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What's the best *sounding* DAW?


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Different DAWs use different summing algorithms/architecture, right?

 

And because of this different architecture, they may do any of the following: make use of the floating busses differently; produce a better stereo image; better (different) separation etc.

 

And one DAW's drivers may work completely differently to another's. Meaning that you'll have to learn different things about how the sound of each translates to the outside world of WAV audio on HiFi systems, iPods etc.

 

 

So.....

 

In your opinion, which DAW has the best sound? For summing, FX, translatability, and all other things that may be considered?

 

 

*I realise that for many, this may be a 'much of a muchness' question - a DAW is a tool and the sonics really boil down to how good a person is at using the tools at their disposal. But I've heard experienced engineers claim that Reaper does better summing and imaging than PT, for instance. So, what do you think? :)

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Old argument.


For years the guys with bazillion dollar studios and golden ears held blind shoot outs trying to prove it (with panning laws and levels matched).


They couldn't find any proof of it, so don't carry the argument on....

 

I'm not trying to start an argument :) Just hoping to hear other people's experiences.

 

Do you have links to any evidence or data from these blind shootouts?

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Just out of curiosity gubu, what DAW do you use?
:)

You might find Lynn Fuston's DAW Summing project interesting.


http://www.3daudioinc.com/3db/showthread.php?12977-Awesome-DAWSUM-Samples


There's a lot more discussion on the topic (Google search "lynn fuston awesome dawsum") if you poke around a bit.

 

 

Of course! I should have said at the start.

 

I use PTLE 7.4. Some say it has summing 'issues', and I sometimes wonder what has happened when I line up a new mix in iTunes (on the same machine and monitors) and it doesn't sound the same as it did in PT.

But I don't want to diss it - my chops aren't anything special either, so why blame the tools, right? :)

 

Thanks for the link, I'll get reading...

 

edit:- so it seems that the various forums are split in Lynn Fuston's CD. Some say that the differences between the DAWs are non-existent or negligible. Others say that plain differences can be heard across the different platforms, and that some are 'better' than others.

 

One interesting point I found was that a primary difference between the DAWs was how they handled plugins. That in fact, the differences between how they handle plugins was a 'glitch', despite the fact that they should all handle plugins in the same way. So this is worth investigating further.

 

I know that on my machine, I notice my mixes getting bitty the more plugins I use. But I can't tell whether this is down to my inexpert use of plugs, or because of some inherent CPU headroom issue (on my old 1G machine) or DAW issue :idk:

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You have to try them all, and decide for yourself. Some guys think Logic sounds best [i think it sounds like kaka] and there are some guys who think Pro Tools sounds like kaka, [i think it sounds great] and so forth. I tested as many DAW units as I could, found my preference and moved on. I know how to use them all, somewhat, but I prefer Pro Tools over them all. Good luck with it!

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edit:- so it seems that the various forums are split in Lynn Fuston's CD. Some say that the differences between the DAWs are non-existent or negligible. Others say that plain differences can be heard across the different platforms, and that some are 'better' than others.

 

You surely didn't expect anyone to agree on this issue, did you? :D:D

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That's quite a nice way of telling me that my mixing chops may not be all that good
:lol:
No worries, I don't have an ego about these things - just trying to produce better sonics..

 

:D Well, you mentioned it as as a possibility! :D

 

But seriously, I could do it, you could do it. Maybe we use too many plugins. Maybe we use the wrong ones. Maybe somehow we use them inappropriately. You could take off a bunch of your plugins and see if that improves the mix.

 

I've heard a number of people feel that Sonar sums better, but who knows. To the best of my knowledge, there's never been any definitive agreement on on which DAW sounds "better", whatever that means. There have been a lot of mixes done on Pro Tools, and one would think that if it really sounded that bad, there would have been less of that, but you can't really even count on that either (VHS vs. Betamax anyone?).

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:D
Well, you mentioned it as as a possibility!
:D

But seriously, I could do it, you could do it. Maybe we use too many plugins. Maybe we use the wrong ones. Maybe somehow we use them inappropriately. You could take off a bunch of your plugins and see if that improves the mix.


I've heard a number of people feel that Sonar sums better, but who knows. To the best of my knowledge, there's never been any definitive agreement on on which DAW sounds "better", whatever that means. There have been a lot of mixes done on Pro Tools, and one would think that if it really sounded that bad, there would have been less of that, but you can't really even count on that either (VHS vs. Betamax anyone?).

