Ableton vs Reaper

Ableton and Reaper are two capable DAWs you can use to handle many audio production-related tasks. Ableton is more well-known and widely used by industry professionals, especially for live-stage situations. 

Reaper is the more affordable option but more limited in overall functionality than Ableton. Overall, Reaper is a better option for beginners who aren’t DJs, and Ableton is more capable in a lot of ways.

My name is Donovan, and I’m a musician, producer, and audio engineer with over 15 years of experience in the music industry. I’ve used Ableton and Reaper extensively to know how these two DAWs stack up next to one another.

This post will compare and contrast Ableton versus Reaper. I’ll provide you with a detailed look at what each option can do, its features and limitations, and all the other details you need to know to choose the best DAW for your situation. 

Let’s get after it. 

Quick Comparison

Ease of UsePretty easy to use, although more complex tasks and features take skill and experienceNot as easy for beginners, but still relatively easy to use and explore. Project windows are easy to navigate.
Professional CapabilitiesHigh-level capabilities for live DJ/sampling performance and used by many professionals. Not as focused on audio recording. Good professional level capabilities, but not as widely used as other industry standard DAWs.
Features/FunctionsRecording, sampling, mixing, beat-making, looping, and many other high-level functions and features. Nice editing, recording, and mixing features to allow for quality audio production. Not as good for live stage performance. 
WorkflowExcellent workflow features and functionality once you get a hang of the program. This comes in useful in many situations. Solid workflow considerations but not as seamless as other DAWs. Enough for effective recording, editing, and mixing. 
LimitationsYou don’t get full access to features and functions with the lower-priced versions. Not the best DAW for strict audio recording. Some issues with plug-in compatibility, and generally not as widely used in professional music industry situations. 

Detailed Comparision

Here is a detailed look at Ableton Live and Reaper to give you all the details you need to know about each. I’ve spent hundreds of hours using both DAWs in various situations to come up with the information below. 

1. Ease of Use

How easy or not a DAW is to use comes into play for beginners as well as more experienced musicians and producers. And both Ableton and Reaper get pretty high marks on how easy they are to dive into and start using properly

Ableton is very straightforward and easy to figure out, even if you have no experience using a DAW at all. It also comes with a nice Info View option that you can activate by clicking the arrow icon on the bottom left of the screen. 

Once you have Info View on, just hover your cursor over any element of the Live Set, and you’ll get some key insight into the function or feature you are working with. I used this feature all the time when I was learning Ableton, and it helped me get better at using it quickly. 

Reaper is also pretty easy to use, but it’s not as beginner-friendly. There aren’t as many straightforward features and functions, and I didn’t get comfortable using this DAW as quickly because of this. It’s still straightforward to figure out but not as intuitive. 

Now, if you have experience using a DAW, you won’t struggle with Reaper by any means. But if you’ve never produced or recorded anything before, there is a slight barrier to entry when figuring out all the basic features of Reaper. 

Neither Ableton Live or Reaper are that difficult to figure out, and there are plenty of help resources available online to help you. But Ableton has a clear advantage here in my eyes and is easier to use across the board. 

Winner: Ableton

2. Professional Capabilities 

If you are looking for a DAW that offers a high level of professional capabilities, Ableton is more suited to that than Reaper. Both can be used in professional situations, but Reaper is not known as an industry-standard option

Ableton is the go-to DAW for professional DJs and other musicians and producers who use it to perform live on stage. If you aspire to DJ live, Ableton is exceptionally well-suited for this purpose, and its professional capabilities are unmatched. 

You can also use Ableton Live for audio recording and production, and it’s a fully functional DAW from that perspective as well. It’s not my favorite option for audio recording, but it does get the job done, especially if you like looping and sampling. 

Reaper has professional capabilities as well, but not for live performance. This is more of a recording, editing, and mixing DAW. In my opinion, it’s not one of the best DAWs for those purposes, which is why many industry professionals do not use it. 

That’s not to say that Reaper is bad; it’s just not as well-suited to professionals as Ableton or other options like Logic Pro or Pro Tools. You can still make professional recordings with it. You just might need to work harder to get there. 

Ableton comes out on top here as well, and it’s pretty easy to see why. You get access to a lot more overall than with Reaper, and if you are trying to reach professional-level status with your recording or creations, Ableton is better. 

Winner: Ableton

3. Features/Functions

The features and functions of a DAW are where the magic and potential are for any producer, DJ, or engineer. Both Reaper and Ableton come with some impressive features and functions, but it really depends on which version you purchase. 

