Pro Tools vs Cubase: Which Is the Best DAW?

Pro Tools and Cubase are both digital audio workstations (DAWs) that allow users to record, edit, mix, master, and finalize recorded music. Pro Tools is considered by many recording professionals to be the industry standard when it comes to professional audio production.

While Cubase is well-known in the casual, amateur DAW community for its simplicity, Pro Tools has seen much more widespread use throughout recording studios due to its extensive feature set and superior effects processing engine. The newest iteration of Pro Tools offers customizable windows that can display an infinite number of tracks, buses, virtual instruments, plug-ins, and more. This allows the user to create customized workspaces for any session style required.

Bottom Line Up Front

Pro Tools offers the user more features, but Cubase is easier to use.

Cubase will likely be the DAW that offers fewer distractions for beginners learning about music production. Pro Tools may be a better choice for those who have experience recording in other programs or are looking to expand their recording knowledgebases.

Main Differences Between Pro Tools and Cubase

The main differences between Pro Tools and Cubase are:

  • Pro Tools caters to professional artists, whereas Cubase markets to amateurs.
  • Pro Tools offers a large suite of functionality, whereas Cubase is known for its simplicity.
  • Pro Tools has a better effects engine, whereas Cubase has better MIDI functionality.
  • Pro Tools allows users to create their own customized workspaces, whereas Cubase is known for its user-friendly design.

Pro Tools Overview

Pro Tools is a DAW that was developed by Avid Technology in the early 1990s. Since then, Pro Tools has been used to record and edit music for nearly every major artist in the industry from Pink Floyd to Taylor Swift. To date, more than 50% of all Grammy-winning albums have been recorded using a version of Pro Tools.

Pro Tools is a cross-platform DAW that runs on Windows and Mac operating systems. Pro Tools features an extensive effects engine, allowing users to add dozens of different plug-ins across any number of individual tracks when mixing songs. Pro Tools also contains a Master Bus compressor which adds punch and shine to finished mixes when they are sent out for replication or online streaming. The interface is customizable, allowing users to rearrange buttons and faders however they choose. Pro Tools allows the user to create their own “constructs” which are workspaces that can be saved inside of an actual project file for future use.

Pro Tools Features

Pro Tools offers users hundreds of different features, including:

  • Unlimited tracks, buses, inserts, sends, returns, virtual instruments, Pro Tools effects – all customizable.
  • Cross-platform compatibility with Windows and Mac operating systems.
  • More than 50 included plug-ins to use during mix down.
  • Customizable interface that allows the user to create and save their own workspace layouts.
  • Gain change editing, where the user can select a point in the track timeline and raise or lower all of that track’s volume at once.
  • Automatic delay compensation, which is used to fix timing issues between different tracks during mix down.
  • Marker layering, which allows the user to label different sections of a track so they can quickly navigate to those particular areas during mix down.
  • MIDI editing, allowing for non-destructive rearrangeable MIDI performances.
  • Ripple editing, which lets the user make edits without affecting accompanying clips.
  • iLok copy protection that allows Pro Tools users to use their software on different computers without having to insert the original iLok license each time.

There are also many features that are specific to the HD versions of Pro Tools, including:

  • Advanced metering options with Peak, VU (Volume Unit), and Spectrograph views.
  • 24-bit/192kHz recording capability with up to 192 audio tracks and 384 instrument tracks.
  • Enhanced plug-in processing power with up to 256 audio inputs and outputs.
  • Xpand!2 is an advanced virtual instrument that allows the user to combine up to four different sounds into one sample.

While these features may seem complex, they’re necessary for artists who want to release polished and nearly flawless recordings.

Pro Tools Design

The Pro Tools design has been streamlined for intuitive use. The user can easily navigate through the different menus and windows without confusion. To help with this, Avid made the interface customizable so that it always appears exactly how the user prefers.

One of the big factors in Pro Tools’ design is that it helps users create music without any mistakes. Any mistakes made during recording are easily fixed with editing tools that allow both the artist and sound engineer to make quick changes without wasting time.

Pro Tools products feature a sleek black design with a bright orange screen for high visibility. The layout is what you would expect from a top-of-the-line DAW, and the interface is completely customizable so that users can switch buttons and faders around as they see fit.

Pro Tools Products

There are several different products on the market today that cater to different artists and music styles. Of these, three are considered industry standards.

Pro Tools | HD

This is the flagship product that offers users 24-bit/192kHz recording with up to 192 audio tracks and 384 instrument tracks, which can be used with virtually any hardware or software instrument.

Pro Tools M-Powered

Allows users to record up to 48 tracks and use their choice of plug-ins, but cannot be used with any external hardware or third party virtual instruments.

Pro Tools First

This is a free version of Pro Tools that comes with 100 MB of cloud storage space and allows the user to record two simultaneous tracks.

Who is Pro Tools for?

For artists who want to release polished and nearly flawless recordings, Pro Tools is a must-have. The user-friendly interface makes it easy for anyone to create music without errors, while the customizable design ensures that every artist has their own personalized workspace.

Beyond that, Pro Tools can be used by film composers and sound designers in need of high-quality audio for movies. The advanced metering options are also great for TV sound engineers, while the Xpand!2 instrument allows film composers to layer up to four different sounds into one sample.

