Pro Tools recording software is a great system. Even though engineers may argue as to their favorite DAW, it’s hard to deny that Pro Tools consistently positions itself as arguably the most sophisticated and innovative program on the market.
Still, the $699 price tag for Pro Tools 10 (current at the time of this writing) is outside the budget of many building home studios, particularly those that know even a $700 recording system won’t be able to make a $10 microphone sound very good.
The Sage Audio mastering blog has covered some general information on DAWs before, but this article is part of a series for those relatively new to home recording. We started with a guide for the best free recording software for beginners, and this writing will cover the good and the bad of the next step, the software options that costs money, but isn’t quite as much as Pro Tools.
Pros: Up until a few years ago, Logic was priced more in line with Pro Tools. But in 2011, the less expensive Logic Express line was dropped, and the price of Pro was dropped to its current price of $199. The software functions very similarly to Pro Tools, and has a very wide variety of plugin options available.
Cons: The primary downside of Logic is that, being made by Apple, no Windows option is offered. If you don’t already have a Mac, that price tag goes up significantly when you have to purchase a new computer, as well.
*Note: a similarly priced Windows alternative with comparable functionality is Cakewalk SONAR X2 Studio.
Pros: Ableton functions a bit differently than Logic and Pro Tools in that it offers very intuitive loop functions, and works very well with MIDI and virtual instruments. The degree to which this is an advantage depends on what type of recording you do, but with the loop functions and other features, the program can be one of the most versatile programs on the market.
Cons: The software can still be relatively expensive. Though the full Ableton Live 9 Suite is $749, most home studio engineers will be happy with the Live 9 Standard version, which is $449.
*Note: There’s also a Live Intro version that sells for around $100, but the lack of features and functionality will likely cause more than $100 worth of frustration to many engineers.
Pros: For those that want to be based even more in the virtual — particularly DJs — Reason presents itself as an all-in-one package with all you need for virtual instruments, mixing and remixing.
Cons: Reason costs around the same as the standard version of Live 9, but that’s probably not a con if you need the software primarily for DJ and/or remixing tasks. However, if that’s not your line of work, you’ll likely find the functionality fairly stifling.
A Final Thought on How Much to Spend on Recording Software
Obviously there is quite a bit of range in price for these and other DAWs. Your final choice should come after deciding exactly what your goals are for your home studio, and what features you need to reach those goals. After some in-depth research, decide which program will best suit your studio and still fall within your budget.
For some, that may mean spending more in the beginning, because in the long run you’ll end up spending more if you start with a program that doesn’t fit all of your needs and have to upgrade later.