DAW support: Which is the best?

music-production

I use a rather large variety of software, which has brought me into contact with quite a few different communities. Some I follow quite closely, such as the Ableton and Propellerhead forums, others much less frequent. Even so, I quickly noticed that they all have one thing in common: in many threads people complain about the (lack off) official DAW support.

And that got a friend and me thinking…  How realistic were those complaints, are those people complaining to complain or is there actually something going on? As I wrote in a previous post I already had to adjust some of my prejudice regarding Native Instruments support, but what about the rest of the lot?

We decided to put them all to the test and find out which is the best…

Quick comment…

Some of you may notice another name as author of the post. Thats because Shel is currently suffering from the flu, has quite the fever, and since we did this testing project together Shel decided that I should finish the post. Most has already been written by him; I’m now filling up some gaps. Sorry if I’m not as good a writer! :)

DAW support put to the test

So how does one test the several support desks out there?

We made up the following story: My good friend Rob lend my laptop which contains all my soft synths (Ableton Live, Max, Reason, etc.). Unfortunately on that dreaded Sunday, the 14th of October, the HD failed and Rob had to re-install Windows 7 and all of the audio software.

Fortunately Rob had access to my several accounts, so he could easily grab a licensed version of Ableton Live, Reason 6, and so on. The bad news is that he ended up with a big problem: whenever he configured the software to use the ASIO driver (Asio4All) there was no sound. He spend the whole evening, it drove him nuts, so he finally decided to contact support and see if they could help him…

The rules of our game

Rob send the same e-mail, only replacing the product name, to the support desks of several companies at the same time. You can read it below. His e-mail address is not registered (unknown) with these companies. And the cause of our made up problem is a misconfiguration in the Asio4All driver.

So; the solution we’re after is the suggestion to re-install or reconfigure Asio4All.

Rob would only use e-mail, but if we didn’t get a reaction at the end of the day he would use a contact form on the website. Of course by asking me first.

We’re judging the several companies based on speed (how many days until we get a non-automated answer), customer friendliness (Rob’s e-mail address is unknown; will they demand that he gives them a known (registered) account name or will they try and help him out) and knowledge (can they actually solve the problem).

And to make sure this wouldn’t end up in an ever ongoing project we set the end date on 1 week.

These are the companies we put to the test, and why (in semi-random order):

  • Ableton – Because of my Suite 8 license.
  • Cycling ’74 – Because of my Max/MSP/Jitter license.
  • Propellerhead – Because of my Reason 6 license.
  • Native Instruments – Because of my Absynth 5 license.
  • Magix – Because of my Samplitude 10 license.

The e-mail

This is the e-mail as it was sent by Rob:

Hello,

My name is Rob. I borrowed my friends laptop this weekend and something weird with
the HD happened. Unfortunately I had to re-install Windows 7 and all the software
on it.

Including xxx.

Everything works pretty normal; but the moment I switch to ASIO then I get no sound
anymore. Im using Asio4All.

Im sure its something simple and stupid, but i cant think of anything anymore.

Hope you can help me out.

Thx!

Rob

… where ‘xxx’ got replaced with the involved product (Ableton Suite 8, Reason 6, Absynth 5, etc.).

The results

All companies were relatively quick with sending me an automated response. All companies provided links to get more information, which I think is a very good setup; in my role as a “newb” I’d definitely check the URLs out. The only exception to this was the automated response from Cycling ’74; that message only suggested that you send any more relevant information you could think of.

And then there was Magix…  This company made it very clear that you couldn’t request support through email like that; you should use the online form.

Unfortunately their webform is very annoying to use…  When you try to use “New Request” the site tells you to select between technical support and sales, only to complain that you aren’t logged on. So I made myself an account. All good? Nope. NOW it complains that I got no registered products…  Really… Do I really need to waste 15min or so before it can tell me that support is only available for registered customers ?  (this is no where to be found on the site).

I think thats very poor design, especially since Magix also provides trial versions for their products. And these trials do not get registered in your account there seems to be no way to “ask before you buy”. Although they do have a support forum.

I asked Shel to look into this, he was still feeling fine back then, and he learned that his version of Samplitude was no longer supported. Better yet; the only way to receive support was to purchase a support ticket:

We think this sheds a whole new light on customer support and brings forth a new question: how much do we take support for granted?

