Best DAWs for Sampling

Best DAWs for Sampling Best DAWs for Sampling

If you want a quick answer: it's the one you're using. :)

Pick an audio track, assign it to a channel, crop the part you're after, assign it to a new channel, solo it and export the audio. Done.

I should note perhaps, that what's the right DAW is a better question than what's the best one.

But let's have a look at which can qualify among the best, in the best DAW for sampling category.

The Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)

Now, absolute beginners might not know even what the acronym "DAW" stands for.

Don't want to leave anyone out, so we can note that a digital audio workstation is a software tool, serving the purpose of music production.

With its help, the necessity of having a ton of hardware is sidestepped. (Like literally a ton... and pro level studios had significantly more than that, back in the day.)

Sample Based Music Production

Sample based production is a contemporary phenomenon. If you're into making beats, consider checking out this beautiful take !

As time went by, music production moved from being entirely instrument-based to becoming more and more virtual-instruments-based.

With the advent of the digital audio workstations, sampling also became simpler.

One might think that this means that sample based producers are lazy. Not at all! It's just that sample based producers can now be more productive, efficient and creative.

Audio production and music production in general have a lot to do with enthusiasm. And choosing the right digital audio workstation is an integral part - an initiation if you will.

The Approach

I'll try to keep things simple, noting a few essential sampling features each DAW on my list has. Then I'll note the historical context for the more curious readers.

The core criteria would be the human resources available and my experience in that sense. Some of you might beg to differ, which is natural. I do hope however, that the readers would find the style (including the puns :) entertaining at least.

1. FL Studio

The good old Fruity Loops. I remember my friend (a professional actor actually) showing me around and me being impressed. This was 15+ years ago, and FL Studio has evolved a tremendous amount meanwhile, of course.

FL Studio is preferred especially by the producers who rely on samples heavily.

This doesn't mean that it is somehow superior to other DAWs in this regard; only that FL Studio has an exceptionally friendly interface.

With FL Studio, Image Line started bringing advanced features to the tables of even the least experienced. Audio recording and producing music became (at least) a hobby for the affectionate.

A Few of The Gems

  • Edison:
  • A powerful audio editor and recorder. Edison allows you to record, edit, and process audio directly within the FL Studio environment. It's a crucial tool for sampling and offers features like spectral analysis, pitch correction, and time-stretching.
  • DirectWave Sampler:
  • An FL Studio sampler plugin, allowing you to load and play back sampled sounds. It supports a variety of sample formats and offers features like multi-sampling, key mapping, and velocity mapping.
  • SliceX:
  • The lovely slicing tool in FL Studio, designed for chopping and rearranging samples. It's particularly useful for working with drum loops or other rhythmic elements. You can easily map slices to individual MIDI notes for creative triggering.

Hip Hop

Yeah, this DAW is 25+ years the genre's junior. Yet, hip hop artists and producers seem to frequently opt for FL Studio. This was the case even back when it was just a 4-channel drum machine.

Hip hop isn't complicated, musically speaking, and FL Studio's simple interface and easy-to-use options won the hearts of hip hop artists.

It's quick sampler, along with the straightforward bundled plugins make FL Studio a fairly simple, yet an exceptionally powerful resource.

2. Pro Tools

Ah, the senior! :)

Pro Tools went through many phases and was instrumental in the development of many genres.

One could argue that electronic dance music would not have developed so quickly without Pro Tools at hand. And we all know what EDM means: a lot of sampling tasks, a ton of sample editing.

Released in 1989, Pro Tools was a sort of pinnacle of the process, initiated 5-6 years earlier with the basic drum machine concept.

It's worth noting that even Pro Tools' simple predecessors eased tremendously the sampling tasks. The digital music production revolution was under way.

The Core Options

  • MIDI Editor:
  • An editor for working with MIDI data. You can edit and arrange MIDI notes, making it easy to create sampled instrument parts and complex musical arrangements.
  • AudioSuite and Elastic Audio:
  • Plugins for offline processing of audio files, allowing you to apply various effects, time-stretching, or pitch-shifting to your samples.
  • Structure Free Sampler:
  • A sampler instrument that allows you to load and play back sampled sounds. While not as feature-rich as some standalone samplers, it provides essential sampling capabilities.

The Pro Tools Artist

An interesting and special category. And not surprisingly so, because there are producers who've remained loyal to it for over 3 decades now (I myself know a few).

