Choosing a free DAW for your music studio is not easy. A digital audio workstation is central to any music production software setup.
Your DAW software is where all the audio recording, audio editing, and mixing occur. It is also where you will use your favorite VST plugins.
However, your options are more limited if you’re building a music studio on a tight budget. There are only a few high-quality free digital audio workstations out there.
I used numerous digital audio workstations since I started making music in the early 2000s. And since I enjoy using freeware, I thoroughly tested every free DAW while doing my regular music production and sound design work.
The number of free digital audio workstations grows yearly, so I wrote this article to help you find the best free DAW in 2023.
Free DAWs: The BEST Digital Audio Workstations (2023 UPDATE)
These are the 17 best free digital audio workstations you can download right now:
- Waveform Free
- Cakewalk by BandLab
- Studio One Prime
- Pro Tools – First
- MPC Beats
- Serato Studio
- Podium Free
- Zrythm Free
- Bespoke Synth
- Magix Music Maker
- Reaper (free trial)
- Kristal Audio Engine
The best free DAWs are Waveform Free and Cakewalk by BandLab. Unfortunately, Cakewalk will soon be discontinued.
If you don’t require VST plugin support, consider using Studio One Prime by PreSonus. It is an excellent choice for music producers who want to record multi-track audio without using virtual instruments or VST plugins.
Find more info about the free DAWs below. We included mini-reviews of each digital audio workstation and an overview of its pros and cons.
Every user has different demands, and it is impossible to say which free DAW is the best for everyone. That’s why I thoroughly tested every free DAW in this article and listed their pros and cons.
Take a good look at the workstations mentioned in the article and decide which one is the best fit for you.
1. Waveform Free
Pros: VST and ReWire support, fully functional free DAW, low upgrade price.
Cons: Unconventional workflow.
Platforms: Linux, macOS, Windows.
Waveform Free is a feature-packed free DAW. It is the freeware version of Tracktion Corporation’s flagship digital audio workstation software, Waveform Pro.
The free DAW is available across all major operating systems, offering full VST plugin support and ReWire compatibility.
Waveform Free lacks some of the features available in its premium counterpart, but all core functionality is included. You can use Waveform Free to record, mix, and master your music projects from the ground up.
This flexible freeware DAW can even load video files to synchronize your audio project to a movie scene or an animation. Tracktion recently updated Waveform Free to further improve the video synchronization workflow.
If you’re producing electronic music, it’s easy to recommend Waveform Free as the perfect free digital audio workstation for the task. It can load virtual instruments and offers all the MIDI features required for sequencing VST plugins.
Waveform Free was designed from the ground up to be intuitive for beginner producers who haven’t previously used a DAW. It comes with an in-depth user manual that explains everything you need to know about music production on a computer.
And if you don’t care much about reading manuals, check out the training videos on Tracktion’s official website. The tutorial videos cover all crucial topics, from basic setup and plugin installation to advanced audio editing and automation.
If you use many virtual instruments in your music, Waveform Free is probably the best free DAW for you. Its workflow is optimized for instrument plugins and soft synths, with intuitive MIDI sequencing.
Tracktion recently released Waveform 12.5 Free, the latest version of its free DAW. It implements a brand-new audio engine, an improved interface, new audio effects, and several other improvements.
If you want even more features, you must purchase the commercial version of Waveform.
More info: Waveform Free
2. Cakewalk by BandLab
Pros: SONAR Platinum for free; what more can you ask for?
Cons: Not compatible with macOS. Discontinued.
Platform: Windows (64-bit only).
Cakewalk by BandLab is based on the old SONAR Platinum (originally priced at $499) digital audio workstation. BandLab’s free DAW offers the same functionality as its predecessor, minus the bundled third-party software.
Most importantly, Cakewalk is a freeware DAW. The program has all the original SONAR Platinum features, including its native effects (limiters, equalizers, compressors, etc.), analog console-style virtual mixer, VST plugin support, multi-touch support, Bluetooth MIDI, and more.
