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Which music software should I consider for aligning audio waveforms to MIDI piano roll, looping MIDI, managing program change, SysEx?

In my projects, I'd like to be able to:

  • see audio and MIDI tracks/channels on the same screen, for timing, so that I can line up the audio with the MIDI to be in sync

  • manage and copy MIDI loops easily

  • manage SysEx in a effective way (in the past I've seen SysEx data treated by some sequencers as a special sort of track or block of music data - to me this is a half-baked kludge)

I use a MacBookPro 17" 2010 machine. Would Pro Tools or Logic Pro do all the above? Or another piece of software I would prefer not to consider Cubase or Sonar. Not Cubase because from experience of a very early version (perhaps a bit unfair now) I did not find its UI worked for me, personal choice, the UI could not do the above things I need. Not Sonar because this is Windows based - though I have BootCamp so if there is a compelling reason for it, I would reconsider.

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Cubase is a good option (you should check their latest version 7) as well as the other packages you mention. It's in essence about taste as they do the same things, just slightly different in some areas. –  Ken Fyrstenberg Jan 8 '13 at 14:34
This is a great question and my answer is yes, FL Studio can do all what you are asking for. –  Derfder Mar 1 '13 at 10:03
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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

What you need is a sequencer that can also handle audio data, or an audio suite that also handles sequencing. Collectively, these programs are known as Digital Audio Workstations, commonly abbreviated DAWs. While the term "DAW" technically refers only to audio editing (waveforms), it's very common for a DAW to also support MIDI sequencing, or to be more of a MIDI tool than an audio one, so the term has come to imply both.

Most, but not all of them will handle your scenario. As far as handling audio and MIDI tracks together, I imagine most any of them can handle this - Logic and Pro Tools should handle this fine, as will Cubase, Sonar, Ableton Live, Reaper, and even GarageBand. However, it's your third criteria - MIDI SysEx - that I think will narrow this down a bit. Ableton Live, for example, does not handle SysEx data of any kind, and I've never tried it with any of the others so I can't speak to their capabilities. This is the criteria you should first consider when choosing a DAW, since it's one of your needs.

Beyond that, it's basically down to how much you like it, as the general functionality between DAW packages is pretty similar. You've already said that Cubase's interface doesn't work for you, so try one of the other ones.

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+1 thanks! looks like a good general answer, will leave open for a bit but looking to accept answer... –  therobyouknow Jan 8 '13 at 15:59
@therobyouknow Thank you! Yes, I tried to answer in the general case (show how to find one, rather than recommend a specific one) since specific recommendations can get out of date and we want the questions/answers to still be relevant in 5 or 10 years. –  Warrior Bob Jan 8 '13 at 17:10
I checked the Reaper forums. It does not support SysEx directly, but they recommend using MidiOx along with Reaper to handle the SysEx stuff. –  Friend Of George Jan 8 '13 at 18:41
@therobyouknow even better - you can put alignment marks in your waveform and snap your MIDI to that. And it does a great job of beat detection and automatic insertion of those guidelines. Look up FlexTime on youtube. –  ObscureRobot Jan 8 '13 at 21:25
Sorry - Logic can definitely do that. I believe ProTools got there first, but is less capable at MIDI than Logic. I doubt GB or Ardour can do it. –  ObscureRobot Jan 8 '13 at 23:03
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Note that SyxEx data is, by its very nature, vendor specific. Supporting detailed SysEx editing would require custom work for each MIDI synth ever made. EMagic's Sounddriver did this, but was discontinued shortly after Apple bought EMagic.

You can accomplish a lot of MIDI and SysEx manipulation with Logic's environment, though it is awkward, poorly documented, and the online user community is very limited.

And I'll second Warrior Bob's comment that Live does not support SysEx. This is an "interesting" oversight because the most common use-case for SysEx is storing synth patches at the beginning of a project for guaranteed correct live playback.

From the comments: Ctrlr is a great tool for building MIDI control panels that may (or may not) include SysEx.

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+1 @ObscureRobot for the point on SysEx. With my software background I wondered if it would ever be possible to define SysEx as a XML Language and describe various devices with that and use the XML to drive a generic SysEx engine to provide a clever way of representing vendor-specific stuff. Myself I (incompletely) developed a tool called "MIDIFS" for a final year degree project years ago, which presented the Korg M1's (which I still own today) patch memory as a file system to enable drag drop of patches to a host computer's file system. –  therobyouknow Jan 8 '13 at 18:50
Yes, you could absolutely do that. Personally, I'd prefer JSON over XML, but that is really splitting hairs. The real issue, though, is usability. I'd encourage you to find someone who has a passion for usability engineering and work together with them to build a tool that is both easy to use in real time and easy to configure at the back end. –  ObscureRobot Jan 8 '13 at 20:28
see also: Ctrlr. –  ObscureRobot Jan 8 '13 at 20:29
+1 @ObscureRobot for both these comments. Ctrlr looks interesting and thanks for introducing me to JSON - I knew of it but not much about it. –  therobyouknow Jan 10 '13 at 13:43
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FL Studio is the easiest to operate. It is not for Mac however.

EDIT: You can use it on MAC using parallels/virtualbox/vwware.

Check this

  1. easiest worflow. I mean come on, even you hate FL, you need to admit the gui is very easy to operate
  2. beautiful VST/VSTi support out of the box. Btw. Logic don't support VST at all. So, backwards in my opinion.
  3. unbeatable beat making/ piano roll - the fastest way for "prototyping"beats. Making beats in Cubase or Pro Tools is a joke.
  4. undisputed champion daw soft for electronic music like dance/house/trance/dubstep/drnb/hiphop/rnb/ambient stuff.
  5. it's extremly cheap when compared with other DAW software.

Btw. these guys are composing their songs on FL Studio:

Laidback Luke
9th Wonder


btw. search this aylar lie basshunter xxx for what you can get when using Fl Studio ;)

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How would you define easiest? What is easy for you might be complicated for others. The answer is too short and does not describe anything, hence not helpful. –  Bart Arondson Mar 1 '13 at 9:09
easiest = learning time is the shortest. Check Avicii (yes, that guy behind the song Levels youtube.com/watch?v=_ovdm2yX4MA which btw. was created in FL Studio ;D. . here is him going through the creating of the song in FL studio. It's really easy as fuck: youtube.com/watch?v=-dIcuU58Oy8 . –  Derfder Mar 1 '13 at 9:18
Ok, and can Fruit Loops handle SysEx, one of the requirements of the OP? If so, link to a page describing the features of FL for example. If not, you should maybe describe how the OP should use SysEx with FL (maybe through a plug-in of some sort). But please, elaborate your answer. –  Bart Arondson Mar 1 '13 at 9:24
Google e.g.: Synth Maker SysEx –  Derfder Mar 1 '13 at 9:51
This is a community based site, everybody is allowed to ask for clarification of an answer or question. If I think your answer needs clarification I will ask for it. If you disagree with this principle you could raise a discussion on http://meta.avp.stackexchange.com on this topic. –  Bart Arondson Mar 1 '13 at 11:27
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