Best Recording Studio Software

by Business.com Editorial StaffLast Modified: January 12, 2018

Intro
Best Picks
Reviews
Picking the Right One for You
Home Recording Software: The Basics
Map
Services

The Best Recording Studio Software for 2018

A digital audio workstation (DAW for short) is software that records and manipulates multiple audio sources simultaneously. These recording programs enable you to record audio for something as simple as a podcast, as well as tackle major projects like recording an entire symphony. As you search for a recording program, it's important to know that one program is not better than another for all users. It all depends on what you want to do with the program, so you need to find the one that works best for you. Arguably the most recognizable name in the recording studio software industry is Pro Tools, but it's not the only option out there. This buying guide is here to inform you on the various recording studio choices on the market today, and to give you an inside look at some of the features that make each program unique.

Best Picks

Best for Budget
Best for Traditional Recording
Best for Live Performance
Best for Beat Creation
Magix Music Maker

Best for Budget

Magix Music Maker

While all of the home recording programs mentioned up to this point have an entry-level option and a full version, two programs feature limitless recording capabilities and are less expensive than most of the entry-level DAWs.

Reaper is an open-sourced DAW that doesn't have limitations on audio tracking or effects. By open sourced, we mean that it works with almost every type of plugin format available. Reaper is constantly coming out with new updates and minor improvements on the software. For those who are looking to build a home studio as cheaply as possible, Reaper is a solid option. You can download the application right onto your desktop for less than most entry-level DAWs.

Pro Tools

Best for Traditional Recording

Pro Tools

For those looking to use these recording programs traditionally – to record external instruments such as guitars, drums, vocals and the like – Cubase and Pro Tools are industry standards. In fact, we found that these two programs have some of the best and easiest track comping abilities around.

Track comping is easy and straightforward in Pro Tools. Once you're ready to record audio, you can select a section to loop and record in. The convenient thing is, once you start recording, you don't have to stop – you can just keep recording the section that you've selected. Once you are done recording, you select the playlist option on the track and all of the audio takes are organized and displayed in a list. From there, you simply highlight the parts of the audio you like from each take to create a "master" take. This is convenient to create the perfect take with minimal effort. This is only a small portion of this program's recording prowess, but it's an important aspect nonetheless.

Ableton Live

Best for Live Performance

Ableton Live

It seems counter-intuitive to use a recording program for live performances, but the lines between the digital realm and live performance have all but disappeared. A DAW can be an extremely powerful addition to your live set. The one recording program that was engineered specifically for this task is Ableton Live.

Ableton Live is a unique DAW that records music just like all other recording programs. The thing that makes it special is the session or clip view.

Reason

Best for Beat Creation

Reason

For those looking to create hip-hop songs, two of our recommendations are Fruity Loops and Reason. These two home studio programs have been in the recording industry for several years and were some of the first beat-sequencing programs around. Both of these programs make it incredibly easy for producers to create bass-driven tunes.

Even though it's evolved considerably throughout the years, Fruity Loops still sticks true to its drum sequencer-style of creating music.

Reviews

A digital audio workstation (DAW for short) is software that records and manipulates multiple audio sources simultaneously. These recording programs enable you to record audio for something as simple as a podcast, as well as tackle major projects like recording an entire symphony. As you search for a recording program, it's important to know that one program is not better than another for all users. It all depends on what you want to do with the program, so you need to find the one that works best for you. Arguably the most recognizable name in the recording studio software industry is Pro Tools, but it's not the only option out there. This buying guide is here to inform you on the various recording studio choices on the market today, and to give you an inside look at some of the features that make each program unique.

Picking the Right Recording Studio Software for You

On paper, all of these programs do the same thing – record audio, mix audio and export the final product. While all of them are similar in that regard, their unique traits are revealed when you dive deeper into the program, and how you plan on using the recording program can make all the difference in your buying decision.

