Here is the essential list of the best free DAW software you can use to make music:
- Tracktion Waveform Free
- Studio One Prime
- Ableton Live Lite
- Cubase LE
- Pro Tools First
- Cakewalk LE
A Digital Audio Workstation is the main music production tool nowadays. Whether you’re audio editing, audio recording, looking to use your virtual instruments and effects, or record multi track audio, you’ll probably use a DAW. Like most professional software, flagship DAWs are expensive, which is why you might want to look into free options.
A DAW can set you back a good $100-$1000, and that’s not even including the VST plugins, or the virtual instruments you might want to purchase after.
Deciding on the best free DAW can be a hard task. It entirely depends on your needs and requirements. While some producers are looking for an easy to use audio editing and audio recording platform, others focus on making music with virtual instruments and effects.
To help you decide which free daw is best for you, we’ve assembled this list of what we think are the best free DAWs out there. You might also wanna check out our list of the best free vst plugins alongside this article. Grab yourself a free DAW, and some wicked-sounding, free plugins.
Tracktion Waveform Free DAW
Tracktion usually releases a new version of their excellent Waveform DAW every year. When they do so, they also release an older version of their DAW for free.
Waveform Free 2021, is essentially Waveform V8 from a couple of years ago.
It’s difficult to overhype how great this is. Waveform Free is a fully-fledged free DAW, that only a couple of years ago was Tracktion’s flagship product. We really wish more companies did this.
Waveform Free is a very usable DAW, it’s workflow is quick, easy to use and intuitive, if not a little different from typical workstations.
You get unlimited MIDI and audio tracks plus a heap of professional-grade processing, EQ and mixing effects. It also has an effects rack where you can chain up plug-ins, and create complex connections between all the audio processors.
On top of this, they allow you to use 3rd party plugins inside Tracktion Free. That means, you can go ahead and download some of the wicked free plugins, over on our best free vst plugins list & get access to more instruments for free!
Waveform 8 also introduced a number of new instruments & VST plugins, including a sampler and an FM synthesizer.
Waveform does a lot of cool stuff including, step sequencing, vocal comping, MIDI learning, track freezing time and pitch warping + it can sync to video. It also fully supports 3rd party VST plugin software, and instruments, + will run on Windows, MacOS and Linux.
When you get bored with the free version, Waveform Pro is a great, fully featured music making software.
All in all, for a free DAW, there’s probably no better option out there, than the Tracktion Waveform Free. You can use it on Windows, Mac, Rasberry Pi & Ubuntu.
To continue our list, we’ll take a look at the simplest and most straight-forward, free DAW software out there – Audacity. If you’re looking to start a podcast, record music, or if you just need a tool to assemble and convert some audio samples, it’s tough to go wrong with Audacity.
Audacity is a very powerful, free audio editing software that’s been available for years. Audacity works smoothly with up to 32-bit/384kHz audio, complete with built-in dithering.
The music software gives you the ability to import and combine audio tracks swiftly (stereo, mono, or even multi track recording) and let’s you bounce the audio to WAV, MP3, and other files, all as 1 piece of audio. It also offers flexible editing down to the sample level as well as spectrogram and spectral views for analyzing your frequency response.
Audacity also features a good selection of basic effects out of the box:
Preset EQ curves (such as AM Radio or Telephone) are a click away, with a real-time preview.
There are also simple Bass and Treble adjustments, as well as high- and low-pass filters. A simple compressor, limiter, phaser, reverb, and wah-wah effect also make an appearance in the settings menu.
A great feature of Audacity is its system audio recording capabilities. We primarily use Ableton Live Suite as our main DAW of choice. But, Audacity is our go to software whenever we just need to record a voiceover for a video, or batch edit audio.
(we actually use it to normalise our sample packs quickly to the same volume)
You don’t get any of the effects and virtual instruments that come as standard with other, full featured DAWs. But Audacity doesn’t need them, nor does it need midi files support. It’s simplicity is it’s greatest asset.
Audacity won’t replace a proper digital audio workstation, or other nonlinear audio editors. If all you need is to edit a batch of samples for a game, or edit your podcast, voiceover etc – Audacity is pretty much everything you need.