 

The funny thing is, I don't tend to use a whole bunch of plugins - I just notice things getting smaller and narrower the more I use (after mixdown, that is. In PT, it sounds great) :idk:

 

I must add/point out that my mentors complaint about PT's 'bittiness' was to do with PTLE, not a HD or TDM system.

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The sound quality is all in the Analog/Digital converters and preamp of the interface.

The DAW has zero to do with sound quality. Once the analog wave is digitized, its just a

data flow of ones and zeros.

 

The only influences are the software plugins that resample the data and alter it.

The quality of the plugins and to some effect the resampleing.compression of the data

or where ever the data is altered. Just recording to tracks and playing back those tracks,

There isnt any difference at all between DAW programs or computers.

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The sound quality is all in the Analog/Digital converters and preamp of the interface.

The DAW has zero to do with sound quality. Once the analog wave is digitized, its just a

data flow of ones and zeros.


The only influences are the software plugins that resample the data and alter it.

The quality of the plugins and to some effect the resampleing.compression of the data

or where ever the data is altered.
Just recording to tracks and playing back those tracks,

There isnt any difference at all between DAW programs or computers.

 

 

See bold.

 

So this could be said to be an essential difference, and was alluded to in the OP. This is really the kind of thing I'm driving at - what are the differences and how do they affect the sonics of the various DAW's?

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^^ Its the quality of the plugins used mixing, not the DAW program itself.

As you know plugin quality varies a whole lot. The daw program doesnt do jack to the signal.

I'm not super sure of all the differences between the downsampling capibilities. I know some

programs like sonar have several versions of dithering you can apply besides the basic triangular.

 

If you're going to master your work, you wouldnt downsample or dither. You'd simply mix to the same

sample rate as a stereo file. Then you would pull your song into an editing program to apply your mastering effects

before downsampleing and dithering. Thats where most of the math is going to be applied, so unless you're mixing

and mastering in a single step and then down sampleing straight from the DAW program, its a non issue.

 

Ive done mastering both ways and surely couldnt hear any differences between the down sampleing capibilities between

any of my daw programs nor any of my editor programs. You do hear some high frequency loss and detail because the

data is being compressed, but I highly doubt one program is going to show much difference between each other as far as quality

goes. You may find some writeup someplace where someone state their coding system is superior or some other nonsence.

 

 

I did at one time think for example Cubase sounded better mixing over Sonar. I think its because of how thay wire

the mixer into the monitor system. It was an illusion though. The sliders may have had sweets spots that were different from sonar.

I found when I mixed just straight audio files, with no plugins, the mixdown and downs ampled versions were "exactly" the same.

I even tested the files with frequency analizers, and all kinds of other tests to see if there was any differences there I could proove

as being different or better but there was no way I could see or hear a difference it in a blind test.

 

Using different plugins yeilded different results of course, but it comes down to what you consider being better.

If you use two different comps very mildly with the exact same settings, would you hear a difference? Or if you used

mild EQing with the same exact amounts of boost and cut, how much differences are there between the one track

within a mix? Mastering effects seem to reveal more because you pass all of the signal from all the tracks through them.

If the plugin displays coloration, digital artifacts etc its likely to be heard there.

 

I still use many free plugins when I mix even though I have a full arsonal of high end plugins.

Some of it is because I know exactly what I can do with the plugin to get specific results.

It may only have three knobs but it does what I want quick and simple. If I used the high end

plugin, I can match the same sound, but I may have to dork around with 20 knobs wasting an hour

worth of time to get the same results.

 

They are tools, and if you know your tools, you grab the right tool for the job at hand.

Just because a hammer has 50 attatchments to do everything including making coffee, it

doesnt mean it works any better to drive a nail into the wall to hang a picture.

Then again, when you're putting up a fence that air compressor and air gun can sure make

short work out of driving a buttload of nails. Even if they all dont go in straight.

 

Then you have the factor of every piece of music is different. Some guys do midi, sample drums, keyboards and all

that stuff. Theres a boatload of midi plugins and samples that come stock with different DAWs. All have varying qualities

and difficulty levels in getting them to sound good. I dont use allot of that stuff and stick with mostly raw analog inputs

so I'm no expert at those options. I can get midi to work on all my daws but dont use them enough to say i prefer thins one over that

and explain the reasons why one is better. Midi is midi. It too sounds exactly the same if you're using the same sound banks

I even use the analog output on my electric drums and keyboards on recording. I'm not a great keyboard player anyway.

