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meustrus

What's the right DAW for me?

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There are so many options and many are ao expensive that not having a DAW at all is the primary reason I haven't been composing or arranging anything for several years. So I'm really hoping that I can get some recommendations com people I know are at least waist deep in audio production.

I tried FL Studio a while ago and the loop-based structure didn't make any sense to me. Also I'm on a Mac so it won't work for me in that regard either.

I have some proficincy with Pro Tools but for how dope wove it is it would ha to be totally perfect do me, which it is not. The effects systems are too needlessly overcomplicated, the piano roll editor is imprecise and inefficient compared to the other interface I'm used to, and I'd expect a better assortment of patches for the money.

The other interface I'm used to was Magix MIDI Studio 5, which is rather old. It was also rather limited.

What I want is excellent MIDI capabilities with an efficient piano roll interface. An additional tracker interface would be nice too. MIDI file import and export is a must, as is a decent collection of patches for non-MIDI export. It would also be nice if there were an additional note-based export format which could retain more detail than .mid files and be played back in a game engine.

I have found the following tools. Could anybody reading his please describe whether any of these met my needs and which you personally prefer, and why?

Cubase

Digital Performer

Ableton Live

Logic Pro

Pro Tools

REAPER

Reason

Magix Samplitude (or others? Not sure what the differences are in their product line)

I'm also biased towards programs with free trials so I can figure out if I actually do like it first.

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If you've got a Mac, then you own Garageband. Have you tried that recently? It's built on the same engine as Logic Pro, which means that once you outgrow Garageband, you can still import your projects into Logic. Last time I used GB, it didn't have a great piano roll, so you may just want to give Logic a shot in the first place, though.

The other tool you might look into is Reason, and I do believe it has a demo. I haven't used it a whole lot myself, but my younger brother does use it, and I was able to navigate its piano roll with very little trouble. For reference, my usual DAW is FL Studio, host of the best piano roll in the business.

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Since you say an additional tracker interface would be nice, I'll have to recommend giving Renoise a go (has free demo). But it does fall short of your MIDI and piano roll requirements.

Perhaps reViSiT would work for you for the tracker part. It's an Impulse Tracker -style tracker implemented as a VSTi plugin. It'll work with most DAWs. I've tried it a while back with Cubase, and it worked all right.

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I've only ever used REAPER (and Rosegarden, which doesn't count), so I can't compare it to any others, but its free "trial" is unlimited and uncrippled, so there's little reason not to try it (paying the $60 for it does nothing but get rid of the nag screen on startup). It doesn't come with any samples at all, but it supports VST's and many plugins. Not sure about export to game engines, I don't know anything about how that works.

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Being a Mac guy myself, I'm mostly using Reason and Logic now. I was using Reaper for a few years but there were a few big reasons I moved over to Logic. For me, I really value having notation software built into my DAW. It's a workflow thing that really matters to me.

So, I tend to use Logic when I need to work with more 'realistic' sounding instruments or if I'm recording audio. Anything electronic in nature is handled in Reason. I've been a Reason user for about 10 years. The ability to interconnect modules via CV is an amazing tool and there isn't another DAW that does it so well.

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I've used Cubase in the past. It functions similar to Reaper in terms of workflow from what I found (though to be fair I've known a couple of people who'd disagree with me); the only major downside with it is that some releases of the software require you to have to plug some kind of dongle in to get it to work. It's rewarding when you do something right, but if you're having problems even with ProTools, then it's probably not the way forward right at this moment in time.

But yes, I'm in the Reaper club. You may have to get your own VSTs though, but it's smooth as heck to work with when you've got the instruments you need.

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I can definitely recommend Logic Pro (X if you can, bc they already worked out like 90% of the bugs).

On a Mac, in my experience, no DAW is as stable as LPX or LP9. I also have Ableton Live, but I find myself gravitating toward LPX unless I'm looking for live performance elements, which I rarely do.

