Best Recording Software

Best Recording SoftwareWhat is the best recording software for the home studio?

That is a great question. It is also very important to address. Let me refer to my last few posts. I have shared several thoughts in a general overview, regarding the creation of the home music studio.

We’ve talked about the studio space and how to create stations for the sources we intend to record. Now let’s take a deeper look at the primary tool for the recording process itself. As previously mentioned there are essentially two types of recording options for the home studio. The first is recording directly to a computer, and the second is to record with a stand-alone unit such as a hard disk recorder.

My personal choice is to use a combination of software and hardware to record directly to a computer. This type of studio setup is called a digital audio workstation or DAW for short. In future posts I will share my suggestions for the hardware side of things, but for now let’s talk about the best recording software for the home studio.

Now I know some of you may be ready to instantly disagree here, giving 20 reasons why my software picks are wrong. So before I give you my reasons why, let me give you the simple answer to our original question.

The best software for home recording is the software that meets your budget, can produce your project goals, and one you’re able to learn how to use.

I know you might be thinking, “what a cop-out.”  Now that you know my answer, let me explain why I believe it to be true. The home music studio is about creating a place to capture musical expression for the purpose of sharing it with others. There are many different options to do exactly that.

Some of the best recording software is completely free. Other software can cost you hundreds of dollars. In either case, your budget is the first thing that matters. Secondly, can the software produce and meet your project goals? If free recording software meets your budget and is sufficient for meeting your project goals, then you have the best recording software for your specific situation.

In the same token, just because you’ve paid hundreds of dollars for software does not mean you will have a professional sounding project. The rule of thumb here is relative to your budget and goals as well as your understanding of the software you’re recording with. If you don’t know how to use the software you have, costly or not, it’s of little value to you.

Now to be fair let me say that there still is an industry standard option when it comes to the best recording software in the studio.

The one that comes to mind is Avid Pro Tools. Pro Tools has certainly been one of, if not the most, popular DAW recording solution around. Is Pro Tools the best option for your home music studio needs? That is a question only you can answer. I will say that if your budget allows, Avid does have some great options that are certainly worth looking into.

If I am going to recommend any software out right Pro Tools would certainly be on the list. An entry-level Pro Tools bundle with a limited edition software version starts around $120.00. I’m personally not a big fan of software limitations at this price range. However if you want to spend the money too see what Pro Tools is like, this is one way to do so.

In many ways Pro Tools has created the look, functionality, and feel of the DAW that many other software manufactures emulate in their own products. That said, Pro Tools is not the only Recording Software that can get the job done well. Now days, that are many other options that can produce the same quality recordings with many of the same features as Pro Tools, yet for a fraction of the price.

Here is a list of other recording software options that are worth investigating as well.

Adobe Audition (Free, Fully Functional 30 Day Trial)

Ardour (100% free, but only runs on Linux and Mac and is best for the tech savvy person)

Cakewalk’s Sonar X3 Producer (Free Trial available)

Steinberg’s Cubase Elements (Free Trial available)

Sony’s Sound Forge (Free Trial available)

Reaper (Download Free)

Let me summarize the answer to our question. What is the best software for home recording? Know that one of the most popular industry standard option today “might be” Pro Tools. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a better option for you personally. If you don’t have the budget for Pro Tools (or just want to use something else) then try looking into one of the free or more affordable options above. Personally…

I would recommend Reaper for the most affordable, full featured software for home recording.

If you do have a reasonable budget to work with (around $300), you might consider  Cakewalk’s Sonar X3 Producer. X3 Producer comes with many virtual instruments and is packed with tons of features for this budget range. Either way, find a program that fits your budget and needs that you’re able to learn at whatever your level of experience with home music recording.

Have you tried any of the software I’ve listed? Do you have another option I didn’t list? What do you consider to be the best recording software. I’d love to hear your thoughts so please add them to the comments section below.

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Discussion

  1. says

    I’d also like to recommend picking one piece of software and working with it. I literally obsess over trying new apps and see if I like this better or “Oooh, shiny!”, etc. They’re all very similar with just varying workflows.

