I've been getting a lot of questions about what software I recommend for audio manipulation, so I've decided to write up a guide to choosing your software, or DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) as it is called.
The problem with choosing a DAW is that there are only a few things you want your DAW to be able to do. You want to be able to record things. You want to be able to comfortably manipulate audio samples. You want to apply effects to audio tracks. You want to export your work. That's it. In essence, every DAW needs to do this, and every single one does. They differ in workflow, in lay-out, looks and only marginally in features.
Now that we have established this, I'll run down the main options you have here.
1. Logic Studio/Express (Mac)
Once a cross-platform DAW, Apple bought Logic and made it Mac-exclusive. Logic has a reputation of being a all-in-one package, that does everything in a very intuitive way. Express is a stripped-down version of Studio that is still very rich in features. Most studios use Macs, and most of those Macs run Logic. It used to be really expensive, but with the latest update, Apple made the wise choice of making it affordable, with some amazing value for your money.
2. Steinberg Cubase (PC/Mac)
This is the DAW that introduced VST plug-ins, which caused a major turnabout in the DAW world. Many producers switched to this DAW because of it, and it has a reputation for great cross-platform support. The downside is that it has a notoriously difficult interface.
3. Cakewalk Sonar (PC)
The fact that Sonar only runs on PC has made it a very strange little piece of software. In a market dominated by Macs, choosing only to release on PC comes with a very unprofessional image. I have never worked with Sonar, but it's not very expensive, and there's still a good number of people who swear by it.
4. DigiDesign Pro Tools (PC/Mac)
The cross-platform powerhouse. Comes with a PCI card for its DSP technology and output. I've never used it, because it's really really expensive, and is most popular among professional producers.
5. Cockos Reaper (PC/Mac)
I already had a discussion on Reaper here. Basically, it costs next to nothing and works like a charm. Very safe choice for anyone entering the world of digital audio.
6. Ableton Live (PC/Mac)
My favourite, by far. Live does not focus on offering a complete package, it focuses on making making music fun. Comes with a good set of tutorials that will have you feeling like a DJ in no-time. Live is based on looping samples, which makes it extremely accessible and allows you to easily experiment with different ideas. There was a time when Ableton was considered unworthy because of its poor sound engine and choice of fun over power, but the latest versions have addressed those problems.
7. FL Studio (PC)
Another strange little DAW that does everything in a slightly different way. Like Live, it focuses on fun rather than features, but like Sonar, is considered slightly unprofessional. Not only is it PC-exclusive, it also does not allow the use of VST plugins. Still, there are plenty of productions made by this program. One of the top DnB producers in the world, Spor, uses this for most of his tunes, which I think is all the evidence you need.
8. Propellerhead Reason/Rekord (PC/Mac)
A very hands-on approach. Probably the most intuitive DAW of the lot. Not very feature rich, but still offers a few things that other DAWs don't, especially in terms of interface. It's clearly oriented towards electronic music production, and therefore lacks some features that I find essential, but I still have it on my computer. Why? It is very easy to integrate with other programmes. I can use Reason's output in Ableton, which combines their functionality.