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2021’s Top 8 Music Production Software

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The Basics

Pro Tools 12 from Amazon is the best overall choice. “Pro Tools is far more likely to be found in any professional recording studio than any other software.”

Propellerhead Reason 12 at Reason Studios, runner-up for Best Overall, “features a vast sound library with over 29,000 device patches, loops, and samples, including drum loop collections.”

Apple’s Logic Pro X is the best value. “When it comes to audio production software, Logic Pro is usually near the top of the list.”

Ableton Live 11 is the best choice for electronic music. “For DJs, EDM, and hip-hop beats, Ableton is the gold standard.”

“The thing that sets the Studio One series unique is its streamlined, single-window workflow that won’t require you to tab back and forth between a variety of panels,” says Amazon of Presonus Studio One Artist 5.

Acid Music Studio 11 at Amazon is the best value for money. “You may record an unlimited number of audio tracks, live track numerous instruments at the same time, and program keyboard shortcuts.”

Celemony Melodyne Editor 5 at Amazon is the best plugin. “This pitch plugin will work with practically any major DAW and will quickly become an integral part of your workflow.”

iZotope Spire at Amazon is the best for mobile. “There are two Phantom-powered mic or TRS inputs on the device for directly using a microphone or tracking instruments.”

Pro Tools 12 is the best overall.

There’s no avoiding it: Pro Tools is the industry standard for digital audio workstations. Pro Tools is far more likely to be found in any professional recording studio than any other software. Avid also removed the M-Box restriction a few releases back, allowing you to utilize the software at home with any audio interface. If you’re searching for all-around production software for live instruments and sequencing, it’s a no-brainer.

We went with the mid-tier plan (rather than the entry-level or overkill version), and here’s what you get: you can record up to 128 tracks at once, with up to 64 different hard-wired inputs/outputs (if your hardware can handle it). At the mixing level, the software will support up to 512 instrument and 1024 MIDI tracks, ensuring that your projects will not be slowed down. They’ve incorporated more than 60 different software instruments for incredible MIDI tracking flexibility, as well as 120+ extra plugins.

Propellerhead is the runner-up for Best Overall.

Propellerhead is well recognized for its plugins and effects in the music industry. However, their flagship Reason DAW has a considerable following that straddles the boundary between electronic production and live instrument recording. It’s an uncommon piece of recording software that doesn’t have a narrow focus. You get a lot of features if you buy the full Reason 12 edition.

Mimic, a fun new sampler for the modern beatmaker and producer, is included in their latest release (12). It’s made for triggering, slicing, and manipulating data quickly and easily. It comes with a massive sound bank of over 29,000 device patches, loops, and samples, including drum loop collections from Korg, Dr. Octo, and others.

They still have their traditional Matrix editor for mixing loops with infinite audio and software instrument tracks, which is still unique. Your music will never be limited in terms of layering. If you like to produce in Reason but sequence live playback in Ableton, there’s VST support and an Ableton Live link. But, like with any piece of software, it’s all about personal preference, and Reason has a devoted following.

Logic Pro X is the best value.

Logic Pro is generally on the shortlist for the best audio production software, alongside Pro Tools and Ableton. They’ve chosen to go for a stripped down version without all the bloated sound libraries with the current X generation of the line, and as a result, the price has dropped from the $500-range to the $200-range. However, when you consider the features you get, it definitely wins the title of “best value” here. It now contains a Smart Tempo function that reads and matches a BPM, allowing you to modify your recording to your project’s needs. They’ve also improved the standard reverb, vintage EQs, and other plugins. Brush assaults for lighter jazz music have been added to the drummer patches, and you can use the Logic Remote app to transform your phone into a remote controller. When you combine it with all of the usual I/Os, tracking capabilities, and super-intuitive modulation tools (which have been a hallmark of the Logic line for quite some time), you’ve got yourself a full-service DAW at a mid-range price.

Ableton Live 11 is the best choice for electronic music.

Ableton is the industry standard for DJs, EDM, and hip-hop beats, just as Pro Tools is for full, dedicated studio functionality. Ableton Live 11 has a slew of features that are ideal for any beat maker, whether new or seasoned. Live, like previous versions, is available in three flavors: a lighter, less expensive Intro edition, a Standard edition, and a full Suite with all of the plugins and sounds you’ll ever need.

