What is the best software to edit audio? Asking the question is like searching for a best cast iron pan for cooking. The quality of the pan matters, yet it is the person holding that pan that makes all the difference.
This post gathers standalone audio editing software for users at different skill levels, from simple program with merely cutting and splicing features, to wave editors with advanced features for restoration and fixing, as well as DAWs (Digital Audio Workstation) with multi-track editor and music production features.
Please note that the list is not in the order of importance, because each tool has a different market to entertain, and thus different feature sets. Comparing "audio editors with some DAW functions" with a "DAW with editing functions" isn't a level playing field. You can use multiple tools for different situations.
Supported OS: Windows, Mac, Linux
- Open source and free with decent functions of editing, recording and applying effects.
- Lightweight for low-specs computer.
- Support VST plug-ins and MIDI files.
- The UI is less enjoyable comparing to other tools in this list.
- Less stable for complex multi-track projects, might lead to file corruption occasionally.
- Require downloading codecs to export files in certain format.
Audacity is standalone audio editing software with recording, remixing and VST features. This lightweight tool uses few computational resources, and is quite robust with it functionality. It is possibly the most popular cross-platform audio editor among beginners and hobbyist, because it is completely free and works equally well as other premium programs.
Basic edits such as cutting, trimming and splitting audio are easy to handle. You can make recordings for podcasts, video games and audible books, remove noise, and assemble audio clips easily in Audacity. For advanced users, Audacity also supports large amount of plug-ins for new effects.
For recording, Audacity supports up to 192,000Hz sample rate, and at 24-bit depth. You can record multiple channels at once, with level meters that monitor the volume and prevent audio clipping  and other problems. Professional recordings sound great not only because of microphone and other equipment, but also thanks to editing techniques. Audacity has a decent compressor built-in to dynamically adjust the volume of your recordings according to the threshold, compress ratio and other settings.
 What is clipping in audio editing?
Audio clipping occurs when the intensity (interpreted as volume) falls outside the maximum or minimum limits. It could be audibly distorting to the degree that the listener can instantly hear the difference. Represented by audio meter, audio clipping occurs when the audio hit or exceed 0dB. In waveforms, clipping is the area where waves get clipped off, resulting in a flat plateau shape.
Reducing the signal level can help you to avoid clipping. For instance, you can resort to volume envelope manipulation, or apply a compressor/limiter.
For noise reduction, Audacity offers you a handy wizard to remove sibilance, rumbles, plosives and background noises, or remove vocals from a song for karaoke. You only need to record a few seconds of "Silence" on the audio track, and let Audacity to analyze this sample. You can tinker with the settings to clear up the noise from your environment, or simple go ahead with the default settings.
Audacity has an impressive library of effects, such as fade in and out, auto duck, and amplifier. You can also use the envelope tool to create audio panning effects, which gives the listener an illusion of 3D space where sound moves back and forth between the left and right side of your headset.
This program also supports VST plug-ins, making it as versatile as some of its paid counterparts. That being said, its main gig remains editing and recording, and may fall short on industry-level music production. For instance, even though Audacity optimized the compressor with threshold and attack settings back in 2009, it still lacks the real-time preview when the compressor  starts working.
 Compressor: What is it and why it matters?
In audio editors and music production programs, a compressor helps to change the dynamic range (i.e. difference between the loudest and quietest parts) of a signal. To put it in plain language, it can boost or reduce the intensity of the audio. In that way, you can better level out, colour and manipulate the audio.
The compressor will not be working the entire time, it starts to react when the signal reaches the dB level you set (threshold). It doesn't start immediately, as there is an amount of time (attack) designated for it to react; and it doesn't stop immediately, as you can set how quickly or gradually the effect will disappear or linger (release).
Now that you meet the essential concepts in compressor: threshold, attack and release. Then how hard should it compress? That's determined by Ratio. For instance, when the ratio is 4:1, then for every 4dB over the threshold, the compressor only lets through 1dB.
Please note that default effects in Audacity are destructive: once you save and close the file, there is no way to go back to the original version. If you record and edit your audio file in Audacity, make sure to create a backup file, i.e. simply duplicate it to another track.
To wrap up, Audacity is the Go-to free audio editing software for beginners and hobbyists. There are abundant free tutorials and forums for you to get the rope of audio editing, without spending a dime. Once you get familiar with those sliders and parameters, knowing what decisions to make and how to make adjustments accordingly, you will find Audacity limits your creative power. At that time, you could go a step further and move to advanced DAWs.
2. Adobe Audition
Supported OS: Windows, Mac
Price: $20.99/month for the single app | $52.99/month for Creative Cloud
- Powerful audio repairing and fixing functions with precise control.
- Deep integration with other Adobe programs such as Premiere Pro.
- Handy features for podcast production such as auto-ducking music when the sound tracks are triggered.
- Subscription-based license is pricey if you are working on your own.
- No music creation tools and the MIDI support is less desirable.
- Not for casual users and beginners.
Adobe Audition is a powerful audio editor for audio restoration, video post production and podcast recording and editing. It does everything Audacity does, and offers more comprehensive features in terms of audio editing. Yet it lacks music composition tools comparing to a professional digital audio workstation (DAW). If Audacity is on the side for free audio editing, and DAWs on the other side for professional music production, then Adobe Audition sits in between in a category of its own.
