Best DAW for Beginners 2021 (Experts Choice)

A Digital Audio Workstation, or DAW for short, is the most important aspect of the music making process for music producers who primarily use their computers to make music production.

This is a type of music making software that acts as the pillar that brings everything together in your home recording studio, including your microphones, monitor speakers, audio interface, and MIDI keyboard. They all take their cues from your DAW.

However, there are many best DAW for beginners to choose from so you need to take your time when looking for one that works for you and that it’s something that’s smooth and easy to work with so you know that you can work with it in the long run.

What is DAW?

If you’re reading this, then you’re most likely an avid electronic music producer or home recording artist who enjoys the art of sounds, so DAW isn’t something that’s foreign to you.

You probably even know your way around these systems but for the sake of this article, a Digital Audio Workstation is a music production software that’s installed and operated from your computer.

It’s essential to install a DAW in order to benefit from its functionality which includes the ability to record, edit, product, and even mix music proficiently.

Apple Logic Pro X

You can use a good quality DAW to perform creative sets, record different instruments, enjoy keyboard shortcuts, create sample beats, and even compose your own scores!

Basically, a DAW is a versatile piece in your music creation arsenal that allows you to record, edit and mix music all in the same place.

The most common features and functions of a DAW are as follows:

  • The ability to edit audio and midi tracks
  • Music production and recording
  • Audio processing
  • Sampling
  • Arranging
  • Sequencing
  • Processing audio (i.e. recording instruments)
  • Live performance
  • Built-in plugins and support for third party and VST plugins

Of course, there are many other functions that we didn’t mention here but these are the most common and prevalent.


How to Choose the Best DAW for Beginners?

Now, most DAW are very good at what they do, meaning that they’re very effective at enabling you to create sound effects and audio that’s out of this world, especially if you make electronic music.

But, as with software instruments or systems, you should put in the effort to find one that tickles your fancy and ticks all the boxes of what you want and need.

The most important thing is to make sure that it comes with all the functions that you need while enabling you to stick to your budget.

Really, the main variables that set DAW apart are things like whether or not they have virtual instruments and plugins, operating system requirements, and price point.

Read on to find out what you should consider when looking for the best DAW for beginners:

System Requirements (Mac and Windows)

Unfortunately, there’s a lack of compatibility between DAW software instruments and certain operating system.

For instance, both Logic Pro X and GarageBand are compatible with for mac users and Acoustica Mixcraft is only supported for PC users.

The general rule of thumb here should be to that the DAW that you’re considering is compatible with your device’s hardware so that you know that you’ll be able to operate it.

Free vs Paid DAWs

As mentioned above when choosing a DAW, your DAW is at the center of your electronic music production system as it affects your ability to put together live instruments, vocals, and virtual compositions harmoniously.

You can use it to edit, record, mix, and master your multitrack recording to get the final product.

While you can get all of this and more with a paid DAW, it’s often better to start with a free version because you’re going to be making a lot of mistakes in the beginning so you want to cut your teeth on something a little more budget-friendly.

Free DAWs are often simpler than paid versions which makes them perfect for beginners.

The good news is that that expensive DAW that you’ve been eyeing probably has a free version of it available which comes with a lot of decent features to help you get started.

Over time, you’ll upgrade to the paid version after getting plenty of practice.

If you're a student, you might be eligible for the student education pricing of any DAW software. Teachers, schools, Non-profit organizations with an educational focus may be eligible for education pricing. FL Studio and Studio One offer a bundle for academic purposes.  

Limited vs. Full Version DAW

If you don’t feel like being limited by a free DAW then you can always use a paid version with fewer limitations.

Keep in mind that most DAW companies offer budget-friendly packages for beginners and small home studios which come with over 90% of the features at a fraction of the price of the premium version which is reserved for professional music mixing engineers.

Try the Software Trials

Most DAW systems come with a free demo version as well that you can take advantage of.

These trial versions are great for when you want to get a feel of what the full, premium software offers without spending on it.

DAW softwares like FL Studio and Studio one offers a trial version with a few limitations.

That way, you’ll have no regrets if you don’t like it and you can try out different DAW options available in the market and really put them through their paces.

The most important thing is to get clear on what it is that you prefer so that you don’t end up with something that you don’t prefer.


Best DAW For Beginners in 2021 - Picked by Experts

Nowadays, no one has time to go around testing different DAW software to see what each one offers, even if there are free trial and demo versions available.

For them, it’s not about the money but the time it takes to compare the functions and features of each options available in the market.

If that sounds like you then you’ll be glad to know that we’ve gone through most of the graft to bring you a comprehensive review of the best DAW for beginners.