Soundbridge is a DAW that has been designed with simplicity in mind. The Soundbrigde DAW is pretty straight forward and, you’ll pick up very quickly if you have a little experience with music software.
The team behind Soundbridge have made sure you get easy access to all essential tracking, sequencing, audio editing and mixing features.
Something you rarely see included with free DAWs, is unlimited tracks. With Soundbridge, you have an unlimited number of audio & instrument tracks, AND you can use your own 3rd party VST plugins! There is also a large variety of stock effects as well as a drum machine and sequencer, but sadly, no virtual instruments.
You get MIDI and audio tracks, with full automation, and a drag-and-drop interface (that feels like a cross between FL Studio and Studio One). And Soundbridge has also been designed for use with a touch interface, so it’s really good for people looking to produce music on an iPhone, iPad or other tablet device.
If you’re looking for a free DAW, you probably don’t own any 3rd party VST plugins. In this case, if you’re looking to make electronic music, Soundbridge might not be for you because it’s geared towards recording.
But you can always check our huge list of free vst plugins to get yourself some wicked sounding free instruments.
You can use Soundbridge on Windows & Mac.
Studio One Prime V5
Studio One is PreSonus’ flagship DAW. Studio One Prime is a stripped back version of it made for free use.
Releasing simpler versions of a flagship product is a proven way of bringing users into your ecosystem to pay for the full product. But, the thing with Studio One Prime is that, it has most of the features you’d expect to find in a DAW you would pay for.
Version 5 brings in retrospective recording, MPE support and a redesigned Native Effects suite including:
- Ampire for guitarists.
- Automation, mixing, sidechaining.
- Resampling and normalization.
- Plus a load more!
Being the Lite version of their flagship DAW, at it’s core, it’s an incredibly usable software environment.
There are some downsides to the Lite version however – the biggest one being the lack of 3rd party plugin support. You are pretty much stuck with the stock plugins. The stock plugins are by no means bad, but the only instrument plugin is Presence, which is limited at best. You can also add the Mai Tai synth if you pay extra for it.
That being said, there are no samplers included, no proper compressors, and no way to add them yourself – which means that the DAW is pretty handicapped.
If it had VST support, it could have a chance at being king of freeware DAWs. As it is however, it’s a very capable training ground for the fuller versions you’ll inevitably end up purchasing.
You can use Studio One Prime V5 on Windows & Mac.
GarageBand features a surprising amount of features that are extremely similar to Logic Pro X. It’s definitely the best free DAW if you have a Mac.
Although GarageBand lacks Logic’s amazing flexibility, vast array of instruments, and powerful mixing and mastering features, it’s almost as powerful when it comes to handling other tasks.
Essentially, GarageBand features everything you need, to start creating your own high quality music. There’s also a solid sound library built in, and Apple has been continually adding to it over the past several years.
Out of the box, GarageBand comes with an array of drums, basses, synths etc. Guitar and bass players can also plug in and choose from a selection of 28 amps and cabinets, with a choice of several microphones. Additionally, 35 separate stomp boxes and a handy tuner can help take your guitar sound even further.
You also get Drummer, a virtual session player plug-in that accompanies your tracks, with 28 different player settings, which you can use on tracks to get an automatic groove. The best thing about this, is you can tune and change it in real-time.
GarageBand is incredibly powerful for a free DAW. While there are a lot of free DAWs out there, there’s nothing free with this much power, and this many included sounds.
Unlike the rest, you get completely unlimited audio channels and instrument tracks, to make music as elaborately as you want.
If you’ve been using GarageBand for a while and want to have a similar workspace, with more professional features, Logic Pro X is a safe bet. Both of these are Apple products, and they’re extremely similar in layout, so transitioning to a professional environment is quick and easy.
You can also use GarageBand on your iPhone, iPad and Mac computer. And the mobile version of GarageBand is one of the better free DAWs available for portable devices. GarageBand is also cross platform, which means the stuff you make on your iPhone, or iPad can be transferred straight to your Mac, Macbook, iMac etc.
