Favorite DAWs and Composing Software and Why?

Hi, all. I’m new here. I’m getting back into making music again. It’s been a long time. I figured that this post prompt would be a good opportunity to continue my research into shopping for a DAW while including you all in the conversation. It’s always nice to learn more about the many DAWs that are available these days.

I’ll start first… I’m currently leaning towards getting Studio One Version 5 – I currently have Version 3 but after the Catalina update it is now not supported; I never really used Version 3, so I don’t have much experience with it (I quit music making after I had just bought it). I have past experience with Sonar 3, Fruity Loops, Acid Pro, and Sound Forge.

I’ve also considered buying Ableton, too, but I think that program specialises more in live performance, right? Although its interface looks a little more clunky, it would be nice to eventually pair it with another main DAW, something strong with samples, loops, and live performance; it’s also known for being very compatible with Max/MSP. Hopefully whatever I settle on will work well together.

First, here’s what I’m looking for in a new DAW:

  1. a GUI that is easy to look at and work with and intuitive to use (including logical button placement);
  2. a program that allows for user manipulation as much as possible (in the sense that ribbons can be customised and/or clips and tracks can be switched around and manipulated along with effects – I think Studio One does a good job with this, right?);
  3. a program that is equally strong in recording, mixing, and mastering;
  4. a program that plays nice with other programs (are compatibility issues less common these days regarding transferring and sharing files between multiple applications and programs?);
    and 5) a program that has a strong and flexible internal “file management system” for building and maintaining a sound library (I would like to create an internal library full of samples that I gather from audio recordings, but I want to be able to systematise the management of where these clips are stored and how they are retrieved).

Does Studio One meet these features? How essential is Ableton? Are there any DAWs that you’d all recommend that meet this criteria?

Lastly, I’m doing some research for composing software, too. I really want a program that is equally intuitive to use and powerful in its features – it would be nice if I could compose for microtonal music, for instance, and change tunings for instruments); it would also be nice if I could process the tracks/project using an outside DAW, preferably live, but in post-production is okay; and if it either had a powerful instrument pack or was compatible with such add-ons (are VSTs all universal these days?).

So far I’m leaning towards starting with MuseScore – largely since it’s free. But I’d likely eventually want to get a program in the long-term that has more advanced composing features. I’m also leaning away from Sibelius due to issues I’ve seen about it having an awkward GUI – mostly. Are these concerns well-founded? Does anyone have any experience with Dorico? If that’s as powerful as Sibelius while the GUI is more improved then that might be worth the price. If not, how much different is Finale over Sibelius? Does anyone have any experience using these or other programs?

And now it’s your turn. In addition to any feedback about my DAW and composing program questions, what do you all use and why? What are the strengths and weaknesses, the potential and limitations of your chosen program(s)? What do you tend to use them for and how do you tend to use them? For what music and what workflow?


Hi Todd
I’m looking to get Studio One 5 soon too. I own V3.5 Pro and use it every day. When I first bought it, I did a whole lot of research into getting my first DAW and Presonus was my choice - mainly because it seemed like the most intuitive of the bunch - the GUI is great and everything is ‘drag & drop’ which helps with workflow. I’ve never really used other DAWs, so can’t testify to their viability for you, but I can definitely recommend SO5.

I’ve learned a great deal about this DAW since first buying (v2) and there’s so many ways to improve workflow and speed. I’ve noticed that sometimes, other DAW users get a bit snobby and they generally call it a “nice toy” compared to their programs, but I can assure you that it is not. Being German also helps with it’s efficiency :slight_smile: and the new version has some awesome new features like built-in notation and a key-switch track - which really appeal to me.

*GUI is perfect and very customizable
*Audio functions are easily manipulated and easy to add effects with drag & drop etc - but also has a handy ‘Transform’ tool

  • Never had a problem with recording, mix and mastering - the pro version has a mastering suite which is geared towards finalising your tracks/albums.
    *All modern VSTs (instruments and plugins) will run on SO. I’ve only found a couple of very old plugins that it doesn’t recognise. You can use SO to transfer stems with the correct file type to pro-tools or cubebase users, so very compatible. I believe you can even set the shortcut keys to Pro-Tools if you want. The file system is great and you can record audio to the “Pool” tab… From there, you can quickly drag & drop anything you’ve stored or designed and it will automatically bring up the effects chain and any folder options etc. This would be great for you to keep a library of your own sounds and real simple to organise/recall.

I’m sure many people would recommend other DAWs, but I think you’re onto a winner with Studio One.

Thanks for your thoughts!

Regarding the “Pool” option for internal file management, does that allow for detailed and subtle nesting of files for storage and easy sorting and retrieving? For instance: Folder 1 (All Todd Samples); next level of folder nesting (Classical Samples, Jazz, Rock, etc.); next level of folder nesting (by instrumentation); etc?

The intuitive and efficient workflow is very important to me. SO seems to have more functionality than Logic Pro, less density than Reason, less specificity of purpose than Ableton Live and less prestige than ProTools. Fair assessment?

