If you have a lot of free time nowadays, binge gaming is not necessarily the answer to all life’s problems, so try to get better at doing something useful, will you? All jokes aside, today’s article is about the best recording software money can buy, or, if you’re on a tight budget, the best free music recording software, because after all’s said and done, the best things in life are free.
To begin with the basics, if you’re looking to become a DJ or a musician, recording software is the first step in the world of music creation, and even more so if you’re looking to make the transition between a Portastudio setup, you know, old-school knobs and sliders, into the 21st century, without skipping a beat. Since we live in the “current year” and most of us have all the time in the world these days to play around and experiment, knowing how to choose the best recording software can really make the difference between failure and success.
How to Choose the Best Recording Software
Ok, Dr.Dre, if this is your first step into the music production racket, here’s the deal: today’s recording environment is very different from the “early days” of analog recorded music, i.e. you’ll require less money if you want to work on your “demo tape” today than, let’s say, in the nineties. Unlike back in the day, when a wannabe musician or DJ had to spend thousands of dollars on recording studios and equipment, in 2020 almost everyone has access to a personal computer/laptop; or, if that’s overkill for you, even a high-end smartphone or tablet would do the trick gear-wise.
However, even if the equipment is pretty much a non-issue nowadays, you’ll still have to use the correct software. First, precisely identify your learning goals, then look at your budget and estimate the costs involved (the software itself plus extra gear to use in the long-run, such as a high-quality standalone microphone), then try before you buy (look for free trial versions), don’t be afraid to ask people for recommendations (forums, Facebook groups, etc.), look for built-in filters and special effects, and remember: free is not always better, especially if you’re serious about this endeavor.
With all these in mind, let’s take a look at the best recording software out there, right after a short commercial break (and don’t forget to wash your hands, just kidding).
Best Recording Software Solutions
The Best Voice Recording Software
We’ll start with WavePad, which is smartly marketed as audio editing software for everyone; what’s nice about WavePad is that it’s actually an audio and music editor, two for the price of one so to speak, and it works on both Mac and Windows machines, which is absolutely great. So, if you’re looking for a full-featured professional-grade audio and music editor, WavePad should rank high on your shopping list, as it allows you to do lots of things.
For example, you can edit/record music, voice, and other recordings; moreover, when in editing-audio mode, you can copy, paste and/or cut segments of recordings and then add your favorite effects, such as amplification, echo, and noise reduction. WavePad supports all major file formats, including gsm, vox, real audio, wma, aif, au, ogg, flac and many more, as well as batch processing (you can edit multiple files at once), audio restoration via noise reduction and clicks pop removal, and advanced tools such as FFT, spectral analysis and TFFT.
To make a long story short, WavePad is a very interesting audio editing suite that is easy to learn and use, offering the complete package, especially excellent editing capabilities as well as file format compatibility, plus cross-platform support.
- The voice recording program is very intuitive
- Amazing selection of special effects and filters, broad file format compatibility
- Easy-to-use interface for a smooth workflow
- Improved editing via search, scrub or bookmark audio
- Supports sample rates from 6kHz up to 192kHz
- You’ll need a software extension for multitrack recording
The Best Audio Recording Software
Adobe is a big name in the software industry, and the same goes for Adobe Audition, which may be described as the crowned king of recording software. If you can live with monthly payments to the tune of $21, Adobe Audition makes for an excellent audio editor for podcasts, video post-production, or audio restoration. We know, $21 each and every month is pretty expensive, especially for what you get (there is similar software absolutely free of charge, but more on that down below), but Audition is targeted on previous Adobe customers, and it makes perfect sense as part of an existing subscription or a supplement to a video editor.
As far as recording software goes, Adobe Audition runs with the best, as it’s very powerful and offers cross-platform compatibility, plus specialized tools for restoring and/or cleaning up audio files, and precision editing (non-destructive, mind you) for commercial and corporate video, or even podcasts. Post-production is one of Adobe Audition’s strongest features and you can use it in 2 main modes: the Waveform and Multitrack view, the former for stereo editing, and the latter for mixing tracks on a timeline.
The user interface is well designed and intuitive, and according to Adobe, Audition is “designed to accelerate video production workflows and audio finishing”, which is actually its focus-market. Basically, if you’re a professional video editor or podcaster and you’re accustomed to high-end Adobe software, the likes of Photoshop or Premiere, Audition will fit you like a glove.
- Industry-leading sound removal, audio restoration, and noise reduction features
- Almost perfect stereo waveform editor
- Well-designed visualization tools
- Cross-platform compatibility (Windows and Mac)
- Kind of expensive
- No MIDI support
The Best Recording Software For PC
Sound Forge is next on our list, and to make it really easy for our readers, as far as professional audio editing goes, it doesn’t get much better than this; the point being, Sound Forge is the “weapon of choice” for numerous producers worldwide, including Ted Perlman, a legendary Grammy award-winner audio editor. Sound Forge comes loaded with all the technological bells and whistles available in 2020, i.e. lightning-fast processing, powerful editing tools, and a highly innovative workflow.
