What is a DAW?
A definition of Digital Audio Workstation or DAW, in short, would be: “A Digital Audio Workstation is a computer-controlled system or networked collection of components that allows all of the major digital recording, processing, editing and replay functions to be controlled from a central location”. As many of us are now fully aware, the DAW did more than any other single development to dramatically revolutionize music production. Not to mention film and video post, radio spot production or any other audio process requiring intensive editing.
Analog tapes before DAW’s
Prior to the development of first DAW`s, there was an analog tape. The analog tape could be cut and joined together with a piece of paper and a pair of scissors. This gave birth to editing. This meant that we were able to tag together sections from different takes of the tape and, with some luck, turn a so-so performance into a potential hit. Analog tapes had various disadvantages such as noise or distortion, bumps here or bumps there. In addition, they had limited frequency response or higher tape costs, so we needed something more advanced.
Early digital systems
Few decades forward to the end of 1970`s we got a chance to meet Fairlight CMI (Computer digital instrument). This was a digital system which enabled us to copy without noise or distortion. This was quite advanced for the time being. Other early attempt considering DAW`s to be mentioned was Soundstream. Soundstream had made one of the first commercially available digital audio tape recorders in 1977. it was the first digital audio workstation using some of the most current computer hardware of the time.
The Digital Editing System, as Soundstream called it, consisted of a DECPDP-11/60 minicomputer. It was running a custom software package called DAP (Digital Audio Processor), a Braegen 14″-platter hard disk drive, a storage oscilloscope to display audio waveforms for editing, and a video display terminal for controlling the system. Interface cards that plugged into the PDP-11’s Unibus slots (the Digital Audio Interface, or DAI) provided analog and digital audio input and output for interfacing to Soundstream’s digital recorders and conventional analog tape recorders. The DAP software could perform edits to the audio recorded on the system’s hard disks. What’s more, it provided effects such as crossfades.
Digital audio editing and computers
By the late 1980s, a number of consumer level computers such as the MSX (Yamaha CX5M), Apple Macintosh, Atari ST and Commodore Amiga began to have enough power to handle digital audio editing. Engineers used Macromedia’s Soundedit, with Microdeal’s Replay Professional and Digidesign’s “Sound Tools” and “Sound Designer” to edit audio samples for sampling keyboards like the E-mu Emulator II and the Akai S900. Soon, people began to use them for simple two-track audio editing and CD mastering.
Around 1992, the first Windows-based DAWs started to emerge from companies such as IQS Innovative Quality Software (now SAWStudio), Soundscape Digital Technology, SADiE, Echo Digital Audio, and Spectral Synthesis. All the systems at this point used dedicated hardware for their audio processing. In 1993, the German company Steinberg released Cubase Audio on Atari Falcon 030. This version brought DSP built-in effects with 8-track audio recording & playback using only native hardware.
The first Windows-based software-only product, introduced in 1993, was Samplitude Studio. It already existed in 1992 as an audio editor for the Commodore Amiga. In 1996, Steinberg introduced Cubase VST. It could record and playback up to 32 tracks of digital audio on an Apple Macintosh. Additionally, it needed no external DSP hardware. Cubase not only modeled a tape-like interface for recording and editing but also modeled the entire mixing desk and effects rack common in analog studios. This revolutionized the DAW world, both in features and price tag. This is because most other contemporary DAW systems tried to copy it.