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Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs)

The Best DAW is the One You Know the Best

I've been writing and recording songs to a computer since 1989 or so. I've standardized on Logic Pro on OS X for most of my work, although I've worked with many versions of Cubase on many versions of Windows, and Pro Tools on either platform.

My Mac DAW

The BEST personal computer I have ever owned.

Apple Mac Pro

My first experience recording music on a Mac was back in college using Opcode EZ Vision and Deluxe Music Construction Set. EZ Vision was pretty cool, and since all the hot stars at the time were using Vision, I upgraded after graduation and used Vision through the mid-1990's. I actually have a surprisingly small back-catalog of songs recorded in MIDI; this is probably because of my switch to guitar in 1993 and focusing on writing simpler, more pop-inspired music. I'm a far better keyboardist than guitarist though, and my weak guitar chops limited the chords and keys that I could play. A bunch of the bands I've been in have been more rock-focused, but my own material doesn't necessarily fit that description.

In March 2013, I upgraded to a 2008 Mac Pro with dual quad-core Xeons (8 cores). This thing is a beast. I have run a variety of Mac DAWs over the years: 2006 Mac Pro (4 cores), Mac Mini (2 cores), G5, G4, G3, 8600, 7100AV, etc. Of course this is balls-out faster, but it's the expansion capacity of the Mac Pro model that jazzes me the most. 8 slots for RAM and 4 bays for SATA drives means it's easier to upgrade as your needs require. I wish Apple gave half a care to their pro users, the ones who kept them afloat during the 1990's. I'd hate to move to Windows or Linux for the majority of my work, because that would screw up my workflow and piss away thousands of dollars of software investments. Oh well, time marches on. After buying this Mac, Avid announced ProTools 11, and I've heard that it's incompatible with this model. What the hell? I don't want to be forced into buying some overpriced, underpowered MacBook Pro laptop ($2000?). I spent only $800 on this box and it's way more flexible.

My PC DAW

Inexpensive, fast, infuriatingly frustrating Windows 10 notebook.

Samsung Laptop

I've been using a pc infrequently for writing and recording music since 1998. I purchased the Steinberg Dance Production package because it included Mac & PC versions of Recycle (which I never use) and Rebirth (which I toyed with for awhile, but never made full use of). Surprisingly, while PCs are cheaper than Macs, and have more software available for music, I find that more of the work I do is on the Mac whether it's using ProTools to record or Cubase for MIDI recording. It's not that I'm not as comfortable on a PC, it has more to do with the fact that for most of the time I've had MIDI interfaces wired into my Mac, not my PC. Also because since moving back in with my parents in 2008, my home studio is now an ugly, cement-floored basement workspace area that floods.

My current PC DAW is a Samsung NP550PSC-A01UB laptop -- boy, that name just rolls off the tongue. It's got a 2-core Intel i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 1TB hybrid SSD drive, and is running Windows 8 Pro 64-bit. I haven't loaded any MIDI recording software on it yet, just Audacity. Since my old PC DAW was a dual Xeon similar to the 2006 Mac Pro, this is going to take a little bit of time for me to adjust to using. My plan is to use this time to get more acquainted with Ableton Live, although I'll likely install Cubase 7.x when it arrives. It's a very fast machine, with a crazy trackpad bug which moves my cursor to unexpected places on the screen while typing, making it an extremely frustrating experience. Hopefully this won't be a problem when using it as a DAW since I favor the mouse over the trackpad. The best part was that I bought this laptop for around $500.

I attempted to keep running my AMT-8 and Unitor-8 USB MIDI interfaces until the latter of the two stopped functioning, which is when I decided to move the Mac Pro upstairs and get serious about migrating my software licenses to it. Since Emagic is no more, and there are no drivers for Windows 7, I'm now using MOTU and Midisport MIDI interfaces. I'd have to say that I'm fairly disappointed with the MOTU Express 128 and satisfied with the M-Audio 8x8s, although it's pretty ugly.

My 2 DROBOs
One for OS X, One for Windows.
Drobo

One of the biggest changes we've seen over the past 20 years using DAW software is the exponential growth in the storage requirements of virtual instruments, specifically those which use sampled content. Back in the 1990's, folks were impressed with a 16-bit mono sampled piano; nowadays there are some sample pianos which use up to 12 layers of 24-bit, 96mhz stereo recordings. Collections like Native Instruments Komplete take upwards of 90gb of storage space. So where should we store all this sample content?

One solution is to invest in a big hard drive, say 1TB-2TB. But a far better solution is to invest in REDUNDANT storage, such as what we would find in a corporate computing evironment. RAID = a Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks, and it functions by copying data across multiple drives simultaneously. While this is more expensive than running one or two individual hard disks, it's the safest way to store your files. I chose to use a DROBO unit on both my Mac and my PC because it's the best technology available.