I can write music on them, do all my chords and fills, but I prefer strings I can bend.

 

So thats pretty much it. If someone tells you one daw has better sound quality over another you can pretty much

bank on the fact they are full of crap. Since programs have to run on all the same computer hardware and processors,

and they all all connect to the same interfaces, the programs Have to use simular methods to do the same things math wise.

 

They may battle out minor proprietary differences but being able to hear a difference? Not gonna happen. If there was a big difference

everyone would buy the product and put the others out of business. The biggest factor is having great sound quality coming

into the interface, and having it sampled with high accuracy to capture it to digital. Everyhing beyond that point is personal

preference. Some may like the way the GUI appears to their eyes, or how the knobs are shaped, or how the menus are accessed,

or the price tag of the program. None of that affects how the music is routed to and from the interface.

All the PC plugins are VST. When I run Sonar, I can access all my Cubase plugins and vice versa. They sound the same within any

daw program.

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^^Your usual comprehensive and detailed style of reply :)

 

But I'm not sure if I'm misunderstanding you here or if you're contradicting yourself with these 2 quotes

 

When I run Sonar, I can access all my Cubase plugins and vice versa. They sound the same within any

daw program.

 

:confused:

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i recorded some guitar tracks in logic the other day... i played a beautiful guitar.. used great mics... and was feeling very musical at the time... the recording came out great

 

a while ago i recorded some piano parts in pro tools... i stuck an sm57 in an old out of tune upright piano... i was in a filthy mood because i'd just stubbed my toe... but luckily the pain was somewhat lessened by the fact i'd just finished my 14th beer... unfortunately the recording didn't sound very good at all

 

i don't see how i could possibly come to any other conclusion other than logic is obviously the far superior sounding DAW

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^^Your usual comprehensive and detailed style of reply
:)
But I'm not sure if I'm misunderstanding you here or if you're contradicting yourself with these 2 quotes:confused:

 

Zero contradiction, you gust dont seem to realize the daw program is a utility, not a sound shaper.

If I mix down with either DAW with tha same settings, panning and DB levels, the results are the same.

 

If I pull a plugin in to use, say waves L2 into cubase or sonar, its effects on the waveform are the same

and I get the same results. Or I could use the same steinberg plugin in both or the same sonar plugin in both.

They are all VST plugins.

 

Where you may misunderstand is different DAW programs are loaded with plugin packages. Many of the plugins are made

by separate manufacturers. They load into the effect folder whan you install the program but they are not an essential

part of the DAW program. You can delets all the effects DLL's in the effects folder and the DAW program will still function.

 

Look at it this way. If you were to purchase a media player that came with a bunch of demo songs in the playback folder.

You would know those songs arent part of the player itself. They are just demo songs.

 

Same goes for a DAW. The DAW program is an audio utility. It comes with plugins. Those plugins are a bunch of smaller

and completely separate programs that run within the DAW program. Some may imbed within the Virtual mixer like EQ.

If the EQ isnt turned on its not altering the sound.

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i recorded some guitar tracks in logic the other day... i played a beautiful guitar.. used great mics... and was feeling very musical at the time... the recording came out great


a while ago i recorded some piano parts in pro tools... i stuck an sm57 in an old out of tune upright piano... i was in a filthy mood because i'd just stubbed my toe... but luckily the pain was somewhat lessened by the fact i'd just finished my 14th beer... unfortunately the recording didn't sound very good at all


i don't see how i could possibly come to any other conclusion other than logic is obviously the far superior sounding DAW

 

Well, it's nice to see some real science here! :thu:

 

Logic it is then :D

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Zero contradiction, you gust dont seem to realize the daw program is a utility, not a sound shaper.

If I mix down with either DAW with tha same settings, panning and DB levels, the results are the same.


If I pull a plugin in to use, say waves L2 into cubase or sonar, its effects on the waveform are the same

and I get the same results. Or I could use the same steinberg plugin in both or the same sonar plugin in both.

They are all VST plugins.


Where you may misunderstand is different DAW programs are loaded with plugin packages. Many of the plugins are made

by separate manufacturers. They load into the effect folder whan you install the program but they are not an essential

part of the DAW program. You can delets all the effects DLL's in the effects folder and the DAW program will still function.