Many DAWs have different price tiers, and the lower-priced options have limited features. This is true of both Ableton and Reaper, although the cheapest version of Ableton has more features and functions than the discounted version of Reaper. 

Stand-out features in Ableton Live include a large selection of software instruments and packs that you can use to make samples and loops. The looping and beat-making features in Ableton are excellent, especially if you make electronic music of any kind. 

Ableton also has a lot of features you can use to record, edit, mix, and master audio. I really like using the Piano Roll for MIDI editing, and it makes coming up with new sounds and then tweaking them a breeze. 

Reaper also has some solid features that cater to in-the-box production. Its recording tools are sweet and will give you quick access to laying down tracks and working on them from there. Reaper also supports a high level of tracks, which can be great for complex projects. 

If you need to do multi-layered mixing with many tracks and elements, reaper has a lot of tools you can utilize to make this happen. Plus, it offers a lot of customization, which means you can get personalized features to improve your overall workflow. 

Winner: Ableton

4. Workflow

Workflow is a very personalized aspect of using a DAW, and every producer or engineer I’ve ever met utilizes different features when dialing their workflows in. That makes it a critical consideration for any DAW you choose. 

Reaper has some incredible workflow considerations because of its highly customizable design. You can essentially build your own features and functions within Reaper, allowing you to customize the DAW to your liking. 

That has obvious benefits for dialing in your workflow. You can basically get things configured in Reaper however you want them, which will speed up your process and allow you to stay in the creative flow without distractions. 

Reaper is an amazing option if you want to take charge of your workflow and get things very personalized. I haven’t seen this level of customization regarding workflow on any other DAW I’ve used. 

Ableton Live also has a lot of good workflow considerations, but it isn’t nearly as customizable. Still, it’s easy to organize your Live Sets as you want them, and you can switch between views to make editing easier. 

Ultimately, workflow considerations come down to your personal preference and experience. The more you use a DAW, the easier it will be to get workflow dialed in. But the potential for customizing things is a clear winner here. 

Winner: Reaper

Image from Reaper

5. Limitations

No DAW is perfect, and everyone that I’ve ever used has some sort of limitation. That’s not a bad thing, as long as you know about these and anticipate them ahead of time to avoid anything that will stop your project in its tracks. 

The main limitation that I’ve encountered with Ableton is that it’s not as robust in the recording, editing, and mixing aspects of DAW functionality. That makes sense because Ableton is designed more for live performance than strict studio work. 

You can also run into some limitations if you purchase the more basic versions of Ableton. You won’t have access to as many software instruments, plugins, or features, so you might not be able to create as much as possible with the full version.

Ableton is more for live performances and not as good in the studio, and that sums up its limitations pretty well. You can still make quality recordings with it, but I like other DAWs like Logic and Pro Tools better for this.   

Reaper also has some limitations that can hold you back if you are trying to reach professional-level status with your recordings. It’s simply not an industry-standard DAW, and not as widely respected as other options. 

Reaper also has some known plug-in compatibility issues, which can be a pain when you find a plug-in you really want to use in a project. Problems like these can force you to use an effect you don’t want to, affecting your mix in the long run. 

Winner: Ableton 

6. Pricing

Both Ableton and Reaper are available in a few different versions, and each has a different price point. The discounted version of Reaper is cheaper than the lowest-priced option from Ableton, although they are pretty similar. 

On the high end of things, the full version of Ableton Live is much more expensive than the full version of Reaper. If you are on a budget and want full access to either of these, Reaper is the obvious choice with that in mind. 

Reaper has two versions. The discounted version is $60, and the full version is $225

Ableton Live has three different versions. Live Intro is $79, Live Standard is $439, and Live Suite is $749. Ableton often has some sales and other discounts you can take advantage of to knock this price down a bit. 

You can also try Ableton Live for free for 30 days, but it will have limited functionality with this version. But it’s a good way to explore its features and functions without paying full price for any version. 

Reaper is cheaper overall, but you get many more features and functions with Ableton Live. I think Ableton is worth the extra money, especially if you just want the basic version of either DAW. 

Winner: Tie 

Final Verdict

I think that Ableton is a better choice overall for a DAW for various reasons. This is especially true if you are a DJ or want software to help you with any aspect of live performance. Ableton has many more features and functions to take advantage of. 

Reaper is worth exploring if you want or need highly customizable workflow options. The more open-source nature of the DAW is unique and gives you a lot of personalization at your fingertips. It’s also the more affordable option. 

What are your favorite features of Ableton Live or Reaper? Let me know in the comments below.

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