Digital audio workstation

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
DAW example: MusE
DAW example: Ardor

A digital audio workstation ( DAW for short ) is a computer-aided system for sound recording , music production , mixing and mastering , which is characterized by a high level of integration of components within the system. It is a network of digital devices for the digital recording and processing of sound signals. “Digital Audio Workstation” is the original name for hard disk recording devices when HD recording using a PC or Mac was not yet possible. The first DAWs were HD recorders like the Fairlight CMI . Today, PCs and Macs with the appropriate hardware (high-quality audio card ) and music software are also called DAWs.


External devices of an analogue and digital nature ( tube compressors , tape machines, reverberation , delay = delay , etc.) can be emulated or replaced by internal digital components. These modules are provided as plug-ins , e.g. VST module or audio unit , for a software host. The resulting minimization reduces acquisition costs while increasing performance. Nevertheless, in most recording studios today you can find a combination of DAW and external, mostly analog devices, in order to exploit the advantages of both methods equally.

The DAW has become particularly popular due to the enormous increase in processor performance and adapted instruction sets . So nowadays you can create professional-sounding music productions even with an inexpensive computer with relatively little material expenditure.

Working with the DAW

With a DAW you usually work non-linearly and non-destructively . Non-linear means that, in contrast to working with a tape, you can effortlessly edit any part of a project in any order. This happens in a non-destructive way, so no audio material is changed or even destroyed, but you only work with references to the material, so-called regions, which are arranged and edited in a playlist. An arbitrarily high graphic resolution (by zooming in) can cut with an accuracy of one sample . The work also has a high visual component, as you no longer rely only on hearing, as when editing on the tape machine, but also on the visual impression. All changes can be reversed.


There are essentially two different systems for DAWs, stand-alone and host-based:

Stand-alone systems

Independent audio systems such as AMS audio files, Fairlight or Sonic Solutions , the hardware of which is housed in a separate computer that is exclusively responsible for audio recording and processing. There is also a remote control, for example at Fairlight, which enables the system to be operated quickly and easily using special buttons and a jog shuttle. The advantages of such systems are extremely high operational reliability and ease of use, which is why Fairlight is widely used in public broadcasting. Stand-alone systems are also extremely expensive.

Host based systems

Here a desktop computer takes on the role of a “host” for the software and hardware. As a result, the costs are relatively low, the system can easily be expanded or converted, but also offers only a low level of operational reliability, which depends on the operating system used (usually macOS or Windows ). DAW solutions based on mobile operating systems are also enjoying increasing popularity (example: iOS operating system with the DAW applications Auria Pro, Cubase, MultiTrack DAW, Xewton Music Studio, GarageBand etc.). The DAWs can be adapted to different areas of application depending on the expansion level.

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

Native systems consist of a computer with audio software, the processor of which takes over the complete processing of all signals. This makes this solution very inexpensive and you can use different software applications such as Logic Pro or Pro Tools alternately. Older, lower-performance CPUs can easily reach their limits, as the computer not only has to use computing power for audio processing, but also for other processes, which is why native systems are more common in home studios whose budget does not allow for a more complex solution. Due to the technical advancement of the CPUs, solid-state drive hard disk and the main memory , native systems can currently also show a very good performance.

DSP systems have integrated DSP cards on which audio processing is carried out by their own processors. The CPU of the computer remains free for the usual tasks such as graphic display. A DSP system is much more expensive than a native system, but it is also much more powerful.


In every DAW, the performance of a system depends on the processor performance or speed. Hence, the CPU should be as fast as possible. It is also advantageous to use a very large working memory ( RAM ). A fast and powerful system can use many plugins and play a large number of tracks simultaneously. It is also advisable not to record audio to the system hard drive. When using hard disks, a separate hard disk should be available for the recordings , when using solid state drives this does not matter. Another important criterion is the volume of the hardware. A fanless power supply unit, a noise-absorbing hard drive housing or the complete abandonment of hard drives and replacement with silent SSDs and very quiet CPU and system fans are recommended. Since the volume increases with more powerful systems (e.g. additional fan to cool the hardware, loud graphics cards, etc.), these systems can also be accommodated in an air-conditioned, soundproof server cabinet.

Functions and classification of functions

The user interface of a DAW usually consists of several program windows, which among other things contain a virtual mixer . The tracks / channels with insert and play paths, bus assignments, panorama controls, solo and mute buttons and the faders are displayed here. All parameters can be changed with the mouse. Automation is also possible. Some programs can also be operated via an external remote control (Pro Tools, Logic, Cubase, Samplitude etc.). This is similar to a conventional mixer and thus facilitates the analog adjustment of the digital values.

Standard DAW Special DAW Advanced DAW
A DAW that can perform normal audio applications (recording, audio editing). A DAW that only covers a specific task area (only recording, only audio editing, only sound design, etc.) A DAW with which all possible applications can be realized (recording, audio editing, mixing, mastering, video sounding and much more).

Program examples

Free / open source DAWs

Ardor Audacity Audio tool LMMS
Muse Qtractor Rose garden Traverso DAW
Ubuntu Studio Chaotic DarkWave Studio Frinica
Macaw Musagi Open Octave Psycle
Jeskola Buzz MuLab -Free Tracktion T7

Commercial DAW software (selection)

See also


  • Roland Enders: The home recording manual. 3. Edition. Carstensen, Munich 2003. ISBN 3-910098-25-8
  • Hubert Henle: The recording studio manual. 5th edition. Carstensen, Munich 2001. ISBN 3-910098-19-3
  • Marin Hömberg: Studio. Vol. 1. PPV press project, Bergkirchen 2001. ISBN 3-932275-13-6
  • Colby Unfortunately: Digital Audio Workstation. Mixing, Recording and Mastering Your Mac or PC. Mcgraw-Hill Professional, New York 2004. ISBN 0-07-142286-2

Web links

Commons : Digital Audio Workstation  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Audiotool - Free Music Software - Make Music Online In Your Browser., accessed June 9, 2017 . /
  2. Traverso (Official Site)
  3. Recording Studio - (Ubuntuusers Wiki)
  6. Frinica. Retrieved November 29, 2019 .
  7. Macaw DAW Portable
  10. ( Memento from June 27, 2013 in the Internet Archive )