The free DAW used to require the BandLab Assistant application, but you can now install Cakewalk directly and without any additional software.
It’s also worth noting that there are no nagging ads or other annoyances. The software is fast, reliable, and ready to use on your Windows machine.
Cakewalk by BandLab was developed by some of the leading members of the SONAR developer team. Producers on a tight budget who want the closest thing to a traditional digital audio workstation should choose Cakewalk as their free DAW.
In other words, if you’re looking for a conventional freeware DAW that can load VST plugins, download Cakewalk by BandLab. Unfortunately, BandLab recently announced that the free version of Cakewalk will soon be discontinued.
It will be replaced by a new version of SONAR and will no longer be freeware.
More info: Cakewalk by BandLab
3. Studio One Prime
Pros: Great user interface, external SoundFont support, quality native effects.
Cons: No VST plugin support, only one virtual instrument included.
Platforms: macOS, Windows.
Studio One Prime is a capable free DAW from PreSonus. It lets you record, edit, and mix audio using the built-in audio effects.
Unfortunately, Studio One Prime can’t load third-party VST plugins. That is a potential deal breaker for users who rely on virtual instruments or a specific arsenal of virtual effects in VST plugin format.
On the other hand, Studio One Prime does include a collection of high-quality audio effects developed by PreSonus. It also comes with a 1.5 GB collection of royalty-free sounds and the ability to load third-party SoundFonts.
The free DAW from PreSonus also offers unlimited audio tracks and mixer channels, time-stretching, multi-track comping, full MIDI support, advanced automation, and Studio One’s simple side-chain routing workflow. We recommend Studio One Prime as the best free recording software.
The lack of VST plugin support is a significant drawback, but Studio One’s native effects are some of the best. The free version of Studio One includes nine effects in total, covering all of the essential mixing tools. It consists of a 3-band equalizer, a compressor, a simple distortion module, a guitar amplifier, ever, delay, and a set of modulation effects.
Five additional effects can be unlocked with an in-app purchase.
Studio One Prime is the perfect free digital audio workstation for singer-songwriters or bands who want to record and mix their demo sessions. It is an entry-level free DAW that can be upgraded to Studio One Artist (with more native effects) and Studio One Professional (with plugin support and a range of other additional features).
The free DAW from PreSonus has a tiny memory footprint. Studio One Prime is lightweight, which makes it an excellent choice for a secondary digital audio workstation on a laptop that isn’t a part of your main studio setup.
More info: Studio One Prime
4. Pro Tools – Intro
Pros: It is built on the same code as the latest Pro Tools.
Cons: Provides only eight audio, instrument, and MIDI tracks.
Platforms: macOS, Windows.
Pro Tools – Intro is the free version of Avid’s industry-leading Pro Tools digital audio workstation. It is built on the same code as the flagship edition of Pro Tools.
Avid’s free DAW is a good platform to help you learn Pro Tools. This is useful if you plan to work in a studio with Pro Tools as the main DAW.
Unfortunately, Pro Tools – Intro is very limited regarding available real estate. It offers only eight audio, instrument, and MIDI tracks.
This is enough for music producers who only intend to record simple songs. If you’re a singer/songwriter or a rap artist looking to record vocals over a beat, then Pro Tools – Intro will provide everything you need to get started.
On the other hand, if you need more tracks for recording, mixing, and editing your audio, look at the other free DAWs in this article.
More info: Pro Tools – Intro
Pros: A fully-fledged open-source DAW for audio recording and production.
Cons: You must build the software yourself (or pay a subscription fee) on Windows and macOS.
Platforms: Linux, macOS, Windows.
Ardour is an open-source digital audio workstation for Linus, macOS, and (as of lately) Windows. It is a feature-packed DAW with support for all major plugin formats and a wide range of audio editing and mixing tools.
There is one caveat, though. You cannot simply download and install Ardour on Windows and Mac.
