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DAWs for Pro Audio Applications


From functional freeware to high-end apps, the current crop of DAW software represents an exceedingly wide range of offerings for the PC or Mac user. And it’s a rare user who can get by working on only a single title, so sometimes a second or third DAW program—reflecting different specialties—is a must. With continual updates to existing programs and new players entering the market, we looked into what’s new in the world of software-based DAWs, with late-breaking, pre-AES show news that savvy producers need to know.


Now at Version 8.1.5, Ableton Live combines a nonlinear flow with powerful real-time editing and flexible performance features. New functions and improvements in Live 8 include a new Groove Engine, revamped warping, live looping, new effects, real-time crossfades in the Arrangement view, an expanded groove library (with vintage Akai MPC and E-mu SP-1200 beats), the ability to extract grooves from audio or MIDI files, and real-time groove quantization. In addition to an updated Beats Warp mode and new Complex Warp mode, users can now slice audio files to MIDI tracks based on transients, and a Looper offers classic sound-on-sound looping without the limitations of a hardware device. Other tweaks include new effects (vocoder, multiband dynamics, overdrive, limiter and frequency shifter) and workflow enhancements.

The upcoming version of Adobe Audition is a cross-platform app supporting either PC or Mac platforms. Designed specifically to take advantage of Apple’s Intel-based Macs, Adobe Audition for Mac is a ground-up development effort (not a simple porting from the PC version) that will feature familiar tools for stereo or multitrack mixing/editing/recording and advanced audio restoration capabilities. New features in Adobe Audition for Mac include powerful audio editing and multitrack mixing views; advanced noise-reduction capability; Native 5.1 surround support; multichannel effects; other new effects; high-performance multithreaded processing; and flexible, parallel workflows optimized for fast-paced audio post-production. Release is scheduled for late this year. Adobe plans to allow users of Audition 1.5, 2 and 3 to upgrade to the cross-platform version of Audition regardless of OS.

A year ago, Apple began shipping its updated Logic Studio bundle for the Macintosh, combining its Logic Pro DAW/MIDI platform with the MainStage live performance app; Soundtrack 2 audio post software; 80 studio effects plug-ins; 40 virtual studio instruments; the Studio Sound Library (18,000 loops, 5,000 SFX); and production utilities including WaveBurner CD mastering; Compressor surround encoding; and more than 200 new features, which include Amp Designer and Pedalboard guitar-sound modeling, Flex Time timing/tempo manipulation, Drum Replacer and Quick Swipe Comping vocal/solo track compositing. Aside from the extras, Logic Pro V. 9.1 offers a 64-bit mode, where application memory is not limited, so any RAM amount not needed by the OS is available for use by Logic Pro or the included plug-ins. Therefore, users can run far more instances of memory-intensive plug-ins such as sample-based software instruments.

There’s been a lot of activity in the Avid ( camp lately. Just out, Pro Tools HD V. 8.1 is a free update for Pro Tools HD 8 users for Mac OS X 6.2 (or higher), Win XP and (unofficially) Windows 7. Note: Pro Tools LE and M-Powered remain at V. 8.0.4. Pro Tools HD 8.1 adds a few minor I/O and session setup tweaks, and support for the new HEAT (Harmonically Enhanced Algorithm Technology) software add-on. Developed with Crane Song’s Dave Hill, HEAT adds color and analog warmth to a mix. But the hyperjump here is 8.1’s support of Avid’s HD Series interfaces—HD I/O, HD Omni and HD MADI.


Currently at V. 6.2, BIAS Peak Pro offers advanced playlist editing and mastering for Macs (PPC or Intel based) running OS 10.4 or higher with a Classical Editing mode for creating seamless, customizable crossfades. Also featured is ultra-fast RAM-based editing, volume envelope control over entire regions (including fades and crossfades), improved high-resolution metering, advanced PQ sheet/text export with metadata support, modeling of popular dithering algorithms and a redesigned user interface. Also standard: a suite of production effects and 32 VST effects (delay, limiter, vocoder, de-ess, tone generator and more) from Maxim Digital Audio. The $499 street price also includes the Peak Pro Production Pack, with BIAS Reveal LE audio analysis tools, SoundSoap LE audio cleaning utility and more.


