Inside the Box with Joe Albano: DAW Upgrading
Getting started in computer-based audio production in 2020 is easy. Competent free programs like GarageBand from Apple and Avid Pro Tools | First are available to all, and almost every audio interface and keyboard controller these days comes bundled with a light version of a popular DAW. Companies that don’t offer a free option invariably provide downscaled versions of their flagship applications that typically sell for around $100 or less; these provide basic music recording and production features and include Ableton Live Intro, Cubase Elements, and Studio One Prime, to name a few. From there, you can grow into intermediate and premium versions of each, adding advanced features, increased track counts, added plugins and more along the way.
And that brings us to the subject of this column—when is it time to take the big step from an entry level DAW that basically gets the job done, to the full-on version with all its bells and whistles? By design, entry level workstations have their own specific limitations. When you find yourself repeatedly bumping up against them or frequently thinking, “I wish I could do x, y, or z for this project,” then it’s probably time to start considering dropping some dough and movin’ on up.
Below is a brief look at a few popular DAWs that come in both entry level and full-blown versions, and some of the things that might push a user just far enough over the edge to make the jump from the minors to the big show. Note that there are many others; each manufacturer’s website usually provides tables and comparison charts.