DAW Shootout: FL Studio or Cubase – Which One Is Right For You?

Nobody likes to mess with the DAW only to ditch it for another after two years. Music production enthusiasts invest a significant amount of time to wade through the learning curve of software. It is the most important tool in your workflow, and it can cost a pretty penny. 

As you hunt for the right one, FL Studio and Cubase are two names that will crop up over and over. They are both feature-laden audio workstations that can partner up with you for a lifetime of creative expression and productivity. But, how do you decide which one is better?

FL Studio is a better choice for making EDM, beats, and MIDI compositions. It’s easy to use and offers more value with great stock plugins and free lifetime upgrades. Cubase is a better choice if you rely heavily on recording vocals and instruments with its intuitive and simple recording process.

In this post, we’ll delve into a thorough comparison of these two DAWs. We’ll sketch up the framework of each and how it holds up in the big picture. We’ll also see what is common, how they differ, and which one has the features/tools to do good by you. 

FL Studio or Cubase for beginners? 

FL Studio is better for beginners who are into music production that doesn’t rely heavily on recording instruments and vocals (especially multiple tracks for a full band). 

In comparison, Cubase scores better on its audio recording capabilities. It makes it easier to arm tracks and record vocals or instruments. It’s undoubtedly a better choice for songwriters and artists/producers who frequently record instruments as a part of arranging or composing.

Steinberg Cubase Overview

Steinberg Cubase is one of the most popular DAWs with such a long and storied history. It started as a humble MIDI sequencer when it hit the scene in 1989. Today, Cubase 11.0 – is bigger, better, and packed with a comprehensive feature-set with a nifty user interface and streamlined workflow. 

From the recording stage to editing and mixing, it has all the tools needed to create professional-sounding tracks. In other words, it is a full-featured Digital Audio Workstation for those who seek studio-quality audio for recording tracks and mixing songs.

In 2011, Steinberg released five versions of Cubase 6 – Pro, Artist, Elements, AI, and LE. They have the same core audio engine with different tiers of features and tools. Cubase Pro has the most advanced features while Cubase A1 and LE are for hobbyists and bedroom producers. 

Cubase 11 was released in November 2020. It is the latest and more up-to-date version with workflow and UI improvements alongside new tools such as Scale Assistant, Advanced Audio Export, and Multiple Side-Chain. 

Cubase Pros

  • Excellent tools for audio recording, editing, and mixing
  • Award-winning audio engine with crystal-clear audio
  • 14 GB samples included
  • Fantastic Time Stretch functions for sound design
  • More features than some of the competitors

Cubase Cons

  • Needs a licensing dongle to install it
  • It can become unstable and crash after updates (usually fixed quickly)
  • Stock synths are not great
  • Pricey and no lifetime free upgrades

You can download a free 30-day trial version of Cubase and don’t forget to check out the system requirements before you decide to buy the full versions. 

Cubase Editions and Pricing: 

Cubase LE 11Entry-levelEntry-level features, available without hardware & bundled with Yamaha productsN/A
Cubase AI 11BasicCompact version available with Steinberg and Yamaha hardwareN/A
Cubase Elements  11StandardMore plugins and features$299
Cubase Artist 11ProFull-featured w/ extra plugins and tools$337.98
Cubase Pro 11All-inclusiveAdditional effects, instruments, and features such as Vari Audio 3, MixConsole, etc.  $587.98

Cubase needs a USB eLicenser (dongle) to install it. The USB stick costs an additional $27, but you don’t need it if you have one with a previous version. The prices in the table do not include the price of the eLicenser. 

What Cubase Do?

Let me preface this with the fact that chart-topping artists like Zedd and a legendary Hollywood composer like Hans Zimmerman use Cubase. The Artist and Pro package have everything a professional producer needs. Let’s see how it forms in different use cases:

Cubase can work with a 192kHz sample rate to deliver pristine audio files and recordings. It has an award-winning audio-engine with 64-bit floating-point resolution. You can expect excellent sound quality, true surround, and 5.1 capability.

With the MIDI recording, Key Editor, and Inspector, you can pull off everything during playback, recording, and editing. 

The UI is clean and modern-looking although not as easy on the eyes as FL. It has a well-designed toolbar and a fully customizable floating transport bar. The integration of assist-tools such as Chord Track and Harmony Generation are better than most DAWs.  

MediaBay is a well-thought-out way to search, store, and organize your files, projects, and content in the DAW.

Cubase offers the whole mixing shebang from channel racks to Control Link Groups to a dedicated fader section and shortcut-rich toolbar. It also has the freshly updated MixConsole feature that comes very close to replicating the feel of a real analog mix console. 

