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9 Free DAW <Digital Audio Workstations> Mac Windows Linux [2019]

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Audio Basis - educational articles

Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) is software to record, mix, postproduction of music. Read about DAWs at Mac, Windows, Linux for beginners and professional using and how to choose the software.

Digital Audio Worstation list

Disclaimer: This table can contains errors. It is not offer or advertizing. We are not affiliated with listed products. We guarantee nothing. If you found wrong/incomplete information, contact us, please. To get exact information, contact with the software developers and/or vendors. There is no exact rules "for beginners" or "for professional". In author's opinion, "for beginners" rather mean "it is easier way to make music from zero or it is free".

DAW License Operation system Plugin types Description
Recommended for beginners
Ardour Free, Commercial Linux, Mac, Windows, other   Built version (ready-to-use) is paid. But you can build it by yourself for free
Cakewalk Free Windows VST By BandLab. Easy to quick start.
FL Studio Commercial Mac, Windows, Android. iOS    
GarageBand Free Mac, iOS   Support of target sample rates above 44 kHz was not found. 24 bit audio is supported. It is easy for quick start. Built-in guitar tuner is very usable. See key shortcuts.
LMMS Free Linux, Mac, Windows VST  
MuLab Free, Commercial Mac, Windows VST  

NanoStudio

Free, in-app purchasing iOS    
T7 DAW Free Linux, Mac, Windows VST / AU / Linux VST  
Recommended for professionals
Ableton Commercial Mac, Windows    
ACID Pro Commercial Windows VST 24 bit / 192 kHz audio recording
Bitwig Commercial Mac, Windows, Ubuntu    
Cubase Commercial, Free1 Mac, Windows VST For recording, mix. Rich abilities for commutation and pro-audio hardware support. Suitable note and audio editing.
1 Free version may be provided with some hardware
MOTU Digital Preformer   Mac, Windows VST, AU, MAS  
Logic Pro X Commercial Mac AU  
MAGIX Samplitude Commercial Windows    
MAGIX Sequoia Commercial Windows    
Nuendo Commercial Mac, Windows VST Focused on postproduction
Harrison Mixbus Commercial Mac, Windows, Linux    
Presonus Studio One Commercial, Free Mac, Windows AU, VST up to 384 kHz
Pro Tools Free, Commercial Mac, Windows AAX and other In free version, limitations for used plugins was found. But the free version is enough to learn the DAW and music production bases. To faster work, learning of key shortcuts is recommended.
Pyramix Commercial Windows VST DSD recording (up to DSD256)
Reaper Commercial Mac, Windows, Linux VST  
SONAR Commercial Windows VST  

 

Cloud services for musician collaboration

Name Description Payment
Splice Compatible with Ableton Live, FL Studio, Logic Pro X, GarageBand, Studio One. Free

 

 

DAW features

 

As rule, DAW is multitrack software for recording, mixing, etc.

There are software, that capable edit audio files. But the software is called as "audio editors" rather.

Digital audio workstation may be 2 types:

  • software;
  • software intended for certain hardware.

However, first option is more prospective currently. Because there is lesser limitations for user.

Versions of DAW may have

 

Digital audio workstation have base features:

  • Track types:
    • MIDI;
    • Instrumental;
    • Audio;
    • Automation;
    • Master;
    • Tempo;
    • etc.
  • Track number limitation;
  • Number of buses;
  • Built-in effects and instruments;
  • Type of supported effects and instruments (VST, RTAS, AU, AAX, etc.);
  • Number of inserts, instruments;
  • Commutation abilities (connections before/after faders, insert places, bus connections, etc.);
  • Maximal sample rate and bit depth.

 

Track types

Track types have no standart definition. And may have other definition for different DAWs.

MIDI tracks contains MIDI messages for musical instruments (buitin or external for DAW), that are connected to the track outpuit.

Instrumental tracks like to MIDI ones, but are contains builtin instrument. They are easier to adding. But may have issues for recording of doubles at same place for some DAWs.

Audio tracks contains audio data (from microphone/instrumetal/linear inputs or exported from audio files [loops, as example]).

Automation tracks contains positions of knobs/sliders/buttons positions/altering in time.

Master track contains general commands for DAW's project.

Tempo track contains tempo value/altering in time for the project.

 

What is plugins?

Plugins are programming modules, that allow to expand DAW functionality.

Plugins are:

  • instruments (synthesizers);
  • effects (EQ, reverberator, fuzz, etc.).

There are several standards of plugins:

  • VST (Virtual Studio Technology);
  • AU (Audio Units);
  • AAX (Avid Audio eXtension);
  • RTAS (Real-Time AudioSuite);
  • other.

 

 

DAW sound quality

 

Sound quality depend on DAW and used plugin implementation.

Here some information about resampling quality. However, if you are not satisfied resampling quality of used DAW, you can render project to target audio file at project's sample rate and bit depth. After it rendered audio file may be resampled with external audio converter software.

As rule, it is recommended to create project in resolution 96 kHz / 32-bit float and higher, even for 44.1 kHz/16 bit target.

When project is rendered to 16 bit, dithering is recommended.

 

 

 

How to choose DAW?

 

When you choose DAW pay attention to features:

  • maximal track number;
  • what price of plugins;
  • commutation abilities and bus number;
  • what is DAW price.

Track number depend on how many instruments you plan use in recording.

Number buses depend on general effect and output number.

As rule, DAWs include instruments and effects. But if you plan expand effect and instrument range, care about price of purchased plugins.

 


What is the best DAW

 


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