Best Free DAW for Windows | PreSonus Studio One Prime

best free daw for windows - mixing console

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Did you know that Windows finally got its very own “GarageBand equivalent”? One of the biggest advantages of owning an Apple computer was the included license for GarageBand. Of course, it’s always been an Apple exclusive, but now Windows users have their own exclusive. The best free DAW for Windows is undoubtedly PreSonus’ Studio One Prime.

Have you been struggling to find an alternative to GarageBand for Windows? Studio One Prime has everything you need to start producing music from the comfort of your own home, but like GarageBand… PreSonus does provide an advanced version (Artist & Professional). However, you won’t need to compromise with Studio One 4 Prime because it’s fully functional and it’s also quite impressive!

The best free DAW for Windows at a glance

Anything is better than Audacity when it comes to music production. However, there hasn’t been many freebie recording software available for Windows. Most studio equipment usually includes some bundled software, but they’re rarely full-versions.

Studio One Prime is one of the first fully-functional DAWs that won’t cost you a dime!

Most of the features that are included in the Artist and Professional versions aren’t essential. The free version of Studio One is more than suitable for most music producers, especially beginners.

It even includes some effect plug-ins (9 to be exact) and 1 GB of loops/samples.

GarageBand, in comparison, comes equipped with Apple’s Sound Library which includes software instruments. Unless you’ve been lucky with bundled software, you’ll most likely need some sounds to work with. Studio One Prime only includes ONE virtual instrument.

With the included Presence XT sampler, you’ll be capable of manipulating PreSonus’ integrated sounds, but that’s it.

I think it’s enough to get by, but if you’re relying mostly on software, you may be disappointed. High-quality software instruments aren’t usually the most affordable, so keep that in mind. Compared to GarageBand, there’s much less value packed into Studio One Prime.

However, there aren’t many other options.

Back in the day, I was producing most of my music on Windows using Reason 10 (which I purchased). The best free DAW for Windows I had found was Cubase LE and it came bundled with my Zoom H4n Pro.

zoom h4n pro handy recorder
The integrated amp modelling software on the H4n Pro is actually quite useful for guitarists/bassists. I used it as my main audio interface for 2 years!

Pro Tools | First and Ableton Live Lite are also quite commonly included with hardware purchases, but they’re all quite restrictive in my opinion.

The way I see it, you’ll always be limited by your budget, BUT…

When it comes to free software, PreSonus has really done Windows users a HUGE favour. Studio One Prime is the best free DAW for Windows I’ve ever seen and trust me… I’ve tried them all.

What can you accomplish with PreSonus’ free DAW?

Although installing Studio One Prime doesn’t require any hardware, you’ll at least want to provide yourself with an audio interface. There’s only one audio interface I can recommend to both beginners and Windows users and that’s the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (3rd gen).

best audio interface for a home studio
The Scarlett 2i2 is perfect for beginner to intermediate music producers.

Once you’ve got your interface plugged in, you can start recording!

The real disadvantage for guitarists/bassists is the absence of amp modelling software. Once again, GarageBand is on a level of its own when it comes to packing in as much value as possible, BUT…

With all the free DAWs I’ve tried (and even some that weren’t free), amp modelling software isn’t usually included.

To get the most out of your free software, you’ll definitely need to have SOME hardware. We’re talking about amplifiers, microphones, MIDI/USB controllers, etc… It really depends what your ambitions are as a music producer.

Either way, you’ll be equipped with tools to edit audio recordings and a MIDI sequencer to program sequences.

Other free software such as Audacity doesn’t include MIDI editing capabilities, so this is a HUGE advantage.

Top that off with unlimited tracks and you can essentially do anything. Just like every other DAW, you can insert 3rd party effects, instruments and program parameter automation. In retrospect, I remember Cubase LE having limitations when it came to software instruments.

Basically, it’s got everything you need and more than most of the other free options. You can compare the different versions by following this link.

However, you’ll definitely want to start investing in some additional sounds to work with as you progress on your musical journey.

The best free DAW for Windows isn’t the best free DAW

I’ve compared Studio One Prime to Apple’s GarageBand, but that’s because I need you to understand that there IS better. I spent many years agonizing with my home-built Windows machine before finally switching over to Apple.

To be perfectly honest, Microsoft and Apple both have some major flaws, but when it comes to content creators… 

Apple creates the best tools to work with; it simply works.

Although Studio One Prime is free, it really isn’t. You’ll still need to invest in hardware, software and eventually an upgrade. For beginners, it may be quite overwhelming to make all these decisions from the start.

Apple computers can seem like they’re more expensive, but most people don’t consider the software they come with.

GarageBand really impressed me when it came to sound libraries. I’m not exaggerating when I say that they included pretty much every sound known to man. There’s so much to work with that you’ll be focused on what you CAN do rather than what you CAN’T.

Screen Shot 2019 08 26 at 5.56.11 PM
GarageBand includes guitar/bass amp modelling and effects pedals!

With all that content, you could probably produce music without an audio interface! Seriously, you could simply program MIDI sequences and use the integrated loop library.

Studio One Prime, in comparison, feels extremely limiting. It’s important to understand the differences because I want you to be inspired, not frustrated. Studio One Professional doesn’t even include as much as GarageBand!

If you ever decided to change DAWs down the line, compatibility would become an issue.

I say this because most professionals end up switching over to Logic Pro, Pro Tools and/or Cubase somewhere down the line. GarageBand makes it incredibly simple to upgrade to Logic Pro and guess what…

Logic Pro X is still the most affordable DAW on the market (and the best in my opinion)!

Planning ahead is crucial when it comes to DAWs

If you’re just getting started, I still believe Studio One Prime is your best bet. Investing in an Apple computer is a big step from downloading the best free DAW for Windows. However, take it from someone who’s been doing this for his entire life… 

Planning ahead will save you time, money and energy.

What happens if you’ve got 100 Studio One projects and then finally… One day, you decide to invest in an Apple computer? See where I’m going with this? I know best because I’ve had to migrate all my old projects into Logic Pro X.

If I had started with GarageBand from the start, the progression would’ve been seamless.

That being said, Studio One is becoming more popular, so you might decide to keep it. In terms of value, I still think Apple takes it home, but if you’re sticking to Windows it may be your best option. Compared to Cubase and Pro Tools, Studio One is much more user-friendly.

I really think PreSonus was in fact attempting to create GarageBand for Windows.

If I had known about this option sooner, who knows, maybe I would still be using Windows (I doubt it though). Studio One Prime is miles ahead of Audacity! I say this because I know some of you may actually still be using Audacity…

If that’s the case, then you’ve got no more excuses!

You can download Studio One Prime here…

Is this your first time hearing about Studio One Prime? If so, I really hope this discovery helps you get started on your musical journey. It’s not always easy to raise funds for projects and I understand that. When I started out at the age of 16, I had to rely mostly on free software to get by, but I never made excuses! If you need any advice, feel free to leave me a comment and please, share this post if you’ve found it useful. Thanks!

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