Loving the simplicity of GarageBand? I totally know where you’re coming from.
GarageBand comes loaded with all the essentials – virtual instruments, effects, and of course samples and loops. It makes it easy for every budding music producer to get up and running and creating demos without having to endure a steep learning curve.
As you become more serious about making music, though, you’ll probably want to graduate from GarageBand. As awesome as it is, it can be a little limiting when it comes to developing quality mixes and masters.
Not to mention – if you don’t have an Apple device, you can’t use GarageBand to begin with. So, here are the best free GarageBand alternatives for Windows machines.
Cakewalk by BandLab
BandLab’s Cakewalk is premium Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software turned free. Really. Not joking. This is basically SONAR Platinum. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw it either.
To gain access to Cakewalk, you will need to install the BandLab Assistant and surrender some of your personal details (like your email address), but my recommendation? Download this baby before BandLab changes their mind. I did.
Whether you’re looking to compose, record, edit, mix, master, or share, Cakewalk is fully equipped with the tools you need to get the job done. It features an award-winning user interface, “industry-best” audio engine with VST3 compatibility, and unlimited audio, MIDI, instrument, loop, and auxiliary tracks.
You also get a library of virtual instruments and studio quality effects, including delay, distortion, compression, gate, EQ, filter, phaser, chorus, flanger, pitch shift, reverb, and more.
Cakewalk features a 64-bit mix engine, resampling, ARA support, and is touch-enabled. Cakewalk works exclusively on Windows but is compatible with Windows 7 and above.
Now, it’s all well and good that Cakewalk comes with all the essentials you need to get started (plus a few extras). But there is kind of a downside to it.
Which is to say, Cakewalk is closer to professional level software, and because of that, its interface is like a traditional mixing interface – kind of like Pro Tools.
If you’ve spent time with mixing consoles or other DAWs, then you may feel comfortable out the gate, as it is relatively intuitive. But the workflow varies significantly from GarageBand, and all the faders, knobs, buttons, and switches might prove a little overwhelming at first.
As someone who has had to learn a mix of complicated software, like Photoshop, I can appreciate that the transition might not be smooth as you’d like it to be.
Two words – YouTube tutorials.
The benefits are certainly there, though. Whether you’re recording in an amateur and professional capacity, Cakewalk is perfect for all types of projects, and it’s entirely possible you’ll never need another DAW. And, if you do end up wanting to transition to another app, no problem – the skills you learn inside Cakewalk should prove transferable.
If you don’t mind a steeper learning curve, and don’t have any pressing deadlines coming up, then Cakewalk is a killer choice overall.
MPC Beats by Akai Pro
Users like different aspects of GarageBand. Some like the immediacy of being able to put samples and loops together just to mess around or build jam tracks. Others like the simplicity of the interface. Still others like the built-in instruments and effects.
Well, if you like the beat making aspect of GarageBand, then chances are you will also like Akai Pro’s MPC Beats.
Featuring a traditional DAW interface, MPC Beats was clearly created to be used in tandem with Akai Pro hardware (like MIDI controllers). That said, it is compatible with all class-compliant USB controllers, be it the M-Audio Oxygen or Alesis V-Mini.
MPC Beats comes complete with 16 pads for triggering drum samples and loops, piano roll to record MIDI notes, sample editor for chopping and editing, sound browser, and an information section.
Beats also comes with the tool set you need to start remixing songs out of the box. It even comes with genre templates to help you get started fast – Trap, Dance, Pop, and others. You get 2 GB worth of sample, loops, and built-in virtual instrument plugins too.
If you need more, you can purchase one of the many MPC Beats Expansion packs, which all told, are reasonably priced.
Overall, Beats features an attractive, professional interface. Which in this case means there is a bit of a learning curve. That said, it’s a blast to mess around with, especially if you’ve got a MIDI controller. Plus, you can take advantage of Akai’s MPC Beats Academy or YouTube tutorials if you need additional help.
I can’t see MPC Beats being well suited to much of anything besides making beats, but if that’s what you had in mind, you’ll probably love it. And in addition to being a solid GarageBand replacement, I think it’s a nice FL Studio alternative too.
