Best DAWs for Beginners: Software for Your Home Studio
Table of Contents
What is a DAW?
A DAW or Digital Audio Workstation, is a software to record and edit music through your computer, be it a PC -Windows- or Mac. In other words, it is a complete recording console on your computer equipment. Inside the DAW you can record, edit, mix and master your projects, not just for demos; there are also many bands that have made their complete albums through a DAW.
DAW Software, a fundamental piece of your Home Studio
Thus, the digital audio workstation, or just DAW, has become the essential component for any Home Studio project. So if you are building your home recording studio, this article will be the definitive guide for you to choose the ideal DAW software for you.
You may also be interested in this guide on how to set up a home studio.
Best DAW for Beginning Music Producers
If you are a beginning music producer and just starting out in the world of music production, the best DAWs for beginners should have enough features but easy to use. So let’s see what are the main points to consider when choosing a DAW for newcomers.
The best DAW options for your home recording studio
Naturally it is a very special choice, but if you are at zero, our recommendation is that you try Garageband if you have a Mac. If you have a PC, then Ableton Live 11 Intro or Image Line FL Studio Fruity Edition are the first options to go for.
Garageband, our first choice for Mac users
For Mac users, the best DAW option for beginners is Garageband. This DAW is included free with all Apple equipment. Plus, GarageBand’s easy upgrade path to Logic Pro makes it the perfect choice when you’re ready to move on to a better DAW.
Ableton Live 11 Intro or Image Line FL Studio Fruity Edition for PC
For PC users, Ableton Live 11 Intro and Image Line FL Studio Fruity Edition are the best DAW options for beginners with a PC setup.
Ableton Live 11 Intro stands out for its fast and fluid workflow, and its spontaneous approach to composition, arrangement, and performance help it stand out from the crowd of beginner DAWs.
Image Line FL Studio Fruity Edition stands out for its fully customizable interface and free lifetime updates, along with its drag-and-drop feature, which makes it easy for beginners to use.
Don’t miss this selection of the best audio interfaces for your home studio.
List of the best DAW software for beginners
- Apple GarageBand
- Ableton Live 11 Intro
- Image Line FL Studio Fruity Edition
- Steinberg Cubase Elements 12
- Bitwig Studio 16-track
- Presonus Studio One 6 Artist or Prime
- Cockos Reaper 6
- Acoustica Mixcraft 9 Recording Studio
- Reason+ 12 – Reason Studios
Price: Free | Compatibility: Mac | System requirements: macOS 10.13.6 or later
Apple GarageBand is the ultimate beginner DAW. What would normally be considered his weakness, here is transformed into his strength. It is a simple and limited DAW, but with enough features and easy to use that it makes it ideal for a beginner. As its name implies, it requires you to have an Apple Mac, and it comes by default for free on your computer. It is the simplest version of the DAW Logic.
The GarageBand should not be viewed as simply a stripped down version of Apple’s premier DAW, Logic Pro. Beyond its apparent simplicity, the GarageBand DAW is very powerful recording software. Although it lacks some of the more advanced features included in Logic, Apple GarageBand has all the necessary functions for a beginner in the world of DAWs.
Main features of Apple GarageBand
This slimline DAW supports up to 255 full automation audio tracks. Also, it features a drum track, guitar and bass amp emulations, and effects pedals. Plus, it includes an extensive library of hundreds of Apple synth and loop sounds. Thus, GarageBand offers all the functionalities that you will require from your first DAW.
The day you want to increase in complexity, you can move to Logic Pro, where you can open all your GarageBand projects thanks to its compatibility.
Apple GarageBand highlights
- Easy to use
- totally free
- Interactive Artist Lessons for Guitar and Piano
- Only for Mac and iOS
Apple GarageBand website
Ableton Live 11 Intro
Price: $ 99 / £ 69 / € 79 | Compatibility: PC / Mac | System requirements (PC): Windows 10 | System requirements (Mac): macOS 10.13 or later
Live 11 Intro is the version limited to the Ableton world. But this DAW is not limited in its functions, as it is a complete workstation with more than enough power to fully produce your musical material. It features over 1,500 sounds, four instrument software, 21 audio effects, and 11 MIDI effects, along with over 5GB of sound library content and presets. Thus, the Ableton Live 11 Intro will give you everything you need to get started and more. The latest version, Live 11, has new features including compilation and MPE support.
Ableton is probably the most popular DAW among Pop musicians. Live’s famous quick and easy workflow makes it ideal for live performances.