Announced a year ago, Cakewalk’s flagship SONAR 8.5 Producer software keeps expanding. Beyond the recording, composing, editing, mixing and mastering functionality with 64-bit audio capability, this PC-based application for Windows XP, Vista (32/64-bit) and Windows 7 (32/64-bit) offers multistage effect plug-ins and Integrated Arpeggiator for triggering arpeggiations on MIDI or instrument tracks with in-depth control over all arpeggiator parameters, and Session Drummer 3 for fast creation of virtual instrument drum tracks. Also included are stellar-sounding kits and patterns from top sound designers and drummers. The new V. 8.5.3 adds enhanced AudioSnap 2 audio timing/tempo manipulation, with improved rendering, new resolution settings (to set tempo changes on every beat, measure or clip) and an Auto-Stretch mode. Snap settings can now be used to snap both audio and MIDI events to audio transients in selected tracks.

Now four years old and at V. 3.672, Cockos’ Reaper is a low-cost, full-featured DAW program for PCs (Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7), Macs (OS 10.4 or higher) or Linux/WINE systems. Main tweaks in Reaper V. 3 include enhanced MIDI and automation functions, but Reaper maintains a strong fan base, especially with its low pricing ($150 for commercial users; $40 for non-commercial users), solid 24-bit/up to 192kHz performance, clean GUI and large collection of included 64-bit audio ReaPlugs, ranging from EQs and compressors to synths and delay/reverb ambience processors.


EnergyXT is cross-platform (PC/Mac/Unix) full-featured DAW that offers audio/MIDI recording/editing/mixing, virtual synths and effects, yet is small enough to reside on a USB thumb drive for true portability between CPUs. New in EnergyXT 2.5.3 are the ability to send and share music files online using SoundCloud, improved render/bounce for remixing and loop creation, and the addition of a playlist function for onstage playback use. Full VST support is also standard. Pricing via direct download is $75.


Designed for film, video, music production and post-production, Fairlight’s EVO is an integrated hardware/software package offering recording, editing, mixing and video functions with seamless workflows for SD and HD file formats. EVO combines Fairlight’s Crystal Core Processing, the SX range of I/O options and Xynergi self-labeling key technology, with an emphasis on providing quick access to mixing tools and 36-bit floating-point audio throughout the signal path. Rotary encoders and touchscreens deliver in-line controls with detailed, full-color displays for every fader. System pricing starts at $68,000.

Harrison’s Mixbus integrates a modeled analog console—based on the company’s 32 Series and MR Series console designs—into a full-featured DAW. Now at version 1.3, Mixbus operates on the Macintosh (PPC or Intel) platform running OS X 10.4.11 or higher and supports AU plug-ins (with onboard plug-in delay compensation) and any Core Audio interface. The software focuses on the mix console, which offers EQ, filters, dynamics, and bus summing on every track along with analog tape saturation modeling for a vintage sound. Retail is an affordable $79.

Image Line’s new FL Studio Signature Bundle ($279, direct download) combines the FL Studio Producer Edition software with a plug-in suite containing Sytrus, DirectWave Full Sampler, Soundfont player, VideoPlayer, the Maximus maximizer and the Hardcore Guitar effects, in addition to 40-plus other effects such as maximization, dynamics, delay, distortion, EQ (graphic and parametric), filtering, phasing, flanging, chorus, vocoding and reverb. This Windows-based bundle offers all of the sequencing and audio recording/editing/mixing capabilities of FL Studio Producer 9, along with AudioTracks, Full Mixer, ASIO recording and WAV editor. It also supports plug-in instrument standards including VSTi (1/2), DXi (1/2), Buzz and ReWire.