Download: Akai Pro
Ohm Studio by Ohm Force
Ohm Studio is unique, if for no other reason, because it can be downloaded on Valve’s video game digital distribution service, Steam.
Is Ohm Studio a game, though? Well, although it might prove a ton of fun, it’s not a game in the traditional sense.
This is a powerful, real-time collaborative DAW, and one of the first of its kind. And it’s quite simple too. All you’ve got to do is invite the people you want to be a part of the project, and you’re off to the races.
The idea here is that, if there’s an instrument you don’t play, or if you’re not a vocalist, you can invite someone onto your project who is. And if you’re anything like me, when inspiration hits, you like doing something with it immediately, instead of waiting around for things to happen.
But you don’t necessarily need everyone on at the same time to collaborate on Ohm Studio. That’s the great thing about it. You can simply leave a note on your project for the musicians who come in later, let them know what you need, and let them do their recording on their own time.
You can even check in on your project at any time, see what changes were made, and by whom.
Tracks can be made private by those recording them, which means they can keep iterating until they feel like they’ve got the perfect take. Then they can turn private tracks into public ones when they feel they are up to snuff.
Another advantage of Ohm Studio is you’re connected to a community of musicians and producers who are interested in collaborating. And if you need any support with using Ohm Studio, there are plenty of people there to answer your questions.
All the basic functionality is included, giving you the ability to record, create, and edit. Racks and plugins can be set in modular view. It comes with a complete mixer, with left-right or mid-side panning, as well as flexible modular routing. Import/export functionality allows you to drag and drop audio samples or MIDI files.
Plus, you get a solid mix of virtual effects and instruments – multi-band distortion, multi-tap delay, creative filterbank, phaser, frequency shifter, Minimoog emulation, ARP Odyssey emulation, multi-timbral instrument, low-pass filter, compressor, equalizer, limiter, flanger, filter, vocoder, reverb, a guitar amp sim, and more. Note: some of these features may not be available in the free version.
At first glance, Ohm Studio might appear an ordinary DAW, but when you go digging inside the box, you start to see all that it’s capable of.
We like it in theory. Not entirely sure how it all plays out practically. But if you’re looking for an online collaboration tool that saves all your data without you having to consume precious hard drive space, you might just get a kick out of Ohm Studio.
Many a podcaster has come to love the simplicity of Audacity, an award-winning, open-source, cross-platform, free DAW.
In the battle between GarageBand and Audacity, I feel GarageBand is the clear winner. That said, Audacity has been around a long time, is a stable DAW, and is loaded with all the features you need to record and edit quality (16-bit, 24-bit, and 32-bit) tracks. You can even import and combine a variety of sounds, or export to a variety of formats.
Unlike some free DAWs, which tend to be more flash than function, Audacity supports a variety of plugin types, including LADSPA, LV2, Nyquist, VST and AU.
Audacity’s interface isn’t anything to write home about, and best to my knowledge, it hasn’t changed a whole lot since its initial release in 1999. If anything, their website looks nicer than their DAW. But looks aren’t everything, right? And I don’t think Audacity is about to change in that regard.
You might be interested to know, though, that there’s no grid in Audacity. That makes it quite rudimentary. But the fact that it has a lot of the standard effects built in (like reverb, compressor, EQ, etc.) sort of redeems it. You can overdub and record multiple tracks, so in that sense you could say it’s more advanced than early recording hardware.
If you get creative with it, there’s a lot you can do with Audacity. But it is closer to a clip editor than a music production tool. That might explain why more podcasters and editors have taken to it compared to music producers.
Audacity is compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux.
LMMS has been a surprise breakout hit in the free DAW space, and we can only guess it’s because a) it’s good, and b) it works a lot like FL Studio – making it a viable FL alternative.
This DAW is free, open-source, and community driven. It’s compatible with Linux, Windows, and Mac. You can playback instruments (with a MIDI or typing keyboard), samples, and plugins, and it comes with numerous instrument and effect plugins, presets, and samples. It also offers VST and SoundFont support.