  2. says

    David,

    I enjoy your stuff, thanks so much for putting out such useful information.

    For about 15 years or so, I was a Cakewalk guy. It got to a point where they were “pricing me out”. You know, coming up with a new version and charging me $179 or so to upgrade a version or two. I started messing around with something I read about called “Reaper” and checked it out. What was the hubbub about “Reaper”? Turns out it was doing stuff Sonar wasn’t doing at the time like making simpler renders, not having to have a midi track and audio track just to get a VI to play (although X2 & X3 appear to do that now). That being said, Reaper really does the job well for me and I can get around in it quite nimbly.

    I’m really pretty wishy-washy though. If I watch a Reason, ProTools, or X3 video, I’ll want to start using those! I’ll stick to my guns (for now) and keep on using Reaper along with the VSTs I’ve got from my previous versions of Sonar.

    • says

      Thanks Brian,I’d like to think your in good company with Reaper ;). That’s the only DAW I have installed and record with now days. Thanks for the comment.

  3. says

    hello, am Emmanuel from ghana. pls can a person use sure mic for home studio for the start and can u give me some of the sites to download vsti instruments for free?

  4. gig2112 says

    I would like to be able to record my own voice and sing a long a minus-one or instrumental..I am wondering whats the best way to do that?

  5. says

    Hello David, I would like to be able to edit podcast interviews. I would like some easy software (I am a newbie) that has a good visual interface. I will need to be able to edit two tracks. Most of my interviews are done on Skype. I have a great mic (Heil),but most of my interviewees do not. I prefer a CD to a download if possible. I am checking out Samplitude Music Studio 2014, but it seems to be for music. What would you suggest? I do not like Audacity.

  6. Carlos Palacios says

    I use Ardour on Linux and it’s a very great DAW. There are tutorials on the official web site and lots of videos on youtube about how to use it and it has great pluggins and you download others to make a cool editition nd mixing of your track. Although it is limited because it doesn’t support all midi hardware or all audio interfaces, it is always good to check out what hardware it supports before buying any.

  7. Luc says

    Hey Dave!

    Reaper is pretty good but I recently found Tracktion 4 which I really enjoy. It’s about the easiest DAW you can find.
    It comes bundled with the Mackie Onyx Blackjack USB Interface.

    There is also a site called Groove 3 which offers tutorials on just about every DAW software.
    It helped me to quickly get up to speed with Reaper.

    Cheers

  8. Tim says

    I just spent some time on Reaper this afternoon. The one thing I can’t get past is editing within the program. If I simply want to cut a short passage (or bad take), I can’t just select what I want gone and cut it. The forums all talk about using another program (like Audacity) to edit, then import the file back into Reaper. Why would I want to have to do that? I just want to do simple edits and I don’t see how Reaper can do it easily. After about 90 minutes on Reaper, I was totally unimpressed. Am I missing something?

    Thanx!

    • says

      Hey Tim, I feel your pain! ;) The hardest thing to learn when trying a new DAW can be doing things differently than what you’ve already trained yourself to do on another. I agree completely that Reaper has some limitations that need some fixing when it comes to the editing features of a track. This is one area that they have made lots of updates in to this point (believe it or not).

      In reaper to do what your asking there are a few way, on a single track, you can use the split items function (ctrl+s in windows) to mark and in and out of the area you want to delete. Then select that slice and hit delete. There are also some cool options that can be toggled from the “ripple editing” menu as well. These apply to how many tracks you want to slice an area out and if you want to delete the hole at the same time.

      Another way of doing this is by using the selection brackets to highlight the area you want to delete (disable snap mode if more precision is needed). Than click the waveform of the track you want to edit. Then hit Ctrl+Del. This will take out that selection like you’ve described. Again, using the “ripple editing” options will change whether the hole is deleted and the rest of the wav is shifted over as well.

      I agree this could be made simpler but I assure you that getting around this is well worth the trouble if your looking for an affordable option with tons of routing feature (a real strength of reaper) and an all around good DAW option. It does take time to learn something new but each DAW has its strengths and weakness regardless of what your using.

