Best Free DAW
The Best Free DAW is Cakewalk for Windows or Garageband for Mac.
Making electronic music doesn't have to be expensive. If you're on a tight budget, are new to music production, or simply have fairly basic production requirements, then there are many fantastic completely free DAWs for you to choose from. In this article I'll be reviewing the best options for you to download today and kick-start your music production journey.
The Best Free DAWs:
Studio One 5 Prime
What is a DAW?
A DAW, or Digital Audio Workstation is a software application that allows you to record, manipulate and export audio. Most DAWs act as a host for plugins you download such as virtual synths and audio effect plugins or have their own stock instruments and effects. They generally contain a main user interface that allows you to edit and mix multiple tracks into a final end product that you can then export.
Best FREE DAWs
Let's start this list with the most famous of free DAWs, Garageband! Built by the same team behind Logic Pro, it's a quality entry level DAW available for both Mac and IOS devices.
As with all Apple products, Garageband sports a really intuitive UI and workflow that allows you to start making music almost immediately. It comes bundled with a generous number of instruments, effects, and sounds to get you started, as well as the ability to record in your own instruments. 3rd party AU plugins are also supported, along with a deep integration with iCloud which allows you to pick up from where you left off whilst on the go. Seasoned producers may wish for more features, however if you're a beginner on an Apple device then Garageband is perfect for you.
Cakewalk was once a premium DAW called Sonar and would have set you back several hundred dollars back in the day, before being released for free following the takeover of Cakewalk by BandLab back in 2018.
Although the UI design is probably not the easiest on the eye, it's still an incredibly capable DAW, offering unlimited tracks, a multitude of inbuilt effects, as well as touchscreen and VST3 support. Although available for PC only, if that is your platform of choice then Cakewalk should be near the top of your list when considering what free DAW to use.
Waveform Free by Tracktion is another great free DAW, available for both PC and Mac. Advertised as "the world’s best, fully-featured, completely unlimited DAW”, it features unlimited tracks, support for 3rd party plugins, and an easy to learn, intuitive workflow.
The recent 2021 update adds project templates and training material, together with editing enhancements and significant performance improvements. The overall depth of features here is actually pretty incredible for a free DAW. If you wish to upgrade there is also a reasonably price Pro edition for just $69.
Studio One 5 Prime
Studio One 5 Prime by PreSonus is the free version of their acclaimed Studio One 5 DAW software. It has a single window user interface, and a simple drag-and-drop workflow which makes using it a breeze.
Highlights include a great instrument and drum pattern editor, amp and cab simulations for guitarists, and also support for MPE controllers. The main downside is the lack of VST plugin support. However, if this isn't an issue for you then Studio One 5 Prime still has plenty to offer, and makes for a solid choice.
LMMS is a free cross-platform community-driven DAW that works on Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. It's interface is similar to FL Studio, so if you're familiar with that DAW then you'll immediately feel right at home.
The software comes bundled with an assortment of free instruments and effect plugins, and also supports 3rd party VST plugins. The major downside of LMMS? - Well, you can't actually record any audio into it, which is quite a limiting factor. However, if you're an in-the-box producer who doesn't plan on connecting any external hardware then this may be a good option for you.
BandLab is a browser-based DAW specifically designed to be used as a collaboration tool. Because it runs in a browser it doesn't matter what platform you are using it on, which is great if you want to knock-out some beats on your phone during the office commute, and then continue on your laptop when you get home from work or school.
In terms of features, it contains an impressive array of virtual instruments, effects, and royalty-free loops to use in your tracks, and even allows you to record audio directly into the software.
The collaboration and social features are also pretty cool, as you can invite other producers to add to your tracks or contribute to other people's creations.
SoundBridge is another solid free DAW option that is available for both Mac and PC. The interface is clear and intuitive, and it comes with an impressive set of features including a nice sampler/sequencer, 3rd party VST support, and a small collection of stock plugins and effects.
It's maybe not quite as feature rich as some of the other options in this list, however if you're after a decent free DAW with an easy-to-use intuitive interface, then SoundBridge could be a great option.
Zenbeats by Roland is not quite a fully-fledged DAW, but rather more of a cross-platform music creation app that integrates with the Roland ecosystem via the RolandCloud. There are various paid tiers of membership which unlock progressively more features; however the basic free version is still pretty powerful and gives you all the music production essentials.
The free version of Zenbeats comes with a small selection of high-quality instruments and effects, however there is no support to 3rd party VSTs unless you upgrade your membership. The gorgeous UI is the standout feature for me, with full touch-screen compatibility when using on a mobile device.
If you're looking to produce music on a Windows PC, then Cakewalk is probably the best free DAW in terms of features. If you're on a Mac, then you can't really go wrong with Garageband.
As an honourable mention, one DAW that is not free but is incredible value for money at just $60 is Reaper. You can even evaluate the full software for 60 days without paying a penny. I plan to do a full Reaper DAW review in a later article.
Now that you've decided on what DAW you're going to use then you might want to take advantage of some great free VST plugins. I've compiled a list of the absolute best ones here.
After a comprehensive list of FREE sample packs? - I've got you covered here.
Installed your DAW but don't know where to begin? Take a look at this article for 15 Beginner Tips for Electronic Music Production.
I hope you found this post helpful. Have a great day and Happy Producing!