Whether you are an orchestral music enthusiast or a generalist producer, finding the right Digital Audio Workstation is essential.
The task is sometimes made difficult by the general unfamiliarity of many musicians with the DAW options available in the market as well as the spectrum of choices to pick from.
When it comes to choosing the right DAW for orchestral music, you have to go to the nitty-gritty.
There is no one-size-fits-all and “the best” DAW will generally be one that meets your individual requirements.
Each audio workstation has something unique to offer and you have to match these against your individual requirements to find what will work for you.
When choosing a DAW for orchestral music, consider the purpose, intent as well as its functionality.
These three should fundamentally guide you into picking the best tool for orchestral music.
As we shall see, there will be some overlaps in the range of DAWs available in the market.
You will find several that more or less do the same thing.
However, it is the nuanced and advanced features in each of them that make all the difference.
These nuances will become more apparent when you have to write music for certain media or particular styles.
when shopping for the best DAW for orchestral music:
- Cross-platform compatibility: Ideally, your DAW should be compatible with both Mac and PC. This ensures that you are not tied down to any particular platform.
- Sound Design: Must have good sound design to enable you to easily manipulate your digital audio.
- Workflow: Should be efficient enough to save you time. Everything from the track search box to the key commands should contribute to a smooth workflow.
- Export: The DAW should have the capability to export hundreds of tracks thereby significantly saving you time, especially when you want to prepare for the large live orchestral performances.
- Power: Have a DAW that will seamlessly handle all the stuff you want to do within the DAW. It should also be adaptable and CPU-efficient.
- Support: Does the manufacturer provide adequate support for the DAW? How is the professionalism of customer support?
- Ease of use: Is it easy to master and use or is there some steep learning curve involved? Ease of use is of great importance, especially as a beginner.
At its most basic, your DAW should be capable of recording audio, notating the Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) as well as organizing the music data.
It should also be able to export audio files in diverse formats.
Each DAW comes with certain features.
The extent to which these are included varies from one tool to another.
For example, there should be the default plugins used in mixing including equalizers (EQ), reverb, and compressors.
There are some DAWs with default sample instruments, film scoring capabilities as well as notation software integration.
Where they are lacking, you will have to rely on plugins, including third-party plugins.
The DAWs work differently. Some will be uniquely tailored for certain compositions.
Ultimately, the best DAW for orchestral scoring will be the one that you are most comfortable with.
You could make professional orchestral scores with a Cubase, Ableton, FL Studio, Logic Pro, or Reaper.
Below, we look at some of the best DAWs in the industry which you can use for orchestral music.
Logic Pro X
Logic Pro X is a Mac-only DAW by Apple.
It has the feel of the GarageBand Pro but features-wise, it travels much farther and does much more.
This is DAW that you can access easily thanks to the relatively low cost but mastering it requires some effort on your part.
There are sub-menus in the menus and even the sub-menus have their own menus so there is much ground to cover to acclimatize yourself with its features and interface at large.
To get a feel of its real power, tick on the ‘Advanced’ checkbox when you first open this DAW for music composition.
There, you will find the ‘Preferences’ menu where you can see the expanded version of the DAW along with its many hidden functions.
In spite of its power and advanced features, this is still a budget-friendly DAW option for Mac users thanks to its massive sample instrument and plugin library, especially the Drummer, EXS24 sampler, rock instruments, orchestral instruments, synth engines as well as the orchestral instruments.
- Logic Pro X features fully customizable key commands
- Advanced features with lots of functions
- This is the most budget-friendly fully-featured DAW option.
- Has well-organized MIDI editing as well as automation functions.
- It is built with a unique Capture Recording function which you can use to capture any recent performance just in case you had forgotten to press the DAW’s record button. This particularly comes in handy whenever you are improvising on a keyboard.
- It’s a Mac-only DAW locking out other platforms
- While it has lots of advanced functions, these are hidden on the interface and are not easy to find.
