Reaper vs. Studio One: Which DAW Best For You?

Reaper and Studio One are both Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) used in the music production industry. They each have pros and cons, which we will explore here. Both can be viable solutions to your home studio recording needs. Still, they are different enough so that some comparison and evaluation should be made to really make the choice that’s right for you.

So which DAW is best for you: Reaper or Studio One? Reaper is the best DAW if you want flexibility and customization with your workflow and your DAW’s GUI. It’s also great for someone starting off in music production and on a strict budget.  You should buy Studio One if you love using your mouse and favor the ease of a drag and drop workflow.

So if you are looking to buy your first DAW or make a switch, keep reading and learn about two of the most popular DAWs in the music recording world: Reaper and Studio One.

What Is Reaper?

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Reaper (actually technically it’s “REAPER,” an acronym which stands for Rapid Environment for Audio Production and Recording) is a Digital Audio Workstation and MIDI sequencer created by a company called Cockos. 

Reaper is a robust, fully-functional DAW that will let you work with audio and MIDI in your multi-track productions and with video.  

It started off as open-source software but has since switched to a closed-source format (but still allows for a ridiculous amount of customization, certainly more than any other DAW).

For more information, check out our article about whether Reaper is a good DAW.

Reaper Pros

There are many pros with Reaper, they are:

  • Reaper is fully functional and can work with any variety of file types common to audio and video production and MIDI.
  • Reaper has a straightforward editing workflow.
  • Reaper has the lowest price point of any DAW on the market. Many people say it’s free, and while that’s not really true, it is almost so. A discounted license for Reaper (for individuals making music at home and not making over $20,000 in annual revenue-producing music basically) costs only $60, and a commercial license is only $225. Plus, it allows you to use the “evaluation license” essentially forever and doesn’t limit the functionality if you do.
  • Reaper can be indefinitely customizable. The end-user can change everything about the program’s look through custom skins to its behavior via the use of custom keystrokes, macros, and more.
  • Reaper has an incredibly active and helpful support community. Many users post custom skins with everything from a vintage analog console’s worn look to skins that emulate the look of other DAWs like Pro Tools. They also make videos and provide helpful advice on absolutely everything to do with how Reaper functions.
  • Reaper is very easy on computer resources, installs very quickly, and runs incredibly smoothly.
  • Reaper has a full complement of included plugins.
  • It supports unlimited tracks and unlimited effects per track, unlike many DAWs (looking at you, Pro Tools).

Reaper Cons

  • Reaper can be confusing as a result of that customizable ability. It’s very easy to forget how to accomplish specific tasks if you’re not using them daily.
  • Reaper has a LOT of long, involved drop-down menus that make it pretty easy to get information overload and can lead to an inability to find what you’re looking for.
  • Reaper’s GUI look can be customized, but the look of the plugins and menus can look downright ancient and is very reminiscent of Windows 95.  
  • Reaper does not come with a ton of included Virtual Instruments, so if you use a lot of those in your productions, you’ll have to source them elsewhere.
  • Reaper’s busses and FX sends work in a counterintuitive manner, and it’s hard to get used to, especially if you’re coming from another DAW with better workflow in that regard. It’s difficult to tell at a glance what tracks are bussed to a reverb send, for example.
  • Reaper has a default GUI that is ugly and dated. It seems superficial to say that, but if you’re going to be staring at something for hours at a time, it’s important to your mental health if it’s pleasing and inspiring to see.

Check out our articles about how Reaper compares with other software:

What Is Studio One?

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Studio One, like Reaper, is a Digital Audio Workstation. It allows you to work with, record, edit, and mix audio tracks and incorporate sound design into radio-ready material for release to fans of your music all over the world. It is made by Presonus, a company that makes a variety of audio interfaces and control surfaces. It offers various included plugins, virtual instruments like synths and drum loops, and more.

