MOTU Digital Performer

Mac: Yes Win: Yes Linux: No Audio: Yes MIDI: Yes Virtual: Yes Notation: Yes Rewire: Yes Plug-In: MAS/AU Driver: ASIO/Core Audio Price: $499 Digital Performer (DP) is made by MOTU (Mark of the Unicorn) and has been a player in the DAW world for a long time. It was originally called Performer when it functioned just as a MIDI sequencer in the 80s for many of those great film scores that we all love. MOTU added Digital to the name when they added digital audio recording to the program. DP used to be a Mac only DAW, but recently added a Windows version to the excitement of many users. DP incorporates a digital audio processor, MIDI sequencer, virtual instrument, and music notation editor. It has always been on the forefront of new features and functionality of DAWs, being one of the first to add features like pitch correction and convolution reverb. DP has always been a composer’s program making it a favorite of film and media composers. This is because of its great MIDI sequencer and integrated notation editor. It is also very customizable to the user’s production style with a fully configurable mixer and programmable key chains. DP-Screenshot DP is very well rounded though with audio editing features that rival the ease of Pro Tools. It has had a drop in popularity over the past few years, but the recent move to having a Windows version seams to be turning things around. It is really stable with great features and rock solid performance. Visit for more information. This post is part of a larger series of articles comparing the top DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) in a DAW Comparison Chart and answering the following questions: What is a DAW? and Which is the Best DAW for You?

Magix Samplitude/Sequoia

Magix Samplitude IconMac: No Win: Yes Linux: No Audio: Yes MIDI: Yes Virtual: Yes Notation: Yes Rewire: Yes Plug-In: VST Driver: ASIO/WDM Price: Samplitude:$129 – $599 Sequoia:$546.34/year or $2529.38 Magix Samplitude is considered by many professionals to be the best sounding DAW available with mastering grade stock plug-ins, a pristine audio engine and a full-featured MIDI suite coming standard. It has all the bells and whistles of its competitors and does everything in a very intuitive manner. It doesn’t have the userbase of some of the other DAWs for a couple of reasons. First, Magix doesn’t really do a lot of marketing of Samplitude, and second, it is Windows only in a professional community filled with Mac users (there were rumors of a Mac version, but it no longer looks very likely). Magix has really done a great job with the software, but missed the boat on who to market it to and how to get it into their hands. Samplitude-Screenshot Samplitude does have an older sibling named Sequoia, which is basically Samplitude with a bunch of specific high-end large audio facility features added. It is more focused towards post-production, mastering and broadcast and it costs quite a bit more. Sequoia-Screenshot Visit or for more information. This post is part of a larger series of articles comparing the top DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) in a DAW Comparison Chart and answering the following questions: What is a DAW? and Which is the Best DAW for You?

