July 9

Cubase vs Pro Tools: Which DAW Is the Right DAW For YOU?

About the author 

Joey Hoelscher

Joey Hoelscher has been involved in music and recording practically his whole life and has been writing and editing professionally since 2013. He is a member of the Herring Chamber Ensemble and former member of Rivertree Singers, and his vocal work can be heard with Beckenhorst Press and The Music of Dan Forrest. Joey enjoys writing high-caliber content on a wide range of topics, including those at the intersection of music, tech and gear.

Choosing the right DAW (digital audio workstation) for your home studio is an important first step, but it’s also a complicated one. There are many players in the space, each with its own approach and extensive feature set.

In previous posts, we’ve already compared Pro Tools vs Logic Pro X, and we’ve also compared Pro Tools to Ableton Live and FL Studio. Today, we’re rounding out the series with another well-known DAW: Cubase.

Now, this isn’t exactly going to read like a “Cubase vs Pro Tools: the ultimate showdown” kind of review. Both are great pieces of software, with their own strengths and weaknesses.

The real question isn’t which one is the best. It’s which DAW is the right DAW for YOU.

Pro Tools vs Cubase: Head-to Head Comparison

In the big picture, Pro Tools and Cubase look somewhat similar. Both feature a horizontal workspace where your audio and MIDI tracks appear, and both can handle pretty much whatever you throw at them in terms of recording or working electronically.

These are both pro-level DAWs (with pro-level pricing) that are capable of producing music of the highest caliber, and they both work with top hardware solutions and a robust array of plugins, samples and virtual instruments.

But, like has been the case with other reviews in this series, there’s a massive difference in focus between the two DAWs.

When it comes to recording and editing audio, there’s Pro Tools, and then there’s everyone else. Cubase (and the rest) can do this, and to be fair Steinberg has invested a lot into this side of Cubase. But Pro Tools is, without question, the industry standard for recording and editing audio sources (like a band, orchestra or any kind of live solo or ensemble work).

That said, when it comes to working with MIDI, samples, and virtual instruments: there’s everyone else, and then there’s Pro Tools. Most of the other major DAWs, Cubase included, focus on the electronic side of music production. You can do all those same functions in Pro Tools, but just not as well or as smoothly.

Of the various MIDI-forward DAWs, Cubase offers more advanced recording and mixing functions than some of the others. For this reason, Cubase might have the edge over a number of competitors if you plan to do quite a bit of work on both sides of the fence (audio recording and digital arranging).


There are all sorts of similarities between Cubase and Pro Tools. They’re built to accomplish the same stuff, after all. Both are pro-grade solutions that give you all the basic tools needed to create music. Both have a somewhat steep learning curve, as is often the case with full-featured programs like these.

They both require a capable computer and audio interface to run well, and they support an interesting mix of external hardware solutions as well.

Both Pro Tools and Cubase have specialized tools for syncing audio with a video track, though they go about this in very different ways.

Lastly, they have a somewhat similar look, more so than some of the other competitors when compared with Protools.

We could keep going with more similarities, but those aren’t nearly as important to your decision as the differences.

Top Differences

The biggest difference between Cubase and Pro Tools is the focus. And the truth is, this difference in focus is probably going to determine which program you choose.

Pro Tools focuses on traditional multitrack recording workflows like you’ll find in big commercial studios. It’s the right choice for recording your band (or even your solo acoustic album), giving you unparalleled audio editing and mixing capabilities. Powerful tools like Beat Detective and Elastic Audio keep your session in sync and fix timing issues like magic.

Pro mixers love Pro Tools for its ability to assign effects and plugins in a nondestructive manner, where the core audio remains intact. This is a huge plus if you’re editing someone else’s tracks — you never know when they might want to revert, and Pro Tools makes this dead simple.

Cubase has worked hard to even the playing field on the audio recording side, but it’s still a long way from doing so. The bread and butter for Cubase remains the electronic side of music production, all those features and functions important to DJs, producers and electronic musicians.

Plugin availability is a big difference here. Pro Tools uses its own proprietary RTAS or AAX format plugins. (It pays to be the industry standard: you can make everyone else do what you want, to a degree.) Cubase, on the other hand, Cubase uses the more-standard VST and AU plugins.

The two programs can’t read the other type of plugins (at least not without some technical wizardry that may or may not work reliably). So if a particular plugin is essential to your workflow, make sure a version exists that can work with Pro Tools or Cubase before you switch ecoysystems.

One other significant difference for each: hardware integration. Both programs can work with just about any standard audio hardware, but there are some specific integrations unique to each.

Cubase enjoys a special partnership with Yamaha, so you’ll get especially tight integration with Yamaha’s consoles and other hardware.

Pro Tools, on the other hand, is specially integrated with Avid’s own hardware (especially its mixing consoles and DSP devices). If you have both the need and the budget to go first-party with everything, Pro Tools can get insanely powerful.

Cubase and Pro Tools Pricing

Here’s what to expect as far as pricing for the major versions of both Cubase and Protools.