      Hope this helps and thanks for commenting!

      • Tim says

        Thanx David! I’ll mess with it a bit longer and see if it starts to fall in line. You’re right about getting used to having things a certain way.

        I work for a large credit union in the marketing dept. I write and produce a fair bit of radio (and other audio) out of my home studio for them (V/O as well). I’ve been using samplitude for many years, but have recently started shopping DAWs again.

        Appreciate the tips and input.

  9. Rick says

    For PC, I like Mixcraft for it’s intuitiveness and capabilities. But since I got an iPad, I’m into GarageBand.

  10. justine Johnson says

    I’m loving your work Dave!
    How refreshing to have someone tell you what they think you should buy because they
    ACTUALLY KNOW!! .(not to mention providing useful, ‘hands-on’ ideas that I can apply myself)
    I’m looking forward to creating the studio I’ve always wanted without breaking/robbing the bank…lol..
    Thanks in advance!
    Justine.

  11. says

    Hi,Dave,what is your opinion about presonus studio one,as if my view compared to the price and quality of pre sonus seems like the best solution.Thank you!

    • says

      Its really hard for me to say that Studio one is the “Best” solution. But it may be for you. I’m still partial to Cakewalks Sonar X2 for that same price range but that’s simply because I’m used to that DAW. If Studio one is something you can afford, it has the features you need, and your willing to learn how to use it, then go for it. Paired with a good audio interface you’ll be able to create some quality projects for sure.

  12. simon sabir says

    hello
    sir
    i am simon sabir
    i am using the FL studio now . but my one of friend is running the studio and he is using the software logic on Mac .its good . but he say me i should us the Cubase not FL Studio. he give me reason that FL studio Do Not have good Sound of Instruments .
    but i check the Ranking on net of Tools for recoding then there was FL studio at the 4 rank and Cubase is at 7 rank. Now i am confused on which software i should use for my home studio .
    if you have any good suggestion for me then please help me out .
    simon sabir
    simon.sabir1@gmail.com

    • says

      Thanks for asking your question Simon,

      Remember that any rank for recording software is simply someones opinion. Regarding instruments, if you can load VST instruments in FL Studio than you can have the exact same quality as any other software. The difference will be what the program comes with by default. If it does what you need it to do and you know how to use it will, than I’d keep using it. If your finding your not happy with the instruments in FL Studio than you can simply upgrade those. That said, both Cubase and FL Studio are widely used recording studio DAWs. Good or bad is purely a matter of opinion.

  13. Russ says

    I have over 200 old albums I would like to use for samples and produce my own hip hop beats…Although I hardly know anything about doing this…I was wondering if there is any software out there that would work good for this project and be easy to learn. I have a laptop and that’s it. What else would I need to go along with the software to accomplish this? Thank-you to who any that replies….
    Russ

    • says

      Thanks for the question Russ. This is one area I don’t do a lot of (creating beats) but I do know a lot of people who started learning this with Ableton Live. You would need an audio interface and the software as well as a way to hear your doing to start. This could be headphones or studio monitors. On the audio interface I would recommend looking at the
      Focusrite Scarlett 2I4 Usb Audio Interface
      The 2i4 comes with a lite version of Ableton Live, which is great to get started with and will do a lot. Keep in touch!

  14. Bing says

    How about Mixcraft ? Pros and Cons?

    I used Mixcraft more a few years back and tried REAPER a bit. I find Mixcraft easier to use. From a songwriter and/or music composer’s perpective, I want to spend more of my creative juices on making the music rather than perfecting the sound (not to say that sound reproduction is NOT important—I hope you know what I mean?). What do you think?

    Thanks and great blog by the way.

    • says

      Hey Bing, honestly I’ve not had the chance to use Mixcraft personally. That said, unless your building a studio where you want to record lots of projects for other people and need to import industry standard files from ProTools, there is no reason that most any DAW couldn’t work just fine.

