If you’re looking for the best free audio recording software, then chances are you’re interested in getting started with music production and sound engineering fast.
The good news? Recording and producing music doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. There are a lot of great free software apps just waiting to be downloaded and used by you.
The bad news? Well, there isn’t really any bad news, except that, if you’re new to music production, there is always a little bit of a learning curve with any application you choose. If you’re determined to learn, though, this shouldn’t slow you down.
Either way, there is no time like now to start learning, right? So, here are some of the best free audio recording software options available for Mac, Windows PC, Android, iPhone, Linux, Raspberry Pi, and more.
GarageBand by Apple
GarageBand for Mac was originally released in 2004, when Apple was making a serious push towards appealing to the artistic and creative. It would seem they were successful in instilling that image among consumers – Apples are now favored by writers, web developers, graphic designers, and videographers alike!
iOS generally comes bundled with this little piece of kit – GarageBand. And over time, it has only become more powerful.
What was originally a simple loop and sample mixing station (making music production and beat making more accessible to anyone), has grown into a full recording, mixing, and mastering suite. To be fair, their virtual effects and instruments have always been quite good (in my humble opinion).
What makes GarageBand so great is that it’s simple and fun, especially with its color coded tracks. Of all the Digital Audio Workstations out there, it’s one of the least complex and easiest to use, though with just enough sophistication to make it powerful – not just for sketching out track ideas and pre-production, but also for making professional grade demos.
Now, we don’t want to talk it up too much. Sure, some artists and bands have released music they created with GarageBand, and some of it turned out quite good too. But if you want more flexibility, you’d certainly want to opt for a good DAW with a little more power (and there are some worthy contenders on this list).
Either way, GarageBand is a lot of kit, especially for free, and it works on all Apple devices – desktop or laptop, tablet, or iPhone.
Audacity is the go-to free, open-source, cross-platform audio recording software for amateurs, hobbyists, podcasters (especially podcasters), and even audio editors.
Audacity is streamlined and basic, featuring a slightly “old school” user interface. Its feature set is also minimal, but just enough for basic recording and audio editing purposes. It even comes with some basic effects and supports LADSPA, LV2, Nyquist, VST and AU effect plugins, in case you want to extend its functionality.
If you’re not planning to do anything fancy, and just want to start recording and editing, then Audacity is a good option. For speech and voice, it’s quite competent.
For producing professional quality demos, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere, or at least pair Audacity with another more capable DAW. But we suspect there are plenty of sound engineers and music producers who originally cut their teeth on Audacity to develop their skills. Who says you can’t still do that?
Audacity is compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux, and that’s another great thing about it.
Waveform Free by Tracktion
Tracktion’s Waveform Free has quite a history. It was originally the property of Mackie but ended up getting passed around by different developers for a while. The software used to be called Tracktion, which is now the name of the company (Tracktion Software Corporation) that creates Waveform and other plugins.
Previous incarnations of Waveform were always low-cost and accessible, but the fact that you can get it for free now is more than a little noteworthy (to be fair, like other developers, their goal is to upsell you on their plugins and other software).
Waveform Free features kind of a unique interface. With the latest edition, it’s starting to look a little more like a standard DAW environment, but its workflow is decidedly different, and in my opinion, easier for a beginner to work with.
As with GarageBand, it sports a relatively user-friendly look, with color coded tracks that you can easily manipulate – drag, cut, trim, fade, etc.
The included virtual effect and instrument library might be small, but it has also been upgraded heavily over time. Specifically, we’re impressed with the 4OSC synth, which seems capable of delivering just about any synth sound you can think of – pads, basses, leads, strings, keyboards, effects, and more.
If you’re looking to dive into a brand-new project, Waveform has several useful templates you can easily load up and manipulate to develop your own creations – Band Recording, EDM, House of Worship, Podcast, and Singer Songwriter. Of course, you are not required to use the templates.
Waveform also supports VST plugins, which means you can load in all your favorite free VSTs to extend the DAW’s functionality.
Waveform Free is compatible with Mac, Windows, Ubuntu, and Raspberry Pi.
LMMS’ popularity is something of an anomaly. But that doesn’t mean we think ill of it. We suspect that its omnipresence has a lot to do with the fact that it’s a) free, and b) a solid FL Studio alternative (who doesn’t want that?).
This free, cross-platform DAW has its share of pros and cons, but why don’t we start by getting into what it does well?
First and foremost, LMMS lets you sequence, compose, mix, and automate songs. Note playback is possible using a MIDI or computer keyboard. You can import MIDI and Hydrogen project files. It also comes with 64-bit VST instrument support, 32-bit VST bridge, 16 built-in synthesizers, support for LADSPA and VST plugins, effects (compressor, limiter, delay, reverb, distortion, bass enhancer, graphic and parametric equalizers), and more.
Like Audacity, LMMS isn’t backed by a big company, though, and that means it’s developed by the community, which can have its upsides and downsides. Its user interface is slightly cumbersome, and recording isn’t one of its strong suits. You can import samples, but you can’t record directly to LMMS.
