The ultimate deciding factor when choosing between Keyboard Workstations and Digital Audio Workstation would depend on the musician’s preferences. It would be smart to thoroughly explore the pros and cons of the equipment before making a final decision.
Songwriting, music arranging, or sound engineering has never been this easy. In today’s technology, the music tools have been upgraded in such a way that musicians have a lot of options to work on without putting limits to creativity and, at the same time, avoiding costly large-scale production expenses. Instead of spending too much time going from one instrument to another just to achieve a certain tone or sound, musicians can do that now by using one music tool.
The all-in-one music tool comes in the form of either a Keyboard Workstation or a Digital Audio Workstation, simply called DAW. These two are the most powerful music equipment in the music industry. Using any of these two would result in fast mixing and mastering of sounds. Beginners would have a difficult time choosing as they are both great, and they get the job done. Just remember that professional musicians have both in their arsenal. For beginners, the first thing to do is to understand each of these tools separately before trying to compare its strengths and weaknesses.
What Is Keyboard Workstation?
Essentially keyboards as pianos have always been an integral part of making music. Technology has evolved, and instead of just the keys playing regular tones to create music, it has become multi-functional. Producing music is no longer an exclusive art for those big music labels with expensive large complex equipment.
A keyboard workstation might be mistaken for a synthesizer because some may look like one, but they have more functions than an ordinary synth. Aside from the keyboard, it has a sound module and sequencers. It is like the entire music production studio combined in one device. However, it can also be integrated with other music devices using In/Out jacks and USB portals, but it can function as standalone music equipment.
What Is DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)?
Many are confused about what a Digital Audio Workstation or DAW is. Still, in the most straightforward description, it is computer software that is used as a recording platform where musicians can edit, mix, and master audio tracks ready for distribution. Instead of using traditional equipment for music production, all that is needed is a compact MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) keyboard, software, and a computer. It is perfect for home recording studios, which cannot accommodate large consoles and various musical instruments. That being said, most professional recording studios also use DAW for further enhancement of their music production.
There is also an option for users to integrate or connect the DAW to other equipment, but the software itself is powerful enough to work on its own. For instance, if one needed a mixing console, one can have it virtually through the computer screen or monitor when adding effects or mixing other tracks. Basically, each instrument or tool is represented virtually on the screen. While most digital audio workstation or DAW share the same basic functions and plugins, not all of them has the same quality and number of instruments, sounds, effect, etc. The functionality and flexibility would also differ. Some manufacturers would offer a standard version and then would release expansion program versions for upgrade. There are those that offer everything in an all-in-one version of the software and would only offer upgrade versions when they have a new feature to add. These upgrades are often done online via the manufacturer’s official website or in app stores.
Comparisons & It’s Pros and Cons
Since most people these days already own a computer, obviously, the DAW is absolutely cheaper to set up as compared to a keyboard workstation. A brand new simple MIDI keyboard, more often than not, is offered with free recording software, and granted that it might not sound as good as the more expensive keyboards out there, it gets the job done. Keyboard workstations are generally expensive, even with simpler features, but nothing will sound more authentic than coming from the instrument itself. These are worthwhile investments, particularly if you are serious about music production.
The software will always win, and DAW has incredibly impressive editing facility along with a massive storage capability. The software can be upgraded, but hardware is permanent. Even the most expensive and loaded keyboard workstation would remain the same years later. Some musicians would start with the workstation but would switch to DAW for further polishing of their music. The layering of effects in a keyboard workstation would always remain limited, although the application itself would depend on the musician’s skills. This is arguably a matter of personal preference.
Even the biggest built-in screen of the Keyboard Workstation will not win against an average computer screen. The downside of having a huge monitor is that the DJ would go back and forth between the instrument and the laptop. With the Keyboard Workstation, even if the built-in display screen is small, you are totally focused on the gear itself. No distractions and interruptions when playing and editing music. However, once you get the hang of it, the information available on the computer screen can be unmatched, making everything easier to manipulate.
This is where DAW will lose to the Keyboard Workstation not because of its inability to perform this function but because of the spur of the moment recording of an idea. The PC needs to be turned on to access the Digital Audio Workstation, and it can take a little time to open up and have it ready for recording. The Keyboard Workstation only needed to be turned on, press a button, and you are ready to record anything under the sun at that precise moment you thought of it. Creativity flows better with it than with DAW.
Experienced musicians will undoubtedly choose Keyboard Workstations for live performances. They are easy to pack and load to a vehicle plus the fact that these equipment are mostly built for mobility. Computers or laptops are a bit more sensitive and must be handled with care. They are also not as reliable when compared to a keyboard workstation. So many things can happen to the DAW that cannot be easily fixed, whereas the keyboard workstation can always deliver because the hardware is fixed and permanent.
However, the choices are limited in keyboard workstations. The number of features that were built-in to the workstation remains the same, and when making music, the more options to choose from, the better for the end result. When copyright plagiarism is often questioned, it is definitely better to have more effects, more options to mix and match.
Budget-wise, in the long run, using DAW is a smart choice. It can always be upgraded, whereas hardware stays the same. Integrating software and hardware from several manufacturers can be done, but with a keyboard workstation, it is a closed standalone system, so it stays as it is. Professional musicians have both technologies at hand, but most of them would often start with keyboard workstation and then move on to DAW to enhance their work as the options are limitless.
Both are good to have, and it would always go down to the user’s personal preferences. Some people prefer to do things their way, even if more innovative options are available to them. Some love using DAW and swore would never go back to the keyboard workstation. It is the same thing with those who opt to use the keyboard workstation; they never get the hang of using the DAW. However, there are those who simply go back and forth, depending on the situation. It is always smart to be open to new technology, but it is also wise to know which is suitable for your needs.
If unsure and budget is strained, try getting a second‑hand keyboard workstation to start with but never try getting a second-hand DAW as license key always stays with the original owner. The Keyboard Workstation is enough, but the Digital Audio Workstation offers unlimited number of features that make music production quite easy and more varied. Try starting with one of them, and once you get the hang of it, get the other one. Always aim for an intelligent choice and get feedbacks from experts.