But they haven't remained loyal for sake of preserving their comfort zone - Pro Tools stood the test of time.

The first intuitive interface (or any interface for that matter) eased the music creation process; from the eight midi tracks to the mixing ocean of today.

As my Pro Tools artist friend would say: "Pro Tools can not be defined... Pro Tools simply is". :)

3. Logic Pro

Might sound weird that it is only an option for MAC users, but if you are a MAC user, Logic Pro is the default.

Logic Pro is praised by its users for the intuitive workflow, smart templates and of course the UI.

What looks like a limitation is in a way a significant advantage, as being platform specific makes Logic Pro developers focus their resources and prioritize accordingly.

Audio effects can be edited (and sampled thereof) through a plethora of options. It's worth noting that many of the UI defaults of DAWs today were originally present in Logic Pro.

The Sweets

  • Flex Time and Flex Pitch:
  • Features that allow you to manipulate the timing and pitch of audio recordings, respectively. This is valuable for adjusting the timing of your samples or creating unique pitch variations.
  • EXS24 Sampler:
  • A powerful tool for sample-based instrument creation. You can load and edit samples, map them across the keyboard, and apply various modulation and shaping parameters.
  • Ultrabeat Drum Sampler:
  • The juicy drum sampler, which allows you to load and trigger drum samples, create drum kits, and program intricate drum patterns.

Logic Pro for Windows?!

Nowadays it's a well known fact that installing MAC software on a Windows system is feasible, and many would opt for such a step.

The question is: is Logic Pro alone worth this extra mile, in other words: wouldn't another DAW do, one that is actually compatible with Windows?

Well, it depends on the resources. If your best friend or music producing tutor is a Logic Pro expert, and you can afford a Logic Pro but not a MAC - I'd say yes, it's worth it.

If you establish a foothold in managing audio effects efficiently, you'll find that sampling in Logic Pro is like drinking a glass of water. And if you also want a MAC, then work hard and afford a MAC later. :)

4. Bitwig Studio

The junior of the field!

It's funny, I heard about it from a relative of mine who's in his 50s. Why would a middle aged person pick up a new DAW? It's simple: it is compatible with Linux (the only one on this list!), and my cousin is actually a professional software engineer... :)

Bitwig Studio was released in 2014 and it is evident that its developers have learned and drawn from its predecessors.

It is gaining popularity among composers of music for live ensemble too, as its developers seem keen to not leave a stone unturned on the DAW market.

The Treasury

  • Sampler Modulators:
  • Comes with a range of modulators that can be used to dynamically control various parameters. This opens up possibilities for expressive and evolving sound design. Modulators can be mapped to parameters like pitch, volume, and more.
  • Layered Editing:
  • Allows for layered editing of multiple audio clips. This means you can visually stack multiple takes or samples on top of each other, making it easy to visually compare and edit different variations.
  • Flexible Routing:
  • Provides a flexible routing system, allowing you to route audio and modulators creatively. You can easily set up parallel processing chains or route modulators to control multiple parameters simultaneously.

Budget Friendliness

Friendly to the budget of absolute beginners, Bitwig Studio is completely free in demo mode, without time limitations.

This does mean you can't save or export, but for complete beginners, I don't see those as priorities really.

A light (and cheap) paid version is also offered, through which beat making workflow can be established.

Even though it is the "youngster" in the field, Bitwig Studio has its own advantages. And if you are just starting, having any type of free DAW, even one where saving and exporting is disabled is priceless (no pun intended here).

5. Ableton Live

Gone are the days when eight instrument tracks and record midi plugins were sufficient. However, the old saying "do not stretch your feet beyond the carpet" wasn't said in vain.

Options need to be reliable first, rather than simply being "available". And Ableton Live is a great example of how availability and reliability can be matched and managed appropriately.

To be fair, when Ableton Live was released back in 2001, the competition wasn't known for the endless options they are offering today either.

Yet, my impression is that back then the community was too strict to Ableton Live, commenting on it's apparent lack of otherwise well established DAW resources.

