Today, we’re going to be learning about the best free DAWs for music production.
I’ve spent lots of time researching the best options for both Mac AND Windows, so decided to provide a distilled list of the DAWs that are actually worth your time and energy.
Just because it’s free, doesn’t mean it’s any good!
However, you’ll be VERY surprised by how feature-rich and all-inclusive the free DAWs I’ll be recommending are…
For starters, we’ve definitely got a worthy GarageBand alternative for Windows-users on the list.
I also decided to recommend a few affordable DAWs if ever you’re looking for something different without putting too much money down.
So, if you want to start producing music ASAP, you’ll definitely want to pick one of these DAWs and be on your way! Don’t forget to let us know which one you’ve decided to go with!
Alright, let’s get started…
- Best FREE DAWs for macOS
- Best FREE DAWs for Windows
- Why I DON’T Recommend Audacity for Music Production
- Why I DON’T Recommend “Lite” DAWs
- 2 Affordable DAWs That I Personally Recommend
- Summary: Best FREE DAWs for Music Production in 2021
Best FREE DAWs for macOS
Garageband by Apple
If you’re using a Mac, then you should look no further than GarageBand.
Seriously, out of all the free DAWs out there (even the ones for Windows), Apple’s GarageBand is the most powerful and feature-rich.
It’s one of the many FREE applications included with your Mac.
The last time I checked, PC doesn’t include ANY free software (let alone a DAW) so that should make your decision pretty easy if you still don’t have a computer for music production.
That being said, here’s what you’ll have access to with GarageBand…
- Multi-Track Recording
- Basic MIDI Sequencer
- Apple Sound Library
- Software Instrument
- Effects Plugins
That’s everything you’d need to make music right out of the box. The included software instruments and effects plugins save you the need to purchase any from 3rd parties.
However, GarageBand does have its limitations…
- Inability to have multiple time signatures
- Inability to use different tuning temperaments
- It doesn’t have a mixer (unless you use the Logic Remote App)
- The MIDI sequencer is pretty basic
In essence, you can think of GarageBand as a “beginner-friendly” version of Apple’s Logic Pro which has all these advanced features.
That being said, you may not even need those features.
Just to clarify, GarageBand DOES support 3rd party plugins (in AU format) so you can easily expand your music production “toolbelt” as you see fit.
Lastly, starting off with GarageBand makes the potential transition to Logic Pro MUCH EASIER since the project files will be compatible.
That’s something to think about for the future!
However, there’s actually an even better option that came out not too long ago…
LUNA by Universal Audio
I know, I know… I said not to look any further than GarageBand.
However, Universal Audio (UAD) has recently created a free DAW that’s just as powerful as Logic Pro, Pro Tools and Cubase. Actually, LUNA has significant advantages!
That being said, there’s ONE major limitation…
- You need to own a UAD audio interface to have access
I personally use the Universal Audio Arrow, but all of the UAD devices are compatible with LUNA. So, why don’t I personally use LUNA?
I just didn’t feel like learning how to use another DAW when I was already familiar with Logic Pro.
If I was just starting out though, I might’ve just started with LUNA!
In fact, I think including an actual fully-fledged DAW with an audio interface is brilliant. It should make the decision of choosing an audio interface MUCH EASIER!
Although, I have to admit that UAD audio interfaces are on the pricier side.
I’d definitely consider going with the UAD ecosystem though. I wrote a few articles if you’re wondering what the advantages are…
- Are Universal Audio interfaces worth it?
- Are Universal Audio plugins better?
- How Does UAD Unison Technology Work?
Just like GarageBand, LUNA is exclusive to Mac.
However, LUNA is a professional-level DAW that has absolutely NO LIMITATIONS.
Best FREE DAWs for Windows
Cakewalk by BandLab
If you’re looking for the best alternative to GarageBand for Windows, then you’ll definitely appreciate Cakewalk by BandLab.
It’s actually been around for quite some time, but it WASN’T always free…
When BandLab bought-out Cakewalk (the company), they decided to rebrand SONAR as Cakewalk and make it completely FREE.
I guess it must’ve been disappointing for those who purchased SONAR, but oh well!
Here’s an idea of what’s included with Cakewalk…
- Software Instruments
- Effects Plugins
- Unlimited Multi-Track Recording
- Advanced MIDI Sequencing
- Hosting for 3rd party plugins
Of course, there’s much more than that, but you can CHECK IT OUT for yourself!
The only limitation? It’s exclusive to the Windows operating system.
FINALLY, there’s a reason to get a PC for music production instead of a Mac. I have to admit, Cakewalk is pretty impressive and actually gives GarageBand a run for its money.