Avid Pro Tools

Mac: Yes PC: Yes Linux: No Audio: Yes MIDI: Yes Virtual: Yes Notation: Yes Rewire: Yes Plug-In: AAX Driver: ASIO/Core Audio/Proprietary Price: $25/month or $699 to $8,000 Avid Pro Tools (formerly made by Digidesign) is the industry standard DAW for a handful of reasons. First, Pro Tools was the first program to be able to record and edit audio stably on the computer. The native computer processors were not powerful enough, so Digidesign built DSP accelerator cards that could handle the processing power. This caused Pro Tools to be one of the first adopted programs for audio editing in professional studios. Second, Pro Tools is designed as a functional machine that can be used from music creation to audio for post-production. Finally, Pro Tools is designed with a simple and standard layout that is not customizable like many other DAWs. So Pro Tools in one studio is going to look and function just like Pro Tools in a studio on the other side of the world. If an engineer knows Pro Tools they can jump into the middle of another engineer’s session and be instantly off and running (without any need to recall key commands or windows arrangements). The standard layout and key commands of Pro Tools are often a topic of hot debate, so they could look like a huge strength or a big weakness depending on who you are. Pro Tools has been a two-window system for a long time with the edit window for arranging and editing audio and MIDI events and the mix window for mixing. These windows have a small amount of customization but if you want to see your groups for example, they will always be at the lower left side of the mix or edit window. They might be hidden (shown by pressing a button), but they can’t be deleted or removed. When it comes to key commands they can’t be changed, but they have been setup very logically with different modifiers (option, control, etc.) being assigned to different groups of functions (edit commands, automation commands, etc.), and similar functions being grouped together on the keyboard. Pro-Tools-ScreenshotPro Tools has two main versions, Pro Tools (formerly LE or the Native version) and Pro Tools HD (DSP accelerated version). Pro Tools HD is the continuation of what made Pro Tools famous in the first place, the DSP cards that run the hefty processing. This extra power really set Pro Tools apart for years, because large facilities could have the rock solid power and performance that they needed (for a hefty price tag $10,000 and up). Competitor DAWs have been creeping in on this market by bridging multiple and custom built systems to provide the same type of performance. With the progression of computer power and stability, native (or host-based systems) have begun to compete with Pro Tools HD. Pro Tools has responded by beefing up their Native system (Pro Tools) and coming out with new HDX cards to keep ahead of the curve. Visit for more information. This post is part of a larger series of articles comparing the top DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) in a DAW Comparison Chart and answering the following questions: What is a DAW? and Which is the Best DAW for You? Check some of other posts related to Pro Tools including Pro Tools Free, Pro Tools First, and Pro Tools Download.

Cakewalk Sonar

Mac: No PC: Yes Linux: No Audio: Yes MIDI: Yes Virtual: Yes Notation: Yes Rewire: Yes Plug-In: VST/DX Driver: ASIO/WDM Price: $49/mo. or $499 Cakewalk Sonar is a longtime player in the DAW game going all the way back to the 80s with MIDI sequencing. It still somewhat follows its history focusing more towards music production and MIDI sequencing, but is capable of doing everything a DAW can be imagined to do. This statement will probably get some of the hardcore audio engineers who have been Cakewalk users since they first started using a computer who swear by its sonic ability in a huff, but take a look at their marketing. The truth is that most of the DAWs mentioned produce hit records and professional products. Cakewalk is simply marketed and designed more towards the music producer and electronic musician. It is more than capable to run orchestral recording sessions but is rarely used for such things. Cakewalk is very commonly seen in personal and project studio because it is PC only and reasonably priced. Unlike Digital Performer, Sonar is not commonly used for film and media composition because its notation functionality is not well developed and it is marketed to a younger and more hip crowd. It is also not too popular with post-production or dedicated audio-editing (except for the lifers) because of its focus towards MIDI and music production.Sonar-Screenshot The Sonar X1 release in late 2010 was designed to update the looks and functionality of Sonar to re-position it higher within the top tier of DAWs. Many say that Cakewalk stole features from other programs, but the truth is that every DAW is constantly stealing from each other to appease their users. X1 addressed some of the longtime complaints of too many windows and too many tools by implementing a streamlined docking system, windows configurations and a multi-tool. This new feature set is helping Sonar to stay in the game as one of the top music production DAWs on the market today.

Ableton Live

Mac: Yes Win: Yes Linux: No Audio: Yes MIDI: Yes Virtual: Yes Notation: No Rewire: Yes Plug-In: VST/AU Driver: ASIO/Core Audio Price: Free – $750 If any DAW should get an award for thinking outside the box, it is Ableton Live. The entire concept of Ableton Live is not to conform to the standard tape-machine/mixing console/edit window-based layout and workflow of every other DAW. Live is catered to creating music and if that works better without a mixing console type view then get rid of it. This is a great model and Live has found a very loyal following of users who have embraced this out-of-the-box style thinking. The issue that often arises is that this loyal fan-base tries to convince the rest of DAW users that they should throw away their mixing console mentality and embrace the future. The truth is that mixing consoles are here to stay and there is an audio engineer mentality and linear way of thinking that will always keep them around. Live is great for free flowing music production and live performance, but will never replace the traditional recording studio model. Live-Screenshot Once you get past this debate you can accept Live for what it is, an amazing producing and performing instrument. It is not designed for the meticulous audio engineer who listens and tweaks and listens and tweaks…and tweaks some more. It is designed for everything to be done on the fly. It is designed to let you throw down an idea and then another while the creative juices are still flowing. This is a great creative model and a great program. Another benefit to Live is that it can run as a rewire application connected to another DAW, so if you find yourself torn between the two mindsets just embrace them both. Visit for more information. This post is part of a larger series of articles comparing the top DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) in a DAW Comparison Chart and answering the following questions: What is a DAW? and Which is the Best DAW for You?