If you’ve got iCloud drive, you can save the projects there and then open them on your computer, for greater functionality and ease-of-use.
When all is said and done, you can’t beat GarageBand for getting started with music production.
Ableton Live Lite
The flagship industry standard production and performance DAW, Ableton Live, has always had 3 different versions, Suite, Standard and Lite.
Ableton Live Lite is arguably on of the most popular free DAWs ever. A copy of Live Lite comes bundled with almost every hardware keyboard or controller, and it’s a great way to get started with Ableton.
Live’s approach to composition and arrangement is certainly unusual if you’re coming from a traditionally designed digital audio workstation. That being said, as long-time Ableton users, we couldn’t even imagine using any other DAW (except maybe BitWig).
While that’s mostly due to preference, it can’t be understated, how powerful Ableton Live is for musicians and producers.
The Lite version of Ableton Live is a great way to dip your toes into the world of Ableton.
While the UI might be intimidating at first, you’ll quickly find that everything in Live is designed with workflow and ease of use in mind. That being said, the Lite package of Live has some intentional restrictions.
Firstly, and this is probably the biggest one – you cannot export any audio. This essentially means that you can make a song in Lite, but if you want to listen to it outside of your DAW, you’ll need to purchase an upgrade. In addition to this, you’re also limited to 8 Audio and midi tracks, which is honestly, quite limiting.
If you’re looking for a free DAW to use for a while and make some cool music, Ableton Lite might not be for you. If you want to learn how to best produce electronic music and take advantage of arguably the best production package on the market however, try out Lite.
Be warned that if you do, a future purchase of Suite or Standard will be inevitable.
You can use Ableton Lite on Windows & Mac.
Steinberg’s Cubase LE is a special, compact version which uses the same core technologies as Cubase Pro. It provides all the basic tools for recording, editing and mixing – from the initial idea to the final masterpiece.
Cubase LE is a great entry into the world of computer-based music production, and offers powerful, yet easy-to-use software tools for all genres.
You can use up to 16 audio tracks, 24 MIDI tracks for external instruments, and up to eight instrument tracks. Stereo mixes can be bounced to disk in either WAV or AIFF format. Exporting stereo mixes as MP3s is also possible.
Cubase LE features a set of powerful, inspiring instruments and awesome sounds. HALion Sonic SE is a versatile sound production tool, which combines a massive sample library, with a powerful synthesizer engine and effects.
Also included is the renowned drum production tool Groove Agent SE, which is ready to help you create amazing beats, whatever genre you’re working in. Recording instrument can also be enhanced with the AmpSimulator, which provides a number of amp emulations and settings you can tweak.
Cubase LE also includes a complete set of, 23 great-sounding VST effects plug-ins, covering everything from EQ and dynamics to reverb and delay. You can also use any of your 3rd party VST plug-ins with Cubase LE.
Cubase LE is one of the better free DAWs you can get. It offers less limitation than other free versions of flagship DAW’s, like Live Lite and Pro Tools First, while adding their own Steinberg flair.
If you’re looking for a really versatile and usable digital audio workstation, check out Cubase LE, you might like it.
You can use Cubase LE on Windows & Mac.
Pro Tools First
Avid’s Pro Tools has been the professional DAW of choice for music studios around the world, for over 20 years now.
While it may not offer as much in terms of synthesizers and samples, Pro Tools has always been one of the best mixing and mastering environments for digital audio. Pro Tools First, is the best way to get acquainted with the Pro Tools environment and see if it works for you.
We wouldn’t suggest Pro Tools First as the DAW of choice for an electronic musician looking to create some beats. Pro Tools is perfect for the engineer however. If you primarily do editing, and mixing with recorded audio, Pro Tools is pretty much the best thing you can get.
Pro Tools is like a classic SSL mixing desk in a digital format.
With Pro Tools First, you’re limited to 16 tracks of Audio, which, these days… is really not a lot.
The plugins you get are simple. Starting with the compression, it’s great for beginners, but you’ve only got one to choose from. Same goes for the EQ, it’s awesome and a great quality EQ, but it’s just a tiny taste of what the full version can offer.
