- the answers always (I'm going to stress that - ALWAYS) need to be thoroughly qualified before they can have any value to you (why are you recommending this and how do you know?)
- most gear that is on the market today is plenty good enough - so long as you can filter-out the lemons it's really quite difficult to go too far wrong.
- the differences between a lot of the different models of most things that aren't awful are very slight and not at easy to actually hear and understand, so best of luck if you're new to this.
- once you're convinced that you can actually hear a difference enjoy trying to decide which will be better on a source that you probably haven't even heard yet.
- oh, and your technique is at least 95% of the equation so the difference between different bits of competent kit are probably worth one or two percent of the final product (yes, I did make-up those stats but I bet they're both pretty close and low).
So, that sorts-out mics and pres and interfaces and monitors and plugins and converters and cans. DAWS? oh, that's much worse.
Firstly, lets consider the fairly frequent question about which sounds "better". In this second decade of the 21st century the answer is that the underlying audio-engines all pretty-well sound the same. Surely you will hear differences in tracks recorded on different DAWs, but this will be mostly related to set-up and plugins and not to the ability of the code to crunch ones and zeroes. I'll mention wordlength here, if you don't know what it means then read-on and don't worry. If you do know what it means and why it matters then be aware that different DAWs may use different wordlengths for their internal calculations. To the best of my knowledge they all work perfectly adequately and and to this day I have never been able to hear nor measure any difference between 32 bit floating and "double precision" 64 bit audio (this is the wordlength used for internal calculations and is not effected by the wordlength of the recorded audio).
Why is it that I think that choosing a DAW is difficult? Actually, I don't, but I think we can make it so. Visit the forums (fora?) for any DAW and you will find many very unhappy people all reporting that their DAW of choice is the worst ever, that the manufacturer doesn't listen to its customers, doesn't fix problems, doesn't understand digital audio, has removed the one function that made their product worthwhile in a crowded market, and that every rival product costs less and works perfectly. In days past some have had a reputation for favouring working with MIDI or with audio or with loops, or for being simple to use as a straight tape machine replacement, or for having better plugins or better editing or better work-flow, but over the past few years most of the leaders have added and refined functionality to the point where there aren't too many omissions and most DAWS on the market today perform a very similar range of functions.
There are a lot of DAWs available and this is not going to be a DAW review article, there are far too many of those available elsewhere and frankly I don't know all of them well enough and certainly not currently enough to add anything meaningful. My history is that I started-out with Logic on PC, when that product became Mac only I cross-graded to Cubase SX and have used pretty well every incarnation since up to the present May 2013 release of Cubase 7.0.4. Along the way I've dabbled with Sonar and Reaper and Studio One for my own use and used Pro Tools because, like it or not, it IS the most prevalent DAW platform in pro-world.
What should YOU choose?
In many ways it probably doesn't matter but I'll try to be a little more helpful. Based on the assumption that you are just starting out;
- If you already have a DAW, or if you are already familiar with a specific product, or if you collaborate with someone who uses one, or you have access to help with one, or even if you just like the look of one; use it.
- If you use a Mac then start with Garageband. It used to be considered to be a bit of a toy but it's free or very cheap and probably 80% of the hits coming out-of Nashville today started life in it, so it's a toy in good company.
- If you are shopping for an audio interface to use with your computer then check what's in the box, many come bundled with a lite copy of a DAW. Use that. Most lite copies will give you a good discount to upgrade to the full version at a later date.
- If you don't have a bundled copy, then download Presonus StudioOne Free. It's free! It's a bit limited so you won't be able to record a whole band live with it, but it does pretty well everything you need to do to get started.
- If none of the above suit you try Cockos Reaper. It's very well priced, powerful, well thought of and is almost a standard in its own right.
Certainly also take a look at Cubase, Logic, Sonar, Digital Performer and Samplitude - just in case you see a picture and fall-in-love.
Other DAWs that are either aimed at a slightly different (but certainly converging) market are Reason and Live, and a little less mainstream or older are Acid, Mixcraft Pro, FL Studio, MuLab and probably a half dozen that have appeared since I started typing.
Once you've got your feet wet (and I very, very strongly recommend that you stick with your initial product choice through several full (and completed!) projects - however simple) you can start to make a list of things that you can and can't do. Research - RTFM, haunt the forum and try to understand what you're doing. The reason that I think DAW decisions are difficult is because much of the information available is completely valueless to you until you have lived with and experienced the product and its work-flow and its problems and strengths. If I tell you the secret way to disable all the plugins in a specific insert slot across the mixer in Cubase 7 it's not going to do you much good until you find yourself in a situation where you need to do it; it's just chaff amongst the other 312 essential things you need to know to get started - possibly!
So - Spend an hour browsing the web and look at some summary descriptions of the products listed. Look at the screenshots and decide if there's something you love or hate. Make a decision, then put a note in your diary to review in, let's say 3 or 6 months time. Then DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT CHANGING. Just get-on with it.
Or buy a hardware multi-tracker.....
I'd love to hear what you use and why - drop me a line?