Record Button

Mixing-Basics-Strip_1Record Button The record or Arm button is a function found on recorders and not necessarily mixing consoles. This button’s purpose is to determine if an individual is going to be recorded when the system is put into record. If a track is not record enabled and the system records, nothing will be recorded on that track.

This concept makes more sense if you think about a stand alone recorder like a 24 track tape machine or 8 track ADAT machine. If you want to record drums to channels 1 through 4 you would only arm those channels and then put the machine into record. Once those tracks are recorded you would turn off the record button (or disarm) on tracks 1-4 so that they play back what you have recorded. Now you record enable or arm track 5 to record bass while tracks 1-4 are not armed and playing back.

The record button seen here (and every other page of this website) is similar to those found in software DAWs. These programs have a software mixer that is a combination of an audio mixer and a recorder. In addition to mute, solo, and fader controls each channel represents a track of a digital recorder (built into the program)

Solo Button

Mixing-Basics-Strip_1Solo Button The solo button is a useful feature found on most any console; analog, digital and virtual. What the solo button basically does is it lets you listen to just the soloed track. There are a handful of variations of how the solo may work, but at it’s simplest, it soft mutes all the rest of the tracks and only allows the selected track to be heard.

Solo-In-Place What was just described above is called solo-in-place. “It soft mutes all the rest of the tracks and only allows the selected track to be heard.” With solo-in-place the same output is used for solo as for playing the rest of the tracks. This is what most DAWs default to with their solo function. Many have an “S” like seen here, many are yellow and some even have icons (like little headphones in Garage Band).

PFL and AFL Pre-Fader Listen and After-Fader Listen (PFL and AFL) work a little differently than solo-in-place and is more commonly found on analog and digital consoles and in advanced DAW features. Both of these give you the opportunity to listen to your soloed information through a different output. For example you can solo a track during a live performance having just that track sent to the headphones while not altering the main mix going to the audience. The difference between PFL and AFL is where the signal is sent from, pre-fader or after-fader. This could be useful if you want to hear a signal before it is attenuated (turned down) by the fader for instance.

Solo Safe Many DAWs have a solo safe feature. This is useful to do to auxiliary returns for reverb and delay. Solo safe will keep the track from being soft muted when another track is soloed. Let’s say you are soloing a vocal track. The vocal is being sent to a reverb through an auxiliary send and return. If you solo just the vocal track, you won’t hear the reverb. But if you are soloing it to hear how it sounds with the reverb. Now you have to also solo the reverb return track. If the return is solo safed then the reverb for the vocal track will still be audible when just the vocal track is soloed.

Using Solo The solo button is an excellent tool that can help you momentarily focus on specific elements of a mix. Make sure to avoid the common pitfall of soloing everything. This can cause a headache as your track count increases and you want to audition a single track. Enjoy the solo button. Use your new found information to let it work for you.

Mute Button

Mixing-Basics-Strip_1Mute Button The mute button is one of the most basic functions of an audio console. When the mute button is engaged the track is not audible (or muted). If the button is disengaged, the track is on and audible. If you don’t see a ‘mute’ button on your console, you may simply have a track on/off button or switch. When the track is in the ‘on’ position, the channel is essentially unmuted, and when the track is in the ‘off’ position, the channel is essentially muted,

Mute Automation When automation was just a dream, the mute button was first on the wishlist. Mute was the first feature on consoles to be automated. Think about the ability to have tracks automatically turn on and off in synchronization with a project. It’s something that we take for granted now, but was a big deal and a powerful tool not too long ago.

