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Best Recording Software: Top 7 Picks for 2020

Sia Mohajer
Last updated: Aug 27, 2020

Digital recording software can record audio live and/or manipulate it. Use for video/audio courses, audiobooks, podcasts and general media productions like YouTube.

Know – a digital audio workstation (DAW) comprises the whole musical/audio composition production process, eg. the best DAW recording software can do recording live instruments and musical full compositions.

But a recording system is primarily focused on capturing vocals, instruments, and so on.. The two can overlap (and often do), with one piece of software being capable of carrying out all elements of music production. And both usually have advanced editing abilities (delays, compressions, noise gates, trimming, etc).

In the guide, we look at the best recording software for making high-definition audio capturing simple for all levels of business and budget.

  • The 13 best podcasting platforms.
  • What webinar software to choose for your business.

Best Recording Software in 2020


We sifted through the most trusted data for each provider, to bring you a summary of each client’s strengths and weaknesses.

Tutorial on Recording Software

These tools range from being capable of creating a musical score from scratch, dealing with vocal productions alone – or just functioning as something ad hoc to quickly capture, clean, and enhance vocal recordings whether for meeting notes or as the best podcast recording software.

#1 Ableton Live 10


Specifications:

  • 57 Effects
  • 1,500+ Sounds
  • Strong Brand Reputation
  • 4 Instrument Synthesisers
  • 4 GB RAM Recommended
  • Capture Midi

Pros:

  • Great Beginner Choice
  • User Friendly UI
  • Affordable With Long Trial

Cons:

  • Starter: No Audio-Slicing
  • Starter: Only 16 Tracks
  • Excessive for Tiny Projects

Ableton Live 10 new step

Our Verdict

5/5: Get a music production studio at a heavy discount, allowing you to organize your recordings and enhance with up to 57 effects. Very good beginner tool, could be excessive for simple recording needs.

Trial: 90 days (free)

Starting: $99 (one-time fee)

Essential Features ✅

The best music recording software. Gives the longest free trial (of all paid recording software on this list), with more features than you’ll need for any simple audio recording project with enough for a full-on music project if you upgrade.

For instance, it provides an exceptionally slick interface for visualizing, manipulating, and organizing each audio track that goes well beyond recording capabilities alone.

One the Top 10 Professional Audio Production Systems in the World at Least, With Very Slick Manipulation Capabilities

Compared to #6 on this list (Audacity), which comes completely free, Ableton Live 10 has an immensely time-saving UI – overall, it’s in a completely different class.

Ableton Live is a top world-class music production software, comfortably ranked among the likes of Pro Tools, Logic, and Cubase. On the cheapest plan, you get a total of 16 tracks, which should be more than enough for most small to medium-sized audio recording projects.

Ableton Live 10 Manual Reference

As for advanced features, on the basic plan are all of the essential effects for basic audio manipulation, which includes compressors, equalizers, flangers, phases, delays, reverbs, and more.

Connect your keyboard, to play one of the virtual instruments, from drums to electric guitars. There’s a total of 1,500 sounds on the starting package (a 5GB library).

Drawbacks ❌

The lack of audio/beat “slicing” (the ability to hone in smaller sections of audio, for deletion or other manipulations) is a major loss for the cheapest tier.

Without it, you may struggle to eliminate/tighten up parts of the audio not wanted for the final version (like breaths or other unwanted parts occurring before, during or after the recording).

This is likely a very important feature for most people, which may mean you’ll need to pay for an upgrade, which will cost you $449 USD. An alternative solution is to use this software for effects after cleaning up with a piece of free software like Audacity (#6 on this list).

#2 Avid Pro Tools (First or V. 12)


Specifications:

  • 16 Audio Tracks
  • Powerful Live Audio Recording
  • Powerful Audio Manipulation
  • 60+ Native Plugins
  • 4-16GB RAM Recommended
  • World-Class Productions

Pros:

  • Possibly Best Recording Software
  • Loads of Virtual Instruments
  • Great Starter Value

Cons:

  • 10 Day Money Back
  • Possibly Steep Learning Curve

Avid Pro Tools build your Audio

Our Verdict

5/5: Very generous educational discounts but needs a powerful computer system (16GB RAM minimum for version 12), unless you go for the ‘First’ version (4GB RAM).

Trial: 10 days (money back)

Starting: $33.26/mo (v. 12) or FREE (‘First’). 

Essential Features ✅

Question – What Is the Best Recording Software for PC?

Well, for full-scale professional audio/music productions – if you have a powerful system – Pro Tools gives you the most advanced capabilities in the world.

