Garageband is hands down one of the best digital audio workstations available – but not for Windows.
But are there any apps that occupy the Garageband for Windows niche? There are a few DAWs worth mentioning, depending on your needs. Let’s take a look at some of the best music production apps available on Windows. And remember, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to build a great studio setup.
1 — Cakewalk
Technically, Cakewalk has its roots in a technology known as “Sonar” and invented by Roland Corporation. After BandLab acquired the rights to Sonar from Roland, they rebranded the product as Cakewalk and started offering it for free. Originally developed with an extensive R&D budget at one of the world’s largest companies, Cakewalk offers the most professional production engine of the GarageBand alternatives on our list.
Cakewalk’s user interface leaves ample space for multiple editing boxes, and the standard download comes with instrument plugins in numerous formats. Other plugins include advanced equalizers, compressors, reverb effects, and much more. You may need to download some extra drivers to run all of Cakewalk’s features, but the few extra minutes that it takes to set these up are definitely worth the effort.
In summary, Cakewalk’s user experience is superb. Unlike ProTools and other paid audio workstations, Cakewalk doesn’t make you restart your recording session if you want to plug in a new MIDI keyboard. To get the most out of every feature, you’ll want to install your free Cakewalk download on a computer with the 64-bit version of Windows.
2 — LMMS
LMMS is an open-source, cross-platform music production suite. It works across macOS, Windows, and Linux and provides a flexible and powerful interface for editing audio. It’s also one of the best free DAWs for Windows with a wide variety of software instruments.
LMMS comes with plenty of samples and effects pre-loaded, with an easy to understand interface. Synthesizers are created by mapping the keyboard to notes on the instrument you’re playing. LMMS also has a visual mapping tool for drum sequencing. The only downside to this DAW is that live recording isn’t possible.
You’ll want to look to another DAW for recording live instruments. LMMS supports importing external samples and has an active community for any audio questions you may have.
3 — MusicMaker by Magix
First released in 1994 as a free software bundle for aspiring DJs, music producers, and independent garage bands, MusicMaker has gone through several iterations over the past few decades. Magix, the company behind MusicMaker, has a well-deserved reputation for making quality media editing software. Available for both Windows 32 Bit and Windows 64 Bit, MusicMaker offers:
- Studio-quality plugins to simulate different drum machines, string ensembles, electric guitar sounds, digital synthesizers, and much more.
- A huge variety of royalty-free sound loops and music samples.
- Full compatibility with MIDI keyboards, popular microphones, and several different sound cards.
Soundpools, MusicMaker’s library of royalty-free audio tracks, has a drag-and-drop interface that makes it easy to mix in reggae samples, hip-hop samples, and tons of sound clips from other genres. Although MusicMaker is free to download, Soundpools does have a small subscription fee. However, you can use save on your Soundpools subscription by purchasing a 12-month plan.
Even if you don’t want to pay for a Soundpools subscriptions, the standard MusicMaker download package comes with a free plugin bundle that includes:
- Amplifier feedback
- Guitar pedals
- Tone pulls and analog simulators for both bass and guitar
MusicMaker’s VariVerb II engine lets you alter the reflection pattern of multi-track projects and splice in effects from the various plugins as you please. The Independence plugin gives you access to over 50 GB of effects and has a live performance mode for you to practice your spinning skills.
Overall, MusicMaker is a solid choice as a GarageBand alternative for Windows.
4 – Mixcraft 9
Garageband’s ease of use is what makes it one of the most popular DAWs of all time. Mixcraft aims to re-create that with a large and diverse library of loops. The editing environment feels very similar to the GarageBand interface, too.
Unlike LMMS, Mixcraft is not free. The Home version costs $75 and is limited to 16 tracks and a reduced sample of instruments and samples. For the full experience, Mixcraft 9 Pro is available with no limitations for $149.
5 – Stagelight
Stagelight offers a unique approach to digital music production with a focus on live creation. Testing different loops and audio clips to create a new sound, similar to how EDM artists perform. The free version offers unlimited tracks but with a pared-down instrument list and fewer effects and presets.
Stagelight also offers support for creating music on your Android smartphone, then importing it on Mac and Windows.
6 – FL Studio
For the longest time, Windows audio production was best handled with FL Studio. While some challenger DAWs are paving new territory, FL Studio still remains one of the best GarageBand alternatives for Windows.
