Back to Blog

Top DAWs 2024: A Rundown of the Best Free and Paid Digital Audio Workstations

March 31, 2024
3 min read

You might be a great lyricist and a master of melodies, but you’ll need a digital audio workstation (DAW) to actually create music. A DAW lets you record, mix, and edit your compositions without needing to step foot in a professional studio, making the software ideal for independent musicians on a budget. 

While some of the best DAWs come with a premium price tag, many others can be downloaded at no cost whatsoever. Not sure what to look for when selecting a DAW? Read on for a handy primer on what to consider when weighing up your options, along with a shortlist of the best free and premium DAWs on the market. 

What is a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)?

A digital audio workstation is a piece of music production software that lets you compose, record, and produce music. Loaded with audio manipulation features, a DAW also lets you mix and edit. The best DAWs can be used across all device types, which is ideal for those who like switching from smartphone to desktop while editing. What’s more, you’ll find plenty of DAW software available for all major operating systems, including Mac, Windows, and Linux. 

As well as producing music, a DAW can be used to create all manner of audio content. You can use them to add voice overs to video products or use them to create sound effects. DAWs can also be used for more basic audio productions, such as podcasts. A DAW can dramatically enhance an artist’s development, making it crucial that you choose the right one for your requirements. 

Admittedly, there is a lot of disparity when it comes to DAW features and functionality. The best free DAWs don’t exactly skimp when it comes to production capabilities. However, most fall far short of what you can expect from a premium piece of software. That being said, user-friendly design and accessibility is something most DAWs share, whether you’ve opted for something that’s open source or upgraded to a premium package. 

Key Things to Consider When Choosing DAW Software 

Not sure whether to stick with a free DAW or bite the bullet and shell out for one? To ensure you make the best possible decision, consider the following: 


Free-to-use DAWs might seem like a great deal. However, not all free software is created equal. You may have to pay to unlock additional features or fork out a premium to remove digital watermarks from your content. You might struggle to find room in your budget for a paid-for DAW, in doing so, you’ll free yourself from most of these limitations. Just ensure that certain features aren’t locked away behind a paywall. 

Subscription models are another option. To make a small saving, consider paying an annual subscription upfront, rather than a dozen monthly ones. Most DAWs will also offer free trial periods, although there’s no guarantee a full suite of features will be available. 


No matter how affordable a DAW is, it needs to offer a bare minimum of features to be fit for purpose. Multitrack audio recording should come as standard, but you’ll also want something that offers MIDI sequencing. Compressors, equalizers, plug-in processors, and MIDI sequencing capabilities are also a must for most music production projects. 

User-Friendly Design 

If you’ve never used a DAW before, the learning curve can seem daunting. Make things easier by choosing a DAW with a streamlined interface, allowing you to master the ins and outs at your own pace. A pared-back DAW will also simplify your workflows, which is ideal if you’re tackling multiple projects at once. 


There are a lot of compatibility issues to bear in mind when selecting DAWs. The best DAW for PC might have all the features you’re looking for, but that’s no good if you’re a dedicated Mac user. Fortunately, most major DAWs are compatible with Linux, Windows, and Mac. 

Besides operating systems, you also need to consider hardware requirements. Full-featured digital audio workstations can be resource-intensive, so you’ll need a setup with plenty of processing power. 


Even the most experienced DAW user runs into trouble from time to time. Whether you’re struggling to use a key feature or want to query a payment issue, reliable customer support is crucial when choosing a DAW. Choose a software provider that offers round-the-clock customer support and make sure you’re checking user reviews for an accurate picture. 

Best Free DAWs for Independent Musicians 

Looking for a beginner-friendly digital audio workstation that won’t break the bank? We’ve picked out a few of the best free DAWs you can download right now. 