What are the main features that you’re excited about with SO Version 5, Derek?

Also does anyone have any experience using SO with Notation? How about with Ableton? Can SO be used for live sound processing of music composing sample pack tracks?

I have Studio one 4 professional and Cubase 10. 5. Today I use mostly Cubase because I am a little more familiar with it. But if I would start over today with what I know now I would choose studio one. I feel it’s extremely intuitive and easy to navigate. The chord detection is awesome. I have Notion 6 and think it’s easier than the score editor in Cubase. There seems to be a great score editor in version 5.

I’ll be honest, it really doesn’t matter what DAW you use. They all boast a clean simple UI, but in reality they are all as difficult as eachother. I would just pick the one you are leaning towards and learn it inside out. You have to do that anyways and seeing as you are looking at S1v5 I know that hassle good following which includes professional film composers. So just go for it.

I use Logic and occasionally ProTools because I learnt them in college so I know them well. There’s no other reason than that. In the future o may learn a few others, but that will be for fun.

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As a MIDI composer, I tend to only use my template, so not as familiar with the pool, but I was impressed when I watched this video a little while ago… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2OfwFZjPKg - I might have to start using this feature. Also check out Gregor’s videos on PreSonus Audio Electronics (he’s the one who looks a bit like Frodo lol). He’s always full of tips and tricks for great workflow and loves this feature. As you fill up your pool, you can use the tabs at the top for easy access - not sure after that, but it’s very easy to save any wav/mp3/midi files into the ‘files’ system, name them as you want and add folders etc. It’s basically a full Windows or Mac filing system and gives access to all your computer’s files like any explorer.

What I’m looking forward to… I would love to get using the new key-switching track. Such a great idea for MIDI composers to stop having to scroll down all the time on the piano-roll to make changes to the articulations. Also looking forward to trying the notation software that comes with it and see if i can learn a little about the subject… so no real need to get a separate notation software, but I believe it all worked perfectly well on previous versions! Also, seeing as I missed V4, I’ll be using the sequencer too for some drum loops.

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Thanks for sharing those resources, Derek. I’ve been wondering if there’s a good resource for online tutorials for Studio One. (Unfortunately, the SO customer service isn’t great – or at least it’s very limited. So I’ll need help from my colleagues.)

Haha! He may look like Frodo, but he’s got the mastery of Gandalf. :slight_smile:

I’m curious to hear how well SO does with recognising tempo, chords, keys, etc. of music that is tracked and/or imported. Is the automation fairly accurate? If not, can it be easily changed?

Also, do you know how well SO integrates with video, too? I’m eager to find a good program that works with video.

Lastly, can you modify note duration, attack/decay, etc. within SO for its internal notation software? And can you manually process those MIDI notes further?

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Thanks for sharing, Fredrik. Cubase seems very powerful and may be becoming the new industry standard, it seems. Do you feel that Studio One is just as powerful as Cubase? Are there any features that are sorely lacking in SO that you appreciate about Cubase?

About Notion 6, I’m glad to hear that you have experience! Initially I was considering either MuseScore or Dorico mostly; but the more I think about it, Notion 6 could be nice since it syncs so well with SO. I do hear that it seems to be missing some key features though – like it doesn’t recognise the sustain pedal for piano and won’t allow for its programming (?). Ease of use is important to me, too. But I wonder if it’s just as powerful as Dorico? Or Finale?

Either way, part of my purpose in getting composing software is that it might help me learn how to read and write music and get me deeper into music theory. I know that a lot can still be done in internal score editors, but I do think that having the graphic element of sheet music will help engage me with the process.

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Well, one incredibly useful feature of Cubase Pro is the Control Room. Like most people, I never got around to set it up and start using it - until just now.

I now have speakers + two pairs of headphones, each with their respective calibrations, some analyzers on the main out, I can quickly dim, mute, or switch either of them between main mix and cue mixes, enable/disable click and set click volume on each output, no longer need to switch calibration profile in Sonarworks Reference, or remember to bypass it when exporting, my master meter now sees the proper (pre calibration) audio. And, all of this is in the Cubase configuration, rather than polluting my projects.

Here’s a video covering some of the most useful features of the Control Room:

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You’re welcome, Todd.
Best resources I know… https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYDzeYIkNPD7_6adQZ3oX8g - Joe Gilder (He’s on Presonus’ main channel too)
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrUjOjfA1tu30P3mTNXBoIQ/videos - Marcus Huyskens
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLetydMjgI5fuHtclyujnrQ - HST (from the video link before - he does a live show every night on SO and answers questions in the chat too!)
https://www.youtube.com/c/JonnyLipshamStudios1/videos - Johnny Lipsham (Friend of HST)
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJJ6AUbNpheFvitNFJO3c6w - HRME (This guy gave me the push I needed to buy Studio One)

Not sure about the recognition of chords etc as it’s not something I’d use. Automation is fantastic for both audio and MIDI though. A little side note: Transforming MIDI to audio and back again is the easiest thing to do :slight_smile:

Got to admit, my experience with the video integration hasn’t been the easiest. In my case, I have to extract the audio and nullify the audio codec before I can use the video… When It’s done, then it’s great and I use it regularly, but I’m very hopeful that things are a lot easier now in V5.

