Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) – Part 1

A Digital Audio Workstation (DAW for short) is a computer-controlled system or networked collection of components. It allows the control of all of the major digital recording, processing, editing, and relay functions from a central location. DAW revolutionized every process that required serious editing, such as music production, film and video post, and radio spot production.

A Brief History on the Digital Audio Workstation


The birth of editing came long before the first DAW launched. Everything started with an analog tape that could be cut and joined back together with a simple piece of paper and a pair of scissors. People were able to link sections from different takes of the tape and transform any performance into a potential hit. However, it had its disadvantages. For instance, analog tapes had noise distortion and bumps. They, too, had limited frequency response and higher tape costs. 

The Digital Audio Workstation’s Baby Steps

Initially, one of the first attempts of DAW was Fairlight CMI. This was a computer digital instrument that allowed the musician to copy without noise or distortion. Another one was Soundstream, the first digital audio workstation. It used some of the most advanced computer hardware available at the time.

Soundstream called this The Digital Editing System. It involved four different components. The first, a DECPDP-11/60 minicomputer running a custom software package: the DAP (Digital Audio Processor). The second, a Braegen 14” platter hard disk drive. The third, a storage oscilloscope to display audio waveforms for editing. The fourth and last, a video display terminal that controlled the system. It also had interface cards that plugged into the DAI slots, which offered analog and digital audio input. Through the DAP software, the musician could edit the audio recorded on the system’s hard drive and incorporate various effects. It was mind-blowing.

How DAW Came Into Being

Years later, many consumer-level computers gained enough power to handle digital audio editing themselves. Engineers started using Macromedia’s Soundedit with Microdeal’s Replay Professional and Digidesign’s Sound Tools and Sound Designer to edit audio samples for diverse sampling keyboards. Others started using them for CD mastering and simple two-track audio editing. 

A wide variety of companies developed Windows-based DAWs and used specialized software for their audio processing. Samplitude Studio was the first Windows-based software-only product. It recorded and playedback up to 32 tracks of digital audio on an Apple Macintosh without external DSP hardware. This became known as Cubase VST. Undoubtedly, it revolutionized the DAW world in both features and price because other DAW systems tried to replicate it afterwards. 

For more information on DAWs, please consult Part 2, where we get into further detail of its classifications.