Still, for making beats and electronic music, LMMS isn’t half bad.
For all your portable studio needs, LMMS is available on Windows, Linux, and Mac.
Cakewalk by BandLab
SONAR Platinum for free? Maybe not 10, 15 years ago, but now? You’ve got Cakewalk by Bandlab.
Cakewalk comes with an award-winning UI, unlimited audio, MIDI, instrument, loop, and auxiliary tracks, the “industry-best” audio engine, VST3 support, Touch, studio quality effects (convolution reverb, resonant filtering, dynamic compression, EQ, tape and console emulation, peak limiting, and tube saturation) and more.
Upon starting a new project inside Cakewalk, you’ve got several presets you can choose from – Basic, 4-Track, 16-Track, Empty Project, Guitar Amps, and Vocals. This seems like a standard feature with DAWs these days.
As with many DAWs, Cakewalk emulates hardware mixers and other outboard gear for its impeccably designed and sophisticated user interface. The downside, if there is one, is that it might take you a little longer to feel comfortable working in this environment versus something like GarageBand or Waveform Free.
Of course, SONAR Platinum was originally created as a premium, professional DAW, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Cakewalk is perfect for all types of productions, and because it is supported by BandLab, it continues to get updated occasionally. That level of customer support and attention to detail is above and beyond!
You’ll need to download the BandLab app to install and use Cakewalk. We’re not especially crazy about this, as we’ve had some less than stellar experiences with other companies who force you to use their app to download their software. That said, we haven’t encountered any major issues with the BandLab app, so I guess we can’t complain too much.
Cakewalk is compatible with Windows.
Studio One 5 Prime by PreSonus
PreSonus’ Studio One 5 Prime is a popular free DAW that instantly bestows you with the ability to record, produce, and mix.
It has a straightforward, single-window work environment with drag and drop functionality, multi-touch support, unlimited audio and instrument tracks, virtual instruments, and FX channels, Powerful Presence XT virtual sample-player (keyboard and synth sounds), drum machine/step-sequencer style UI, redesigned Native Effects plugin suite, Poly Pressure/MPE support for advanced MIDI controllers, and over 2 GB of bundled loop and musical content (great for getting started).
This is a nice-looking, professionally designed DAW, and it doesn’t take too long to figure out your own workflow with it (especially if you have previous experience with DAWs like Pro Tools).
That said, despite all the amazing features included, Prime does have some limitations. It doesn’t support third-party VST plugins (effects or instruments – although it does come with plenty of its own), it doesn’t support unlimited busses, and you can only record two channels at a time (which might be a bit of a downer, especially if you’re looking to record drums).
The lack of VST support is probably its greatest weakness.
Studio One 5 Prime nevertheless works on Windows and Mac, and is a decent self-contained recording package.
n-Track Studio | DAW by n-Track S.r.l.
n-Track Studio is a highly rated iPhone app and portable music studio. It gives you the ability to mix an unlimited number of tracks, record, write and edit MIDI, and play built-in or external instruments.
This music production and beat making suite comes with n-Track’s industry leading step sequencer, effects (reverb, echo, chorus, flanger, tremolo, pitch shifter, phaser, tube amp, and compression), built-in synths, loop browser, group and AUX channels, on-screen MIDI keyboard, EQ with 2D and 3D spectrum analyzer and chromatic tuner, metronome, the ability to import tracks, and more.
Now, the free version does come with some limitations, so if you want to unlock all the features, you will need to upgrade to a Standard, Extended, or Suite subscription.
Visit the link below to learn more about this iPhone, iPad, and Android app.
Spire Song Maker: Record Music by iZotope, Inc.
Spire Song Maker combines iZotope’s award-winning audio processing with multitrack recording. It makes importing beats, layering vocals, collaborating with a producer, and even sharing your songs a walk in the park. If you’re interested in recording your vocals (and getting a high-quality result), this app might just be for you.
You can use the Spire app to import a beat, write lyrics, set your levels and tone automatically, layer vocals, mix tracks, collaborate with artists and producers, share with fans, and more.
The tool set allows you to tune your vocals, do a personal soundcheck, and get access to an expanding set of tools when you upgrade to Spire Pro.
You can get Spire Song Maker for iPhone and iPad.
Download: App Store
Songtree – Music Maker by Songtree S.r.l.
Songtree is a music recording and social community app that has collaboration at its core.
Use the handy two-track recorder to lay down tracks and add effects like reverb, chorus, and echo to enhance your tracks.
You can play, sing, or rap over backing tracks of cover or original songs, and even start a new song from scratch.
All you need is your iPad or iPhone to get started.
If you like the idea of sharing your tracks with the world and getting feedback, you will love Songtree. It lets you find a track and record over it, share your track, and get comments on it. Sometimes, others will even join in and add their own bit.
Songtree includes effects (echo, reverb, compression, phaser, chorus/flanger, tube amp), cut and paste, fades, looping, metronome, the ability to record using third-party apps and synths (via Audiobus), and the ability to record using your device’s built-in mic or an external adapter.
