We tested five audio editing programs that cost less than $100 to find out which have the best editing and audio restoration tools as well as which are easiest to use. After considering our test results and overall impressions of each product, we recommend Adobe Audition. It is the best audio editing software because it has the best tools for editing and restoring poor-quality recordings. This is the only program we tested that requires a monthly subscription rather than a one-time purchase, but you can cancel at any time.
Adobe Audition is a powerful editing software with a customizable user interface. You can record multiple sources simultaneously, and the restoration tools ensure your recordings sound professional.
Audacity is free and easy to use. Further, its great selection of editing and restoration tools ensure your audio projects sound professional on any platform.
Acoustica Standard Edition
Acoustica Standard Edition has an easy-to-use interface and supports multitrack editing. Also, it includes an impressive set of restoration tools.
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 is one of the few programs we reviewed that allow you to record multiple sources simultaneously on separate tracks. This makes post-production tasks like editing and effects processing easier.
Audition’s audio restoration tools make it easy to fix damaged or old recordings. To do so, you highlight a portion of the recording that has too much background noise or pops and clicks and use the sound sample tool to analyze the problem area. Once the software learns which noise you want to remove, you apply the tool to the entire track to eliminate every occurrence of it. Audition doesn’t negatively affect the source material when it restores poorly recorded audio.
To use the program, you pay for a monthly, yearly or multiyear 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.
Audacity is free, open source audio editing and recording software with an impressive list of editing and restoration tools. The interface isn’t attractive, but it is easy to navigate.
Audacity’s noise-reduction plugin is a one-click solution for removing unwanted room noise, and it performed well in our tests. 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. The software crashed a couple times during testing, but that’s normal for free software. 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.
Best for Beginners
Acon Digital’s Acoustica 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.
Acoustica is one of the most customizable audio editing programs we tested. In addition to the editing window, there is a file browser, an effects chain and a waveform analyzer you can add or remove at your convenience. The program also allows you to customize the toolbar with the editing tools you use most to maximize your workflow.
The software’s noise-reduction, declicker and declipper tools successfully removed unwanted clicks, pops and background noise from a podcast we uploaded. In fact, Acoustica’s tools created some of the best results in our audio restoration test.
Acoustica’s premium version has more advanced restoration tools, but it is four times the price of the standard edition. The standard edition works on Macs and PCs. Since it costs less than $60, the standard edition is also one of the best value audio editing programs we reviewed.
Best for Audio Repair
MAGIX Audio Cleaning Lab has a simple user-interface and a great selection of tools for repairing and restoring noisy recordings.
Don’t worry if you have limited experience using audio restoration tools, there are more than 290 one-button presets to get you started. The repair tools in this program are the perfect solution for removing hiss, hums and crackles from poorly recorded audio or digitized vinyl. You can only record and edit one stereo track per session, so consider a different program if you want to record and edit a podcast.
This software has an inviting layout that makes it easy to find tools and speeds up your workflow. There aren’t any hidden windows or tricky menus to navigate, and the restoration tools are clearly labeled. If you plan to digitize a vinyl collection, or repair field recordings, this is a simple, low-cost solution.
Best for Recording Instruments
Reaper records unlimited amount of audio tracks per session and has a good selection of mixing and mastering plugins.
The layout is easy to navigate and customizable to improve workflow and give you easy access to the tools you use most. It doesn’t have a good selection of repair and restoration tools, but it is compatible with most of the third-party plugin formats. You can also use Reaper to overdub or replace audio tracks from most the popular video formats.
There’s a free 60-day trial without any exporting or editing limitations. If you enjoy the layout and workflow, the full version only costs $60 and includes free updates that continue through the next version.
Why Trust Us
I have 20 years of experience with audio editing software in both a recreational and a professional capacity. My formative years were spent recording voice-overs and producing sound effects as a Foley artist. Many environments were poorly sound-proofed, so I experimented with early versions of audio editing software to create more professional recordings.
As an engineer and producer for a broadcast radio station, I produced hundreds of commercials and advertisements using similar editing software. I also spent two years teaching audio recording and editing at a local university.
My recommendations are based on my impressions of the programs as I edited and restored poorly recorded audio with each one, and I specifically focused on testing features I think are the most useful if you have limited editing experience. I focused my recommendations on the value of each feature and how each program’s interface incorporates those important tools.
How We Tested
We tested and researched programs that are easy enough for novices to use. As we tested, we focused on the applications’ audio restoration (noise reduction) capabilities, editing tools and ease of use – the most important features for podcast production and cleaning up digitized vinyl recordings.
To test noise-reduction capabilities, we uploaded an unedited podcast recording that was laced with hiss, hums and pops. We used all the tools available in each program to edit the track without adversely affecting the sound of the voices.
I talked to Brandon Long, a veteran podcast producer at the Banyan Collective, about the features he uses most as well as his tips and tricks for fledgling podcast enthusiasts. He suggests using audio editing software with multitrack recording capabilities because recording each mic separately saves time in the post-production process and results in a cleaner, more cohesive product.
He also suggests taking a little extra time before you start recording to make sure microphone levels are correct. “If it's a bad recording, it's a bad recording. It can be cleaned up, but it will never sound as good as if it was a clean recording to begin with.” He likens the process to taking a bad photograph and relying on software to fix it, noting, “editing software can only put so much lipstick on the pig.”
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 I Spend on Audio Editing Software?
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.
Best USB Microphones
Other than audio editing software, the most important piece of gear you need to produce a podcast is a microphone. USB microphones offer the easiest setup process and don’t require an audio interface to communicate with software. If you plan to record with multiple microphones simultaneously, an audio interface is a better option. But if you need to record only one source at a time, here are a couple of our favorite USB microphones:
Blue Yeti Pro
The Blue Yeti Pro is the most versatile USB microphone available. It has a USB output to connect directly to your laptop or home computer, as well as a standard XLR output to send an analog signal to a recording interface. It’s compatible with all of the audio editing software we tested, and it comes with a heavy-duty tabletop stand. It has three polar patterns, including an omnidirectional setting for picking up voices 360 degrees around the mic. The zero-latency headphone output and gain control allow you to dial in the perfect levels while eliminating the annoying delay associated with using your computer’s sound card as the output device.
If you’re looking for a USB mic for less than $200, the Audio-Technica AT2020USB+ is the best option. Audio-Technica is well-known for producing some of the best recording mics available, and the AT2020USB+ is a best-in-class option for USB mics. It has an internal headphone amp with volume control and a well-designed A/D converter that records at 16 bits, which is CD quality. It comes with a tripod desktop stand, a USB cable and a padded pouch.