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Best DAWs in 2022: Digital Audio Workstations for videomaking

Best DAW: Avid Pro Tools
(Image credit: Avid)

A digital audio workstation, or DAW, is software dedicated to editing, mixing and refining audio. There are plenty of applications that offer audio editing in combination with other media processing, such as video editors and motion graphics apps, but they are not strictly DAWs because they don’t exclusively deal with audio. 

Software that work as audio editors exclusively has, historically, been used for two-channel mastering, but increasingly DAWs work with this as well as multitrack recordings also.

There are many uses for DAWs, such as recording and mixing music, tracking audio for interviews or voice-overs and even mastering tracks already recorded. One particular stand-out feature of DAWs is the fact that they can process multi-track recordings. A virtual mixing desk sits at the helm of controlling audio levels, adding in effects and operating other controls such as panning or surround sound mixing.

With multiple options available, those new to DAWs may struggle to find the right one, but there are some key products to note that are ideal for a range of users. Beginners may want to look at more simplistic editors such as FLStudio or Apple Garageband because they offer plenty of flexibility without being overly complicated on the technical side. However, technophiles and others who already have some knowledge of audio mixing should look toward more in-depth editing applications such as Cubase or Logic Pro.

Below, we’ll walk you through six of the best DAWs available today, ranging in price and difficulty level. Peripherals are important too though, so be sure to check out our best XLR microphones guide or if you’re computer-centric, best USB microphones. If you need a portable recording device be sure to read through our guide to the best audio recorders for filmmaking and video production.

Best DAWs in 2022

(Image credit: Jason Parnell-Brookes)

1. Cubase

An excellent option for audio producers that want a DAW that operates as simply or sophisticated as desired

Specifications

Versions: Elements, Artist, Pro, AI, LE
Operating System: Windows, Mac
System requirements (PC): Windows 10 64-bit and up, Intel Core i series or AMD Ryzen multi-core processor, 4GB RAM, 35GB disk space (Elements, AI, LE 25GB)
System requirements (Mac): macOS Mojave and up, Rosetta 2 App for Intel Macs, 4GB RAM, 35GB disk space (Elements, AI, LE 25GB)

Reasons to buy

+
Huge potential for mixing audio and instruments
+
Great link-up with video for filmmakers

Reasons to avoid

-
Some might find it pricey
-
Some areas too complex for beginners

Beautifully laid out, Steinberg Cubase is a sight for sore eyes – if said eyes have been staring at complex-looking rack units or confusing patch bays for too long. Visually, the multitrack recording area is colorfully painted and the mixing unit is neat and compact, too.

While it might be a little too much DAW for absolute newbies, beginners or even seasoned audio producers will find Cubase easy to use and fun to play with. There’s also helpful customization for shortcuts like adding tracks or controlling playback options. Filmmakers will like the integrated video compatibility, enabling separate audio feeds to be synced up with the on-screen moving image played back through the DAW.

(Image credit: Jason Parnell-Brookes)

2. Image-Line FL Studio

A great DAW for beginners or intermediate audio producers alike

Specifications

Versions: Fruity, Producer, Signature, All Plugins Bundle
Operating System: Windows 8.1 or later or macOS 10.13.6 or later
System requirements (PC): 4GB RAM, 4GB hard disk
System requirements (Mac): 4GB RAM, 4GB hard disk

Reasons to buy

+
Four bundles for all budget sizes
+
Free lifetime updates
+
Easy to get started

Reasons to avoid

-
Can feel overwhelming to newcomers

Image-Line’s FL Studio has been around for 23 years and is much beloved by long-time users (who may formerly know it as Fruity Loops). FL Studio comes in four different flavors: Fruity, Producer, Signature and All Plugins Edition – each has more complex levels of sophistication with increased instruments, effects and options for video synchronization and playback.

While FL Studio is designed to be easy to use, its layout can be a little overwhelming for some, with floating windows and controls spotted all over the window. Some that are experienced in other DAWs may find the layout quite different to the norm, but those that get used to it will benefit from the myriad effects and instruments and audio editors.

