What is a DAW? DAWs explained at MakeMusic!


What is a DAW?


DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation and it can be an electronic device or a computer application, DAWs are used for recording, editing, processing and producing audio files.

DAWs come in several forms and configurations, for example exists software DAWs like Sonar, Cubase, Reason, Reaper, and hardware DAWs, sometimes integrated into pro-keyboards like Yamaha Tyros, Yamaha MOXF, Korg Pa3x, Roland FA-06, and many others, often these keyboard workstations are able to cooperate with software DAW running in your computer. DAWs come also in the form of dedicated computers equipped with high quality sound cards, high speed RAM and powerful processors. In this article we will focus on the software DAWs and their main features.

Let’s see the most common components and features of modern DAWS.

Audio recording and playback

DAWAlmost all DAW software, combined with an audio interface, are able record and playback audio files. The limitations are the number of inputs the audio interface can handle and the maximum recording frequency that your computer and the audio interface can handle.

Some DAW software limits the number of tracks you can record simultaneously, so when selecting a DAW software package, it will be important to know what that limitation is. If you foresee recording large bands or symphonies, you may want to look into getting a DAW with 32 or 48 simultaneous recording tracks.

Another consideration to be aware of is the software’s total track count. You may not think you’ll need more than 16 or 24 tracks in a session, but once you start triple-tracking guitars and vocals, adding in virtual instruments, auxiliary bussing, and various overdubs and color tracks, the number of your session’s tracks can skyrocket. Make sure to check the total track count of any DAW software you’re considering before you buy.

Audio Editing

DAWHere’s where DAW software can make the difference. Need to trim a singer’s cough out of an otherwise great vocal performance? Fade one instrument out as another one comes in? Move an early drum hit into perfect time? Loop a phrase for several times during each of the verses? These edits and countless others can be easily performed in DAW software — often non-destructively. Because editing is handled differently in various DAW software, you should check out a few to see which approach makes the most sense for your workflow.

Plugin Support

Plug-ins are made to do everything from emulating classic studio hardware compressors and reverbs to modeling guitar amplifiers to replacing poor drum recordings with professional drum samples.

While most DAWs include a number of basic plug-ins such as EQs and delays, there is an amazing range of plug-in instruments and processors available. Because there are a number of plug-in formats (RTAS, VST, AAX, VST, MAS, TDM, AU, Direct X, etc.), you’ll want to know which formats your DAW software supports.


Every DAW application gives you the power to mix, and most allow you to automate the entire mix, including fader moves, panning, plug-in processing, and more.

DAW mixing also gives you some options that even the largest recording consoles can’t, such as the ability to create additional tracks, aux busses, etc. as you need them. Most DAWs also have the ability to route audio to external effects processors as well.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of DAW mixing is total recall of all your mix parameters. You can come back to a mix months later and have everything set up just as you left it. Plus, you can store multiple versions of your mixes as well.


Although MIDI produces no sound by itself, it offers amazing capabilities for creating and controlling music. It accomplishes this by sending information to external synthesizers and drum machines or to virtual instruments inside your computer.

DAW software that handles MIDI allows you to record a performance and later go back to change the timing, volume, duration, and pitch of any note. It will also let you “pencil-in” new notes, “glue” separate phrases together, split chord notes into separate tracks, change tempo without affecting pitch, etc.

If you plan to use virtual instruments — or even external drum triggers — you’ll want to ensure the DAW you purchase handles MIDI sequencing and editing in a powerful, easy-to-use way.


Virtual Instruments

DAWMost popular DAW software comes with a basic selection of virtual instruments. Often, this will include a simple metronome, synthesizer, drum machine, etc.

Beyond this, there are hundreds more to choose from, ranging from pianos and drum kits to synthesizers of every imaginable sort. Virtual instruments are a great way to begin compositions or fill out arrangements.

For example, you can sit down at your computer with a MIDI controller keyboard and sketch out a song idea using a virtual drum machine and virtual piano instrument without ever having to set up a microphone.

Virtual Effect Processors

While engineers will always have a soft spot for their favorite hardware EQ, compressor, or effects unit, the power and convenience of plug-in processors cannot be overstated.

From the ability to easily add multiple instances of an effect to your project to powerful automation capabilities, virtual processors eliminate the need for a full rack of gear to create a great mix. Many DAWs come with a wide range of plug-in processors that are capable of sounding great in any mix. And the range of third-party plug-in processors is staggering, ranging from virtual emulations of vintage hardware to ultra-precise digital toolsets.

Welcome to the DAW’s world!


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