When it comes to editing audio on your computer there are several options out there and most of the best ones cost quite a bit of money.
If you want to produce and mix music then you might need to splash out, but if you want to establish a podcast of even do some home music recording then there are a few cheaper and even free options for you to consider.
Simple audio editing from other sources can definitely be done for free on some of the software below. But if you want to input your own audio, be it through microphones, live instruments or MIDI, there’ll be a specific product that suits you best.
Best free options
Free on PC, Mac, Linux
The most well-known of the free audio editors has its reputation for a reason. Audacity manages to bring the all the building blocks of decent multitrack recording software and present it in an intuitive way, with tons more features than you’d expect hidden under the surface. It’s great for podcasting, simple music editing, and other basic audio needs.
It has been around for 20 years and remains open source, meaning it works on Windows, Mac, and Linux. This also means developers add new features and plug-ins all the time, so it’s not lost relevancy.
As with all audio editors it’ll work best if you have a fairly large display, but hopefully you’ll be able to afford one given Audacity is totally free. If you’re just starting out, start here. The software gets enough updates to keep it relevant for a wide range of needs.
Free on PC, Mac, Linux
This simple and clean audio editor is a decent alternative to Audacity and is slightly faster to run.
Like Audacity it comes with a lot of effects that you can add to your recordings, and bests Audacity (and others) by being able to listen to effects changes in real time – other editors work destructively by modifying your audio files, but Ocenaudio lets you apply effects and hear them straight away.
A downside is that it doesn’t let you record several instruments and mix them as it only supports single stereo or mono files. That means its suitable for editing stereo music files or mono audio files.
Check both Ocenaudio and Audacity out to see which is the best fit for your free audio editing needs.
Free with every Mac
The Windows vs Mac debate will rumble on for the foreseeable future but one thing the Mac has Windows beat for is the free software you get just by buying one. GarageBand is one of the best reasons to fork out for a MacBook or iMac because it is extremely capable and might well be all you need if you want to record your own music.
It comes with a slick looking interface that lets you easily multitrack instruments, whether that’s via a plugged-in instrument, ambient mic, or MIDI keyboard.
Apple also continuously adds to its massive sound effects and loops library that comes with the software meaning you can quickly build a great sounding recording without needing every instrument under the sun at your disposal.
With more advanced features such as 24-bit recording, it’s a step up from Audacity for musicians but not as fully featured as paid-for software like Apple’s own Logic Pro X or Adobe Audition.
Free for PC, Mac, Linux
Audiotool is a music editor that differentiates itself by being an in-browser, online, cloud-based music audio editor. You can use a Chrome plug-in to access it, but otherwise the freedom to log in from any web browser on any computer is attractive if you don’t want to rely on one install on one machine.
It’s a good option if you want access to royalty free samples, which Audiotool has in spades thanks to partnerships with Loopmasters and Newloops that boasts over 250,000 of them.
The software’s modular look and feel is quite similar to GarageBand, so it makes Audiotool a good pick if you don’t have a Mac. With several virtual synthesizers and drum machines it’s an excellent audio creator as well as editor, and you can record short samples yourself to mix in with the preset instruments.
Best paid audio editors
Adobe Audition CC
For PC or Mac
From AU$29.99 per month
Adobe Audition has a rightfully excellent reputation as the best software for audio restoration sound removal, and noise reduction but it isn’t our top choice for music editing as it lacks MIDI support, but you can record instruments directly into it.
Think of Audition like the more advanced version of Audacity: it is a great post-production tool but not the best for direct recording. Audition works best if you’ve captured audio from other sources and then need to upload and mix down a final product. This is why it’s a popular choice for TV and radio professionals.
Like Adobe’s Photoshop and other software, it might put you off that Audition is part of the company’s Creative Cloud (CC) suite, so you have to pay a fairly high monthly fee for it rather than a one-off lump sum. It means it’s a flexible way to pay for pro-level audio editing, but you might prefer to splash on Logic or Ableton and be done with it.
Logic Pro X
Only on Mac
AU$319.99 one-time payment with free updates
The gold standard for music production on Mac for most people is Logic Pro X. Unless you’re a music pro who needs compatibility with Pro Tools, Logic is the one to go for.
Compared to other pro editing software Logic has a fairly friendly learning curve, and the interface is intuitive enough that you’ll be able to get recording and editing fast. You can run it on the base iMac or even a MacBook at a push, but remember for multi-track processing of large compositions you’re going to need a powerful machine.
The software is also not bound with copy protection like rivals, so you can log in to a new Mac when you upgrade and easily redownload Logic without pesky product keys and verification.
The latest version of Logic has incredibly accomplished sampler, sequencer, and Remix plugin that lets you easier input tricky transitions. Along with algorithmic drum and reverb options as just the tip of the icerberg, Logic comes at a reasonable price considering how fully realised it is.
Avid Pro ToolsSign up here
From US$29.99 per month or $599 one-time payment with 1 year of updates
For many, Pro Tools is the best audio editor. It certainly suits large studio set ups and has become somewhat an industry standard used by hundreds of professionals worldwide and has traditionally been the software editor of choice for the music industry since its introduction.
This is down to the fact it tends to handle the recording of live instruments better than Logic Pro X. Pro Tools’ Beat Detective is one of the editor’s main advantages with the software having the ability to intelligently detect the right beat in audio tracks, which lets you easier fix timing problems across tracks.
Compared to Logic it doesn’t have as many preloaded synth and sound effects, meaning if you want them, you’ll have to pay more for third party instruments.