Look at it this way. If you were to purchase a media player that came with a bunch of demo songs in the playback folder.

You would know those songs arent part of the player itself. They are just demo songs.


Same goes for a DAW. The DAW program is an audio utility. It comes with plugins. Those plugins are a bunch of smaller

and completely separate programs that run within the DAW program. Some may imbed within the Virtual mixer like EQ.

If the EQ isnt turned on its not altering the sound.

 

No, I understand fine. You meant it sounds different when you use different branded plugins. No drama :)

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Zero contradiction, you gust dont seem to realize the daw program is a utility, not a sound shaper.

If I mix down with either DAW with tha same settings, panning and DB levels, the results are the same.

 

 

Sorry but this isn't strictly true. DAWs do shape sound when it comes to gain changes, automation, etc. and they do process audio differently amongst each other. So if you just bring up the same tracks on two different DAWs, with no processing, the results would be close to identical, but the more you add editing/crossfades, automation, and plugins (even if they're the same plugins) the more likely it is that you'll hear differences.

 

Of course, how much of a difference you hear and whether you think any particular DAW is "better" is subjective, and will vary by the individual track and by personal taste, so nobody's going to win any arguments here... but there definitely are differences.

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Sorry but this isn't strictly true. DAWs do shape sound when it comes to gain changes, automation, etc. and they do process audio differently amongst each other. So if you just bring up the same tracks on two different DAWs, with no processing, the results would be close to identical, but the more you add editing/crossfades, automation, and plugins (even if they're the same plugins) the more likely it is that you'll hear differences.


Of course, how much of a difference you hear and whether you think any particular DAW is "better" is subjective, and will vary by the individual track and by personal taste, so nobody's going to win any arguments here... but there definitely are differences.

 

 

You quoted me but you're adding things to my statement alter my point.

I said same settings, panning and DB levels the results will be the same

after the music is mixed down.

 

I specifically left out gain changes, automation, Plugins panning changes, etc for a reason.

When you use those items you are "remixing" what you imported so obviously they will alter the sound.

If you import the same tracks into just about any daw then just mix down, the sound will be virtually

the same between them.

 

If your point is you have different capibilities mixing with different daws, then yes, daws have all kinds

of variances to do the same thing. Even with panning, I think Sonar has several different panning laws

to choose from that are different from say cubase or pro tools. All of those separate mixer adjustments

were built from much simpler codes and programs that were incorporated with the base utility program that

ties them all together into a single package.

 

I'm no expert in code writing but I have worked in the computer industry since 1976 and know many who do write

code. Software manufacturers for a DAW program dont all use totally different codes to do the same thing.

Someone may have come up with a code for adjusting volume of a sound card, something thats been used by every sound

card made and works in conjunction with windows. Over the years, windows has improved their OS and allowed developers

to improve their access to the OS and customize their control over hardware, but it isnt vastly different when it comes to

mant of the basics. After all it has to function within windows and not be buggy.

 

You see more differences with the GUI than anything else. The eye is deceiving even when it comes to audio programs.

An improvement for a volume control may be going from three steps of low medium to high, to 16 digital steps to control

the sound card, then 32, 64, 256, to maybe 500 separate increments in volume as you slide the volume control up with a mouse.

a 256 step may feel more glitchey than a 500 step slider when you move it. The result is the person feels the 500 step is better.

 

But and this is a big but, if both sliders are up 50%, the output level from the sound cards are exactly the same.

The code for volume may simply be a codec that varies the signal amplitude through DSP or controlling the

chip on the card to work as a remote control. The code interacts with the sound card driver to adjust the signals amplitude.

 

In other words, if you use two different remotes to adjust the volume of a TV your TV isnt going to sound

better with the volume adjusted to 50% up using one remote or the other. Its the TV that makes the sound the same way as your

sound card makes sound from a computer. In order for that track to sound different, you have to perform a math operation

on the waveform. It may be having that wave form play back through an effect and make changes near real time like you do

when mixing or rendering that math to the waveform to alter it.

 

There has to be some difference in the way the individual components (codes) are wired together

for you to hear a difference between DAWs just playing back files with no mixing.

