A DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is essential for any Home Studio, but they tend to be quite pricy.
One thing I like is finding free software that actually performs as good as the a premium one without costing around $500.
Let’s get right into the list of free DAWs, these won’t be in any particular order.
Table of Contents
- Pro Tools First
- Cakewalk (Windows Only)
- Tracktion T7
- Presonus Studio One Prime
- Cubase LE
- Ableton Live 10 Lite
Audacity is a great free piece of software that can work as a DAW. Most people think of it as an audio editing software but it still allows you to do almost anything that a regular DAW would.
It’s an open source program that is compatible with Windows, OS X and Linux operating systems, which will ensure access to everyone.
It comes with quite the number of included effects which are useful for getting the sound you desire, from setting the levels right to changing the sound of your voice even.
Want to sound like a robot, Audacity has got you covered.
It’s not the most professional DAW, but it certainly will get you going on the right track.
It’s especially good for beginners and podcasters.
Since it’s free, my advice for you is to download it and try it out, if you don’t like it just get some of the other ones on this list.
Here’s a link to Audacity’s official website.
Garageband is an amazing DAW that comes free with any iOS device, if you own a Mac or an iPhone you will have access to it.
It is, essentially, a stripped-down version of Logic Pro X but completely free.
Garageband is a great place to start if you want to learn about multitrack recording, using MIDI and essentially mixing, before spending a lot of money on expensive software.
With Garageband, not only can you produce a song on your computer but you also can produce an entire song using just your cellphone, since you have all the tools you need right there.
This means that if you own an iPhone and you want to record only using that device, Garageband will be the ideal choice for you.
I wrote an entire article on How to produce a song with no Studio Equipment which should be of use to anyone who wants to record using a mobile device.
3. Pro Tools First
Pro Tools First includes the Xpand!2 virtual instruments and UVI Workstation 3 sample player which give you access to a variety of sounds, from beats and loops, to power chords and more.
This one only allows for four simultaneous tracks to be recorded at the same time and 16 tracks can be played back at the same time, this doesn’t sound like a lot but remember that it’s the free version and you can always upgrade.
Pro tools First also comes with 23 effects and utility plugins, which are great for basic mixing procedures.
It is free to download and use, but you need to register with them and with iLoki also, which takes a bit of time.
Whenever you want to try out free software, having to jump through a couple of hoops isn’t the worst thing, but it would be much better if they didn’t make you do any of this.
This is why my favorite pick, by far, is the next one on this list…
Note: If you’re thinking about building a home studio, don’t miss out on this list I wrote about all the Home Studio Essentials you need!
4. Cakewalk by BandLab
Cakewalk is considered to be the best free DAW out there, the one issue is that it’s only for Windows users (Windows 7 or higher and only 64-bit), but you are getting a $600 value DAW for absolutely free.
It’s basically a rebranded version of SONAR Platinum with all its professional features included.
The big difference with this DAW and the other ones on this list is that it offers an unlimited amount of audio, MIDI, Instrument, Loop and Aux Tracks in every project.
Basically, you are getting a premium DAW for absolutely nothing, cool huh?
This would be my top choice.
Of course, it comes down to your own preferences, maybe you like the interface of some other DAW better, but this one offers everything the full version of a paid DAW does, but for free.
If you are a Windows user, then get Cakewalk, no questions asked!
Note: Once you downloaded Cakewalk, you will need to register (you can do this through Facebook or Google, it only takes one second).
Then you need to go to the “App” section and install Cakewalk.
Here is the link to Cakewalk’s official website.
Update: I’ve switched over from Cubase to Cakewalk and I have been enjoying it a lot.
It takes a while until you get used to the workflow, but it’s an incredible DAW and it comes with a lot of free extras which are also great.
Cakewalk is the perfect free DAW for any new home studio owner that doesn’t want to blow all of his hard-earned cash on software yet.
Are you looking for some Good-Quality and affordable Audio Interfaces? Here’s an article about two of the best ones which are also very affordable.
5. Tracktion T7
Tracktion T7, just like Cakewalk, is a completely free, fully featured and unlimited DAW.
This means that there is no “Lite” version, there are no track limitations, no plugin limitations, or any other constraint of sorts like on Pro Tools First or Cubase LE.
The T7 version, and all the prior ones, are free.
This is because they want you to try them out and see if you like the workflow, if you do, you can upgrade to the latest version which is now called Waveform 9 which isn’t free.
In order to get this one, you will need to register. After this simply select your OS and download.
The BIG difference between Tracktion T7 and all the other DAWs I’ve tried is that the workflow is very different.
You have your tracks, which go from left to right, like in any other DAW, but the Mixer isn’t on the bottom, like in EVERY other DAW… it’s on the right.
The controls for every track are on that same track but on the right side of the DAW.
This might be a bit confusing at first, but it makes sense once you’ve gotten used to it.
Here’s a link to Tracktion’s T7 official website.
In order to get the most out of your DAWs you will also need a good Audio Interface. Read More about the 8 best ones here.
6. PreSonus Studio One Prime
Studio One Prime is a beginner friendly DAW.
The user interface is extremely intuitive and easy to use and it offers a hassle-free workflow.
Therefore, it’s great for beginners since recording a demo in your bedroom without any prior experience won’t be such a headache.
I recommend Studio One Prime to people with no prior experience who just want to learn the basics of mixing music.
