Best Underrated Budget DAW: A Guide to Reaper by Cockos

Last Updated on December 23, 2022 by IDS Team

Looking for an underrated budget DAW? Your best bet is Reaper, one of the best DAWs which is still relatively underground. We briefly mentioned this DAW in our budget sound design guide here, but it honestly deserves a full feature. Reaper is a simple but effective DAW, perfect both for seasoned producers and those starting out. Read on for a proper, in-depth look at what makes it so great.

Best Underrated Budget DAW: What Makes Reaper Stand Out

All of Reaper’s best points are actually highly dependent on personal preference. Ultimately, this is a breakdown of what makes it unique – yet its tight-knit following proves these quirks are part of its appeal

  • Simplicity

Reaper’s simplicity is also its biggest potential downside, but in its own way, it’s actually a real selling point. The clean interface allows you to project your own way of doing things onto a basic format. Options to organise and colour code tracks may at first appear limited, but actually provide everything you need and customisable packs can be downloaded from the official site.

  • Value for Money

Another bonus is Reaper’s value for money. The DAW costs 225 USD for the commercial listen or 60 USD for the basic licence.  At such a great price for personal use, this really makes it stand out compared to Logic and others.

  • 60-Day Trial Period

Speaking of the trial period, Reaper gives you the option to ‘purchase now’ or click ‘still evaluating’. What this shows is that Reaper is good enough that legions of musicians have chosen to pay for this bit of kit. The developers, Cockos, brand it as ‘audio production without limits’. Ultimately there are no downsides to taking the plunge with the trial period – especially when other DAWs require payment upfront.

  • Freedom of Organisation

Reaper is really minimalist in its interface, and as a result, it doesn’t use as much processing power as more complex daws. It also has next to no extraneous content, going by the rule of thumb that more doesn’t necessarily equal better. For example, the built-in drummers and loops found on a DAW like Logic are omitted, meaning it takes up minimal space, with the flip side being that it’s relatively bland in terms of visuals. As mentioned above, you can buy customisable user interfaces from Cockos, However, if cleanly organised and stripped-back daws are your thing, you might not need it, and ultimately Reaper raises the question as to how many extra features on other DAWs actually get used by the average, serious producer.

underrated budget DAW

An Underrated Budget DAW: Are There Any Pitfalls?

The one thing which makes it a bit different is the fact you have to sift through files to find the FX you need. Some people have found that as a result, on a surface level it is not as intuitive as other DAWs. It’s sort of like Linux – an operating system which differs considerably from other options on the market but which has users who swear by these differences. 

What Other Good Points Does Reaper Have?

The most potentially polarising thing about Reaper is how stripped back it is. Although we’ve mentioned earlier how this can be a plus, looking deeper into its usefulness reveals Reaper to be even more of a worthy candidate for your favourite value DAW.

  • easily adaptable to any genre 

The bare-bones layout of Reaper is another potential downside which can actually be a bonus. unlike, say, Ableton or FL Studio, Reaper really does work for any genre. Ultimately, you are getting an absolute breakdown of the signal chain and recording studio, digitally and in miniature – without being steered one way or another by the developers’ creative preferences.

  •  lack of presets stimulates creative innovation 

So, as Reaper doesn’t have any built-in loops or software instruments. it’s geared more towards those who are already confident recording. It’s not as easy to quickly make a track which sounds good as with something like Apple Loops. However, a pro is that this total freedom can actually stimulate creativity. It can seem scary at first, but this is the kind of thing which can really challenge you as a producer. Ultimately, Reaper is a bold experiment as to what happens if you give musicians just the basics.

Tech Specs: Everything You Need to Know About Reaper

Don’t let its basic appearance fool you! Like any DAW worth its salt, Reaper allows you to:

  • side-chain
  • glue, resize, loop, and overdub tracks
  • create busses
  • colour code tracks
  • add the full expanse of necessary FX and plugins

Beyond the quirks about having to dig through files, Reaper’s interface is easily understandable if you’ve used Logic or even other DAWs such as Ableton Live. In addition, its built-in FX, sampler, and synth are very high quality, if slightly generic in terms of style. However, like most things to do with Reaper, this can be a bonus because it makes them very adaptable.

Reaper- A Basic Plugin Rundown:

  • ReaEQ – EQ plugin
  • ReaVerb – high-quality neutral-sounding reverb
  • JS Saturation – saturation plugin
  • ReaComp – compressor
  • ReaGate – high-quality gate with sidechain options
  • ReaTune – manual and automatic pitch correction plugin
  • ReaSynth – high-quality basic synth
  • ReaSample – Reaper’s own sampler

… and lots more! What’s great is these can actually be downloaded as a package to use with other hosts. Yes, that’s how much some users like the sound of them. And, like everything Reaper, they’re all really low CPU.

What Does Reaper NOT Have?

  • built-in software instruments.
  • the personalisation of daws like logic
  • real recorded session musicians on their virtual instruments. however, as said before, this can be a bonus in that it promotes more creativity. 

Final Thoughts: Is Reaper Worth It?

Ultimately, the answer is a resounding YES. For such an underrated, basic-looking DAW, Reaper has very few flaws. If you’re confident with mixing and mastering, it’s easy to get to grips with. Even if you’re not, it’s an ideal place to learn the ropes due to its simplicity. If in doubt, Reaper is 100% worth trialling for the free 60 days it gives you. Regardless of your preferences, you never know which bits of it might grow on you.