LMMS is a cross-platform (Linux and Windows) free/donation-ware DAW program that’s available for download at The new V. 0.4.8 officially supports modern Windows 64-bit CPUs with improved floating-point math. In addition to audio sample/MIDI sequencing/editing within an updated GUI, LMMS provides a mixer with 64 FX, a selection of instrument and effects plug-ins, and track-based automation.


With a GUI designed for fast production, Mackie’s Tracktion 3 supports Mac OS 10.4.8 or higher and Windows XP on the PC side, and is offered in three bundles—Basic, Project and Ultimate—depending on which plug-ins or virtual instruments are included. Speaking of bundles, Tracktion 3 is also included with Mackie’s new Onyx Blackjack (2×2 USB) and Blackbird (16×16 FireWire) recording interfaces. The software supports up to 24-bit/192kHz recording (full 192 kHz with Mackie’s Onyx 1200F and Onyx 400F interfaces), with 64-bit math mixing for improved headroom and reduced distortion in the summing bus. On the third-party side, Mackie has released drivers that allow its Onyx-i FireWire consoles to provide front-end support and interfacing for Pro Tools M-Powered-8 software. The Onyx-i mixers are also bundled with Tracktion 3.

Samplitude 11 Pro from Magix offers up to 999 tracks with a maximum of 256 simultaneous inputs. In a single project, a maximum of up to 64 submix and 64 aux buses may be added simultaneously. Recent additions for this PC-based program include the Vandal SE guitar/bass amp modeling, the essentialFX (dynamics, modulation and other commonly used sound-processing functions), new drums, Revolta 2 “analog” processing, Harmony Agent, Elastic Audio and full Windows 7 support.

The company’s Sequoia 11 takes the power of Samplitude 11 Pro to the next step, adding advanced functionality such as DDP support for no-compromise CD master transfers, crossfade editing, and a four-point editing feature that combines the source/destination aspects of both linear and nonlinear editing styles. One strength of Sequoia is its proficiency in the area of broadcasting, integration and multitrack editing, and projects can be mixed in surround formats with up to 12 channels.

MOTU has been shipping its Digital Performer 7.2 for several months, and it adds some slick tricks to the rock-solid DP7 Macintosh platform. Most noticeable are the customizable UI themes, which change the look of Digital Performer with a single click to load presets such as Carbon Fiber, Zen, Plasma and Producer (among others); users can also tweak settings to create their own variations. Perhaps more practical is MOTU’s release of Digital Performer Control, a free app that allows Digital Performer 7.2 users to control Digital Performer functions, name tracks, enter data, etc., over a WiFi network using their iPad, iPhone or third-generation iPod Touch. The app supports both portrait (perfect for auto-location duties) and landscape modes (great for mixing and using both hands to move faders). All communication between the Digital Performer project and DP Control app updates instantaneously between the two displays. It’s a free download from the Apple App store.

MU.LAB 3 from MU Tools is a software DAW for Mac OS 10.4 or higher and for Windows (NT/2K/XP/Vista/7) designed with a simplified GUI that’s intended to not overwhelm the user with a complex feature set. This audio/MIDI system offers full-on recording/editing/routing with integrated high-quality synths, samplers and effects, with VST effects and instrument plug-in support. The program is compact enough to reside on a USB stick, and is offered in three versions—MU.LAB 3 Free, MU.LAB 3 XT ($32) and MU.LAB UL ($96)—each having a progressively expanded feature set, with the UL version offering 32×32 I/O channel support.

Version 1.5 of PreSonus’ Studio One Pro DAW software is a major upgrade that includes video playback support from any QuickTime video with sync for composing to picture; the ability to draw automation waveforms; the ability to change tempos within an event; a built-in SoundCloud client that allows users to upload audio files directly to the Web; a new MIDI file player in the browser; and more. The Native Effects plug-in offerings are enhanced, now with 27 64-bit plug-ins, including dynamics processors, modulation effects, amp simulators and reverbs. Studio One Pro also supports VST 2.4, VST 3 and AU plug-ins, as well as ReWire technology. At press time, PreSonus announced V. 1.5.2, which is mostly a maintenance update but adds Mackie HUI support.

