DAWs - Reaper vs Ableton?

To date I’ve been using Ableton Live Lite, and I’ve become familiar with it to a basic level. To the level where I can record a couple of different tracks and so some basic effects (reverb/etc), clicks - what’s needed to record basic guitar tracks. I used Ableton Live Lite because it came free with my Focusrite Scarlett, and Garageband is not an option as I’m on PC.

My initial plan was to stick with Ableton Live as my main DAW, learn more about it, and upgrade to a paid version when I ran into the limitations of the Lite edition.

I’ve got reason to use Reaper for a small project so I’ll be learning a bit of that.

Mostly what I’ve heard about Reaper is “well, it’s cheap, so use it” - I’m not opposed to paying for something that’s good (e.g. Ableton, guitars, etc).

This got me thinking, before I invest too much time in either DAW, to figure out which DAW to actually get proficient at. So, some questions, particularly from those that have used multiple DAWs:

Which DAWs have you used? Which is your favourite, and why? What DAW do you use now?

One thing that comes with Reaper that you can’t get with any other DAW is a library of tutorials by Kenny Gioia.

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In my view, at a fundamental level, most DAWs do the same thing. They do vary in terms of workflow and some of the facilities they offer.

Depending on your requirements and (I suspect) the way you think, the different approaches that DAWs have may or may not appeal to you.

There’s also a huge degree of familiarity involved. People talk about software being “intuitive” but, most of the time, what they mean is “familiar”. If you have a lot of experience with product X and product Y does it differently, then you will find it harder to use than product Z which does it the way you are used to.

DAWs are, by nature and definition, complex. Some of that complexity is often hidden and there are cut-down DAWs (e.g. Garageband) which don’t have all of the bells and whistles of more “professional” applications, but can be more than adequate for home users.

IoW, there is a learning curve in using any DAW. But, once you have the concepts under your belt, you can apply them to any other DAW, with some adjustment due to product differences.

The quality of your output will generally not depend on how expensive your DAW is. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that an expensive commercial application must automatically be better than a cheaper option (or even an Open Source application like Ardour). The same is often true of plugins.

A great example of this is Ardour, which is Open Source, and Mixbus, which is commercial. They share, perhaps, 90% of the same code base and the user interface is extremely similar. For most people, Ardour will do everything they need. But some people will prefer Mixbus because of some additional capabilities which provides facilities and a workflow more similar to someone used to a physical mixing console. That could be worth the price tag.

Note that some DAWs are more suited to certain endeavours: Ableton is a classic example of that, as it has it’s clip recording/launching which is designed very much for live performances. Roland Zenbeats is very much set up for sequencing and electronic music. That doesn’t mean you can’t use them for more conventional recording, of course.

And there can be uses for these capabilities in more conventional recording work too. For example, Ardour and Mixbus both have implemented clip/cue launching similar to Ableton, but in a way you can use this to build backing tracks as well as using it for triggering in a live setting:

Cheers,

Keith

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And to answer your question, I use Ardour (mostly) although I also have Mixbus 32C and occasionally use that.

I use Ardour because it was one of the first DAWs on Linux, which is mainly where I use it, and because it’s Open Source, which I generally believe in as a concept.

I have played with others, including LMMS, QTracktor, Tracktion and Bitwig Studio and (briefly) Reaper. But I never found a good reason to move to a different DAW as Ardour has always provided all the capabilities I needed.

There’s also plenty of good documentation, community support, and tutorials including videos.

Cheers,

Keith

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Not by that guy probably, but every DAW I’ve looked at has some great tutorials online (including Ableton). So that’s not a Reaper exclusive thing.

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Thanks Keith, really appreciate you sharing your experiences, a well balanced summary of what you use and why!

Can’t really help you with this as not having any DAW or a Focusrite. I do have OBS Studio on my pc, but couldn’t get it to record! Is that a DAW?

No, not at all.

OBS is designed for audio and video streaming and capture. It’s commonly used by Youtubers, Twitch streams and so on.

It’s often mentioned here because it’s a free, relatively easy, way to capture a video+audio on a PC, if you don’t already have a video capture application. It’s also useful for streaming for online Open Mics.

OBS is very capable, allowing you to capture video and audio from simultaneous inputs, mix them in a controlled way, and save them to local storage or stream them.

It includes the capability, for instance to have multiple cameras and to be able to position those in flexible ways. So you could have a camera pointing at your face, and a picture-in-picture in the corner pointing at something on your desk. You can also set up multiple “scenes” and switch between them, add real-time effects, etc.

Here’s an example of a video I recorded using Transcribe! using OBS, as an example:

OBS can be a bit overwhelming for some people because it requires some basic configuration to be done before it does anything.

But it’s not a DAW. A DAW does let you do capture (usually only audio, but some do video too), but also to edit, mix, add effects, etc. to the resulting recording. OBS doesn’t do that; it’s real-time only.

Cheers,

Keith

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Not much input from me JK but I’ve gone with Reaper. I remember @DavidP saying when I was first starting out to get Reaper as at some point I would hit limitations with Ableton.