As far as I’m aware, yes, you’ll be able to stretch notes and change them on the fly in the notation. Not so sure about att/dec or other envelopes, but your VST should have those. If not, there’s always a plugin that can do the job.

Hope all that helps :wink:

FYI my feedback is from an amateurs point of view.
The others in this comment field is more skilled and professional than me if you want detailed in depth info.
But I try to contribute with what I can in this forum because I’ve gotten much help myself from here. With that said:
I would feel that Studio one is every bit as powerful as Cubase (depends on who you ask)
One difference I’ve noticed is the quantize grid in Studio one is up to 1/64 and in Cubase 1/128.

For the Score editors I can’t say much my use of it is when I fast share to other’s what I’ve composed it’s simpler for me but I’m not that skilled note reader.

You’ve certainly been helpful, Derek. I’ll spend some time reviewing your suggested resources. Once again, SO customer service is a concern for me; even dedicated SO forums have not provided me much action. But if there are a host of available online resources like these tutorial channels then there’s hope.

I have a few questions for anyone who knows. If MIDI can be transformed to audio and then back, can the same be done for audio (from audio to MIDI)? Is that desirable or possible? Or would the closest approximation of this be quantising audio and working with various system automations?

And regarding changing notes in notation programs, for anyone who knows, is this as simple as adding a single central plug-in? Or is this feature specific to either the notation program or the VST plug-in? If the latter, which VSTs would you all recommend that best allow for this sort of manual manipulation?

Lastly, does anyone know about the status of video editing in Studio One Version 5? I’d be curious to hear about that, too. Thanks, everyone!

All feedback is welcome, Fredrik. Thanks for chiming in. Even though you may not have a professional background in music, it’s the experiential angle that I’m looking for. In that sense, everyone has something to offer.

Case in point, you pointed out a difference in DAWs regarding quantisation. I would imagine that this applies to the automated editing of audio files (and MIDI?) in sync with an established time-sensitive grid? (There’s probably a more technical way to think about this, right?) If so, that’s an important consideration. Since I like to test limits, I can imagine scenarios when I’d want to quantise with 1/128. Interesting that Studio One doesn’t yet offer that. Probably enough people haven’t requested that feature yet. Thanks for pointing that out!

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You might want to add Logic to the list of possibles, most because in terms of ‘bang for your buck’, it offers the most in terms of additional instruments, plugins and content.

Hi there,
I am using FLStudio for years (even decades) now so I am kind of biased.
IMHO I think it has its strong PROs but also some major CONs.


  • Livelong free updates and short videos for every update
  • Generous licensing policy: Buy one license and install it on as many machines as you want
  • Not too expensive 90€ - 780€ (+VAT) depending on the Version
  • The more expensive versions contain lots of useful plugins
  • The GUI is quite customizable, the elements like piano roll, plugin windows, mixer are detachable, so you are not limited to the container of the DAW. You can move everything to other screens (BUT: see first con)
  • There is an app with which you can use a Smartphone or Tablet within your WIFI Network as an additional controller
  • Tech support that actually reacts to your questions/problems and provides actual solutions :wink:


  • Huge Interface - Currently I’m using 3 monitors but I still think I need one more. :sweat_smile:
  • There are lots of hidden features that you only find out about when watching all FL-Studio-related Youtube videos you can find. Like, for example, a whole plugin-library that’s hidden as presets in the patcher plugin. Not bad at all but you need to know about it.
  • The pre-installed VST Instruments are mainly for electronic music
    (- All in all, I think it’s not very intuitive as I had my troubles getting started with it… but this was in the early 2000s, it was still called “Fruity Loops” and Youtube was not a thing yet, so I had to learn working with it from scratch on my own, with no knowledge whatsoever how making music with a DAW was supposed to work)

Last weekend I tried the Trial version of Cubase 10.5 but after using FLStudio for so long it felt like trying to learn writing with your non-dominant hand. It might work somehow but it’s rather difficult. :sweat_smile:

Best Regards


I do some work in FL Studio (my major daw is Cubase) because I just love there piano roll which I think is the best I´ve tried. But there is one dealbreaker for you can´t have ghost notes across patterns. As far as I know. If they update so you could highlight and watch multiple patterns at the same time I would consider using it more.

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@Fredrik I always help myself by copying the notes I need from one into another pattern and moving them around as I need them. You can also create an empty sampler pattern just for the ghost notes.

But you are right, it’s another downside I didn’t think about that this is not possible without using workarounds. I hope Image Line will include this function in a future version. (Which we will get for freeeee! :partying_face:)