World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Digital audio workstation

Article Id: WHEBN0000431270
Reproduction Date:

Title: Digital audio workstation  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Music sequencer, FL Studio Mobile, Pro Tools, Steinberg Cubase, Solid State Logic
Collection: Computing Terminology, Digital Audio, Digital Audio Workstation Software, Music Workstations, Sound Production Technology
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Digital audio workstation

Music production using a digital audio workstation (DAW) with multi-monitor set-up

A digital audio workstation (D.A.W.) is an electronic device or computer software application for recording, editing and producing audio files. DAWs come in a wide variety of configurations from a single software program on a laptop, to an integrated stand-alone unit, all the way to a highly complex configuration of numerous components controlled by a central computer. Regardless of configuration, modern DAWs have a central interface that allows the user to alter and mix multiple recordings and tracks into a final produced piece.

DAWs are used for the production of music, radio, television, podcasts, multimedia and nearly any other situation where complex recorded audio is needed.

The history of DAWs parallels advances in computer power with expensive-but-limited units becoming available in the 1970s, then more affordable PC-based systems in the late 1980s until today when a powerful system can be built inexpensively, using open-source software and consumer audio equipment even as a market exists for professional high-end systems, essential in any modern recording studio.


  • Integrated DAW 1
  • Software DAW 2
  • Common functionality 3
  • Plug-ins 4
  • Common instrument plug-ins 5
  • History 6
  • Commercial sequencers 7
  • Free and open source software 8
  • Free and open source sequencers 9
  • See also 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12

Integrated DAW

An integrated DAW consists of a mixing console, control surface, audio converter, and data storage in one device. Integrated DAWs were more popular before personal computers became powerful enough to run DAW software. As computer power increased and price decreased, popularity of costly integrated systems with console automation dropped. Systems such as the Orban Audicy became standard production equipment at radio and television stations.

Software DAW

"DAW" can simply refer to the software itself, but traditionally, a computer-based DAW has four basic components: a computer, either a sound card or audio interface, digital audio editor software, and at least one input device for adding or modifying data. This could be as simple as a mouse (if no external instruments are used or as sophisticated as a MIDI controller keyboard or automated fader board for mixing track volumes.

The computer acts as a host for the sound card/audio interface, while the software provides the interface and functionality for audio editing. The sound card/external audio interface typically converts analog audio signals into digital form, and digital back to analog audio when playing it back; it may also assist in further processing of the audio. The software controls all related hardware components and provides a user interface to allow for recording, editing, and playback.

Computer-based DAWs have extensive recording, editing, and playback capabilities (some even have video-related features). For example, musically, they can provide a near-infinite increase in additional tracks to record on, polyphony, and virtual instruments to use for music. They can also provide a wide variety of effects to enhance or change the sounds themselves.

Simple smartphone-based DAWs, called Mobile Audio Workstation (MAWs), are used (for example) by journalists for recording and editing on location.

Common functionality

As software systems, DAWs could be designed with any user interface, but generally they are based on a multitrack tape recorder metaphor, making it easier for recording engineers and musicians already familiar with using tape recorders to become familiar with the new systems. Therefore, computer-based DAWs tend to have a standard layout that includes transport controls (play, rewind, record, etc.), track controls and a mixer, and a waveform display. Single-track DAWs display only one (mono or stereo form) sound at a time.

Multitrack DAWs support operations on multiple tracks at once. Like a mixing console, each track typically has controls that allow the user to adjust the overall volume and stereo balance (pan) of the sound on each track. In a traditional recording studio additional processing is physically plugged into the audio signal path. However, a DAW can also route in software or use software plugins (or VSTs) to process the sound on a track.

DAWs are capable of many of the same functions as a traditional tape-based studio setup, and in recent years have almost completely replaced them. Modern advanced recording studios may have multiple types of DAWs in them and it is not uncommon for a sound engineer and/or musician to travel with a portable laptop-based DAW, although interoperability between different DAWs is poor.

Perhaps the most significant feature available from a DAW that is not available in analogue recording is the ability to 'undo' a previous action. Undo makes it much easier to avoid accidentally permanently erasing or recording over a previous recording. If a mistake is made, the undo command is used to conveniently revert the changed data to a previous state. Cut, Copy, Paste, and Undo are familiar and common computer commands and usually available in DAWs in some form. More common functions include the modifications of several factors concerning a sound. These include wave shape, pitch, tempo, and filtering.

