Digital Audio Workstation

A digital audio workstation, DAW, in short, is a computerized system for sound recording, music production, mixing and mastering, which is characterized by a high integration of components within the system. It is a composite of digital devices for digital recording and processing of acoustic signals. "Digital Audio Workstation" is the original term for hard-disk recording devices, as HD recording using a PC or Mac - for example, with Pro Tools - was not yet possible. The first DAC were HD recorder such as the Fairlight CMI. Today we call PCs and Macs with appropriate hardware ( high quality audio card) and music software also DAWs.

  • 6.1 Free / Open Source DAWs
  • 6.2 Commercial DAWs


External devices analog and digital in nature ( tube compressors, tape machines, reverb, delay = delay, etc. ) can be emulated or replaced by internal digital blocks. These blocks are called plug-ins, for example, VST plugin or Audio Unit host for a software provided. Due to the resulting minimization of the cost decrease with increase performance. Nevertheless, it is now found in most recording studios a combination of DAC and external, mostly analog devices to exploit the advantages of both methods equally.

The DAW has found particularly by the enormous increase of processing power and adapted instruction sets widespread. So nowadays, you can even with an inexpensive computer, with a relatively low cost of materials, professional-sounding music productions create.

Work with the DAW

With a DAW you work usually non-linear and non-destructive. Non - linear means that in contrast to the work with a tape recorder can easily edit any point of a project in any order. This is done on a non - destructive way, so it will be changed no audio or destroyed, but it only works with references to the material, so-called regions that can be arranged and edited in a playlist. A high resolution graphic can be cut with a precision of one sample. The work thus also has a high visual component, since it no longer relies only on listening, as in the section on the tape machine, but also on the optical impression. All changes can be undone.


In the DAC, there are essentially two different systems, stand-alone and host-based:

Stand-alone systems

Stand-alone audio systems such as AMS Audiofile, Fairlight or Sonic Solutions, whose hardware is housed in a separate computer, which is solely responsible for the audio recording and editing. There are, for example in Fairlight, a remote control that allows by special keys and a jog shuttle a simple and fast operation of the system. The advantages of such systems are extremely high reliability and easy operation, which is why Fairlight is widespread in the public service broadcasting. This stand-alone systems, however, are also extremely expensive.

Host-based systems

Here is a desktop computer takes over the role of " host " ( host ) for software and hardware. Thus, the costs are relatively low, the system is easily expandable or convertible, but also offers a minor operational safety, from the operating system (usually Mac OS X or Microsoft Windows 7) depends. The DAC can be adjusted depending on the configuration of different applications.

There are two types of host-based systems, and native DSP systems.

Native systems consist of a computer with audio software, the processor handles the complete processing of all signals. Thus, this solution is very inexpensive and you can use various software applications such as Logic Pro or Pro Tools alternately. But older less powerful CPUs are thereby easily to their limits, because the computer must use computing power not only for the processing of sound, but also for other processes, so native systems are more common in home studios, whose budget does not allow for more complex solution. Due to the technical development of the CPUs (such as the i7- generation), Solid -State Drive Hard Drive and RAM can currently boast a very good performance and native systems.

DSP systems have built-in DSP cards on which processors own the audio processing is done. The CPU of the computer remains clear for the usual tasks such as graphic representation. A DSP system is much more expensive than a native system, but also significantly more powerful.


In each DAC, the performance of a system is dependent on the processing power and speed. Consequently, the CPU should be as fast as possible. In addition, it is advantageous to use a very large memory (RAM). A fast and efficient system can use many plugins and play a high number of tracks ( tracks) simultaneously. Furthermore, it is advisable not to include audio on the system disk. There should be a separate hard drive available for the recordings available which has a high throughput (eg Solid State Drive). In some systems, this is more or less even condition (Pro Tools). An important criterion is also the volume of the hardware. Thus, a fanless power supply, a sound absorbing enclosure and a very quiet CPU and system fans are recommended. Since a more powerful systems, the volume increases ( eg additional fan to cool the hardware, loud graphics cards, etc.), air-conditioned, these systems also in one, soundproof server cabinet can be accommodated.

Functions and function classification

The user interface of a DAW usually consists of multiple application windows, which include, among others, a virtual mixer. Here are the tracks / channels with Einschleif and output channels, the bus assignment, pan pot, solo and mute buttons and faders are shown. All parameters can be changed with the mouse. An automation is possible. Some programs can be set using an external remote control use (Pro Tools, Logic, Cubase, Samplitude, etc.). This is similar to a conventional mixer, thus facilitating the adaptation of the analog digital values ​​.

Program examples

Free / Open Source DAWs

Commercial DAWs