You can open it in a new window, use it without a mouse, and enter ‘mix notes’ using the notepad. It wouldn’t be hyperbolic to say that Cubase Pro is one of the finest DAWs for mixing, especially if you are into TV audio or film scores.  

Mastering in Cubase: 
We’re gearing this post for beginners, so we won’t go into the details of Cubase’s audio mastering capabilities. It offers enough quality to skate by without investing in 3rd party plugins. However, there are more capable DAWs (like Avid Pro Tools) that are better suited for the job. 

Live Performance: 
Cubase was built for a recording environment rather than a live arena. Yes, it has come a long way in the past decade to accommodate on-stage improvisation. However, you would need a solid understanding of its functions and limitations to use it in a live setting. Either way, FL Studio or Ableton Live would definitely be a better option.  

Other noteworthy features in Cubase: 

The Channel Strip feature allows users to add modules (Gate, Compressor, EQ, etc.) to specific channels with full capability to rearrange the signal flow via drag and drop. This eliminates the need to load up insert slots. Instead, you have dedicated channel-insert points with integrated plugins. 

Comping allows the user to create a new version from the best recorded takes by creating a lane for each recorded track. You can select the best bits or parts and paste them together. 

Sampler Track feature was released in Cubase 9. It continues to be the hub for quick and easy sampling. It has drag-drop capabilities with several creative features to create and record music. 

Chord Tracks and Chord Pads are a useful visual tool that assist you in creating the sketch of a chord progression. You can refine the progression as your idea develops and make all tracks of a project conform to the key and progression you’ve created. 

VariAudio is a Cubase (Pro version only) feature in the Sample Editor that allows you to edit vocals by changing timing, pitch, and intonation with the ability to undo modifications. 

Who is Cubase good for?

  • Songwriters
  • Arrangers
  • Composers: Music, TV, Film Scores
  • Recording Artists
  • Mixing Engineers

FL Studio and Cubase: Pricing and Value for Money

In terms of cost, they both are neck to neck. FL Studio has an advantage in value as it offers free upgrades for a lifetime. Cubase does not. You need to pay for any upgrades that are released after the version of Cubase that you own. 

Image-Line FL Studio Overview

Image-Line’s FL Studio was developed by Didier Dambrin and officially released in ’98, nearly a decade after Cubase. Back then, it was primarily a MIDI machine called Fruity Loops (1.0.0). 

It created a buzz with its graphical UI and music sequencer, but it took several upgrades before it evolved into a full-blown professional DAW. For most of this time, it only worked on PC. The macOS version was made available in 2018 with the FL studio 20 upgrade. 

Today, it stands as a full-featured music production package with pro-grade native plugins. FL Studio is often touted as a best-in-class DAW to compose, arrange, edit, record, and mix/master your audio tracks. 

Like Cubase, FL Studio has several versions from the basic ‘Express’ to the ‘Producer Edition’. Image-Line also offers a mobile version, all plugins bundle, and a touch-based standalone app called Groovebox. 

It has a unique workflow that has earned a reputation for being beginner-friendly and easy to use. It also boasts of a humongous online community. In fact, FL Studio has the distinction of the DAW with the most YouTube tutorials. 

It has been used by the likes of Avicii, Afrojack, SouljaBoy, Martin Garrix, and Savant. Deadmau5, the renowned DJ and music producer, was a developer who is known to have made many of his tracks using FL. 

Some critics believe that it became popular because of internet piracy. Some say it was poorly managed in its initial years when piracy laws were weak and easy to dodge. Either way, Image-Line struggled for 5+ years before they started making any worthwhile revenue from FL Studio. 

Unlike Cubase’s 30-day free trial, FL Studio Demo is a free trial for an unlimited time. However, there are severe limitations to the free version. For instance, you can’t open a project once you save it until you unlock the full version. 

You also don’t get access to plugins and presets. In other words, the FL demo is a good way to check out the software and get a feel for the UIX and workflow. You can mess around a trial of both DAWs to see what feels more intuitive. 

FL Studio Pros

  • Competitively Priced
  • Unique mixing workflow
  • Automation and manipulation is a breeze
  • Amazing Synth VSTs
  • PC & macOS Version
  • Excellent for MIDI composition

FL Studio Cons

  • Some built-in VST instruments sound outdated
  • No score editor
  • Paltry 
  • Not the best DAW for recording vocals or instruments

FL Studio Editions and Pricing

Fruity EditionBasicEntry-level features$99
Producer EditionProFull-feature$199
Signature EditionProFull-feature w/ extra advanced plugins$299
All Plugins EditionProAdditional effects, instruments, and transient processor. $499

Besides the packages, users can buy the basic edition and purchase individual plugins from the Image-Line store as add-ons. This is a great way to customize your FL edition and only pay for things that you plan to use. 