Collaboration is made easy with Songtree. You can start your own project, or even join in on the ones others create. Your work can be shared on Facebook and Twitter, and you can also invite other music creators to contribute.
You can get Songtree on the App Store.
Download: App Store
BandLab – Music Recording Studio & Social Network by BandLab Technologies
BandLab (yes, the same BandLab that distributes Cakewalk) is another free music recording and social music creation platform, but this time for Android.
Although it claims to be the “best” (kind of dubious), we are rather impressed with its capabilities, which includes the ability to make beats, add effects, and take advantage of a variety of royalty-free loops and samples.
BandLab’s social networking features empower you to find new friends, connect with collaborators, or even start a band. The Creator Connect feature matches you with beat makers, producers, or DJs who might be interested in sharing your content.
This music recording studio and social networking app comes with a 16-track mix editor, a sampler, 330+ virtual MIDI instruments (808s, synthesizers, sitars, and more), 180+ vocal/guitar/bass effect presets, a looper, built-in mastering, tuner, metronome, and more.
You can even check out what others are up to on the platform, get connected with creators, or remix tracks.
You can download BandLab for your Android phone on Google Play.
Download: Google Play
Caustic 3 by Single Cell Software
The Caustic 3 app is a music creation tool originally inspired by rackmount or modular synths and sampler rigs.
With it, you can create you own rack by adding up to 14 machines, including Subsynth, PCMSynth, BassLine, BeatBox, PadSynth, 8BitSynth, Modular, Organ, Vocoder, FMSynth, KSSynth, and SawSynth.
Add up to two effects per machine with 20 different effect types to choose from. You also get a mixer desk with global delay/reverb effects, master section with parametric EQ and limiter, as well as a song sequencer.
If you want to connect your class-compliant USB MIDI controller, simply use a USB OTG cable (and ensure your device is running at least Android 3.2).
If you love messing around with synths, making electronic music or beats, you will love Caustic 3.
Download: Google Play
MPC Beats by Akai Professional
We’ve featured Akai Professional’s MPC Beats DAW software in several of our guides, because we think it’s a killer beat making app.
You certainly can’t go wrong with MPC Beats Academy, where you can go to learn exactly how to take advantage of this great piece of kit, or MPC Expansions, which might cost a bit of money, but give you instant access to a huge range of sounds to play and mess around with.
This app is professionally designed, and it’s been built around 16 pads for trigger drum samples and loops, piano roll for MIDI, sample editor, sound browser, and information section for navigation.
There is over 2 GB worth of sample and loop content included, and you even get a mix of built-in virtual instruments you can take advantage of.
Getting started with MPC Beats is fun and simple. First, you’ll be asked to connect your MIDI controller, and you can then choose from the simple or advanced mode. Next, you can choose from a variety of templates and demos to get you started.
The drum grid is where you’ll probably be spending most of your time. You can either record beats using your MIDI controller, or even draw them in.
MPC Beats can even be used as a plugin inside your favorite DAW.
This piece of recording software is available for Windows and Mac.
Download: Akai Pro
SoundBridge is a free, full-featured DAW with a simple workflow.
Its interface includes all the features you would expect – sequencer, mixer, FX rack, MIDI mapping, transport, file browser, MIDI editor, audio editor, and automation editor.
In terms of features, you get a multitude, both standard and advanced – high resolution skins, MIDI and audio routing, swing, linked faders, channel strip presets, plugin presets, unmute/unsolo, nested group tracks, sidechain, virtual MIDI keyboard, MIDI CC mapping, detachable GUI elements, punch in and out recording, moving group blocks, flexible automation curves, GUI scaling, automatic plugin delay compensation, and so on.
With its pads, mixer, edit window, and sequencer, it’s apparent that SoundBridge is a multi-function DAW, capable of handling audio recording, beat making, composing, or anything else you might get up to in your musical efforts.
Built-in effects include EQ, noise gate, limiter, compressor/expander, reverb, chorus/flanger, delay, phaser, resonance filter with LFO, bit crusher, and filter unit.
Overall, SoundBridge is a capable DAW, as it includes many features you might not otherwise find inside a paid DAW. I’m not crazy about the workflow myself (I can work faster in Waveform), but depending on your preferences, you might like this better. So, you never know.
You can get SoundBridge for Windows for Mac.
Tops Free Audio Recording Software, Final Thoughts
If you made it this far, then you know just how many great free music creation tools are out there, regardless of device or OS! And some are even capable in professional environments.
The trick is to find one that you like working with. Even if a DAW or app’s feature set sounds amazing, if you have trouble working with it, you probably won’t get anywhere with it. Meanwhile, a more limited piece of software can be great if you feel perfectly at home and comfortable with it.
Once you’ve found a music creation environment that’s right for you, be sure to spend lots of time getting acquainted with all its features and shortcuts. The more you know, the better equipped you will be in creating killer music. The best producers always know how to make the most of their gear.
Good luck and have fun!