Buyer's Guides

Best DAWs: Best Music Production Software

For 99 percent of musicians and producers in 2023, your music production software, also known as a DAW, is the epicentre of your music production studio. You can have the best monitors, the best microphone available, and the world’s best plugins downloaded onto your hard drive, but without a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), you are missing the thing that connects all these pieces together.

In fact, there are stories aplenty of songs, particularly in the rap and EDM genres, being made in FruityLoops with next to no equipment, going on to become hits. It goes to show that choosing the best music production software for you can truly be the most powerful weapon in your musical arsenal. As you may know, musicians and producers love to debate over which one is their favourite, particularly among Windows and Mac users. But fret not, for here is Headliner’s balanced overview of the very best DAWs, depending on your budget and needs.

Steinberg Cubase

  • A digital audio workstation with lots of history, but plenty of development
  • Great for workflow

Steinberg’s Cubase is up there with Pro Tools as one of the longest-running and storied pieces of music production software you can get your hands on. It’s also one of the best DAWs for many reasons. Through its iterations and developments, Cubase introduced many features to DAWs that are now very difficult to imagine producing music without.

The standard, block-based arranging view we are so accustomed to in music production software now started in Cubase, and Steinberg also invented virtual studio technology (VSTs). And while the competition has increased fiercely since the early days of Cubase, it still stands firm as one of the very best choices for both Mac and Windows users. It comes with some excellent stock plugins, a large sound library, and even the most affordable version of Cubase stands up to the competition if your budget doesn’t stretch to Cubase Pro yet.


Ableton Live

  • Users love its fast and creative workflow experience
  • Has countless advocates from the music industry

You may already know that people who use Ableton don’t merely use Ableton, but will advocate for it with almost religious fervour. For some time now, it has become not only one of the best DAWs available, but one that has had a huge influence on the other brands. 

Once, music production software was seen as something that existed only in the studio, but Ableton Live made the bold decision that a DAW was also to be a performance instrument, hence why so many artists, particularly those with a strong electronic element to their music, bring it on tour with them on their laptops.

Ableton fanatics will also tell you how much fun they have using it. This digital audio workstation doesn’t care for the notion of producers sitting in a dark studio with bad posture at a screen — Live offers one of the most intuitive, and thus fastest and creative workflows available. Don’t be surprised if you’re dancing along as you create music in Ableton. It's highly compatible for both Windows and Mac also.


Apple Logic Pro

  • Packed with features and content
  • Brilliant value and top workflow

We’ve talked about two DAWs that work on both Windows and Mac — now it’s time for the absolute gold standard for Apple users. So as long as you’re not a patron of the Windows church, Mac users will struggle to find a more comprehensive music production software package. Many established musicians and producers have absolutely no qualms about releasing tracks using just Logic’s stock plugins and VSTs.

It’s had some big updates recently, also. Live Loops, a big nod to Ableton, allow you to jam ideas before fully recording them. Add to this a new step sequencer, samplers, and tools for beatmakers. And for the real audio nerds, the latest update allows you to create music in the Dolby Atmos-powered spatial audio format. Just some of the many reasons Logic is such a huge name in the DAW conversation.


PreSonus Studio One

  • Users love Studio One’s workflow
  • Very much an all-rounder DAW

While not being able to boast the fame of Cubase or Logic, Studio One has nonetheless been rapidly gaining ground on the heavyweights in recent years, and in some areas, even surpassing them. Ever since version 5 and now 6, Studio One is now among the most rounded workstations available, especially amongst those that offer both PC and Mac versions.

As well as offering a free version, the paid versions of Studio One are very much among the most affordable price points in the music production software market. And you get plenty of bang for your buck: a fully developed score editor, Clip Gain Envelopes for surgical and Smart Templates.


Reason Studios Reason

  • Rack-based workflow that hardware heads will love
  • Mixer is SSL-modelled

Formerly Propellerhead Studios, Reason is now sold under its namesake: rebranded parent company Reason Studios. A mighty DAW, it has often been characterised as one of the leading workstation options for electronic musicians, but that would be underestimating a product that’s been among the most popular since its 1994 inception.

Version 11 introduced to the world the Reason Rack Plugin, which excitingly enables users to use Reason’s core tools as a VST 3 or AU plugin within another DAW. It’s something of a game-changing feature that allows you to harness the power of Reason anywhere you like.