FL Studio offers a customizable recording interface and a straightforward workflow. Experimenting with beats is easy with its pattern feature, making music creation fun.
FL Studio is available on both Windows and Mac with a free trial to make sure you like it. The full version of the software costs $89.
7— MPC Beats from Akai Professional
If you spend your days searching for thumping drum samples and snappy loops to create catchy rhythms, then MPC Beats is right up your alley. Named after the famous MPC workflow, MPC Beats is fairly similar to Music Maker JAM in that it’s focused on nailing a few key features at the expense of broad editing capabilities. The software’s core library contains over 2 GB of percussion samples and an impressive array of effect plugins, which immediately makes MPC Beats a viable Garageband alternative for Windows.
Although MPC Beats is purely for artists and producers who want to create backing rhythm tracks, it does have multi-track recording capabilities and MIDI compatibility. The basic version of MPC Beats is free to download, and add-on drum kits are available a la carte.
8 – Reaper
Audio professionals looking for a GarageBand alternative for Windows should jump straight to Reaper. It assumes you are familiar with audio editing and won’t hold your hand through creating your first track.
Reaper also includes a massive library of VST effects and plugins that require professional knowledge to use. Very few of these VST instruments work out of the box, so be prepared to dedicate some time to learn the interface. Reaper offers 64-bit internal audio processing and multi-channel support.
While Reaper is geared towards audio professionals, the price tag is pretty reasonable. It costs only $60 for the personal use license.
9— Music Maker JAM
Music Maker JAM is another free digital audio workstation from the team at Magix. Instead of trying to be everything to everybody, Music Maker JAM’s developers chose a few core features to optimize. The interface contains a step-by-step guide for blending instrument loops together, and there’s definitely a very WYSISYG feel to the software. This makes the workstation a bit limited compared to the full version of Music Maker, but focusing so hard on only a few features definitely produces some advantages.
For professional and hobbyist DJs, Music Maker JAM makes it much easier to mix in multiple loops and create unique effects. Users have access to loops in various genres, and you can easily lay down live voice tracks over any existing arrangement. JAM’s editing features are great, but it’s the software’s social media community that really makes the difference.
To constantly produce new effects, loops, and tracks for users to deploy, Music Maker JAM’s YouTube marketing team regularly holds remix competitions that anybody can participate in. These competitions draw in talented audio artists from around the world, and several famous DJs have added signature tracks to the software’s extensive library over the years.
In addition to being available for Windows, Music Maker JAM is also available for iOS and Android mobile devices. With this cross-device compatibility, you can seamlessly sync project progress between your cell phone and your laptop or your desktop.
10 – Audiotool
Audiotool is a digital audio workstation that’s built entirely online. It’s entirely free to use and offers a reasonably effective set of music creation tools. It’s no substitute for GarageBand for Windows, but it’s great for audio creation on the go.
Audiotool offers 50,000 device presets and 250,000 samples through its community cloud-based library.
11 – Cubase
Cubase is the go-to digital audio workstation for audio professionals on Windows. Users can record, produce, and mix sounds. The massive appeal of Cubase is the extensive list of built-in instruments to create samples as you need. Composing in Cubase is also supported, though the interface can take some time to grasp.
12 — Ohm Studio
Ohm Studio might not be quite as widely known as some of the other products on this list, but it’s certainly one of the more innovative GarageBand alternatives for Windows available. With a unique peer-to-peer editing engine, Ohm Studio lets musicians across the world collaborate remotely and edit audio projects together without ever meeting in person. This makes Ohm Studio not only an excellent GarageBand alternative for Windows, but it also makes Ohm Studio an excellent replacement for Zoom, Skype, and Google Voice in many cases.
Collaborators can use the software’s live chat box to make editing suggestions, and implementing a change is as easy as clicking and dragging an audio file into the appropriate spot. Unlike other studio-grade editing engines, this software’s interface doesn’t clutter the screen with various buttons and extra options. If you need to make some advanced tweaks to your audio tracks, you can split the editor into multiple windows to keep complexity to a minimum.
The basic version of Ohm Studio is still free to download for now, and it will likely remain so in the future. Ohm Studio Pro and Ohm Studio Pro XL offer a bevy of advanced features in exchange for a one-time payment, and the pricing for an Ohm Cloud monthly subscription starts at just under $10.