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The Best DAWS for using MIDI Loops

Ableton Live cakewalk Cubase FL Studio Logic Mixbus Pro Tools Reaper Studio One

If you use MIDI loops in your music productions then it’s important that your DAW (music software) allows you to audition MIDI files.

This blog looks at the MIDI capabilities of nine of the most popular DAWs. We guide you through the process of selecting your next (or first) DAW. We've also included links to tutorials for our recommended apps.

Cakewalk by Bandlab

Recommended: Yes
Pros: Free, MIDI auditioning, drum kits included
Cons: Windows only
Bandlab Cakewalk

Cakewalk has been around for decades. The original developers included some of our MIDI files in their products.  We still have files compatible with their drum plugins: Session Drummer and SI-Drum kit.

Cakewalk features a convenient file browser window that plays both audio and MIDI files. You can drag and drop files directly into your project. Most of their drum kits are mapped consistently, a surprisingly rare phenomenon.

When editing on the piano roll you can display the names of the drums using a ‘drum map’. We supply some Cakewalk drum maps in our commercial products.

Conclusion

Overall, this free and easy to use DAW is tough to beat for Windows users. If you're new to MIDI or just need some way to play around with MIDI, check it out.

Cakewalk Tutorial

Using MIDI in Cakewalk By Bandlab

Cubase

Recommended: Yes
Pros: MIDI auditioning, drum kits included
Cons: None

Steinberg Cubase

Cubase has been around for a very long time and just seems to keep getting better. All recent versions support MIDI auditioning and include their Groove Agent 5SE drum plugin.

The Cubase File Browser window allows you to browse and play MIDI loops stored anywhere on your computer. Groove Agent 5SE (there’s also a paid version) includes at least 17 kits mapped per the General MIDI standard. That’s great news though some of the kits are not mapped consistently for some reason.

Cubase also supports ‘drum maps’ which allow you to see the names of each drum while editing your MIDI grooves.

Conclusion

Cubase is an extremely powerful, mature DAW that offers easy MIDI auditioning and a reasonable selection of free drum kits.

Cubase Tutorials

Easy Cubase MIDI Auditioning

Auditioning MIDI in Cubase 11

FL Studio

Recommended: It depends
Pros: MIDI auditioning, drum kits included
Cons: MIDI auditioning isn’t intuitive

FL Studio FPC

Fl Studio is actually a great program and really fun to play around with. The problem is that while it does allow you to audition MIDI files, it could be easier and more intuitive.

In the first tutorial linked below I describe their MIDI auditioning as ‘fairly easy’. It just takes a bit of time to understand the work flow. But on the upside, in addition to all of their cool plugins and effects, they include a decent selection of loops and kits.

Conclusion

If you’re into ‘electronic’ styles of music or like their work flow, then it’s a good choice. If you’re new to using MIDI libraries and NOT into electronic styles, then you may want to look elsewhere.

FL Studio Tutorials

Auditioning Loops in FL Studio

Adding Loops to FL Studio FPC

Garage Band

Recommended: No
Pros: Free
Cons: No MIDI auditioning

Apple Garage Band

This is the first DAW on the list that doesn’t offer MIDI auditioning. Many people start their recording adventures with Garage Band because they got it free. Overall, it’s a good app with lots of features.

Unfortunately, it does not offer MIDI auditioning meaning you have to import MIDI loops one at a time. Unless you have a 3rd party drum app that supports MIDI auditioning, Garage Band is not the best choice.

Logic

Recommended: No
Pros: Features, Stability
Cons: Expensive, No MIDI auditioning

Logic is a mature, highly respected DAW with loads of features. Despite all of Apple’s hype about its MIDI capabilities, Logic doesn’t offer MIDI auditioning. Still. In 2022. To work with commercial MIDI libraries, you’ll need a 3rd party drum app that supports MIDI auditioning. Or you'll need to import them one at a time.

