12 Best Free DAWs 2024 (April 2024 Update)

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a collage of free daw software

Making music with digital tools doesn’t have to be expensive, and this is where free DAWs come in.

These DAWs are easy for beginners to learn.

These DAWs are easy for beginners to learn.

In fact, you can do practically every important task in music production using free software.

You might have already seen free VST effects and virtual instruments available online.

But the first and most important tool to make music is your DAW.

Finding a free DAW that you love can be challenging. There are lots of them out there, each with different features and limitations.

To help you out with this, we tested several of the available options and compiled a list of the 12 major ones on the market.

The 12 Best Free DAWs

We spent time testing these DAWs for general usability and functionality, while also paying attention to each one’s overall value as a package. Without further ado, let’s dive in.

1. Ableton Live Lite

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Overview of Ableton Live Lite

Operating system:macOS, Windows
Key features:Multitrack recording & mixing, FX processing, live performance, sampling, time stretching
Included content:The Ableton Live core library includes hundreds of loops, samples, and presets

Pros:

  • Uses Ableton’s well-loved workflow
  • Good range of effects and instruments included
  • Inherits features when new major versions of Live are released

Cons:

  • Limited to eight tracks

Ableton Live is probably the biggest name in DAWs when it comes to electronic and sample-based genres.

It’s easy to see why. The unique “session view” makes using loops to compose songs incredibly easy. Its “warp” feature makes advanced time stretching and pitch shifting easy.

Ableton Live Lite is the stripped-down version of Live that comes bundled with popular software and hardware packages.

Many audio interfaces, MIDI controllers, and plugins offer a license for Live Lite. It’s also included in all yearly subscriptions of LANDR Studio.

Live Lite is included in all yearly subscriptions of LANDR Studio.

Live Lite allows a total of eight tracks (this can be any combination of audio and MIDI tracks). It also allows you to use up to 16 mono audio inputs and 16 mono audio outputs.

While eight tracks may not sound like much, we’ve recommended some workarounds to this limitation that you should check out.

Overall, Live Lite is a high-value option when you consider how powerful and popular this DAW is.

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2. Audacity

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Overview of Audacity

Operating system:macOS, Windows, Linux
Key features:Multitrack recording & mixing, audio file editing & conversion, FX processing
Included content:None

Pros:

  • Detailed audio editing capabilities
  • Unlimited tracks
  • Excellent value as a general audio editing tool

Cons:

  • No MIDI sequencing/editing
  • No virtual instrument support
  • Not ideal for larger projects

Audacity is an open-source multitrack audio editor and recorder that works on all major operating systems.

If you’re only dealing with audio tracks, Audacity is a perfectly functional free DAW solution.

The main drawback is that Audacity does not support MIDI sequencing or virtual instruments. It does, however, support audio effect plugins in various formats including VST and AU.

Using plugins in Audacity is also a little different from pro DAWs, so it’s not ideal for a full production workflow.

Despite that, Audacity is an excellent free tool that’s well worth including on this list. Even if it isn’t your DAW of choice, we recommend that you use it as your go-to audio file editor.

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3. GarageBand

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Overview of GarageBand

Operating system:macOS, iOS
Key features:Multitrack recording & mixing, MIDI sequencing, FX processing, guitar amp/pedal emulations
Included content:Selection of Apple Loops

Pros:

  • Modern, intuitive interface
  • Very beginner-friendly
  • Comes with a lot of virtual instruments and effects

Cons:

  • Limited feature set compared to Logic Pro
  • Only available for Apple users

Apple’s entry-level DAW GarageBand comes pre-installed on all Mac computers, iPads, and iPhones.

So if you’re reading this on one of those devices, you already have it!

GarageBand is well-known for introducing many musicians to recording. But despite its reputation as a beginner app, we found it surprisingly capable in our tests.

GarageBand combines Apple’s signature ease-of-use with some powerful features for music production.

Don’t overlook GarageBand if you’re an Apple user in need of a free DAW.

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4. Waveform Free

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Overview of Waveform Free

Operating system:macOS, Windows, Linux, Raspberry Pi
Key features:Multitrack recording & mixing, MIDI sequencing, FX processing, sampling
Included content:A selection of Tracktion sample/construction kits

Pros:

  • No track limit
  • Supports VST and AU plugins
  • Expandable feature set

Cons:

  • Aspects of the workflow may be unintuitive for some at first

Waveform Free is an impressive and versatile freeware DAW.