Now I’ve not used Reaper loads but the bit I have used it I’m finding it really good with lots and lots of plugins. Price wise I thought it was quite reasonable but then I didn’t look how expensive other ones were.

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JK, like you started with Ableton as a lite version that came with my Focusrite. Funnily enough I also had an option to go with ProTools lite version back then. For whatever reason, I don’t recall doing much, if any, research and maybe picked based on alphabetic order

Once I started to do more than just record my guitar and vocals on two tracks from the 2i2 input channels, I struggled to get things working consistently. I agree with @Majik to a degree about ‘intuitive’ vs ‘familiar’ but the way things work in Ableton to enable the live performance perhaps led to me not getting familiar. Maybe I’d have done better with ProTools.

That said, I relatively quickly bumped into the limits of the light version, specifically the number of tracks in the project and ability to route from one track to another. Now if I recall correctly the upgrade was about $350, which I didn’t have nor want to spend.

Primarily based on the help that LBro had already been giving me and his recommendations I went for Reaper. It cost me $65 and I am still licensed and up to date today, around 5 years later. Now possibly Ardour or one of the other similar DAWs, either opensource or affordable, would have served me equally well.

That said, Reaper is light on resources, has a good audio engine, the quality of the plugins that come built-in, and the catalogue of tutorial videos on the Reaper website make it a good option.

A lot depends on what you want to do in the future. You can get an idea of what I do from the most recent original song. All done in Reaper, including the final video. Admittedly DAWs introduce a new virulent strain of GAS … I’ve spent some money of digital instruments and other plugins.

I didn’t struggle with the help of the video tutorials and the user manual (I abide by RTFM) to shift from Ableton to Reaper. You are a tech savvy guy so I would not expect you to struggle with such a switch if you hit Ableton lite limits. I certainly wouldn’t spend 100s$$$ on pro licensed versions of Ableton, ProTools, Cubase. Reaper is a good option but as Keith said, tehre are similar options. And if your demands and aspirations don’t lead to hitting the limits you could just carry on as you are.

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For low-cost it’s hard to beat Ardour. Pro-level, but free.

I’ve been paying for Bitwig, mostly because I like its interface and built-in plugins/tools, and it runs on Linux. Lately I’ve been questioning whether it’s worth it, though. I think I’d be happy with Ardour (and not need to worry about paying and licensing and all that).

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Yes. Although, strictly speaking, the official ready-to-run version is not entirely free. It’s available for a single payment of your choosing. This could be as little as $1, but $45 or more means you also get future upgrades without having to donate again. Plus it supports the ongoing development of Ardour.

There are other, legal, ways to get it free if you really want.

It’s worth mentioning that Ardour comes with a good selection of plugins and, since version 7, a bunch of community-generated clips and loops, with an easy download manager to grab them. So you can get cracking creating drum n bass tracks.

Of course, if you are on Linux, you have dozens (perhaps hundreds) of “built in” plugins with most distros.

Cheers,

Keith

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OK. Thanks for that. I don’t do audio and video streaming and am not a Youtuber. OBS was recommended by another member on another thread some time ago now.

Thanks, again for the information.

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Just had a look at their website but can’t get the System Requirements to show for windows:

It just shows those for Linux.

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Pretty much anything from, I think, Windows XP onwards.

2G RAM recommended, more is better.

Minimum of 350Mb free drive space for installation.

Note you can download a trial version for free to try it out.

Cheers,

Keith

Thanks.

Interesting just installed ableton lite with my new 2i2 and already have reaper.

Don’t really know how to use either

The 2i2 seems to come with a lot of software dls

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Just as an aside JK, Reaper to OBS works really well for recording stuff to post in AVOYP. No video syncing or anything needed doing when I did HWTH last week. It was just Katana plugged into my laptop and then Reaper into OBS using Rearoute.

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Over the years they changed and ProTools wasn’t an option when I got mine. Interesting what you say about finding Reaper easier but not intuitive. I’ve tried Reaper now, but only for a very short time. Ableton is more “in your face” by default. Reaper required watching a video to even understand how to get the guitar track there. Easy now I’ve watched the video but totally not obvious to double click on a blank area.

However in the short time I’ve spent with it, it seems to make more sense. Even though it’s not very discoverable.

I don’t mind spending for useful stuff. Maybe I just haven’t found it yet in Reaper, but Ableton seems to have more useful stuff built in by default. The first thing I went to in Reaper was the metronome. It sounds terrible. I can attach custom metronome sounds but looks like there are none built in. From what I’ve seen so far it seems like Ableton has loads of stuff built in by default, and Reaper requires config for that. I’m assuming that’s one of the reasons Ableton costs more.

However I like what I see so far with Reaper so I’m going to learn a bit more about it and see how I go with it.

This seems line from @Majik seems to sum up what I’ve found around the Internet about DAWs.

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Thanks Stefan, yep I tried that with Ableton and that worked fine too, although I wasn’t keen on not being able to adjust relative volumes etc between tracks afterwards :slight_smile:

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