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The best free music software and plugins

Tracktion Software Waveform Free
(Image credit: Tracktion Software)

If you want to make music on a computer but don’t want to spend any money, free music software is the way to go. Whether you own a PC, a Mac, or an iPad/iPhone, there’s loads of great software out there that you don’t need to pay for. All you need to do is find it.

Or rather, you don’t, because we’ve found it for you. Below you’ll find our pick of the best free music software out there right now, all ready and waiting to be downloaded.

Whether you want an audio recorder/editor, a DAW, instrument/effect plugins or DJ software (or maybe even all of the above), we’ve got you covered.

Don’t assume that, just because it’s free, this software is no good, either. Everything you’ll find below is fully-functional and more than capable of helping you to make great-sounding music.

In fact, once you’ve discovered just how great free music software can be, you may decide that you never need to pay for commercial releases again.

You'll find our best free music software picks below, and also be sure to check out the following guides for many more.

The best free music software

1. Audacity

Audacity 3

(Image credit: Audacity)

PC, Mac, GNU/Linux

Even if you’ve never made music on a computer before, you may well have heard of Audacity. It’s long been the go-to free software for anyone who wants to record and edit audio, be that a musical performance, a podcast or any other kind of sound.

As well as giving you all the standard editing features you might need - cut, copy, paste, delete, etc - Audacity also comes with built-in effects and even supports VST and AU effect plugins. You can import and export in a wide range of formats, too.

On the downside, Audacity isn’t the slickest-looking software in the world - it’s been around for more than 20 years and its appearance hasn't changed a great deal in that time - but its open-source nature means that it’s regularly updated.

This won’t be the only music software you need to download, but it’s definitely worth having in your locker.

Download Audacity (opens in new tab)


2. Apple GarageBand

Apple GarageBand for Mac

(Image credit: Apple)

Mac, iPhone, iPad

The most famous free DAW of them all comes bundled with every Mac and is freely downloadable for iOS devices. And guess what? It makes it ridiculously easy for pretty much anyone to start making music.

Not only can you record audio - your guitar or mic, for example - but you also get a strong selection of software instruments that can be played from a MIDI keyboard. There are plenty of rhythmic and instrumental loops, too - just drag them into the Timeline and start creating - and Apple’s excellent Drummer enables you to create customised drum tracks to fit your projects.

The effects library includes virtual guitar amps and stompboxes, and there are enough editing and mixing features for you to polish a track to completion. If you do decide that you need more features, Logic Pro provides a ready-made upgrade path on the Mac, as much of the functionality is the same and GarageBand projects can be loaded into it.

Throw in AU plugin support and you realise that, If you need a free DAW on the Mac, there’s little reason to look anywhere else.

Download Apple GarageBand (opens in new tab)


3. Tracktion Software Waveform Free

Tracktion Waveform Free 2022

(Image credit: Tracktion Software)

PC/Mac/Linux/Raspberry Pi

Another free DAW, the latest version of Waveform Free is based on Waveform Pro 12, Tracktion’s paid-for DAW, and imposes no restrictions on track counts, exporting/rendering, project saving or use of third-party plugins. It won’t time out, either.

The 2022 edition of Waveform Free includes a completely new browser that enables you to specify tags, favourites and smart lists. 15 of the audio effects have been refreshed, too, and there are now six utility plugins. These include a convert-to-mono tool and a spectrum analyser.

All in all, Waveform Free is so capable that you’ll wonder why you didn’t have to pay for it. You can upgrade to the Pro version whenever you’re ready.

Download Tracktion Software Waveform Free (opens in new tab)


4. DiscoDSP OB-Xd

discoDSP OB-Xd 2.0

(Image credit: discoDSP)

PC, Mac

Once you've got your free DAW, you'll likely to want some some free plugin synths to use in it. OB-Xd (VST/AU) isn’t the flashiest one on the market, and nor is it the newest. It remains our favourite freeware synth, though, based largely on its blend of simple usability and excellent sound.

This is an emulation of Tom Oberheim’s classic OB-X polysynth, an analogue classic beloved for its thick, rich sound and easy-to-use interface.

OB-Xd lives up to its inspiration on both fronts. Sonically, this is up there with many paid-for analogue emulations and, while it lacks the bells and whistles of something like Arturia’s V Collection synths, OB-Xd does build on the design of the original with a morphable filter design and voice variation controls.

While other freeware synths are undoubtedly more adventurous or original than OB-Xd - and we encourage you to check some of them out, too - none are likely to match the broad appeal of this excellent virtual analogue. Download it now (it's free for non-commercial use) and it could quickly become your go-to for rich, vintage poly sounds. There is also an iOS version, but you'll have to pay $10/£9 for that one.