Read on to find out who the top contenders are,

Ableton Live 

Top Pick
Test
9.5/10 Our Rating
  • Software Versions: Intro, Standard, Suite
  • Compatibility: PC and Mac
  • System Requirement: Windows 7 or more, 4GB RAM, 64-bit Intel or AMD processor.

Ableton Live 10 DAW was initially introduced to the market in 2001 as an innovative music software that completely revolutionized the way engineers do their magic.

That’s because Ableton Live 10 is based on a unique design that’s perfect for compositions and performances alike.

As such, it has since served as inspiration for the creation of many mobile and desktop apps that offer similar functionality.

However, Ableton Live 10 has gone through a lot of developments since it was released to the point where we now have version 10 which is the latest update to bring such advanced features as Arrangement View and Session view. This is in addition to useful plugins like Pedal effects, Drum Bass, Echo, and Synth Wave.

Ableton Live 10.1 came with yet another giant update that even includes VST3 plugins, a feature that music producers have been waiting for a long time.

Until Live 11 is released, the current version of Ableton Live 10 remains one of the best DAW on the market in general.

Pros
  • Comes with great New Wavetable synth sounds
  • Offers lots of sample material
  • Powerful automation
  • Fast navigation
  • Incredible composition and performance workflow based on clips
  • Great for live performance
  • Excellent Midi Capabilities
Cons
  • It doesn’t come with pitch correction ability
  • No track comping

FL Studio

2
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9.5/10 Our Rating
  • Software Versions: Producer, Signature, Fruity edition
  • Compatibility: PC and Mac
  • System Requirement: Windows 8 or macOS 10 and higher, 4GB RAM, 4GB space

If you remember the good old days of Fruity Loops, then you’ll be familiar with FL Studio 20 because it is in fact the same DAW software with just a different name.

In case you’re wondering, FL Studio had to ditch the name Fruity Loops because the Kellogg Company didn’t think it was cool for them to use their patented name so they decided on FL Studio.

We’re now on FL Studio 20 version which is known for its clean and straightforward interface with plenty of features like Multitrack recording for mixing and mastering audios, audio processing, VST instruments, Piano Roll, Step Sequencer.

Its GUI is beginner-friendly and Image Line FL Studio offers great value for money too since all lifetime updates made after you’ve paid for one version are absolutely free.

This is a unique feature as you’ll soon learn and it’ll make it feel like you have your own drum machine with the FL Studio.

For best results, start with Fruity edition and for an intermediate beginner, the FL Studio Producer version is recommended.

Pros
  • FL Studio is compatible with Windows and Mac devices
  • Comes with a free lifetime FL Studio updates
  • Visible automation clips that are easy to augment
  • Features incredible MIDI composition tools that are based on FL Studio loops and patterns
Cons
  • FL Studio doesn’t record audio which means you can’t use it to record vocals

PreSonus Studio One

3
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9/10 Our Rating
  • Software Versions: Prime, Artist, and Professional
  • Compatibility: PC and Mac
  • System Requirement: Windows 7 or more, Intel Core Duo or AMD Athlon, 40GB disk space, 4GB RAM,.

The PreSonus Studio One DAW is also compatible with multiple operating systems which makes it an ideal tool for collaboration. Of course, PreSonus is known for providing budget-friendly preamps, audio interfaces, and mixing consoles.

However, they then took their experience with music studio software and hardware to create Studio One which comes complimentary with any purchase of their hardware.

Of course, it’s also a sought after DAW that hip hop & electronic music producers are more than happy to pay for. It's easier to edit the beats with their drum editor.

The best part is that Studio One comes in three main versions, namely Prime which is free of charge, Artist and Professional.

The only issue with the free version of Studio One is that it comes with only a few of the features offered on the other two paid versions, but it’s more than enough to help you create that first demo and edit audio and MIDI tracks.

Pros
  • Studio one free version is decent
  • Studio one comes with the ability to import and export DDP when mastering
  • Great composition tools that are based on patterns and cords
  • Quick and easy audio recording and composition workflow
Cons
  • Some users reported that it’s too mathematical

Apple Logic Pro X

4
9.5/10 Our Rating
  • Software Versions: Standard
  • Compatibility: Mac
  • System Requirement: macOS 10 or newer, 64-bit processor

Logic Pro X DAW is brought to you by none other than Apple, one of the biggest tech companies in the world. It’s only compatible with Mac devices and it’s a fan favorite among engineers who use this particular operating system.