1. Audacity  

Beginner-friendly and absolutely free, Audacity is a great pick for independent musicians on a budget. This open-source software works with all major operating systems and offers a surprising amount of features. Multitrack recording comes as standard, while a pitch changer, denoiser, and plenty of plugin effects ensure there’s more than enough to keep you occupied. 

If you’re looking for a free-to-use DAW with less of a learning curve, Audacity is worth considering. However, it’s a fairly limited workstation. Do you want to add software instruments to your compositions? Sadly, you can’t with the free version of Audacity thanks to a lack of MIDI support. Despite this, its beginner-friendly design and reliable performance make Audacity a good choice if you’re after something with a minimal learning curve.

2. GarageBand 

Although it’s only available to Mac users, this list wouldn’t be complete without a mention of GarageBand. A user-friendly interface makes this a perfect pick for emerging musicians with minimal technical experience. What’s more, it trumps the likes of Audacity with its virtual instruments and extensive effects library. 

If you already own a device running macOS or iOS, it’s worth spending some time with GarageBand. However, this Apple DAW isn’t the most robust on the market. Additionally, many users have bemoaned a noticeable lack of updates. 

3. Cakewalk by BandLab 

Looking for a PC-friendly DAW to get you started on your first music project? Cakewalk by BandLab is worth a second look. If Cakewalk seems a little familiar, it’s because it’s a revival of sorts of another DAW, Sonar. Despite being completely free to download and use, this DAW doesn’t skimp on functionality. Many of Sonar’s standout features can be found here, including a 64-bit mix engine and innovative user interface. 

It’s not all good news. There’s currently no compatible version for Mac and Linux users. What’s more, anyone hoping that Sonar’s third-party content might be carried over will be left sorely disappointed. 

4. Ableton Live Lite 

Another great free option is Ableton Live Lite. Although it’s free to download, it’s a surprisingly powerful piece of software, with intuitive controls making it a good choice for beginners. Despite its rookie-friendly design, it’s relatively easy to produce a full composition from scratch. Workflows are streamlined, while navigation is a breeze. What’s more, there’s some scope for automation here. 

However, some of the basics you’d expect are lacking here. For example, there’s no notation view, so you’ll be left wanting if you’re looking for pitch correction tools. If your sole focus is to produce electronic music, Ableton Live Lite might deliver. If you’re experimenting outside of this genre, it’s unlikely to have what you need. 

5. Ohm Studio 

Free for Mac and Windows users, Ohm Studio is one of the more interesting free DAWs out there. What sets Ohm Studio apart from the competition is its focus on collaboration tools. All the basic music creation tools you’d expect can be found here, but it’s the networking capabilities that make Ohm Studio so exciting. Once you’ve created your profile, you can connect with similar users of the software, allowing you to embark on collaborative projects with like-minded artists. 

The collaborative nature of Ohm Studio does present some challenges. Take the plugin problem as an example. Unless artists are using identical plugins, collaborations are bound to run into trouble. Nonetheless, the USP of Ohm Studio makes it one of the best free DAWs out there.  

6. Waveform Free

It mightn’t cost you a dime to download, but Waveform Free from Tracktion has several pro-grade features that will appeal to the budding musician. The interface is fairly minimal, but this uncluttered design makes Waveform Free very accessible. What’s more, you don’t have to worry about any restricting limits with this DAW. Eager to produce professional-quality compositions? With high bit rate and sample selections, you can. 

While Waveform Free has a lot going for it, some premium features have been reserved for the pro version. You’ll need to upgrade if you want to play around with presets, for example. However, this DAW does make up for this by supporting third-party plugins. 

7. Pro Tools First 

Pro Tools has been around for several decades, but Pro Tools First has definitely been designed with the current crop of up-and-comers in mind. Pro Tools First is essentially a streamlined version of its premium counterpart. While this walls off many beloved features, it does mean you have a DAW that requires far less processing power than its big brother. 

