What is DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) in Music, Ultimate Guide

The acronym DAW is commonly used in the music industry but what is DAW anyway? What is DAW in music? DAW is short for digital audio workstation. This is software that aids users in creating music, editing, recording, and mixing sounds.

DAW comes in different forms and versions but almost all offer complete features to help you create music. Professionals use DAW to edit music, mix audio, and add all kinds of effects. There are also audio workstations designed for beginners and for intermediate users which are easier to use but may have fewer features.


10 Things You Can Do With a DAW

What does DAW mean in music? DAW is a useful software that’s essential in producing music. There are four important functions of DAWs and years ago, you need separate programs to work with each of these. Today, you only need one software to handle all DAW tasks.

1. DAWs are digital audio processors

Learning the digital audio workstation definition can help you understand what this is for. DAWs are essential in digital audio processing. This software offers features that can record, mix and edit audio signals digitally. A DAW works as a digital audio processor which converts analog signals to digital audio formats. In digital form, signals may be edited or mixed to create a completely new sound. 

2. DAWs are used as MIDI sequencers

DAWs work as MIDI or music sequencers. These can record, playback, or edit MIDI notes which are used in making unique sound effects, instruments, and more. MIDI formats are integrated with live musical performances, virtual musical instruments, and digital audio workstations as well.

3. DAWs as virtual instruments

DAW can produce virtual musical instruments as it receives MIDI notes to change them to a variety of instruments. Just some of the most popular virtual musical instruments are classical guitar, trumpet, piano, double bass, viola, violin, tenor saxophone, oboe and bassoon, bass pickup, electric guitars, and distortion sounds.

4. DAWs are used for music notation

DAW is also useful in converting MIDI notes to readable and printable music. Use DAW to create sheet music for musical performance. You can play your new music or sound using any musical instrument as a DAW can make precise musical notations.

5. DAWs can record a live voice or musical instrument

Use a DAW with an audio interface so you can start recording voice or live instruments. If you want to record your piano playing, place a microphone near your piano to capture sounds. The microphone will connect to the interface using an audio or instrument cable.

You may also record 2 different channels at one time. One channel is the microphone to the musical instrument while the other one is directly into the DAW. There are interfaces with four inputs while some have more and for these, you can capture sound from a drum set or from several musical instruments.

6. DAWs can record virtual instruments

Traditional musical instruments come with a virtual counterpart. So, if you wish to record a grand piano playing but you are unable to play an actual one, you can download real grand piano instrument sounds in digital format. You may what to play drums but you are unable to play the different parts, you can use virtual instruments instead.

Recording virtual musical instruments can be done in many ways. You may play using musical typing, a method wherein each of the keys on the keyboard of your computer is a different key. Another way is to play using a MIDI controller. This is a keyboard that’s connected to your computer that will let you play all kinds of virtual instruments.

Another method is adding the musical notes or the musical instrument sounds to the DAW through a mouse. You can click and drag notes to a virtual music sheet and play them. Updated DAWs come with virtual instruments which you can use for any kind of project.

7. DAWs can be used for audio looping

Loops help you easily compose and arrange music. DAWs such as GarageBand offer a large collection of loops including horns, strings, drum sets, and more. These loops are mostly MIDI files that you can edit to work with your song.

You may also create a loop with audio that you have created. For example, any chord progression that you created on a guitar may be highlighted and copy-pasted to your music. You can do this as many times as you want.

8. DAWs works with audio editing tasks

One of the most common uses of DAW software is for audio editing. Choose a reliable and updated DAW to easily edit audio files. Cut parts of your music, move these anywhere in the piece, or apply features like crossfading and more. Audio editing is important to creating good quality music so make sure to choose the best quality DAW that will work with your needs.

Related: What is 3D Audio

9. DAWs essential for audio mixing

After recording your music, editing, and arranging it according to your preference, you may now proceed with mixing. You can perform various audio mixing tasks with a good quality DAW. Audio mixing places icing on the cake. DAW polishes your work and lets you add sound effects.

With audio mixing, you apply EQ on your tracks and enhance it with audio compression to create a more pleasing, more professional sound. A lot of updated DAWs make audio mixing easy with EQ features built-in in the software. These DAWs also come with compressor plugins so you may precisely add any sound or effects to your music.

But not all DAWs offer audio mixing and a built-in EQ. Earlier DAW versions may have limited features and thus you may need the services of a professional sound engineer to mix your music.

10. DAWs to create audio effects

Mixing also lets you add sound effects or FX to your music aside from just using sound compression and EQ. Updated DAWs come with audio effects plug-ins such as reverbs, delays, chorus, autotune, and many more. Audio effects can turn a plain music piece into a professional-sounding piece using audio effects.

