If you’re serious about music and audio production, an integrated digital audio workstation (DAW) could open creative options and help you get your work done faster. Steinberg’s Cubase SX 3.0.1, Apple’s Logic Pro 7.01, and Mark of the Unicorn’s Digital Performer (DP) 4.52 provide tools ranging from mixing audio and MIDI, to hosting virtual instruments and effects, to editing and printing musical notation. For under $1,000, each provides software-based pro-level audio capabilities that would otherwise require thousands of dollars in hardware.
Not everyone needs the power of these three programs: many newcomers to audio editing will be just as happy with Apple’s GarageBand 2 (
) or Mackie’s Tracktion. And the pro-level programs’ new time-warping features can’t match the ultra-streamlined interface and real-time workflow of Ableton’s Live 4 (
But if you need a broad set of advanced MIDI and audio-editing features, all three of these programs are powerhouses, with richer MIDI and arrangement features than high-end Digidesign Pro Tools systems, at a fraction of the price. While it has fallen behind its competitors in some respects, Cubase SX 3.01 is the best choice here for cross-platform environments and integrating audio hardware. DP is the best choice for musicians with Digidesign hardware, is perfect for film scoring, and is the best all-around audio performer: it’s the easiest to use and has the most workflow timesavers. Logic Pro wins out in sheer volume of instruments, effects, and tools, covering all bases from guitar amps to drum machines to advanced sound-creation tools like Sculpture and CD mastering and burning. (If you’re on a tight budget, you might also consider the $99 Cubase SE or the $299 Logic Express, which share a surprising number of features with their pro siblings, albeit with fewer effects and instruments.)
I’d love to be able to combine Cubase’s MIDI features and ReWire setup with DP’s interface and workflow and Logic Pro’s extensive sound toolbox, but until that’s possible, you’re likely to choose your software based on how you work and which interface you prefer. With so many strong choices for audio production, it’s a good time indeed for music on the Mac.