Studio One Pros

  • Studio One has excellent integration with other Presonus products; if you have a Presonus audio interface, for example, you can control a channel’s input gain directly in Studio One without needing to reach over and turn a physical knob.
  • Studio One has a lot of very easy-to-use drag and drop functionality and is very intuitive. If you want to add an EQ or compressor plugin, just click on one from your plugin list and drag it onto a track. No messing around and digging into menus to do this as other DAWs require.
  • Studio One offers a monthly subscription plan of only $15 a month, which gives you access to several Presonus products and plugins at a meager cost of entry.
  • Studio One has a full-fledged “Project” page feature, which allows you to master an album, add metadata, prepare a DDP file for a duplication facility, and more. This is an extremely powerful and worthwhile feature.
  • Studio One has Presonus’ Notion notation software built right in.
  • Studio One has a basic version of Melodyne pitch-correction built right into the software.
  • Studio One has an easy workflow, and it’s simple to do all of the standard editing needs, including quantizing drums to the grid, which is an essential part of modern music. 
  • Studio One has a chord progression track that lets you map out and write music/play virtual instruments with a specific progression in mind, making it easy to write, change keys, etc.
  • Studio One comes with an extensive library of Virtual Instruments, drum loops, samples, etc.

Studio One Cons

  • Studio One is more expensive than Reaper, with prices for purchasing the software outright (and not on the monthly subscription plan) ranging between $70 and $280, depending on the version.
  • Studio One can have stability issues; I recorded a whole album using it, and I’m not entirely sure I trusted it by the end of the project; I also found it wildly inaccurate and maddening in that the bouncing stems feature would add additional space at the beginning of a track. This made it very hard to send stems to someone remotely to record to.
  • Studio One has a REALLY boring GUI, with probably the ugliest color palette I’ve ever seen. It’s tough to look at for any length of time–it’s just gray and dark gray for days, and there’s not a ton of customization that can be done there.
  • Studio One is very mouse-focused, so if you’re used to using key command shortcuts instead of the mouse, it can be frustrating and slow to navigate.
  • Studio One has no support for working with video, so if you’re looking to do that, you’ll need another DAW.
  • Studio One forces you to specify your input and output routing for every separate project you do, which is repetitive and counterintuitive. 
  • Studio One has no Linux functionality.

Reaper vs. Studio One: How They Compare

ReaperStudio One
CostUnlimited evaluation license with no reduction in functionality; $60 for a “discounted” license, $225 for commercial$70 for the limited “Artist” version, $280 for the full “Professional” version
Operating SystemMac OS, Windows, LinuxMac OS, Windows
Recommended RAM8GB8GB
Plugin Type CompatibilityVST, VST2, VST3, VSTi, AU, DX, DXiVST, VST2, VST3, VSTi
Maximum Track CountUnlimitedUnlimited
Table 1: Comparison Summary

Reaper vs. Studio One (4 Differences)

  • Reaper is more for the keyboard command-focused user, while Studio One relies on mouse clicks.
  • Studio One has no Linux functionality, while Reaper does.
  • Studio One comes with an extensive library of included Virtual Instruments, loops, samples, etc., while Reaper doesn’t.
  • Studio One comes with a lite version of Melodyne and VocAlign software stock, whereas Reaper has nothing comparable.

Reaper vs. Studio One (4 Similarities)

  • Both Studio One and Reaper come with a vast array of included stock plugins. Both cover pretty much every audio processing need in that regard.
  • Both Reaper and Studio One feature easy editing workflows.
  • Both Reaper and Studio One are on the cheaper end of the cost spectrum than other DAWs and can be obtained for only $60-70.
  • Both Reaper and Studio One are incredibly kind to computer resources, are easy to install, and are quick to run.

Who Should Get Reaper?

If you enjoy leveraging as much customization as possible from your software, Reaper is a great option. If you need flexibility, an extreme amount of control, and like to keep your financial outlay to a minimum, this is the DAW for you.

Who Should Get Studio One?

If you like the Presonus ecosphere, if you master your own recorded material, and if you are a big mouse/trackball user, then Studio One will fulfill your home recording DAW needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are paid DAWs worth it?