- You will find the audio editing a bit troublesome with limited batch track actions.
Cubase Pro is a DAW with a steep learning curve but which makes music composition a breeze once you have mastered it.
This is a product by Steinberg and is loved by all composers.
Its interface and functionality are something of a blend between Pro Tools’ hyper-clean audio editing with Logic Pro’s intuitive MIDI editing as well as Digital Performer’s superb organizational features.
Cubase has a massive user community which means you can find thousands of YouTube tutorials to help you learn how to use Cubase Pro.
Once you have a feel of the landscape, it is so easy to use that you can use it to compose music in as little as a weekend.
Feature placement and workflow are two areas that composers narrow down to when shopping for a suitable DAW.
Cubase delivers elegantly on both fronts.
You can load new instruments to the DAW rapidly and in bulk, enabling you to do quick compositions.
- Excellent workflow
- You can easily edit both the MIDI as well as the audio tracks
- It has unique and expansive organizational features
- Lots of great default plugins along with sample instruments
- Limited film scoring features
- It also has limited mixing options
- Both the window and track customizations are limited.
Digital Performer is brought to you by MOTU.
This is another top-end DAW that’s built with some really deep features that significantly boost its workflow speed.
You get a more wholesome orchestral recording performance with the Digital Performer.
Mastering DP isn’t going to be a walk in the park, though.
Ready yourself for a steep learning curve when it comes to this DAW but the investment in time and effort in learning DP will ultimately be worth it, for this is a solid DAW that will serve you well.
It has the best search functionality among the top DAWs and it is also well-equipped for film scoring.
It is built with advanced features that you can use to score infinite scenes or tracks for every session via the Chunks and V-Racks menus.
If you are planning to compose multiple tracks for your project, be they a movie, episodes, or an album, you can leverage its unique resource sharing to help you save on the time you would have needed to work on multiple tracks within a single session.
- Get full customization with Digital Performer including the color options, key commands, layouts, document setup, automation, and editing preferences among others. It’s fully customizable in every aspect.
- It has the best search functionality among the top DAWs. You only have to type a few words in the instrument search bar or Chunks search bar and you get an instant and relevant result. Robust, efficient, and super-fast search functionality is an essential tool when you want to promptly compose on the DAW. You will find yourself regularly using its impressive search functionality in your compositions.
- The DP is rated as the most advanced DAW which you can use for film scoring thanks to its unique functionality of dividing videos into infinite scenes in a single session. Thanks to its V-Racks and Chunks menus, you can have every scene sharing any desired number of sample instruments, tracks, channels, and plugins.
- For a first DAW purchase, this is undoubtedly the costliest DAW in the market but you can acquire the cross-grade license for significantly less if you give MOTU a valid serial number from another DAW during the purchase.
- It can be a little confusing using DP’s interface as it has its own terminology for the MIDI, plugin, audio, and editing item. If you are shifting from another DAW to Digital Performer, things will initially be a bit confusing until you familiarize yourself with the new terminology. Besides, its default key commands as well as document setup options can be impractical for an ideal user such as a film composer and will need to be totally overhauled when you first open the DAW.
- All the editing functions on the DAW are divided between the tools and the tabs which means you have to frequently switch between these two when doing your edits. This is detrimental to the workflow although you may eventually attain a faster workflow once you master these procedures. However, the first weeks on the DAW will be frustrating.
Avid’s Pro Tools is generally regarded as the industry-standard DAW for use in audio editing and mixing.
It is a trusted DAW and is generally a ubiquitous presence in recording studios worldwide thanks to its incredibly good audio editing functions.
The workflow is superb. With just a click of the mouse, you will be able to batch trim or extend all your selected tracks.
It enables you to export all regions as different audio files with just a single command.
Offline, Pro Tools gives you even more superb speeds, exporting audio at more than 100 times the playback speed.
In addition to the above, Pro Tools also features deep mixing functions, real-time Audio Suite plugins as well as film scoring functions.
