In the old days it was simple: If you wanted a DAW, you either went with Cubase, Logic or Cakewalk. There were a couple of others, but these were ever really expensive or just plain weird.
So then, it came as a bit of a shock to me, as i came stumbling out of a 12-year -long Logic cocoon, to find so many different options available. At this point special mention must be given to Ableton – on the audio manipulation side of things they seem unparalleled, and the options they offer a live performer are both diverse and exhaustive – but Ableton is big and bulky. For ordinary writing and recording,I wanted something smaller and more lightweight, something that could easily handle stacks of instruments and oodles of plugins without taxing a Core2Duo. I needed Reaper.
I stumbled upon Reaper by pure chance while on the hunt for other plugins and thought I’d give it a shot. From the moment you click the download link you can tell it’s not like other DAWs: The compressed installer weighs in at about 10mb and expands to just 40 when everything’s up and running. As a refugee from another DAW, everything was reassuringly familiar – once booted, the fancy-schmancy Reaper logo soon made way to a grid-view and track mixer reminiscent of every other DAW I’d used. That’s not to say that Reaper is simple or basic, however. While you can can simply right-click, add a virtual instrument and play away if you want, there are a number of advanced options at your disposal such as funky manual track routing.
In terms of performance, i’ve been thoroughly impressed. Both CPU and RAM consumption remain relatively low, and the audio engine has kept on trucking even when i’ve deliberately chucked spanners at it (like having things like BBC Iplayer running in the background.) Creating and editing tracks is an absolute doddle, and I’d even go as far as saying that I find the matrix editor in Reaper to be preferable to both Ableton and Logic. Reaper also includes nifty features you wouldn’t expect from a budget piece of software, like the ability to freeze tracks and quickly switch between different takes.
Of course, it’s not all good news. In the style stakes most of the windows look a bit more PC than MAC, with the plugin window deserving extra special mention for total visual hideousness. On the subject of plugins, Reaper also doesn’t have the vast library of plugins and virtual instruments that you would get with the latest version of other DAWs.
Overall though, I’m pleased to say that I’m going to be using Reaper as my main DAW from now on. It might look a little rough around the edges in places, and it might not include all of the extras found in other DAWs, but the core program is fast, easy to use, incredibly efficient and has been surprisingly stable considering the amount of dodgy freeware 3rd-party plugins I use. for about £40 you really cannot go wrong: Go here and give it a try. Go on!
Expect the first Reaper-based Fatnick track to appear hear soon. I can already hear it rumbling in the distance…