LPX has a good piano roll in my opinion. You can view the roll and certain parameters simultaneously and can edit while playing. It has really good response time to input notes (whether quantized or not) so I can usually play a part or melody live quickly and easily edit out the kinks. Helps if you have a dual screen setup too, that way you can have the tracker on the left screen and the piano roll and mixer on the right. That environment is very efficient for me and LPX does a good job of rendering everything accurately between both screens.

Also you have a TON of control of what goes on under the hood. And the effects chains are pretty intuitive. Perhaps a bit of playing around to get used to it but it is pretty easy to absorb.

Worthy of note: Logic (any version) comes loaded with plugins ranging from decent to excellent. By way of synthesis, you have all you need by purchasing LPX alone, but if you want great samples, you'll need to buy some. The preloaded samples are decent enough but not awesome, imo.

The only thing is that it has no free trial. GB is basically a very tame version of LPX. I outgrew GB very quickly. But it is a good representation of the current interface , minus the limitless parameters you can change in LPX to be a sonic god.

Edited by djgalvanization

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Definitely give Reaper a spin. Cubase is also good. I've tried all the major DAWs except for Logic at this point and Reaper and Cubase are definitely my favorites for composing music. However, I didn't want to spend the 500 or whatever on Cubase since Reaper is basically free and the full license is like sixty bucks. It is also a very similar program.

I recommend those two because I have like...no complaints about either of them.

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I've also tried GarageBand and as I recall my main problems with it were the limited instrument selection and lack of explicit MIDI support. A lot of these programs seem designed for specific genres but I would like to have a wider palette. This shouldn't be so hard; I cut my teeth on sound design with nothing but General MIDI.

Another requirement that I forgot is good support for drum programming. I remember it was surprisingly painful in Pro Tools, and may also have been part of my dismissal of GarageBand.

So far though it sounds like I'll be trying out Reaper, Reason, and GarageBand soon. It's good to know that once I need a tracker I could add ReVisit. Which software will that plug in to?

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Hope you find the one that best suits you.

Keep in mind though, that GB does, perhaps, 5% of what Logic can do. I'm talking a serious opening of the floodgates here. GB is to Logic as Jupiter is to the Sun. They just aren't on the same level at all. I think money-wise, Logic gives the most bang for your buck, considering the quality of the program and the plugins it already includes. Can't compete with free, of course, but in the paid realm, you definitely get unfathomable functionality. I have yet to run into something I CAN'T do sound-wise on Logic.

Drumming is very, very simple in Logic. You can use Ultrabeat (which has a built-in sequencer and drum synth) but it colors the samples a bit, or you can use EXS24 which gives zero coloration and the programming is a piece of cake, especially if you assign a multichannel output for your drum elements. Even allows crossfades down to the sample size level and allows fine tuned looping.

Just my two cents. In the end though, what matters is that you find the DAW that best suits you so I hope you find it. I just posted the above so you don't write off something you might love simply because its lower level cousin doesn't even begin to adequately describe the higher level premium DAW.

Edited by djgalvanization

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However, I didn't want to spend the 500 or whatever on Cubase since Reaper is basically free and the full license is like sixty bucks. It is also a very similar program.

Just want to also point out that Cubase Artist, which is what I solely use, is $299. Not nearly as cheap as Reaper, yes, but certainly more affordable than the flagship Cubase version. And honestly, unless you need to mix in 5.1 surround or pitch correct your vocals, Artist has pretty much all the functionality of its big brother.

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Just want to also point out that Cubase Artist, which is what I solely use, is $299. Not nearly as cheap as Reaper, yes, but certainly more affordable than the flagship Cubase version. And honestly, unless you need to mix in 5.1 surround or pitch correct your vocals, Artist has pretty much all the functionality of its big brother.

*facepalm* I totally forgot for a second that there are other versions of it.

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I've used FL, Reason and Reaper the most among other DAWs and they all felt differant and led to differant music. If I had a Mac, I'd go with Logic for many reasons. One of them is what theshaggyfreak mentioned. I wrote 98% of my stuff as "tabs" for like 12 years, and would rather write scores with the standard notation. When writing tabs (in Guitar Pro), the standard notation appears above the tab but you can't write the other way around. ;(

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I've been taking a first look at Reason and was wondering about a couple of things.

