What is a DAW? The Definition and complete list

Posted by Esteban Miranda on

If you´ve been reading some of our articles or you are into Music Production, you must´ve seen the word DAW everywhere! That´s because it´s one of the most important things to have in mind if you are starting your journey and the one thing that can impact your workflow positively or negative if you don´t use the best for you. The word DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation, and this kind of software is what modern composition and audio processing revolves around.


Today with Top Music Arts we bring you a list of the ones we consider the most efficient and most used DAWs out there. Also with a review of each one, and some background on the matter for all of those that are starting with music production. To help you decide which one is better and try to save you some bucks and time from choosing one that's no good for you!

What is it?

As said, a DAW represents a key element of mainstream music production and that has been for quite some time now. As well as in film, media, video games music, and pretty much any type of work or process you need to be done to your audio. A DAW can be its own console, simulate hardware, control hardware, stage lights, and much more.


There are many different DAWs with many variations, but mostly they present similar capabilities: 

Commonly in them, you can Record your compositions, vocals, instruments (live or virtual), and any sound you can think of. And lay them into Audio Tracks.

And generally, you can record MIDI signals, which can be assigned with any sound and processed later or in real-time if needed. And in some even record musical score straight from a keyboard or MIDI Controller into a Musical sheet generator (Sibelius, Finale, and others). You can record with Velocity (dynamics) and record program changes (automations) also.

 Also in most of them, you´ll find that you can arrange the notes of your compositions, change their velocity, pitch, note length, pan, and depending on your DAW of choice, create Automations to change these parameters in real-time. Adding effects and filters, and being able to sequence and loop any section of any project. Hearing one track, a group, or all of them at the time.

Making the process of composing music much easier and efficient, and also bringing along new techniques that have proven to be a game-changer to music as we´ve heard it. Such as Arpeggiated Hi-hats (Trap HH), for example, made a lot easier and able to automate by using a DAW.  

Instead of using big, bulky, and expensive mixing boards, all the mixing can be done instantly on-screen inside the software, and you can also use Plugins within the DAW. These can be only software or also combined with hardware, that ranges from filters like Distortion and Reverb, to synths-like keyboards and Virtual instruments. The 2 most common formats of plugins are VST and AU. Each DAW handles plugins differently, so it’s always a good idea to check what plugin format your workstations support.

And when you´ve reached the end of the process and it´s time to export your work you´ll find out that the typical DAW will be able to export to the most common file formats you´ll need. And some will even include a Video Export option. Aside from exporting your sound effects and tracks, you can also export MIDI information to control other devices to even aspects of your live performance.

So, what is the best for music production?

We´ve all asked this question to our self some time in our music production career, and if you haven't yet, maybe you should!

Maybe a better one that is, what DAW is best for you in particular because, at the end of the day, that´s what you need, to find the best fit for your personal needs. 

DAWs offer similar features, but some are more efficient than others to do certain tasks and to work with different systems and hardware.

The best software for you to choose is the one where you can work the quickest and most comfortable with. 

You can consider what other people say, like maybe Logic, or Ableton, or FL is the best, but every DAW has its strengths and weaknesses, and if there was one DAW for everyone, then we all would be using it already. It should flow along with your creativity.

These are some of the things you should have in mind when you are choosing your DAW to work with:

  1. Your Budget: An ever-important thing, because your budget determines how much you can spend on a DAW. Most DAWs have different packages or editions. The more expensive packages typically include more features, more instruments, effects, etc. We recommend you to always try out the Daw of your choice before purchasing it!

  2. Computer Specs: Because a DAW can prove to be quite needful, especially on a fully-loaded project. It’ll need memory (RAM), CPU, and can take up a good bit of your Drive space. Those are the three main components to focus on, to prevent freezes or crashes, so always check for their requirements.

  3. Operating System: The Operating System (OS) of your computer is important because certain DAWs are not compatible with Mac and/or Windows making them unavailable to you.

  4. Plugin Support:  Plugins come in different formats which can be confusing. Some of the formats commonly known are VST, AU, AAX, and RTAS. Most popular plugins can be used with most of the DAWs out there. You should have this in mind especially if you have a specific plugin in mind that you can’t live without, and the DAW you choose doesn’t support its format


Fl Studio

Created by the Belgian company Image-Line, it started by the name Fruity Loops and in 2018 they released a Mac version, making it available for both Windows and IOS. This DAW, in particular, has a lot of controversies because it’s a software that solves things differently. It's written in a programming language (DELPHI) that isn´t the best for programming CPU heavy stuff, and DAWs tend to be quite CPU consuming. Even more when you have multiple VSTs in your project. Making it a bit more needful for a good computer to run smoothly.


Maybe underrated and sturdy underling of the DAW world for quite a long time, FL Studio has overcome the stigma and become a much-beloved program used by many producers all around the world. It’s sturdy and dependable, and it included plugins range from competent to superb. On the downside, additional plugins can become costly quickly, and it’s PC/Windows-only.

Latest Version: 20

Price: $99-$899

Editions: Fruity, Producer, Signature, All Plugins

Known Producers: Porter Robinson, Madeon, Martin Garrix, Metro Boomin, and Seven Lions.


pro: cons:
Great plugins included Confusing interface
Good options Overwhelming options
Flexible workflow Live performance mode can be improved



Ableton Live

Ableton Live is a DAW that was designed for both production and live performance. Hence, it doesn’t come with as many bloated features that some of the other DAWs do. Simplicity and workflow are key elements to Ableton Live’s design. The most popular DAW in EDM music production, along with FL Studio, its arch-nemesis (lol). Live is the name of the software and Ableton is the company that makes it.