Download DiscoDSP OB-Xd (opens in new tab)


5. Spitfire Audio LABS

freeware

(Image credit: Various)

PC, Mac

Spitfire Audio's sample-based LABS series has become something of a production secret weapon in recent years. The range is regularly updated, and each instrument focuses on a specific kind of sound, giving you just a few simple controls with which to tweak it.

If that makes LABS sound limiting, it really isn't - many of the sounds are so characterful and expressive that they can form the basis of entire tracks. The Soft Piano is a particular favourite of ours, and there are plenty of experimental synth, string, percussion and experimental instruments, too.

You can pick and choose which of these you download, but our advice is simply to grab the lot, dive in and start playing.

Download Spitfire Audio LABS (opens in new tab)


5. AudioSpillage MiniSpillage

Best free drum machine plugin

(Image credit: AudioSpillage)

Mac

This cutdown version of the impressive DrumSpillage is a slick and stellar-sounding percussion synth. While it trims the 13 sounds of the paid version down to just three synthesis algorithms, there’s still a surprising breadth of tones that can be coaxed out of its engine.

The Bass Drum generator combines pitch sweeps and frequency modulation to shape hard-hitting, speaker-shaking kick tones, while the Hi-Hat module blends multiple oscillators, noise and resonant filters to fashion an assortment of metallic, machine-like sounds. The final piece of the puzzle is the Wood Drum, which models a variety of toms, wooden knocks and mid-range perc sounds.

Filters, distortion and modulators round out the package, offering up movement and flexibility that mean MiniSpillage is more than just a simple one-trick, static drum generator.

AudioSpillage MiniSpillage (opens in new tab)


6. TAL-Reverb-4

Togu Audio Line TAL-Reverb-4

(Image credit: Togu Audio Line)

Mac, PC, Linux

How could we do a round-up of the best free music software without including free plugin legend Togu Audio Line somewhere? The Swiss developer is one of the best-known names in freeware thanks to its generous crop of impressive, vintage-inspired downloads (and its paid plugins are very much worth your money, too).

TAL-Reverb-4 is a retro-leaning plate reverb with broad size and diffuse controls that allow it to go from tight echoes all the way up to epic drawn-out ambience. An onboard modulation section adds movement, for authentic ’80s-sounding ‘wobbly’ reverb, and high and low EQs help tame and shape the effect.

TAL-Reverb-4 is simple but highly effective on a variety of audio sources - download this one and it could easily become your go-to ’verb.

Download TAL-Reverb-4 (opens in new tab)


7. ValhallaDSP SuperMassive

Best free delay plugin

(Image credit: ValhallaDSP)

PC, Mac

ValhallaDSP makes some of the best commercial reverb and delay plugins going, but the developer has also treated us to several must-have freebies over the years, such as the excellent Freq Echo and Space Modulator. SuperMassive is Valhalla’s most recent freeware offering and it’s undoubtedly one of the most slick and powerful free effects we’ve ever tried.

Straddling the line between echo unit and reverb, SuperMassive is a stereo, multi-mode delay capable of generating extreme feedback and dense washes of repeats. This plugin is perfect for inspiring sound design ideas. 

With multiple delay types on offer, a decent crop of presets, an interactive help guide and, most notably, gorgeous sound, this would be a must-have even if it wasn’t free!

ValhallaDSP SuperMassive (opens in new tab)


8. Ignite Amps PTEQ-X

Best free EQ plugin

(Image credit: Ignite Amps)

PC, Mac

Alongside the likes of the LA-2A compressor and Roland Space Echo, Pultec EQs are among the most regularly-emulated hardware effects, and any modern producer worth their salt should have one in their digital toolkit. Fortunately, thanks to Ignite Amps, it’s possible to add a quality Pultec to your arsenal for free.

PTEQ-X is more than just one Pultec EQ; in fact, it features models of the brand’s three best-known hardware effects. That includes the EQP-1A, known for the famous ‘Pultec trick’ that lets users cut and boost around the same low-end frequency, which can work wonders for adding definition to bass and kick sounds.

Download Ignite Amps PTEQ-X (opens in new tab)


9. Audiomodern Filterstep

Best free filter plugin

(Image credit: Audiomodern)

PC, Mac, iOS

Filterstep is a sequencer-focused multimode filter with low-, high- and band-pass modes. The sequencer element has an adjustable length that goes up to 64 steps, each equipped with a slider to set the filter cutoff level. It can cycle through steps in several directions - forward, backward and back-and-forth - and offers randomisation and smoothing tools to help fine-tune sequences.

