The best audio production software provides you with all of the musical tools you need to create music without the use of live instrumentation. Audio production software is a useful tool for any level musician, producer or engineer to make unique compositions, but it can also be a platform to edit and master that music all within the same program. Audio production software can be the first step in turning your home into a studio.
Entry-level versions of music creation software offer a great way to get familiar with a product before you decide to upgrade. You'll notice GarageBand or Logic Pro X are not featured in our lineup. GarageBand is a downloadable application through the App Store on Mac computers, and we considered it too basic and limiting for consideration. Logic Pro X is professional-grade recording software for which Apple doesn't provide an introductory version.
Three of the best digital audio workshops available are Cubase Elements, MAGIX Music Maker and Reason 8. These music programs provide large sound libraries, exceptional recording capabilities and intuitive software interfaces that are easy to learn. For additional information, visit our learning center articles on audio production software.
To fully experience all the benefits of music software, an audio interface is necessary, and a MIDI controller will help you navigate the software and compose music. An audio interface is a device that allows you to plug your instruments in so you can record them using your software. A MIDI controller is a piece of hardware that helps control the virtual instruments within your software.
Software that offers an extensive loop library, multiple virtual instruments and plugins enables musical creativity to flourish. Audio software should also provide ample recording capabilities that are nonrestrictive and easy to use. We used the following criteria to evaluate the best music production software:
Interface Design & Plugin Functionality
Every program we reviewed does the same thing. You can record, produce and edit music with each program. This makes navigation and workflow important when ranking each audio production program. Software with high scores provides a clean workspace where your plugins, loops and virtual instruments are easy to find and use.
You also want your virtual instruments and loops to sound authentic. The more life-like your virtual instruments are, the more genuine your music is going to sound. The most desired plugins and loops provide authentic sounds that spread across multiple genres.
Audio production software should have a number of virtual instruments, effects (plugins) and loops for you to create music with. These features give you the tools you need to create music from scratch without anything other than the software (and preferably a MIDI controller).
Plugins, such as guitar emulators, allow you to plug your guitar straight into the recording interface and use the guitar tones from revered amplifiers such as Fender, MESA/Boogie and Marshall. Plugins open up many production avenues.
Entry-level software may have some plugins, but there is always room for extension. You will want to look for audio production software that is compatible with multiple plugin formats. The more formats your software is compatible with, the more plugins you can add to your software.
You want to find software that allows you to produce recording sessions with a large number of audio and MIDI tracks, as well as record multiple audio tracks simultaneously. Recording tools, such as loop recording and write automation, can get your tracks sounding exactly the way you want them to.
The best production software tools include a multiband equalizer so you can fine-tune your recordings to sound as good as possible. Pitch correction and time stretching can be helpful tools to fix audio blemishes without having to re-record anything.
The more insert and send effects you can apply to an audio track, the more options you will have to achieve the right tone and texture for your recordings. A mastering suite is also a nice bonus if you want to boost your mixed audio to radio-quality volume.
Help & Support
Video tutorials and user forums help novice users learn the tools and tricks of studio software. These resources can be invaluable to beginning users. Software that is compatible with both Windows and Mac operating systems is also especially useful.
Audio production software provides the tools to unlock your inner creative musician. With a computer, software, an interface and a MIDI controller, the office in the basement can turn into a music studio.