Related: Best DAC under $100

How to Choose the Right DAW?

DAWS come in all shapes and forms. Some are meant for beginners while some are best for professionals. There are DAWs designed for Windows users and some for iOS users however there are some versatile versions that can work for both.

Standalone DAWs vs Software-based DAWs

Before you sign up or download a digital audio workstation online, find out if it is the best one that works for your needs. Take note that there are two kinds of DAWs: a software-based program and standalone or integrated software.

Standalone DAWs

A standalone system works like an actual audio mixer console which is a piece of audio equipment that balances the output of different recordings from different sources. A mixer joins the two sources to create a new sound. This kind of DAW has an LCD screen where you can easily see your work. From the screen, you can edit, merge, mix or cut any part of the recording or music.

You can find standalone DAWs in most recording studios but because of amazing improvements in DAW designs, simpler and more efficient software-based programs have become more popular.

Software-based DAWs

This type of DAW allows users to access the program anywhere as long as they are using a compatible device. This software is convenient, easy to learn, and is upgradeable too. Software-based programs are purchased online or from a local supplier. An installer disc is installed on a computer and once all the programs are ready, you can immediately use the DAW software.

More convenient is online-based software that you simply download online and install on your device. This software comes with system requirements that should be followed for a successful installation. Once installation is complete you may now enjoy the full features and benefits of this product.

Consider your computer OS and hardware

As you may know by now, some DAWs are designed especially for Windows computers while some will work only on iOS devices. But if you ask which is better, the answer will always depend on you. If you have a Windows-based PC then you must use a compatible program.

When DAWs were first introduced, users preferred Mac-based programs as Apple computers ran faster compared to Windows computers. Nowadays, what you can create on a Mac, you can certainly make on a Windows PC.

We recommend using a DAW that runs on both Windows and Mac computers if you plan to use this program longer. With a versatile program, you can collaborate with other professionals as not everyone uses a Windows PC or a Mac.

Take note of your audio plugin format

There are a variety of audio plugins available: AU or audio units, VST or virtual studio technology, and RTAS or real-time audio suite.

AU plugins work for Mac OS X, VST plugins are best for Windows and iOS while RTAS is a unique plugin that’s only compatible with Pro Tools DAW brand.

You must know the type of plugin format that the DAW you wish to use utilizes. This should be compatible with your PC type. VST may work on a DAW host but some users say that it does not work at all especially with one that works only with AU type of plugins.

What do you want to accomplish?

What do you really want to do with your music? People who use DAW want a more efficient and faster way to work. Can you work well with the DAW you are using or are you always trying to fix problems and errors?

Oftentimes, people new to using DAW may not be aware of how things are done especially how workflows. This is why it’s best to download trial DAWs to find out which one works with you best.

Trial software may not have all the features you’re looking for but will help you test the waters before you buy a complete version. Remember the following:

  • Do you want to record more audio or do you want to use synthesizers, virtual DAW instruments
  • and other advanced features?
  • Are you considering electronic music or do you plan to use more effects and samples?
  • Are you planning to work with live tracks, voice recordings, or musical instrument recordings?
  • Do you want to fine-tune MIDI or audio settings?
  • Do you want to create and print notes on a music sheet?

If you say “yes” to most of these questions then you should consider using an updated DAW software. 

Consider your budget

There’s no doubt that DAW software, especially the most updated ones can be very costly but worth every penny. To ease the cost, take advantage of discounts, sales, and promo offers. Wait until it’s Black Friday or Cyber Monday to get the DAW you’ve been eyeing all year long.

If you have a tight budget, go for a DAW that’s within your budget range. Remember, the most expensive is not always the best DAW. Software with average features can always be upgraded if you need more features. Also, a DAW with successive updates or upgrades is always better than one that requires you to buy a newer version.

Always go for a genuine software

With a genuine copy, you won’t have to worry about missing features, crashes, and bugs. A genuine DAW can be very expensive while crack versions are free but may damage your computer in the long run. So do your PC, and your project a favor, stick to genuine DAW software.

More features are not always good

You might think that the more features, the better when it comes to DAW. Actually, less is more with DAW especially when you’re still a beginner. Anyone new to using DAW software may only be using less than half of the features it has. So it’s better to take beginner software if you’re still learning the ropes of music editing and using DAW software.

Popular DAW Apps (Best DAW for Beginners)

Are you ready to use DAW to create your music? Check out the following popular DAW apps now available for download online.