1. Does Reason have something like Tegions in Pro Tools? A way to copy a region so that further edits to it edit all copies?

2. What plugins and instruments does Reason support?

3. Is there an easy way to transition between MIDI drum tracks and the specialized sequencers?

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If you want excellent MIDI and an efficient piano roll, FL needs to be something you try. From personal experience, I've found no piano roll easier to work with than FL's. It uses the Paint-style "draw with right click and erase with left" instead of the traditional "draw with one tool and erase with another tool" style you find in things like Adobe products.

FL manages your song parts as patterns instead of entries in a track. Your instruments are loaded in a channel list (which is tied also to step sequencer) and you can write MIDI for multiple channels in the same pattern clip. The arrangement window is where you arrange your pattern clips however you'd like. The tracks are just containers; they have nothing to do with the mixer or the channels.

It supports VST's and ghost channel writing; you can write more than one instrument in a pattern, and see faded notes of the other instruments in the "background" as you write.

The mixer is very simple and unlike other DAW's, is not modeled like a recording studio console (so there's no additional learning curve). You just have tracks. You can send tracks to other tracks with a push of a button, you can send multiple channels to the same track, etc. The fact that it's not modeled like a console makes it easy for them to do these things in a simpler manner than emulating how to do them in real life (there are no busses, insert/returns, sends, auxiliaries, etc.).

Downsides of FL Studio:

-Audio recording is pretty basic and leaves a lot to be desired

-The automation system is pretty clunky and annoying

-As of right now, you can't ride faders or apply batch functions to multiple mixer tracks. It's going to change soon with the new overhaul coming in FL 12.

So yeah, if you want a good piano roll, download the demo and try it out. :-o

Edited by Neblix

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It supports VST's and ghost channel writing; you can write more than one instrument in a pattern, and see faded notes of the other instruments in the "background" as you write.

This is my favorite feature in FL, TBH. Really helps you write harmonies and have the context on what octaves you're using.

Downsides of FL Studio:

-Audio recording is pretty basic and leaves a lot to be desired

-The automation system is pretty clunky and annoying

-As of right now, you can't ride faders or apply batch functions to multiple mixer tracks. It's going to change soon with the new overhaul coming in FL 12.

So yeah, if you want a good piano roll, download the demo and try it out. :-o

I actually like the automation clips. You can route one automation clip to many knobs/faders/etc., if you want to condense the number of automation clips you use. The Make Unique function definitely helps with workflow. You can continuously modify off a previously edited pattern. I probably use automation clips over half the time I write music. Probably 80% of my pattern clips are usually automation clips, and they're all practical. ;) Anytime you want to use MIDI CC, if you don't want to try to find the parameter you're looking for, you can just tweak a knob/fader/etc. and then select a "Last Tweaked" or "Next To Last Tweaked" parameter to work with it, even if you can't easily find it in the parameter list.

You're not going to get good sounds by default, so you'll definitely need to get external VST's and VSTi's to get a good sound out of FL, but it generally won't cost over a thousand dollars to get "your sound" if you practice a lot and can work well with what you have. If you're going to try any free plugins first, Variety of Sound is a great company to download from. I especially like their delay and compression plugins. As for soundfonts, http://soundfonts.darkesword.com/ is a nice initial resource. I actually primarily use one $200 VSTi (Zebra2) and a few inexpensive sample libraries for Kontakt, so it's entirely possible to operate under a thousand dollars and write music you and others will like.

Edited by timaeus222

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Perhaps a lot of what has me overwhelmed is the sampling and instrument aspect. I would like to have at least as much breadth as is offered by General MIDI and I'm willing to accept a lower quality for that breadth as long as I can find better instruments later. Beyond that I'm having difficulty judging the differences between programs aside from minor interface annoyances.