Offered in three versions—Full, Lite and Basic—and handling 72/36/24 mono or stereo playback tracks, RML Labs’ Software Audio Workshop (SAWStudio) has been a popular choice for PC users since 1993. One interesting aspect of SAW is a close relationship that founder/developer Robert Lentini maintains with users, often adding updates or minor tweaks on a continual basis, based on specific user suggestions. Currently, SAWStudio is at V. 4.9 and some recent updates include the addition of Studio Reverb V. 2, Studio Frequency Analyzer V. 1.9 and Studio Levelizer V. 3.6, three of the program’s many included plug-ins.

Now owned by Prism Sound, SADiE 6 software is slated to ship this month, and it can run as a software-only version with any I/O, such as Prism Sound’s Orpheus, a PC’s built-in soundcard or the low-latency SADiE Series 5 hardware solutions. In addition to new technical features, the slick new interface offers an astounding array of viewing options that include complex, shaded-color choices, making this new release easy on the eyes. Rather than a one-DAW-fits-all approach, SADiE 6 is offered in several configurations tailored for specific audio applications, including radio production, video post, mastering or studio recording.

Now at V. 1.3.5, soundBlade from Sonic Studio handles mastering, restoration, recording and mixing chores with eight channels at up to 192 kHz (or 16 channels with the multichannel option). Features of this Mac application include Source-to-Destination editing, real-time multimode editing/gain adjust and fade setting, and real-time AU and VST DSP hosting. It includes Sonic EQ LE, DDP file delivery, background sample rate conversion, TPDF redithering, and iZotope’s SRC and MBIT+ redithering. Options include the Series 300 FireWire hardware interfaces, NoNOISE II restoration suite, renovator spectral restoration and more.

From its roots as a looping/music creation program, Acid Pro 7 from Sony Creative Software has developed into a full-on DAW and audio/MIDI recording, editing and sequencing environment. New MIDI features include MIDI track envelopes and key frames, a drum-grid editing mode, MIDI filtering and processing, and MIDI file export. It also now includes more than 20 DirectX audio effects, VSTi soft synth support and Zplane’s élastique audio time-stretching and pitch-shifting. Supported platforms include Windows 7, Vista and XP.

Intended specifically for audio editing and mastering duties on the PC platform, Sound Forge Pro 10 is an all-in-one production suite for audio recording/mastering, sound design, audio restoration and Red Book CD creation. It offers 24/32-bit 192kHz resolution with multiple video AVI, WMV, and MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 format support, along with an included plug-in for exporting 5.1 Dolby Digital AAC-3 surround files. Also new are 64-bit SRC sample-rate conversion and MBIT+ bit-depth dithering from iZotope.

Now at V. 5.5.1 and supporting Macintosh OS 10.5 and higher and Windows 7/Vista/XP, Steinberg’s Cubase offers new tools among its 56 included plug-ins and eight virtual instruments, such as Groove Agent ONE, Loop Mash, VariAudio and Pitch Correct for working with beats and vocals, as well as REVerence, the first VST3 convolution reverb. Also standard are unlimited audio/instrument/MIDI tracks, stereo and 5.1 mixing, Audio Warp time stretching/pitch shifting and Apogee UV22 HR dithering.

Designed for high-end music and post-production applications, Nuendo 5 employs new ADR tools and an advanced QuickTime-based, Native video playback engine; automated batch file export; Nuendo Surround Panner V. 5; smooth scrubbing; a reworked, networkable mediaBay; and network collaboration for multiseat projects via LAN or WAN. Nuendo 5 also reads CMX 3600 EDL lists provided by the video editor, as well as exported and imported CSV-formatted spotting and ADR lists. Also new is the extended Monitoring Matrix, which lets users listen to individual stems, groups, input or output buses with a single click on the Source button. Nuendo 5 is now shipping and is cross-platform for Windows and Mac OS.

George Petersen is the executive editor of