In my last several posts I have gone through everything it takes to create a great home studio for recording music. I talked about the room and how to prepare it, microphones, video cameras, the audio interface, and what type of computer you should get.
Now we move on to possibly the most complicated piece of your home studio puzzle: the mixing software. Digital Audio Recording software is you main tool for the actual recording, storing, and processing of your music. You install it on your DAW computer, and it runs like any other program.
The DAW software is the brains of your home studio, and it can take a long time to master the mixing process. Making sure you have the best recording software is vital in making sure you end up with the most professional sounding music to post on YouTube, or where ever.
What is the BEST recording software for the home studio?
When decided what DAW software will work best for you you need to think about 3 factors:
- Budget – You might not want to immediately drop hundreds of dollars and would prefer to use a free recording software. That is exactly what I did when I was a beginner. If you can afford to spend a little bit, then there are some really great options for cheap DAW software as well.
- Project Goals – You should have some ideas in your head about what kind of music you want to produce. If you need to do something that none of the free DAW software offers, then you need to keep looking.
- Your Ability – You could go out and buy the most expensive fanciest DAW programs available. If you get it installed but don’t know how to use any of the features, then you just wasted a lot of money. You can always start with the free or cheap versions and upgrade later.
Avid Pro Tools is a pretty big standard in the industry. When you buy it you get an audio interface and the software comes with it, and it will work with both Windows and Mac OS X. The newest version runs around $350, but you can get some limited versions that don’t have all of the features enabled for about $150. I don’t really like the limitations on the cheaper version, and don’t really recommend it unless you want to “try out” Avid Pro Tools to evaluate if you want to buy the full version.
If your budget allows for it, then get the full newest version of Avid Pro Tools. Pro Tools set the bar for DAW software and most of the other recording software out there has a very similar look and functionality. If it’s out of your price range, that’s OK. There are plenty of other options.
What is the best FREE recording software for the home studio?
Do you remember Winamp from back in the day? Did you ever use LimeWire to “preview” movies before buying them? If you enjoyed those 2 programs then you might like Cockos REAPER. All 3 were developed, in large part, by the same guy: Justin Frankel. REAPER stands for Rapid Environment for Audio Prototyping and Efficient Recording. (Which sounds to me like they picked the name Reaper and then tried really really hard to find words that fit). Anyway, REAPER is “shareware”. This means that the full REAPER program is free to use for 60 days, but if you want to keep using it then you need to buy a license. The full license is cheap, coming in at only $60.
The great thing about REAPER is that it is packed full of functionality and features that are normally only found on the high-end, and very expensive, digital audio workstation software. The problem though is that it comes with a very steep learning curve. Once you get the hang of REAPER though, you will find that it is far and above the most versatile and powerful. You can customize everything, right down to the shapes and colors of the control pictures.
REAPER does provide you with a HUGE amount of instructional videos that show you exactly how to do everything you need to. Here is the list of videos.
REAPER allows you to integrate VST plugins, comes with hundreds of native instruments, and lets you rewire applications and all of the other third-party programs. If you are really ambitious, you can even compile your own plugins, script events, and debug using its included programming environment using any one of several computer languages.
REAPER works on both Windows and Mac OS X. It will also work well in Wine if you prefer Linux. REAPER is the best recording software for Mac and PC.
Here is a video showing you some home recording software beginner stuff in REAPER:
Zynewave was started in 2005 by the programmer Frits Nielson. He made Podium which is a DAW software that has a 64-sound engine, third-party and VST plugin compatibility, and a large number of other high-end functionality.
Zynewave only costs $50 for a license, but also has a free version called Podium Free. It is technically more limited than the full version, but the only limits placed on it is the lack of multi-processing and disabling of the surround-sound playback. These limitations are most noticeable when your computer is under a heavy load. Other than that, the program is exactly the same as the full version.
Podium also takes some getting used to, but isn’t as difficult to learn as REAPER. It gives you a ton of customization and allows you to adjust effects very precisely.
Podium does not pester you with annoying pop-ups and has no time limit on how long you can use the free version. It is kept up to date and bug fixes are promptly handled.
What is the best FREE recording software for the home studio?
Audacity was developed at Carnegie Mellon University in the 1990’s by 2 engineers. It’s an open source program that gives you an intuitive layout to record and edit audio. Over the years its popularity has grown and now has quite a following. People use Audacity in their home music recording studios, to create and edit podcasts, and even to convert old records into a digital format.
Unlike a lot of free Digital Audio Workstation software it gives you multi-track recording abilities and a lot of advanced effects, like being able to remove noise, correct pitch, and remove unwanted noise. There is also a large number of third-party plugins available as well as user-scripted plugins.
Audacity is very easy to install and use, and will run on Windows, Linux, or Macs. The only problem I have with it is that if you need to undue some of your editing, it can be a little frustrating. You can undo changes, but changing effects on original wave forms is needlessly time consuming.
That is a relatively mild complaint though, and Audacity is widely loved and used in the recording industry.
The full version of Presonus Studio One Professional costs about $450. Presonus does offer a free version, but they really limit its functionality. That means that they purposely locked out features in the free version that are normally available in the paid ones. Some of the things that are locked aren’t things that are typically used; like being able to export files directly into SoundCloud, and some that you really need. For example, with the limited version, you can’t export or import MP3’s, and they don’t allow you to use synthesizers from third-parties. They also limit you to only using 8 effects and 1 instrument.
Presonus Studio One Free is better than a lot of the other “Free” but limited DAW software’s though because it doesn’t constantly send pop-ups trying to get you to buy the full version. There is also no time limit on how long you can use the free version. It runs very smoothly and has a very intuitive interface. It runs and looks like high-end DAW software, because that what it is. Just a severely limited version of a high-end software.
Even though Presonus did remove a lot from the free version, they did include some really nice features. Things like unlimited instrument and audio tracks, the ability to time stretch, latency compensation, and a bunch of tools that allow you to produce some very polished and layered recordings.
Try it out. If you decide you like the look and feel of Presonus Studio One, then you can always choose to upgrade it when you have the cash.
So what is the best DAW software for your home studio? It really depends on the 3 things I listed at the beginning. Your budget, project goals, and your personal ability to use and learn complicated software.
My overall recommendation to people is generally: if you have the money, then buy Avid Pro Tools. It’s powerful, can do just about any function you can think of, and it’s easy to learn. If you don’t have the money, but can handle a bit of a learning curve, then I think the best free recording software is REAPER. It’s just as powerful (if not more) than Pro Tools and only costs $60.
REAPER is what I use for for my digital audio recording software, and I am very happy with it. I have tried everything I listed here and more though, and each has their good points. In the end you just need to start trying one and decide for yourself.
If you have tried any of the software I talked about here or have a favorite that I didn’t mention, then please let me know about it in the comments below. I love to hear from people and their experiences. What do you think is the best recording software?