The best free DAWs for music production

Digital audio workstations, or DAWs for short, are the central software used for recording, producing, and editing music.

While many of the most popular DAWs (Logic Pro X, Ableton Live, Studio One, etc.) are paid offerings, there are also plenty of free options out there that can deliver surprisingly good experiences. In the video above, we take a look at the best free DAWs that are worth trying out, whether you’re looking to get started with making music for the first time or just want to make a switch from your current workstation.

1. Studio One Prime

Studio One Prime is the free version PreSonus’ flagship DAW, Studio One 5. At the core of Studio One Prime is a powerful tool-based system that enables fast editing and sound design. I particularly love how much you can customize your workspace – from color themes to custom shortcuts, Studio One Prime allows you to work however you want.

  • Highlights: Unlimited tracks, the Pattern Editor, and the tool-based workflow
  • Notable limitations: No third-party plugin support, and the Presence sample playback instrument is somewhat limited

Download Studio One Prime here.

2. GarageBand

Next up is Apple’s GarageBand, which could be considered the free version of their flagship DAW, Logic Pro X. I think some people have a negative connotation about GarageBand — I’ve heard it called a “toy DAW” — but I think it’s one of the most complete DAWs on this list, as it can host unlimited tracks and third-party plugins. The UI is very beginner-friendly, and the sounds included are really high quality.

  • Highlights: Unlimited tracks, high-quality virtual instruments, and a beginner-friendly UI
  • Notable limitations: Limited to Mac hardware

Download GarageBand here.

3. Ableton Live Lite

Ableton Live Lite is the free version of one of the most popular DAWs today, Ableton Live. While it’s generally primarily only packaged with hardware products, we’re offering it on Splice until December 31, 2020. Ableton Live Lite includes powerful sampling workflows via Drum Rack and Simpler, two of Live’s best instruments.

  • Highlights: Powerful sampling capabilities, Ableton’s unique performance-based workflow, and third-party plugin support
  • Notable limitations: Only up to eight tracks can be used, and less devices are included (e.g. no synths)

Download Ableton Live Lite here.

Honorable mentions

  • Serato Studio – the sampling centric workflow is great for DJs transitioning into production
  • ProTools First – highly recommended if you’re primarily recording audio, as it’s the lite version of the industry standard recording software
  • LMMS – this is an open-source DAW that’s surprisingly capable; it’s really great for chiptunes in particular
  • Soundtrap – offering real-time collaboration, an array of virtual instruments, and more, Soundtrap is a solid ‘freemium’ service, meaning while paid tiers will provide access to additional features, you can make music using the platform for absolutely free

Which workstation is your favorite? Are there any great free DAWs that we didn’t cover above? Let us know in the comments below.

Take your music further with the new plugins, fresh sounds, and more available in the Splice Creator plan:

November 14, 2020

Nick Chen Content Marketing @ Splice. Nick Chen is a producer, performer, and educator under the aliases "nickthechen" and "Enix."