Unlike some of the other DAWs on this list, it has no limitations to track count or simultaneous recording.

It can host VST and AU plugins and works on all major operating systems.

Waveform Free is designed to be easy-to-use for beginner producers, but some aspects of its interface are a bit different from other DAWs, such as the management of plugins.

Despite this, once you get used to these details, Waveform Free is a highly capable DAW considering its (nonexistent) price.

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5. Pro Tools Intro

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Overview of Pro Tools Intro

Operating system:macOS, Windows
Key features:Multitrack recording & mixing, MIDI sequencing, FX processing
Included content:Avid Loopmasters sample pack

Pros:

  • Good introduction to an industry-standard DAW

Cons:

  • Eight-track limit
  • Other limitations that might be unfavorable for some

Pro Tools First is the introductory edition of the industry-standard DAW Pro Tools.

It includes many of the powerful features that make Pro Tools the DAW of choice for professional studios all over the world.

Of course, it comes with some limitations, the most significant being that you can only use up to eight tracks.

The rest of the differences between Intro and the paid versions of Pro Tools can be found here.

Still, Pro Tools Intro lets you get started with the DAW that you’ll most likely be using if you want to work in a professional studio. Not bad for learning the ropes!

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6. LUNA

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Overview of LUNA

Operating system:macOS
Key features:Multitrack recording & mixing, MIDI sequencing, FX processing, emulation of tape & vintage hardware
Included content:Oxide Tape Extension, 30-day trials of LUNA Pro Bundle & Neve Summing, Shape toolkit instrument

Pros:

  • Excellent entry point into the Universal Audio ecosystem
  • Tape emulation from one of the best in the biz
  • No limitations on the DAW itself

Cons:

  • Mac only
  • iLok required
  • Still young, may need time to improve

Until recently, LUNA was only available to owners of Universal Audio’s Apollo audio interface series—it’s now available to anyone using macOS.

The free version comes with a very slimmed-down bundle of extras compared to the paid version, but the DAW itself is identical and without limitations. It even supports Audio Unit plugins.

In our testing, we found that certain aspects of its usability—such as its comping and group editing workflows—are really in need of refinement.

Still, LUNA’s biggest attraction is that it offers UA’s renowned simulation of mixing to analog tape. It also comes with intro versions of premium instrument content and vintage-inspired mixing tools.

This is a great way to get a feel for how the folks at UA infuse the DAW environment with analog sonic character—and without paying a penny.

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7. MAGIX Music Maker

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Overview of MAGIX Music Maker

Operating system:Windows
Key features:Multitrack recording & mixing, MIDI sequencing, FX processing
Included content:6 free Soundpools (their in-house loop packs)

Pros:

  • Oriented toward beginners
  • Included content makes it easy to get started
  • Intuitive file management

Cons:

  • Eight-track limit
  • Not ideal for larger projects
  • Windows only

MAGIX Music Maker is one of the oldest DAWs on the market—the original version was released back in 1994.

The free edition limits you to eight tracks and comes with far fewer of their in-house plugins than the paid version.

During our usability tests, we found the file management workflow to be quite efficient, but its overall interface felt a bit clunky compared to Live Lite.

Still, even though its feature set is quite limited, we liked how quick it was to start making loop-based tracks with the included Soundpool content.

This makes it a decent option for total beginners who want to learn the basics of DAW functionality, especially if you’re on Windows and are looking for a GarageBand alternative.

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8. SoundBridge

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Overview of SoundBridge

Operating system:macOS, Windows
Key features:Multitrack recording & mixing, MIDI sequencing, FX processing, sampling
Included content:Built-in effects, drum machine, arpeggiator

Pros:

  • Simple interface that’s easy to understand
  • Decent amount of built-in devices

Cons:

  • 10-track limit
  • Reduced feature set compared to paid version

SoundBridge is another excellent choice for a full-featured free DAW.

It contains all the important key features of a pro DAW, but makes them as simple and easy to use as possible.

Its built-in drum machine and effects are excellent, and it has a stylish interface that we found comfortable to work with.

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9. REAPER

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Overview of REAPER

Operating system:macOS, Windows, Linux
Key features:Multitrack recording & mixing, MIDI sequencing, FX processing
Included content:Built-in plugins

Pros:

  • Extensive feature set
  • Unlimited tracks
  • Supports all major plugin formats

Cons:

  • Not free
  • No bundled sound content

REAPER is technically not a free DAW, but it makes our list for a few reasons. For one thing, its 60-day trial period is unusually long.