The official recommendation is a minimum of 16GB RAM, but you could get away with only 4 to 8GB, although you may struggle heavily with larger projects. In that case, you can go for Pro Tools First, which is actually free, and you get a piece of software that one’s well on a 4GB RAM system.

Avid Pro Tools Folder Tracks

As you might tell from the name, ‘First’ is recommended for those who want powerful features, while learning wider capabilities of a world-class professional DAW, for the first time.

The free version lets you play with 4 audio recordings at once, with a maximum of 16 simultaneous tracks. While version 12 is recommended if you intend to hire a professional audio engineer/producer, or to invest in learning production for yourself.

Drawbacks ❌

Expect a solid learning curve for the basics and much longer for advanced features. This tool goes way beyond simple audio recording. If you go for the Pro Tools First version, you can save projects but it needs to be directly to the cloud, rather than locally. Some users find this irritating, because you’ll need a constant internet connection, which could be an issue for some.

Go for the free version and you’ll also find limitations to project, tracks, virtual instruments and input numbers, among others; though there’s about enough to get a small sized project done – even something like an audiobook.

#3 Image-Line FL Studio 20 Fruity Edition


Specifications:

  • Free Trial Saves Songs
  • Trial Never Expires
  • Time Stretching
  • Lots of Effects
  • Good Number of Synths
  • Audio Visualizer

Pros:

  • UI Good for Beginners
  • Fast Learning Curve
  • Strong Industry Brand Reputation

Cons:

  • Starter: No Editor/Recorder
  • Free Trial More Limited

Image Line FL Studio 20 Review

Our Verdict

4.5/5: Another full audio production studio (DAW), which is why the learning curve is higher than a standalone audio recording system. In return, you get very powerful features that rank it among the best recording software ever.

Trial: Free version separate from ‘Fruity’ edition

Starting: $99 (one-time fee)

Essential Features ✅

The entry-level version of FL Studio, known as the ‘Fruity’ edition does NOT give you the ability to edit/record audio (you can apply effects post hoc).

Get Access to Powerful Automations That Apply and Alternate Real-Time Effects Like Volume, Delays, Pans, Echoes, and Distortions

[Snare drums with the volume reduced then increased over a specific period of time. The same automations can be applied to vocal recordings – for many different effects.]

We recommend choosing another solution from this list, one that does precision audio recordings and manipulations, such as or GarageBand (#5) or Audacity (#6).

Image Line FL Studio 20 Effects

One of those tools can ‘clean up’ the audio, trim, and time it to perfection. You can then use Fruity Loops as your software of choice for adding-in effects and automations. 

For instance, to produce an audiobook, after clearing the takes elsewhere, you’ll gain access to 125 tracks, with 10 effects applicable to each – which should be more than enough – on a very visually organized workspace.

Drawbacks ❌

As with any full DAW, expect a significant learning curve, whereas simpler audio recorders/editors are more intuitive to pick up and begin using intelligently.

It would be simpler if you could do everything essential on the starter package. You might have an inefficient workflow due to switching from another software that can record/edit. If you do not need specific music production capabilities, this could well be excessive.

#4 Steinberg Cubase Elements 10.5


Specifications:

  • Mix, Master, Record & Edit
  • Very Advanced Effects
  • Import Reference Videos
  • Midi Recording
  • Coloured Mixers Channels
  • Powerful EQ Tools

Pros:

  • World-Class DAW
  • 30-Day Free Trial
  • Use For All Compositions

Cons:

  • Solid Learning Curve
  • Needs a USB eLicenser

Cubase Elements Review

Our Verdict

4/5: Steinberg Cubase Elements doubles as a ‘writing-to-video’ suite: import videos while making industry-level professional audio edits/creations.

Trial: 30 days (free trial version)

Starting: $99.99 (one-time fee)

Essential Features ✅

Among the best recording software ever. Cubase Elements 10.5 needs a minimum of 4GB RAM/20GB storage space (64-bit for Windows OS), however. If you’re doing audio work that requires synchronization with video (like film compositions), import reference videos directly into Cubase.

Version 10.5 now also allows you to export both the video and audio, sharing what you’ve made with clients and collaborators. Apply a whole host of effects, including warping, time delays, time stretching, frequency changes using the equalizer, and pitch changes.

Steinberg Cubase Elements Options

The workspace is extremely optimized for efficient workflow, allowing you to arrange dozens of tracks without getting muddled. A powerful solution for advanced audio recording and editing.. as well as storyboarding, podcasting, and other video productions.

