Debates on the Internet
"They all sound the same. In sane, sensible, real-world practice there is no measurable difference between them."
On the Internet there are hundreds of topics debating the rendering and mixing engines of the various DAW softwares. If you ask people which one is better or which one to choose many votes for the one they use.
Some say "You shouldn't use FL Studio, it sounds awful!" or "Pro Tools is king, it has the best mixing engine." or "The latest engine of Ableton is superior to the older ones."
More Quotes on the Subject
Sayings from the Cakewalk "Techniques" forum.
"This is a crazy question, because there is not supposed to be the answer that I'm about to give... which is: sure there is. The reason I use Sonar is mainly due to the sound, which to my ears is clear, clean, focused, detailed and perfect for pop - rock type music."
"I'm pretty sure that you were fooled by the vol / gain level this is very tricky!"
"To my ears Samplitude has the best sounding audio engine around..."
"I perceive differences in how the two programs handle the sound. Neither is bad sounding, just different characteristics stand out in Audition that are not standing out in Sonar."
The Underlying Math and Audio Quality Aspect of DAWs
In the past audio engines used fewer bits for calculating math operations for all digital signal processing and sound generation. However nowadays software companies need to use the highest practically possible bit depth to stay current, which is 64-bit float.
"Given the bit depth of most modern engines though (32 fixed, 48 fixed, 64 float), the likelihood of a difference of one bit on a given sample is going to be pretty low."
My suspicion and thinking is that basically all the latest DAW programs are the same in basic mixing capabilities.
Maybe if there is some difference it should be so minimal that it can't be heard or only in phase cancellation tests or maybe less than -70 to -90 decibels. So I'll explore this topic.
Recipe for Testing
I used these tools for checking out the situation:
- Microsoft Windows 8.1 (64-bit)
- Ableton Suite 9.1 (64-bit)
- Image Line FL Studio Producer Edition 11.1.1 (64-bit)
- Sony Sound Forge Pro 10 (32-bit)
- premade music with 4 multi tracks (beat, loop1, loop2, bass)
The beat has got a big bass drum, a snare drum, and two different hihats (also different in rhythm) in a house style section. I selected this loop from a sample pack.
Loop1 and Loop2
The loop1 and loop2 tracks are latin style house drum loops panned hard left and hard right. The instruments used are hihats, claps and congas and bongos. These are from a sample pack as well.
The bass comes from a Ableton synth called Analog (using two VCOs programmed with a saw wave and square wave an octave apart, also a slight vibrato and LP24 low pass filter), and it also features a Utility module for monoifying (zero percent) it and finally a Compressor module for sidechaining it to the beat track.
The bass notes are programmed in Ableton piano roll from the C-minor scale (G1, G#1, A#1, C2, G1, G#1, D#1, F1).
Important points to note here:
- no plugins on master buss
- no plugins on instrument channels
- default volume 0 dB or 100% on all the channels
- no automation
I used these render settings:
- rendered track: master track
- file type: WAV
- sample rate: 44.1 kHz
- bit depth: 24 bits
- dither options: no dithering
Render From Live
This is the export from Live.
Render From FL Studio
This is the export from FL Studio.
Finally the phase cancellation test. The picture shows the source files before cancellation.
After phase cancellation
This is how the mix sounds after collapsing.
Encoding the Examples to Mp3
For making the compressed version I used
- Lame Front-End 1.8 / Pazera Software
- Lame 3.99 (built in)
- 320 kbps
- Full Stereo
- Quality 2 (0-9, and zero is the highest)
Reading Tip: Image Line's Page on Audio Myths and DAW Wars
I strongly recommend reading the complete Image Line's help page on the debate and phenomenon.
- transparency and audio quality
- the psychology of sound
- importance of loudness matching
- mixing decisions
- mixing interpolation
- render settings
- plugin behaviours vs. source wav files
- marketing issues
- the 5 second A/B blind testing
"The world is full of marketing departments trying to convince you that equipment and specifications can substitute for talent & hard work. This is not true, the 'performance' transcends the medium every time. The performance includes musicianship, vocals, orchestration, arrangement and the mixing decisions. These are all under your control and have little to do with the DAW software you use or plugins you have."
In this tutorial I set out to find the difference of the mixing engines. I used Ableton Live, FL Studio and Sony Sound Forge Pro and a multi track music.
First, I rendered the mix in Ableton then FL Studio and then made a phase cancellation test in Sound Forge. The cancellation was perfect so there were no differences.
There are no differences when:
- no stock plugins used
- no automation used
- no warping used
There can be differences when:
- stock plugins used
- automation used
- different warping used