Do you need to work with audio files? More and more people do. Whether you’re creating podcasts, videos for YouTube, voiceovers for presentations, or music and special effects for games, you’ll need a decent audio editor. In this review we’ll take you through the options — from simple, free apps all the way to expensive digital audio workstations — and make some recommendations to help you come up with the right tool for your needs.
People need audio software for all types of reasons. Being clear about your needs and expectations is an important first step. Do you just want to make a ringtone out of your favorite song? Are you editing speech, music, or special effects? Do you need a quick tool for an occasional fix, or a powerful workstation for serious work? Are you looking for an inexpensive solution, or an investment towards your career?
If you own an Apple computer, GarageBand is a great place to start. It’s versatile, allowing you to produce music and edit audio, and comes preinstalled with macOS. It will meet the basic needs of many people, but lacks the power of other options we cover in this review.
A free audio editing tool like Audacity is easier to work with, especially if you’re working with speech rather than music. Because it has fewer features, you’ll find it easier to do basic editing. If you already subscribe to Adobe’s Creative Cloud, have a look at Audition, which is more powerful and may already be installed on your computer.
If you work with music, a digital audio workstation (DAW) like Apple’s Logic Pro X or the industry standard Pro Tools will be a better fit. Cockos’ Reaper will give you similar power at a more affordable price.
Why Trust Us?
My name is Adrian, and I was recording and editing audio before computers were up to the task. In the early 80s, cassette-based machines like Tascam’s PortaStudio allowed you to record and mix four tracks of audio in your home — and up to ten tracks using a technique called “ping-ponging”.
I experimented with computer programs as at first they allowed you to work with sound through MIDI, and then directly with audio. Today, your computer can act as a powerful recording studio, offering power and features that weren’t even dreamed of in professional studios just a few decades ago.
I spent five years as editor of Audiotuts+ and other audio blogs, so I’m familiar with the entire range of audio software and digital audio workstations. During that time I was in regular contact with audio professionals, including dance music producers, composers of movie scores, home studio enthusiasts, videographers, podcasters and voiceover editors, and gained a very broad understanding of the industry.
What You Need to Know Up-Front about Editing Audio
Before we look at specific software options, here are a few things you need to know about audio editing in general.
There Are a Lot of Options and Just as Many Strong Opinions
There are a lot of options. There are a lot of opinions. There are some very strong feelings out there about which audio software is best.
While people have good reasons for preferring their own favorite program, the fact is that most of the options we cover in this review will meet your needs. You may find that one app may suit you better, and others may offer features you don’t need and don’t want to pay for.
I once explored the audio software podcasters used, and made a surprising discovery. Most just used the software they already had. Like them, you may already have all you need:
- If you use a Mac, you already have GarageBand.
- If you use Photoshop, you probably have Adobe Audition.
- If you don’t have either, you can download Audacity, which is free.
For some audio jobs you may need something more powerful. We’ll cover those options too.
Different Types of Apps Will Do the Job
In this review we don’t always compare apples with apples. Some apps are free, others are very expensive. Some apps emphasize ease-of-use, other apps are complex. We cover basic audio editing software, more complex non-linear editors, and non-destructive digital audio workstations.
If you need to clean up a voiceover in a single audio file, a basic editor is all you need. If you’re doing more complex work, like working with music, or adding audio to video, you’ll be better served with a more capable, non-destructive, non-linear audio editor.
A digital audio workstation (DAW) meets the needs of musicians and music producers by offering additional tools and features. These include the ability to work with a large number of tracks, libraries of loops and samples, virtual instruments to create new music on the computer, the ability to change timing to match a groove, and the ability to generate musical notation. Even if you don’t need these extra features, you may still benefit from using a DAW because of its powerful editing tools and smooth workflow.
Destructive vs Non-Destructive (Real-Time)
Basic audio editors are often destructive and linear. Any changes permanently alter the original wave file, much like working with tape in the old days. This may make it more difficult to undo your changes, but the process is simpler and it uses less system resources. Audacity is an example of an app that applies your edits in a destructive way, overwriting the original file. It’s best practice to keep a backup of your original file, just in case.
DAWs and more advanced editors are non-destructive and non-linear. They retain the original audio, and apply effects and changes in real-time. The more complex your edits, the more value you will gain from a non-destructive, non-linear editor. But you’ll need a more powerful computer to make it work.