Using a product like Cubase has really had my mind turning. The idea of having to deeply learn a new program as well as I know DP (or PT or SAW) is painful. There is also the fact that Cubase has its own weaknesses in areas that interest me.
So to help gather my thoughts, I thought that I should make a list of some nice things that would make the ideal DAW for me. It only makes sense to list the ‘dealbreakers’ as well.
So here we go!
- I’ll tell you what I want.
- Working PDC
- Multi-track free warp
- Loop cycle recording
- Good built-in plugins!
- Built-in mixer channel strip
- Plugin organization
- Resizeable fader section
- Quick buss creation.
- Track Templates
- NRPN/Sysex support
- Automation density control
- A reasonable set of default shortcuts
- Good metering.
- Active well-moderated community
- Working hardware insert plugin.
- Macro support
- Routing and modulation
- Now don’t go wasting my precious time
- Final Words
I’ll tell you what I want.
What I really, really want. A list of things that would be nice.
That includes GUI syncing. Playhead being on time, automation showing correctly etc…
In some software, when it compensates for latency caused by a plugin, the software doesn’t compensate the visual representation of various objects. So you end up with the playhead looking like it’s ahead of what you hear, or automation is drawn in the wrong place.
The ability to hit a single button and restart the recording process anew. Extremely useful feature for me.
Multi-track free warp
I just want the ability to have phase-accurate warping of multiple tracks at the same time in the main window.
If I have a guitar performance that spans 4 tracks and I want to grab a note and move it a bit, I really want all 4 tracks to respond to me grabbing the hitpoint/transient right there. Studio One and PT have this and it’s extremely useful.
Loop cycle recording
Basically everyone has this, but it does need to be mentioned. I love setting up a loop point and letting myself or someone else go at it. Comp the takes later and get going.
Having punch-points separate from the cycle length awards bonus points.
Good built-in plugins!
I know a lot of folks still have this ridiculous idea that ‘stock plugins are garbage’. That hasn’t been the case in some DAWs for a while. DP comes with some amazing plugins, and so does Logic. In fact, if you go around looking at ‘what is the best compressor’ threads, you will find Logic’s stock compressor mentioned very frequently.
A good set of native plugins adds a lot of value to the software package. It’s a nice thing to have.
Built-in mixer channel strip
One of my absolute favorite things in SAWStudio. A good EQ and dynamics section is invaluable. I don’t always need character or crazy features. Having everything in view and ready to go is a great workflow enhancement.
Yep, I’ve lived without them. SAW didn’t have them, DP doesn’t have them, PT does have them. Once you use them though… life without them sucks.
I distinctly remember how much time it took me to get used to not having VCAs when going from PT->DP. Evaluating Cubase, which has VCAs, is such a breath of fresh air.
This was an area where I really felt Studio One did it right. Being able to very easily organize and recognize your plugins is an amazing workflow enhancement.
Resizeable fader section
If you’ve read my other blog posts on S1 and Cubase, you’d know that I love me some resizable faders. DP doesn’t have this and it’s exceptionally annoying.
I’m actually totally fine if the DAW comes with stock channel meters/faders that are simply large like SAWStudio. (Yeah go ahead and laugh at the UI, it’s ok. We all do.)
Quick buss creation.
I know this will sound silly to some folks, but there are some DAWs where adding a buss-group to a selection of tracks is a chore. It’s nice to select some tracks and ‘create buss with selected tracks’.
I really abuse the ability to have a pre-set group of tracks that I can quickly pop in to a project. I/O setup, busses, aux sends, groups setup etc…
I’m sure I could figure out how to live without this, but it sucks.
I can mostly live without this. A DAW that can create/write/manage NRPN is an amazing thing if you work with any modern hardware. Sysex is the same for older hardware.
Automation density control
I really like to be able to thin out or interpolate automation data myself. Some tracks don’t need much, and some tracks require some crazy stuff. This is especially important when using any sort of external controller. You need to be able to thin out micro-movements.
A reasonable set of default shortcuts
Some DAWs (I’m looking at you S1, Cubase and Reaper!) come with an anemic set of default shortcuts. Sure you can easily add your own, but then the manual becomes relatively useless.