We’ve found that the Suite is a little too much for the ordinary producer, so we’ve gone with the Standard. It has infinite audio and MIDI tracks for wherever your project takes you, as well as 12 send and return buses for effects, up to 256 mono ins and outs, the ability to capture MIDI inputs for live programming, and more. In the Standard edition, they’ve included over 1,800 different built-in sounds (a total of 10GB! ), as well as 36 audio effects and 13 MIDI effects.

The Ableton Live 11 software has a slew of features that are ideal for any beat creator, new or old. Comping is one of the most significant improvements in the Live 11 edition. Multiple passes of an audio or MIDI performance can be divided into discrete takes, and two or more audio or MIDI tracks can be linked to edit the content at the same time.

Presonus Studio One Artist 5 is the best option for songwriters.

With a major splash in the audio interface industry, Presonus has built a name for itself. Presonus has now entered the world of digital audio workstations with Studio One, a worthy contender to the others on the list. Studio One is taken to the next level with the Artist 5 option. Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the Studio One line is its streamlined, single-window workflow, which eliminates the need to switch between many windows.

There’s a lot of simultaneous audio recording, as well as intelligent MIDI sequencing tools like multi-track editing. More than 40 native effect plugins are provided, as well as a “drag and drop” loop comping capability. They also have built-in Melodyne functionality (albeit it’s only a trial with the Artist version), which provides a ridiculously high level of pitch correction.

Acid Music Studio 11 is the best value for money.

Acid Music has an unique history when it comes to DAWs. It was first held by Sony, who sold it as an add-on to their award-winning Sound Forge mastering program. In 2016, Magix bought the rights to create the Acid range, and they’ve given it a new lease on life. Although a Pro edition of Acid is available, it comes at a high price, and we’d recommend some of the other DAWs in that price range over it.

However, for those on a budget, Acid Music Studio 11 is a terrific solution that includes some great beginner features like pro-quality 24-bit, 192 kHz multitrack sound and a 64-bit engine. Eight virtual instruments and six effect plug-ins are included. Choose from over 2,500 loops for hip hop, house, and rock production.

You may record an unlimited number of audio tracks, live track numerous instruments at the same time, and customize keyboard shortcuts. It supports VST plug-ins, so you can add any plug-ins you want to the software’s functionality. Finally, you can export your music as mp3, wav, or FLAC files, depending on your needs.

Celemony Melodyne Editor 5 is the best plugin.

Melodyne’s first edition was released with a lot of hype. After all, they claimed ultra-precise audio pitch correction, as well as polyphonic isolation, allowing you to pitch correct (or modify!) any note in a chord. Melodyne offers a few tiers with their fifth version, starting with the limited “essential” and “helper” options. Because neither of those options includes polyphonic pitch editing (probably the greatest feature), we’ve chosen to recommend the “editor” version. And you’re going to be completely taken aback.

That multi-note functionality is known as Direct Note Access (or DNA for short), and it works like this: You send audio into the software, whether it’s a single voice line or a full set of guitar chords. It will then map each note into a piano-roll-like interface, allowing you to isolate pitches, smooth them out, and even drag them to a different note. This award-winning pitch plugin will work with practically every major DAW and will quickly become an invaluable tool in your studio.

Spire by iZotope is the best for mobile.

There aren’t many music-making apps for phones, and the most of them are light, cloned versions of their desktop equivalents (see: Garageband for iPhone). The iZotope Spire is, in fact, a hardware-software combo, with the Spire software available for free download. However, in order to get the most out of it, you’ll need the Spire hardware, which is essentially a portable studio that fits into a small backpack.

Two Phantom-powered mic or TRS inputs are included on the gadget for directly using a microphone or tracking instruments. On the front, there’s also a built-in condenser mic. The straightforward Spire software, though, is what really makes this shine. Once you’ve paired it, you can use the Spire device to record multiple tracks at once. Then, once you’ve finished mixing and mastering (yes, you can do both on your phone), iZotope has included a nice graphical interface that allows you to realistically drag songs on an X/Y axis to pan them left or right and give them higher importance in the mix (when dragging them up and down). It’s all powered by iZotope’s award-winning Neutron automated mixing algorithms, and it’s a powerful piece of software, whether on your phone or not.

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