      I do understand what your saying about making music verses learning software, I’m a believer that both are very necessarily and this just comes with the territory. This is the reason I find it hard to say that one DAW is better than another. Regarding Mixcraft? If you’ve been able to learn (or continue to learn) how to use it, if it does what you need it to do, and if it fit your budget than I wouldn’t worry to much about what your missing personally.

      When you being to hit walls that your software can’t do, than its time to look for something else. I know this might not be a direct answer to your question but again, I’ve not personally use Mixcraft so I hope this helps.

      Keep in touch!

  15. says

    You haven’t mentioned Live at all, or Logic.
    At $199, Logic is one of the best value for money DAW’s I can think of, although having said that, if you have a mac, then you already have Garageband…
    Live is not on the cheap side, but it is so flippen cleverly designed for songwriters, even if you aren’t into EDM…

  16. Jeff Lodge says

    Hey Dave,
    Didnt see anyone making reference to Cubase. Perhaps cuz I’ve been a PC geek since dirt I gravitated to Cubase back in v sx 2.0. Although living in a truck makes it difficult for me to play with it much, I have the newest version 7 and have been pretty impressed so far. Be interested to hear from anyone (PC) that has “switched” from Cubase.

    Am one of those guys who spends entirely too much money on software you mentioned in a previous post. Waves Platinum, NI Komplete, all the Spectrasonics stuff, etc. etc ;)

    Thanks for doing what you do!
    Jeff

    • says

      I started analog recording with an 8 track recorder about 25 years ago. About 13 years ago I purchased Cubase ( their first release as I recall). I also purchased a Roland mixing board with the capability if two analog to digital converter. I am an engineer and spent a great deal of time just getting the system to record. The tech from Roland finally told me that it could not be done and to return the product. I didn’t give up. However, once I got the system to work, the tech wanted me to explain how I got it to work. About 3 or four years ago I upgraded toncubase 5 and purchased a Yamaha analog to digital piece of equipment. The system allows for 8 inputs and 8 outputs. It also allows you to daisy chain 3 of these units for a total of 24 ins and outs. The main problem is the number of updates required for the converter and the software. The security implemented my Stienberg is a real pain. I lost my hard drive and will have to start from scratch to get it working properly. I seem to have read a similar post about how difficult it is to get the registration done. They give you a thumb drive for what ever version you have which works as your liscense. For me, since i bought an upgrade, I would have to load the original software and use the original USB thumb drive before installing the upgrade and using the new USB key. Since I have worked with computers since they started, I have a certain advantage. I spent over 200 hours making the first version work and I strongly suggest that anyone new to digital recording take a course on their specific software. I do not think that any of the high end software is truly intuitive. There are so many effects that come with Cubase that you should be able to get your desired sound. Even after getting to this point, there is still a great deal to learn about microphone placement and input industry standard for decibels. This applies not only to each individual input but also the final master. Again, I suggest that you go to a school and learn the ropes. I also think that you should play with it long enough to achieve some level of experience before going to a school. I have been playing classical style guitar for well over 40 years. When placing the mic’s and monitoring the screen it becomes very difficult to record yourself. I also have an Alesis Keyboard for arranging and background. The midi can be done with the computer. The notes can be mathematical done with your computer keyboard and then processed by the keyboard.

  17. Roland Ciuoderis says

    Hello
    I haven’t tried any newer updated versions of the software/DAWS listed (except for reaper and studio one), but some time back I used almost all of theones out there and the easiest and absolutely most intuitive was and still is SAMPLITUDE/SEQUOIA. Seem its much more popular in Europe than here, but I swear by this program. It all just ‘clicked’ into place when I began using this..I was able to finally “talk”to my audio interface and tell it what I wanted to do.
    Be that as it may, make no mistake..there is a learning curve with all DAWS and Samplitude is no different; but it got me to where I wanted to go much faster than any of the others. Samplitude is expensive; they do have sales once to twice a year where they will sell the software for a really cheap price. Of mention -their MUSIC STUDIO program is a bargain..a lot better and more refined than it used to be… even though it is a step down from Samplitude. Often on sale for $99 or less. EASY to get going quickly with this….very intuitive like its older brother…
    LASTLY, the ultimate bargain is REAPER. If I wasn’t using Samplitude for such a long time, due to cost and so many more choices on the market, today I would have probably ended up with REAPER. It DOES everything the big expensive DAWS do and at 60 bucks ?!? With tons of Updates included?? It is a FREAKING NO BRAINIER.

