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If you’re anything like me, you love music. In fact, you love music so much that you want to know all of the secrets behind what goes into music production.
When you listen to a song, you pick up on all of the little details and nuance, and you think to yourself, “Hey, I want to do that!”Well, a lot of people share our passion for music and the magic that goes into recording.
However as you probably know, the world of audio production can be complex and overwhelming when you’re just getting started.
That’s why we have compiled a list to help you find the best beginner DAW software for music production.
Best Overall – PreSonus Studio One
- Intuitive drag-and-drop workflow
- A decent feature set for live performances
- 30-day trial available for the most expensive version
Best Value – Image Line FL Studio
- Piano roll is lauded as one of the best in the industry
- Extensive automation capabilities
- Offers free lifetime updates
Least Expensive – Cockos Reaper
- Highly customizable interface
- Very quick, responsive, and fluid workflow
- Frequent updates based on user feedback
Best Free – BandLab Cakewalk
- Has the features of a premium DAW while being 100% free
- Wide range of collaboration tools plus safe cloud storage
- Full support for VST3 and ARA plugins
Honorable Mention – Logic Pro
- Seamless and powerful upgrade path from GarageBand
- Create simple lead sheets or complex orchestral scores
- Over 70GB of plugins, sounds, instruments, and effects
Best Overall Beginner DAW Software
If you are just getting your start in music production then PreSonus Studio One provides you with an all-in-one recording solution to help you learn the ropes.
Presonus Studio One has quickly become the go-to DAW for home studio engineers and producers who want a lot of features without breaking the bank.
What sets the DAW apart is that it contains a huge variety of tools in the box to alleviate the need for third-party plugins. I find that the incorporated plugins included with Studio One rival top-name competitors as well.
Choosing the Best Beginner DAW Software
Maybe you already know what a digital audio workstation (DAW) is, but you aren’t quite sure of which one to choose. After all, they all seem to have similar functionalities, and they all claim to be the best.
I’ve been in your shoes before, and I want to share my experience to make your life easier. Below are my top picks for the best beginner DAW software for music production:
- PreSonus Studio One – Best Overall
- Image Line FL Studio – Best Value
- Cockos Reaper – Least Expensive
- BandLab Cakewalk – Best Free
- Logic Pro – Honorable Mention
Best Beginner DAW Software Overall
Choosing the best digital audio workstation for beginners can be tricky because so many software makers claim to offer the greatest experience.
I’ll admit that you really can’t go wrong with any of the DAW options included in this list, but I think the best overall DAW for beginners is:
PreSonus Studio One
- Works seamlessly with PreSonus interfaces
- Utilizes traditional timeline and track editing
- 64-bit floating-point WAV recording
- Intricate virtual mixer
- Live arranging for on-the-fly writing and production
In my opinion, StudioOne is the best beginner DAW software overall since it is affordable, it includes a huge number of features to help you learn audio production and it works perfectly with low-cost PreSonus gear.
StudioOne is the perfect jumping-off point for beginners because once you learn StudioOne, you’ll have no trouble moving up to more advanced DAWs like Pro Tools, Cubase, Digital Performer or any other DAW that uses timeline-based recording and editing.
Best Value in Beginner DAW Software
When taking at look at the best overall value in comparing the best starter DAW software, I factored in the initial cost, the included features, the optional features, the upgrade policy and the support.
While all of the options in this list provide plenty of value, I think that the top pick goes to:
Image Line FL Studio
- Piano roll editing, audio editor, playlist editing and more
- Signature Bundle includes 96 instrument and effects plugins
- Multi-track recording
- Innovative step sequencer
- Free lifetime updates
FL Studio wins the top spot for best start DAW for overall value because Image Line includes free lifetime updates with your purchase.
This means that every new version of FL Studio that gets released, along with all included plugins, effects and features for your version, are included for free.
That’s an incredible value compared to other DAW titles that want you to cough up more money with each new release.
Least Expensive DAW Software for Beginners
Finding the least expensive DAW for beginners is tough because many software titles these days operate on a subscription basis.
To add to this, there are free versions, limited trial versions and other factors that create a bit of confusion regarding what actually counts as the “cheapest” option.
With that out of the way, if you’re going to purchase a DAW as a beginner and you want to keep as much cash in your wallet as possible, I would recommend:
- Multi-track recording
- Notation editing
- Customizable toolbars
- Scoring for video
- VST support for third-party plugins
Reaper is a low-cost DAW that includes features normally found in expensive audio software. A single license for Reaper runs about $60, but a commercial license is around $220.
In either case, these prices are some of the lowest you’ll find for the features you get in return.
Whether you need a professional multi-track recording solution, a full mix setup or you want to program beats, loops and MIDI by hand, Reaper has what you need at a great price.
Best Beginner DAW Software That’s Free
So I already covered the fact that many DAW titles are available as free trials or limited versions, but are there any “actually” free DAWs?
Yes! In fact, one of the most mature DAWs with an extensive history in the music industry is actually free. I’m talking about:
- 64-bit ProChannel mix engine
- Compatible with plenty of MIDI hardware
- Audio tracks only limited by hardware
- In-the-box mixing through virtual console
- Publish tracks directly to social media
Cakewalk was one of the original DAWs released commercially, and while the brand has changed hands over the years, BandLab now offers this amazing DAW for free.
Yes, there are plenty of free options out there, including Pro Tools | First and a number of other limited DAWs, but Cakewalk is one of the only completely free solutions that features a full-on audio production experience.
You can’t go wrong with free, and Cakewalk is a fantastic free option for budding producers looking for the best starter DAW on the market.
Best Beginner DAW Software – Honorable Mention
I also wanted to point out one more DAW solution as I believe it deserves an honorable mention.
The options I’ve discussed in this review are all great for PC, and many work with MAC as well, but as far as a MAC-centric title that provides a full-on music production experience, I can’t forget to include:
Apple Logic Pro X
- Easily records high-quality live audio and MIDI
- Easy to transition to from GarageBand
- Ability to mix in surround and Dolby Atmos
- Logic Remote extends digital console to your smart device
- Live Loops for live production
I’ve included Logic Pro X as an honorable mention only because it is available for Mac exclusively. If you are just getting into music production on a Mac, perhaps moving up from GarageBand, then Logic Pro X is going to give you a great experience.
Logic Pro X can easily handle all of your multi-track live and MIDI recording needs, and the Logic Remote feature gives you more flexibility to move around your recording space while still having total control over the recording and mixing processes.
Final Thoughts on Choosing the Best Beginner DAW Software
Finding the best starter DAW software really comes down to what works for you. Some software is better suited to handle production while other titles are designed with recording in mind.
At the end of the day, I encourage you to try out free trials, mess around with various features and see where you feel comfortable.
Take your time, and don’t forget to look up videos on YouTube and other video sharing sites to see various DAW software in action.
Before you know it, you’ll feel more comfortable about choosing a digital audio software solution, and you’ll also get better at production overall.
Music With Flavor Staff
Helping You Taste Success In Music