Making Music on Your Mac: Affordable Guide Part 2

In our previous discussion, we delved into the various hardware audio interfaces that can be used to capture sound on your Mac. Now, let’s explore what to do once you’ve successfully recorded that sound. You’ll need a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), which is essentially the audio equivalent of Photoshop, allowing you to layer, mix, and manipulate sounds into a musical composition. DAWs also typically support MIDI sequencing for controlling both hardware and software synthesizers.

DAWs come in various levels of complexity; some resemble the control panels of submarines, requiring a steep learning curve. However, with a bit of practice, these interfaces become intuitive. Let’s examine some of the DAW options available for Mac users, highlighting both prominent and lesser-known choices.

Digidesign Pro Tools 7.4 ($239 – $12995)

Pro Tools has been a staple in digital audio recording since the mid-1990s, dominating professional studios worldwide.

Despite its widespread use and powerful features, Pro Tools has its limitations. It requires specific hardware from Digidesign or M-Audio to operate, which can be a significant drawback if you’re looking to upgrade or switch hardware. Additionally, it does not support popular audio plugin formats like VST and AudioUnit, instead using its proprietary RTAS and TDM formats. This lack of compatibility can be a hurdle in live performance settings, such as using Ableton Live. Moreover, Pro Tools is overkill for home users due to its complex features designed for professional studios.

Apple GarageBand (Apple, $79 or free with a new Mac)

GarageBand offers a user-friendly introduction to DAWs, ideal for basic recording and MIDI tracking. However, it lacks advanced features necessary for more sophisticated music production.

Users looking to expand their capabilities might consider upgrading to a more robust software like Logic.

Apple Logic 8 (Studio: $499, Express: $199)

Apple’s Logic 8 rivals and in some aspects surpasses Pro Tools in terms of functionality. It includes tools like MainStage for live performances and Soundtrack 2 for audio post-production. While the Express version is more limited, it still offers substantial functionality over GarageBand. Logic supports only AudioUnit plugins natively but remains a formidable DAW for both novice and experienced users.

Steinberg Cubase 4 ($799.95)

Cubase holds a respected place in the DAW market, known for its balance between usability and powerful features. It’s particularly notable for pioneering the VST plugin standard.

Mackie Tracktion ($129.99)

Tracktion may not be as well-known as other DAWs, but it offers a streamlined, single-screen interface that simplifies the music production process without sacrificing quality or features. It’s an excellent budget-friendly option.

Ardour (free)

Ardour is a free, open-source DAW for Mac and Linux users.

Tj Luoma

Gary is a dedicated writer for TUAW, bringing a wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm for all things Apple. With a keen eye for detail, Gary covers everything from the latest iPhone and iPad releases to in-depth reviews of the MacBook Pro and Apple Watch. His insightful articles help readers navigate the ever-evolving world of Apple technology. Gary’s expertise and clear writing make him a trusted voice in the Apple community.