What DAW should I get?

Submitted by mic on Wed, 05/23/2018 - 21:50

I can list what I want in a DAW. I have thought about this.

It is not like developers are just waiting for my opinion, but this could be interesting. Popular recording software keeps expanding, adding new functionality, each piece more obscure than the other. Is all of it necessary? Can my list be shorter than the laundry list of everything?

Here is a list of DAW features. It is short.

Obvious general DAW features

This is obvious, but multitrack recording is necessary. There should be no limitation on the number of tracks. I have recording sessions that use over 50 tracks for simple blues-rock songs, just because of the overdubbing of vocals and solos.

Simultaneous multitrack recording is also important. Drums should use more than one track, so that, at a minimum, cymbals, snares (top and bottom), and the kick drum can be recorded and them produced separately.

I have a personal preference for software that is, as much as possible, unattached to hardware (i.e., no ProTools). Hardware is expensive.

I also have a personal preference for software that is intuitive (i.e., transparent). It should be easy to reach commands and operations. The software should be organized (i.e., whatever commands belong to tracks should be placed next to tracks, whatever commands belong to sessions should be placed next to sessions, and so on). This could be a moot point. If you get used to a DAW, it would be easy to use.

Wave support

I want support for commonly used uncompressed sound formats (that is, wave). Preferably, those should be the default (not like in GarageBand).

I want common sampling rates and sampling resolutions (44.1 kHz, 16-bit; 24/96 would be nice as well).

MIDI support

MIDI would be nice. Ideally, this will be GuitarPro, but will save MIDI info in MIDI files.

MIDI support can be minimal. I want to create only simple compositions for commonly available instruments.

However, I do want to convert MIDI files to wave files and leave most additional production for later (because I want the same types of processing / effects across my session). This is possible. MIDI synthesizers are not that hard.

Perhaps, SoundFont support would be good. I should be able to expand on available MIDI sounds. The generic ones that come with operating systems are not that good.

Drum machine / drum loop support

Yes, well, I still do not know how to play drums.

I want something similar to what FruityLoops was. I would rather not have to hit virtual drums and pretend to be a drummer. I want to build loops with simple mouse clicks, to see these loops visualized on screen, and to mix them to wave files.

This drum machine should allow me to use my own sounds or samples. It has been easy enough to find electronic drum samples, but it has not been easy to get good acoustic ones (they exist; I suppose the issue was always copyrights or price).


Not much:

  • A good reverb is a must. Good presets for the good reverb are a must, because reverbs tend to have too many parameters to muddle through without presets. It is nice to be able to control, at a minimum, the total length of the reverb, its brightness, and the presence of early reflections.
  • A good compressor is a must. Presets are not important. I know enough to get through a compressor and too much of the compressor output depends on the input levels. A multiband compressor – one that separates high frequencies – is very useful, as it can serve as a de-esser.
  • A good equalizer is obviously a must. Having at least 20 fixed bands or the ability to move bands around is a good idea. Most of the equalizing I have used has needed a certain amount of precision.

Effects should be computed at runtime. Contemporary computing power is good enough to have most (probably all effects) applied to the audio data between the time the audio data is read from the disk and the time the audio data is sent to the output device. That is, there is no reason to create a copy of the audio data with the effect on the disk. File management in audio software is complicated enough either way.

There are some effects that are nice, but not absolutely necessary. In fact, most would fall in that category. Maybe a delay or a chorus. Probably not distortion or wah wah, although I would experiment with those.


Of course, I would want to change amplitudes, pan, and effect mixes as playback proceeds.

That is it

Is any of this complex? Most of these DAW features should be simple. The DSP part of such recording software is easy.

In fact, there are probably only three difficult pieces:

  • It is hard to finetune a good digital reverb.
  • It could be a nightmare to manage audio files. A single recording session can easily take hundreds of takes of various tracks and gigabytes of data. But then, of course, the file management could just be left to the DAW user.
  • It may be hard to make this functionality intuitive.

Is that all? I think so.

I have dismissed analyzers (oscilloscopes, spectrograms, other spectral analysis), a good number of effects, other DPS operations (dither, simple filters, noise reduction), and probably a few other things. They may be useful, but none of the folks I have ever worked with use them.

authors: mic

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