It features a Scene View (which is mainly designed for live performances) that is a unique feature of this Daw and every other one just lacks it. With it you get insane MIDI and controller flexibility, the "Intro" version is affordable, and it's available both for Mac and Windows. The drawbacks are that the "Intro" version is limited and lacking, Ableton is not as stable and beginner-friendly as others on this list, and the jump from Intro to Standard is steep $$$.

Latest Version: 10.1

Editions: First, Standard and Ultimate

Price: $99 to $599

Known Producers: Skrillex, Diplo, Flume, Deadmau5, and Netsky.

pro: cons:
Live performance features (Scene View) Plain GUI
Clean Interface Fewer Automation options
Fast workflow Most expensive 


Logic Pro

One of the biggest red light about this DAW, in particular, it’s only available on Mac, so if you’re into the Apple world, and for this quality and price no other DAW can beat Logic. MIDI and Audio tasks are intuitive, and the built-in plugins are plentiful and stellar (many famous producers have gotten very far with just stock Logic plugins). Other benefits are it’s an easy transition from GarageBand, and there’s only a single Logic edition available so you don’t have to waste time comparing features & prices.



Although it’s a Mac-only DAW (being owned by Apple), Logic Pro X has been the staple of many electronic music producers for years. Logic is focused on high-quality sounds and a robust and simple user-friendly interface.


Current Version
: X

Editions: (only one available)
Price: $199
Known Producers: Calvin Harris, Swedish House Mafia, Flosstradamus, Disclosure, and David Guetta.


pro: cons:
High-quality sound included Not designed with EDM in mind
Easy-to-use Interface Mac only!
Ideal for recording Fewer resources


Pro Tools


If you are into music production you MUST have heard the name Pro Tools at some point. Pro Tools is somewhat of an “industry standard” music recording DAW, and it´s known to be found in Professional Recording Studios all over the world. Any song you´ve heard that is considered mainstream over the past 20 years has a pretty good shot they’ve all been through Pro Tools at one point of their producing process.




The thing is, this it’s not exactly a beginner-friendly DAW. Its depth and precision are unmatched by most other DAWs, but you won’t see many artists choose it for music production, of EDM, House music or other genres. Because it´s not comparable with Fl Studio or Ableton Live at the time of creating and working with virtual instruments and new sounds.
If you want to try it for yourself, there’s a very limited, but free edition called “First”. And it´s one of the few Daws that offers a subscription plan, helpful if you can´t afford to buy it whole in one payment.


Latest Version: 12

Editions: Intro, Standard, and Suite

Price: $99 to $799 (subscription plan)

Known Producers: Max Martin, Timbaland, Dr. Dre, Pharrell Williams and Deadmau5.



pro: cons:
Subscription Plan Not significant Stock Instruments
Most Precise editing options Fewer effects and processors
Classic Interface Most expensive





One of the oldest DAW out there, similar to Pro Tools, but with a recent “makeover” by their German creators (Steinberg) that made it more useful, intuitive, and music production focused. It doesn´t have any particular features to make it stand out of the majority, to be realistic, but it’s a rock-solid software and one of the less needful of pc requirements. Cubase has proven that can keep the pace amongst the top DAWs out there.
Steinberg invented the VST standard, so it works really well with most of them (32 and 64bit) and very powerful when it comes to manipulating audio. It comes with an eLicenser (dongle) that is quite a drag, to be honest.

After all, the company that makes it invented most of the software music technology that we all take for granted: MIDI and audio synchronization, the VST effects, and instruments plug-in format and the ASIO audio engine, all of which make DAWs possible. Cubase 10 fully supports MPE multidimensional controllers with full editing of the performance data they generate.


Latest Version: 10

Editions: Elements, Artist and Pro

Price: $99 to $579

Known Producers: Paul McCartney, Lotek, Kraftwerk, and Hans Zimmer.

pro: cons:
New mixer improvements The right-click menu is now fixed-size and harder to use.
Audio alignment tool Fewer Automation options
Easy and simple workflow Needs a physical e-licenser to work





Made by Propellerhead, and with a Rack-based interface, this DAW has come a long way from its newest releases. The latest versions offer a lot of variations of sounds, loops, filters, and effects. Also now with Reason you are able to record Audio, which you couldn’t in earlier versions.




Most of the devices that are featured in this particular DAW are based on existing Studio hardware (and is replicated as such in each module), with Reason instead of leaning more towards a digital-emphasized workflow, you get a more “realistic” experience. Especially good for those who are into hardware and already know their way around a studio, or those who are willing to learn it.



The rack-based system may confuse you a bit at first, and after a few rack devices begin to stack up it may appear as intimidating as the real thing (that is, a huge mess of wires), but the audio engineering and studio-inclined aspiring producer you can start getting the hang of working with actual hardware, and will end up developing skills applicable across any professional studio or DAW.



Latest Version: 10

Editions: Intro, Upgrade for Intro, and Full

Price: $99 to $399

Known Producers: Kill the Noise, Madsonik, Prodigy, Timbaland, and Pharrell Williams.

pro: cons:
Lots of Synths and devices of all sorts No external plugin support
Insanely customizable sounds Fewer Automation options
Rack Module Studio-like experience Racks can be hard to get used to


If you want to know more about DAWs and how to stay productive in your free time check out our previous article about ways to Improve your music while being away from your DAW 



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