Logic Pro X is perfect for electronic music production because it’s easy to use and it comes with a versatile set of apps and features which is their greatest selling point. There are a lot of plugins that you’re going to like here as well.

Not only that, but Logic Pro X users share their love for this DAW with such big names as David Guetta, Disclosure, Swedish House Mafia, and Calvin Harris to name but a few.

It’s worth noting that Logic Pro X only comes in one version with a lifetime license. However, there’s a trial version that you can use to try out the latest Logic Pro software for a short amount of time just to get an idea of how it works.

The only caveat is that it's supported only for Mac users, if you're on any other operating system you won't be able to use Logic Pro.

Pros
  • Logic Pro tools offer great value for money
  • Copy protection
  • Comes with a wide range of effects and virtual instruments
  • New Sampler and Live Loops plugin is to die for
Cons
  • It’s compatible only for Mac users

Cockos Reaper

5
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8/10 Our Rating
  • Software Versions: Standard
  • Compatibility: PC, Mac and Linux
  • System Requirement: Windows XP or more, 12MB disk space

Reaper Cockos Reaper is a budget-friendly DAW that’s accepting of most platforms. There’s a simple and easy-to-use demo at your disposal which allows you to test the DAW for up to 30 days for free. Thereafter, you’ll have to sign up for the paid version of Reaper which is still quite affordable.

Some of the most stand-out features about Reaper DAW is the fact that it’s easy to customize and supports all media formats at any bit depth.

You’ll find that you’re able to smoothly edit different items, zoom to fader, and scroll with relative ease. Reaper is now on version 6 which comes with all of the features and functions of previous versions as well as small yet useful additions.

When paired with good quality sound ware, Reaper is one of the finest DAW for beginners who wants to make good quality hip hop music production on the go, such as bedroom producers.

Pros
  • You can operate Reaper from a portable drive
  • The interface is responsible and it has a learning curve
  • Super affordable and accessible
  • It’s backed by unlimited free updates
Cons
  • There’s no loop library

Avid Pro Tools

6
Test
8/10 Our Rating
  • Software Versions: First, Standard and Ultimate
  • Compatibility: PC and Mac
  • System Requirement: Windows 10, Intel Core i5 processor, 16GB RAM, 15GB disk space for installation.

Avid Pro Tools is one of the best DAW for beginners and is well known as one of the leading industry standards DAW for recording studios and everyone who enters into the world of electronic music production is introduced to it.

While it hasn’t always enjoyed widespread adoption in the home studio industry, Pro Tools DAW is constantly improving it's audio processing and it has great features like the ability to loop points and experiment with presets and different audio effects while the hip hop music is playing, as well as the ability to update tracks and timeline sections.

It supports plenty of multi touch MIDI controllers. It also comes with 2 GB high quality loop library and over 3 GB of bonus sample sounds.

Not only that, but you may also store your projects on a cloud thanks to Avid Cloud Collaboration feature which makes it so much easier to cooperate and work with colleagues in the audio community.

Hopefully, this will push Pro Tools DAW to the heights that it deserves to reach. Otherwise, it’s the ultimate recording package.

Pros
  • Pro tools comes with great Plug Sound and Factory sound packs
  • Features the best support policies and high-end hardware available
  • Pro Tools comes with commit and track freeze options that are impressive
  • Fast 64-bit recording and mixing engine
  • Offers clean and smooth audio editing workflow
Cons
  • Pro tools comes with a monthly fee requirement
  • There’s no support for VST and AU stock plugins
  • It doesn’t come with built-in pitch correction

Steinberg Cubase

7
8/10 Our Rating
  • Software Versions: Elements, Artist, Cubase Pro
  • Compatibility: PC and Mac
  • System Requirement: Windows 10, Intel Multi-Core or AMD Ryzen CPU, 4GB RAM, 30GB disk space.

Steinberg Cubase is another industry standard DAW that has been around since Atari ST was on the scene.

As such, it has been at the forefront of all the major DAW developments such as investing in the VST standard, stock plugins effects, arranger track and virtual instruments as well as traditional audio recording functions that we’re familiar with today.

However, Cubase isn’t flashy when it comes to features and it still lacks certain features that you’d otherwise expect it to have.

Their focus seems to be on improving the customer experience and the features and functions that they’ve perfected instead of adding new flashy features.

Having lasted for over 30 years, Cubase’s strategy is clearly working despite their lack of flashy toys and features. The company continues to provide one of the best DAWs even after all this time.