If you are a composer working with live audio, this is a DAW that will easily lend itself to your work.
- Pro Tools gives the best performance in the market if you are looking for a DAW for quick audio editing work. It is also clean and efficient and its batch editing functions are unbeatable.
- It has a very clean interface as well as quick-loading functions that allow you to have a super-fast workflow.
- It is a ubiquitous DAW that is used in music studios across the world. This near omnipresence allows for ease of collaboration and file sharing.
- Pro Tools’ MIDI recording and editing functions are underwhelming. You will have to do with hidden and very complex functions, clunky inputs as well as confusing routings. It is regarded as the worst DAW for MIDI compositions.
- It is also very costly.
- Not recommended for composers working majorly with MIDI
- Its selections of plugins and default sample instruments are poor and you will invariably have to plug the gap with some third-party plugins.
Ableton Live is unique in the sense it has vertical sequencing instead of the traditional horizontal sequencing.
Ableton Live was originally built for DJs and its functionality is centered around triggering regions.
It is mostly deployed as samples or loops in live settings.
If a region is created in one of its vertical instrument rows, it can be triggered along with other regions at any time.
If you enable the Record button in Ableton Live, the whole performance can be sequenced right from the vertical editor all the way to the corresponding horizontal editor.
This equips you with a powerful way of composing long tracks in just a single sitting including improvised tracks, dance music as well as ambient music.
Ableton Live allows you to export the vertical and horizontal selections as audio tracks to provide you with maximum flexibility.
This is one of the best DAWs for composing layers and loops.
Its closest competitor in this area is the FL Studio which works along with the same composition approach but is centered around drum beat creation.
However, Ableton Live will deliver top-notch performance for looping, and the interface functions in screen music composition.
- It features a unique vertical sequencing for DJ-style region triggering.
- It has the fastest DAW that you can use to compose quick MIDI tracks.
- You can use the horizontal sequencing window in quickly converting a vertical-sequenced loop into a horizontal track.
- Ableton Live gives you very limited edition editing although it has functions such as audio-to-MIDI conversion, unique audio looping as well as tempo stretching among others.
- Live does excellent vertical sequencing which in turn leads to slightly degraded horizontal sequencing. This DAW is not built to work like your standard DAW and doesn’t therefore feature some of the standard MIDI and audio input as well as editing functions.
- You can load a video once with Live but the options are limited as a result of the division of vertical and horizontal sequencing.
Reaper is a good choice if you are looking for reasonable specs and cost-effective pricing in your DAW.
It packs up the core functionality of all the other DAWs mentioned here but the affordable pricing makes it an accessible option.
At a price point of $60, you can get the discounted license for your personal use.
This would be a great choice if you are grossing less than $20,000 annually from your podcasting.
There is also a $225 commercial license.
Before you splurge on either of the licenses, you can take advantage of the 60-day trial period to get a fee of the environment and decide if this will be a suitable DAW for your composing requirements.
It has a unique scripting language (ReaScript) and gives you full customization control.
With ReaScript, you can make your workflow significantly more efficient by programming redundant editing or programming steps which can be executed or automated in a single keystroke.
This can enable you to easily rename all tracks, bounce all the tracks as audio tracks or delete unused tracks at once.
You can also use this for a keystroke that walks you through the whole mixing process or for instrument templates, plugin settings, and automation.
With Reaper, there is simply no limit on what you can accomplish with the DAW.
- This is one of the most cost-effective DAWs in the market with the personal-use license going for $60 and the commercial license going for $225.
- It has its own unique scripting language that you can use to automate and execute multiple commands with a single keystroke.
- The Reaper interface is fully customizable.
- It has a rather outdated graphical user interface (GUI).
- Its MIDI editing isn’t very intuitive and for beginners, there is some learning curve to cover.
- Reap does not come with any sample instruments and you will need some third-party plugins for this.