Since I’m not a Linux user and not experienced with open-source software, I asked our friend Peter Kirn at Create Digital Music to explain how Ardour works on various platforms.
And it’s pretty simple, really.
Ardour is open-source and free to use. On Linux, downloading the Ardour source code and running the app on your computer is almost seamless. On Windows and macOS, you can still use Ardour for free, but only if you can compile the provided source code yourself. If not, there are two options: a one-time donation or a subscription.
With a one-time donation, users on macOS and Windows will receive the current version of Ardour and all the minor updates (until the next major version is released). In contrast, a monthly subscription of $1, $4, or $10 includes significant updates.
If you’re unsure if Ardour is for you, there’s a free demo you can download and run on your computer. The free trial version will go silent after ten minutes of use.
For a long while, Ardour was not at all available on Windows. However, thanks to funding from Google, Harrison Consoles, and Waves Audio, it is now possible to use Ardour as a DAW on a Windows machine.
More info: Ardour
6. MPC Beats
Pros: A virtual MPC for free. Also works as a VST plugin in other DAWs.
Cons: Only eight instrument channels.
Platform: Windows (64-bit only).
AKAI entered the free DAW market with MPC Beats, an undeniably powerful beat-making software. Although the app has shortcomings, such as limited audio channels that can be used simultaneously, you won’t find many of its features in other DAWs.
For example, MPC Beats can be used as a VST plugin in another digital audio workstation. Using a DAW inside another DAW? For free? Yes, these are incredible times for music producers on a budget.
Also, the software includes over 80 audio effects developed by Air, covering all your mixing and sound design requirements.
You’re also getting a high-quality time-stretching algorithm, an advanced step sequencer, and the ability to load third-party plugins in VST and AU formats. AKAI includes over 2 GB of free sample content with MPC Beats, and users can purchase additional extension packs if needed.
Additionally, MPC Beats features the legendary MPC workflow you’ll find in AKAI’s hardware products. And the software is compatible with various hardware MIDI controllers, including those from AKAI and third-party manufacturers.
If you’re a beatmaker looking for a free DAW, try MPC beats. You can expand this free digital audio workstation with premium sounds released by AKAI.
More info: MPC Beats
7. Serato Studio
Pros: A free DAW designed for beatmakers. Great workflow if you’re working with samples and loops.
Cons: The workflow will take some time to get used to if you’re coming for a more traditional DAW.
Platforms: macOS, Windows (64-bit).
Serato Studio is one of the younger digital audio workstations on the market. Instead of trying to copy other DAWs, the developers at Serato provided an original piece of music software that will inspire both experienced producers and absolute beginners.
Beatmakers who use samples and loops will benefit the most from Serato Studio’s innovative workflow. The program has a step sequencer, an intuitive sampler, and plenty of tools for manipulating, time-stretching, and slicing audio loops and samples.
You can import sounds, record audio, add automation, use virtual instruments and effects, etc. The interface is intuitive, and even if you’re a beginner, picking up Serato Studio and building a beat from scratch won’t be too hard.
The drawback here is that the producers who are used to more DAW platforms like Cubase or Ableton will require some time to get used to Serato Studio’s unique workflow. On the other hand, it can provide a nice change of scenery from your current go-to DAW.
More info: Serato Studio
Pros: VST plugin support, virtual drum machine included, multi-touch support.
Cons: Lacks some of the advanced features found in other DAWs.
Platforms: macOS, Windows.
SoundBridge is a straightforward free digital audio workstation. Due to its simplified user interface, SoundBridge is an excellent choice for beginners and less demanding users.
It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles found in more advanced DAWs like Waveform Free and Cakewalk by BandLab. On the other hand, there’s plenty of functionality for users just starting to make music on a computer.
Most importantly, SoundBridge can load third-party VST plugins. Users who program drum beats from scratch will love that SoundBridge includes an MPC-style drum sampler/sequencer and a collection of essential mixing and mastering effects.