Pro Tools

With Pro Tools, you’ll need to choose between a subscription model and an (expensive) one-time purchase. Avid certainly prefers you do the former, but both are still possible.

There is a free (and quite limited) version out there called Pro Tools First, but it won’t get you very far into serious music-making. The two paid tiers are Pro Tools and Pro Tools Ultimate.

  • Pro Tools: $34.99 monthly, $29.99 per month (year commitment), or $299 per year
  • Pro Tools Perpetual: $599 with 1 year of software updates
  • Pro Tools Ultimate: $89.99 monthly, $79.99 per month (year commitment), or $799 per year
  • Pro Tools Ultimate Perpetual: $2599 with 1 year of software updates

There’s also an entirely separate and much lower pricing matrix for education customers (both students and teachers). For Pro Tools, you’ll pay $9.99 per month with a year commitment or $99 per year. The perpetual license costs just $299.

Unless you’re doing advanced video sync work or massive sessions (like choral/orchestral work or live big band sessions), you’ll get by just fine with the non-ultimate version.


The Cubase landscape is a little bit…tricky. There are two sorta-freebie versions out there, Cubase LE and Cubase AI. These tend to ship with an entry-level hardware product and are both called “special, compact” versions of Cubase. In other words, they aren’t what you’re looking for.

There’s also a $99 Cubase Elements 11, which is impressive for the price, but still has plenty of frustrating limitations for the pro or advanced enthusiast.

The two main versions you should consider are Cubase Pro 11 and Cubase Artist 11. Here’s the price breakdown.

  • Cubase Pro 11: $587.98 ($367.98 education)
  • Cubase Artist 11: $337.98 ($207.98 education)

Importantly, you’ll also need a hardware USB e-licenser to activate either version. If you don’t already have one, Steinberg will provide one for an additional $27.99.

Watch out for sales as well: at time of writing, Steinberg is handing out Pro licenses when you pay the Artist price.

These prices are one-time charges, but new versions (Cubase 11.5 or 12, whatever comes next) incur a modest update charge.


Both Pro Tools and Cubase are compatible with current versions of Windows and MacOS. Be aware that all versions of Cubase 11 require a 64-bit version of Windows 10, though. On the Mac side, Mojave, Catalina and Big Sur are all supported, and there’s every reason to expect Monterey will also be supported when it arrives later in 2021.

Both DAWs require decent hardware to run well, and both can be more processor-intensive than some other DAWs (like Ableton). Cubase, for example, recommends a minimum of 8GB RAM and an Intel Core i5 processor. Of course, this shouldn’t be a surprise: pro-grade software tends to require higher-end gear.

Pros and Cons

There are pros and cons to both DAWs, and the one that’s best for you tends to come down to how you want to use the program. Here are the top pros and cons in the Cubase vs Pro Tools debate.

Pro Tools: Pros

Industry standard: Pro Tools is what nearly any commercial studio uses for audio recording and editing. If your project might end up in a pro producer’s hands (and it isn’t purely electronic), consider Pro Tools.

Best for editing waveform audio: Pro Tools is built for editing vocal and instrumental tracks, with all sorts of powerful tools for editing and processing audio tracks. Using Pro Tools for this work delivers superior results more quickly.

Free tier: The free tier won’t be enough to do pro work, but it’s quite respectable and can let you see if Pro Tools will be a good fit.

Pro Tools: Cons

Not as strong for electronic producing: Pro Tools lags behind in its treatment of MIDI, samples and loops.

Extra complexity: This is not a simple program, and the learning curve can be steep.

Reliance on plug-ins: Pro Tools isn’t exactly designed to be a comprehensive out-of-the-box solution. You’ll likely need to invest in at least a few plug-ins (vocal tuning, for example) to customize the experience to your workflow and needs.

Cubase: Pros

Solid all-around choice: Better at audio recording than some of the rest and still excellent at the electronic production side, Cubase is a strong contender for doing some of both.

Yamaha integration: The deep integration with Yamaha consoles provides a lot of power.

Deeper virtual instrument pack: Out of the box, Cubase offers far more in terms of virtual instruments, sample libraries, synths and so on.

Cubase: Cons

Still weaker for microphone recording and waveform editing: While Cubase beats out some competitors here, it still can’t compete with Pro Tools in these areas.

Also complex: Cubase is also legendary for its learning curve.

Reliance on a dongle eLicenser: The USB dongle required to authorize Steinberg products cannot also authorize third-party stuff. So you’ll end up sacrificing one — maybe two — USB ports just to authorize your DAW and plugins.

Cubase vs Pro Tools: Final Thoughts

So, which DAW is better, Pro Tools or Cubase? The answer depends mostly on you. If you want the industry standard and plan to spend most of your time recording and editing audio tracks, Pro Tools is the way to go. If you want the flexibility to do both audio and electronic work well or definitely skew toward electronic-heavy producing, Cubase likely is.

But the best news? Both companies offer a free trial or free tier. Go ahead and install both so you can see which one best complements your workflow.


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