Also included are a beat and bassline editor, piano roll, automation, MIDI and Hydrogen import functionality, 16 built-in synths, embedded ZynAddSubFx, and native multisample support.
In terms of effects, LMMS comes bundled with compressor, limiter, delay, reverb, distortion, bass enhancer, as well as graphic and parametric equalizers. A spectrum analyzer too.
LMMS’ interface is much like that of FL Studio’s. That said, if you’ve never used anything like it, as with anything else, it will take some time to figure out. Good things take patience.
So, what is LMMS best for? Well, as with MPC Beats, it’s geared towards beat making more than anything else. And if I’m not mistaken, you can’t record any audio tracks with it, so if you’re planning to record your voice or guitar, as an example, you’ll probably want to try a different DAW. That’s not a joke.
Anyway, once you get used to it, LMMS is a blast.
Waveform Free by Tracktion
As I was graduating from using GarageBand to producing demos, I started learning Waveform Free (at the time, it was simply called Tracktion). It was already installed on our home studio desktop, so it seemed like a practical choice.
There was a bit of a learning curve, to be sure, but nowhere near as bad as industry standard tools. Overall, I found Waveform’s controls to be quite intuitive. Before I knew it, I was an editing machine (especially since I was in the habit of cranking out podcast episodes in addition to demos).
I think Waveform is the perfect choice for those looking to upgrade for GarageBand and take their engineering skills to the next level.
Waveform comes with essential effects and instruments, and is compatible with most VSTs, so you can install your favorite sounds and effects conveniently and easily. Not to mention – there are a ton of free, high-quality VST plugins out there if you go looking for them. We have multiple guides covering the best VSTs right here on MIDINation.
All your tracks inside Waveform are color-coded (with vibrant colors, I might add), just like you would see in GarageBand, and the overall user interface is quite similar (with the added benefit that you get access to more useful controls).
There aren’t any major barriers to get up and running with Waveform either. You can simply hook up your audio interface, plug in your mic or instrument, and you’re off to the races.
And if you’re looking to make beats or electronic music, Waveform is also a great choice.
Cubase LE by Steinberg
If you’ve spent any time in the home recording trenches, then it’s unlikely you haven’t at least come across the name “Cubase.”
Cubase is a creation, producing, and mixing suite sometimes called the “reference standard” for music production software.
LE is obviously the limited, free version, but the main limitation here is the number of audio tracks (16) and MIDI tracks (24) you can have inside any project. Which, all things considered, isn’t bad at all. I could do plenty of damage with 16 audio and 24 MIDI tracks myself.
Anyway, this compact version of Cubase indeed comes with all the same core tech as the full version and equips you with the tools you need to record, edit, and mix. Further, you get HALion Sonic SE 3, Groove Agent SE 5, 23 audio VST effect processors, and over 5 GB of sounds and loops. This, and the fact that you can produce your tracks from start to finish, make it an awesome GarageBand replacement.
If you aren’t a music theory fiend, and don’t know your way around composition and arrangement, then you can take advantage of Cubase LE’s built-in Chord Pads and Chord Track, as well as the Chord Assistant, to help bring your ideas to life faster.
The Key and Drum editors are also powerful tools in helping you bring your ideas to life – melodies, chord progressions, compositions, beats, and more. You also get a mix of virtual instruments, amps, effects. Plus, Cubase is compatible with hundreds of other virtual instruments and effects.
Finally, the MixConsole makes it easier for you to get your mixes fine-tuned. And that’s key to creating quality music.
At the end of the day, yes, Cubase has some limitations. And its interface is relatively standard in the Digital Audio Workstation realm. Easy to use once you’re up and running, but of course, there’s a bit of a learning curve to getting there.
If you’re looking for some serious power, though, you’ve found it.
With simplicity at the forefront, SoundBridge is an attractive GarageBand alterative, especially given that it’s free. I mean, this is a lot of power for no money.