Drobos are quiet, hold a lot of storage, and are the simplest RAID I've used in 20+ years of being a professional network administrator. They make models in lots of shapes and sizes but I opted for the relatively inexpensive 4-drive model (supports USB 2.0 & Firewire 800) and 4 * 2TB drives (which yields about 5.6TB space after redundancy is in place). The Drobo software formats and handles replacing failed drives and upgrading to newer bigger drives without much user input required. My PC's Drobo is using 4 * 1TB drives but I hope to replace them all in 2013, now that both Drobo's firmware have been upgraded to support 3TB & 4TB hard drives. The only complaint so far is that access to the Drobo can seem slower than it should be given the bus speed, and it puts itself to sleep so sometimes it takes a couple of seconds to respond as it's waking from sleep mode.

 

Mac Pro (Early 2008)
2 * 2.8ghz Xeon 4 core processors (8 cores total)
32GB RAM
2 * SuperDrive DVD+-RW Dual-layer
ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT 256MB
2x Acer 23" 1080p LCD monitors
Drobo 2nd Generation, connected via FW800, containing 3*Western Digital Red 4TB hard drives + 1*Western Digital Red 3TB hard drive
Logic Keyboard
Microsoft Wheel Mouse Optical - best mouse ever
PCI Express USB3 card + 7 port powered USB3 hub
Logitech C910 USB webcam

Drive 1 - 2TB 7200RPM WD Black
OSX 10.11.3

Ableton
- Live 4.14
AIR Music Tech
- Creative FX Collection Plus
- DB-33
- Hybrid 3
- Mini Grand
- Loom
- Strike 2
- Structure 2
- Transfuser 2
- The Riser
- Vacuum Pro
- Velvet
- XPand! 2
Apple
- GarageBand 10.1.0
- iTunes 12.3.1.23
- Logic Pro X 10.2.0
- Final Cut Pro 7.0.3
- Soundtrack Pro 3.0.1
- Waveburner Pro 1.6.1
Arturia
- Analog Laboratory
- Arp 2600 V2 2.7.0.76
- CS-80 V2 2.7.0.76
- Jupiter-8 V2 2.7.0.76
- Matrix12 V2
- Mini V2 2.7.0.76
- Modular V2 2.8.0.76
- Oberheim SEM V 1.7.0.76
- Prophet V2 2.7.0.76
- Solina V
- Spark
- Vox Continental V
- Wurlitzer V
Audacity 2.10
Audio Damage Plugins (AU / VST)
- BigSeq2
- Kombinat DVA
- Panstation 1.02
- Phosphor 1.12
Avid
- Pro Tools 10.3.5.223, 11.3.0.327
+ AAX 64-bit Plugins (see list below)
Cakewalk
- Dimension Pro 1.5
- Rapture 1.22
- Studio Instruments Bass, Drums, Electric Piano, String Section
Camel Audio
- Alchemy Player 1.55
Chicken Systems
- Translator 1.511
Cuckos
- Reaper
Edirol
- Virtual Sound Canvas (not sure this works)
GForce
- Imposcar 2
- MTron Pro + Chambertron + Optitron
- Oddity 1.2 (doesn't work in Cubase 6.51)
Green Oak Crystal 2.4
Hollow Sun
-130p
- Altaerion
- Broken
- Cathotron
- Cognosphere
- Cronkotron
- Interference Generator
- Jaypea
- Korg M1 + 01/W
- Modular Toolkit
- Novalite
- Oberheim Matrix 1000
- Organa
- Oscillosine
- Sawpad
- Shangri La
- Squarepad
- Stringodyne
- Techtron
- Tesla Coils
- the Advanced Noise Generator
- the Dotcom Xmas Special
- TriOsc
- Yamaha FS1R
IK Multimedia
- Sampletank XL 2.5 + loop packs
Izotope
- Breaktweaker
- Delay
- iDrum 1.8x
- IRIS 2
- Spectron
- Stutter Edit
- Trash 2
- Vinyl
Korg Analog & Digital Legacy Collections (AU / VST / RTAS)
- Legacy Cell 1.23
- Legacy MS-20 1.26
- Legacy Mono/Poly 1.04
- Legacy Polysix 1.25
- Legacy M1 1.65
- Legacy Wavestation 1.67
- MDE-X Effects
KV331 Audio
- Synthmaster Factory 2.84
MOTU
- Digital Performer 4.11
Native Instruments Komplete 9 Ultimate
- Abbey Road 60s Drummer
- Abbey Road 70s Drummer
- Abbey Road 80s Drummer
- Abbey Road Modern Drummer
- Absynth 5.01
- Action Strings
- Alicia's Keys
- Amped
- Balinese Gamelan
- Battery 4
- Berlin Concert Grand
- Damage
- Driver
- Enhanced EQ
- Evolve Mutations
- Evolve Mutations 2
- FM8
- George Duke Soul Treasures
- Guitar Rig 5 Pro
- Kontakt 5
- Massive
- Monark
- New York Concert Grand
- Passive EQ
- Rammfire
- Razor
- RC 24
- RC 48
- Reaktor 5
- Reaktor Prism
- Reaktor Spark
- Reflektor
- Retro Machines MK2
- Scarbee A-200
- Scarbee Clavinet/Pianet
- Scarbee Jay-Bass
- Scarbee Mark I
- Scarbee MM-Bass
- Scarbee Rickenbacker Bass
- Session Horns
- Session Strings
- Skanner XT
- Solid Bus Comp
- Solid Dynamics
- Solid EQ
- Studio Drummer
- The Finger
- The Giant
- The Mouth
- Traktor's 12
- Transient Master
- Upright Piano
- Vari Comp
- VC 160
- VC 2A
- VC 76
- Vienna Concert Grand
- Vintage Organs
- West Africa

