not free. :) $225 but you can get it for $50 for non-commercial uses.

        I still think it stands up against the competition, especially with some of the plugins that are included.