If we were to talk about all its features (some of which, admittedly, are basic and expected), we would probably be here all day. But we’ll try to give you a solid overview anyway.
First and foremost, the interface. It includes a sequencer, mixer, FX rack, MIDI mapping, transport bar, file browser, MIDI editor, audio editor, and automation editor. That immediately gives you access to a little more than GarageBand can offer.
Now its features. You get high resolution skins, MIDI and audio routing, swing tools, linked faders, channel strip presets, plugin presets, unmute/unsolo, nested group tracks, sidechain support, virtual MIDI keyboard, MIDI CC mapping, detachable user interface elements, punch in/punch out, group blocks, flexible automation curves, GUI scaling, automatic plugin delay, and a great deal more.
You also get access to the RitMix two-in-one drum machine, and a variety of effects, including EQ, noise gate, limiter, compressor/expander, reverb, chorus/flanger, delay, phaser, resonance filter with LFO, bit crusher, filter unit, and more.
With access to pads and a sequencer, you can obviously make beats inside SoundBridge, and with the mixer, you can tweak endlessly to create a track that sounds incredible to your ears.
SoundBridge’s interface bears some resemblance to Waveform’s, and we like that aspect of it. With simplicity at the forefront, we could see many beginners getting into it. We still don’t think it’s the simplest of interfaces and would recommend Waveform over SoundBridge in that regard. But we like the built-in functionality, which sets you up with a suite of tools for professional grade music production.
You can make beats, compose, record audio tracks, and more. It works nicely as an all-in-one music making tool.
So, as a GarageBand stand-in, SoundBridge more than does the job.
SoundBridge works with Windows and Mac machines.
Live Lite by Ableton
Live Lite (or the full version) seems to be the go-to choice for a lot of music producers and beat makers these days.
Instead of opting for the mechanical, industrial, polished feel of modern DAWs, Ableton has opted for a more simplistic, “flat” user interface design, which could be one of its attraction factors.
Live Lite handles the basics of recording and producing as you would expect. It’s compatible with Windows and Mac as well.
Its key features include unique session view, nondestructive editing with unlimited undo, multitrack recording up to 32-bit/192 kHz, software and hardware MIDI sequencing, advanced warping and real-time time-stretching, group tracks, as well as VST and AU support.
You also get time signature changes, multiple automation lanes, track freeze, capture MIDI, automatic plugin delay compensation, MIDI remote control instant mapping, MIDI output to hardware synths, MIDI clock/sync, ReWire, multicore/multiprocessor support, file support (WAV, AIFF, MP3, Ogg Vorbis, FLAC), Ableton Link technology, eight audio and MIDI tracks, eight scenes, two send and return tracks, eight mono audio input and output channels, and complex warp modes.
And right there, you can begin to see what some of Live Lite’s limitations are. Yes, there’s a lot you can do with eight audio and MIDI tracks, but preferably, it would be nice to have more.
In terms of software instruments, you get the Drum Rack instrument, Impulse drum sampler, Simpler sampler, and Instrument Rack. Which is kind of what makes it perfect for electronic music.
In the realm of audio effects, you get auto filter, beat repeat, chorus, compressor, three-band EQ, Erosion digital artifacts, Redux for classic lo-fi sounds, reverb, delay, tuner, multipurpose Utility tool, and audio effects rack.
You also get MIDI effects, like the arpeggiator, chord, note length, pitch, random, scale, velocity, and MIDI effect rack.
Now, this is where it really works well as a GarageBand alternative. You get 268 instrument racks, 48 drum racks, 117 audio effect racks, five MIDI effect racks, 50 instrument presets, 172 audio effect presets, 109 MIDI effect presets, 84 loops, 1,249 drum hits, 513 multisamples, FX, and other one-shots.
In total, you can see why Live is frequently used for electronic music and beat making of any kind. And its loops and samples make it easy for you to find your footing inside the DAW.
Again, we don’t find it the easiest to use of all DAWs. But easy enough to begin creating with the help of a tutorial or two.
How Do I Select The Right GarageBand Alternative For Me?