If you’re looking for the best free DAW for Windows, then you’ve found it!
I personally wouldn’t look any further, but we’ve got one more…
SoundBridge by SoundBridge.io
The only other free DAW that met my personal criteria was SoundBridge.
Just to clarify, SoundBridge is ALSO available for macOS (but I don’t recommend it for that).
It’s actually got LOADS of features like…
- MIDI Sequencer
- Mixing Console
- Automation Tools
- Audio Editing Tools
- Included Effects
In essence, SoundBridge is a fully-featured DAW like Cakewalk, but I personally find the interface to be more user-friendly.
That might be a reason why you’d choose SoundBridge over Cakewalk.
It also supports 3rd party plugins which is important because it doesn’t include as many effect plugins and software instruments as Cakewalk.
It’s definitely worth checking out though, but I still side with Cakewalk!
Why I DON’T Recommend Audacity for Music Production
For some reason, it seems like LOTS of beginners start off by using Audacity.
I definitely have it installed on my computer, but I definitely DON’T use it for music production…
That’s the equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot, especially if you’ve got a Mac! In case you’re wondering, Audacity has TWO major issues for music production…
- It’s not compatible with 3rd party plugins
- It doesn’t have a MIDI sequencer
Essentially, the only thing you can do with Audacity is record audio, edit and use the integrated plugins (which are TERRIBLE).
To be honest, I only use it to convert WAVs to MP3.
So, I wouldn’t even bother with Audacity when you’ve got access to GarageBand and Cakewalk.
Why I DON’T Recommend “Lite” DAWs
To be more specific, I’m talking about…
- Ableton Live Lite
- Pro Tools | First
- Cubase LE
- Studio One Prime
It’s one thing if you’re interested in EVENTUALLY purchasing the premium version of these DAWs, but they have WAY too many limitations.
If you want to try the DAW, I’d simply go with the free-trial instead.
It may be true that most hardware you purchase (audio interface, MIDI/USB controller, etc…) includes a copy of Cubase LE/Wavelab LE, Pro Tools | First and/or Ableton Live Lite HOWEVER…
I personally don’t ever use them (or the other “free” software that’s included).
As I said, there are just TOO MANY limitations.
The best thing about the free DAWs we’ve already covered is that they DON’T have limitations (except maybe a few caveats).
That’s why I highly recommend staying away from these “lite” DAWs.
2 Affordable DAWs That I Personally Recommend
If you’re looking for a professional DAW that doesn’t “break the bank”, I recommend the following options…
Reason Studios Reason+
Reason+ is essentially the version of Reason 11 (and future releases) that you subscribe to instead of paying it upfront.
That being said, I think 19.99$ per month is a great deal for such an amazing DAW!!
I personally still use Reason (as the rack plugin) and I wrote an entire product review to give a better idea of WHY it’s so great.
The advantage with the Reason+ subscription is that it includes loop/sample packs that are continuously being added.
So, I think Reason+ is the best all-in-one solution if you’re on a budget.
It’s also the DAW I usually recommend to beginners because it’s SO EASY to use.
The other affordable DAW I recommend is REAPER by Cockos.
One of the reasons is that it includes a 60-day free trial and then after that it’s only 60$.
I personally don’t use it because it’s just not my thing, but I keep hearing great things about it from fellow music producers.
It’s highly customizable and includes some great plugins!
That being said, I think it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re looking for something to get started with TODAY and pay later.
Compared to other professional DAWs, Reaper is one of the most affordable.
Summary: Best FREE DAWs for Music Production in 2021
To summarize everything, here’s a table of the DAWs we talked about today that clearly outlines their limitations…
|# of Audio Tracks||Unlimited||Unlimited||Unlimited||Unlimited|
|# of MIDI Tracks||Unlimited||Unlimited||Unlimited||Unlimited|
|Supports 3rd Party Plugins||YES||YES||YES||YES|
So, I hope that makes the decision a little easier for you.
If you just want to take my word for it though… GarageBand for macOS and Cakewalk if you’re using Windows.
The other DAWs I mentioned are just alternatives for you to consider.
Now, I’m fully-aware that there are PLENTY of other free DAWs out there, but I wanted to save you some time and energy with this article.
I’ve read enough articles with 20+ choices…
In other words, the free DAWs we talked about today are the best free DAWs for music production based on my personal criteria (which is VERY strict).
If you feel like I missed an important one though, let me know and I might add it to the list!
Do you have any questions or would like me to clarify anything? Let me know in the comments and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. Also, let me know which DAW you’ve decided to go with and share your experience!
Thanks for reading, don’t forget to join Decibel Peak on Discord and to support us on Patreon if you appreciate the content. Now, go make some music!