While my first experience with a DAW was REAPER, I ended up spending more time editing in Pro Tools. Thus, I began setting up REAPER to behave just like Pro tools and got it to work very similarly, give or take a few commands. Why would I do that? because REAPER allowed me to work just the same, with a much less capable computer and at a fraction of the cost. That said, I’ve mainly focused on music production and mixing, and although I have worked on other DAWs and tools since then, REAPER has always been my trusty companion.
The hardest part of working on other DAWs for me is that I miss the action list, and I think this is the strongest argument in REAPER’s favor. If you don’t know how to do something, look it up in the action list, trigger the action right there and learn/assign a keyboard command along the way. REAPER is also pretty common among sound designers (be it for video production or games) because of its versatility on parameter modulation and bulk naming output files.
However, I’d encourage you to try different DAWs depending on your use case and means before picking one. No tool is right for everyone, the important thing is that you find one that suits your workflow. With that in mind, I think REAPER is a really good DAW! In this article we will briefly explore its major strengths and weaknesses.
The amount of customization you can set up in REAPER is unheard of in other DAWs. It’s not just about creating your own macros or custom actions, you can also create your own scripts and extensions and change the appearance with themes, change the window layouts and docking, and even modify the toolbars as you like.
REAPER allows you to export and import your configuration, which includes custom actions, shortcuts, preferences, toolbars, and themes. You can take it with you on a USB drive, google drive or dropbox. This is especially useful if you don’t have your workstation with you and have to do a quick recording or editing session.
REAPER has one of the smallest installers among the industry. The installer is only 15 MB for Windows and 25 MB for Mac, hell most songs in WAV format are larger! This allows you to download and install REAPER anywhere. As long as you have a decent internet connection, you’ll be up and running in no time. Alternatively, REAPER can be set up as a portable install in a USB drive or an external drive and you could just bring that with you anywhere you go.
Cockos, the company that develops REAPER, is a very small team, this makes updating it a relatively straightforward operation. They push out updates constantly, usually at least 1 or 2 updates per month, fixing bugs or adding functionality. The fact that there aren’t a lot of people messing with the code makes it much cleaner and therefore, more stable than most other DAWs.
Given REAPER’s stability, it’s one of the best DAWs for capturing long live recording sessions. It can run for hours and hours out of the box, and will not stop unless your machine gets caught on fire (even on modest systems). It will easily push through even audio device dropouts, and in a live situation where it’s critical to capture the performance there and then. If the audio pops or glitches, it can usually be fixed later with an audio repair software.
It’s not a mystery within the REAPER community, or even in the audio community, that REAPER defaults are not really the most intuitive for the majority of people. There are quite a few videos about optimal changes you can apply to default REAPER in order to ease the experience and make the UI more user friendly.
For instance, check out this video from The REAPER Blog, where he goes through some changes you could implement and make REAPER more user friendly. In the process you will also learn a thing or two about how REAPER works. The official REAPER website also has a collection of video tutorials that are very well organized by feature. Make sure to check them out.
The depth of customization in REAPER can be a blessing as well as a curse. If you don’t know what you’re doing, the sheer number of settings and parameters you can adjust can be overwhelming at first. Often beginner REAPER users start a new project, and in the process, have to stop for a quick search. I’d say that’s a necessary process in order to fully make REAPER your own, or any software for that matter.
The fact that REAPER is a very light installation goes hand in hand with the fact that it doesn’t ship with a lot of extra resources. You have a very powerful sampler and a very simple synthesizer, JS plugins include some additional noise and tone generators, but they are not meant for music production. This isn’t ideal for people who are just starting out with music production. However, most professionals who come to REAPER form other DAWs already have third party libraries, samplers and synths, and you probably ought to get some too if you’re just starting out and want to make REAPER your main DAW.
For producers that mostly work on synth-based music, Ableton Live brings a lot of features that REAPER lacks by design. Some of these include:
- A large library of sounds out of the box.
- A more accessible learning curve.
- Better MIDI integration.
It can be a much better option for some producers, or a very good complementary tool for people that still want to work with REAPER while also expanding heavily on synth production.
Presonus has done a really good job developing Studio One, it is snappy, and very user experience oriented. It is a very powerful DAW that at the same time lends itself for some customization. Most of the tools you need are shown on the screen in an organized, intuitive way, which makes it very easy to use with just your mouse. It comes with a bunch of deeply thought quality of life features, including the option to add your own macros and put them in a custom toolbar.
The community is among the most helpful out there, and the company behind the DAW constantly listens to the community, checking for bugs and additional features constantly. Presonus also works very hard to create hardware that tightly integrates with the DAW, basically creating a music production ecosystem. It’s an overall extremely reasonable alternative.
Pro Tools is considered the industry standard; therefore, most producers and studios have a Pro Tools installation and at least some knowledge of how to use it. It has a slight edge in audio editing and comes with useful instruments. However, the program itself is quite heavy, not as responsive and carries old school concepts and code that make it clunky for some workflows. The latest updates have improved this, but not many people are fans of the subscription plans that AVID has implemented.
When choosing a DAW, there really is no way around testing a few along with the plugins and other resources they come with. You want to make the call by analyzing how a DAW responds to your set up and how it facilitates your workflow. It is best to settle with one that prioritizes the features and workflows you like the most so that doing your job becomes second nature.
Me, I love REAPER! In the beginning it was a constant discovery adventure. Features, workflows, tutorials and customizations, one after the other. It’s fast and versatile, and allows me to work without anything getting in the way. Most other DAWs I used felt limiting, always in some essential way. REAPER was always a complete straightforward solution.
REAPER has begun to get a lot of traction among the audio community, and sometimes, even people who don’t use it recommend it! This is because of the capability and the philosophy behind its design. Music production, video and podcast editing, film scoring, sound design, you name it. REAPER offers the versatility and customization that makes it ideal for almost any situation.
Give it a go and have fun! I am sure you will love it.