Pro Tools Pros

  • Intuitive design
  • High-quality sound output
  • Customizable interface

Pro Tools Cons

  • iLok required for use (can be purchased separately)
  • Not as many features when compared to Logic Pro X, Cubase, or FL Studio.

Cubase Overview

The Cubase DAW was originally developed by German music software company Steinberg in 1984. Cubase has since become one of the most widely used digital audio workstation programs due to its simple and intuitive design and powerful features.

Cubase Features

Cubase allows users to record and playback midi with a step sequencer, which means that it records and plays back MIDI performances in the order they were played. Users can create different variations of their song and then decide which clips they want to use with Cubase’s Arranger Track by moving them around with the touch of a button.

Cubase offers musicians the ability to create professional-quality songs with up to 99 tracks, making it great for artists who want to record several layers of instruments.

However, since Cubase does not allow users to import third-party virtual instruments (like Xpand!2), most professionals opt for Pro Tools instead. This is because a DAW without any virtual instruments, including the basic ones that come with Cubase, is limited in its functionality.

Cubase Design

The design of Cubase products is sleek and modern, with a dark background and bright colors that make it easy to use. In fact, Cubase has its own color-coding system that assigns different colors to tracks based on their function. This allows users to easily navigate the software from one area to another without getting lost or confused.

This user-friendly design makes Cubase an attractive option for musicians of all skill levels. Unlike Pro Tools, Cubase is just as easy to learn for complete beginners as it is for experts who have been using the software for years.

Cubase Products

Cubase comes in several different products designed for various user needs. These include Cubase Artist, Cubase Elements, Cubase Pro 8, Cubase Pro 9, Cubase Studio 6, and Cubase AI 6.

Cubase Artist

This is the basic version of Cubase that offers 24-bit/96kHz recording with up to 16 audio tracks and 64 MIDI tracks, which can be used with virtually any hardware or software instrument.

Cubase Elements 8

Elements comes in at a close second to Pro Tools for professional users, allowing them to record music with 48 audio tracks and 64 MIDI tracks with 24-bit/96kHz resolution. Like Pro Tools, all of the virtual instruments that come with Cubase Elements are compatible with both Macs and PCs.

Cubase Pro 8

This product offers the same number of tracks as Artist, but has many more features like VST 3 support, better time-stretching, and the ability to capture up to 96 channels of audio.

Cubase Pro 9

This product offers users more ways to manipulate their music with new instruments like HALion Sonic SE 2 and eMotion LV1 Mix Center, as well as updated plug-ins like VST Amp Rack and VariVerb. Cubase Pro 9 also allows users to capture up to 128 artist tracks.

Cubase Studio 6

This version includes HALion Sonic SE 2, eMotion LV1 Mix Center, and VST Amp Rack (found in Cubase Pro 9), but it lacks some of the other features that make Pro 9 great.

Cubase AI 6

AI 6 is made for beginners who are looking to record their music or even produce full songs with only minimal knowledge of audio production.

Who is Cubase For?

Cubase is most commonly used by professionals who need their DAW to perform at the highest level possible. This is because it offers more tracks than any other DAW product out there, including Pro Tools.

Cubase is also ideal for beginners who do not want to spend time learning how to navigate a complicated program before they start making music.

Cubase pros

  • Offers more tracks than any other DAW on the market
  • Has multiple products ideal for different user needs
  • Minimal learning curve for beginners

Cubase cons

  • Cannot use third-party virtual instruments (such as Xpand!2)


If you’re looking for audio recording tools, Pro Tools and Cubase offer some of the best products on the market. These frequently asked questions help professionals and beginners make the right decision about which product they should use for their music.

Question: What is the biggest difference between Pro Tools and Cubase?

Answer: The greatest difference between these two DAWs is the number of tracks each program offers. Cubase can record up to 128 audio tracks, while Pro Tools only allows users to record 48.

Question: Which product is right for me?

Answer: This depends on your skill level and the number of tracks you need to record. If you’re a complete beginner, your best option would be Cubase AI 6 or Pro Tools First. If you’re an expert with years of experience in music production, Cubase Artist, Elements, Pro 8 or 9 are your best options.

Question: Is Cubase compatible with third-party virtual instruments?

Answer: No, it is not. Pro Tools and some other DAWs allow users to use all third-party virtual instruments without any additional plugins or hassle. This is because Cubase only allows the use of all of its included plug-ins and instruments. You cannot use Xpand!2 or any other third-party virtual instrument with Cubase, but you can use them with Pro Tools.

Question: How many tracks does Cubase AI 6 offer?

Answer: Cubase AI 6 offers 16 audio tracks and 64 MIDI tracks.

Question: When is the latest version of Cubase available?

Answer: Cubase 9 was released in 2013, while Cubase 8 came out in 2012. The most recent version, Cubase Pro 9, was released in the summer of 2015.

Question: Is Cubase compatible with Macs?

Answer: Yes, it is compatible with both Mac and PCs.

Final Thoughts

Pro Tools and Cubase are some of the most popular DAWs on the market for a reason. They are the top programs for professionals who need to create music at the highest level possible.

Pro Tools is best for users at any level who need to record their music. It offers a minimal learning curve and can be great for beginners, but it doesn’t have the same expansive track capacity that Cubase has.

Cubase is ideal for professionals or producers with years of experience in music production, as well as beginners who want an easier learning process before they start producing their own songs.

Whether you’re looking to record audio, produce full songs, or create your own beats, Pro Tools and Cubase offer everything you need.

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