While there are plenty of positives, some users are going to have a hard time living with those missing features, with many of them now seen as essential. There’s no track freeze, for example, while you’re also locked out from revision history. Another major downside is that you can’t save your compositions locally. While cloud storage is supported, many users are going to have some privacy concerns surrounding this. 

8. Cubase LE 

If you’re looking for a free DAW loaded with useful features, Cubase LE from Steinberg is certainly worth your time. Everything from audio mixing to collaboration tools is on offer here, with excellent workflow management that will help keep on top of those more complex projects. In fact, it’s a solid choice if you’re someone who juggles multiple projects at once, with superb file management features. 

However, you’ll need to know your way around a DAW to get the most from Cubase LE. Because of the learning curve, this DAW can feel overwhelming. However, beginners shouldn’t feel too intimate. Steinberg has put out many useful tutorials to help first-timers navigate Cubase LE, while there’s an active online community you can turn to in a pinch. 

9. Studio One Prime 

Presonus Studio One Prime is another free DAW that’s packed with powerful features. Compatible with both Mac and Windows, this DAW is one of the more user-friendly audio editing tools around. There’s also plenty to get you started, including a huge selection of sounds and loops. 

Sadly, Studio One Prime comes undone thanks to a lack of third-party plugins. Looking for instrument plugins? Unfortunately, you’re limited to the likes of Presence, which isn’t exactly the best of its kind. However, you won’t have to worry about limits to track length and audio storage with this DAW. 

Best Paid DAWs for Independent Musicians 

Prepared to spend a premium on a DAW? Below are some of the best paid DAWs currently available for download. 

1. Avid Pro Tools 

A staple of many professional production studios, Pro Tools is widely used throughout the music industry. With Pro Tools, you can effortlessly record, edit, and mix your audio projects with minimal fuss. Although those with mixing experience will love the advanced features on offer here, it’s still a good choice for the beginner. However, this is without doubt a piece of software geared toward the professional, with Avid Pro Tools the gold standard in professional recording studios across the world. 

There’s a bit of a discrepancy between the Mac and PC versions of Pro Tools. While it’s a strong contender for the best DAW for Mac users, the PC version sadly falls short. What’s more, Pro Tools doesn’t offer virtual instruments. In terms of cost, it’s a fairly expensive option. As of 2024, a monthly subscription will set you back $79.99 every month. 

2. Steinberg Cubase Pro 12 

Cubase from Steinberg is one of the oldest DAWs around, but there’s a reason behind its enduring popularity. Cubase remains one of the best MIDI editing solutions on the market, with a huge range of recording features like pitch editing and controller integrations. It also offers extensive support for VST plugins and is compatible with Windows and MAC operating systems.  

Currently, a full license for Cubase Pro 12 will set you back $878. If you’re only using a fraction of the features available, this might seem like too much of a premium. Furthermore, you’ll need to pay to unlock many additional features. 


If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative to Pro Tools or Cubase Pro, consider giving REAPER a try. You can start using the software with a free trial period, with full access only costing $60. If you’re a complete novice, REAPER’s pared-back design makes for a good introduction to digital audio workstations. However, experienced users are also well served, with plenty of scope for programming. 

Although REAPER is one of the cheapest paid-for DAWs out there, you will have to pay an additional $7.99 to access upgrades. Over time, the cost of these upgrades can quickly stack up. There are also relatively few add-ons and plugins included with REAPER, making it a lightweight choice for the more experienced user. 

4. FL Studio 21 

FL Studio is one of the most respected DAWs on the market. A first-rate choice for beginners and home recording, this latest addition to the FL Studio lineup is well worth investigating. Returning users have plenty of things to discover, with significant improvements to workflows and a host of new plugins. There’s also scope for customization, with a range of user interface themes to choose from. What’s more, FL Studio 21 is relatively affordable. There are several pricing tiers available, meaning you won’t break the bank by downloading this DAW. 

