We tested the noise reduction capabilities, file compatibility and editing tools of 15 audio editing programs that cost less than $100, then narrowed our list to the nine best products. Based on our test results, Adobe Audition is our pick for the overall best audio editor because of its comprehensive toolset and user-friendly workflow. Below, we also have recommendations for the most cost-effective product and the best program for podcasters.
Our recommendations are focused on helping you find a simple editing software that doesn’t cost too much. You should consider music production software or DAW software if you want to integrate virtual instruments or if the editing capabilities of the products in this guide are not robust enough for your needs.
Overall Best: Adobe Audition
Adobe Audition has an intuitive and customizable user interface, along with the best audio restoration tools of the programs we tested. It can import and export all the popular audio file formats, and it can extract audio data from most of the important video formats, including MOV, M4V and WMV.
The software’s only downside is that you can’t purchase a permanent license. However, the quality editing and restoration tools make it well worth purchasing a subscription, and if you already use Adobe products for photo and video editing, Audition comes packaged in the Creative Cloud bundle.
Best for Podcasters
Best for Podcasters: WavePad
WavePad has all the tools you need to properly produce, edit and finalize a podcast. It is compatible with Mac and PC operating systems, and its user-friendly layout is easy for both novices and expert users to navigate. During testing, we were able to import all the popular audio and video file formats and easily batch process a number of different file types at once. Make sure to add the MixPad extension if you plan to record multiple inputs simultaneously on different tracks.
Best Value: Acoustica Standard Edition
The standard edition of Acoustica audio editing software is compatible with Mac and PC operating systems and costs less than $60. The toolbar and user workspaces are customizable, which helps speed up your workflow. In addition, the audio restoration tools are easy to use and produced good results in our noise reduction tests. The premium edition of this software has more editing and advanced restoration tools, but we found the tool selection in the standard edition to be sufficient for most projects.
Audio Editor vs. DAW: What’s the Difference?
Audio editing programs seem synonymous with DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations), but they are two different entities. DAWs can record multiple sources simultaneously and have many plugins, effects and virtual instruments to aid in music production.
However, even the introductory versions of DAWs are expensive compared to professional audio editing programs. A basic DAW runs at least $100, but you can purchase a professional-grade audio editor for under $50. A professional-level DAW can cost upward of $550 and eat up much of the available storage and memory on your computer, something an audio editor won't do.
How We Tested Audio Editing Software
Noise Reduction Test
One of the most important considerations when searching for the best audio editing software is how well a program removes unwanted noise from a bad audio recording. This depends on the type of noise-reduction tools the software has and their effectiveness.
We used a vinyl recording of a single talking voice laced with the hiss, hum, cracks and pops, which are all typical of the medium. We imported the recording into each program and used its noise reduction tools to clean the sound up as much as possible.
During this test, we didn’t enhance the recording with effects or plugins; we only used DeNoisers, DeBuzzers and other noise-reduction tools. We compared each of the recordings side by side using a frequency analyzer so we could both hear and see the results of cleaning up each sample.
The best audio restoration results came from MAGIX Audio Cleaning Lab and Adobe Audition. These two products removed most of the noise without compromising the vocal track’s volume. Diamond Cut was not far behind in terms of the quality of the restored audio, and it also removed most of the noise in the original audio sample.
File Compatibility Test
Another important consideration is a program’s ability to import and convert a variety of audio formats. We tested each program to see if it could import, export or convert popular audio file types, including AAC, AIFF, AU, FLAC, MP3, MP4, M4A, OGG Vorbis, WAV and WMA.
We also tested each software's ability to extract audio from seven video file types: M4V, MOV, MP4, MPG, DIVX, DV and WMV. In our tests, WavePad trumped all other programs in terms of file compatibility – no other product can import and export every file format that we tested.
Tools & Customization
To get the most out of an audio editor, look for software with a plethora of audio editing tools and effects. They can all, to varying degrees, restore noisy analog recordings, but additional tools let you make more creative and better edits.
An audio editor should also have a clean and customizable workspace. When you can customize menus and toolbars, you can create a workspace that is conducive to what you are editing and improve your productivity. User experience is every bit as important as the tools in the software.