Ableton Live 11 Intro Highlights
- Dynamic and creative workflow
- One of the most popular DAW
- Downloadable content
- Too much to understand
Website Ableton Live Intro 11
Image Line FL Studio Fruity Edition
Price: $ 99 / £ 76 / € 99 | Compatibility: PC / Mac | System requirements PC: Windows 8.1, 10 or later | Mac system requirements: macOS 10.13.6 or later
The Image Line FL Studio Fruity Edition, formerly known as Fruity Loops, has a large and loyal community in the PC user community. Only in version 20 it has become a multiplatform, so the Mac user community is still small.
This DAW stands out for having a completely customizable interface. In addition, it has free updates for life. The drag and drop feature of this DAW makes it easy for any beginner to use. Also, it has the IL Remote application that allows you to control some DAW functions from your mobile device.
Image Line FL Studio Fruity Edition Highlights
- Great for EDM / hip hop producers
- Great value
- Free updates for life
- The interface can feel a bit busy
Website of Image Line FL Studio Fruity Edition
Steinberg Cubase Elements 12
Price: $ 100 / £ 85 / € 89 | Compatibility: PC / Mac | System requirements PC: Windows 10 & 11 | Mac system requirements: macOS Monterey, macOS Big Sur
Steinberg’s Cubase is another of the best and most popular DAWs with a long history in the world of music recording software.
The DAW Elements 12 offers over 1,000 instrument sounds, 64 MIDI and 48 audio tracks, and nearly 50 VST effect plug-ins. It also has a wide selection of useful functions such as the MixConsole, sampler track, chord pads, chord track, and chord and scale assistants, along with a basic score editor.
Steinberg Cubase Elements 12 Highlights
- Super complete set of functions
- Traditional linear workflow
- Scalable in its different functions
- Does not have VariAudio3 and AudioWarp Quantize
Website Steinberg Cubase Elements 12
Bitwig Studio 16-track
Price: $ 99 / € 99 | Compatibility: PC / Mac / Linux | System Requirements PC: Windows 7 or later | Mac system requirements: Mac OS X 10.13 or later | System Requirements (Linux): Ubuntu 18.04 or later
Bitwig Studio is one of the youngest players in the DAW market. However, thanks to its user-friendly and easy use based on an innovative approach to modulation and connectivity with external hardware it has made it one of the highlights of this list. Thus, we consider the Bitwig Studio 16-track to be one of the best DAWs for beginners.
There is an 8-track option that includes these features, but they are too limited even for a beginner. That’s why we include all 16 tracks in this list, since with twice the number of tracks, it offers a better price-performance ratio.
This Bitwig Studio DAW offers 16 hybrid audio / instrument tracks with the ability to host unlimited VSTs. Also, it has 11 instruments, such as the new Polymer Synth, 30 effect processors and 17 modulators. In addition, it has the Essentials content collection, which offers a great starting point for beginners.
Bitwig Studio 16-track Highlights
- Modulation system with 17 devices
- Built-in modular environment
- Forward-looking feature set
- Limitation to 16 tracks or tracks
Website Bitwig Studio 16-track
Presonus Studio One 6 Artist or Prime
Price: Prime version: Free, Artist version: $ 100 / £ 85 / € 95 | Compatibility: PC / Mac | PC System requirements: Windows 10 (64-bit only) | Mac system requirements: macOS 10.14 (64-bit only) or higher
Presonus Studio One 6 offers in three versions: Prime, Artist and Professional, the first is free and the other two are paid. All offer an intuitive single-window work environment unique to Presonus. In addition, this DAW has easy and fast drag and drop functionality in a modern environment, ideal for newbies.
Although Prime is perfectly suitable for newbies looking to dip a toe in water, we would go for the Artist version. While Presonus Studio One Prime or Artist may not be the easiest DAW to learn, it comes with a full arsenal of features and offers unlimited audio and instrument tracks, buses, and effects channels.
Additionally, the Studio One 6 features five excellent virtual instruments and the Impact XT drum sampler. It also offers the Presence XT virtual sample player, the Mojito monophonic subtractive synthesizer and the Sample One XT live sampler and editor. All of this makes it a super complex and powerful DAW.