Commonly DAWs feature some form of automation, often performed through "envelopes". Envelopes are procedural line segment-based or curve-based interactive graphs. The lines and curves of the automation graph are joined by or comprise adjustable points. By creating and adjusting multiple points along a waveform or control events, the user can specify parameters of the output over time (e.g., volume or pan). Automation data may also be directly derived from human gestures recorded by a control surface or controller. MIDI is a common data protocol used for transferring such gestures to the DAW.

MIDI recording, editing, and playback is increasingly incorporated into modern DAWs of all types, as is synchronization with other audio and/or video tools.


There are countless plugins for modern day DAW software, each one coming with its own unique functionality, thus expanding the overall variety of sounds and manipulations that are possible. Some of the functions of these plugins include distortion, resonators, equalizers, synthesizers, compressors, chorus, virtual amp, limiter, phaser, and flangers. Each have their own form of manipulating the soundwaves, tone, pitch, and speed of a simple sound and transform it into something different. To achieve an even more distinctive sound, multiple plugins can be used in layers, and further automated to manipulate the original sounds and mold it into a completely new sample.

Common instrument plug-ins

  • 8dio Requiem
  • AIR Music Technology Hybrid 3
  • Arturia Jupiter 8V
  • Arturia Keylab 88
  • Arturia Minimoog
  • Arturia Prophet V
  • Arturia Solina V
  • Audiobro LA Scoring Strings
  • Big Fish Audio Ambient Skyline 2
  • Big Fish Audio Dubstep Impact
  • Big Fish Audio First Call Horns
  • Bitsonic Keyline
  • Bitsonic Waspy 2
  • Bornemark Broomstick Bass
  • Cakewalk Z3TA+ 2
  • Camel Audio Alchemy
  • Carbon Electra
  • CineSamples CineBrass
  • EastWest Studios Symphonic Orchestra
  • EastWest Studios Colossus
  • Emu Proteus VX
  • Falke Lab Stringer 1.2
  • FAW Circle2
  • Garritan Personal Orchestra 4
  • Garritan Steinway Piano
  • Gforce Minimonsta
  • Lounge Lizard Electric Piano
  • Native Instruments Absynth 5
  • Native Instruments Battery 3
  • Native Instruments FM7
  • Native Instruments FM8
  • Native Instruments Kontakt
  • Native Instruments Massive
  • Native Instruments Monark
  • Precisionsound Hybrid Factory
  • Image-Line Harmor
  • Image-Line Sytrus
  • Image-Line PoiZone
  • Image-Line Toxic Biohazard
  • Rob Papen Albino 3
  • Rob Papen Blade
  • Rob Papen Blue
  • Rob Papen Predator
  • Softplug Adventus
  • Spectrasonics Atmosphere
  • Spectrasonics Omnisphere
  • Spectrasonics Symphony Of Voices
  • Spectrasonics Trilian
  • Spectrasonics Trilogy
  • Audiodamage Phosphor
  • iZotope Iris 2
  • reFX Nexus 2
  • reFX Vanguard
  • LennarDigital Sylenth
  • Olympus Symphonic Choir
  • Reveal Sound Spire
  • Synth1
  • Steinberg HALion
  • Steinberg Hypersonic 2
  • Steinberg Pad Shop Pro
  • Steinberg Retrologue
  • Steinberg Xphraze
  • IK Multimedia Miroslav Philharmonik
  • IK Multimedia SampleMoog
  • IK Multimedia SampleTank 3
  • Reveal Sound Spire
  • Tone2 Electra2
  • Tone2 Firebird
  • Tone2 Gladiator
  • Tone2 Nemesis
  • Tone2 Rayblaster
  • Tone2 Saurus
  • TruePianos
  • Luxonix Cajon
  • Luxonix Purity
  • Luxonix Ravity
  • Synapse DUNE
  • Synapse Hydra
  • Synthogy Ivory Steinway Grand Pianos
  • Edirol Hyper Canvas
  • Edirol Orchestral
  • Edirol Super Quartet
  • Korg Legacy Collection
  • Toontrack EZ Keys
  • Toontrack Superior Drummer 2.0
  • U-He Diva
  • U-He Hive
  • U-He TyrellN6
  • U-He Zebra2
  • Ummet Ozcan Genesis
  • D16 Group LuSH-101
  • XLN Audio Addictive Drums
  • XFER Records Serum
  • Yamaha VOCALOID
  • Yamaha VOCALOID2
  • Yamaha VOCALOID3
  • Yamaha VOCALOID4
  • Vienna Symphonic Library Cube
  • Vienna Symphonic Library Vienna Ensemble PRO 5
  • Vienna Symphonic Library Epic Horns
  • Vienna Symphonic Library Opus 1 Percussion


