Choosing the best free DAW that does everything you need for your workflow is not an easy task. A digital audio workstation is the essential component of any audio production software setup. Your DAW software is where all the audio recording, audio editing, mixing, and the rest take place, and there are lots of them out there, each with different features and limitations. There are many commercial DAWs on the market. However, if you’re building a studio on a tight budget, the options are more limited. There are some high-quality free digital audio workstations out there.
Let’s dive into our list of the five best free digital audio workstations.
Audacity is a fairly simple program that‘s been around for many years. You can record audio into it, arrange recordings in a multi-track setup, edit audio levels and add effects. But you can’t use midi in Audacity. So if you want to use VST instruments, then you’re going to need to look elsewhere. It’s a very lightweight program, and it’s great for audio editing. Many people have used this as their main DAW for a long time, and if you are looking for a program that is easy to use but lacks some of the more Pro features, then Audacity might be for you.
Audacity is available on Windows, Mac, and Linux.
2. Tracktion Waveform Free
This free digital audio workstation is completely unlimited, so you can have unlimited audio, midi, and auxiliary tracks or as many as your computer can handle anyway. Traction Waveform doesn’t use a lot of system resources. You can open tons of plugins open in your project with a lot of tracks. Waveform Free includes useful effects, plugins, and a couple of decent instruments in the micro drum sampler and the four ask synth. If you need to add third-party plugins, you can do that too. The differences between the Pro version and the free version are that the pro version includes some more instruments and plugins and there are a couple of advanced features that aren’t necessary for making music, but they do help make things easier. Not having those features isn’t limiting in any way.
Traction Waveform Free is available on Mac, Linux.
3. Pro Tools First
This is a free version of the very popular Pro Tools digital audio workstation that has been in Pro studios for a long time. The free Pro Tools First program has some limitations - you can only have a maximum of 16 tracks in your projects. Projects can be any combination of audio, midi, or auxiliary tracks. In any case, 16 tracks are still very usable though. With Pro Tools First you can’t add third-party plugins unless you purchase them through the Avid marketplace. If you own plugins that you purchased from somewhere else, you can’t use those in here, though some plugins will show up in your Pro Tools First, so it’s a quirky limitation that may not be a limitation if your plugins do show up in it.
Pro Tools First gives you the same sort of user interface and workflow that the pros use. If working in a Pro studio is something you are striving for, then learning on this software can be a big advantage. You also get the Air Xpand!2 instrument, which is huge and has many great sounds.
Pro Tools First is available on Mac and Windows.
This is another powerful digital audio workstation that is browser-based. There are apps available on IOS and android to make the performance a little better on those devices. This records to the cloud, but you can get unlimited free cloud storage, so you don’t have to worry about that - you can record audio into it, and they give you some decent instruments and effects too. Plus, you have access to Bandlab sounds, a huge library of royalty-free loops, samples that you can use an unlimited amount of those. They also offer unlimited free mastering service, and you can also release your music for sale and keep 100% of the royalties. Bandlab DAW is great for beginners - it’s easy to use, and you don’t need to worry about how powerful your computer is.
Bandlab is available on almost any operating system that can access the internet.
Soundbridge is another completely unlimited free DAW, which means you can have unlimited tracks and also add your third-party VST plugins. It does include some decent effects and is probably the best free drum machine plugin out there. The user interface makes this DAW very easy to create music from easy access to the piano roll, mixer, and recording features that are also available in 32-bit or 64-bit options. So if you are looking for a 32-bit DAW, Soundbridge might be the choice for you.
Soundbridge is available on Windows and Mac.