 

My example of sonar vs cubase appearing to sound different is an example of how the codes can be wired (placed in a specific order)

to sound differently. As I said I'm no expert on coding but I know enough to detect Cubase wires the mixer in differently than

sonar does. It may be the order of the specific components that make up a channel, but Cubase sounds

more plush when making mixer volume changes only (no otther effects)

I could have sworn Cubase would have had a better quality mixdown because of this but I was completely taken in

by this live monitoring of tracks. When I used both to mix down, the results played back with a frequency analiser

superimposing the two wave forms upon eachother showed no difference between the two different waveforms, nor could my

ears hear any difference betweeen them in an A/B comparison.

 

You could test this yourself easily enough. Just import a good quality commercial track into two different DAW programs then mix them both down

to a stereo wave file (no dithering, no sample rate changes, no effects etc) Dollars for donuts you wont hear a difference.

 

You also have the fact, is there "were" great differences, studios would be totally {censored}ed importing material from

all different sources because every DAW program would add its own colorations, just through the import process

which I know is not true. I've done enough work having projects recorded on all platforms to know theres no way

of identifying what DAW was used to create those wave files unless thay were tagged or someone told you.

 

Everything else is purely perceptual and what you feel works for you. Some may be productivity or work flow

differences, some may be the plugin packages included, but just keep in mind. You arent manipulating the files

with analog gear and transistors here. Its all ones and zeros and no more. You want to impact sound quality,

the DAW program is one of the least items that will do that.

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Lee and WRGKMC,

These are exactly the types of differences I was getting at in the OP, and was looking for subjective opinions on which DAWs do what best, from a sonic perspective, and with some objective argument to back that up.

 

So, it seems that the sonics are affected by numerous variables between DAWs, not least what way they handle the various codecs.

 

From a practical standpoint, I suppose the non-sonic differences are just as important:- managing workflows, ease of editing etc., and can probably have as much of an influence on the final sonics of a project as much as the other variables..

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Lee and WRGKMC,

These are exactly the types of differences I was getting at in the OP, and was looking for subjective opinions on which DAWs do what best, from a sonic perspective, and with some objective argument to back that up.


So, it seems that the sonics are affected by numerous variables between DAWs, not least what way they handle the various codecs.


From a practical standpoint, I suppose the
non-sonic differences are just as important:- managing workflows, ease of editing etc., and can probably have as much of an influence on the final sonics of a project as much as the other variables
..

 

 

You'll find thats the #1 biggest difference between them all.

All have the same basic tools but some make you jump through hoops to use them

and some make them a simple feature.

 

An example of one is filer cleanup. a nessasary chore you dont even think about till its time.

For some daw programs its a nightmare and some its a one button job.

In my older version of Cubase this is a huge chore. If I didnt build

specific folders and save projects to them, it was impossible to find the specific wave files from a project

to delete them when cleaning up a drive.

 

In sonar, you delets the picture file which is in the open menu, then you use a one button cleanup.

(after you've emptied the recycle bun on the desktop)

The program will scan for all wave files in the folder not associated with a sonar project and allow you to

delete them all with a single delete.

 

You dont appreciate this feature till you get maybe 20 projects on the drive and maybe 300 separate

wave files from all those tracks on a drive. Another cool thing in somar is you can right click all kinds of cool things.

 

If I have say three copies of the same project and I like the instruments on one and the vocal on another

and I want to find that one vocal track on the wave file drive, I can open the project and right click on the tracks and the

track name of the wave file will appear. I can jot that down then open the other project, select import, navigate to the wave file drive

and select the exact wave file out of that 300 or so wave files and click to import it into the current project.

 

Big time saver. Imagine if you had to play back all three hundred to find the right one to import?

 

There are buttloads of other differences between DAW programs you just dont get to know till you use the programs.

I made my choice to use Sonar because its windows friendly. I use a computer all day at work and I'm used to looking

for things under certain menus and finding theins with left and right clicks. Sonar got it right for placing things under

thses clicks and menus right, plus it allows you to build your own menus in your own order for convenience, even the

shortcut buttons.

 

 

Others are fine too but you may need to reeducate yourself to find things. Some make sence and sone are just plain wierd.

 

 

By the way, you mentioned logic as an option. Logic only runs on a Mac. If you're a mac user, many like it.

I used an old win version and its was a flucking nightmare for me to get it to work well.

I quickly dumped it because you couldnt use VST plugins, and because they switched to mac only.

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