Whether you’ve been messing around with GarageBand for a while, or have been looking for a solid, easy-to-use alternative for Windows, these can be confusing and treacherous waters to navigate without a bit of expert guidance.
The truth is, there isn’t anything exactly like GarageBand for Windows, though there are DAWs that do more than just act as stand-ins. Most DAWs featured above are, in fact, more powerful than GarageBand.
That is what makes GarageBand unique, though. It was designed to introduce newbies to the world of music production and sound engineering, to make it accessible and immediate to the average user who might not know the ins and outs of music theory or recording.
That said, there’s a lot to like about the DAWs mentioned above, including the fact that they are free.
So, in this section, what we’ve done to help you is this:
We’ve put the above DAWs into a few categories, so you can more easily choose the one that’s right for you. Let’s get into it.
For Clip Editing & Basic Tracking
The best option for essential editing and basic tracking purposes is Audacity. Which isn’t to say other DAWs don’t do this well, it’s more so that this is the only thing Audacity does well.
Yes, Audacity does come with effects, which give you some options in terms of mixing. But let’s just say that most producers wouldn’t dare finish their mixes inside Audacity, and if they did, it would only be for fun.
For podcasters and those primarily recording speech, Audacity gives you more than enough. And there’s nothing stopping you from tracking inside Audacity and moving your project over to another DAW to finish, either.
For those who don’t require more than the bare minimum, Audacity is an excellent choice.
For Beat Making & Electronic Music
You probably noticed that some GarageBand alternatives are ideally suited to beat making and electronic music. In fact, some of these DAWs can’t really handle much else. These include:
- MPC Beats
- Live Lite
If your focus is electronic music, then it’s always nice to have a solid streamlined option that does away with extras you don’t need. Conversely, it’s nice to use a more fully featured DAW if you’re looking to do more audio tracking.
Some DAWs that have electronic music as their core focus can still sometimes be shoehorned into working with audio tracks. One of the producers I used to work with, for example, used FL Studio as his main application, though he still recorded vocals, guitars, basses, keyboards, etc.
Anyway, if you’re eager to toy around with loops and samples, and want to sequence your own MIDI tracks, the above DAWs are your best bets.
For All-Around Recording & Music Production, Including Audio Tracking
So, you’re looking to do a little more. You don’t want to be tied down to a specific genre or be limited to tools that only allow you to edit or track. You also want to be able to record audio tracks while playing with loops, samples, and MIDI tracks.
For all-around recording, editing, and mixing purposes, these are among the best free DAWs you can choose:
- Waveform Free
- Cubase LE
Again, it’s worth noting that most if not all these DAWs also do electronic music well. It’s just that they have more of the traditional features you would expect from DAW software.
For Remote Collaborations
Obviously, for remote collaborations, there’s only one choice – Ohm Studio.
There are other ways of collaborating remotely, of course, such as by sending your stems or rough mix to another studio. This process can be a little more cumbersome because you might need to use Dropbox to exchange files, as an example. So, Ohm Studio would be more efficient overall.
If you’re wanting to collaborate with others (generally a good idea in the music industry) and don’t have other processes and workflows in place already, you might consider Ohm Studio, which is a good all-around DAW as well.
Is Mac Better?
Obviously, Mac vs. PC is an age-old debate, and chances are, it will never be put to bed.
Yes, Macs tend to be more stable than PCs. PCs tend to be better for gaming than Macs. But Macs are amazing creative tools. But there are so many more apps for PCs. And so on and so forth.
If you want GarageBand, yes, Mac is the only way to go. And Logic Pro is also an amazing tool exclusively for Mac as well. But plenty of people record on PCs. So, Mac is only better if you’re more familiar with the workflow and are committed to a specific application.
Top Free Garageband Alternatives For Windows PC, Final Thoughts
Did you find what you’re looking for? We sure hope so!
If you’re in any doubt, just pick a tool and go with it. Everything requires a little learning, so I find it more efficient to commit to a tool and stick with it than to bounce around between different tools to see what works best.
Most importantly – have fun!