So I tried Reaper and Ableton Live but neither made as much sense as Reason. Somehow I didn't notice how much Reason costs though. Is it worth more than Logic? I'm getting really frustrated by the lack of a demo for Logic.

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Perhaps a lot of what has me overwhelmed is the sampling and instrument aspect. I would like to have at least as much breadth as is offered by General MIDI and I'm willing to accept a lower quality for that breadth as long as I can find better instruments later. Beyond that I'm having difficulty judging the differences between programs aside from minor interface annoyances.

So I tried Reaper and Ableton Live but neither made as much sense as Reason. Somehow I didn't notice how much Reason costs though. Is it worth more than Logic? I'm getting really frustrated by the lack of a demo for Logic.

Reason ($399) will cost you more then Logic ($199) right off. I think Logic will give you all the basics you need right out of the box and you create a wide variety of music with a decent set of basic samples. If you go with Logic, I highly suggest you pick up the Apple Training book by David Nahmani (http://goo.gl/ewIuQp). I have the Kindle version and he takes you step by step through everything that you need to know.

Once you're ready to move on from the sample libraries that come with logic, there are plenty of options out there for you to look into depending on the style of music you want to concentrate on. Reason is great for synths but the sample libraries that come with it are fairly old. The NN-XT sample player is also antiquated and lacks a lot of modern features. I'm a huge Reason fan but I mostly use it as a big modular synth system. I think after you get the hang of Logic and want to expand, getting Komplete would be a good purchase.

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I personally think that choosing your DAW based on the packed-in samples and instruments is missing the point (unless that's the main feature of the DAW). FL and Reaper support VST plugins, which means you can use all the samples and soundfonts on the internet, plus instrument plugins like Kontakt and Native Instruments. Plenty there for either the budget or the whole-hog approach.

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I personally think that choosing your DAW based on the packed-in samples and instruments is missing the point (unless that's the main feature of the DAW). FL and Reaper support VST plugins, which means you can use all the samples and soundfonts on the internet, plus instrument plugins like Kontakt and Native Instruments. Plenty there for either the budget or the whole-hog approach.

It's not the point. It's only a heads-up in case someone was hoping for good default samples, so they won't be surprised.

meustrus, FluidR3 is worth getting as a soundfont resource. Happens to have the best harp I've ever used.

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I personally think that choosing your DAW based on the packed-in samples and instruments is missing the point (unless that's the main feature of the DAW). FL and Reaper support VST plugins, which means you can use all the samples and soundfonts on the internet, plus instrument plugins like Kontakt and Native Instruments. Plenty there for either the budget or the whole-hog approach.

Having used quite a few DAWS over the years, I have to say that Logic gives quite a bit of quality right out of the box. More so than anything I've experienced before. With that being said, Logic helps remove some of the tyranny of choice. Sure, there's a ton of free stuff out there on the internet but much of it isn't worth the time to even download it. One often ends up spending more time fiddling around with this stuff than making music. Having a decent core of stuff from the get go lets you hit the ground running.

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You're not going to get good sounds by default, so you'll definitely need to get external VST's and VSTi's to get a good sound out of FL, but it generally won't cost over a thousand dollars to get "your sound" if you practice a lot and can work well with what you have. If you're going to try any free plugins first, Variety of Sound is a great company to download from. I especially like their delay and compression plugins. As for soundfonts, http://soundfonts.darkesword.com/ is a nice initial resource. I actually primarily use one $200 VSTi (Zebra2) and a few inexpensive sample libraries for Kontakt, so it's entirely possible to operate under a thousand dollars and write music you and others will like.

I went to that URL and it was exactly what I needed! With the Sforzando VST I can use those sound fonts anywhere and it will be a big help easing me into more fully featured software.

I may also look at FluidR3 soon. Thanks for the excellent resources!

Edit: You mentioned Kontakt. Is there a way I can get the software for free or fairly cheap without paying for any sample libraries? I happen to have done some sound design in Kontakt and would at least like to be able to use the instruments I put together.

Edited by meustrus

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