Why are you buying recording studio software? It seems like a straightforward question with a straightforward answer – to record music, right? In reality, it can be much more complex than that. Some people look for a recording program to help them perform live, while others might be looking for something to create beats or hip-hop instrumentals. Others might be looking for a program to help them record external instrumentation – a more traditional use for this type of software. All of the recording programs have unique elements to them, and this buying guide is here to shine more light on the differences between these products and how they help you achieve your recording goals. So, what is your reason for wanting to purchase a DAW?

There are many recording studio programs out there and most of them have great recording capabilities. Remember that one is not necessarily better than the other. What's most important is that you find one that is most comfortable for you to use.

Home Studio Recording Software: The Basics

Most laptops and desktops come equipped with an internal microphone. In theory, the internal microphone and a music recording software are all you need to record audio. The issue with this basic setup is the audio recording is going to sound awful. Your computer's internal microphone does not have the potential to produce clean audio recordings like an external microphone can. If you are going to spend money on a nice home studio program, you might as well record audio the best way possible, so we'll discuss hardware in more depth later.

There is plenty of terminology and equipment components to become familiar with before you get started. Words like MIDI, condenser microphones, dynamic microphones and audio interface will often come up during your research. It's important to have an elementary grasp on these terms as they all play an important role in recording audio.

Audio Interface
An audio interface is the unit that allows for audio signal to be transferred from the source (your voice into a microphone) to the software. The audio interface turns the sounds into data that can be read by the software.

There are many different options for an audio interface. Basic, single input/output audio interfaces can be purchased for roughly $30, while more expensive, higher-quality and multichannel units run for $2,500. A single or dual-input audio interface is a great place for a beginner to start piecing together a home recording unit.

MIDI Controller 
All of the recording studio programs in this buying guide have virtual instruments built into the software. These digital instruments open up a plethora of noises and sounds you can add to your own music. The easiest and most efficient way to control these instruments is with a MIDI controller. These controllers come in many different styles, but the most common is a keyboard. With a MIDI controller, you can play the virtual instrument using the physical keyboard (or whatever the controller is) along with controlling other parameters of the virtual instrument such as volume and pitch.

Monitors
In this case, we aren't referring to computer screens. These monitors are speakers that have a flat frequency response to play the music back as accurately as possible. Often times, home speakers or stereo speakers have built-in equalizations to make music sound a certain way. These speakers can give an inaccurate reading on how your music sounds while you are mixing. Studio monitors are crucial to being able to mix accurately.

Microphones
There are a number of different microphone types on the market. The most common ones you'll see are USB, dynamic and condenser microphones. USB mics are powered by the USB port on your computer and are generally inexpensive. They aren't high quality and should only be used for projects such as podcasts.

Dynamic microphones generally don't require an additional power source and are great for live sound and recording applications. They are much more durable than condenser microphones but are less sensitive to high frequencies.

Condenser microphones generally require an additional power source, usually phantom power. These microphones are ultra-sensitive to high frequencies, making them great for recording drum set cymbals and other instruments. These are generally more expensive, more accurate, but less durable than dynamic microphones.

With this basic understanding of these recording components, you can start to piece together a home studio and get to recording on your own.

Recording Studio Software: Other Recording Options

If you are looking for a simpler music studio software, there a handful of different options. Audio editing programs are stripped down versions of DAWs that you can use to record and edit audio. Many of these programs can only record one or two audio sources. There are also a handful of free recording studio software downloads available. Audacity is one of the most popular programs available for free download. These recording programs don't have nearly the toolset, or recording capabilities that DAWs have, but if you want to start a podcast and have limited resources, audio editing programs are a great option.

Map

Reaper
319 Lafayette Street
New York, NY
Reaper
Reason
PO Box 13819
Milwaukee, WI
Reason
Ableton Live
36 W. Colorado Blvd.
Pasadena, CA
Ableton Live
Pro Tools
90 Park Avenue
New York, NY
Pro Tools
Magix Music Maker
1105 Terminal Way
Reno, NV 89502, NV
Magix Music Maker
Cubase
6600 Orangethorpe Ave
Buena Park, CA
Cubase
Apple Logic Pro X
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA
Apple Logic Pro X
FL Studio
Franklin Rooseveltlaan
FL Studio

Services

List of 8Best Recording Studio Software

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