Reaper DAW, developed by a small company called Cockos, originally came out in 2006. The software immediately gained traction from its professional feature set and affordable price, and shows no signs of slowing down in 2022. Could Reaper be the ultimate value DAW?
The Cockos Reaper DAW Is One of the Most Affordable DAWs on the Market
Back in 2006 Reaper was (and is) a ridiculously inexpensive piece of full-fledged audio production software. A standard license cost just $40—fast forward about 15 years, and the cost has marginally risen to $60. This undercuts every “mainstream” or “industry-standard” DAW by a significant amount; plus, you can demo the DAW free for 60 days with zero restrictions.
A business license for professional institutions runs $225, which again, is a comparatively small price for production software in which you can record and edit audio and MIDI, compose, arrange, mix, and master.
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Reaper Software Key Features
As with any professional audio program, Reaper music software contains all of the basic and advanced features you’d expect. It’s Mac, PC, and Linux (with some additional work) compatible. Fully installed, the program is an incredibly lightweight 66MB, which Cockos ensures can run off of an external hard drive or even a network disk.
Keeping consumers in mind, Cockos offers free upgrades through a whole version of the program with a license purchase. Right now the software is in version 6.51, so if you bought today, you’d be eligible for free upgrades through version 7.99. There’s also a free 400-page PDF manual and a community forum with tons of dedicated Reaper heads willing to help their fellow users.
You can record as many simultaneous tracks as your hardware allows. There’s no difference between track types in Reaper, so you can record either audio or MIDI to any new channel. You’ll also have the ability to monitor with or without plugin effects loaded up. Other features include capturing multiple takes and layers, overdubbing, punching in and out, and loop recording.
The program handles up to 512 channels.
Mixing and Mastering
Reaper comes with a host of “Rea” plugins, including powerful real-time/manual pitch correction in ReaTune, as well as an excellent convolution reverb, ReaVerb. Of course, it supports third-party plugins in VST, DX (Windows), AU (Mac), LV2, and JSFX formats.
Reaper DAW also comes with advanced automation capabilities, the option to freeze or bounce tracks to lighten the CPU load, and more.
Reaper is easy enough for beginners to jump in and start working things out, but advanced enough that experienced users can customize virtually anything they want. The DAW’s appearance is fully changeable, including colors, icons, toolbars, and layouts. You can even switch between different layouts for different tasks; one appearance for recording, and another for mixing/mastering, for example.
It’s also possible to develop your own advanced macros to complete simple or complex tasks at the stroke of a key.
Routing is both flexible and intuitive. Every channel has its own I/O button where you can determine where to route the track. By default, every new track routes to the Master Channel > your interface’s outputs.
It’s very easy to set up Send/Return effects. Just add a new track, load up the desired effect, and then just click the I/O button on any track you want to add the effect. Under the Sends section, check the box next to your effects channel, and then fader and pan controls open up to control send levels. Now go back to your effect channel’s I/O, and every track you have routed to it will show up under the Receives header; you can conveniently adjust all of your effect send levels in one place.
Drawbacks of Using the Reaper DAW
One of the biggest drawbacks is the lack of intuitiveness upon opening the program for the first time. Beginners may find it difficult to get their bearings, but anyone with experience using DAWs shouldn’t have too tough of a time. Luckily, though, the active Reaper community is a wealth of information for newbies and veterans alike.
Additionally, Reaper DAW does not come with any software instruments besides a basic synth and drum machine. You’ll need your own third-party virtual instruments if you want to jump right in to composing that way.
Is Reaper the Best Value DAW?
It’s certainly near the top. Windows users actually have Cakewalk by Bandlab as an option, which is a complete DAW that’s totally free. Apple users have the free Garageband which is great for production using the including loops and instruments, but perhaps a bit limited in advanced recording, editing, and mixing capabilities.
For $60, it’s hard to beat Reaper DAW as one of the best values for a complete digital recording solution. At the very least, if you’re still shopping around, the 60-day trial gives ample time to see for yourself what’s it all about.