I've been working on a number of music recording projects over the past year. In the middle of several of them, I had a technical issue with Avid Pro Tools which I've been using for over a decade as my DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). The expense and hassle of resolving the issue was so frustrating that I started checking out other DAW's. After several web searches and reading a bundle of reviews and such, I settled on licensing Bitwig Studio and Cuckos Reaper.
Are You Experienced?
I have much less experience with Bitwig and Reaper that I have with the software I've used for many years. But I know what I like and I've completed at least one recording beginning to end in each of these. So, I'm happy to provide you with basic pros and cons of each, plus acknowledgement of a vast number of other resources for each of these systems.
The price is right with Cuckos Reaper. Licenses start at $60 US with access to upgrades through the next 2 versions. There's also a 60-day evaluation to make sure this software is for you. This DAW is deep and solid. Reaper has never crashed in many hours of use. My setup is Mac, but Reaper has a good following on Windows as well. It's got a vast number of plug-in options due to support for VST and AU; JSFX audio and MIDI plugins; third-party extensions via a public SDK; and other options. Check out their long list of resources. 32-bit and 64-bit versions are available.
I really like Reaper for its initial accessibility and crash-proof running. Unfortunately, importing MIDI files from other projects was not as easy or complete as in the other two DAWs. Audio import is slick and straightforward using drag-and-drop. Editing of both audio and MIDI data is quite deep in Reaper.
It's hard to make a fair comparison since I have so much more experience with Avid Pro Tools, but it is a very mature offering. If you need to share your tracks with other studios, it's pretty likely to be in Pro Tools. It has graphic, plug-in, and item-by-item editing of both MIDI and audio. One thing I missed in the other DAW's was the MIDI event list window where I could see a per-MIDI-event listing of each thing recorded from my MIDI controller.
Maturity has also brought bloating and software that's prone to crashing. Each crash offers to send a report to Avid and you can type in something about what you were doing at time of the crash. (For me, this is usually “nothing”.) If you want to get support for a problem with Pro Tools, you will have to pay either a per-incident fee or an annual support fee to Avid. And in my opinion, that's just not cool. Also, since the upgrade to version 11 (and version 12 is now available), only AAX plug-ins can be used. While there are lots of options, lack of access to VST, AU, and other plug-in platforms reduces some of the available virtual instruments and effects. Licensing still requires an iLok USB stick.
Bitwig Studio shows tons of promise. Since it's founders used to work for Ableton, it's often compared to their software. Bitwig runs on Mac, Windows, and Ubuntu Linux. It is already an very deep system with lots of options that hide beneath the surface. Options for workflow, display and setup give it a good choice in the DAW space. Because this system is so customizable and versatile, I've been able to learn the basics of using it easily and produce a number of finished projects with it.
The following for Bitwig is passionate. And with good reason. This software has a lot going for it from straightforward importing to slick and versatile modifications to whatever you've recorded. I can't even begin to cover all the cool ways that Bitwig lets you manipulate your recordings, but a web search will find you tons of tutorials and videos that introduce many of these.
Here's my completely subjective comparison of these three DAWs.
|What?||Bitwig Studio||Pro Tools||Reaper|
|Ease of Use||4||4||3|
|Plug-in support||VST||AAX||VST, AU, JSFX, extensions|
|Chances that I'll use this on my next project||4||5||3|
As I said, because I have more experience with ProTools, it has an unfair advantage. That being said, I'll continue to use both Reaper and Bitwig in upcoming projects. I look forward to hearing from musicians who have used any of these DAW's in their recent recordings and projects!