The resonant filter sounds good enough to make this worth a download for that alone, but the ability to set up rhythmic patterns and automated sequences makes this indispensable. 

Filterstep is a great tool for everything from classic sidechain-style ducking to glitchy rhythmic effects.

Download Audiomodern Filterstep (opens in new tab)


10. Audio Damage RoughRider 3

Best free compressor plugin

(Image credit: Audio Damage)

PC, Mac, Linux, iOS

An undeniable freeware classic, RoughRider is - according to its developer - one of the most downloaded dynamics plugins of all time. It’s not hard to see why this is such a popular freebie; this is a characterful and easy-to-use compressor that has only got better and better over its three iterations and decade-plus lifespan.

Version 3 features a sidechain input, improved metering and a new ‘full bandwidth’ button which enables users to turn off the analogue-style ‘warming’. RoughRider 3 can also be downloaded in AUv3 format for iOS.

Audio Damage RoughRider 3 (opens in new tab)


11. Softube Saturation Knob

Best free distortion plugin

(Image credit: Softube)

PC, Mac

The world loves a ‘one-knob’ plugin, and Softube’s popular saturator is a classic of the genre. While it’s not the most out-there or destructive distortion going, its ability to add subtle mid-range grit and natural, melodic degradation to sounds makes it an indispensable production tool.

Simplicity is key to Saturation Knob’s popularity - there are no sub-menus or alternate UI views here; simply load the plugin on to the desired track and crank the knob to add a touch of grit. The only other control is a switch to adjust which frequencies the effect targets.

A simple and satisfying tool for quickly adding character to drums, synths, vocals and more.

Download Softube Saturation Knob (opens in new tab)


12. Blue Cat Audio Chorus/Phaser/Flanger

Best free modulation plugin

(Image credit: Blue Cat Audio)

PC, Mac

OK, we’re breaking our own rules here and bundling three plugins in under a single ‘best’ slot, but Blue Cat Audio’s trio of vintage-inspired modulation effects is essentially three variations on a shared concept. Each takes its cues from vintage hardware, replicating a classic, analogue-style take on a staple modulation effect.

Turn to Vintage Chorus for rich, stereo thickness; use the Vintage Flanger for weird robotic tones; and fire up Vintage Phaser for deep, churning modulation. All three plugins come equipped with controls for adjusting the depth, stereo width and tonal qualities of the effect. You can download all three, plus an excellent EQ, amp sim and more, in Blue Cat’s Free Pack.

Blue Cat Audio Chorus/Phaser/Flanger (opens in new tab)


13. IK Multimedia AmpliTube 5 CS

IK Multimedia AmpliTube 5 CS

(Image credit: IK Multimedia)

PC, Mac

With AmpliTube, IK Multimedia has been at the vanguard of guitar amp and effect emulations for as long as we can remember, and the latest version (5) is another winner.

If you don't fancy paying for it, though, you have an excellent free option in the shape of AmpliTube 5 CS. This might 'only' offer 42 gear models (pedals, amps, speakers, cabinets, mics and rack FX) but their quality is excellent.

What's more, if you do want to add more, you can. The 'CS' in the title, you see, stands for Custom Shop, the name of IK's virtual guitar gear store. So, you can increase your collection of models as your budget allows.

Keep an eye out for IK's frequent free download offers, too, which will enable you to add more gear for nothing.

Download IK Multimedia AmpliTube 5 CS (opens in new tab)


14. Atomix VirtualDJ

Best DJ software: Atomix VirtualDJ Pro

(Image credit: Atomix)

PC, Mac

VirtualDJ is styled as the world’s ‘number one most popular DJ software’, which is likely due to the fact that it can be downloaded and used at home for free, in a limited but still very much functional capacity. This makes it a great option for beginners, as does the fact that its interface and workflow is generally quite user-friendly.

Even in this free format, VirtualDJ boasts some impressive features. Its interface is highly customisable and can be configured with anywhere between 2 and 99 decks (not that we’d recommend you attempt to blend 99 tracks at once). 

A recent version also added an ambitious stem separation tool, which lets users isolate and individually EQ track elements such as kicks, vocal lines or bass. As with other plugins that aim to separate fully mixed tracks – Audionamix’s Xtrax Stems, for example – the results can be impressive in the right context but are far from flawless.

The main restrictions on using the free version of VirtualDJ are that you’re not licensed to use it in any professional settings – ie. any paid DJ gigs, streams, etc – and that it can’t be used with any hardware such as controllers, analogue mixers or DVS systems. 

Download Atomix VirtualDJ (opens in new tab)

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