Creative Mac

The 7 Best Free DAWs for Mac

Dan Helyer Updated 12-05-2020

A Mac is a great computer for making music on, simply because there are so many digital audio workstations (DAWs) available to use with it. The best DAWs for Mac let you record instruments, capture MIDI performances, edit audio files, and export quality mixes.

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Although some professional DAWs cost hundreds of dollars to buy, there are plenty of free DAWs for Mac. And these are the best free DAWs for Mac. Each of which offers all of the features you need to make professional-quality tracks. All without spending a penny.

1. GarageBand

GarageBand is free to download on your Mac, iPhone, or iPad and it lets you work on the same musical projects across all of your Apple devices. If you ever leave the Apple ecosystem, you might want to look at these GarageBand alternatives for Windows The 6 Best GarageBand Alternatives for Music Production on Windows Here are the best alternatives to GarageBand, Apple's popular music production software, that you can run on your Windows PC. Read More . But none of them offer the same streamlined experience across multiple devices.

Don’t let GarageBand’s simple interface put you off. It’s a powerful tool for composing, arranging, and recording music. You can access an enormous library of Apple Loops to get started or write something new using the impressive virtual instruments. The Drummer feature is particularly great, letting you choose between 28 different styles.

GarageBand has all the bells and whistles you need to make music on your Mac. Work with audio and MIDI in the editor view. Tweak your instrumentation in the arrange window. And use a powerful set of plugins from the smart controls view.

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But there are limitations as well.

The biggest downside to GarageBand is that there’s no mixer view. You’re also capped at a total of 256 tracks, although you’re unlikely to reach that limit. To bypass these restrictions you need to upgrade to Logic Pro.

In short: GarageBand is one of the best free DAWs for beginners to use on a Mac. This is thanks to its user-friendly interface and rich library of loops.

Download: GarageBand for macOS (Free)

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2. Waveform Free

Tracktion makes software instruments, effects, plugins, and DAWs, including Waveform Free. This is a fully-featured DAW with unlimited audio or MIDI tracks, built-in synthesizers, samplers, and compatibility for third-party plugins.

Although you can pay for Waveform Pro to unlock extra features, Waveform Free has everything you need from a DAW to produce professional-quality music on your Mac. It’s also available on Windows, Linux, and Raspberry Pi. So you can collaborate on your music across any computer platform.

Don’t let the name fool you, Waveform Free isn’t a half-baked version of the Pro alternative. Instead, you get everything you might have paid for from a professional DAW except the very latest advancements.

If you do find yourself itching for extra features, you can upgrade to Waveform Pro for $69. Doing so unlocks quick actions, customizable layouts, plug-in macros, and other high-end features.

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In short: A powerful DAW with zero track restrictions that includes a full set of editing and recording features. If you like it, level up your DAW with an affordable Pro upgrade.

Download: Waveform Free for macOS (Free)

3. LMMS

LMMS used to stand for Linux MultiMedia Studio, but that moniker dropped out of use when LMMS went cross-platform. It’s now available on Windows and macOS, too. And since it’s an open-source DAW, you can get LMMS on your Mac for free.

Open-source software Open Source vs. Free Software: What's the Difference and Why Does It Matter? Many assume "open source" and "free software" mean the same thing but that's not true. It's in your best interest to know what the differences are. Read More is built by the community, for the community. That means LMMS doesn’t have the same resources behind it that GarageBand gets from Apple. As a result, it feels a little awkward to use and isn’t as packed with features as other DAWs.

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The biggest downside to LMMS is that it isn’t a recording-friendly DAW. You can import pre-recorded samples, but you can’t record audio directly into LMMS. Instead, LMMS is best for people working with MIDI instruments to make electronic music.

Create melodies and beats using the piano roll and step sequencer. Then tweak the sound using built-in virtual instruments. These include emulators of the Commodore 64 SID microchip, Roland TB-303, and the Nintendo Entertainment System.

In short: LMMS is a free DAW aimed at sequencing electronic music on your Mac. It’s best for working with samples and virtual instruments.

Download: LMMS for macOS (Free)

4. Studio One Prime

Presonus offers Studio One in a variety of versions: Professional, Artist, and Prime. Each version comes with a different set of features, but we’re most interested in Prime because it’s free. And it still comes with everything you need to make music.

Studio One Prime includes support for unlimited audio and MIDI tracks, nine Native Effects plug-ins, and almost one gigabyte of samples and loops. Unfortunately, you can’t use virtual instruments without upgrading. But Studio One Prime is great for working with audio.