+ Discontinued Versions
- Absynth 4.05
- Akoustik Piano 1.13
- B4 II 2.04 (is a little funky)
- Battery 3.11
- Elektrik Piano 1.5
- Kore 2.12
- Pro-53 3.04r2

Novation USB Driver 2.5
- Bass Station 1.8
- V-Station 2.0
Propellerhead
- Recycle 2.24
Redmatica
- Pro Manager 3.3.11 (KILLED BY APPLE)
- Keymap Pro 2.3.11(KILLED BY APPLE)
Roxio
- Toast 10.x
Sinevibes AU Plugins
- Alternator 1.01
- Array 3.0.2
- Atom 1.0.2
- Circuit 1.0.5
- Cluster 2.0
- Deep 1.1.2
- Diffusion 1.3.3
- Drift 3.10
- Dynamo 1.4.1
- Extremum 1.0.2
- Filther 1.1.0
- Flow 1.0.3
- Frequency 1.2.1
- Hexonator 1.0.4
- Hologram 1.0.2
- Inertia 2.02
- Malfunction 1.0.3
- Molecule 1.0.1
- Multitude 1.1.3
- Octagon 1.0.4
- Oscillator 1.2.2
- Reactive 1.0.2
- Sequential 3.0.5
- Shift 1.2.1
- Singularity 1.04
- Strobe 1.1.0
- Switch 2.0
- Torsion 2.1.0
- Turbo 3.1.4
- Turbulence 2.0.2
- Zap 1.0
Steinberg
- Cubase 8.5
- Groove Agent 4
- Halion 5
- Halion Symphonic Instruments 16-bit 3.50592
Toontrack
- Superior Drummer 2.40
- EZ Drummer 2
- Toontrack Solo 1.32 32-bit
- Avatar 1.40
- Claustrophobic 1.50
- Cocktail 1.40
- Drumckit from Hell 1.50
- Electronic 1.50
- Funkmasters 1.50
- Jazz 1.50
- Latin Percussion 1.21
- Nashville 1.51
- New York 1 - 1.20
- Pop/Rock
- SDX Avatar 1.31
- SDX NY 1.02
- Twisted Kit 1.50
- Vintage Rock 1.51
Waldorf
- Attack 1.74
- DPole Filter 1.74
- WavePPG 2.V 1.74
WayOutWare
- KikAxxe 1.102

Free AU Plugins
AmplifikationCM
Artillery2 CM
Blue Cat FreqAnalyst CM
CM-Alpha
CM-EQUA87
CurveCM
Devil-Loc
DuneCM
MHarmonizer CM
PKBIIplayerCM
PolyKBII CM
ReverberateCM
RG-Muted_CM
Rhino CM
Satson CM
SSL LMC-1
SSL X-ISM
SSL X-Orcism
XFade Looper CM
Zebra CM

BROKEN RTAS Plugins
BombFactory Essential Clip Remover
BombFactory Essential Correlation
BombFactory Essential Funk Logic Masterizer
BombFactory Essential Meter Bridge
BombFactory Essential Noise Meter
BombFactory Essential Signal Tools
Digidesign Intelligent Noise Reduction DINR
Digidesign Structure Free
Fxpansion BFD Lite
Izotope Spectron
Melodyn Essential

BROKEN in PT 11.x
Antares AVOX Choir
BombFactory BF3A
BombFactory BF76
BombFactory Cosmonaut Voice
BombFactory Essential Tuner
BombFactory Fairchild 660 mono limiter
BombFactory Fairchild 670 stereo limiter
BombFactory JoeMeek Compressor
BombFactory JoeMeek Meequalizer
BombFactory MC77
BombFactory MoogerFooger Analog Delay
BombFactory MoogerFooger LowPass Filter
BombFactory MoogerFooger Phaser
BombFactory MoogerFooger RingMod
BombFactory Pultec EQH-2
BombFactory Pultec EQP-1A
BombFactory Pultec MEQ-5
BombFactory Tel-Ray chorus
BombFactory Voce Chorus
BombFactory Voce Spin
Digidesign Maxim
Digidesign Smack!
Digidesign Synchronic
Digidesign XPand!
TL Aggro
TL Metro

updated 02/18/16

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