Reaper 6

  • Very affordable and excellent value
  • Won’t take up your computer’s entire storage

Another relative newcomer belonging to the underrated category of digital workstations, Reaper is nonetheless worthy of its spot here among the best DAWs available. It’s easily among the most affordable and will leave an impressively light footprint on your computer’s RAM.

Beyond this, it’s deeply customisable, item editing is impressively speedy, and its MIDI/audio routing capabilities are also excellent. Its latest iteration as Reaper 6 continues its upward trajectory.


Image-Line FL Studio

  • Beloved DAW, particularly among the EDM community
  • Offers free lifetime updates

Better known under the iconic name FruityLoops, not only is FL Studios firmly among the best DAWs, but it has legendary status – especially among hip-hop and EDM circles. And while it wasn’t always the case, FL is now fully compatible for both Mac and Windows.

And, as a huge rarity in the world of digital workstations, Image-Line offers lifetime updates for free, saving you a lot of money considering some of the big-name brands have you pay for each upgraded version. Great news, considering the recent FL Studio 21 added some brilliant extras like new audio clip envelopes, themes and plugins.



  • Very user-friendly
  • Free for all Mac users

GarageBand is often stereotyped as the best DAW for newbies and beginners. But that isn’t being fair on this Mac-only digital workstation. Co-launched by Steve Jobs and a youthful John Mayer all the way back in 2004 at Macworld, GarageBand has gone on a long journey to becoming the mature music production software that it is today.

Besides the obvious benefit of being free and pre-installed if you’re an Apple user, it’s incredibly user-friendly for musicians and non-musicians also, the latter of whom can sequence GarageBand’s audio loops, alongside virtual guitar amps and stompboxes. Also mega-popular is the Drummer feature for generating drum beats. It’s also worth noting that projects are compatible with Logic Pro, GarageBand’s older sibling, and it also has a handy mobile app version for iPhone users.


Avid Pro Tools

  • Very much an ‘industry’ DAW
  • Free version is very handy for getting started

Pro Tools has been the pro studio DAW of choice for many years. Many view it as the industry standard for music production software. That said, it doesn’t have the everyman quality of a DAW like GarageBand, for example. This may perhaps change now that its latest update saw the introduction of a new free version, Pro Tools Intro, which is also compatible with the paid versions of Pro Tools.

The new tiered approach should help bring Pro Tools to a wider audience and make it more accessible to home recordists. Great news, because it’s an absolute beast of a DAW.


Cakewalk by BandLab

  • The full DAW in its entirety is free, no upgrades required
  • Lovely, customisable interface

If the big names are a little out of your budget and their trial versions are too limited for you, then this is one of the best free DAW for PCs (after showing Apple’s GarageBand some love earlier). It was formerly known as the Sonar DAW until Bandlab acquired the property and incorporated it into Cakewalk.

PC users would be remiss to not try Cakewalk out considering it’s completely free with no add-ons or upsells. Some epic features include the Skylight user interface, flexible ProChannel modules and 64-bit mix engine.


Bonus: How do I choose the right DAW for me?

Not only are there a lot of DAWs to choose from, but there are a lot of good DAWs which can present a strong case for being the best.

First suggestion: don’t just take our word for it, take them out for a spin and see which one works for you. Most of the brands above now offer a free trial version to see if their workflow fits with your own personal needs. Don’t be too hasty with this; you want to allow a good couple of weeks to see how you get on with the workstation.

Another important consideration is that you are your own person. Just because your favourite artist or producer uses a certain DAW, that doesn’t mean it’s the right one for you. Be wary of the trap of thinking that, because your favourite hip-hop producer uses one platform, that means you should be making hip-hop with that platform also. The main thing each DAW offers is a certain type of workflow, rather than being genre-specific — this is why it’s important to try them out rather than making any assumptions.

Thirdly, a combination of patience and tuition is going to be key. Otherwise, you could find yourself going from DAW to DAW and feeling dejected and resentful. Give each one you try time, and it’s very much a good idea to try either a paid course or the tried and true method of using YouTube tutorial videos to figure things out (many pro-producers openly talk about how useful they have found the latter).

The only thing that remains is for you to go out there and try out your first workstation workhorse. Many artists end up forming a loving bond with their DAW and will tell everyone why they use it at every opportunity, so here’s hoping for that happy ending with you and your music production software too. 

Further reading: 

The best FREE plugins to download for your new DAW

Setting up a home recording studio: essentials you need