Choosing the right Digital Audio Workstation is mostly up to the producer’s personal preferences and the genre they focus on. Some DAWs are a little better at multi-track recording; others shine at producing beats.
The two that get pitted against each other regularly are FL Studio and Reaper due to their accessibility and ease of use. Producers gravitate towards them because they don’t cost a small fortune and get the job done just as well as the big names.
Which one is best for you will depend entirely on your goals and which interface works best for you, but it’s important to know how each one performs and their strengths when making a decision.
Table of Contents
- FL Studio Pros
- FL Studio Cons
- Reaper Pros
- Reaper Cons
- The Takeaway
FL Studio Pros
FL Studio has been a fan favorite for over 20 years in the hip-hop community and EDM scene. Its interface allows producers to quickly make the sickest beats using its intuitive piano roll and beat map.
The interface on FL Studio has come a long way since its inception. It has good-looking pages and menus, and everything is laid out pretty neatly. Granted, the FL timeline is different from most other DAWs, but it’s something that some producers love, and others can’t get the hang of.
The Piano Roll in FL Studio is one of its strongest components. While most other DAWs have something similar, the way that FL presents the piano roll in the timeline is incredibly useful when you’re trying to work quickly.
Also, FL offers a wide variety of tools within the piano roll, including Humanize, a reverse-quantization option to liven up chords, and arpeggiator controls to spice things up.
When you purchase and download most DAWs, they come with various stock plugins that aren’t anything special.
But where FL Studio shines is the quality of the stock VST plugins it comes with. The Limiter allows for clean control as well as easy-to-use sidechaining, and the reverb units they’ve worked on sound great on just about any type of audio source.
Not to mention SoundGoodizer, which has garnered a pretty equal balance of criticism and love from users.
Free Updates Forever
As far as customer experience goes, it’s hard to beat FL Studio. Once you purchase any tier of the program from Image-Line, they offer you free software updates. Forever. That means that no matter how long you’ve had FL, you always have the option to switch to their latest and greatest version.
While Reaper has a similar offer, they only provide software updates up to two series ahead. So if you bought Reaper 5.0, for example, you would only have updates up to 7.0 available for free.
FL Studio Cons
FL Studio, like all DAW’s, has its downfalls.
As we mentioned, the timeline in FL Studio is different from others. It doesn’t show the channel information and reads patterns in a horizontal sweep but doesn’t care where they are vertically speaking. Same with automation and audio clips.
That means that if you’re a producer that’s used to using something more structured or just someone who appreciates a bit more structure rather than open-endedness, the FL Studio setup might lead to chaos pretty quickly.
High CPU Usage
Especially compared to Reaper, FL Studio can be a bit of a CPU hog. It doesn’t quite do as good of a job balancing its VSTs as far as processing power goes, and that can make a big difference depending on how large your project gets and how much power your computer system has.
Yes, we put down great plugins in the Pro section. And while they do provide some great plugins, they still don’t forgive some of the bad ones. The stock compressor will distort just about any signal level you feed into it. And you might as well get yourself a different distortion.
If you haven’t used Reaper before, you might be interested in checking it out, especially if you’re a fan of Pro Tools or Logic. Reaper offers similar layouts and functions while maintaining compatibility with both PC and Apple computers.
Great CPU Handling
Reaper does a great job at limiting its CPU usage. Compared to FL Studio, Reaper uses way less space to use the same configurations, which means you can make your machine go even further in the long run.
Granted, this comes at a cost, but we’ll talk about that later.
Easy-to-Use Channel Controls
Reaper has a channel-based timeline, meaning that vertically every channel takes up space and is relatively rigid in its spot. This allows Reaper to offer control knobs related to the channel instead of going to a mixer window.
While some like FL Studio’s open timeline, the amount of control you get with Reaper is undeniably more.
Imagine Reaper like the Android version of DAWs. It’s an open-source program, so if you want to make changes to it, you can do just that by downloading and installing different packages. You can change the UI and the layout fairly easily, and if that level of configurability interests you, then Reaper might be a good fit.
While Reaper doesn’t come with any stock sounds or samples, it does come with pretty decent plugins. While FL Studio does, too, both DAWs offer a good amount of effect VSTs to get any beginning producer started.
For all of Reaper’s advantages, it does have some setbacks. The price that users pay to get more flexibility might be worth it to some, but you’ll have to decide if it’s the right move for you.
Because Reaper is so configurable, things tend to be a bit more complicated. One of the benefits you get working in a more limited, set up system is that there’s generally a pretty easy path to get things done.
As far as MIDI connections go, in FL Studio, it’s a swift right-click, “Map to MIDI Controller,” and you’re on your way. Reaper will have you jumping through several more hoops to get this done, and these types of setbacks can really blunt a creative atmosphere.
Not The Prettiest UI
We’ll admit, this sentiment is entirely subjective: The user interface on Reaper just feels outdated. While this doesn’t affect your production or sound quality, it just really doesn’t stand out in terms of enjoyability compared to other DAWs like FL Studio.
Granted, it might be Reaper’s skin-and-bones UI that allows it to be a bit more flexible when it comes to CPU juggling, but it can definitely be a bit distracting and unappealing to users.
As we mentioned, Reaper offers some updates to its users, but only up to two versions ahead. This is sort of a mixed bag because other DAWs (cough, Pro Tools, cough) make their users hand over a steep, monthly fee to get access to updates or just pay upfront the entire program’s cost again. So it stands out that Reaper offers a few updates for free.
But, compared to FL Studios’ lifetime guarantee of free updates, it just doesn’t quite compare.
Which DAW you use as a producer depends on which works best for your workflow. How much you appreciate or feel distracted by the user interface makes a big deal, and the slight differences in how these programs work will affect how you produce.
Both FL Studio and Reaper are fantastic choices for starting or experienced producers. Reaper tends to have a bit more of an edge for audio editing and multi-tracking, while FL Studio’s ease of use makes it a powerful tool in the world of hip hop and experimentation.
Both will cost you about $200 for the full package, though Reaper has a $60 discounted version for most people, and FL Studio has a $100 version. Do your research and try them out to make sure which tool will be the best fit for you.