The biggest drawback it has is that it can’t load VST or AU plugins. If you want to be able to do this, you will need to upgrade to Studio One Artist.
Note: In order to use VST/AU plugins in Studio One Artist, you will need to purchase a separately paid add-on for these VST/AU plugins to work.
Studio One Prime comes with nine Native effect Plugins like delay, distortion, etc. which are surprisingly good.
At the time of writing this article, the current version is Studio One 4 Prime.
The latest version introduces a couple of improvements added from the Artist and Pro editions of the Software.
These are; An improved instrument editing workflow, the introduction of drum and melodic patterns as well as MP3 encoding.
This is a stripped-down version of the Artist and Pro editions, if you need VST/AU plugins, or if you want more effects, you will have to either get another DAW from this list, of purchase the Artist or Pro editions.
Remember that Artist version requires a separately paid add-on for VST/AU plugins to work.
Just like with most of the DAWs on this list, you will need to register in order to download it.
Still, I think that Studio One Prime is definitely worth checking out.
7. Stagelight by Open Labs
The first thing that got my attention about Stegelight is that it’s cross platform.
This means that it’s compatible with every OS and every device, you can use it on PC, Mac, any Apple Phone/Tablet and even on Chromebooks.
What this means for you is that even if you normally use Stagelight on your PC, you can still use it on your phone or tablet to produce a song while travelling and then switch back to your PC at home.
Basically, it is a much more portable DAW than any of the others.
It comes with a fantastic Drum Sequencer which makes it great both for electronic music or for putting down drum beats, maybe for rap or hip-hop.
It also comes with a Loop Builder, 9 instruments (with over 50 presets) and 4 effects.
If you register, which is free, you also get a $6 bonus Store Credits for additional content.
Even though you can get a very cool version of Stagelight for free, if you want you could also upgrade and get many more features which are definitely worth it.
Both the upgrades cost $49 and $149 respectively.
Here’s a link to Stagelight’s official website.
LMMS isn’t your traditional DAW.
LMMS doesn’t feature audio recording capabilities like rest of the DAWs on this list, but it’s one of the best designed DAWs for MIDI recording ever.
It features a variety of instruments and effect plugins as well as supporting VST plugins.
It comes with quite the impressive number of synthesizers and the sounds you can achieve with them are pretty awesome, from Nintendo and Gameboy type sounds to any emulation you can think of.
If bit-music is your thing, give LMMS a try!
It’s completely free and it works on Windows, Mac and even Linux.
You can find the official LMMS website here.
These next two DAWs aren’t free, but you can get a free copy when you purchase an Audio Interface, or some other equipment.
I put them on this list because in order to be able to record, you are going to be needing an Audio Interface, and since you are going to purchase one anyway, why not just get one that includes a DAW?
9. Cubase LE
Cubase LE is a compact version of Cubase Pro.
Providing all the basic tools for recording and mixing, it’s the perfect entry into the music-production world.
It comes with 23 included audio VST effect processors and over 5gb of sounds and loops.
It offers up to 16 audio tracks and 24 MIDI tracks for external instruments and up to 8 instrument tracks for virtual instruments.
Sadly, you can only record 8 simultaneous tracks, but hey, you’re getting the software for “free”.
It also comes included with music composition tools like the Chord Pads and the Chord Track (with its included Chord Assistant).
I personally enjoyed the composition tools quite a lot, you can select which chords you want and then you can lay them down as a MIDI track quite easily.
I got my version of Cubase LE when I purchased the Zoom H2n recorder but there are other recorders and audio interfaces which also come with a Cubase LE Key.
Here’s a link to their official website.
10. Ableton Live 10 Lite
Just like Cubase LE, you get this version of Ableton Live by purchasing some kind of equipment which includes a key for this software.
The Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 includes Ableton Live Lite. You can read more about this Interface here: Behringer UMC404HD or Focusrite Scarlett 6i6.
Ableton Live is one, or even THE most popular DAW for MIDI sequencing, sampling and electronic music production, but this doesn’t mean that it’s not capable of fully recording and mixing as well.
The Lite edition is, like all the other lite editions on this list, a stripped-down version of the Full Ableton Live 10.
It comes packed with a couple of select virtual instruments such as Drum Rack, Impulse (a drum sampler), and Simpler (sampling instrument), as well as effects such as reverb, delay, EQ, compression, and others.
Here’s a link to Ableton’s official website, but remember, in order to get it for “free” you will need to purchase some kind of equipment that provides an Ableton Live Lite key.
Depending on your needs, likes, and operating system, there are a couple different routes you can go here.
First let me say this…
Cakewalk is by far the best DAW on this list (if you have a Windows PC).
It’s a complete DAW, not a stripped-down version like many of the others on this list.
If you are using a Windows PC, you should definitely download Cakewalk.
Tracktion T7, just like Cakewalk, is a full DAW, the big difference is its workflow is completely different, like I mentioned earlier.
It’s still a fantastic option, you should at least give it a shot and see how you feel about it.
If you have an Apple/Mac device, you should also download Garageband, no questions asked.
Lastly, all the other DAWs I listed, even though they are really good, I don’t think they compare to these three.
LMMS and Stagelight do have some added perks which could be useful for some styles of music.
Just try them out and let me know which one you liked the best!
See you on the next one!