Free, but with limitations
But free in this case certainly comes with limitations: most of the free digital audio workstations out there are merely an introduction to their big brother and might be quite limited.
Typical limitations include restricting number of available tracks, audio import/export formats, compatibility with plugins, number of insert effects etc.
While this might sound like a bad deal, you can still achieve good results just by using the free version and choosing to use a free edition of commercial software is quite recommended, especially if you’re looking to upgrade later to the full version.
Fortunately there are also few completely unrestricted (or should we say less limited) audio editors and workstations out there.
The typical real limitation here comes in form of support and lack of bundled plugins.
Still, if your goal is to get a full-blown free digital audio software in, downloading a few free 3rd party plugins should be no issue (don’t miss out our article on Best Free VST Plugins!).
Perfect for beginners
A free digital audio software serves as a great introduction into the world of music production and can be a great tool to record and edit simple projects, such as demos, band rehearsals and song ideas – they are certainly capable to be more than just sketchpads.
Most of them are easy to use and will offer comprehensive features to use in all sorts of productions.
After all, basic concepts of recording, editing, mixing and using various effects processors are found in all of them.
A free version of a popular commercial digital audio software can be a good way for music producer to try out a new software and see if it works for specific workflow.
There are many professionals out there, like Junkie XL and Deadmau5, who are known to use multiple digital audio editors and workstations in their studio.
Some of them can even “talk” to each other via ReWire, Link and Jack, enabling users to pick the best of each world.
What should I look for?
The most important functions to look for in a digital audio software (be it free or commercial) always come from the need that the user needs to fulfil: in many cases user will need to record, edit and mix audio tracks along with software instruments and effects.
But sometimes all is needed is to just record simple MIDI data, use the sequencing functions or perhaps use the software as a tracking recorder.
The need and workflow really defines which one is the most suitable for an individual use.
In case of limited software, many users will later upgrade to a commercial version of their chosen digital audio tool, so it’s nice to know, that sessions created with the “little brother” would be then compatible with the full version.
Opening sessions created with a big brother could turn out to be a problem though, so check out the manufacturer information on compatibility beforehand.
Many LE or Lite versions of popular DAW applications (like Ableton Live Lite 9 or Steinberg Cubase LE) come bundled with hardware, such as MIDI controllers and sound cards, and might not be available other than with a hardware purchase.
No matter what the flavour of free you might choose, our selection of Best Free Sound Recording Software will cater for anyone wanting to get into the world of digital audio and anyone exploring new options.