With effects, you are limited to just one reverb and one delay. And considering you cannot add any 3rd party VST’s, this is a little disappointing.
In terms of synthesizers, you get only one. Xpand2 is a great synthesizer, that has long been a staple of Pro Tools’ factory offerings. It’s great if you want to lay down some quick musical ideas, make some leads or anything else you might want.
All in all, Pro Tools First is designed with the audio engineer in mind. If this isn’t you, then don’t waste your time with a DAW that isn’t providing the right solution you need.
You can use Pro Tools First on Windows & Mac.
Cakewalk by BandLab
Based on the now deceased SONAR DAW, BandLab has revitalized this award winning digital audio workstation, in a new, and completely free software package: “Cakewalk”.
Cakewalk by BandLab, was designed to provide a simple-yet-complete solution for creating audio with hardware.
Cakewalk features the unique Matrix View, which lets you organize audio and MIDI loops, phrases, and one shots into cells and columns for real-time triggering. Use it for midi sequencing, easy arranging of song sections or for complex sets of multiple grooves, one-shots, drops, and breakdowns; all playable in real-time.
While it may not be the perfect for meticulous micro-editing and in-depth production, Cakewalk is one of the best free DAWs for an instrumentalist.
Although Cakewalk retains all of Sonar’s functionality, it lacks most of the third-party plug-ins that used to come bundled with Sonar (no more free Melodyne). However, Cakewalk does offer high quality tools for tracking, mixing, or mastering, with FX ranging from the essential to the unique.
Cakewalk has been designed to replicate an analog console and its layout. You can build and upgrade your channel strip, with their ProChannel modules (which come as part of an expandable library). These modules include, a convolution reverb, resonant filtering, dynamic compression, EQ, tape and console emulation, peak limiting, and tube saturation.
Unlike other “free” offerings from the flagship players, Cakewalk by Bandlab is 100% free top to bottom. This isn’t a free version of the software we’re talking about, there just isn’t a paid version available.
The only drawback to Cakewalk is that it is a Windows exclusive, sorry to all the Apple users.
If you’re a Windows user however, Cakewalk by BandLab is one of the best free DAWs out there. If you’re looking for a free solution to music production, without any restrictions and paywalls, look no further.
Ardour is a different beast than the rest of the free DAWs on this list. It’s an open source, collaborative effort of a worldwide team including: musicians, programmers, and professional recording engineers.
Like a good piece of vintage hardware, you can open the box and look inside.
Rather than being focused on electronic and pop music idioms, Ardour focuses on classic recording and instrumentation techniques. Don’t mistake their classic take on production, as meaning that it’s simple though. Ardour is a very intuitive DAW, and the customizability + usability of it is impressive.
Just like any full featured DAW, you get unlimited audio tracks and third party vst plugin support.
Complex signal flows are simple and elegant. Inputs and outputs can connect to your hardware and/or other applications; you can use sends, inserts and returns freely; basically, if you can’t connect in the way you want with Ardour, it probably can’t be done.
Ardour is also great in an audio post-production context. With a video timeline option, importing and working with video in Ardour, is quick and easy.
Ardour is also one of the rare DAWs that is available for use on all 3 major operating systems, Mac OS, Windows and Linux.
The biggest hurdle with it is, if you aren’t totally computer savvy, the installation is difficult. Because it’s open source, you’ll have to install it yourself. So, if you want to use Ardour completely free of charge, you’ll have to get the source code. With a good tutorial nearby, installing the source code isn’t all that hard. But, if you’re completely out of your depth with this, the installer costs around $10, so it’s not going to break the bank.
Here is the complete list of the best free DAWs you can use to start making music:
- Tracktion Waveform Free
- Studio One Prime
- Ableton Live Lite
- Cubase LE
- Pro Tools First
- Cakewalk LE
Hopefully this list of the best free DAW software has helped you decide on which software package is best for you.
Whether you produce music for film, are a wizard with the piano roll, or just want to edit your audio files, there’s something out there for you. Now that you have your software, all that’s left is to fire up that drum sampler and make music.