What can FL Studio do?

FL Studio is more commonly used for composing, arranging, and electronic music production, especially genres like hip-hop, electronica, and rap. It is famed for its ease-of-use, appealing interface, tons of handy keyboard/mouse shortcuts. Let’s see how it fares in common use cases: 

FL Studio has a stellar recording engine, especially after the 2018 update. It is an excellent choice for MIDI recording. That’s why it has become a staple in the EDM community. However, arming, setting up, or managing busses is a little more tedious. While the DAW itself is very easy-to-use, recording actual audio or instruments doesn’t feel intuitive. Recording audio tracks is easier on Cubase. 

FL has a modular feel and a well-designed workflow. The toolbar is interactive, the sequencer is intuitive, MIDI support is excellent, and the mobile and touch screen applications are smooth. FL’s native plugins and samples integrate well.  It is unique compared to most other DAWs, but that can be a great committal choice. 

From setting output mix levels to making tracks louder, FL has all the tools for a professional mix. Ideally, you could get better results from a DAW such as ProTools, but people stick to one DAW as they are familiar with the layout and controls. You can undoubtedly get professional-grade results from FL (especially for EDM) once you get past the learning curve and invest in some third-party plugins. 

Mastering, like recording, feels a little clunky as you attempt finer adjustments during audio mastering. However, FL Studio has the functionality to master tracks for users who put in the effort. Either way, there are better options for mastering. 

Live Performance:
FL Studio has a dedicated Performance Mode. It is capable of pulling off complex stuff and has been used by DJs and live performances with the use of a MIDI keyboard or device. It faces competition from Ableton Live but scores much higher than Cubase in this use case.

Other noteworthy features in FL Studio

Step Sequencer: The Fruity sequencer is a principal tool that started the FL hype. The beat-grid design is visual, intuitive, and very beginner-friendly. It has 2 to 64 steps with the ability to load audio samples by doubling clicking or drag and drop. The ADSR window offers several options to manipulate the sample with stretching, pitch-shifting, reversing, and a host of other options. 

VST Synths: FL Studio is a no-brainer if you enjoy creating synth sounds from group up. It has some of the best stock plugins and pro-sounding synths like Sakura, Harmor, PoiZone, Harmless, and many others. 

They are highly capable synth VSTs that have a solid reputation in the music production community.You can buy them and install them into any DAW other than FL. However, they are native plugins that gel very well with the FL workflow. 

Who is FL Studio good for?

  • Music Producers
  • Arrangers
  • Electronic music producers and composers
  • Hip-hop or rap artists and beatmakers
  • Casual music producers or hobbyists
  • Mixing Engineers

Cubase vs FL Studio: Which is better for you?

We are talking about two top-of-the-line DAWs that have been used by divergent professionals to great effect. Both of these carry some pros and cons and can be an excellent choice in the right context. 

They both offer more tracks than you’ll need. FL Studio offers 500 and Cubase can handle anything from 24 to unlimited MIDI tracks + 16 to unlimited audio tracks. 

Both DAWs have a learning curve, which is normal for a full-feature software with so many tools and applications. Although it’s close, FL Studio is relatively easier to learn as a novice. This only matters to a hobbyist. Serious users will master a DAW as they master their craft anyway. 

Cubase is a superior choice if you want a professional DAW for recording and/or mixing. I’m not saying FL Studio can’t do a reasonable job, but I find Cubase to have a better recording engine and workflow for recording vocals/instruments

If you need to record live instruments and vocals, you should know that FL Studio falters in this area. It can do a reasonable job but Cubase’s workflow and recording tools/features are a lot easier to use compared to FL Studio.

FL Studio is a superior choice if you primarily deal with MIDI recording/composing and EDM. FL is one of the best MIDI editors out there (YMMV). Beatmakers, electronica artists (or hobbyists), and people who work with synths, samples, and beats will love FL Studio. 

Plus, it has a better upgrade policy and scores higher on an active user community and forum. Given the upgrades seen so far in both DAWs, FL Studio delivers more value with new releases. In fact, FL Studio is one of the most pocket-friendly and popular options for this category. 

For the sake of closure, I’ll pick a side. My vote goes to FL Studio. I’ve used both these DAWS and ended up with FL. I find it easy-to-use, intuitive, and visually appealing. It also happens to be cost-effective because of the lower price tag and a lifetime of free upgrades.