In years gone by, the best audio editing software was reserved for professionals only – and it was expensive too, with hundreds of dollars worth of equipment required to handle even amateur edits. Now, the best free audio editors offer an impressive range of functions, accessible even to total rookies.
These days, thanks to the power of modern PCs and the availability of free user-friendly audio editing software packages, both of those problems have been solved. Modern free audio editors are capable of producing high-fidelity sound files that are suitable for use in a professional environment.
Whatever the reason you’re looking for a free audio editor, there’s sure to be an appropriate option out there. In this article, you’ll find software packages that work just as well for mixing high-school bands songs as they do for creating podcasts that will be heard by millions.
The best free audio editors at a glanceAudacityOcenaudioAshampoo Music Studio 2019AudiotoolAcoustica 6
(Image credit: Audacity)1. Audacity
One of the original free audio editors, and still the best
Operating system: Windows, macOS, Linux
Huge library of plugins
Supports dozens of file formats
Stream directly to podcast listeners
Could confuse beginners
Interface looks outdated
In mid-2020, Audacity will celebrate its 20th birthday, cementing its reputation as one of the longest-lived free audio editors, and one of the best. For tech-savvy users or those willing to spend a few minutes learning how to navigate Audacity’s slightly intimidating interface, this is the best free audio editor.
Audacity is an open-source product that works on Mac, Linux, and Windows devices. Over the years, it has developed an enormous developer following, meaning it’s constantly being updated with new features and plugins to keep it competitive with other audio editors.
One of the best third-party Audacity plug-ins is Gsnap, which allows you to add autotune effects to your sounds. With this audio editor, you can edit pre-recorded files, capture new sounds, add effects, and stream podcasts.
While beginners may be intimidated by the complicated visual look of the Audacity interface, it’s surprisingly user-friendly with lots of screen real estate dedicated to showing you the waveforms of your tracks and large buttons for important actions like starting and pausing recordings.
Read our full Audacity review
(Image credit: Ocenaudio)2. Ocenaudio
Another powerful audio editor, but easier to master than Audacity
Operating system: Windows, macOS, Linux
Clean interface with colorful buttons
Can be used to edit online audio files
Hear changes in real-time
If you find the Audacity interface a little overwhelming but don’t want to compromise on any features, Ocenaudio is an excellent free audio editor to consider installing. This open-source platform plays well with Windows, Apple, and Linux devices.
Compared to other free audio editors, Ocenaudio stands out for its ability to let you preview effects in real-time. Most tools force you to edit “destructively”, which means modifying the original audio file that you’re working with. However, with Ocenaudio, you can adjust your playback parameters directly. As a result, when you change an effect like reverb in Ocenaudio, you’ll hear the difference immediately.
Ocenaudio can work with files hosted on cloud servers as well as those stored on your local PC. Some users find the interface a little sparse, but most appreciate its clean and colorful design. If you plan to edit frequently, the best thing to do is memorize some of Ocenaudio’s in-built keyboard shortcuts which will make your work significantly more efficient.
Read our full Ocenaudio review
(Image credit: Ashampoo)3. Ashampoo Music Studio 2019
Fully featured media player and audio editor combo
Operating system: Windows
Great for beginners
Extra file management tools
Rips and burns CDs
Only for Windows
No multi-track support
Ashampoo Music Studio 2019 is a Windows-only audio editor and a great option for users who need to modify a sound file for the first time.
This tool’s audio file editing interface is incredibly easy to use with a large waveform preview window taking up most of your screen, and buttons for key functions like cutting and pasting sections of your audio displayed below it. With Ashampoo, you don’t get multi-track support so this audio editor is best suited to rearranging simple audio clips.
As the name suggests, Ashampoo Music Studio is more than a basic audio editor. You can actually use this freeware to design CD labels, edit file metadata tags, convert between different audio formats, and rip or burn discs.
(Image credit: Audiotool)4. Audiotool
A free online audio editor with great beat mixing facilities
Operating system: Windows, macOS, Linux (in browser)
Syncs tracks between devices
Exports files in MP3 format
Dozens of virtual instruments
Only works in Chrome
Audiotool is a free online platform that allows you to create and publish music tracks. Unlike other free audio editing software packages listed here, Audiotool is an in-browser platform so there’s no need to install a local client to use it, although a Chrome plugin is available.
This audio editor shares more DNA with Apple’s Garage Band program than most audio editors. With it, you can record 30-second segments of sound to use as samples that can then be mixed with digital instruments already built into the Audiotool system.
You can modify your tracks with Audiotool by adding filters from a selection of 14 different effects. You can also create a MIDI controller within the program or use a splitter tool to attenuate and modify your audio signal.
(Image credit: Acon Digital)5. Acoustica 6
An advanced free audio editor for complicated work
Operating system: Windows
Well designed interface
Supports CD ripping
Lets you layer effects
No multi-track mixing
Another excellent free audio editor with comparable features to Audacity is Acoustica, which is produced by Acon Digital. Acoustica is actually a premium subscription product, and no free version of the latest release, Acoustica 7, is available. However, you can install older versions of the software such as Acoustica 6 for free.
One of the big advantages of Acoustica 6 over open-source alternatives is its professional look-and-feel. The interface wouldn’t look out of place in a top-end recording studio and, thanks to sensible design choices, it only takes a few minutes to get to grips with.
If you like Acoustica’s setup, you can expand its feature set by installing VST or DirectX plugins. With these, you’ll gain access to a wide range of new sound effects that can help you fine-tune your tracks to produce the result you’re looking for.
A unique element of Acoustica is the so-called “Effect Chain” area. Here, you can layer up different audio filters and then apply the combination to multiple tracks. This is a great way to create a unique mix or ensure your sound stays consistent throughout an album.
Read our full Acoustica 6 review