(Image credit: Jason Parnell-Brookes)

3. Reason

Dip your toe in with a Reason+ subscription or go the whole hog with the full-blown Reason 12

Specifications

Versions: Reason+ and Reason 12
Operating System: Windows 10 or later, macOS 10.13 or later
System requirements (PC): 4GB RAM, 5.5GB hard disk space
System requirements (Mac): 4GB RAM, 5.5GB hard disk space

Reasons to buy

+
Unlimited editing options
+
Beautiful virtual studio rack

Reasons to avoid

-
Interface daunting for beginners
-
May be overkill for filmmakers

Two options from Reason Studios bring audio editing to the masses in the forms of Reason+ and Reason 12. Reason+ is more of a subscription service to be used with external audio editors and provides a wide range of instruments, devices and effects. Sound Packs are constantly updated with weekly finds and the first month costs just £1 with no obligation to tie into a contract.

Reason 12, on the other hand, is the audio editor that pairs with Reason+, or not as you decide. Myriad tools to choose from include the new Mimic Creative Sampler, and updated Combinator to combine favorite devices within the software, and improved graphics and a faster browser. Reason 12’s big draw is the Virtual Studio Rack that shows the ‘back-end’ of units, as one would find in outboard racks.

(Image credit: Jason Parnell-Brookes)

4. Reaper

Vastly compatible with all major operating systems and has unlimited potential

Specifications

Versions: On version 6.51
Operating System: Windows XP or later, macOS 10.5 or later, Linux (requires GTK+3 and ALSA)
System requirements (PC):: Not stated
System requirements (Mac): Not stated

Reasons to buy

+
Can run on almost any device
+
Compatible with all operating systems
+
Unlimited audio tracks available

Reasons to avoid

-
Not known as an industry-standard

Cockos' Reaper is the chameleon of DAWs, able to run on almost anything thanks to its small install and minimal system requirements, and is compatible with Windows, macOS, and Linux operating systems dating back for many years.

For users that like full manual control and love to fiddle with knobs and switches, Reaper is a great choice. Free for 60 days, it’s available to own outright for a minimal fee. Everything is customizable in Reaper, right down to the skin theme, or to individual buttons within the editing panel. This kind of ultra customization speeds things up for audio producers that want to make their own shortcuts, no matter how detailed.

(Image credit: Jason Parnell-Brookes)

5. Ableton Live (Ableton)

Originally geared towards live performance, this DAW is equally adept at home mixing

Specifications

Versions: Live 11
Operating System: Windows 10 or later, macOS 10.13 or later
System requirements (PC): Intel Core i5 processor or better, 8GB RAM
System requirements (Mac): Intel Core i5 processor or better, 8GB RAM

Reasons to buy

+
Great for those that need to work live
+
Incremental improvements from v 10

Reasons to avoid

-
User interface looks a little dated
-
Hefty install size once all sounds are loaded

Originally named for its strong live performance capability, Ableton Live 11 is actually now just as good at audio mixing and editing as it is for live work. You can speed up workflows with helpful shortcuts, add instruments and effects, or record audio and MIDI for songs or backing tracks.

This DAW would suit users who plan to perform or capture live performances for editing later on, such as live podcasts, interviews, music gigs, or theatrical productions due to the enhanced live-like workflows.

(Image credit: Jason Parnell-Brookes)

6. Avid Pro Tools

The industry-standard audio recording and editing software

Specifications

Versions: Standard, Ultimate
Operating System: Windows, Mac
System requirements (PC): Windows 10 64-bit, Intel Core i5 processor (Ultimate i9 or Xeon) or similar, 16GB RAM, 15GB disk space
System requirements (Mac): macOS 10.14.6 and above, M1 or Intel i5 processor (Ultimate M1, i5, or i7), 16GB RAM, 15GB disk space

Reasons to buy

+
Industry-standard audio editing software
+
Subscription service serves occasional users

Reasons to avoid

-
Free ‘First’ edition now discontinued
-
Complex, advanced-level editor

Avid’s Pro Tools has been the industry standard software for audio recording, mixing, and editing for many years now. As such, it’s more of software for professionals or others that want to work in the audio industry and doesn’t have so much of a home studio vibe. However, Pro Tools does offer a maximum of 64 inputs and outputs (I/O) with Ultimate pushing this up to 192.

Audio tracks top out at 256 (more than almost any home recordist would need) and Ultimate again bumps this up to 2048. While Avid has discontinued Pro Tools First, its free-to-use version, there is now, instead, a 30 day free trial for those wanting to dip their toes in the water.

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Jason Parnell-Brookes is an Internationally award-winning photographer,  writer, and former Technique Editor of N-Photo magazine. He won Gold in the Nikon Photo Contest 2018/19 and was named Digital Photographer of the Year in 2014. Jason is a qualified teacher, Masters graduate and works with many high profile international clients.