1. Pro Tools – Windows and Mac OS

Pro Tools from Avid is one of the most popular DAWs. This app is trusted by many professionals including recording studios for artists like Beyonce and Michael Jackson. Pro Tools is one of the earliest software that offers digital audio recording, mixing plus editing. Everything you want to do, you can work on it with Pro Tools DAW.

Don’t be surprised when you find out that Pro Tools cost $600 as you will get the best features. And if you still want to test it out, you can always go for a Pro Tools limited free trial version before you purchase the complete app.

2. Ableton Live – Windows and Mac OS

Another professional DAW is Ableton Live. You’ll get tons of features including more sounds, sound effects, MIDI notes, and scenes. Ableton Live is comparable with Pro Tools as their interface, plugins, and cost are almost similar.

You can get Ableton Live in Intro, Standard, and Suite versions the price ranges from $400 to $700. There’s also a free version called Lite but has very limited features.

3. Logic Pro – Mac OS

Logic Pro is from Apple and is known for being one of the best DAW selected by professional users. This software comes with a large collection of virtual instruments and a huge library of sound effects plus, it’s one of the easiest to use.

Beginners will never go wrong with the Logic Pro but they need a Mac computer to use it as it’s only compatible with Apple PCs. The Logic Pro is cheaper at only $200 and thus a great option for indie artists and Mac users who are on a tight budget. Sadly, there are no free versions of this software.

4. GarageBand

GarageBand is already installed on new Apple devices like a MacBook, iPhone, and iPad. This DAW is known for its impressive audio loops, a large collection of virtual instruments, and easy-to-use features.

Mac users prefer GarageBand as it’s easier to distribute music with this app. When you’re finished with your project, you can use AirDrop and take it to live to Soundcloud and iTunes. Also, GarageBand can be used by beginners and professionals.

5. Reaper – Windows and Mac OS

Reaper is great because it’s free, even the full version. You can download it anytime at no charge BUT you may need to buy a license according to how you want to use the app. The cost of licensing is $60 if you earn $20,000 or lower from your music work and if you are employed in a non-profit group or educational organization.

Reaper is like a combination of Pro Tools and Ableton Live. It is very easy to control and lets you work using basic features. You’ll have access to a library of virtual instruments and stock plugins so you can create professional-quality, authentic sounds.

6. Audacity – Windows and Mac OS

Audacity is an open-source DAW. This is free software with a basic interface and thus, it’s perfect for beginners. With Audacity, you can record many tracks, add sound effects and edit your work with ease.

This audio editing software helps you record plus edit music and is a great way to practice with different sound effects and MIDI notes. You can download Audacity on a Windows or a Mac OS device as long as it meets the program’s system requirements.

7. Trackticon 7 – Windows and Mac OS

Trackticon 7 is free but offers great features. It comes with a dark GUI to enhance focus plus you can multitrack, compose MIDI notes and even mix many times with no limits. However, it does not come with multiple screens, metering when mixing, and other basic features.

8. Ocenaudio – Windows and Mac OS

This is a DAW software that provides VST support. It is easy to use, fast and has a cool GUI. Many say that it rivals Audacity because of its great features and ease of use. Ocenaudio allows users to preview changes right before they commit. This is a feature you can’t find in Audacity. This is a good editor to check out despite lacking multi-track features.

9. PreSonus Studio One 4 Prime – Windows and Mac OS

The PreSonus Studio One is smaller but nonetheless powerful. It has almost the same features as Audacity and other top DAWs but is not as expensive. Studio One is a basic DAW but is enough to use for audio editing, recording, and mixing. If you’re not satisfied with the basic version, you can always upgrade to a higher version to get 3rd party plugins, more virtual instruments, and sound effects.

10. Ohm Studio – Windows and Mac OS

Deemed as one of the most ambitious DAWs, Ohm Studio allows users and their collaborators to store their files in a cloud. The most updated Ohm Studio has basic features and functions like VST plugin-support, audio recording, automation, and more.

11. Steinberg Cubase Pro – Windows and Mac OS

The best thing about the Steinberg Cubase Pro is its MIDI editing plus audio-based processing. Steinberg is also the developer of VST including signal processing, software effects, and virtual instruments. It excels in cross-platform use as it can run on Mac and Windows computers.

Last Words

Now that you know what is DAW software and how to use a DAW, you’ll be more confident and ready to use this software to make music. DAW comes in many forms and uses, you can’t just rely on any software in the market. You need to consider the different types of DAW, your goal as a user, your budget, and device specs, to name a few. Only when you learn how to master a DAW will you be able to make awesome music, effects, and audio samples. Good luck with your next musical endeavor using a DAW program.



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