Drawbacks ❌

You need to physically purchase this product rather than just downloading it.. They’ll ship you a USB eLicenser with the product, which must be attached to your computer whenever you use the software.

Remember: this is a top-of-the-line DAW.. to get the most out of it, or to even get around the UI enough to do the basics, will take some getting used to and instruction. Also know, while you can import video as a reference, this is not a video production suite.

#5 Apple GarageBand


Specifications:

  • Ultra Intuitive Workspace
  • Very Precise Editing Tools
  • Apply Essential Effects
  • Record Live Onto Tracks
  • Snipped Audio Easily Retrievable
  • Audio Monitoring Feature

Pros:

  • INCREDIBLY Friendly UI
  • Beginners Love Garageband
  • Totally Free

Cons:

  • Only for Apple OS
  • Full Instruments Need Downloading

Apple GarageBand Simple Guide

Our Verdict

4/5: If you only need to professionally record audio, edit precisely, and apply essential effects, it can’t get much smoother than GarageBand. Possibly the best audio recording software (just recording).

Trial: N/A

Starting: FREE

Essential Features ✅

What is the best audio recording software for Mac? 

You’ve found it.. GB’s ‘audio monitoring’ feature allows you to hear yourself in real-time (through your headphones) as you are recording onto a track. This is especially useful for performers, such as audiobook narrators, audio/video course creators, podcasters, and musicians.

This is an incredibly powerful tool if you want to do fast ‘cleaning up’ of audio.. Simply move the scroll button of your forward, to zoom in to your audio recording. You’ll be able to see milliseconds of audio, and precisely snip bits that you don’t want to keep.

The workspace gives you the exact length of the audio. Different takes or portions can be segmented into different layers and moved around in position.

GarageBand Tutorial

Remove breaths and set the noise gate to reduce/remove white noise in the background from electrical equipment or a lower quality microphone. It’s hard to argue against this being the best free recording software that exists (though only for mac: see this webinar software list, for screen recording).

Drawbacks ❌

Although it is completely free, GB can unfortunately only be used on Apple devices.  And while it’s the best recording software mac has simply for audio recording and editing, it cannot mix, master, or do full audio compositions to the level of a full DAW.

#6 Audacity


Specifications:

  • Record Live With Mic/Mixer
  • Audio Monitoring
  • Import Sounds Files
  • Works On Old Computers
  • Do Essential Effects
  • Editing Tools & Spectrograms

Pros:

  • Totally FREE
  • Very Simple Yet Powerful
  • Great for Beginners

Cons:

  • Basic Mix/Mastering, No Compositions
  • Slightly Outdated UI

Audacity Logo

Our Verdict

4/4: The fast, go-to tool for advanced audio recording and editing without having to spend a penny – even for those who have the budget.

Trial: N/A

Starting: 100% FREE

Essential Features ✅

What is the easiest music recording software to use? 

If you’re talking for pc, probably Audacity.. You won’t need a tutorial (most likely). It can clean up audio in a pretty efficient manner, as long as you do not have too many audio files or a very long file.

There are ways around working on very long files, such as splitting them into separate files, eg. for audiobooks. The EQ tools are suitable enough for you to submit audio to a professional platform like Audible (though you will need to find careful guides).

And you can do live recording, with an ‘audio monitoring’ feature that lets you record live while listening to yourself in the headphones (you and multiple other recorders).

Audacity Features

The program file is small enough that – even if you have a very old computer system – chances are you can get Audacity running.

Overall, this is an invaluable budgeter’s recording and editing tool (with basic mix/mastering) that can create professional-level outcomes, as long as the user operates it sensibly. The best recording software for pc if you want simplicity (GarageBand for Mac).

Drawbacks ❌

The UI is slightly outdated, with a workspace unsuited for large projects. If you’re working with multiple audios, this is not a recommended tool.

And, although it does have the essential effects such as reverbs, delays, flangers, pitch adjustments, noise gates, and so on – it’s very difficult to experiment with combinations in a non-permanent way (less creative potential).

For instance, any full DAW – and even GarageBand – can apply  ‘channel’ effects. Turn these channels up/down/on/off whenever you want (even automate complex transitions). By comparison, once Audacity applies an effect, it fundamentally alters the source audio.

