SoundGearLab is supported by our readers. We may earn a commission for purchases made after clicking on links on this page. Read our affiliate disclosure for more information.
Since 1977, Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs), have combined old-school sound equipment with computer software to create unique forms of digital audio. As time progressed and computers became faster and more powerful, so did DAWs.
Digital audio engineering soon became commonplace. Now, DAWs are standard in the music and movie-making industries. The technology got cheaper, too, making it possible for singers, artists, filmmakers, composers, and your average garage band (learn how to turn your garage band into a music production powerhouse here) to use cutting-edge tools to orchestrate audio tracks and files without needing a house full of expensive and delicate equipment.
If you’re looking to make your own audio, you’ll want features to allow you to control waveform, track mixing, recording, composing, layering, distortion, volume, and so much more, depending on what you want to do. You might be a simple hobbyist or a professional DJ – the right DAW for you is out there and we have an article here for you to know how much a home recording studio cost.
Yet, not every DAW is created equal, and there are dozens to choose from. Here, I’m going to compare two side-by-side that stand out miles above the competition: Pro Tools and REAPER. Taking a good look at both will help you make a knowledgeable choice about which DAW will work best for you.
Table of Contents
REAPER by Cockos
“We lovingly craft the software that we want to use.” – Cockos
If you don’t like how something works, create something better. That’s exactly what Justin Frankel, founder and president of Cockos, did with REAPER.
Always improving and evolving, Justin’s earliest coding for REAPER began in September of 2005. With this creation, he designed an environment for a strong family-like community and a program for those who possess the same passions as him.
Cockos grew, bringing many other like-minded people aboard. Each one of the contributors brought a different light to the company and to REAPER.
Looking at how Justin communicates with those who use his product, he shows the compassion many other big companies have lost. Justin has kept the heart of the company true to its beginnings.
The majority of REAPER users state they look for a DAW that provides the ability for deep configuration, low price, and flexibility. Configuration is the ability to use plugins from other manufacturers.
Other programs are limited on what you can use with the DAW system. With REAPER, you have myriads of content, giving you a wide range of tools and ultra-flexibility. This can range from customizing the user interface, to choosing between different MIDI’s.
Designed to be simplistic in operation, REAPER makes it easy to create complex, layered audio. Here are some of the features:
Discounted License – ideal for students, teachers, and individual use
Commercial License – the way to go for serious professionals
Compatible operating systems: Microsoft, Mac, and Linux
Plug-ins: Host to a majority of industry-standard plug-in formats
MIDI: Handles MIDI CC data as continuous data envelopes to create smooth, musical articulations and effects
Routing: View and edit project routing using a high-level graphical patchbay emulation
Efficiency: Fast loading, tight coding, and can be installed and run on portable and network drives
What to Love
What to Know
REAPER comes with not just software, but with a community that helps each other out. Come for advice and gain a family.
REAPER is a one-time purchase with the price tag set on intended usage.
Download the free user guide in multiple languages. You’ll have complete access to both the original and the updated versions of the guide.
You can add the license key to multiple computers, but you can only use the software on one device at a time.
REAPER constantly evolves with the latest software, so look for regular updates.
Try REAPER for 60 days free with full functionality – No strings attached, and DRM (Digital Rights Management)-free.
Old school values combined with innovation, Pro Tools brings together a collective of audio enthusiasts.
Providing over 30 years of groundbreaking, nonlinear editing software, Avid created a revolutionary product that redefined the media industry to the standard it is today. Being at the top of the DAW food chain, Avid now holds a presence on a global scale.
Prominent media companies across the world rely on Avid’s Pro Tools to improve their entertainment, elevate their education, and enlighten their audiences. They now hold 1,400 employees across the world who loyally support their customers and assist in improvement projects.
Pro Tools is meant to bring like-minded people together with the goal of helping each other succeed in the media and entertainment industries. The experience they bring to the table makes them a true force to be reckoned with.
Geared toward career-driven individuals, there is more to Pro Tools than meets the eye. Here are the key components they provide in their DAW:
Pro Tools / Free: Free option with the basics
Pro Tools: An affordable option for students, teachers, and those starting out in the hobby
Pro Tools / Ultimate: The version that includes all the bells and whistles. More expensive than the standard paid version, with a major discount for students and teachers
Compatible operating systems: Microsoft and Mac
Plug-ins: There are over 120 plug-ins available with Pro Tools Ultimate. Bundles for additional plug-ins are offered for purchase so that you only pay for what you need or want
MIDI: 1,024 MIDI tracks included
Routing: 512 Routing Folder tracks
Efficiency: Depending on system usage, Pro Tools is fast with recording and playback
What to Love
What to Know
Inner Circle: Annual subscribers will get thousands of dollars worth of products for free, plus more.
Not compatible with Linux or older versions of Microsoft and Mac.
Cloud Collaboration gives you the ability to work with anyone, anywhere.
Pro Tools Perpetual is an option that is not located in the buy tab, but you will find it in the Upgrade and Renew tab on the site.