Early attempts at digital audio workstations in the 1970s and 80s faced limitations such as the high price of storage, and the vastly slower processing and disk speeds of the time. In 1978, Soundstream (who had made one of the first commercially available digital audio tape recorders in 1977) built what could be considered the first digital audio workstation using some of the most current computer hardware of the time. The Digital Editing System, as Soundstream called it, consisted of a DEC PDP-11/60 minicomputer running a custom software package called DAP (Digital Audio Processor), a Braegen 14"-platter hard disk drive, a storage oscilloscope to display audio waveforms for editing, and a video display terminal for controlling the system. Interface cards that plugged into the PDP-11's Unibus slots (the Digital Audio Interface, or DAI) provided analog and digital audio input and output for interfacing to Soundstream's digital recorders and conventional analog tape recorders. The DAP software could perform edits to the audio recorded on the system's hard disks and provide effects such as crossfades.

By the late 1980s, a number of consumer level computers such as the Apple Macintosh, Atari ST and Commodore Amiga began to have enough power to handle digital audio editing. Engineers used Macromedia's Soundedit, with Microdeal's Replay Professional and Digidesign's "Sound Tools" and "Sound Designer" to edit audio samples for sampling keyboards like the E-mu Emulator II and the Akai S900. Soon, people began to use them for simple two-track audio editing and CD mastering. In 1994, a company in California named OSC produced a 4-track editing-recorder application called DECK that ran on Digidesign's hardware system, which was used in the production of The Residents' "Freakshow" [LP]. This combination of audio software and hardware was one of the earliest examples of a DAW.

Many major recording studios finally "went digital" after Digidesign introduced its Pro Tools software, modeled after the traditional method and signal flow in most analog recording devices. At this time, most DAWs were Apple Mac based (e.g., Pro Tools, Studer Dyaxis, Sonic Solutions). Around 1992, the first Windows based DAWs started to emerge from companies such as IQS Innovative Quality Software (now SAWStudio), Soundscape Digital Technology, SADiE, Echo Digital Audio, and Spectral Synthesis. All the systems at this point used dedicated hardware for their audio processing.

In 1993, German company Steinberg released Cubase Audio on Atari Falcon 030. This version brings DSP built-in effects with 8-tracks audio recording & playback using only native hardware.

The first Windows based software-only product, introduced in 1993, was Samplitude Studio (which already existed in 1992 as an audio editor for the Commodore Amiga).

In 1996, Steinberg introduced Cubase VST, which could record and play back up to 32 tracks of digital audio on an Apple Macintosh without need of any external DSP hardware. Cubase not only modelled a tape-like interface for recording and editing, but also modelled the entire mixing desk and effects rack common in analog studios. This revolutionised the DAW world, both in features and price tag, and was quickly imitated by most other contemporary DAW systems.

Commercial sequencers

Free and open source software

Qtractor screenshot

There are many free and open-source software programs that can facilitate a DAW. These are often designed to run on a variety of operating systems and are usually developed non-commercially.

The development of digital audio for Linux and BSD fostered technologies such as ALSA, which drives audio hardware, and JACK. JACK allows any JACK-aware audio software to connect to any other audio software running on the system, such as connecting an ALSA- or OSS-driven soundcard to a mixing and editing front-end, like Ardour or Rosegarden. In this way, JACK acts as a virtual audio patch bay, and it can be configured to use a computer's resources in real time, with dedicated memory, and with various options that minimize the DAW's latency. This kind of abstraction and configuration allows DJs to use multiple programs for editing and synthesizing audio streams, or multitasking and duplexing, without the need for analogue conversion, or asynchronous saving and reloading files, and ensures a high level of audio fidelity.

Other open-source programs include virtual synthesizers and MIDI controllers, such as those provided by FluidSynth and TiMidity. Both can load SoundFonts to expand the voices and instruments available for synthesis and expand the ports and channels available to synthesizers. Such virtualization allows users to expand the traditional limitations of ADC-DAC hardware.

The Linux Audio Development (LAD) mailing list is a major driving force in developing standards, such as the LADSPA, DSSI and LV2 plugin architectures. The Virtual Studio Technology (VST) plugin standard is supported as an option by some such programs but is generally implemented as a separate plugin, not a built-in option, due to Steinberg's licensing scheme. Among others, the creators of Audacity provide an optional, somewhat minimalist, VST-to-LADSPA bridge plugin for their software, but it is a separate download.

Free and open source sequencers

See also


External links

  • Introduction to DAW
  • A list of software DAWs, Sequencers, Hosts, etc.
  • Software Audio Console.
  • List of DAWs for iOS platform.
  • DAW Software for beginners
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.