#7 PreSonus Studio One 4 Professional Recording Software Suite


Specifications:

  • Intuitive Single Window Environment
  • Unlimited Audio/Instrument Tracks
  • Unlimited Effects Channels
  • Powerful Automations
  • Five Powerful Virtual Instruments
  • Requires 64-Bit OS

Pros:

  • Budgeter’s Best Recording Software
  • World-Class Reputation
  • Excellent Value

Cons:

  • Excessive for Simple Projects
  • Significant Learning Curve Involved

PreSonus Studio One 4 Professional Full Version

Our Verdict

4/5: Possibly the most powerful full-featured (every feature unlocked) DAW in its price bracket.

Trial: ‘Prime’ is free starter version

Starting: $322.74 (one-time fee)

Essential Features ✅

To apply a new effect to a track, simply choose the effect and drop it onto the track with one click, and it will immediately be loaded next to that channel’s mixer (real time saver).

Compared to cheaper DAWs like Reaper, the visuals are very streamlined.. everything is in a single-windowed, intuitive work environment for maximal work efficiency.

For big projects with multiple audio files, the workspace is ideal. Also connect your keyboard, to operate virtual instruments via MIDI. You’ll get over 2GB of musical content and loops, to give you fresh ideas. Add pre-made compositions to audios..

For instance: the soundbank library could be very useful for adding intro/outro medleys, and special audio effects (like a crashing sounds), to your audio productions, eg. podcasts.

Time it precisely, using your keyboard as a trigger, and add special manipulations to your audio such as pitch alterations, EQ adjustments (like ‘lo-fi’), and time stretches.

PreSonus Studio One review

The automations are also very powerful.. Overall, PreSonus Studio One 4 Professional is among the world’s leading industry-standard DAWs; world-class yet at an affordable price without feature restrictions.

Drawbacks ❌

You’ll need at least 4GB RAM, although 8GB or more is recommended, with an i3 processor and 40GB hard-drive space. For simple projects, this is likely overkill.. especially considering the significant learning curve involved in handling this DAW.

Buying Guide


Free vs. Paid DAW’s

The best free DAW on this list is Studio One Prime. You get a generous helping of features but will need at least 4GB RAM and 10GB hard drive space..

But know this – the best DAW recording software will depend on what seems intuitive to YOU. It’s not the tool, it’s the user. There is no best recording software ever. Lower-tier ones like Reaper take longer to do some common steps, that said..).

Whatever the tool, digital audio workstations are typically used for full-scale audio productions that include musical compositions; or at least professional mixing and mastering.

Recording Software creations

If you just need a software that can record, do basic productions, and mix what you have, with effects, the free version of PreSonus is ideal for you.

You get a 2GB library of musical content and loops (useful for adding outros, intros, and other medleys to your audio creations).. Amazing for beginners, though intermediate and advanced users will itch for further features.

What Is a Sound Recorder Used for?

Once upon a time, digital sound recorders were simply a record, play, and pause button with save features. That was it! The audio was typically poor quality, with fizzing in the background (white noise), and little to no ability to add effects.

Now, there are many powerful free sound recorders like Apple GarageBand and Audacity, which both allow you to apply complicated effects to recordings.

Precisely edit your videos to trim sections you do not want to keep, such as loud breaths (‘cleaning up’ audio). Do the same with reducing white noise in the background. Mix your audio so that there are no loud spikes (compression). And record live, sending different microphone inputs to separate ‘tracks’.

How to Choose Your Production Software

Your Budget

First- you need to know your outcomes. From there, boil down your options monetarily. If you need something that can just record, edit and do basic mixing/mastering, GarageBand or Audacity is good enough and both are free (Presonus Studio One 4 too).

If you need a complete compositional package, all others in this guide are DAWs. Choose one that can achieve your outcomes (note: Fruity Loops’ first tier doesn’t let you record/edit audio).

Performing Live

For recording live, only the starter version of Fruity Loops will be unsuitable. All of the other options in this guide are fine. Have you look at the ‘audio monitoring’ setting, which allows you to hear yourself while recording live and can be very useful. Every tool on this list has that feature.

Performing on Live

Experience Level

If you want to learn full audio compositions, it is recommended that you choose a DAW. However you cut it, that will be a learning curve with a DAW.

PreSonus Studio One is arguably the smallest learning curve, though it’s also worthwhile downloading a few brands and seeing what feels the most intuitive (it’s not the tool, it’s the artist).

If you just want to record and do basic edits, GarageBand and Audacity have very thin learning curves and carry out those functions well. They’re the best recording software that exist for simply those purposes.

Generally, audio work is more efficient if you can do everything in one piece of software, rather than switching from one to the other (certainly, having more than one DAW is hard).

