Back in December 2018, our friends at Nugen Audio reached out to their followers by email, Facebook and Twitter asking people to fill out the Nugen Audio Holiday Survey in return for a $50 voucher to use against any purchase in their webstore for a limited period.
We have been granted exclusive access to the results and it gives a very interesting glimpse at our preferences and choices outside of Nugen Audio products. There were 3174 respondents, which makes it a good sample and we understand that 40% of the people who took part in the poll weren’t Nugen Audio users, which really helps to give us a broader insight into the pro audio community choices and preferences as you will see as we go through the results.
Question 1 - What is your main DAW operating system?
This is interesting especially in the light of our recent poll results on what computer platform people use for Pro Tools. Although it doesn’t match the swing to Windows computers that our 2019 poll showed, these results do show a distinct shift towards Windows when compared to our 2016 poll. The results from this Nugen Audio survey do show that any developer that chooses to remain a Mac only brand is missing out on a growing base of users in the pro-audio sector that are turning to Windows as their platform of choice as we have seen within the team with James Ivey switching from Mac to Windows for his Pro Tools computer.
Even with great computers from Apple, like the Mac mini 2018, as we have shown with articles like Apple Mac mini 2018 Tested For Audio Production Work - Is This The Next Computer You Should Buy For Your Studio? and the MacBook Pro 2018 that even though it came in for some stick for an overheating problem, it still proves to be a good computer for DAW use on the road, as we explored in our article Will Pro Tools Work Well On The New MacBook Pro - We Investigate If The Apple Laptop Will Stay Cool Running The Avid Software. Even so, there is no doubt that Apple machines are rising in price and are less suitable for some DAW users, especially the minority that need PCI-e slots. As we can see from this survey all of this is encouraging more and more DAW users to choose a Windows machine to host their DAW and audio software on.
Question 2 - Which methods of purchase interest you?
In many respects this doesn’t surprise us. Anecdotally we have seen a kick-back for subscription based models in the pro-audio sector, with the outright purchase option being the most popular way to buy audio software and plug-ins. Nevertheless I still find it strange that subscription doesn’t find more favour especially from people who earn part or all their living from the pro-audio sector, and need to budget for their expenditure.
We have produced a number of articles that present the arguments between purchase and rental including If You Think Software Subscriptions Are Bad Then Read This and Are Software Subscriptions Just Another Lottery You Should Avoid?
In addition we have produced cost analysis articles like Buying Pro Tools? Which Is Better, Perpetual License Or Rental Subscription in which we show that for Pro Tools, which is one of the more expensive DAWs, for Pro Tools vanilla if you factor in the support plan at $99 per annum, the monthly figure for the perpetual license over 3 years comes out at $30.39 as opposed to $24.92. The breakeven point for Pro Tools vanilla is around 5 years, before it becomes cheaper to buy a perpetual Pro Tools license and annual upgrade plan as opposed to renting it. For Pro Tools Ultimate Software that breakeven point is slightly shorter at around 4 years.
When it comes to plug-ins, there are a growing number of brands who are offering subscription options and we have a dedicated plug-in subscription calculator to weigh up the costs of perpetual licenses against monthly & annual subscription plans. Using perpetual costs as a reference, we have also included a "break even" section that will give you an idea of how long it takes in years to "break even".
For the significant number of users who clearly prefer to purchase their software rather than rent it perhaps the most interesting thing about the results from this question is the number of people who have chosen the rent-to-own option. With most rental schemes, whether it’s a car, house or studio software, the money you spend on the rent is gone, you carry on spending but don’t end up with anything to show for it. With rent-to-own you can try something out, which if it doesn’t work out for you means you haven’t wasted the full purchase price, but it you do like it, you can offset the rental outlay against the purchase price and in the end have something to show for it that you ‘own’. I predict that we will see a growth of rent-to-own options being made available by software developers to give customers a soft way into their products.
Question 3 - Which methods of copy protection do you prefer?
Whether you like it or not, copy protection is a necessary part of using any software, but especially in niche area like the pro-audio sector where development costs are significant and software piracy is a real problem to the viability of a software developer’s business. To give you a sense of the problem, we know of one software developer who told us that one of their plug-ins has only 3% of the users who are legal owners.
That means that most of the time the guys spent working on that plug-in, they are not getting paid. This is scary especially when you have family responsibilities and the average plug-in takes around a year for the team to develop.
There’s no such thing as a victimless crime - someone pays for it somewhere, be that developers who go bankrupt or give up trying or buyers who have to pay for the protection in the cost of the software. With figures like this it is no surprise that developers feel they have to invest in protection systems, the cost of which is passed on to the real consumers… the ones who actually pay for the software, so if you are one of the people who pays for your software, piracy is as much your problem as anyone else’s.
Then we had the case of Curtiss King, a professional working and earning a living in the creative industry as a music producer, fellow blogger and content creator who produces online hip-hop production videos who was caught using pirated software. In his confession video, Curtiss openly shares his experiences of using a cracked DAW. He tells us how he used to justify his cracking software habit, why he felt he didn’t need to put his hand in his pocket to pay for the software and how he came to the realisation that pirating software is theft… even if his epiphany was discovered the hard way at least he finally saw the reality of his past actions.