Pro Tools by far has the best short-cut implementation. Not only is it relatively complete and the documentation is fully integrated, but PT has keyboard focus mode. Keyboard-focus mode removes the modifier-necessity from using various common shortcuts so you can just press simple letters and do actions. Fast. That’s what it is. FAST. It also lessens the potential for RSI if you do a lot of editing.
Another bonus in this category is transport controls that aren’t mapped to the number pad.
Cubase has fantastic metering.. Anything close to that would be a huge bonus.
Of course you can live without this due to the availability of third-party plugins, but it’s very nice to have it built-in.
Active well-moderated community
It’s no secret, I like to talk about DAWs! Having an active, professional and well-moderated community is great.
Working hardware insert plugin.
I like to use outboard equipment. So one of the nicer things to have in a DAW is the ability to use a hardware insert natively. Various DAWs have this feature, however some of them are better than others.
A good accurate implementation of hardware inserts is a big bonus.
I don’t use macros often, but they are useful. Things like ‘re-record’ that I mentioned earlier are easier to setup with native macros if such a feature isn’t already available.
It’s a PITA to have to use systemwide software for macros. Often they clobber other programs or you have to use crazy-complex shortcuts.
Routing and modulation
I really like to be able to route anything to anywhere. That includes modulation signals to VSTs or midi CC. Very few DAWs allow this, and basically none that I know of which also support my needs do.
It would be super cool if I found something that had this and supported the things that I absolutely need in a DAW.
Now don’t go wasting my precious time
Stuff that I can’t live without. Dealbreakers.
Just not crashing. I don’t mind little bugs here and there. Every program has them and you just have to deal with it. What I can not accept is an outright crash. Bonus negative points if the program crashes and corrupts your save file.
A well-written manual
I use the manual. I read it from cover to cover. I need a clear, well organized manual. I don’t like fooling around or watching videos. If I want to know something then I expect to be able to read the manual to figure it out.
Very flexible ‘point’ editing tools.
This needs a bit of explaining.
No matter how far zoomed in I am on a track, I want to be able to do everything. If I want to trim the right or left of a region, I want to do that without zooming out. I want to be able to move a selection to the cursor. I want to be able to change the selection without zooming out the see the boundaries. I want to quickly move between transients, region boundaries.
Basically I want full access to all editing features without having to identify then click something with the mouse.
A plethora of zoom features
- Multiple zoom presets
- Zoom to X. Selection, region, markers, cycles, punch-in, etc..
- Zoom history!
- The editing tools listed above while zooming
- easy shortcuts for zooming (cmd -/+ suck!)
- Mousewheel zooming
- Zoom centers reliably on something. Playhead, selection or whatever. It’s very annoying when you zoom in and what was in the center of the screen is no longer centered.
- Persistent zoom history
Good multi-track editing and recording support
I’m basically putting this here so someone doesn’t read this and suggest Live or Reason. I need to be able to work with instruments/performances that span up to 16 tracks. I need the ability to easily manage multiple tracks at the same time. A wide range of fine-grained grouping options is a must.
Drag and Drop
Seriously. If your product literature talks about drag and drop. No thank you
Large project management features
Yes, this is a deal breaker for me. I need the ability to quickly and easily break down projects in to smaller subsections and easily search for tracks.
Cubase and DP are great at this. Their visibility options and search are a huge help. Visibility presets are awesome.
Easily mapped transport controls
I often record stuff by myself and have to step away from the computer. I don’t have an up-to-date iPad or any sort of smart phone. I do have little controllers I’ve made myself though and various other pieces of hardware.
So I need the ability to map transport controls to midi or OSC ideally. Non-number pad keystrokes are fine.
I/O mapping and renaming
I need to be able to rename and re-route my I/O. I have some channels on my interface that never get used, and I have some channels that always have the same source. It sucks to have to keep a chart handy to remind yourself that your room mic is always on channel 19. Being able to just rename that channel ‘Room Mic’ is a huge help.
Maybe I need to make a chart with these things and check off which DAW gets the most of them right… or just keep using DP. Or switch to Cubase. Meh. I got stuff to do.