Paid DAWs are absolutely worth it. In fact, there is NO FREE DAWs. Reaper, while extremely inexpensive and with a VERY liberal trial, period/system still costs $60 for a LIFETIME license. It’s not free. I believe you should pay for the tools you use, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Is Reaper a one-time purchase, or do you pay for upgrades?

As of this writing, the current version of Reaper is Reaper 6.42. Your $60 license fee covers you for included upgrades through version 7.99, whenever that eventually comes out. So you’re pretty future-proof for quite a while. 

Is Studio One a one-time purchase, or do you pay for upgrades?

Studio One is a “one-time purchase” in that if you buy the program once, it’ll keep working for you. Upgrades to major version updates (from Studio One 4 to the newest Studio One 5) cost money. However, there has historically been a grace period from Presonus that allows users of existing versions to upgrade to the latest release for free within a given period.  

Upgrades within the version (like 4.5 to 4.6) have historically been free from Presonus to Studio One users.

Is Reaper Good For Novice Users?

While Reaper is a great DAW, others might be easier for the novice to use. It really comes down to your level of comfort with computer software, navigation, and flexibility. I think other DAWs might have a slightly lower barrier of entry to the novice user who is looking to jump in and make music.

Is Studio One good for novice users?

The short answer is yes, Studio One is a good DAW for novice users. The drag and drop functionality and the overall intuitive nature it offers make it easy for someone new to recording to jump in and start making music. It’s easy to accomplish standard editing tasks. In addition, the vast array of virtual instruments and loops that come included with the Professional version offer some excellent opportunities to someone looking to start right away.

Is Reaper used by professionals?

Yes, Reaper is used by professionals in studios everywhere. While Pro Tools has historically held the advantage as the mainstay DAW in professional studios, that’s beginning to change. Most now offer more than one DAW choice to accommodate a more comprehensive selection of visiting engineers.  

Since it essentially comes down to workflow and comfort (as most DAWs accomplish the same things, just in slightly different ways), it makes sense to find the one that works best for you. The same is true of professional engineers, and you can definitely find Reaper as the choice for many of them.  

Is Studio One used by professionals?

Yes, Studio One is absolutely used by professionals. As stated above, it’s becoming more and more common to see more than just Pro Tools being used by professional engineers in pro studio environments. It is affordable and easy to use. These are vital components to have when working on the clock and on a strict budget, usually in a professional studio.

Which DAW is better than Reaper?

This is a loaded question for sure, as really it does come down to personal choice. For many people, there IS no better DAW than Reaper. For other people, it’s a different matter entirely! 

It’s sometimes hard to compare something new to something you’ve been using–the first DAW you use and are familiar with becomes the standard against which all others are measured. I personally always compare DAWs to Pro Tools since that’s what I learned. I can honestly say that in any of the half-dozen or so DAWs I’ve tried, I’ve found things I’ve really liked and don’t like.  

Is Reaper better than FL Studio?

Again, the answer to this question depends. I know FL Studio is extremely popular with hip hop and R&B producers, so perhaps they’d say it’s “better” than Reaper. But on the other hand, I’m pretty sure rock guys would prefer Reaper, as it has a better workflow for recording and mixing real instruments.

It all comes down to choice.

Final Thoughts

The question “which piece of software is better than another for a specific task” can be a sticky one. I have my own personal thoughts and opinions based on using the various DAWs on the market.  

But if I had to choose, I’d probably select Studio One over Reaper. The workflow is a little more intuitive, and I appreciate the ease of the drag and drop functionality it offers.  

The best advice I can give is to take advantage of the evaluation periods and free versions most DAWs offer and give them a test drive before committing to one versus another.  

Best of luck to you, and happy recording!


Adam Coolong

Adam Coolong has played with his band Wild Colonial Bhoys full-time for over fifteen years and has recorded dozens of albums through his studio business, Varsity Audio Recording Services. Professional Links:

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