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Best audio editing software in 2021: give your audio that professional edge

Reaper
(Image credit: Reaper)

The best audio editing software opens up a whole new world of possibilities when it comes to manipulating sound. These tools allow you to record, compose, produce, mix, and master audio with multiple channels and can utilize in-built instruments and effects to control tracks.

At first it might seem that audio editing software is most suited to audio engineers, composers, and musicians, but actually a dedicated application such as this is also helpful for any content creator who wishes to work with audio. For example, podcasters, YouTubers, filmmakers, Twitch streamers, and many other types of digital content creatives may need to edit and mix audio for their channels.

Whether you need to record a voice over for a video, add sound effects to visuals, create a soundscape for audiobooks or podcasts, or simply edit and rebalance awkward sound levels on an animated video, dedicated audio editing software is for you.

Sure, most video editing software also includes a few channels for mixing audio and gives basic controls for adjusting volume, pan etc, and even gives users the ability to cut up and reposition audio in the track. But with dedicated audio editing software you can do all this and more. 

With potentially unlimited channels, masses of effects plug-ins, and audio routing options that allow complex audio chains to control sound in ways you’d never thought possible, it’s a cut above the simple few-channel video editing software gives you. They often have their own dedicated video channels and options for importing film straight to the sequencer so that you can synchronize sound extremely precisely.

There are so many programs to choose from, and each one offers something unique. So whether you’re looking for the highest sample rates and bit depths, or are thirsty for a realistic user interface, have a look below at some of the best audio editing software tools in 2021.

Best audio editing software in 2021

(Image credit: Steinberg)

1. Steinberg Cubase Pro 11

A powerful, comprehensive audio software for Windows and Mac

Specifications
Free trial: 30 days
Cost: $580USD
Audio tracks: Unlimited
MIDI tracks: Unlimited
Sample rate: 192kHz
Bit depth: 24 bit
Operating Systems: Windows 10, macOS Mojave, Catalina, and Big Sur
Reasons to buy
+Intuitive user interface+Masses of effects and instruments
Reasons to avoid
-Pricey one-off payment-Can be too technical for some

If you’re looking for cross-platform audio editing software that can do it all straight out of the gates, then Cubase Pro 11 might be your option. Coming to you from audio giant Steinberg, Cubase Pro 11 gives users the ability to add unlimited audio and MIDI tracks meaning there’s no end to the amount of layering and producing one can do. VST instrument tracks are also unlimited and it comes equipped with multiple comprehensive virtual instruments. Halion Sonic SE 3 contains a huge sample library and powerful synthesizer engines, Groove Agent SE is perfect for programming drums whatever you want them to sound like, and Retrologue 2 emulates a classic analog synth for traditional vintage sounds.

(Image credit: Avid)

2. Avid Pro Tools

Industry standard software used in many pro studios

Specifications
Free trial: Restricted trial version
Cost: $29.99USD/month
Audio tracks: 256
MIDI tracks: 1024
Sample rate: 192kHz
Bit depth: 32 bit
VST Instrument tracks: 512
Operating Systems: Windows 10, macOS 10.14.6 and above
Reasons to buy
+Powerful audio processing+Heaps of backend control
Reasons to avoid
-Subscription service-Add-ons can get expensive

Avid’s Pro Tools has long been an industry standard, running in professional audio studios around the world for decades. It’s especially lauded in film and TV circles because of how it handles multi-channel setups such as 5.1, 7.1, Atmos and other surround sound mixing options. Low latency and ever-reliable recording and mixing has built a reputation unlike many other softwares over the past few decades. Pro Tools’ user interface is clean and regimented, making it easy for new users to get accustomed to the layout. But due to Avid’s insistence on the robustness of the software builds, it can sometimes take an extra bit of beef when it comes to computer specifications.

(Image credit: Apple)

3. Apple Logic Pro

Excellent for musicians, packed with features

Specifications
Free trial: 90 days
Cost: $199.99 USD
Audio tracks: 1000
MIDI tracks: 1000
Sample rate: 192kHz
Bit depth: 24 bit
VST Instrument tracks: 1000
Operating Systems: macOS 10.15.7 or later (not Windows)
Reasons to buy
+Tons of instruments and effects+Easy to get started
Reasons to avoid
-Only on Mac-Too simple at times

Logic Pro, only available on macOS, still clings on to the original ethos of Apple’s Mac system by making audio editing fun, engaging, and beautiful. It has an excellent loop feature accessible via the Live Loops view and can display audio in both cell-based and timeline-based views depending how users want to work. Certainly the audio editor for creatives, it performs excellently when users want to write or produce music. It has all the same mixing capabilities as many others on this list, but it isn’t focused on mixing and mastering specifically, so creation really is where this software shines.