Furthermore, this free DAW is optimized for the Universal Windows Platform (UWP), has hand gestures implemented, and can scale the interface.
SoundBridge is one of the newest digital audio workstations on the list. The developers are continuously improving the software with new features and updates. Sign up for free on the SoundBridge website and check out this promising freeware DAW.
More info: SoundBridge
Pros: VST plugin support, ZynAddSubFX, open-source.
Cons: There are some stability issues, a relatively steep learning curve, and no audio recording.
Platforms: Linux, macOS, Windows.
LMMS (short for Linux Multimedia Studio) is an open-source pattern-based free DAW built by a team of volunteers.
Its design and workflow are inspired by a commercial product – the well-known FL Studio (formerly known as Fruity Loops) digital audio workstation by Image-Line.
FL Studio’s pattern-based workflow is nicely implemented in LMMS. The problem is that the interface is still somewhat lacking in polish, which makes the user experience a bit underwhelming. The graphical elements are not very intuitively designed, and new users will probably need some time to get familiar with the application and its features.
The design keeps improving with every new version of LMMS; therefore, keeping the program updated to the latest version makes sense. Also, plenty of free video tutorials are available online to help with the learning process.
LMMS is packed with built-in effects and virtual instruments, including the ZynAddSubFX synthesizer, one of the most versatile freeware instruments. This freeware DAW can also host VST plugins and connect to other applications via the JACK Audio Server.
The built-in beat/bassline editor is great, and the piano roll works well to create and edit more complex MIDI sequences. Sadly, LMMS can’t record audio (!), so it is only possible to generate sound using virtual instruments or imported samples.
Even so, LMMS is a decent free DAW for electronic music producers, beatmakers, and anyone who relies exclusively on virtual instruments and samples to create music.
More info: LMMS
10. Podium Free
Pros: VST plugin support, intuitive user interface, fast workflow.
Cons: Single core processing for VST plugins, no ReWire support, not cross-platform compatible.
Podium Free is our long-time favorite, a powerful free digital audio workstation that combines a modern user interface with a fast workflow. Podium was built with electronic musicians in mind, focusing on virtual instruments as the primary sound source.
That said, this free DAW can also be used for recording and mixing real instruments.
The free version of Podium offers decent VST plugin support (not limited to a certain amount of VST plugins per project) and a robust object-based project structure with a virtual mixer. It has powerful audio recording and editing tools, track freeze/bounce, and external MIDI controller support.
Podium Free features the same customizable user interface as the product’s full version.
The main limitation of Podium Free is that the DAW doesn’t support multi-core CPUs. If you use a quad-core processor, only one of the four CPU cores will be used to process plugins.
You’ll need to keep a close eye on the CPU performance indicator and use less demanding plugins in your projects. Track freezing and bouncing can also help to reduce the overall CPU load.
It’s worth noting that the remaining CPU cores are still used for various background tasks (rendering, disk streaming, etc.).
More info: Podium Free
11. Zrythm Free
Zrythm is an open-source digital audio workstation for Windows, macOS, and Linux. The free version lets you use up to 25 audio tracks.
The free DAW has all the features of a modern audio workstation. It can load all major plugin formats, offers an advanced MIDI sequencing workflow, parameter automation, and includes a powerful suite of audio effects.
It also offers some features you won’t find in most other DAWs. For example, it can load SoundFonts as virtual instruments, letting you customize some of the parameters within the app.
However, Zrythm is still in beta, so it isn’t fully polished. I tested it on an M1 Macbook Air and experienced some stability issues.
Still, Zrythm shows plenty of potential, and it’s on the right course to become one of the best free digital audio workstations.
12. Bespoke Synth
Pros: Virtually limitless patching and modular experimentation capabilities.
Cons: The modular workflow is probably too complicated if you’re looking for a simple free DAW.
Platforms: Linux, macOS, Windows.
