Choosing the best music production software isn’t easy. Audio technology has improved so quickly that almost every piece of software claims to do it all. There are, however, still some important distinctions you should bear in mind.
Some Digital Audio Workstations (DAW) are better for recording live audio, while others excel at MIDI and sample manipulation. If you need to perform your music live, a DAW suited to sample triggering or MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE) could be important.
Be assured that the perfect DAW is out there waiting for you. Here are the best music production software for audiophiles.
1. Ableton Live
Ableton Live, now in its tenth iteration, has a vast and varied userbase. Recording audio and working with MIDI are the cornerstones of most DAWs, but Ableton Live has several unique features which set it aside. The Session View arranges clips on a grid basis, making it a firm favorite of live performers and DJs.
Superb audio warping, an extensive instrument library and Max for Live custom patches make Ableton Live perfect for people working with audio and MIDI alike.
Ableton falls short by lacking in both Linux and native MPE. Ableton Live 10.1 added many new features, and the development team doesn’t look like they are slowing down any time soon.
- Live performance.
- Audio recording.
- Sampling and MIDI.
- Sound design.
Cost: Standard is $449, Suite is $749. Available from Ableton.
2. FL Studio
FL Studio 20 represents two decades of development. Belgian company Image-Line initially released Fruityloops in 1998, and the software has been in active development ever since. Loved by many for its beginner-friendly approach, it is a fully featured DAW for audio and MIDI production.
Aimed primarily at electronic music creation, it features multiple presets and templates for different kinds of track. The cheaper cost and free updates of FL Studio make it a firm favorite for many.
- Beginners and budget-conscious users.
- Sampling and electronic music production.
- Simple no nonsense UI.
Cost: The “Fruity” Edition is $99, the Complete Bundle is $899. Available from Image-Line.
Logic is a macOS-only DAW with a vast userbase. Designed to be an all-in-one DAW, there is little it cannot do. While primarily an audio tracking and recording tool, its powerful MIDI capabilities and excellent piano roll make Logic perfect for any serious music producer.
A large bank of samples and presets are a must for any DAW, and Logic doesn’t disappoint. Logic’s Drum Kit Designer allows high-level control of MIDI for super realistic drums. Logic Remote connects all of your iOS devices, turning them into wireless controllers for every aspect of your production.
- Apple users.
- Home studios.
Cost: $199. Available from Apple.
Reason’s visual style is designed to be familiar to professional analog audio producers, while also welcoming to beginners. Instruments and effects are presented in a digitally rendered rack, giving the impression of actually being in the studio. Racks are connected using virtual leads which you can modify by flipping the user interface and exposing the back of each device.
Reason has a full collection of synthesizers, along with powerful software sampling, drum machines, and a full effect rack, all beautifully rendered. Reason is also capable of recording live instruments and vocals, with pitch correction and non-destructive time stretching to help get the perfect take.
- Hands-on studio musicians.
- Visual learners.
- Analog hardware junkies.
Cost: $399. Available from Propellerheads.
5. Pro Tools
Pro Tools has been the industry standard for a long time, and with good reason. Continually being updated, but always the same, it is the choice of top record producers, AAA game studios and Hollywood filmmakers. Historically, Pro Tools was known for its audio recording, capable of recording, mixing, and mastering all in one package.
In recent years Pro Tools has stepped up its MIDI game. The Retrospective Record function “listens” to any MIDI input, and can be added to the track afterwards, even if it wasn’t armed to record. Pro Tools is widely regarded as the best, and, as a result, comes at a high price.
Luckily Pro Tools | First is a free version designed to give a stripped back experience of the main software without the hefty price tag.
- Serious audiophiles who need the best.
- Professional studio engineers and sound editors.
- Pro Tools | First is perfect for people wanting to learn the software.
Cost: Pro Tools | First is free, Standard is $599, and Pro is $999/year. Available from Avid.
Cubase has been one of the top DAWs for almost as long as making music with computers has been possible. At just shy of 30 years in development, it is the oldest piece of software on this list. Despite its age, it has every feature expected of a modern DAW. Perfect for both audio recording and MIDI, Cubase is one of the few on this list with native MPE support.
Intelligent audio syncing, a native drum kit designer, and an extensive sample library make Cubase perfect for any studio situation. Cubase comes at several price points, from the budget Elements edition at $90 up to the Pro edition at $550.
- All in one recording and beat-making musicians.
- Home studios.
- DIY musicians.
Cost: From $90 up to $550. Available from Steinberg.
Reaper is a cross-platform fully featured DAW with a devoted userbase. Its free trial period never ends, meaning that while functionally the program costs $60, many wrongly consider it free software. Morals aside, Reaper is as powerful as every other DAW on this list.
Once known for its steep learning curve, Reaper has received constant updates. These have made it more beginner-friendly and improved its workflow. A longtime favorite of Linux users, Reaper is one of the few DAWs which is truly OS agnostic.
- Linux users.
- Budget-conscious creators.
Cost: $60. Available from Reaper.
Tracktion has made a name for themselves by creating beautiful, intuitive software. It’s a name they are willing to bet on, as the T7-DAW is fully functional and completely free. Set up perfectly for recording and producing, with a full complement of instruments, samples, and FX, it is hard to see a downside.
Tracktion explains that its philosophy is that people trying T7-DAW will be so impressed they will buy further software from them. With a DAW this nice and intuitive to use, the company may be on to something.
- Beginners and those on a budget.
- Seasoned professionals looking for something different.
- Those curious as to why Tracktion is so confident.
Cost: Free. Available from Tracktion.
Bitwig Studio is a relatively new kid on the block, and it’s making waves. It’s easy to see why, with its beautiful design, intuitive layout, and unique ideas. As much an instrument designer as a DAW it is perfect for anyone who loves to tinker with sounds to create something that is entirely their own.
Native support for MPE instruments like ROLI comes straight out of the box, as does cross-platform support for Windows, macOS, and Linux. As one user states, Bitwig is “…like drugs, you try it once, and you can’t live without it.”
- Intrepid sound designers
- Lovers of slick, functional aesthetic software
- MPE Controller users
Cost: $399. Available from Bitwig.
Choose the Best Music Production Software for You
Choosing the perfect DAW for you can be difficult. Everyone has their favorites, and they’re all capable of creating professional-sounding tunes. Some of the best music production software for beginners is free, so you can begin learning without breaking the bank.
Whichever you choose, spending as much time with your software as possible is the key to creating great music, and if you want to go deeper down the rabbit hole, here are the best sites to learn music theory.