Partnered with the Netflix Production Alliance to ensure that Pro Tools supports Netflix’s technical and work requirements.
When comparing which DAW is best for you, first take into consideration what you will need to use it for. This will let you know what features to look for.
The other two important factors to consider after that will be what operating system you’ll need the software to run on and last, but not least, your budget and what sort of pricing structure you can afford.
Let’s go ahead and quickly cover all the basic comparison points.
Money is hard to part with and the price tag of a high-rated DAW may make you hesitant to invest. There are free DAWs out there, but honestly, don’t even bother with them. Most will barely contain the basics you need to cut a 30-second track!
Instead of wasting your time and energy, find a DAW that will let you take a “test drive” with a trial version. You get all the bells and whistles of the full program to play with for free for a limited amount of time. (The standard is a month-long trial, a few offer longer trials.)
There are two main pricing structures for most DAWs: Subscriptions and one-time Purchases.
Subscription-based programs offer various pricing tiers to choose from based on your needs, running from basic to premium full-feature. Some programs (like Pro Tools) offer discounts for teachers and students.
Subscriptions are an ideal choice if you will not be doing audio-mixing full time, if you’re less experienced with manipulating audio, or if you are building your hobby/career from scratch and don’t have a ton of cash to start. I will warn you, though, if you’ve NEVER worked with a DAW before, you may find some subscription-based DAWs will have a steep learning curve at first.
The upside to subscriptions is that you have the option to upgrade as your finances and familiarity with the program increase. The downside is subscriptions get expensive over the long run.
One-time purchases are the way to go if you have the capital and a little bit of experience. Even if you don’t know what you are doing, again, many DAWs offer a free trial and solid community support to help you learn.
The downside to purchasing the DAW upfront is the larger initial cost. The upside is you only pay for the software once. Many of these programs do not require a constant internet connection. You can use them offline, but be sure your computer has ample storage space and the RAM to run it without issues.
One note I will mention should you decide to go with a one-time purchase, is to do your research on the company’s tech support. Find out if they charge extra for their services, and find out from other users how good their communication is. That way if you have problems with the program, you get help quickly and avoid serious frustrations.
What operating system are you working on? Mac, Windows, Linux? Not all DAWs are created equal, but they should state upfront which system they’re designed best to work on. (If they don’t, take it as a scammer red flag!)
The most important features for a DAW – whether you’re putting together a simple track for an instructional video, or you’re a professional solo artist – boil down to these five things:
If you’re into creating unique beats and sounds, DAWs let you express your creativity by using VST plugins like hip hop VST plugins, MIDI keyboards, and controls to mix, mash, and manipulate sound to your heart’s content.
Some DAWs offer tools to work directly from scratch – a great option for Hip-Hop artists – while others offer a library of sounds and ways to augment their effects.
Piece together and create the perfect soundtrack to go with games, films, or your YouTube videos with DAW tools that enable you to put together tracks alongside other media files. Create complex layers and loops, or compose using actual musical notation directly into the program.
A good DAW is essential for tracking and recording live performances, layering multiple recordings (popular among solo musicians who play multiple instruments), or handling multiple takes of the same sequence.
Pro Tools (mentioned above) is particularly well-liked by users for its drop-down menu feature that lets you select which section of a track or loop you would like to perform over, making layering multiple tracks super simple.
Mixing all the individual elements of your art to make it sound professional is exactly what DAWs are created for. Adjust volume and pitch, equalize, balance, and blend in a single program.
Recording Live Performance
DAWs take all the elements of a traditional soundboard (which are fun to play with if you’ve ever gotten the chance) and compact it into a keyboard which we all now have access to. They enable you to record and manipulate live performances in real-time just like the pros.
Some DAWs emphasize live performance recording features. If you are an aspiring DJ, you’ll definitely want to put this feature on the top of your priority list when checking out a DAW.
When comparing the dozens of Digital Audio Workstations available today, two stand out (aside from Cubase Artist and its Pro version) above the rest: REAPER and Pro Tools. Both DAWs offer excellent choice and versatility in their tools and features.
With either one of these programs, you’ll be able to complete any task involving audio, including:
REAPER is a DAW that was lovingly designed by audio specialists for audio specialists. With a single, one-time purchase, you won’t just get cutting-edge audio software, you’ll be joining a thriving community of artists committed to helping you achieve your dreams.
REAPER’s support is upbeat and friendly. They offer a 60-day free trial, a user manual in multiple languages, and constant updates to keep up with the ever-changing nature of modern tech.
Pro Tools is considered the industry standard in DAWs. Their software is available as a monthly subscription with three tiers to choose from – Free, Standard, and Ultimate. They offer student/teacher discounts with the top two tiers.
Pro Tools comes with dozens of features and plugins to use and integration with the Cloud means you can use this program wherever you get an internet connection. Their partnership with the Netflix Production Alliance gives aspiring film composers a solid chance to produce and release high-quality entertainment.