Software piracy is theft, pure and simple. However to justify their actions there are The Lies People Tell Themselves To Justify Software Theft with excuses like…
A lot of great tracks are made with cracked software
There's a difference between physical property and software
It's a victimless crime
You wouldn't buy it otherwise
You would give your things away so everyone should
Software theft is a scourge, and there are no arguments to justify it. We see on the news every day someone caught doing something wrong and then trying to explain it away with an excuse that doesn't hold water.
Bottom line, if you use the cracked software, you are making our industry worse not better. If you record tracks using it and then complain when people don't pay for your music, then you are a hypocrite.
Buy the software you use, if you can't afford it, then use free software, there's plenty about and plenty that ships with the DAW you use.
Looking at the results of this question, the most interesting part is the growing use of either cloud based licensing, which is likely to be based around iLok Cloud and we have a searchable database of all the plug-ins and software that supports iLok Cloud
Network licensing is ideal for large post, broadcast, or media education facilities as with Network Site Licensing you are able to administer licenses to your enterprise, teams, or educational facility without needing to manage multiple iLoks or replace stolen ones, as the iLoks with site licenses on them can be attached to a computer in a central secure location, removing the need for vulnerable iLoks attached to multiple computers across the site and Nugen Audio is one of a growing number of brands who are choosing to support Network Licensing.
Question 4 - I use audio plugins for...
Although the survey was promoted to Nugen Audio followers, with 40% of the respondents not Nugen Audio users, the results from this question give us an interesting insight into what people use their audio software for.
The top 3 are not particularly surprising, although the fact that Mastering came above Recording was a little surprising but this may be an indication that a significant number of people do not have a system that allows them to track though plug-ins during the recording process and so don’t use plug-ins in the recording phase..
The amount of audio restoration is one that stands out for me. It shows that for one reason or another a lot of audio that passes through our hands isn’t up to scratch and needs cleaning up.
I was initially surprised that immersive audio workflows are so far down but after further consideration, although these are growth areas, clearly the vast majority of audio production is still stereo or possibly 5.1. After all it’s only certain sectors like film and OTT where Dolby Atmos is growing very quickly.
Question 5 - How would you prefer to receive your plugins?
This is a very understandable question for a plug-in developer like Nugen Audio to ask. Any sensible developer is going to want to deliver their products in the most acceptable way possible. Clearly the preference for Application Managers that monitor the status of the tools on your computer and then compare that with the latest versions on the brand’s servers are gaining traction. For me anything that helps me to make sure I have the latest versions of software on my system is useful.
It was a real shame that PluginUpdate wasn’t sustainable. PluginUpdate was an excellent brand agnostic application that tracked a database in the cloud to inform you whether your plug-ins were all up to date.
Maybe there would be some mileage for DAW brands to follow Avid’s lead as Avid Link has a section which informs users whether their Avid software is up to date, and it is possible to download the installers and instal the latest versions all from within the Avid Link app. But as Kazrog found there is a significant cost in both development and maintenance, keeping the data stored in the cloud secure from hackers. All of which means we are likely to be dependent on individual brands doing what they can with Application Manager apps.
Question 6 - What is your main DAW/editor?
No surprises here with the top 5. Pro Tools being number one is no surprise, and I guess Logic being number 2 should also not be a surprise either, especially when you take into consideration what you get bundled with Logic Pro X.
What did surprise me a little is that Studio One wasn’t in 3rd place but I guess there must be a lot of Cubase users out there or may be it is Cubasis and the other ‘free’ versions that come bundled with hardware that have boosted the numbers for Cubase.
Taking into consideration the comprehensive list, what did surprise me the most was the category ‘Other’ at 5.8%. I wondered what other DAWs out there could contribute nearly 6% of the DAWs. Nugen Audio tell us that the ‘Other’ category mentioned DAWs like Cakewalk, Bitwig, Digital Performer, Reason, Soundscape, Garageband, Pyramix, Sonar, MuLab, Mixbus, SoundBlade, Mixcraft, Hindenburg, Sound Forge, Metro, Sadie, Audacity, Maschine, Vegas Pro, mpc, Tracktion, Fairlight, Final Cut Pro, and SAWStudio.
One thing I want to bring up here is the growing number of users choosing to not only have access to more than one DAW but to regularly use at least 2 DAWs. Nugen Audio told me that for questions like this one, people were allowed to make multiple selections to enable them to show that they use more than one DAW and which ones they are using.
Even 5 years ago when we ran a poll asking Do You Use Multiple DAWs? just over 63% of the respondents were already using 2 or more DAWs.
It means that partly due to a maturing of the technology offering more than ever for less money and also to many of us growing up, we can now have everything we need but not necessarily from just one DAW. Many of us use two and sometimes three different DAWs to get the job done, and even with proprietary file formats, it's not that hard to jump between different DAWs when necessary.