But on top of that, you can use REAPER even when the trial expires—it employs an honor system by simply asking you to purchase the paid edition whenever you start it up.

Most impressively, the base price for the paid version is only $60.

Our testing found that, considering its low price, it has a very well-developed feature set and high usability. We think it beautifully balances functionality with beginner-friendliness.

It has a passionate fanbase of producers, many of whom all started using it for free before realizing that it only felt right to pay the developer for their work. Maybe you’ll feel the same!

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10. Studio One 6 Prime

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Overview of Studio One 6 Prime

Operating system:macOS, Windows
Key features:Multitrack recording & mixing, MIDI sequencing, FX processing
Included content:Some built-in effects and instruments

Pros:

  • Unlimited tracks
  • Compatible with PreSonus controllers

Cons:

  • No third-party plugin support
  • Limit of two mono recording inputs
  • Annoyingly difficult to install

Studio One Prime is the introductory free DAW offered by PreSonus. It’s essentially a slimmed-down version of the more advanced Studio One 6.

While it doesn’t support third-party plugins, it does give you an unlimited track count.

The biggest issue in our testing process, however, was downloading and installing it in the first place. In fact, it seems you can’t even find out any information about Prime on their website anymore.

If you want it, you’ll have to sign up for a PreSonus account, download their software manager, install the trial of Studio One 6 Professional, let the trial expire, and select the option in the dialogue box to begin running Studio One 6 Prime.

We know, not very user-centric. But who knows, maybe this one will click for you!

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11. MPC Beats

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Overview of MPC Beats

Operating system:Windows
Key features:Multitrack recording & mixing, MPC-style sampling, MIDI sequencing, FX processing
Included content:2GB of samples, loops, and plugins

Pros:

  • Classic MPC workflow in a computer format
  • Instruments designed for beat makers
  • VST support

Cons:

  • Eight-track limit
  • Not ideal as a general-use DAW
  • Windows only

AKAI is well-loved for its legendary MPC line of groove boxes.

It should come as no surprise that their free DAW, MPC Beats, is geared towards beat makers and hip-hop producers. It’s essentially a free software MPC with a DAW-style timeline.

It also comes with some basic recording features and a handful of effects to process your sounds.

The catch is that it’s limited to eight tracks and two simultaneous mono recording tracks. They also don’t make it for macOS.

If you’re looking for a workhorse DAW, this isn’t the option for you. But if you’re on Windows and you’re a fan of the MPC workflow (or want to start exploring it), it’s a no-brainer.

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12. Podium Free

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Overview of Podium Free

Operating system:Windows
Key features:Multitrack recording & mixing, MIDI sequencing, FX processing
Included content:2GB of samples, loops, and plugins

Pros:

  • Well-designed, customizable interface
  • No track limitation
  • VST support

Cons:

  • Windows only
  • Disabled plugin multiprocessing
  • MIDI limitations

This is the free version of Zynewave’s commercial DAW of the same name.

It has a pretty comprehensive feature set that will serve most producers well, and its interface has a surprising degree of customizability.

The main limitation of the free version is that it disables multiprocessing for your plugins.

Any plugins you use will only operate on one core of your CPU, which means it’s pretty easy to max out the CPU power you have available for working on a project.

It also limits you to one MIDI input and one MIDI output.

Aside from these catches, it’s a relatively solid DAW that makes for a decent entry point into Windows-based music production.

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Free DAWs vs Paid DAWs

If you’re not sure whether a free DAW is the right way to go, there are a few factors you can consider.

A free DAW is perfect for you if:

  • You just want to try out music production with a basic DAW
  • You absolutely can’t stretch your DAW budget at all
  • You only need a DAW for a few parts of your workflow

A lot of the DAWs we’ve included on this list are free versions of respected commercial ones. These are perfect if you think you plan to purchase a full DAW eventually and just need to try out a few different options.

Finally, if you’re looking for a full-fledged production solution, consider expanding your budget slightly if you can.

Options like REAPER or an Ableton Live Lite license with LANDR Studio are pretty ideal starting points when you want the most bang for your buck.

Just be sure that you really love the DAW that you choose. You’ll be spending a lot of time using it, and the more comfortable and inspired you feel, the better.

LANDR

Various contributors from the LANDR team of music mentors.

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