These days, everyone from novices to Billie Eilish writes and records music inside a Digital Audio Workstation, or DAW. There are a ton of DAW choices out there, but they aren't created equal. And most of them aren't very beginner-friendly!
In this article, I'll show you why Reason 11 Intro is the best DAW for beginners under $100. I'll then show you how to turbo charge your new DAW with a bunch of hand-selected free plugins and free loops.
By the time you're done with this article, you'll be on the road to a pro-grade studio, on a budget. And one that's actually accessible to beginners!
Note: This article may contain affiliate links, meaning I would receive a commission - at no cost to you - for any products you purchase.
A beginner DAW isn't necessarily the same as the best DAW for the pros. First, beginners and pros and have different needs. Second, they have different levels of experience.
You wouldn't want to let a teenage student driver start on a Lamborghini Huracan. You wouldn't buy a state-of-the-art DSLR camera for someone just looking to start photography.
Here's what makes a DAW great for beginners:
Reason 11 Intro is hands down the best DAW for beginners. It includes a great selection of world-class instruments, effects, and utilities that you can use to quickly start making your own tracks. Plus, it comes with the ability to expand its tools to grow with you (see below).
I think Reason has an incredibly intuitive interface, based on real life hardware. If you've ever used a guitar pedal before or messed around with a real keyboard, Reason will be immediately accessible. Of course, that belies a world of complexity hidden below the surface - but that's just what makes learning music fun!
Because Reason's interface is so intuitive, I think it has a pretty short learning curve to get started creating music. And if you need help, there's tons of community resources, like this guide to everything you need to know to make music in Reason.
Finally, you can get Reason 11 Intro for under $100, which is an incredible deal!
Reason 11 Intro includes a host of great instruments, effects, utilities, and samples - everything you need to get started making great music. Many of these are instruments and effects are "pro grade" and totally worth $99 on their own. All of them are good and usable.
If you're confused about what each instrument does, check out this handy Reason cheat sheet.
I've starred * these pro-grade tools in the list below below.
Reason 11 includes a ton of great synths to get you started making music in all genres. It also includes sample and loop players, and several drum machines. In other words, everything you need to start making music.
Reason 11 Intro includes basic versions of all of the effects you could ever need. Audiomatic and Scream 4 are especially awesome tools for creating tones that range from subtle warmth to totally far out sound destruction.
Reason 11 Intro includes all of the utilities you'd find in the full version of Reason. These let you do everything from creating more complex patches to adding complex modulation for your synths.
There are a lot of DAWs out there. So how am I defining a beginner DAW? Well something that's intended for professionals - like Pro Tools - is right out.
Then I looked at the tiers of each DAW. You see, some DAWs have multiple versions, each adding new features, tools, and cost! For example, with Reason 11, there are three options: Intro, Standard, and Suite.
Generally speaking, I considered the "lowest" tier of each DAW to be the beginner tier. Then I compared their feature set and my own experiences with them and Reason 11.
Unlike many other intro DAWs, Reason 11 is essentially a fully featured version, with fewer instruments and effects included. The only major nerf with Reason 11 Intro is that it's limited to 16 tracks. But that is plenty to make great music! Most of the music in the 60s was recorded on 8 tracks! If you find yourself running out, you can always bounce down a couple of tracks to combine them.
So what are the beginner DAWs we're comparing to Reason 11 Intro? I'm going to review Reason 11 Intro versus:
|Reason 11||Ableton||FL Studio||Cubase||Reaper||Cakewalk|
Can work as a plugin in other DAWs
Lifetime free updates
|Lightweight||Deep feature set to unlock|
Only 16 tracks
Only 16 tracks
Only 8 scenes
Only 2 sends
No audio recording
No audio recording
Limited Mixing features
|Ease of Use||Easy||Medium||Medium||Easy||Hard||Medium|
|Good For||All||EDM||EDM||All||Rock, Pop||All|
Of course it doesn't just come down to raw numbers of instruments and effects. It matters if they're good and usable.
What makes Reason 11 Intro unique among all of these DAWs is that it can be run as aa plugin in any of them. Meaning you get full access to all of the synthesizers, effects, and players, no matter what DAW you're using. So if in a year or two you feel like you've outgrown Reason Intro, you won't be out any money! Some of the flagship features of Reason Intro,
If you're using a Mac, feel free to go ahead and use Garageband. Garageband is free to Mac owners, and is a really accessible DAW that includes some great sounds. You should at least try using Garageband first and see if it works for you. If not, check out Reason!
Just about every DAW is able to be expanded with plugins. For example, you could add a new synthesizer instrument to your DAW, or a great piano plugin. Building your unique palette of sounds, effects, and tools is a really important part of being a producer.
You can expand the features of Reason 11 Intro in three ways. First, you can download Reason-specific plugins, called Rack Extensions. Second, you can install VST plugins, which are compatible with any DAW. Finally, you can add new loop and sample packs to greatly expand your tonal choices.
Below, I've handpicked some of the best free expansions you can get to fully complement Reason 11 Intro.
Reason 11 Intro already comes with a lot of great instruments, effects, and utilities. But there are a few additional tweaks you can make under the hood to really boost your options.
In my opinion these are the 10 best free Reason Rack Extensions. Add them to Reason 11 Intro and you've already got a powerhouse DAW!
As I've already noted, Reason comes loaded with a lot of great sounds and effects. But that doesn't mean it can't be improved! The world is full of tons of free instruments and effects, so I've gone and done the hard work of finding the ones that I think are: (1) really good and (2) compliment what's included (and excluded) from Reason Intro.
The RV7000 MKII reverb that comes with Reason is decent, but you may find yourself wanting some different sounds. The TAL Reverb 2 is a nice sounding 80s style reverb great for synths and retro sounds.
In my opinion, Valhalla makes some of the best paid reverbs out there, and incredibly affordable prices. But they also offer a several free reverbs that are really incredible. For example, Supermassive is a totally unique, usable reverb full of sound shaping possibilities.
Reason comes with a lot of compressors, but no easy way to do multi-band compression. Enter OTT by XFer, a pro-grade multi-band compressor type tool to help you control sounds across the frequency spectrum.
There's also a several excellent emulations a classic analog synths that will still sound fresh in the mix. From the famous Mini Moog to acid basses to the lush sounds of retro chords, you'll find instant inspiration adding these vintage emulations to your Reason Intro system.
Reason Intro is a little lacking when it comes to emulations of real-world instruments. Thankfully these free options will help you bridge that gap. Ample Guitar M Lite gives you access to a beautifully recorded guitar, while Ample Bass P Lite gives you an easy way to tap into the most classic of electric bass tones.
LABs by Spitfire Audio is a world of unique instruments, sounds, and textures, from soft pianos to whale songs, the amount of different free instruments provided by LABs (with new stuff added every couple months) will help you make even better sounding music in Reason!
Of course, you can also expand your tone palette in Reason Intro by adding more samples to instruments like Kong and NN-XT or by adding new loops in Dr. Octo-Rex. I've put together a list of the best sites for free loops and samples here. It contains gigabytes of awesome new samples for you to explore.
In my view, Reason 11 Intro is the best DAW for beginners. It includes everything you need to start making music, with a great selection of instruments, effects, and features, and the price is super reasonable. Even if you end up outgrowing it or going with another DAW, the great thing about Reason Intro is that you can take it with you as a plugin in other DAWs! In terms of value, usability, and features, nothing comes close.
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