The Advanced Features

  • Warping:
  • Features a powerful warping engine that allows you to time-stretch and pitch-shift audio clips. This is useful for adjusting the tempo or key of your samples.
  • Convert to Sampler:
  • Right-click on an audio clip and select "Slice to New MIDI Track" to convert it into a Sampler instrument. This creates a set of MIDI notes corresponding to slices of your audio.
  • Sampler Instrument:
  • Once converted, you can open the Sampler Instrument editor to further tweak your sample. Adjust parameters such as pitch, envelope and filters.

Anything to Add..?

It had the friendly interface from the get-go, and was a decent midi data editing software.

Time has shown that its features are exceptionally reliable, and Ableton Live rose to prominence even among the staunch critics.

Slowly but surely, it established its foothold, and does not lag behind the competition in any sense of the word nowadays!

Well... it hasn't the smart tempo analysis tool of Logic Pro, but the tempo-related features are flawless regardless.

Other DAWs

Seeing that I haven't mentioned Cubase, I hear the John McEnroes among you screaming "you can not be serious". :))

Another obvious option is the stellar Presonus DAW software Studio One. At least Studio One Prime, as "the best free DAW"...

One might think these two entirely left out would do them more justice, as compared to just including them as "other DAWs".

However, my criteria in this regard was the human resources. The sample choppers* I know use the DAWs I selected.

Hence, "other Daws" here simply means that Cubase and Studio One are still excellent but somewhat less popular among the "choppers". That's my experience, at least.

Things to Also Consider

I'll be sharing below a few notes which I consider relevant but are often left out.

These will be:

  • Sample production as a special craft;
  • The "best DAW" in the practical sense;
  • Software instruments as a sampling resource;
  • The situation where sampling serves only for demo purposes (the sheet notation challenge).

Sample Manipulation & Production*

Many would be surprised to hear that people make a living out of "chopping samples" as it were.

Yes, their primary occupation and craft is sample manipulation through audio editing. They then create sound/sample libraries, which they then sell, offering it as a complete product.

To the inexperienced, this may sound as a waste of time. However, audio editing, audio production and music production in general is incomparably more efficient if you can just use the works of sample manipulation experts!

Chopping samples is therefore a fine craft (at least; if not an art form in its own right!).

The "Best DAW" Software

The best DAW software is the one you have the most resources for.

Any DAW software nowadays is very good, especially in the context of sampling.

And the learning curve will be more challenging if you haven't anyone to consult. Thus, "the best DAW" is the one your friends are most familiar with. :)

If you really do not have (human) resources as such, pick what's affordable along with a free sampling plugin, a couple of midi files and challenge the learning curve.

Keep learning! It goes without saying that your DAW and all the other DAWs have powerful sampling tools, along with an excellent piano roll.

However, forget not that the audio quality of pre-recorded audio is still instrumental when serving as a sample base. Check your resources; when you're stuck, it's not your DAWs fault.

Software Instruments

Even EDM does not rely on sampling exclusively. Those who know the craft of composing, take software instruments very seriously.

A music producer will have a nearly endless collection of audio recordings, third party plugins and virtual instruments, of course.

However, they'll also record audio with live instruments, obviously. Does this mean that software instruments are only practical but not as good?

It depends. If you play the piano well, own a decent instrument and a recording equipment to match, recording should be the way to go. Then, you can develop your sampling skills based on the high quality resource you produced by making a simple recording.

Sheet Notation...

This may seem out of context, but as someone who's experienced in arranging and scoring for large ensemble, I'll simply say - clicking "export" does not equal "orchestration done".

Back in the day even setting up the project's tempo was challenging, and today DAWs have come a long way when it comes to standard music notation. Yet, a ton of work is needed still...

Logic Pro is decent; Cubase even more in this regard, I think. But, if you are working on samples which would need to be recorded later in a studio (say, you're working on music for short film with a decent budget), please just hire an orchestrator at the end of the process.

In Closing

Don't worry if you're facing a slightly steeper learning curve. The flex pitch features - and all the features in general - made the DAW you're using a popular DAW for a reason.

If unsure where to start even, try a free version; most of the options noted are offering trial versions. Try some free plugins. Try producing a sample even with the help of the good old Winamp audio player.

And remember: the best DAW for a Pro Tools user is Pro Tools; for an FL Studio user it is FL Studio... consult people for sake of efficiency, but do not make a dogma out of their preferences!

Take your time. Chaining your samples through an advanced routing matrix will become a part of your intuition, in due time. If you're younger than Pro Tools, there's still enough time! :)

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