REAPER vs Ableton Live: A Head-to-Head Comparison for 2021

Evelyn Trainor-Fogleman

8 min read time

A solid digital audio workstation (DAW) is one of the most critical tools in an artist’s toolbelt in electronic music production. It’s the command center where all musical ideas find their shape and combine to create a polished final product. 


However, choosing the best DAW can be one of the most headache-inducing challenges for amateurs and pros alike. Never before have there been so many options available, and with dizzying lists of features, it can feel nearly impossible to choose the right one for your studio. 


However, there are two names in DAWs that come up time and time again when producers are looking for a platform to work with: REAPER and Ableton Live. These programs are packed with features perfect for live and electronic music production, but each stands out in different key feature areas.  


We’re putting them head-to-head in this guide to see which one reigns supreme in each of our key categories. So, without further ado, welcome to the REAPER vs. Ableton Live showdown of 2021. 


What Do REAPER and Ableton Live Do?


REAPER and Ableton Live are both DAWs that allow you to record, edit, and mix digital audio. They both allow you to mix recorded media as well as MIDI inputs for a blend of natural and digital sound. Both platforms work on Macs and PCs.


The Main Differences Between REAPER and Ableton Live

The key differences between REAPER and Ableton Live come down to their workflow and price. REAPER is an open-source software platform, which allows for nearly unlimited user customizations to the workflow and features. Since REAPER is open-source, it’s available for free download, making it one of the lowest up-front investments in the DAW market. 


On the other hand, Ableton Live is a traditional closed-source software program where you play by the software designers’ rules. That being said, it’s a clean, well-organized interface that still allows for dozens of plugins that will enable you to customize the platform to fit your needs and workflow. Since it is closed-source software, you’ll have to pay to play, which is a significant separation from the free download of REAPER. 

Head to Head Comparison

Ok, here’s what you’ve been waiting for. It’s time to put these programs up against each other and see which ones excel in each of our key categories: 


Ease of Use

  • Winner: REAPER
  • Why: This is a category that many users will argue over, but “ease of use” in this case will ultimately come down to how comfortable a user is with manipulating open-source software. While REAPER is pretty bare-bones to start, if you have a basic understanding of DAWs and their workflow, you’ll find REAPER pretty easy to start customizing and using.

    Ableton requires you to play by its rules a bit more, which means that you’ll have to adapt to its workflow a bit more than the other way around. However, this isn’t a huge dealbreaker, and while REAPER may slightly edge it out in this category, Ableton is still a highly intuitive platform. 


Quality of Support

  • Winner: REAPER
  • Why: Both platforms have excellent support teams, but the REAPER team has gone above and beyond to support their platform and answer any questions or problems that may arise.

    This isn’t to say that Ableton doesn’t have high-quality support, but REAPER’s vast array of resources and robust community that are happy to jump in and solve other user’s problems edge it out in this category.


Sound Editing Functionality

  • Winner: REAPER
  • Why: Thanks to REAPER’s robust set of tools and unlimited workspace customizations, it edges out Ableton a bit when it comes to general sound editing functionality. It supports a total number of editing tracks, which is a huge win for anyone who makes complex, multi-layer mixes. Overall, with the addition of plugins and a little customization, REAPER can quickly overtake Ableton in overall sound editing capability for a fraction of the cost. 


Recording

  • Winner: REAPER
  • Why: Again, REAPER’s limitless customization options and powerful studio tools make it the winner in the audio recording category. Its MIDI Overlay feature makes it easy to link keyboard shortcuts to essential commands for live editing during recording sessions. It’s also an impressively stable platform, which is critical when working with live recording.

    Overall, REAPER is simply the more robust program for live recording tools, while Ableton has chosen to focus more on the mixing and mastering elements.

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Sound Mixing

  • Winner: Ableton Live
  • Why: Ok, here’s an area where Ableton Live shines. It has a massive built-in library of sounds to choose when you want to sample, loop and mix. This vast sound library, paired with its powerful editing tools, means you’re ready to start mixing right away without any additional downloads or software.

    REAPER is excellent for the mechanics of mixing, but with no included sound library, it falls short in this category. 


G2 Rating

  • Winner: Ableton Live
  • Why: Ableton Live slightly edges out REAPER according to ratings on G2, one of the most trusted software comparison platforms on the web. Ableton Live earned 4.7/5 stars, while REAPER trailed behind with 4.3/5. However, this small margin of difference is a testament to how well both programs perform overall, making them both an excellent choice for pros and novices alike.   


Pricing

  • Winner: REAPER
  • Why: This one is obvious, as you really can’t beat free. REAPER’s free download, open-source model makes it the most accessible platform on the market regarding price.

    On the other hand, Ableton Live clocks in at $449 for the full-feature version after the free trial period, making a much more significant up-front investment vs. REAPER. 


Who is REAPER Best Suited For?

