Having access to some of the best audio editing software can transform your creative process. Once upon a time, the only way to produce a high-quality piece of audio was to spend a few thousand dollars on hiring a recording studio and a sound engineer. However, advances in technology mean that anybody with access to a desktop computer or laptop can conjure up a professional-sounding piece of music or podcast in their own home.
Of course, DIY recording and editing is not a new phenomenon – basic digital audio workstations (DAWs) were first made available way back in the late-'80s, when consumer-level computers became powerful enough to handle them. However, as our guide to the best audio editing software 2021 will demonstrate, the most up-to-date versions can offer a whole suite of recording, arranging, cutting and mixing tools to help you deliver a product you can be proud of.
As you'll see, the latest audio-editing software is available at a wide range of prices, from free to hundreds of dollars. Inevitably, the higher-end packages will offer features that their cheaper rivals don't. However, some of these can be highly advanced, making them quite confusing for beginners. So if you're just starting out, you might be better off saving your money – it's still possible to get great results from a more streamlined option, especially if you’re using it in conjunction with some of the best voice recording software. Also, bear in mind that some programs are aimed more at musicians than podcasters – and the type of device you have will be relevant, too, since some programs are designed for Macs and others for PCs.
Looking to share your finished masterpiece across multiple platforms? Once you've finished reading our guide to the best audio editing software 2021, check out our rundown of the best audio converter software 2021.
1. Adobe Audition: Best audio editing software overall
Adobe Audition is one of the most user-friendly audio editing programs available. You can customize the layout to accommodate your workflow, and the software has all the best tools for editing and finalizing any audio project.
This allows you to record multiple sources simultaneously on separate tracks. This makes post-production tasks like editing and effects processing easier. All that makes it ideal for podcasters, vloggers and anyone straddling the amateur/professional divide.
Audition’s audio restoration tools make it easy to fix damaged or old recordings. This is super simple to use, as you highlight he offending sounds, hit a button and Audition takes care of removing that from the rest of the audio. Audition doesn’t negatively affect the source material when it restores poorly recorded audio either – a big plus.
To use the program, you pay for a monthly, yearly or multi year subscription. It also comes packaged with Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription, which is a better deal if you plan to also edit photos or videos. Adobe offers discounts to students and teachers as well as businesses that need multiple licenses.
2. Audacity: Best free audio editing software
Audacity is free, open source audio editing and recording software with an impressive list of editing and restoration tools. The interface isn’t the most attractive, but it is easy to use.
Audacity’s noise-reduction plugin is a one-click solution for removing unwanted room noise. An impressive tool for a free piece of software. The click-removal tool also worked well, but it can drastically alter the source material and make it sound worse, so use it with caution. Luckily, Audacity allows you to preview the edit to adjust the settings before making any destructive changes.
This program works on Macs and PCs and is a light load for your computer. It’s compatible with most of the important audio file types, including MP3 and lossless formats like WAV, AIFF and FLAC. Audacity imported our 1.5-hour podcast test segment in less than five seconds, which was faster than most of the for-pay programs we tested.
3. Magix Samplitude Pro X: Most feature-rich audio editor
Magix Samplitude Pro X has an excellent user-interface and a great selection of tools for repairing and restoring noisy recordings. It's primarily suited to musicians as it has a very musical focus and a wide selection of instrument options.
This powerful DAW offers 999 track support, 256 physical inputs and 32-bit recording up to 384kHz. What makes Samplitude unique is that it stores audio files, it calls objects, allowing you to carry out operations that in most other DAWs could only be done at the mixing stage. As such you can play with audio in a non-destructive way. This is great for lining up an album full of tracks ready for mastering, for example.
A Windows only platform that justifies its higher-end price tag with lots of powerful features which make it ideal for professional musicians.
4. Avid Pro Tools: Best for studio professionals
Avid Pro Tools is a truly professional audio editor that's used in studios all over the world as the go-to system of choice for music producers, film editors and beyond. As such it's made to work well with physical controls, isn't easy to pick-up for beginners and costs a tidy sum.
But all that's part of what makes this a very powerful tool. This DAW offers video specific features like 4K, 120fps support, Dolby Atmos editing and even Netflix Post Technology. Beyond video you have the ability to work with 1,024 MIDI tracks, 512 instrument tracks and 128 auxiliary tracks.
Stand out tools like Clip Gain, to quickly adjust volumes; and Beat Detective, to fix timing issues easily, are just a few of the powerful features this audio editing suite offers to justify its price.
5. Apple Logic Pro X 10.5: Best for pro Mac users
Apple Logic Pro X 10.5 is a professional grade audio editor that incorporates some of the best features into an interface that's super intuitive and supportive of a fast workflow. Yes, this isn't for newbs, but it certainly does make the complex world of audio editing seem less daunting. For professionals it just makes life easier.
The software does all this by offering all the features you'd expect but also a clever system of grid-based clip launching. These "cells" allow you to compose and arrange music in real-time, making this ideal for broadcasting or live music events. Other features like the Remix FX plugin, Step Sequencer, and Quick Sampler all help to further speed up and automate the working process.
In a typical Apple fashion this takes a tool we already have and makes it more minimalist and therefore easier to use. It also does this while undercutting the big names in the business on price.
6. Acoustica 6: Best professional free audio editor
Acon Digital’s Acoustica 6 audio editing software has an attractive, well-organized user interface. The effects, recording tools and plugins are divided into logical categories in the menu ribbon, which streamlines the post-production process.
All that and it's totally free despite being aimed at pro users and with all the tools to back that up.
Acoustica is one of the most customizable audio editing programs out there. In addition to the editing window, there is a file browser, an effects chain and a waveform analyzer you can add or remove as you need. The program also allows you to customize the toolbar with the editing tools you use most, to maximize your workflow. Acoustica’s tools created some of the best results in our audio restoration test.
Important Features to Consider
Some audio editing software can only edit files. If you plan to record your voice for a podcast, make sure you choose a program that can record from a USB microphone or audio interface. Some of the programs we reviewed can record multiple sources simultaneously, known as multitrack recording. This is a handy feature for podcast producers who use more than one microphone, and it allows you to edit those tracks separately.
Editing Tools and Effects
All the programs we tested can handle simple editing tasks like fade-ins and fade-outs, volume normalization, and copying and pasting. However, the best programs include advanced tools that apply fun effects like delay, echo and pitch-shifting. They also have mastering effects so you can publish your results at industry-standard volume levels for online and physical distribution.
All the programs we tested allow you to record audio, but only about half of them can record more than two tracks per session. The best programs we tested support more than 20 tracks per session. If you plan to record more than one mic and integrate other audio content, such as beat-beds and sound effects, the post-production process is much easier if each source is on its own track.
How much should you spend on Audio Editors?
The only reason to spend more than $100 on editing software is if you plan to compose music with virtual instruments, produce complex arrangements or mix and master recordings professionally.
We recommend $200 as the right price for music production software, and $500 or more if you are recording and finalizing projects in a professional capacity. The programs we tested for this comparison are the perfect solution for recording podcasts, editing and repairing field recordings and digitizing an old vinyl collection.