Pros
  • Welcome UI refresh
  • Cubase features a powerful mixer
  • Durable plug-in bundle
  • Comes with comprehensive support for automation and audio editing
Cons
  • Version 10 doesn’t come with a lot of new features
  • Their hardware copy protection is based on dongle technology and not ideal

Bitwig Studio

8
8/10 Our Rating
  • Software Versions: 16-track, Standard
  • Compatibility: PC, Mac and Linux
  • System Requirement: Windows 7 or newer, Dual-core AMD or Intel CPU or faster with SSE3 support, Minimum 12GB free disk space.

Bitwig Studio has been around for over five years at this point which makes it one of the youngest DAW providers on this list, but it still holds its own against the bigwigs.

I mean, when they first came out, most people compared Bitwig to Ableton Live but it has since carved out a niche as its own DAW system that stands in its own right.

However, what makes Bitwig unique is its ability to provide features that you don’t find on most of the other DAWs.

Bitwig is now at version 3 which is what we used to test this DAW. One of the most significant features worth mentioning is The Grid, a device that turns Bitwig’s Studio toolkit into a completely modular unit.

This is in addition to certain improvements that came with version 3.1 and 3.2 such as new saturation points and EQ which makes Bitwig Studio is definetely one of the best DAW for beginners for the expressive and creative hip hop producer.

Pros
  • Versatile control and device configuration system
  • Polyphonic editing of note articulation
  • Multiple audio fragments per clip
  • Useful multi-clop editing views
  • Parallel launcher and arranger clip views
  • The screen layout is super versatile and flexible
Cons
  • There’s no audio unit support
  • There aren’t a lot of features that come with the arranger
  • Poor project management and editing tools

Reason

9
Test
7.5/10 Our Rating
  • Software Versions: Intro, Standard, Suite
  • Compatibility: PC and Mac
  • System Requirement: Windows 7 or newer, Intel or AMD processor, 4GB RAM, 4GB disk space

Reason Studios (formerly known as Propellerhead Reason) DAW really milked its updates in 2019, the year when Propellerhead Software decided to rebrand and relaunch as Reason Studios.

This came with the 11th version of this DAW which is based on the rack platform and comes with such features as the Reason Rack plugin that allows you to use an AU and VST plugins even if you were using another DAW.

This is in addition to features such as SSL-modelled elements on separate devices. The Reason Rack plugin does a great job of using these devices alongside rack instruments and you can also use third party plugins.

This means that Reason can be utilized as your primary DAW as well as in conjunction with other DAW softwares.

However, it’s pretty unique in its ability to allow you to use some of its audio effects and instruments with other DAWs.

Not only that, but Reason is one of the best DAW for beginners with the best interface on the market in our opinion.

Pros
  • We love the workflow additions that came with version 11
  • The new effects are straight fire!
  • This DAW is one of the few that actually runs like an instrument
  • One of its best features is Reason Rack
  • Excellent for live performance
Cons
  • It doesn’t operate on VSTs in the Reason Rack
  • Only runs on VST3

Cakewalk by BandLab

10
8/10 Our Rating
  • Software Versions: Standard
  • Compatibility: PC
  • System Requirement: Windows 7 or newer, Intel and AMD CPU, 4GB RAM, 3GB memory space.

BandLab bought Cakewalk IP in 2018, forever transforming itself into Cakewalk by BandLab.

The best part is that BandLab is now offering this DAW for free and there’s a paid version available too if you’d like to support the company.

Otherwise, the free DAW version still gives you access to all of its best features like the 64-bit mix engine, versatile ProChannel modules, a Skylight user interface, Step sequencer, etc.

Overall, Cakewalk by Bandlab is the best DAW software for PC users especially for a beginner who is bootstrapping and it’s an incredible digital performer.

Pros
  • Comes with a built-in bridge
  • Offers regular updates
  • Great bundled updates
  • Offers plugin effects to individual audio or MIDI effects
  • Highly flexible audio routing
  • Powerful mixing and mastering capabilities including ProChannel
  • The UI is super easy to customize
Cons
  • It doesn’t come with a separate audio editor

Conclusion

As you can see, DAW aren’t all made equal. It’s clear that some are better than others in terms of ease of use and functionality.

But, the most important thing is to find one that works for you as a sound engineering tool, and make sure that you get the training that you need to make the most of your DAW.

FL Studio, Logic Pro X, Ableton LIVE, Studio one are the best DAW for beginners as they'll find it easier to use with plenty of tutorials available online.

From then on, you can start having fun with it and use it to express your creativity with one of the production tools around.

About the Author Linda Ritter

Linda Ritter is a passionate pianist and a songwriter for more than 7 years. With a Masters in Music, she has explored the world of music and has collaborated with several musicians and brands like Roland, Tune Core, and plenty of blogs.