Looking for the best free audio editing software? You’ve come to the right place – provided that is actually what you’re after…
First, let’s get something straight
Audio editing software is NOT a DAW.
As I was researching this subject and seeing what others had to say about it, I noticed quite a few reviewers mentioning digital audio workstations, and even comparing standalone audio editors to software like Pro Tools.
Not only is this inaccurate, but it’s also annoying to read, because I can imagine how confusing that must be for newcomers.
What’s the difference?
Where DAWs are designed to record, edit and mix multiple audio and MIDI tracks into a final composition, audio editing software is simply designed to…
wait for it…
EDIT AUDIO. Funny that.
The purpose of an audio editor is to zero-in on and edit a single mono or stereo sound file through cutting, pasting and effects processing. It is not designed to arrange MIDI or mixdown multiple tracks.
Most DAWs feature a built-in audio editor to process individual audio files within a project. So audio editing software can be a component of a DAW, but it can’t replace a DAW.
Think of a DAW as a car factory, relying on employees with a variety of skill sets to contribute to the final product, a brand new car. The audio editor is just one of those employees – let’s say the spray painter. That’s his only job, and he does it very well.
Now, to say that a standalone audio editor is inferior to a DAW for producing music is like saying the spray painter is inferior to the entire factory for building cars.
No kidding…because it’s not their job!
So why use a standalone Audio Editor?
There are various cases where a full-blown DAW is just overkill and actually counterproductive.
- Podcasts. You may want to just edit out a few hiccups
- Radio Edits. Shortening mixed songs for radio or censoring (BOOOOOO!)
- Normalizing. Giving multiple individual tracks a consistent volume
With that out of the way, let’s get into the goods.
The best free audio editing software overall: Audacity
Available on: Windows, macOS, Linux
I’m not even going to mess around here: Audacity is the most fully featured audio editor you are going to find for free. Stop reading, and go get it. NOW.
Audacity is immensely popular amongst music producers, podcasters, transcribers – just about anyone working with digital audio. Even calling it “Immensely popular” feels like a bit of an understatement. Check this out:
- It’s over 20 years old (what?!). Yep, it’s been around since 1999.
- It has been receiving fairly regular updates THE WHOLE TIME, thanks to it’s open source nature and avid developer following.
You’ve got to admit, that is pretty amazing and says a lot about the product. People are not going to put that much time and energy into something that sucks.
I was actually quite surprised to find very little direct competition for this software. It’s not the only audio editor out there, but it’s the only one offering this much editing power for free.
Here’s what I mean.
Audacity has all the features you would expect in an audio editor. A solid assortment of editing tools, built-in effects and covering a wide range of audio formats – it’s all there, and does the job admirably.
Audacity does also has a few tricks up its sleeve that go above and beyond:
- Multitrack support. Unlike most audio editing software, Audacity can handle more than one track of audio at a time, meaning you can combine sound files.
- VST and AU support. Alongside the already robust onboard effects, you can process audio with your favorite VST/AU plugins.
- Databending. Import images into Audacity and convert them to audio. Sound designers will love this feature.
- Third-party plugins. Open source + huge following also = lots of plugins.
- MIDI Playback. Supports MIDI playback. Not sure how useful this is for editing audio, but it’s there if you need it, and isn’t in many other editors.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, but even reading back on what I’ve written here, I just can’t get over the fact that Audacity is FREE.
One point that needs to be made is about the interface. This program is over 20 years old and LOOKS LIKE IT (at least, at the time of writing this). The first time I opened it, I just couldn’t stop thinking “Windows95”. It was distracting.
Sure, it’s audio software, so how it actually looks isn’t top of the priority list for developers, but come on guys…all that time? No interface updates?
Anything worthwhile has some degree of a learning curve. If it doesn’t, it’s going to be of limited usefulness.
On this front, Audacity’s isn’t too bad. A total beginner might open it up for the first time and feel a little daunted, but it’s nothing that a few Youtube videos won’t help you get through.
If Audacity was a paid product and you were after much simpler audio tasks, I’d say look elsewhere. But it’s 100% free, so there really is no reason not to download this today and start experimenting.