  • Studio Producers: When it comes down to it, REAPER is best designed for studio recording and production. From recording to mixing to mastering, it has all the bases covered. It can also be customized to fit whatever workflow works best for your studio, whether you lean more into recording or mixing. 
  • People Who Like to DIY Their Workflow: As we’ve mentioned before, REAPER is an open-source platform, which allows for reasonably unlimited amounts of tinkering and customization. If you don’t like being bound to a specific set of features or plugins, REAPER is an excellent addition to your toolkit because it will let you customize to your heart’s content.  


Who is Ableton Live Suited For?

  • Mixers: If you’re more interested in learning how to mix instead of tinkering with unlimited customization options, Ableton Live is the better platform to get started on. Its built-in sounds and huge digital instrument library make it easier to sample what you need to create that perfect harmony without having to go digging through the vaults of the internet to find plugins. 
  • Live Music Producers: Ableton Live has powerful pass-through features that make it great for live mixing. If you want to feed in MIDI instruments and produce on the fly, it’s an excellent platform for live digital audio production. This is also where the tons of built-in sounds and loops come in handy, allowing you to unleash your creativity during a live session. 


So, Which One Should You Choose?

You’re going to hate this answer, but the truth of the matter is that with any DAW, which platform is right for you comes down to your workflow and project needs. The best way to figure out which platform is best for your style is to roll up your sleeves and give each one a test drive to find out which one works best.  


These programs are divided mainly when it comes to their workflow and price point. If you’re looking to dip your toes into the world of DAWs without breaking the bank, REAPER is the more obvious choice as it requires no up-front investment to get started. 


However, if you’re looking for a slightly easier-to-use platform that gears itself more towards mixing than recording, Ableton Live might be a worthwhile investment. Still, we highly recommend tinkering around with the free trial before committing to the bigger ticket purchase price. 


Hopefully, this head-to-head comparison will make choosing the right software for your next project a breeze, allowing you to unleash your creative energy without being restricted by software. 

If you’re looking for a better way to bring your remote audio editing team closer together and collaborate more efficiently from a distance, check out Evercast. Evercast allows you to stream your edit sessions in HD while video chatting and exchanging notes with your team, all under one platform. Because we believe collaboration is the magic behind unlocking our best work. 

Related Reading: 

Evelyn Trainor-Fogleman

Evelyn Trainor-Fogleman is a writer based in New York City. After over half a decade in the film industry, she came back to her Journalism roots to write for a variety of media outlets about subjects including technology, business, marketing, and social and environmental justice.

REAPER vs Ableton Live: A Head-to-Head Comparison for 2021

Evelyn Trainor-Fogleman

9/13/21

A solid digital audio workstation (DAW) is one of the most critical tools in an artist’s toolbelt in electronic music production. It’s the command center where all musical ideas find their shape and combine to create a polished final product. 


However, choosing the best DAW can be one of the most headache-inducing challenges for amateurs and pros alike. Never before have there been so many options available, and with dizzying lists of features, it can feel nearly impossible to choose the right one for your studio. 


However, there are two names in DAWs that come up time and time again when producers are looking for a platform to work with: REAPER and Ableton Live. These programs are packed with features perfect for live and electronic music production, but each stands out in different key feature areas.  


We’re putting them head-to-head in this guide to see which one reigns supreme in each of our key categories. So, without further ado, welcome to the REAPER vs. Ableton Live showdown of 2021. 


What Do REAPER and Ableton Live Do?


REAPER and Ableton Live are both DAWs that allow you to record, edit, and mix digital audio. They both allow you to mix recorded media as well as MIDI inputs for a blend of natural and digital sound. Both platforms work on Macs and PCs.


The Main Differences Between REAPER and Ableton Live

The key differences between REAPER and Ableton Live come down to their workflow and price. REAPER is an open-source software platform, which allows for nearly unlimited user customizations to the workflow and features. Since REAPER is open-source, it’s available for free download, making it one of the lowest up-front investments in the DAW market. 


On the other hand, Ableton Live is a traditional closed-source software program where you play by the software designers’ rules. That being said, it’s a clean, well-organized interface that still allows for dozens of plugins that will enable you to customize the platform to fit your needs and workflow. Since it is closed-source software, you’ll have to pay to play, which is a significant separation from the free download of REAPER. 

Head to Head Comparison

Ok, here’s what you’ve been waiting for. It’s time to put these programs up against each other and see which ones excel in each of our key categories: 


Ease of Use

  • Winner: REAPER
  • Why: This is a category that many users will argue over, but “ease of use” in this case will ultimately come down to how comfortable a user is with manipulating open-source software. While REAPER is pretty bare-bones to start, if you have a basic understanding of DAWs and their workflow, you’ll find REAPER pretty easy to start customizing and using.

    Ableton requires you to play by its rules a bit more, which means that you’ll have to adapt to its workflow a bit more than the other way around. However, this isn’t a huge dealbreaker, and while REAPER may slightly edge it out in this category, Ableton is still a highly intuitive platform. 


