The Alt Digital Audio Workstations: A Tale of 5 ½ More DAWs

A musician creating songs using a DAW and keyboard

In a previous blog post, The History of Digital Audio Workstations: A Tale of 5 DAWs, we took a look at the history of 5 Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) that have revolutionized the music production industry. Those 5 DAWS (Cubase, Logic, Pro Tools, FL Studio, and Ableton Live) are arguably the most popular software programs that allow musicians and producers to record, edit, and mix audio tracks on a computer. In this blog post we'll take a look at the history of 5 ½ slightly less popular but equally capable DAWs: Reaper, Reason, Studio One, Bitwig Studio, Harrison Mixbus, and Luna.


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Cockos REAPER is a DAW that has been around since 2004. The name REAPER stands for Rapid Environment for Audio Production, Engineering, and Recording, and it has since become a popular alternative to more established DAWs like Pro Tools and Ableton Live.

The first version of REAPER was released in 2005 and was designed to be a lightweight, fast, and affordable DAW. REAPER's initial appeal was its low cost and compact size, but it quickly gained a reputation for its powerful features and flexible workflow.

In the years that followed, REAPER continued to grow in popularity and gained a large user base, particularly among musicians, producers, and engineers. One of the reasons for its success is its focus on customization and flexibility, allowing users to create a unique work environment tailored to their specific needs.

REAPER 5, released in 2013, marked a major turning point in the history of the software. This version brought many new features, including native video support, improved audio processing, and support for a wide range of plug-ins.

REAPER 6, released in 2019, introduced even more advanced features, such as a new MIDI editor, improved automation capabilities, and support for a wider range of audio formats. This version also introduced the concept of "ReaScript," a scripting language that allows users to automate tasks and extend the functionality of REAPER.


Reason Studios (formerly known as Propellerhead Software) is a Swedish company that is best known for developing Reason, a popular DAW used by musicians, producers, and sound engineers around the world.

Reason was first released in 2000, and quickly became known for its virtual rack of synthesizers, samplers, and drum machines, as well as its intuitive and easy-to-use interface. The software was designed to be a self-contained virtual studio, providing users with everything they needed to create and produce music.

In the years that followed, Reason continued to grow in popularity, and Propellerhead Software released several updates and additions to the software. Reason 5, released in 2010, introduced new features such as the Kong Drum Designer and the Dr. Octo Rex loop player, further expanding the capabilities of Reason.

Propellerhead Software changed its name to Reason Studios in 2019, and released the Reason 11, in 2020, and the latest version of Reason, Reason 12 in January 2023. Reason 12 introduced several new features, including upgrades to the new sampler and two ways to pay: Buy once or the dreaded subscription model (bleh!).


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Studio One

Studio One is a DAW developed by Presonus, a company that has been at the forefront of professional audio production for over two decades. Studio One has quickly become one of the most popular DAWs in the world, offering a user-friendly interface and a wealth of powerful features.

The first version of Studio One, Studio One 1.0, was released in 2009. The software was designed to be easy to use, with a streamlined interface and a focus on workflow efficiency. Despite its relatively young age, Studio One quickly gained a reputation for its powerful features and versatility, attracting a large following of users.

In the years that followed, Presonus continued to release updates and additions to Studio One, introducing new features and improving existing ones. Studio One 3, released in 2015, introduced new features such as the Presence XT sampler, the Mai Tai polyphonic analog modeling synth, and the Impact XT drum sampler.

Studio One 4, released in 2018, marked a major milestone in the history of the software, introducing a new interface, new editing tools, and a wealth of new features and improvements. Studio One 5, released in 2020, continued this tradition, introducing new features such as the new Chord Track, which makes chord progression composition easier and more intuitive. Version 6, the first version after the 2021 acquisition by Fender, was released in 2022 and is designed to be more intuitive.


Bitwig Studio

Bitwig Studio is a DAW developed by Bitwig GmbH, a company based in Berlin, Germany. Launched in 2013, Bitwig quickly gained a reputation as a powerful and innovative DAW that offered a unique and modern approach to music production.

Bitwig's founders, who had previous experience in the development of other popular DAWs, set out to create a DAW that would provide music producers with a more flexible and intuitive environment for creating and mixing music. They designed Bitwig to offer advanced editing tools, a modern interface, and a flexible and modular architecture that made it easy for users to customize and extend the software.

Another key feature of Bitwig Studio is its open architecture, which allows users to extend the functionality of the software with third-party plugins and extensions. The software also includes a built-in browser for searching and installing new plugins, making it easier for users to find and use new tools and instruments. The interface was also optimized for multi-touch devices, making it easier for users to control their projects from a touch screen.

Now on version 4, released in 2022, Bitwig Studio has continued to evolve, with new features and improvements added with each new release. One of the most notable additions was the inclusion of polyphonic modulation, which allows users to create complex, evolving sounds and musical textures. The software has also been optimized for use with a wide range of hardware controllers, making it easier for users to integrate their hardware into their workflow.


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Harrison Mixbus

Harrison Mixbus was first released in 2009 by Harrison Consoles, a company that has been making professional mixing consoles for over 40 years. The software was designed to bring the sound and feel of analog mixing to the digital world, using advanced algorithms to emulate the sound of classic analog gear. The original version was an audio-only DAW but it now supports both MIDI and audio.

One of the key features of Harrison Mixbus is its analog-style mixing console, which provides users with a familiar and intuitive interface for controlling their mixes. The software also includes a range of high-quality plugins, including equalizers, compressors, and reverb, all designed to emulate the sound of analog gear.

Another important aspect of Harrison Mixbus is its focus on workflow. The software was designed to be as fast and intuitive as possible, allowing users to focus on the creative side of their work rather than getting bogged down in technical details. The software also includes advanced automation features, making it easier for users to create complex, dynamic mixes.

Bonus: Luna

For some reason (pun intended), when it was lunched, UAD claimed about Luna “It's not a DAW, it's a recording system”. That’s why it’s number 5 ½. Spoiler Alert: It’s a DAW.

UAD's Luna was first introduced in 2020, as a (Mac-only) new addition to Universal Audio's line of digital audio software. The software was designed to provide users with a powerful and flexible DAW that was optimized for use with Universal Audio's line of UAD hardware processors.

One of the key features of UAD Luna is its tight integration with Universal Audio's hardware processors, which allow users to run high-quality plugins with low latency and CPU overhead. The software includes a range of plugins that emulate classic analog gear, including equalizers, compressors, and tape machines, all designed to provide the same sound as the hardware counterparts.

Another important aspect of UAD Luna is its focus on workflow and usability. The software was designed to be as intuitive and easy to use as possible, allowing users to focus on the creative side of their work. The software also includes advanced automation features, making it easier for users to create complex, dynamic mixes.

In conclusion, these 5 ½ DAWs have been contending for the top 5 positions, some of them since the 1990s. Some are geared more towards MIDI and electronic music production and others are more focused on audio and mixing. We should all be grateful as musicians, electronic musicians, singers, songwriters, DJs, rappers, audio engineers, and music producers that there are so many great music production DAWs for us to choose from.


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