The developer describes Bespoke Synth as “a customizable playground for sound.” He also says the software is “a bit like smashing Ableton Live to bits with a baseball bat and then putting it back together.”
Fans of modular synthesizers will feel right at home with Bespoke Synth. If you enjoy connecting synth modules, creating patches from scratch, and imagining your perfect DAW from the ground up, Bespoke Synth will be the ideal fit.
Otherwise, you’ll find this particular free DAW too complicated to use.
More info: Bespoke Synth
GarageBand is the first free DAW used by many music producers. It is included with all Mac computers and designed to be intuitive and easy to use.
Unsurprisingly, Apple’s freeware DAW has a decent collection of virtual instruments and sounds. But, users who want a more advanced digital audio workstation should look elsewhere.
GarageBand is more than enough to start making music if you’re a beginner music producer with a macOS machine.
Audacity is a free audio editor that can also work as a DAW. If you need to edit audio files or create simple songs, Audacity can substitute a real digital audio workstation.
Recent updates added some useful DAW-like features to Audacity. It can now load VST plugins (only effects) and process them in real time. This means you can preview and adjust the audio effects before applying them to the audio file.
Audacity still lacks basic DAW features like a multi-channel mixer and virtual instrument support, but it can work as a bare-bone tool for making music on a computer.
15. Magix Music Maker
Music Maker by Magix is a free DAW for absolute beginners. The software is a GarageBand equivalent on Windows in terms of its features and functionality.
It comes with a small selection of virtual instruments and effects packed in a streamlined user interface that is easy to learn. The software is a good starting point for musicians who want to learn to produce music on a computer, but nothing more.
Look at the other free digital audio workstations featured in the article for advanced functionality.
REAPER is NOT free to use, but it is free to try. Many users believe that Reaper is free, but that is only true about the trial version.
The asking price of $60 for a discounted license is more than fair, considering the program’s flexibility and continuous updates with new features and improvements.
REAPER is an incredibly powerful and versatile digital audio workstation that supports all major plugin formats. It has a vast collection of high-quality effects for processing audio and MIDI data, powerful audio and MIDI routing capabilities, and a very active user community.
An in-depth review of REAPER was recently published by ExtremRaym.
17. KRISTAL Audio Engine
KRISTAL Audio Engine is an old digital audio workstation that is no longer updated. The program was developed by KristalLabs, a team of programmers that later worked on creating Studio One.
Unlike the free version of Studio One, KRISTAL Audio Engine offers basic VST plugin support with two plugin slots per channel and three plugin slots on the master bus. This is an old DAW, but it can still be helpful for users with less powerful computers.
What Is The Best Free DAW?
Waveform Free and Cakewalk by BandLab are the best free digital audio workstations.
Both are powerful DAW applications with all the essential features for serious music production. Besides offering audio recording, editing, mixing, and automation features, Waveform Free and Cakewalk can also host VST plugins.
If third-party virtual instruments and VST plugins are not crucial to your workflow, Studio One Prime is the free DAW you should focus on. Studio One Prime is an excellent package for recording audio and performing all standard audio mixing tasks.
Choosing A Free DAW
If you’re an electronic music producer, Waveform Free is probably the best free digital audio workstation for you. It can load VST plugins, comes with its own virtual instruments, and offers a range of tools for electronic music production.
Singers/songwriters will probably enjoy Studio One Prime the most. This free DAW can’t load plugins, but its workflow and included audio effects are perfect for capturing your performances.
Beatmakers should look into alternative DAWs like LMMS and SoundBridge. However, beginners will probably enjoy SoundBridge’s streamlined workflow and design. LMMS, on the other hand, is heavily inspired by FL Studio and its beatmaking workflow.
Rock and metal producers can try Cakewalk. It’s excellent for recording and mixing audio. More importantly, it can load VST plugins, so you can use your favorite virtual guitar amps and effects.
For more freeware plugins and instruments, return to our Free VST Plugins page.