Virtually, all analog studios these days have gone digital.
The centerpiece of any MODERN home recording studio is the Digital Audio Workstation.
Again, when it comes to picking a DAW, you have so many options, that you can get a serious illness while making the right decision for you.
With most gear it works like this: you start to pick up something cheap and simple, as you progress you upgrade to something more sophisticated and better sounding. This is a smart plan.
However, with DAW's it works little bit different. Here is why.
Every DAW is unique. It takes a lot of TIME to become familiar with the software; to get all advantages, usability, functions it has. And if there come a day that you decide to change a platform, only few of them will be possible to transfer. Usually, it is huge waste of time.
TIME is the only commodity we have, so lesson here is:
The DAW you start to work with is most likely the one that you will be using FOREVER.
Best Free DAW
You can pick the free DAW, however, you will run into serious issues if you want to make a serious recordings/productions one day. Anyhow, if you want to get your feet wet and you are totally newbie with no money in the pocket, it can be good starting point. Audacity is the most famous, open-source free music production software and you can get it free here.
Another great free DAW that comes with OS X, is Apple's Garageband. Often you can see kids at elementary schools making crazy music in the class. It is so simple and intuitive.
The simplicity of low end DAW's seem great at first sight, however as your skills improve, you will hit the wall with its limitations.
If you want to go PRO one day, the best option is to avoid them entirely and choose the professional DAW that is most speaking and appealing to you.
Many of PRO recording studios rely on 1-2 of them. Personally, I work in Logic and Pro Tools. I used to work also with Reason, Sonar and Cubase/Nuendo. It is just matter of taste, every music producer prefers its own style of music, workflow, or level of experience, some DAWs are only for MACs, some for PCs and therefore preferred choice is dependent on lot of factors and preferences.
With that beeing said, let's have a look at the list of the most used music production softwares in nowadays home/pro recording studios:
Ableton Live has been introduced to the market in 1999, it was one of the first modern music production software, which allowed to process audio material in real time. The program has become popular within DJ community and mainly due to massive expansion of the authors has received funding for further development of the program. With every version, new functionality has been added, and today Ableton is one of the most popular DAW, especially for DJ, hip hop or electronic music producers.
Cubase is one of the best solution available on the market.
Steinberg developers are taking care and making regular updates every few months. Cubase has a long tradition in the field of music production softwares. With more musical features than ever, Cubase 7 delivers a truly unrivaled creative production experience. Sparkling with its entirely overhauled mixing console, a new Chord track alongside the innovative Chord Assistance, advanced VariAudio, more instrument content and an array of enhancements make Cubase 7.
This is the big daddy of all audio music production softwares. Industry standard. It is widely used by PRO music producers and audio engineers throughout the music industries for recording, mixing and editing, film scoring, post production, and with later versions also MIDI sequencing. Most of the professionals prefer this DAW, and often argue that sound coming out from ProTools can't be beaten by any other music program. Pro Tools has 2 main versions, LE which work with the most audio interfaces available on the market and HD version which can operate only with Avid Hardware. Pro Tools HD can be found in every professional music recording studio and is a bit costly.
Logic is one of the longest serving DAW available. Back in 90s it was MIDI sequencing program, created by German developer, in 2002 Logic was bought by Apple, and rebuild into fully featured DAW. Logic Pro X runs in 64-bit mode only and no longer works with 32-bit plug-ins. With new release, new powerful tools and features were added like "Drummer", a virtual session player that automatically plays along with your song in a wide variety of drumming styles and techniques, and "Flex Pitch", a Flex Time equivalent for pitch editing in audio recordings. The main cons of this beautiful piece of DAW is that it is only for MAC platforms and that Logic's developer are not too much in hurry when making updates and developing new version of this app (sometimes it can takes more than 3 years for new release). Worthy to wait? Yeah, Im totally In.
Cakewalk was one of the first MIDI sequencing program, back in 1987. First version of their DAW, called "X" has been introduced in 2007. Cakewalk is owned by company Roland, and therefore its popularity is increasing every year and often new versions of this DAW are coming out with new powerful features. Last version "x3" is a great alternative and an excellent program for the complete processing of audio and MIDI. This piece of software includes excellent Melodyne (pitch-shifting software), amp simulator for guitarists, and fair good reverb. You can read full review of Sonar x3 here.
Lately, Reason has been chosen as a most stable and reliable DAW system (2013). Due to the fact, that for a long time it was a closed system, and there was no support for third party plugins. Also for many years, audio recording was not possible. However, during the years, Reason has evolved, rebuilt and now it is fully functioned DAW with amazing virtual studio GUI (it includes virtual patch bay, where you can hook and connect through cables everything together). Another great product, this time from Swedish developers. If you want to know more how to produce music with Reason, read this.
Very popular and favorite music production software among electronic music producers. Through the years it has developed from basic step sequencing program into fully-featured DAW. Fruity loops can be used also as a VST plugin - feature that is unique, and you won't it find it anywhere else. So if you are deciding right now, what DAW to buy, FL Studio may be a good choice. This program offers a rich set of tools and functions that his competitors might envy. However, it is only for Windows platform.
This is it. The most common used DAWs in todays recording studios. Now let's have a look at new fishes and some not so widely popular but also GREAT apps:
Bitwig Studio is the newcomer and it is not so often, that a completely new DAW is getting so much attention in music producers community. Bitwig comes from the hands of Berlin developers (former Ableton). The actual layout features CLIP and ARRANGE window and so similarity between Ableton and Bitwig is more than obvious. Good for live performances, DJs, hip hop and beat makers. It could be said, that it is cheaper version of Ableton.
Rapid Environment for Audio Production, Engineering and Recording (REAPER) became very popular lately even without any marketing campaigns. Company Cockos has very unusual pricing policy and distribution method. REAPER is fully functioned DAW, with lot of special plugins and tools, it is working on all platforms and if you think you are special, this product would be for you:)
If you are on budget and only starting with music production, Mixcraft would be your first choice. It works only with PCs. For new aspiring music producers, Mixcraft Studio is good piece of software to start. It can handle all music production for beginners. It comes bundled with more than 5000 loops and also you can run there Rewire host and connect to another application, or instruments. If you are still unsure about your first DAW choice, you can try BTV Solo, plug and play program, also good for beginners.
Many people say that Samplitude is good audio recording software for beginners. However, it is fully packed featured DAW system for recording, mixing, mastering. Last version support also 64 bit operations. It works only on PC and Windows platform. MAGICX company has a nice history, in 90s they were developing first mixing programs for Amiga. First version of Samplitude was released in 1995.
PreSonus is well-known company, famous for its hardware mixing consoles. In 2006 they teamed up with KristalLabs Software (one of the early developer of Cubase) and in 2010 they released first version of their DAW. Today, version 2.6 is out and it is fully featured DAW for music creation, editing and mixing. Very solid platform with incorporated Melodyne pitch editing and a great OpenAir convolution Reverb plugin.
Digital Performer is full featured DAW developed by MOTU. MOTU is famous for its audio interfaces and hardware units, however in 1984 they released Professional COmposer, which was one of the first music program for MACs. Digital Performer has own unique workflow, different in compare with other mentioned DAWs and it takes time to get used to. However in the present day, Digital Performer is a powerful beast with lot of features you won't find in any other music program. Packed with exclusive plugins and virtual instruments, it is worthy to consideration.