Even back in 2014, owning two DAWs was not a new thing, some of you may be old enough to remember the TDM option for Logic launched in 2004, offering those who used both Pro Tools TDM hardware and Logic compatibility. It would be reasonable even then to assume they were jumping between Pro Tools and Logic. Later on, Pro Tools users used ReWire technology to bring Reason and other ReWire-compatible DAWs into Pro Tools.
What we have also seen is a trend where DAW developers are carving out a niche, not only for certain users but also for certain uses. Some DAWs are ideal for music production while others are perfect for post production. I dare not suggest which is which for fear of starting another debate about which DAW does which job best. It seems that many developers have stopped trying to be all things to all people and concentrated on the main strengths that they are best at - and that can only be a good thing.
As we've said for many years here on the Expert sites is that 'the best DAW is the one that works for you.' In many cases now, that is more than one DAW.
Question 7 - Would you be happy for your plugin to auto-version check at a user definable time?
This ties in with question 5 when it comes to ways of helping users to keep their plug-ins and software up to date. But it also opens up the can of worms of how the auto-version checking works.
I don’t like updater apps that constantly remind you that you need to update your software. Apple are the worst for this. Right now I am constantly getting reminders to upgrade my macOS to Mojave, but as Pro Tools isn’t currently supported on macOS Mojave I do not want to go there.
But the worst of all is updater apps that don’t even ask, they just do it in the background and then you find something is broken and rolling back can be an even bigger challenge.
What we need is a polite reminder that there is a later version of xyz plug-in and then leave it to us as to when to update. As we always say when it comes to updating, “don’t do it if you are in the middle of a project. Wait until you have some downtime before you run the updaters apps”.
That said, DAWs like Pro Tools can become unreliable if you have out of date plug-ins in your plug-in folder. In the case of Pro Tools, these out of date plug-ins don’t even have to be in use in your session, just being sat in your plug-in folder is enough for Pro Tools to become unreliable. So an updater app that politely reminds you but isn’t too pushy is great in helping you to keep up to date.
Question 8 - What make is the processor in your main DAW machine?
No surprises here then, Intel rules the roost, although I am surprised that AMD take up is as low as it is. That said, DAWs like Pro Tools are much more reliable with Intel processors. In fact the use of Intel processors is listed in the Pro Tools compatibility documents. It states a minimum of an Intel Core i5 processor for Pro Tools Standard and an Intel Xeon processor for Pro Tools Ultimate. I recall in years gone past that there were notes and comments in Avid’s compatibility documents about problems if your Pro Tools computer had AMD processors.
For many years Apple users were secure in that Intel processors (and PowerPC processors before that) were going to be fine, although those of us who were around at the PowerPC to Intel transition remember a less than smooth transition with Pro Tools!
But since then, all has largely been calm on the Apple ocean. However the rumours are growing that Apple is looking to move to Arm processors. As recently as 2 months ago we looked at how the pro-audio industry will prepare for Apple’s switch from Intel to Arm processors.
The Register wrote in October 2018
"Apple will abandon Intel processor chips for its Macs in favour of homegrown Arm-based chips, according to a securities analyst. Formerly at KGI, Ming-Chi Kuo of KeyBanc Capital Markets, has a strong record of reliable Apple predictions.
Mac Rumors wrote at the beginning of January 2019…
"The next Mac you buy may not have Intel inside. Apple is pushing forward with plans to ditch Intel’s processors in favor of its own chips, according to a new report that claims the transition away from Intel CPUs will likely take multiple steps."
One thought is that the new Mac Pro might be delayed to take advantage of the move to the Apple Arm CPU, however, we believe that it is much more likely that Apple will start with the MacBook Pro and then perhaps move onto the Mac Mini, so don't hold out hope that that the new Mac Pro will be the moment Apple unveil their new chip. The key thing here is that isn’t going to happen overnight, Apple will need to give their developer partners plenty of warning to be able to ‘tool-up’ ready for the Arm processors if that proves to be the way Apple moves forward.
Question 9 - How much memory (RAM) does your main DAW machine have?
What is most interesting with the options for this question is that there wasn’t a 32 to 64 GB option At the bottom end, does anyone honestly work with a DAW and a modern OS with less than 4GB of RAM? Clearly from the results a handful are still working with less than 4 GB of RAM, but I cannot imagine they are using anything vaguely contemporary in the way of an OS with so little RAM.
With DAWs like Pro Tools wanting a minimum of 16 GB and 32 GB being the recommendation when it comes to RAM, not having a 32 GB to 64 GB category seems a strange omission and I suspect that is probably why the ‘Other’ category is so high.
What I find most surprising it that nearly half of the respondents using Pro Tools, which has a minimum requirement of 16 GB of RAM, nearly two thirds of the respondents still have between 8 and 16 GB of RAM. With RAM being so cheap, increasing the amount of RAM you have in your DAW computer is one of the most cost effective ways to improve the performance of your computer.
There you have it. Thank you to Nugen Audio for running this survey and to all 3174 respondents for completing the survey.
What are your thoughts about the results from this survey? What were the surprises for you? Will it help you in your choices? Does it confirm what you have experienced anecdotally or does it fly in the face of your experiences? Do share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below…