The runner up: Ocenaudio
Available on: Windows, macOS, Linux
Ocenaudio started life as a tool developed for a Brazilian university research group (I know, oddly specific) and has grown in popularity amongst digital audio manipulators.
Arguably Audacity’s closest competitor right now, Ocenaudio also offers most standard features that you’d expect…but not quite as extensive as its main competitor. Only being able to edit a single audio file at a time, for example.
However, there are some stand out features that Ocenaudio offers:
- Spectrogram. A full-featured, real time Spectrogram, allowing analysis of a sound file’s spectral content.
- Real-time effects previews. In most audio editors, applying effects is “destructive”, meaning the modified version entirely replaces the original file. Ocenaudio allows you to audition effects non-destructively, which is very handy indeed.
- Batch Processing. A real time-saver when working with lots of files.
- Handles large files exceedingly well.
- VST support. Always great to have. Opens up sonic possibilities.
Ocenaudio features a clear, minimal interface. It’s a little sparse, and some might not like that, but it’s definitely nicer looking than Audacity’s interface.
Less of a learning curve than Audacity and much easier to use, but is this a reflection of the feature set?
If you want to spend less time learning and more time using the software, then Ocenaudio may be for you.
Ocenaudio is pretty good for what it does, but – for me – doesn’t come close to knocking Audacity off its perch. However, if Audacity is too overwhelming for you, Ocenaudio is a much easier alternative to grasp while still delivering great results.
The alternative: WavePad
Available on: Windows, macOS, Linux
WavePad is another feature-packed audio editor that has actually been around for some time, with one major letdown when compared to Audacity and Ocenaudio.
WavePad has everything you’d expect in a full-featured audio editor, including:
- Batch Processing
- Real-time previews
- VST support
Another dated-looking interface (what’s with this trend in audio editors?) with old school icons galore. There’s a lot going on here, but at least it’s well organised.
There is still a learning curve here, but the main advantage WavePad has over other audio editing software is the tutorials, wizards and ready-to-go tasks available right there in the left pane. This allows you to hit the ground running in most basic tasks.
WavePad has just about everything you could want in an audio editor, but there is one problem that knocks it down the list for me: It’s free for non-commercial home use only.
This begs the question of why you would bother spending the money for a commercial licence, considering the fact that you can get similar results from Audacity and Ocenaudio 100% for free.
Best free audio editing software for simple tasks: HYA.WAVE
Available on: Windows, macOS, Linux (Browser-based)
So what if all you want to do is a quick bit of cutting and splicing without the hassle of learning a new piece of software in depth? HYA.WAVE may be just what you’re looking for.
HYA.WAVE is a stripped back audio editor that covers the basics such as cutting & pasting as well as a selection of onboard effects.
It is designed with speed in mind rather than features, and being browser-based (i.e. no software installation required) helps with quick edits. Open a browser, drag and drop the file, edit, save. Done.
It has to be noted that there are 2 versions of HYA.WAVE that you will be given the option of choosing between:
- The Newer Version: For some reason, they’ve decided to remove effects and ONLY enable recording, splitting and exporting.
- The Older Version: What you could call the “feature-rich” version of HYA.WAVE. Use this version if you want effects processing.
As you can imagine, it’s a very clean, minimal interface (especially on the new version).
If anything, the newer version is so minimal that it actually suffers the opposite problem to the others I’ve mentioned in this list. The interface is so bare and sparse that at first I was confused as to how to actually use it!
Of course, it’s extremely easy to use, due to the stripped-back nature of the software; that’s kinda the point here.
Not sure how much use I’d personally get out of this, but it is good to have a quick and dirty option for very simple tasks and not have to worry about downloading and installing it.
That’s (pretty much) all, folks!
You may be wondering why this list is so short. Come to think of it, so am I.
Unfortunately, there just aren’t that many worthwhile options in the realm of free audio editing software beyond what I’ve mentioned here. I mean, why would you use software that has less features than Audacity or Ocenaudio and isn’t cross-platform? It just seems redundant.
Feel free to check out other options, but if digital audio editing on a budget (i.e. FREE!) is what you’re after, then Audacity is by far the best free audio editing software out there. Download Audacity NOW!
If you’re after some great free VST plugins to use in your free audio editing software, check out my best free VST plugins list.