Presonus Studio One 6 Artist and Prime Highlights
- Stable and modern
- Intuitive workflow
- Completely free in its Prime version
- Not the easiest DAW to learn
Cockos Reaper 6
Price: $ 60 | Compatibility: PC / Mac / Linux | System Requirements PC: 32-bit: from Windows XP to 11 | Mac system requirements: 32-bit: OS X 10.5-10.12
The Cockos Reaper 6 is one of the cheapest and best DAWs for beginners on the market. Reaper is a multiplatform recording software with an intuitive and customizable interface, ideal for newbies. It also has a small storage footprint.
The Cockos Reaper has advanced features like MIDI CC envelopes and a sophisticated visual patchbay system for routing MIDI and audio. Additionally, it includes a built-in video editor for those fans of social networks.
In addition to being extremely inexpensive, it offers a totally free demo version for a period of 60 days. After the evaluation period has elapsed, the $ 60 license is charged. The end-to-end 64-bit resolution and unlimited free updates from Reaper 6 to version 7.99 highlight this DAW.
Cockos Reaper 6 Highlights
- Free demo version for 60 days
- Fast and customizable
- Unlimited free updates
- Don’t expect heaps of add-ons
Cockos Reaper 6 download page
Acoustica Mixcraft 9 Recording Studio
Price: $ 75 – 99 | Compatibility: PC | System requirements: Windows 7 SP1, 8, 10 or 11 (64 or 32-bit)
The Acoustica Mixcraft 9 Recording Studio is for many the equivalent of GarageBand but for PC / Windows. This is because it has an intuitive and accessible interface, along with a large number of functions for any music production.
Mixcraft has great compatibility with third-party plugins, audio interfaces, and hardware drivers. In addition, this latest version adds new features such as synchronizable automation, vocoder tracks, and a massive library of over 7,500 loops, effects, and samples.
This version, the cheapest of the Recording Studio, features 15 software instruments, unlimited audio and MIDI tracks. Also, it offers an interpretation panel and even a built-in video editor. All these functions make the Mixcraft 9 one of the best DAWs for beginner PC users.
Acoustica Mixcraft 9 Recording Studio Highlights
- 15 instruments
- Friendly interface and workflow
- Unlimited audio and MIDI tracks
- Only for PC / Windows
Reason+ 12 – Reason Studios
Price: First month $ 1 | Compatibility: PC / Mac | System Requirements PC: Windows 10 or later (64-bit) | Mac system requirements: macOS 10.13 or later (64-bit)
Reason+ is easy to use and very quick to learn music recording and editing software. This DAW is ideal for composition, recording and mixing, as it contains all the editing tools, also effects and instruments that you require for music production.
It offers 75+ virtual instrument & effects, and more. Additionally, the Reason Studios DAW has a 3GB+ sound library, with an impressive selection of over 20,000 patches, loops, and samples. Thus, it is a DAW that offers you everything you need to start producing music.
Reason+ is a virtual studio rack that can be integrated as a native VST3 / AU / AAX plug-in into compatible DAWs. Which allows you to migrate all your music to other software, giving you a lot of flexibility of use.
Reason+ 12 Highlights
- Based on a classic studio rack
- Easy to use
- Compatible with other DAWs
- Weekly Sound Packs
- First month only $1
Reason 12 Intro Website | Reason Studios
Best DAW Buying or Choosing Tips for Beginners
Mac or PC for your DAW?
First of all, you need to consider which computer your DAW will run on, a Mac or a PC? This is essential, since the range of products varies greatly between the two options. Some of the best DAWs for beginners work on both PCs and Macs, but many only work on one of the two. Thus, platform compatibility is the first thing to check.
Also, you should check the technical requirements of each DAW, so that you can confirm that it can run well on your computer, be it Mac or Windows PC. The most common minimum system requirements are: RAM, processor speed, and hard drive space.
Free or trial versions
When you are a beginner, you have very little knowledge and information to be able to decide correctly. Thus, it is good to consider that many DAWs have trial versions, demos and even others have free lite versions. These options are ideal to take your first steps, without having to shell out money for a program that you don’t know if it will satisfy your needs.
However, let’s not lose focus that the versions presented here are not too expensive. In fact, they are the mid-range payment options. In case you like them, then you can invest a little more money for the full and professional versions.
Ease of use of the DAW
DAWs have different learning curves. Thus, you will find some with a steeper learning curve than others. Depending on your level of knowledge of music production, you should choose one that best suits your profile. In this way, if you are just entering the world of music recording and editing, a DAW with 16 will be enough. Instead, you may need a more complete and complex one, if you already have a good knowledge base.