With Sound Forge, you’ll be able to record, edit and restore audio material via 64-bit support and crystal-clear audio quality, i.e. productivity will see an immediate boost due to the software’s next-level performance in terms of audio editing with precise technology, and we’re not mincing words here, as Sound Forge is the “golden standard” for producers, artists and mastering engineers. There are 4 versions of the software: Sound Forge Pro 14, the Pro 14 Suite, Sound Forge Pro for Mac, and Sound Forge Audio Cleaning Lab 2.
Regardless of your option, you’ll benefit from comprehensive features and tools for virtually any kind of audio editing, i.e. Sound Forge is the ultimate virtual studio for both amateurs and pros alike, and it allows you to edit, record and restore audio files and master songs with professional effects, including converting old cassettes or even vinyls to digital, or, why not, to record professional quality podcasts, produce soundtracks for movies and videos, create CDs, everything available via an intuitive and easy to use interface.
- Mastering and restoration with iZotope plug-ins: Ozone 9 Elements and RX 7 Elements
- Allows recording, audio editing, mastering and cleaning with just a few clicks
- Multichannel recording at the industry-leading quality on up to 32 channels in resolution up to 64-bit/768 kHz
- Tons of audio effects and plug-ins
- New VST Engine & ARA2 Support
- Pretty expensive
- No free-version available
The Best Free Music Recording Software
If you’re looking for free and open-source recording software, Audacity comes to mind; however, even if Audacity is absolutely free of charge, it has a lot to offer, including cross-platform compatibility, an intuitive and easy to use interface, and even regular updates.
Now, considering that you’re not Bono, i.e. a pro-musician looking for all the cutting edge bells and whistles, Audacity will fit you like a glove, as it comes with all the essential tools you’ll ever need, including a multi-track audio editor and recorder, and the best thing is that it is developed by a group of volunteers and it’s open-source, i.e. there’s absolutely nothing fishy/behind-a-paywall about it.
Audacity’s main “selling point” (pun intended), besides the fact that it’s freeware at its best, is that it can handle any kind of sound file on any OS, including any version of Windows, Mac OS X, and GNU/Linux, and truth be told, it can go toe to toe with many premium programs, as it’s relatively feature-rich for what it is, and amazingly powerful, not to mention that it’s surprisingly simple to use. All you have to do is to download it, no strings attached, and take it for a test drive. With Audacity, you can remove noise, make your own recordings, combine and cut clips, and even apply special effects.
Provided you have enough experience, Audacity allows you to achieve truly professional results, and that’s quite amazing for a freebie.
Moreover, you can expand it via plugins for adding new effects or integrate Audacity with other apps, and there are literally no limits with regard to the length/size of your audio projects. This baby is a fantastic tool if you’re into making podcasts, music, audiobooks or whatever kind of project as Audacity can record from both your PC’s playback or via an external microphone with sample rates as high as 192,000 Hz with 24-bit depth recording. Finally, you can use Audacity with Gsnap, a third-party plug-in, if you want to add autotune effects to your stuff; seriously now, what more can you ask for zero money?
- A comprehensive library of plugins
- Supports virtually any file format and any OS
- You can stream directly to your podcast listeners
- Tons of effects, advanced audio editing
- VST Plugin support
- Absolutely nothing at this price point
Avid Pro Tools First
The Best Free Audio Recording Software
Avid Pro Tools is viewed by many as the “classic” cross-platform software solution for professional audio editing, whether we’re talking about film, music, broadcast or games. Hence, it comes as no surprise that the full-featured $600 software bundle (yes, we know, it’s pretty expensive) feels like home for recording engineers, musicians and producers, as it’s one of the best audio editing/recording software for professionals/larger organizations.
There are three versions of Avid Pro Tools, and the Pro Tools First is the “weapon of choice” for many beginners, because it’s absolutely free of charge, but there’s a caveat to the freebie thing: you won’t get all the features, obviously! However, the 2019 update brings 16 audio and 16 MIDI tracks, and you can record up to 4 at once using your own inputs, plus you’ll get 3 genuine project saves, but you’ll have to save them in the cloud using your Avid account if you want to share them with your friends or whomever. However, after the latest update, you can save your projects on your local computer, and adjust track settings or plug-in settings during playback.
You are still restricted to 16 audio tracks, but if you need more, you can bounce a few tracks together. You also get two high-end virtual instruments, plus 23 effects and plug-ins, and 3 GB of samples and loops, professionally produced, and the same interface that the Pros use.