However, don’t get too excited about those plugins. They’re not available across all paid versions of FL Studio, so make sure you do your homework if you’re ready to part with your hard-earned cash. Its beginner-friendly design may also alienate more experienced users. Pricing varies between editions. The basic version costs $99, the Producer version costs $199, while the Signature Edition will set you back $299. 

5. Ableton Live 11

If you’ve outgrown FL Studio and want a DAW with more bite, there’s always Ableton Live 11. It’s less intuitive than the likes of FL Studio, but the more experienced user will find plenty to enjoy here. Take your pick from arrangement and session views, with streamlined workflows for simplifying arrangements. 

Unfortunately, many of the same criticisms applied to Ableton Lite Live can be applied here. Notation view is a no-go, while essential tools like a pitch corrector are lacking. The upcoming Ableton Live 12 looks set to remedy these shortfalls, but you’d expect more from this DAW considering the price tag. Prices vary considerably, with an on premise license for the Max for Life edition costing you $79. The Live 11 Intro edition will set you back $99, while the Live 11 Standard edition costs $449.

6. Apple Logic Pro 

In the market for a professional-grade DAW? Logic Pro from Apple is a serious contender. Designed with expert users in mind, it’s the DAW of choice for many industry professionals. With Logic Pro, you can play around with spatial audio and Dolby Atmos tools, while a huge library of musical instruments and effects means you can create incredibly complex compositions. 

While Logic Pro is readily affordable, there are some features lacking that you’d expect from a DAW within this price point. Clip Gain audio editing isn’t supported, for example. However, if you’re a Mac user looking for a budget-friendly alternative to Avid Pro Tools, you could do a lot worse than this DAW from Apple. If you’re upgrading from a previous version, Apple Logic Pro is free. If you’re new to this DAW, you’ll need to set aside $199.99.

7. Studio One Artist 

The premium version of Presonus Studio One Prime, this DAW boasts pro-level functionality without the learning curve. With drag-and-drop functionality, workflows are made simple. Furthermore, smart templates make it one of the most accessible digital workstations on the market. New and improved equalizers mean you’ll have no trouble fine-tuning your current projects, while there are a ton of spatial audio tools to choose from. Studio One Artist even boasts tools for collaboration. 

Admittedly, many of the features on offer here have been around for some time. While Studio One Artist might be playing catchup with its contemporaries, you’ll get far more than the standard when working with tools like auto-filters or a de-esser. Pricing is simple with this DAW, with Studio One Artist coming at a one-time cost of $399.

Paid vs Free DAWs: Which is Best? 

If the thought of recording, mixing, and editing your music seems daunting, selecting the right DAW is critical. Fortunately, many DAWs are designed with the beginner in mind. It’s tempting to dismiss free digital audio workstations as inferior to premium software, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, some free-to-download DAWs offer capabilities that paid-for software doesn’t even deliver. 

Ultimately, you need a DAW that you can continue to use for many years. A budget and beginner-friendly DAW might serve you well as you produce your first compositions, but you can quickly outgrow its capabilities. Provided it has all the features you need right now, finding room in your budget for a premium DAW is something emerging musicians should seriously consider. 

Download Your First DAW Today 

When it comes to readily available DAWs, independent musicians are spoiled for choice. However, a few stick out more than others. Looking to make a saving with a free piece of software? Cakewalk by BandLab is one of the best, with a user-friendly design and features carried from more advanced software. Prepared to pay a premium for a DAW? If you want to be using the industry standard, go with Avid Pro Tools. If this is too expensive for your budget, REAPER is a solid alternative. 

Once you’ve selected the right DAW for you, make sure you have all the tools you need to take your music career to the next level. IndieFlow’s music management tools provide you with everything you need to get started in the music industry. With IndieFlow, you can book more gigs, distribute EPKs, and simplify royalty collection through a single platform.

Don’t miss a beat! Subscribe to our blog to stay in tune
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

End to end music management in a software

Manage projects. Schedule. Distribute and promote your music. Get paid. All in ONE place.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.