Take advantage of Studio One’s single-window interface to record, arrange, and mix your music with ease. Presonus also boasts broad drag-and-drop functionality that lets you add effects, edit audio files, and work with sequencers.

To unlock more features, activate a 30-day free trial of Studio One Professional at any time. This offers the same clean interface as Studio One Prime, but with better virtual instrument support. You also get a larger library of effects and plugins.

In short: Studio One Prime is a capable DAW available for free on your Mac, with plenty of features to get you started. But it lacks support for third-party virtual instruments.

Download: Studio One Prime for macOS (Free)

5. Audacity

Although Audacity doesn’t look as attractive as the other free DAWs for Mac, it’s a powerful audio editor with a dedicated fanbase. Audacity is perfect for recording and editing audio, whether you want to find the perfect sample or create a brand new multitrack recording.

There are plenty of different ways to use Audacity, and it’s such a simple DAW that you don’t need to spend long learning how it works. Audacity includes a range of plugins and effects, including equalizers, reverb, echo, distortion, chorus, and more.

Unfortunately, you can only have up to 16 tracks of audio at a time. Audacity also doesn’t support MIDI recording, although you can import MIDI tracks from elsewhere.

Audacity is one of the best DAWs for beginners The Best Free Music Production Software for Beginners If you're just starting out making your own music, here's the best free music production software money can't buy. Read More because there aren’t too many features to get in the way. It’s particularly good for recording and editing podcasts or spoken word recordings.

That said, you might want to use another DAW alongside Audacity so you can access advanced features if you ever need them.

In short: Audacity is perfect for simple audio-editing tasks or multitrack recording up to 16 tracks. However, it doesn’t offer many advanced features outside of those tasks.

Download: Audacity for macOS (Free)

6. Ardour

Ardour is a comprehensive open-source digital audio workstation. It includes unlimited audio and MIDI tracks, non-destructive editing, plugin automation, video playback, and a mixing interface. Ardour might appear intimidating at first, but you can learn to use it by reading guides in the Ardour Community.

If you’re willing to put the time in, Ardour is a very powerful DAW that comes with all the features you’d expect from premium software. It’s available for Windows, macOS, and Linux so you won’t feel tied to a certain platform if you do learn to use it.

Unfortunately, there’s a minor catch.

Ardour is only available for free if you download the DAW source code and compile the Mac app yourself. This is a complicated and time-consuming process, and Ardour doesn’t offer any help with it.

That said, for $1/month you can download a ready-to-run version of Ardour that’s much easier to install. We kept Ardour in this list of free apps because it’s so powerful that you should seriously consider learning how to build it from the source code.

In short: The full package, but more intimidating to get started with. The learning curve is steep, but Ardour’s potential for producing, composing, and mastering is huge.

Download: Ardour for macOS (Free)

7. Pro Tools First

Pro Tools is an industry-standard DAW and is used in professional studios across the globe. Many consider it to be difficult to learn, limited in its compatibility, and too expensive. But it is also unquestionably powerful.

Fortunately, you can download Pro Tools First, a stripped-down version of the premium DAW, to use on your Mac for free. This allows you to get a feel for Pro Tools, learning how it works without needing to pay for an expensive software license.

With Pro Tools First, you can only have 16 audio or MIDI tracks at a time, using a maximum of four inputs. But you get access to 23 included plugins, and over three gigabytes of included sounds. You can also create an unlimited number of busses, allowing you to group effects together and reduce the drain on your CPU.

A paid Pro Tools upgrade unlocks over 100 plugins, alongside more editing tools such as a score editor and clip gain bars.

In short: Although Pro Tools First limits your track count and effects, it’s a powerful DAW that lets you learn to use an industry-standard piece of software.

Download: Pro Tools First for macOS (Free)

Use a Premium DAW for the Best Sound Quality

For most people, the free DAWs for Mac listed above offer everything you need to create great music. Record with audio or MIDI, import samples, work with sequencers, and use free plugins and effects to perfect your mix. There’s plenty to get your teeth stuck into.

However, for better audio quality you may need to pay for a professional DAW to unlock higher sample rates and bit-depths. If that’s something you might be interested in, take a look at the best music production software for audiophiles The Best Music Production Software for Audiophiles The perfect digital audio workstation is waiting for you. Here are the best music production software for audiophiles. Read More . None come cheap, but they are the best of the best in terms of DAWs.

Related topics: Digital Audio Workstation, Mac Apps, MIDI, Music Production, Musical Instrument.

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