Quality of Support

  • Winner: REAPER
  • Why: Both platforms have excellent support teams, but the REAPER team has gone above and beyond to support their platform and answer any questions or problems that may arise.

    This isn’t to say that Ableton doesn’t have high-quality support, but REAPER’s vast array of resources and robust community that are happy to jump in and solve other user’s problems edge it out in this category.


Sound Editing Functionality

  • Winner: REAPER
  • Why: Thanks to REAPER’s robust set of tools and unlimited workspace customizations, it edges out Ableton a bit when it comes to general sound editing functionality. It supports a total number of editing tracks, which is a huge win for anyone who makes complex, multi-layer mixes. Overall, with the addition of plugins and a little customization, REAPER can quickly overtake Ableton in overall sound editing capability for a fraction of the cost. 


Recording

  • Winner: REAPER
  • Why: Again, REAPER’s limitless customization options and powerful studio tools make it the winner in the audio recording category. Its MIDI Overlay feature makes it easy to link keyboard shortcuts to essential commands for live editing during recording sessions. It’s also an impressively stable platform, which is critical when working with live recording.

    Overall, REAPER is simply the more robust program for live recording tools, while Ableton has chosen to focus more on the mixing and mastering elements.

Sound Mixing

  • Winner: Ableton Live
  • Why: Ok, here’s an area where Ableton Live shines. It has a massive built-in library of sounds to choose when you want to sample, loop and mix. This vast sound library, paired with its powerful editing tools, means you’re ready to start mixing right away without any additional downloads or software.

    REAPER is excellent for the mechanics of mixing, but with no included sound library, it falls short in this category. 


G2 Rating

  • Winner: Ableton Live
  • Why: Ableton Live slightly edges out REAPER according to ratings on G2, one of the most trusted software comparison platforms on the web. Ableton Live earned 4.7/5 stars, while REAPER trailed behind with 4.3/5. However, this small margin of difference is a testament to how well both programs perform overall, making them both an excellent choice for pros and novices alike.   


Pricing

  • Winner: REAPER
  • Why: This one is obvious, as you really can’t beat free. REAPER’s free download, open-source model makes it the most accessible platform on the market regarding price.

    On the other hand, Ableton Live clocks in at $449 for the full-feature version after the free trial period, making a much more significant up-front investment vs. REAPER. 


Who is REAPER Best Suited For?

  • Studio Producers: When it comes down to it, REAPER is best designed for studio recording and production. From recording to mixing to mastering, it has all the bases covered. It can also be customized to fit whatever workflow works best for your studio, whether you lean more into recording or mixing. 
  • People Who Like to DIY Their Workflow: As we’ve mentioned before, REAPER is an open-source platform, which allows for reasonably unlimited amounts of tinkering and customization. If you don’t like being bound to a specific set of features or plugins, REAPER is an excellent addition to your toolkit because it will let you customize to your heart’s content.  


Who is Ableton Live Suited For?

  • Mixers: If you’re more interested in learning how to mix instead of tinkering with unlimited customization options, Ableton Live is the better platform to get started on. Its built-in sounds and huge digital instrument library make it easier to sample what you need to create that perfect harmony without having to go digging through the vaults of the internet to find plugins. 
  • Live Music Producers: Ableton Live has powerful pass-through features that make it great for live mixing. If you want to feed in MIDI instruments and produce on the fly, it’s an excellent platform for live digital audio production. This is also where the tons of built-in sounds and loops come in handy, allowing you to unleash your creativity during a live session. 


So, Which One Should You Choose?

You’re going to hate this answer, but the truth of the matter is that with any DAW, which platform is right for you comes down to your workflow and project needs. The best way to figure out which platform is best for your style is to roll up your sleeves and give each one a test drive to find out which one works best.  


These programs are divided mainly when it comes to their workflow and price point. If you’re looking to dip your toes into the world of DAWs without breaking the bank, REAPER is the more obvious choice as it requires no up-front investment to get started. 


However, if you’re looking for a slightly easier-to-use platform that gears itself more towards mixing than recording, Ableton Live might be a worthwhile investment. Still, we highly recommend tinkering around with the free trial before committing to the bigger ticket purchase price. 


Hopefully, this head-to-head comparison will make choosing the right software for your next project a breeze, allowing you to unleash your creative energy without being restricted by software. 

If you’re looking for a better way to bring your remote audio editing team closer together and collaborate more efficiently from a distance, check out Evercast. Evercast allows you to stream your edit sessions in HD while video chatting and exchanging notes with your team, all under one platform. Because we believe collaboration is the magic behind unlocking our best work. 

Related Reading: 

Evelyn Trainor-Fogleman

Website
Evelyn Trainor-Fogleman is a writer based in New York City. After over half a decade in the film industry, she came back to her Journalism roots to write for a variety of media outlets about subjects including technology, business, marketing, and social and environmental justice.

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