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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Choosing Your Software DAW

A primer to picking these indispensable software packages

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Avid Pro Tools 10

The Digital Audio Workstation is the backbone of your audio content creation setup. Today's software DAWs are incredibly powerful, and they can be run on just about any up-to-date computer system. Although many sophisticated audio professionals swear by analog solutions, DAWs offer more options and give you more power at aggressive prices than analog systems. There are a number of components to a DAW, including hardware, interfaces and software. In this article, we focus on the software side.

Software DAWs cover a broad range, from options like Apple GarageBand, which comes free on new Macs, up to the ever-popular Avid Pro Tools, which has been a longtime favorite for power DAW users. Because each software package has its own layout, finding the one that's intuitive to you is an important consideration. You simply get more out of a DAW when you're comfortable with it. You usually can try out trial versions to get a feel for the various software.

There are entire books written about the ins and outs of DAWs. While the software is the backbone of the system, how you interface with that backbone adds an almost unlimited number of possible permutations to your system. Here, we have limited space so we've kept the scope of this article focused.

It's impossible to start any look at DAWs without beginning with Pro Tools. Now in version 10, Pro Tools has long been a standard for content creators when it comes to audio. You can mix multiple formats and multiple bit-depths in the same session without having your project expand because of file duplication. Pro Tools 10 supports 32-bit floating-point file formats, and the two-window DAW interface is straightforward, making navigation easy and fast. There are a host of plug-ins, virtual instruments and an effects library included in the software. It's powerful and full-featured. Content creation takes many forms, from editing to making special audio effects for a film project to laying down music tracks and songs. Pro Tools 10 has tools for all of these, including their powerful score editor and a range of MIDI tools. In Pro Tools 9, Avid built in extended user control (EUCON) support. In Pro Tools 10, that's extended to more than 500 new functions, which can make working in Pro Tools via a EUCON-supported control surface very efficient. Mac OS and Windows. Estimated Street Price: $699. Contact: Avid, www.avid.com.

PreSonus Studio One Professional 2
Since its launch two years ago, PreSonus Studio One has earned the respect of studio professionals and emerging professionals alike. The DAW has a reputation for being a svelte, but not stripped-down software package that's intuitive and capable of generating top-quality audio. Now in version 2, there are three versions of Studio One: Studio One Artist 2, Studio One Producer 2 and Studio One Professional 2. The Studio One Professional 2 software features a 64-bit floating-point engine that will switch to 32-bit as necessary to accommodate 32-bit plug-ins, while Studio One Artist 2 and Studio One Producer 2 have the same audio engine, but it's always in 32-bit. There's also real-time time-stretching and resampling capabilities. You can work in an unlimited number of tracks, and you have access to the PreSonus Exchange community hub for sharing user-created content. When PreSonus Studio One was created, the designers built it from scratch to avoid having to work with obsolete and cumbersome legacy code. The Studio One software was written to minimize the demands made on the CPU. In this regard, Studio One DAWs are truly next generation. Mac OS and Windows. Estimated Street Price: $399 (Studio One Professional 2); $199 (Studio One Producer 2); $99 (Studio One Artist 2). Contact: PreSonus, studioone.presonus.com.

FL Studio Signature
FL Studio is available in four different versions: Signature, Producer, Fruity and Express, and each is sold as either a download or in a box with disks (Express is download only). FL Studio was once called Fruity Loops, and it features a 64-bit floating-point engine and sampling rates up to 192 kHz. As Fruity Loops, the software was a powerful tool although somewhat limited to creating loops, but in its incarnation as FL Studio, the software has been designed to handle much more complex missions. Some of the features are improved multicore and multithread support, audio editing and manipulation like pitch correction, pitch shifting, harmonization, time-stretching, beat-detection and slicing and audio warping. Most interface parameters can be automated by recording, drawing and using spline-based automation curves or automation generators. And, of course, there's multi-track recording. Also, all updates are free for life. Windows. Estimated Street Price: Ranges from $49 for Express up to $299 for Signature. Contact: Image-Line Software, www.image-line.com.

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