Choosing the right Digital Audio Workstation is the fundamental step in the process of building a software-based music production studio. After all, the DAW is the central part of any virtual studio setup, where all the audio recording, editing and mixing takes place.
Needless to say, there are plenty of commercial digital audio workstations out there, however, the options are far more limited if you’re building your studio on a tight budget. Most commercial DAW applications come with a demo version of some sort, but a demo is often quite restricted in terms of available features when compared to the full product. Thankfully, it is possible to build a powerful music studio almost completely free of charge nowadays, at least when it comes to finding the right software for the task (you will still need to invest some money into a decent computer, a pair of monitors or headphones and an audio interface).
The list below features a selection of the best free digital audio workstations. Please note that the programs are listed in no particular order. Every user has different demands and it is practically impossible to say which freeware DAW is the best.
Cakewalk by Bandlab
Cakewalk by BandLab and all its world-leading features are available free-to-download via the BandLab Assistant client for Windows – your central hub on your desktop for your musical creative process.
The most complete music production package, now FREE.
Pros (+): Great user interface, including a full set of Pro plug-ins, Studio Instrument Set, full VST support, unlimited audio & MIDI tracks.
Cons (-): non found as of April 2018. 64bit OS only.
Platforms: Windows 64bit Only
Tracktion Waveform Free
Waveform Free is unlike any other so called Free DAW – we fully acknowledge it has more capabilities than most enthusiast producers will ever need. There are no restrictions whatsoever – unlimited track count, add popular plugins and enjoy the deeply capable feature set.
Pros (+): VST and ReWire support, fully functional software, cheap upgrade price.
Cons (-): No updates, unconventional workflow and user interface.
Platforms: Windows, Mac OS, Linux.
SoundBridge is a full-featured Digital Audio Workstation that emphasizes mobility, connectivity and ease of use. We’ve optimized the user experience and made the application high resolution with 5 color schemes, added channel strip & plugin presets, a swing tool, advanced mixer routing, and much more! SoundBridge is an omni-recording experience, transcending desktop, mobile, and in-browser recording environments. Our online collaboration engine allows you to seamlessly connect, communicate and transfer data, among an unlimited number of collaborators per project.
Pros (+): Great user interface, included a full set of plug-ins, full VST support, unlimited audio & MIDI tracks. Online collaboration and project sharing.
Cons (-): non found as of June 2017.
Platforms: Windows, Mac OS.
Studio One Prime
Record, produce, and mix easily, all from a single, intuitive application. An intuitive single-window work environment with quick and easy drag-and-drop functionality and multi-touch support. Unlimited audio and instrument tracks, virtual instruments, and FX channels. Patterns allow for intuitive drum and melody composition via familiar drum machine/step-sequencer style UI.
Over 2 GB of bundled loop and musical content to inspire you from day one.
Pros (+): Great user interface, external SoundFont support, quality native effects.
Cons (-): No VST plugin support, only one virtual instrument included.
Platforms : Windows 10 64bit, Mac OS.
Pro Tools | First
Start creating with free music software for students, musicians, and podcasters
Pros (+): AAX plugin support, includes Xpand!2 instrument and over 20 native effects. Marketplace for extra plugin purchase
Cons (-): Only three projects can be stored, network connection required, CPU hog.
Platforms: Windows, Mac OS.
MAGIX Music Maker Free
Want to fulfil your dream of being a creative music producer, even without any experience? Music Maker lets you get started right away. Simply choose sounds from a massive collection of beats, tunes and vocals at chart quality level. Combine sounds and loops per drag & drop, play a whole library of software instruments and apply professional effects. It’s time for your creative ideas to take center stage. Simply create music.
Pros (+): Easy loop-based music creation. Several free SoundPool libraries included.
Cons (-): Only up to eight tracks per project. No VST support.
There are a lot more free or limited functionality version of DAWs out there than this shortlist. I will add them to the list as I try them and provide my feedback and review on each.
List Updated: Feb 2021