- Fast mixing engine and 64-bit recording
- One of the best audio editing workflows in the industry
- Clean user interface
- No built-in pitch correction
- Lacks VST and AU plug-in support
MixPad Multitrack Recording
Recording Software for Everyone
As per its name, MixPad makes for multitrack recording software for everyone, boasting a friendly and intuitive user interface mixed with ease of use at an attractive price point. Be aware: even if the download is free, the program per se is not free (it costs $99 if you want all the essential features unblocked).
However, for almost one hundred bucks, you’ll get a lot of features for professional recording and music production. Using MixPad you’ll be able to produce/mix your own music tracks faster and easier than ever, as the software was built “for the masses” and comes with a huge list of features and tools.
MixPad offers EQ, audio effects, reverb, support for 3rd party plug-ins, a comprehensive range of effects that can be easily applied to virtually any track, a huge library of music (royalty free), and allows you to record single/several tracks at once, or to have an unlimited number of tracks in your mix. Moreover, you can use MixPad for basically any task, whether you’re a pro or a semi-pro, as it supports sample rates from 6KHz to 96KHz and is compatible with ASIO for sample-accurate/low latency recording.
Plus, you can export up to 32-bit audio tracks, and you get support for virtually all audio file formats, including mp3 and wav.
- Easy to use and user-friendly interface
- Free version available (though severely limited)
- Allows mixing, recording single/multiple tracks at the same time
- VST plug-in support, ASIO support
- You can upload to DropBox, SoundCloud, and Google Drive from within the app
- None really at this price-point
The Best Free Audio Recording Software for Mac
Apple Garage Band is one of the most famous recording software out there, especially if you’re a Mac owner, because it’s kind of built-into the system, i.e. it arrives with every Apple computer and it’s also free of charge. Well, sort of, because you pay a lot of dough for an Apple machine in the first place. Anyway, as far as freeware goes, Apple Garage Band is pretty cool, as it’s basically a clone of sorts of the high-end Logic Pro X DAW.
Even if you won’t get Logic Pro X’s amazing flexibility and its huge range of instruments, mastering features, and mixing capabilities, Apple Garage Band comes pretty close, with its minimalist interface layout which is incredibly user-friendly and comprehensive multitrack recording capabilities. One cool thing about Apple Garage Band is that it allows you to use a microphone to record at 24 bits, and also to record/mix-up 255 tracks, multiple takes and compile them easily, or to drop on-the-fly Voice Memo recordings into the software.
Basic editing tasks are pretty straight forward and simple, and there’s also a reverb effect available, not to mention a relatively basic mastering track that boosts your levels and helps you get a finished sound, though it’s not as good as professional-level recording software, yet it’s pretty close.
Smart Controls is another great feature in Apple Garage Band, which allows you to tweak various parameters for a given sound, and lets you shape and evolve sounds on-the-fly. The sound library is solid and on top of that, you get more than 40 free basic guitar and piano lessons from within the app.
- An excellent user interface, intuitive and friendly for beginners
- Recording and mixing music is incredibly easy
- Comprehensive sound and loop library
- Free for Apple users
- Supports 3rd party plug-ins and 24-bit recording
- None we can think of for a freebie
Open Source Recording Software at Its Best
We’re almost there with Ardour, which is an impossibly named recording software, but what’s in a name, right? To make a long story short, Ardour is a very interesting choice for open source enthusiasts and features cross-platform compatibility (Linux, Mac, Windows) free of charge. Even if it’s free (with minimal limitations, there’s also a paid-for version by the way), Ardour boasts 32/64 bit processing, has a linear/crystal clear interface, and the free version allows you to explore all of its features (time-limited though at ten minutes of project length), unlike other software.
The Pro inline mixing console allows you to view/edit plugins from the console’s mixing channels, and there’s also multi-display support, LV2 plugins support, LADSPA plugins support, powerful routing via JACK support, and obviously, you can record, import audio/MIDI, edit (cut, paste, move, copy, etc.), mix and create a master tape like a pro, then export your work.
- Audio and midi multi-track recording and editing
- Plugins with full sample-accurate automation
- Transport sync and external control surfaces
- Powerful anywhere-to-anywhere signal routing
- Video timeline
- Open source, freeware at its best
- Paid builds/pre-built releases
- Quirky user interface
Hijack Your Audio Experience
Last but not least, we have Audio Hijack, or, as the company brands itself, if you can hear it you can record it! So, to sum it up nicely, Audio Hijack allows you to literally hijack sound, as in any audio, on your machine, easily and quickly, from basically any source (mixers, microphone, Skype, web-streams, you name it), to an AIFF file. The respective file can be played on your favorite audio player, or burned to a CD or whatever.
Audio Hijack can also be used to record internet streams like Windows Media, Real or iTunes, or sound bites off DVDs, game sounds and even to rip Flash audio and more.
- Well-designed interface
- Records all major formats
- Reusable sessions timed recordings
- Comprehensive audio effects, high-quality recording
- Free to try but no free version available
There is also DaVinci Resolve Fairlight, up there with Avid for professional studio post production audio editing.