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DAW Decisions ’16: The Buzz at Retail

As the single biggest commitment in modern gear selection, DAW choice necessitates dedication to a unique functionality and workflow, while accompanying hardware continues to play a significant role in the decision-making process.

As the single biggest commitment in modern gear selection, DAW choice necessitates dedication to a unique functionality and workflow, while accompanying hardware continues to play a significant role in the decision-making process. At professional and top-tier levels, proprietary worksurfaces like Steinberg’s Nuage and Avid’s S6 are ideal matches for Nuendo and Pro Tools DAWs, respectively, well-suited for a broad range of applications. Bridging gaps between studio and live environments, for example, PreSonus offers its tactile mixers plus touchscreen control of its burgeoning DAW, Studio One. Choices further abound in multiplatform touch-based control—such as Slate Digital’s Raven MTi and MTX or comprehensive DAW control software, like Neyrinck’s V-Control Pro 2, an iOS-, Android-, OS X- or Windows OS-friendly system.

How are many new DAW adopter s finalizing such choices in 2016? To find out, I went to the street, interviewing DAW-centric sales representatives from three major, national pro-audio retailers, each of which agreed to share insights on the condition of anonymity, explaining some personal DAW preferences in the process. Each insist they fairly and carefully represent the range of DAW flavors and brands every day to customers, helping to guide them in making the wisest choices.

The first thing to remember, said one—a committed Pro Tools user—was that all major DAW brands today are affordable (if not essentially free), capable in most tasks and more alike than different. “And mathematically, they’re all the same,” he explained. “If you’re using it basically, like a tape recorder, any of the DAWs are going to work for you. They all actually work exactly the same way, in the way they record audio; the big differences are going to be in plug-ins, virtual instruments and ease-of-use. It’s really not like choosing one microphone over another, or even perhaps one preamp over another. If you recorded into Pro Tools or Cubase, or Studio One, and you did nothing to manipulate the audio, you’d get exactly the same sound. To me, [the choice] is about how good the bundled plug-ins are, third-party plug-in compatibility, and how well the program is designed.”

A longstanding audio engineer, the Pro Tools user remains dedicated to it because “I like their plug-ins the best,” he confirms. “And the good thing is, because it’s so widely used, there’s free training available everywhere. Just go to YouTube and type in ‘Pro Tools’—there’s endless amounts of lessons and tips; if Pro Tools does something, someone has already created a video to teach you how to do to that particular trick.”

Another sales rep, an Apple Logic user, insists that most customers have already been convinced to invest in a particular DAW based on peer input. “With every single one of them competing with pretty much the same functionality, honestly, most people decide what they want based on their friends, people who have used certain [DAWs] before and just straight-up recommendations,” he explains. “I’ve mostly used Logic and Pro Tools; Logic was definitely easier for me to learn editing and recording skills. At least at the time, Pro Tools had more capabilities and is still more widely used, but you have to, in comparison, update a lot more often. As far as Studio One is concerned, it’s designed to work and be used a lot like Pro Tools, and the PreSonus consoles are made to accompany it. From what I’ve seen, it’s very user-friendly, but I don’t personally use it.”

The third sales rep, also a Logic user, has been impressed by Studio One and its growing, and increasingly professional, user base. “I’ve been able to work a lot in Studio One lately,” he offers. “I was majorly impressed, first of all in its gain staging—how much ‘louder’ it is on a whole—overall. Using both Logic and Studio One, playing back an identical basic track on both of them, it seems like I have more useful headroom. It sounds great. Studio One’s layout is also very intuitive. It looks, to me, like a marriage of Pro Tools and Logic; it borrows a bit of the look and flow from the arrangement and mixer windows of both. It’s very familiar, in that way, so it’s easy to get around. The meters are nice and bright, and it’s easy in terms of putting its Fat Channel on something. I think the Fat Channel is a great ‘throw and go’ option for recording. And if you care about virtual instruments, Studio One has some cool synth engines in there that are really hip. So I am a huge fan of Logic; I can do what I need to with it. But for those wanting different, louder-sounding gain staging options and an interface that’s nearly a cross between Pro Tools and Logic, Studio One’s where they should probably be.”

For broad-based DAW users working in live and recording scenarios on a regular basis, the availability of PreSonus mixers and its Studio One-like Capture live multitracking program are increasingly “sealing deals,” admits the third sales rep, especially when price point is of utmost importance. “The range is so affordable,” he continues. “It’s essentially integrated with the PreSonus mixer, and Capture is very similar to Studio One.”

As all three interviewed here agree, Pro Tools remains the pro-level DAW of the majority in our industry with Nuendo gaining slow-but-steady ground with those focused on audio post and various other multimedia work. “But a lot of people are looking elsewhere,” admits the Pro Tools user. “It’s for a number of reasons. First, they may not want to do the subscription thing, or they just don’t want to be trapped into a particular I/O ecosystem. Finally, there are just some unique intricacies of the older platforms that some people don’t want to deal with today. Studio One has this cool vibe because it’s this up-and-coming platform that a lot of studios are starting to switch over to. Most studios will have Logic and Pro Tools, sometimes Nuendo, so those are solid investments and good ones to learn. But I feel as though Studio One is where a lot people are going, especially in personal recording and those just building a career today. I’ve seen some surprising things lately, like Fab DuPont of Flux Studios, doing a lot of clinics using Studio One—some very large complex sessions with the setup, no different than what he would’ve done on Pro Tools. It’s all getting very interesting.”