What You Need to Know Recording Software (Technical Section)


Gain, Equalization and Stereo Panning

Gain simply means the loudness of your recordings. Most audio recording software give you a color bar that ranges from green to orange to red. If you see your recording spike to red, you know that section is too loud and will possibly sound distorted on speakers. You should reduce the gain there.

Equalization deals with the wave frequencies of your recordings. Lowering or increasing certain sections of the EQ will minimize or emphasize specific qualities.. For instance, if you have a too-loud rasping sound in the recording, lowering the higher-end frequencies will diminish the harshness.

Stereo Panning

And stereo panning describes the balance of the audio output relative to your left and right speakers (‘stereo’ = 2 speakers).. Panning left means to output more of the audio into the left speaker – and right, vice versa.

Wave Shape, Pitch, Tempo, and Filtering

We mentioned EQ in the subsection above this.. Well, a sound’s wave shape will indicate what frequencies a sound is moving through. The simplest wave shape is ‘sine’, which looks like a squiggly line. But most musical sounds are more complicated than this, affecting the harmonics.

The pitch is created by the rate of vibrations that make it up. A higher pitch has a higher tone, while a low pitch has a lower tone or deepness. Tempo is another word for speed. And audio filters can be used for a wide range of things, from sound effects to amplifiers and synthesizers (virtual instruments).

Analog vs Digital

An analog audio recording will be played using physical means, such as a vinyl record or cassette tape. For this reason the quality can degrade over time, while digital audios stay the same because storage is safer. You can even manipulate the source file, which you cannot do with analog.

Audio aficionados will nevertheless be interested in things like unlimited bandwidth that analog audio can reside inside. This potentially makes analog audio higher quality when there is a need to reach across bandwidths – and that superior sound output can become apparent with quality audio reproduction speakers.

Digital audio is more versatile than analog, however. Analog audio files can only be played on tape decks and record players, while digital files can be stored and played in many more ways; from MP3 players to online streams.

FAQs


What Is the Easiest Music Recording Software to Use? 

The absolute simplest music recording software will be the one on your smartphone. Simply open it up and hit record, however you’ll be hard-pressed to edit and organize what you do record. Windows Sound Recorder is no less simple but suffers from the same limitations.

In the grand scheme of things, Audacity and GarageBand are by far the simplest yet most powerful recording systems that exist. GarageBand has more advanced features than Audacity by far, but it is only available on the Apple OS.

What Recording Software Do Most YouTube Use?

The best audio recording software for YouTube is probably one of the ones listed above.. It’s difficult to get professional sounding audio from a smartphone, so a laptop connected to something like GarageBand is more suitable.

But, if you’re recording outside, handheld audio recorders can be very useful, such as the Tascam Dr-40 (also use a muffler, to block wind and prevent distortion of the recording). This could also be the best podcast recording software when outside.

How to record a Podcast for Youtube

Handheld audio recorders – and others – allow you to plug in clip-on mics, also known as lavalier mics. Lavalier mics are small microphones you can clip onto your clothing, usually at the neckline.

They’re very discreet and have long cables that allow you to move freely and on-the-move,  all without having to actually hold a microphone (such as during a couched interview).

What Is a Digital Audio Workstation?

A digital audio workstation (DAW) is either an electronic device or piece of software that can be used for recording, editing, and producing audio files.

Most modern DAWs have a central interface that can organize, arrange, edit, and mix multiple tracks and recordings into a final audio composition.

DAWs are used to produce music, radio, television, soundtracks, podcasts, speeches, and sound effects.

Plug your microphone into the device running the software (unless the device is the DAW itself) and you’ll be able to record directly into the system.

Overall – it’s not the tool, it’s the user (as long as you’re not confusing a sound recorder with a DAW). Choose one that feels right and stick to it (having more than one DAW is time consuming).

Conclusion


What Is the Best Recording Software for PC?

Well, the best value DAW if you want something that mostly functions as a sound recorder and manipulator, is Ableton Live 10 – or Presonus Studio One 4 Prime (which is free).

Pro Tools is more expensive but perhaps among the top 3 music production suites in the world ie. the best DAW recording software. Cubase isn’t far behind.

What Is the Best Audio Recording Software for Mac?

GarageBand (also free) goes a step further with a much better interface and essential mixing/mastering options (but has a hard time holding up as a DAW).

What Is the Best Free Studio Recording Software?

Audacity (best recording software for pc) gives you comprehensive audio recording/editing features for free.

The Best Daw on a Budget?

While PreSonus Studio One 4 Professional is the best fully-featured DAW in its price range, with a powerful free Prime version if you only need to do sound recording, editing, and essential mixing/mastering (not compositions).

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