Tools for Musicians: Top Five DAWS That Won't Break Your Wallet

If you’re just starting out in music recording or production, it can be a great idea to start with a free or cheap DAW. It’s also a great idea to get a feeling for where you might like to go as you progress so you can start learning on a DAW that is the same or is compatible in style with the more advanced DAW you’ll be moving onto, so you don’t have to relearn everything from scratch. Either way, if you’re ready to start working with a DAW, but aren’t ready to shell out the cash, here are 5 great cheap or free DAWs to start off with.

Traction Waveform

OS: Mac, PC

At only $90, Tracktion is a fully-fledged DAW that you could use for a long time without the need for an upgrade. Tracktion is well known for its creative workflow, which has recently been streamlined in the new version. It is a very affordable workspace that rivals programs costing much more. The interface is single screen, similar to competitor Studio One, and utilizes its unique mixer-less in-line signal flow, with the addition of a dedicated mixer and a MIDI Editor panel, which can be used on the single screen interface or given their own windows. The MIDI Pattern Generator can create musical note sequences from scratch, and the newly revised software comes with drum loop construction kits, a multi-sampler, and a Modular Mixing Tool.

Studio One 3 Prime

OS: Mac, PC

Studio One 3 Prime is the free intro version of Studio One 3, a fairly new DAW that is already a major player on the scene for its fresh and innovative take on styling and features, paired with a solidity that rivals DAWs that have been refining themselves for years. With Prime you’ll get the same single-window workspace as with the full product, with it’s drag and drop interface, unlimited audio tracks, midi tracks, bus tracks, effects channels, the Presence XT expandable sampler with sound library, and nine audio effects which includes Ampire, Beat Delay, chorus, and reverb.


OS: Mac, PC, Linux

LMMS started out as a Linux program but ultimately grew into a cross-platform software. It’s a favorite of electronic musicians and has an excellent synthesizer and a good library of preset sounds that is constantly expanding. The interface is simple and the program is great at manipulating electronic sounds. It doesn’t do everything, but for a free program, it is excellent at what it does do.


OS: Mac, PC

Reaper has been around since 2004, and offers a unique business model that is different from any other DAW. You can use the product for free for 60 days, after which they “request” that you pay $60 for private use or $225 for commercial use. They don’t actually enforce this and the payment is based on an honor system. Pretty Bohemian. Reaper releases updates frequently, which is a major draw for many customers, who value having their input heard and implemented frequently.


OS: Mac

Ardour is a competitive free DAW that challenges many paid programs. The user is allowed unlimited channels, including overlapping layered regions, non-overlapping regions, and single file regions. Your tracks can be multi-channel, stereo, or mono. The program boasts flexible plugin architecture, exceptional video support, audio extraction, and modular support for multiple machines, as well as plugin support, batch track export, quality-preserving editing, and well-featured mixing and routing.

Guest Post by Allie Mazon