(Image credit: Reason)

4. Reason 12

A fun, engaging audio editor with great UI

Specifications
Free trial: 7 days
Cost: $399 USD
Audio tracks: Unlimited
MIDI tracks: Unlimited
Sample rate: 192kHz
Bit depth: 32 bit
VST Instrument tracks: Unlimited
Operating Systems: Windows 10, macOS 10.13 or later
Reasons to buy
+Excellent tactile-like user interface+Unlimited potential for editing
Reasons to avoid
-Sub-menus can be hard to navigate-Visually busy for beginners

If you’ve ever wanted to record and mix audio but were frustrated with the lack of a proper hardware interface, Reason 12 might be your bag. As well as being programmable from the front end like any other audio editing software, you can also flip around to the “backside” to reveal input and output cables which can be unplugged and rerouted much like you would see in any normal rack-mounted hardware or patch bays. Get creative by using the Combinator, allowing multiple devices to be combined into a single cohesive device before customizing controls through macros for a truly unique setup. An in-depth sampler called Mimic Creative Sampler is new to Reason 12 where users can adjust pitch, chop samples, map sample slots, and even assign multiple types of stretching algorithms for ultimate sampling options.

(Image credit: Apple)

5. Apple GarageBand

A simple audio editor for beginners

Specifications
Free trial: N/A
Cost: Free
Audio tracks: 255
MIDI tracks: Unstated
Sample rate: 48kHz
Bit depth: 24 bit
VST Instrument tracks: 32
Operating Systems: macOS and iOS
Reasons to buy
+Free for Mac users+Simple layout
Reasons to avoid
-Limited in scope-No Windows or Linux support

A great free tool for Mac users, Garageband comes as standard on all macOS and iOS devices (or as a free download option available through the App Store). Basic in operation it doesn’t compete with the bigger brothers in this line-up but for what it’s intended to do, it does well. Ever-ready audio samples, instruments, and simple editing controls make composing music or writing beats easy and fast. It comes with a good bunch of presets to control dynamics and effects on audio which make it flexible for use on music and voice-only recordings in equal measure. A brilliant starter software that works straight out of the box, this is great for those wanting to get on with creating content, whether recording their own podcasts or writing some tunes.

(Image credit: Reaper)

6. Reaper

Bottomless customization potential for audio editing

Specifications
Free trial: 60 days
Cost: $60 USD personal, $225 USD commercial
Audio tracks: Unlimited
MIDI tracks: Unlimited
Sample rate: Limited by hardware only
Bit depth: Limited by hardware only
VST Instrument tracks: Unlimited
Operating Systems: Windows XP and above, macOS 10.5-11, Linux (requires GTK+3 and ALSA)
Reasons to buy
+Works across all operating systems+Extensive options for customizing
Reasons to avoid
-Too technical for some-A little ugly straight out of the box

Reaper is an audio editing software like no other. First off, it’s available on Windows, macOS and Linux operating systems so almost anyone with a digital device can run it, and it can even be run from a portable or network device thanks to tight, efficient coding. Aside from the standard set of audio editing controls, and instruments/effects, the beauty of Reaper is that everything is fully customizable and flexible. If you want a different skin to change the look of your interface you can do that. Reaper is capable of setting up either the tiniest of shortcuts or controlling certain functionality with full-scale scripting for a fast, efficient and bespoke workflow. It comes with a 60 day free trial devoid of restrictions and has two options for reasonably priced licenses to include personal and commercial uses which includes upgrades. Reaper is certainly the option for the technical-minded who love to twiddle knobs and push buttons.

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Jason Parnell-Brookes

Jason Parnell-Brookes is an Internationally award-winning photographer,  writer, and former Technique Editor of N-Photo magazine. He won Gold in the Nikon Photo Contest 2018/19 and was named Digital Photographer of the Year in 2014. Jason is a qualified teacher, Masters graduate and works with many high profile international clients.