Quality/DAW Suggestions?

Hello all,

I am a piano composer who works on a Mac using Finale. I've posted a lot of compositions on this forum using the mp3 output from Finale and have never been satisfied with the quality. I would like to explore options for better quality output. I see a lot of folks on the forum posting music from DAWs which sound better than what I am able to produce. Can anyone suggest to me a DAW or another approach I could take which would help me produce better recordings? Thanks!

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  • Thanks Phillip!

  • Thanks Bennett!

  • Reaper is a pretty damn good solution for the price-actually, you probably can't beat it for 60$, neither with ableton, nor cubase or anything else. It's less intuitive than ableton (that's what i use and compare stuff to), but it has the same functionality, and i suspect that if you know what the hell you're doing and learn how it works, you can squeeze even more juice from it. Plus, the demo is fully functional, and I believe it remains fully functional (but with a friendly reminder on startup) after the demo period is over. This means you could even use it for free anyway and never spend a penny on it. Your call.

    No matter what DAW you pick, you will need a piano sound library. There are many out there to choose from and most of them will be adequate- the piano is rather simple to capture at a basic level in terms of sampling (simpler than a violin or flute that is :P ). It's been a long time since I made a render of a live instrument piece, but i remember the galaxy steinway library to be my go to solution for a rich, deep grand piano sound that works fine even with little tweaks. 

    Your budget is the only limiting factor here. You could opt for an expensive combo, like cubase+good piano library, but I personally don't see the need for an expensive DAW. You have already composed the piece using a specialised notation software (finale, in your case). You have all the midi events (aka, notes) written down, and all you need is to edit velocity, pedaling, some slight humanising parameters (rubato by changing the song tempo, tweaking a chord so that all notes don't get pressed at the EXACT same time and so on). For that you don't need a staff view at all, a piano roll (the default midi editing method of DAWs) eventually proves much more convenient and intuitive for that sort of work. There is a learning curve when going from notation to piano roll, but if you know you way around a piano keyboard that shouldn't be a problem at all. Agreed, a score view is a nice bonus, but i don't think it's worth the 100s of $$ to get it. If I were you, I'd rather invest all that money on sound libraries and tools (reverbs and so on) and use it all with reaper. If anything, you paid 60$ for the damn thing, you can always upgrade to cubase with no regrets when you have money to spare again.

    I should note however that Reaper's midi editing interface is far inferior to ableton live's (i'm guessing cubase too). It is very functional and you can work well with it after you get used to it, but to me, it's more of a counter-intuitive pile of crap (ok, I may be a bit harsh). I can get over it, but I still crave for Live's speed, simplicity and viewing flexibility of the piano roll.

    Just to give you a sense of what I'm talking about: https://soundcloud.com/spiros-makris/taqsim and https://soundcloud.com/spiros-makris/scherzo

    Both were notated in finale, then the midi file was imported into ableton, then rendered using the galaxy steinway library. I have tweaked various parameters (pedal, velocities and so on) and added some slight "humanising" in it (trills where made more realistic an so on). The bulk of the midi file was made in finale though. No effects other than some reverb and maybe an EQ and compressor. Never needed a score view, just worked on the piano roll. To be honest, I could have thrown many more hours into crafting the recording, but even with the little effort I put into it, it still sounds adequate, for a demo.

    My point about reaper is, it felt like it can do everything ableton can, so if I can make this in ableton in just a little time, I don't see why it's not fully doable on reaper.

    Perhaps the best strategy is to download Reaper itself and some open source/freeware piano library and give this sort of thing a try. If you find you can work with this, you can spend more money on better sounds/DAW.

  • Thanks Spiros!