Customers only!

The other company which also made it very clear that they need to get an e-mail from a registered and known e-mail address is Ableton. After 2 days (mail was sent on Monday, this answer was received on Wednesday) I got a non-automated reply:

Unfortunately, we could not locate any license or account on your e-mail address,
so please get back to us with the e-mail address where your Live license is registered
or your serial number and we will gladly assist you on your issue.

We are looking forward to hearing from you.

After talking it over with Shel I send another e-mail, this time clearly mentioning Shel’s real name and e-mail address, while making sure to mention that we were friends. I also told Ableton that I wanted to fix these problems before telling Shel about them ;-)

Unfortunately that’s not how it works… The next day they told me this:

We are very sorry but as Live is a single user license and can not be
shared we are only able to provide technical support for the
registered owner of the software.

Please ask your friend Peter to contact us directly regarding
his license.

We look forward to hearing back from him.

Not hearing anything…

Propellerhead Software sent me an automated response on the very same day I sent my e-mail, and I haven’t heard back from them since. Native Instruments worked a bit different; I never got a response on my e-mail so I asked Shel Monday evening if it would be ok for me to use his account and open a ticket. We agreed that I would write the text, send it to him after which he would file the request.

As I said earlier; he currently lies in bed feeling miserable, but as far as I know we never got any new responses.

And the winner is…

…Cycling ’74

This was quite shocking. When I checked their site for a support e-mail address I noticed that they would be closed for the rest of the week:

Now what?  We decided to let things go on, please imagine my surprise when I suddenly got this e-mail, the very same day:

Hi Rob
Make sure anti-virus is turned off if you have any.
I believe ASIO4ALL will only serve the App that it's set
for, mostly likely not Max6. (see link below)
Try using the ad_portaudio driver as an alternative.
Seems some of our other users have had a similar problem 

http://cycling74.com/forums/topic.php?id=37657

For the record: I was using my own (brandnew ! :D ) synthfan.info e-mail address which wasn’t in their system. But they responded with several hints and even a direct link to a forum thread which contains a few very helpful posts.

Summing up

Many support desks only provide support for paying customers. I think this really shows the commitment of Ableton when it comes to supporting Live 8 over all these past years.

When looking at Magix support shouldn’t be something people take for granted. Keep in mind: real people mail you back, who most likely get real monthly paychecks…

But we both think its quite amazing that Cycling ’74 beat the competition hands on. Even when they are a relative small company in comparison with Ableton or Propellerhead.

And the runner ups?

Originally we planned on closing all open tickets after one week, also coming forth that we were testing them. But now that Shel is sick and doesn’t feel like coming within 5 meters of his PC we may leave this open. I’ll have to discuss that with him first.

Finally; we feel not to have wasted company resources with our little project; considering how Shel has been a customer with those companies for several years now and has never (or hardly) turned to support for help.

One comment

  1. ShelLuser says:

    Update…

    A week after Rob sent his original e-mail we also got a response from Propellerhead Software. And just like Cycling ’74 they didn’t bother with checking if Rob was a customer or not, instead they simply tried to answer him best as possible:

    “Hello Rob,

    In the control panels for ASIO4ALL, you can set which audio inputs and outputs you would like to use. If you have a built-in mic on your computer, you might want to exclude that.

    Hope this helps.”

    Considering how our designed issue was supposedly caused by Asio4All I think Propellerhead also hit the nail on the head and managed to solve the problem.

    7 days later (so 2 weeks after the original e-mail) I also got a message from Native Instruments. They totally ignored the fact that Rob had allegedly sent the request and told me:

    “thank you for contacting Native Instruments.

    We apologize this very late answer. Due to the high amount of incoming requests, we currently can’t achieve our desired response times. Though this should not be taken as a general excuse, we think it’s important to let you know about the current situation. We apologize any inconvenience this may have caused.

    Please use the below link to access the Native Instruments Support Tool, which provides us with important information regarding your computer system:”

    I wasn’t going to bother with that, though I can see that they try to get as much information as they can in order to solve the whole issue.

    And that rounds up our little investigation.