  18. Mark Stevens says

    Well Sonar X2 upgrade prices are in, $99, for me which will be a no brainer, can’t wait until the time arrives! I urge everyone to give it a look!

  19. Mark Stevens says

    Was just wondering if guys using Pro Tools were Mac users, and the reason I ask, is for the budget-minded, bedroom studio guys like me. I think Sonar does just as good a job, for a whole lot less! So I was just interested, if you have tried Sonar, and didn’t like it, or like I said a Mac thing? I’m not bashing Pro Tools by any means, after all it is the industry standard, but for smaller applications, I think Sonars price difference, and abilities, make it the small guys best bet! Just trying to understand, a get a point of view, so please be nice,lol! Also looks like Sonar X2 is being promoted now, and looks like they have upped the ante!

    • says

      Hey Mark, Hopefully some others will respond as well. In my case I’ve used Protools on a PC. It came with my m-box. It was an LE version so didn’t have the full load of the big dawg. Like you, a Mac just wasn’t in my budget.

      As far as Sonar, I won’t speak bad about it at all. Again I have an LE version of that too (came with my ZED 14). Today I default to Reaper. Not because something else lacks but because Reaper was only $60.00 and came with more plug-ins than my copy of Sonar did (though I believe you can download the reaper plug-ins for free). I also sold my m-box and no longer have it or ProTools.

      In this end, sounds like you got a great deal with Sonar so seems like a valuable DAW for you to me.

      Any one else?

      • Mark Stevens says

        Just one more word on Sonar, you said you had a LE version, so of course, it will be limited in all ways, especially plugins. Right now you can buy Sonar X1 Producer for $399 or less, and get the free upgrade to X2, which has R-Mix, TH2 amp sim., and if you check the number of instruments, and effects included is incredible! I’ve said it a million times, a poor mans Pro Tools! Of course these are just my opinions, but please check out what is included (Pro Channel!)!

        • says

          Hey Mark, good to hear from you again! My honest opinion (and that all it is). I’m 100% with you on Sonor and the upgrade options they’ve offered. Your right, there is an awesome amount of great plug-ins, especially with producer.

          If I had the cash to invest into it right now, I might even do it. ;). Since you were able to right now, man I’m excited for you. Who doesn’t love some new toys. ;)

          For the time being I’m more focused with Reaper, and that is not because I don’t like another DAW. Reaper and my old copy of Sonor LE is what I have at the moment is all.

          Funny side note though. In the survey I’ve sent out ( http://homemusicstudio1.com/survey-1/ ), of the 11 DAW’s I’ve listed. Someone has a preference of each and every one on the list ;). Ha ha.

          Keep in touch!

          • Mark Stevens says

            That’s awesome, sorry if I sound pushy about Sonar, it’s just what I started with, and comfy with. I just remember how hard it was to get started, until I found the forum, on Cakes site, then Youtube exploded with great tutorials. Plus the jump from 8.53 to X1, actually made it easier, with the Skyline UI, and new features! So whatever DAW you choose, good luck, and be patient, there is somebody out that’s covering whatever problems you are going through, just have to look for help! Keep up the good work David!

          • says

            I hear ya Mark and no apology necessary. I’m honestly just happy to have you share your thoughts. It helps me know that someone is actually listening. ;) Keep me posted on any of your projects. I’d love to hear how things are going!

  20. Steve says

    I’ve been using protools for over a year. It was a pain to learn the program but I think it was worth the time invested. I think it’s one of the best for editing. Even with all the buggy things that come with it.