  • If you do choose to go the DAW route, I do believe you'll be able to get a much better sound quality wise. But then it becomes more about library choices and how much money you have to throw at the various higher end libraries. There are, of course, tons of quality orchestral libraries and such on the market but a lot of them require having a high-performance PC. But all that is beside the point. If we're just talking about DAW's here, Cubase, Pro Tools (mac), FL Studio (what I use), and tons of others. What I suggest is to go research other forums and, of course, view the tutorials that people have on YouTube. That's how I learned what I know about FL Studio. But, it all depends on how you plan to use it and what you want out of it that will best define what DAW you should go with. 

  • Thanks Blake!

  • Dear Gav.

    I listened to your compositions on your page and I don't know if I've got the right to make suggestions cos I'm really looking for help myself in other parts of the forum but, if Finale can handle 'em (I'm a PC user who's always cordially disliked Macs for many reasons - they're hugely overpriced for starters!) - try Soundfonts.  They're little sampled sounds from really good instruments (sometimes, it's true you have to sift through them) and they're usually legit. free.  There's a Korg Piano soundfont that's great once you've gotten the EQ right on it (if you don't it sucks, if you do it becomes a good instrument, honest!) there's loads of lovely instruments in the Squidfont Orchestra (better than its name sounds, I promise) Bellatrix Orchestra, Real Choir Aahs and Choir Oohs are gorgeous choir sounds (with a bit of reverb) and there's many others.  Too many for here but I'll send you a list of my faves and where to download them from if you send me a message.  There's gotta be a soundfont player for the Mac, maybe even Sibelius itself.

    My fave orchestra is Edirol Orchestral, for starters it's got a small footprint (no gigabyte-munching instruments here) and for seconds it's actually affordable - yes it really is!  And its sounds are usable out of the box.  I have East West Gold (there's a Q in that name somewhere but I forget) Orch., but that's wone of the things I want help with on another part of the forum, everything sounds too close-miked, too loud and blary. I don't know how to get around that and BOY have I spent days trying. But Edirol just sounds good straight off - just don't overdo velocity and remember you can use many instances and model the sound of each instance WITHIN Edirol itself before using it in your DAW.  Its internal modelling tools work pretty well cos they're designed for it.

    For soundfonts, if it works with Mac and your DAW doesn't handle soundfonts, try the free Korg SF2 (could be SFz, got a bad screen and can't quite read the end letter) free soundfont player, it's got a great engine that makes soundfonts sound good that sound bad on anything else.  So if one sounds gawdawful in your DAW, try it in Korg SF2 (or z) within your DAW and if it's like the PC, you'll  not know it's the same font! (I KNOW there's something called the Safiwan Soundfont Player that works on Macs, forget it, it's awful on PCs too.)

    Finally, I'm 90% with you on Schoenberg, Harrison Birtwistle, John Cage, there's another one who composes by making random holes in piano rolls (honest! Real piano rolls, not notations substitutes on computers) they all get funded and they all royally suck. BUT - there's Arvo Part, Michael Nyman, some Bela Bartok (he must've had 7 fingers on each hand to play his stuff) And Deuter.  Deuter? Who he? Just check out tracks like La Ilaha Il Allah - he can take one chord, one sound and turn it into a spectral thread of evolving beauty that comes as close to opening minds to other realms as I've ever heard.    It all depends how atonality's used, I feel, it's just the financed guys tend to suck.  (Even Tangerine Dream can be atonal and beautiful at times)  And there's others who's names I can't recall right now. Anyway.

    Tell me if you'd like soundfonts and I'll tell you where to get them from (or just send 'em to you, it's legit., they're free after all.) And think about Edirol. And that's about the best I can say. 

    Yours respectfully


  • Use low velocities (EWQL actually has layered samples), use extra reverb, EQ the high end down.

    Christopher John Ulrich Burke said:

    everything sounds too close-miked, too loud and blary. I don't know how to get around that and BOY have I spent days trying

    Quality/DAW Suggestions?
    Hello all, I am a piano composer who works on a Mac using Finale. I've posted a lot of compositions on this forum using the mp3 output from Finale an…
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