Muting Regions Most DAWs have the option of muting individual audio regions or clips within a track. This lets you keep your regions in place, while being able to mute certain parts to maybe try out a new arrangement or bring elements of a looped project in and out.

Types of Sound Waves

Complex waveforms are the combination of hundreds of waves. If a voice sounds bright it is usually because it is producing upper harmonics at higher amplitudes. If it is duller sounding, it has less upper harmonic content. The combination of all of these different simple sound waves at different frequencies and different amplitudes (levels) produces complex waveforms. These variations in complexity and harmonic structure are how we can tell the difference between the sound of a guitar and a trumpet, a knock on metal or wood, and a real human voice verses a synthesized one.  There are a handful of basic waves not commonly found in nature, but easily created with electronics. These basic waves are the building blocks of many synthesizers, basic MIDI, and warning systems.
SINE WAVE Sine Wave The most basic and simple waveform, a sine wave has a simple hollow sound. It does not exist in nature, but is the simplest sound to reproduce with electronics, which is why you may recognize it from warning tones and beeps. Listen to it below.  

100Hz Sine Wave


500Hz Sine Wave


1KHz Sine Wave

  Now let’s look at harmonics.Sine Wave Harmonics Most sounds in nature contain harmonics, meaning that they have the fundamental or main pitch or note, plus they have higher pitches that are voiced above the fundamental. The amount and intensity of these pitches help to define the timbre of a sound. The sine wave is unique because it only contains a fundamental, so just the one note.

After the sine wave we jump in complexity to the sawtooth wave. The sawtooth produces a lot of harmonic content and therefore a full buzzing sound. Notice how the wave looks like the teeth of a saw, hence the name. Look below to listen to examples of a sawtooth wave.

100 Hz Sawtooth Wave


500 Hz Sawtooth Wave


1 kHz Sawtooth Wave

  Sawtooth Wave Harmonics The sawtooth wave has a fundamental with all harmonics present. The second harmonic is quite strong being ½ the amplitude of the fundamental, with the third harmonic at 1/3 the amplitude of the fundamental, and the fourth at ¼ the amplitude. This produces a good deal of harmonic content and therefore a full buzzing sound.

Now let’s look at the square wave, which differs a bit from the previous two. Notice how the waves seem to form a square shape. The square wave has only odd harmonics. This harmonic structure gives the square wave a little more bite to the sound. It kind of has a buzzing sound, but is not as intense as the sawtooth. Have a listen below.

100 Hz Square Wave


500 Hz Square Wave


1 kHz Square Wave


Square Wave Harmonics

The square wave has only odd harmonics. The interesting similarity to the sawtooth wave is that each harmonic decreases in the same manner except the third harmonic is ½ the amplitude of the fundamental, with the fifth harmonic at 1/3 the amplitude of the fundamental, and continuing along in that manner.


Triangle WaveFinally we’ll look at the triangle wave, which is very similar to the square wave. The triangle wave has only odd harmonics like the square wave, but their amplitude is far weaker in comparison to the fundamental. This causes the waves to take on a bit more of the shape of a sine wave, while maintaining the sharp edges of a square wave.

100 Hz Triangle Wave


500 Hz Triangle Wave


1 kHz Triangle Wave


Triangle Wave Harmonics

The third harmonic is only 1/9 of the amplitude of the fundamental and progresses in a similar manner from there. The triangle wave sounds more similar to a sine wave, because of its soft harmonic content, but it still shares some characteristics of the square wave having only odd harmonics. Listen here to see what it sounds like.


These main four waves can be seen in most synthesizers, DAWs, and testing equipment. There are some variations that include the sawtooth wave going in opposite directions and the lopsided square wave (being larger on the top and smaller on the bottom or vice versa). Depending on the device these waves can be added together to create complex waveforms, can be used to modulate a signal, or can create the pattern for a pulsating filter sweep.