Mixbus32c

Recommended: Yes
Pros: MIDI auditioning, drum kits included
Cons: None

Harrison Mixbus 32c

Harrison Console’s Mixbus 32c emulates the legendary Harrison 32C analog console. The 32C analog console was used on records by Led Zeppelin, Michael Jackson Paul Simon, Janet Jackson, AC/DC, ELO, Genesis, Blondie, and Supertramp and many more.

Currently, there are two versions: Mixbus: 32c ($349.00, version 8) and Mixbus ($89.00, currently version 7). This post applies to Mixbus 32c because Mixbus does not have MIDI auditioning yet. Mixbus Version 8 is scheduled for to be released later in 2022 and will feature MIDI auditioning.

Mixbus 32c really shines in the area of MIDI auditioning. Specifically, it offers the following:

  • Drum kits mapped per the General MIDI standard
  • Good sounding kits in several genres
  • The ability to easily switch kits while auditioning
  • A large selection of Groove Monkee MIDI grooves (and more)
  • You can easily add more MIDI folders to the browser window

Most companies fail to provide kits mapped per the General MIDI (GM) standard. This makes it much more difficult for users to create their tracks efficiently or share them with others. Hats off to Harrison for thinking about this from the user’s perspective!

Conclusion

Mixbus32c is a sophisticated DAW with the best MIDI auditioning capabilities we've seen so far. Consistently mapped drum kits(GM standard), the ability to change kits on the fly along with a long list of other desirable features make this a great choice.

For additional info, check out this post: How To Use MIDI Drum Loops With Mixbus

Pro Tools

Recommended: No
Pros: Industry standard
Cons: No MIDI auditioning

Like Logic, Pro Tools is a well-established, feature rich DAW that doesn’t offer MIDI auditioning. If you’re looking to use commercial MIDI libraries, you’ll need a 3rd party drum app that supports it. Or you’ll have to import the loops one at a time.

Reaper

Recommended: Yes
Pros: MIDI auditioning, inexpensive
Cons: No drum kits included

Reaper DAW
Reaper is a favorite among recording enthusiasts world-wide. Currently, the licensing fee is only $60. Unlike most other DAWs, however, it does not include any drum kits.

On the upside, among its many attractive features is the ability to audition MIDI loops. Reaper also supports drum maps for easier MIDI editing. We include a selection of Reaper drum maps in our commercial products. Reaper offers a free 60-day evaluation period and it’s definitely worth checking out. We have a Reaper tutorial linked below. 

Reaper Tutorial

How to Audition MIDI Loops in Reaper

Studio One

Recommended: Yes
Pros: MIDI auditioning, lots more
Cons: inconsistent kit mappings

Presonus Studio One

In many minds, Studio One is crushing their older, more highly-regarded competitors with a huge slate of useful features including MIDI auditioning. Studio One comes in 3 flavors including a fully-functional free version. Just be aware that you cannot use VST plugins with the free version.

Working with MIDI in Studio One is a breeze: free kits, advanced effects, macros, drum maps and easy MIDI auditioning. On the downside, their kits don't seem to follow a consistent mapping scheme.

Studio One Tutorial

Playing MIDI Loops in Studio One

Conclusion

In this post we looked at some of the most popular DAWs and discussed their MIDI auditioning capabilities. We also documented other features such as stock drum kits and drum maps.

All of these programs are good, solid apps and they’re popular for a reason. Unfortunately, some don’t offer MIDI auditioning. This can make your life more difficult than it needs to be.

You can counter this deficiency with a VST drum app that offers MIDI auditioning but you have to choose wisely. Many of them support MIDI auditioning but ONLY for THEIR loops. You can’t add your own MIDI loops! Be sure to check out the demos or ask the manufacturer to be sure.

If you have questions about using our products with any of these DAWs please let us know. Our contact info is available on the Support menu > Contact Us page.

Thanks for reading and rock on!



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