    • says

      I hear ya Steve, I’ve used ProTools for years with my first m-box and later. I liked it as well. I’ve used Sonar, Audition, and Reaper as well. In the end I think if it does what you want to do and you know how to use it, then its the best DAW for you. The debate over which DAW continues ;).

      Thanks for your comment.

  21. Dan says

    Samplitude is my weapon of choice. I took 4 free ProTools courses and discovered it is truly a pain in the butt to do things with ProTools. With a few exceptions, Samplitude was more intuitive for me.

    I also hear good things about Logic, but I think that is Mac only.

    • says

      That’s cool, I’ve not spent any time with Samplitude. What do you like most about it?

      Like you said though, ProTools (or any other DAW) is not all that valuable if you can’t use it. ;)

      I’ve heard great stuff about Logic too, I’m just too broke to be a Mac guy, ha ha. I’ve been spending most of my time between Sonar and Reaper now days.

      Thanks for your input Dan!

      • Dan says

        The Samplitude UI is just something I was able to grasp much easier than ProTools. The UI can be changed (there are several built in options for track and mixer views) and the keyboard shortcuts are totally customizable.

        AUX tracks are easier to setup. No intermediate buss needed, just route to the aux track directly.

        MIDI tracks are easily converted to audio. Just “freeze” the track. Want the MIDI data back? Unfreeze it. Presto. Most of the time I just leave them as MIDI data and apply effects as needed directly to the track.

        Mixing down tracks is faster, typically 1/4 to 1/2 the time it takes ProTools.

        I’m not too crazy about the built-in plugins though. I downloaded Reaper’s free VST plugins, and use them for a lot. (Those are really good plugins!)

        Anyway, I could go on, but try its demo someday and see if Samplitude is right for you. Everyone is different about what they like.

        • says

          I second Samplitude. Remember, with any DAW there is a learning curve–no real instantaneous results.
          Samplitude isn’t as popular here in the States, but it has many, many merits. I tried a few DAWS some years ago (cubase, pro-tools, etc), and after spending countless hours struggling with them once I tried Samplitude everything seemed to just ‘click’…I was finally off and running, making music.For me, it was the most intuitive of all the Major DAWS. They have ironed out their problems through the years as well (and which major DAW hasn’t?)

          Although actually it has become a more pricey program to purchase now; methinks once or twice a year the company offers it as a deep discount, which is comparable to pro tools cost.

          You can do almost everything in Samplitude that you can in pro tools…Really—and then some. Included VSTi’s are very good, though not great. Effects are very good as well..some excellent. As a whole an incredibly comprehensive package. (spectral analysis and spectral editing included as well !!)

  22. Mark Stevens says

    Chiming in a little late, but just wanted to mention if there are any Cakewalk, or Sonar users, they are having a great promotion. Buy one of the Sonar packages, and you will be automatically upgraded to the next version! I mention this because I am a Sonar X1 user, and love it, I feel for the money, you get plenty of instruments, audio, and MIDI are handled well, and if you are up to the Producer levels, they have great mastering capabilities!
    Of course just my opinion, but if you’re looking to expand, give them a look, I think you will like what you get for price!
    Great article Dave, and thanks, keep them coming!

    • says

      Thanks Mark!,
      On the Sonar X1 I’m 100% with ya. For the money to upgrade it’s a great DAW. Like you’ve said if you can get the Producer level even better. I’ve got a copy of Sonar LE that came with my board and even for that older lower level package it can do a ton. I’ve also heard lots of good stuff from the many that are using X1 and up too.

      Hope all is well Mark and have a great night!

      Dave

  23. Konstantin says

    Hi there, great article David as usual.
    I think for me as a voice over artist, Adobe Audition s3 is just great but for someone who wants to create or record music probably he needs to search for a ”more professional product”.
    Nice to find a website like yours.
    Keep rolling..!

  24. says

    Hey JW, Great point and thanks for the additional info. I have heard some pretty good feedback on reaper but have not had the time to look into myself. Are you using any specific hardware with it? Just curious. Thanks for your input!

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