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Best Recording and Mixing Studio Software for Any Budget

Using Recording Software

Why You Need a Quality DAW

Whether you’re an emerging recording artist or audio engineer learning to mix or master, sometimes the equipment involved in setting up a studio is more than meets the eye.

Your recording, editing, mixing, and mastering software is one of the most important elements when beginning your journey. This software is known as your DAW—or digital audio workstation.

Your workstation enables you to perform all the necessary functions you need to produce high-quality audio—and as with most studio equipment, some DAWs are better (and more expensive) than others.

In this article, we’ll review the four best software options for studio professionals on a budget.

Let’s get into it.

The Top Four Studio Software Programs

Price: $0
Compatibility: Mac only
Highlighted Feature: 100% Free

Ableton Live
Price: $99-$799
Compatibility: Mac and Windows
Highlighted Feature: Enables Maximum Creativity

PreSonus Studio One
Price: $0-$399.95
Compatibility: Mac and Windows
Highlighted Feature: Easy to Learn and Setup

Logic Pro X
Price: $199
Compatibility: Mac only

A Deep Dive into The Top Four DAWs

The first studio software on the list is completely free—if you own a Mac. Unfortunately, Windows users will want to keep scrolling on to the other options, which are available on both platforms.

GarageBand is one of the best software options for new and emerging studio professionals who have never worked digitally before.

While the main drawback of GarageBand is decreased functionality (it lacks many of the bells and whistles that are in competitor software), this con is also a pro when you change your perspective. The lack of options enables GarageBand to offer a streamlined approach that won’t overwhelm new users. And Apple itself claims that anyone can simply pick up GarageBand and start making music right away.

The easy to learn and easy to use nature of GarageBand (coupled with its seriously unbeatable price) earns it a place it on this list of the best studio software.

GarageBand still has some notable features that are worth checking out.

One interesting feature is relatively new to the software, and it’s called Drummer. It allows you to streamline the production of beats with a “virtual session player.” You can choose between several different virtual drummers (each one has their own distinct style) and customize how complex or simple you’d like the beat to be.

With the free version, you only get access to one drummer, known as Kyle. GarageBand offers in-app purchases, but after seeing the paid options below, you’ll have to weigh out which software will give you the most bang for your buck.

Ableton Live
When it comes to Ableton Live, you have three options:

  • Intro for $99,
  • Standard for $499, and
  • Suite for $799.

The cheapest version, Intro, is comparable to GarageBand in many respects, which means that you’re probably better off saving the money using GarageBand or shelling out the cash to upgrade to Standard or Premium.

When you compare Ableton Live to GarageBand, Live definitely has some limitations when it comes to recording. But it has the upper hand if you work on clip-based composition.

Ableton Live is one of the most creative DAWs due to the ease with which you can edit and change individual entities within your mix. It features advanced automation, great sampling functions for things like chopping and warping, functionality for custom building tools, and an exceptional EQ.

The main downside is that it’s very expensive. Many users also dislike that it’s not stable on weaker systems and lacks support for LV2 plugins and SF2 soundfonts.

PreSonus Studio One
Much like Ableton Live, PreSonus Studio One offers a tier of products that you can choose from. They include:

  • Prime for free,
  • Artist for $99.95, and
  • Professional for $399.95.

PreSonus also gives you the option to upgrade from one version to another if you decide to change your mind.

Studio One is a more affordable option for artists who want to upgrade. The prices aren’t unreasonable and it’s an easy to use interface with an efficient workflow. It has a simple drag and drop workspace that’s easy to learn and it’s easy to set up with most interfaces and microphones.

It has many other great DAW features including the capability for mastering, key command templates (that make it easier to switch from one DAW to another), smart tools, and automatic delay. It’s a relatively stable DAW, and some even rank it as the best DAW in the market.

My personal recommendation is the PreSonus Studio One Professional Package—if you can afford it.

Logic Pro X
If you’re looking for something in the sweet spot that is more affordable with great capability, Logic Pro X might be what you need. You can purchase it in the App Store for $199—making it one of the most affordable DAWs on the market.

Users love the intuitive interface, the mixing bay, and the MIDI sequencer. It’s easy to learn for beginners and great software for editing and recording live audio. There is no limit on the number of tracks you can record on, and it’s one of the more stable DAWS.

Beginners and professionals alike love the wide range of high-quality instruments like virtual drums and guitars with loaded amps. From wavetable to clarinet sounds, a variety of synths gives you endless creative opportunities even before you record a single note.

Logic Pro X also provides 30gB of free content for users, gifting you with creative commons samples as soon as you install the software. 

Logic is also an industry-standard DAW, so if you’re interested in working in a professional music production studio in the near (or far) future, you might want to become familiar with it. It also has what some might call a cult following, even in non-professional realms.

A Few More Notes About DAWs

When choosing which software is the best for you and your situation, you should take into account the compatibility of the software with your current computer.

It’s important to note that any updated DAW which is only compatible with Mac will not support any 32-bit apps. That means some third party plugins you might want to download simply won’t work. Unfortunately, if you already own a Mac, there’s not much you can do about that—but if purchasing a new system that can handle the intense pressure these programs will put on your computer is a part of the plan, it’s an important quality to consider.

The Bottom Line: Which DAW You Should Use
In the end, the software that is right for other people may not be the one that is right for you or your individual needs an artist. Overall, most of the software options are quite similar.

And it’s fairly easy to switch platforms. But if you think learning the ins and outs of a new workspace will be tedious and frustrating, you might want to pick one you know you’ll love from the very beginning.

If you’ve never used studio software before, GarageBand is a great place to start. You can experiment and learn for free with all of the basic features you need to get started.

However, once you start to run into complications and desire more functionality out of your DAW, upgrading to a workspace like Ableton Live, Studio One, or Logic isn’t a bad idea.


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