Audition is the rebranded version of the much-loved Cool Edit by Syntrillium Software, which was acquired by Adobe in 2003. It naturally inherent the dual design of waveform editor and multi-track editor, allowing you to make precise and granular control over the audio and mix multiple sound tracks. Using the waveform editor, you can easily cut and trim individual sound track, correct and repair problematic audios , apply sound effects, add reverbs and change pitch manually. The multi-track editor in Audition does a nice job for remixing. There are powerful EQ controls for each channel, envelopes for automating mixes, and loop tools.
 What are you dealing with in audio repairing?
Background noises and undesirable sound from the equipment, low-frequency rumbling, hum from electrical interference, and s-sounds created by sibilance when you speak… these are examples of noises that can be picked up in recording. Audition possesses an arsenal of tools to clean and repair audio for better sound quality. The recent version also added a plugin to remove unwanted reverberation from the sound file.
You can use diagnostics panel and spectral frequency display to make decisions, and reach out for flexible restoration tools. Audition allows the finest control you could ever imagine. For instance, when applying noise reducing effects, you can adjust the opacity of the selected area to determine how intense the effects will be – a genius analogous and visualized way to handle sound as if you are dealing with colors.
Multi-track recording is the feature that wins favor with many podcasters and content creators. In Audition, you can record on multiple tracks with several microphones, and that gives you a lot of control and flexibility. Let's say you are hosting a roundtable-style discussion show, you can assign separate EQ (Equalization)  for each track and record individual speakers directly into the multi-track.
 What does an equalizer do in audio editing?
The equalizer in audio editing software can boost or reduce a specific range of frequencies to alter the sound quality. There are four basic concepts in equalizer: type, slope, Q and gain. They affect and control different aspects when boosting or reducing the frequencies.
The type determines how you would like to affect the frequency. For instance, High-pass allows higher frequencies to pass and only affect lower frequencies (hence the alternate name Low-cut), and Low-pass does the opposite. Bell affects a specific point and its neighboring frequencies, creating a bell-shaped image. Shelf affects frequencies above or below an anchor frequency, and its image appears like a bookshelf, thus the name.
Gain determines how much gain or attenuate you want to reply, and it is measured by dB. Q factor can be simply understood as the range of influence to impose on a certain range of the spectrum.
Further reading Equalization 101: Everything Musicians Need to Know about EQ >>
For videographers, the vast library of sound effects and VST extensions bring more possibilities to spice up your sound track of a video. You can add telephone filter effects, underwater sound, or add reverbs to simulate the sound in a certain environment. The best thing is, effects applied to the multi-track editor are non-destructive. You can freely play around with an effect and undo it at any time.
Audition has a text-to-speech generator built-in. You can paste text and let Audition create a realistic voice-over from that content. The tool taps on the audio libraries on your system to create the synthesized voices, and thus there is a difference in the resulting audio on Windows and Mac.
In a word, Adobe Audition is the powerhouse for audio editing and repairing, and it does an excellent job with audio recording. The subscription-based license is pricy, but that doesn't prevent Audition from being one of the best audio editing software on this list. This program is nice to use in the workflow of video post production, with the handy dynamic link to switch to and from Adobe Premiere. However, it's less likely that a music studio would base its whole workflow around Audition. It is not designed with music production in mind.
Supported OS: Windows, Mac, Linux
- Freeware with features enough for basic audio editing.
- Real-time previewing of effects and adjustments.
- Customizable hotkeys to speed up your audio editing workflow.
- No multi-track handling and envelope tool.
- Lack of instructions or user guide from the official site.
- Does not support CD burning or ripping tools.
Ocenaudio is the best audio editing software for beginners. It is the brainchild of a Brazilian research group at LINSE. This tool is developed for tasks such as audio editing, spectral analysis and audio signal generation. If you are looking for a free audio editor that are intuitive and easy to use, Ocenaudio ranks high on the list.
This program is lightweight and responsive. It loads and quits very quickly, and it is also able to handle large files. For beginners, there is no sight of daunting sliders and parameters to scare you away, no matter you are here to trim and merge audios, or make a spectral analysis for phonetic studies. For advanced users, Ocenaudio excels at quick audio editing and processing work, especially when you are not in the mood to open a full DAW for a simple task.
An instance of quick editing is the multi-selection feature. In this program, you can select multiple silent parts indicated by the wave, and hit Delete to quickly cut them all at once. This is a time saver if you are editing podcasts or interviews that have many pauses and silent sections.
The best part about Ocenaudio is the ability to apply effects and filters with real-time preview. Thanks to that, you can make timely adjustments and listen to the outcome simultaneously. Here is another smart move: it automatically creates a backup of your audio file, so that you don't need to worry about destructive editing.
Other handy features include iPhone ringtone support, VST plug-ins, insert digital noise, edit MP3 metadata, etc. In short, you can use it as a simplified alternative to Cool Edit.
Supported OS: Windows
- Free and lightweight.
- Real time preview and ASIO support.
- No Mac version currently.
- The interface is archaic, and the interaction is less intuitive if you are from the Cool Edit world.
- You might need to download and install additional codec when exporting mp3 files.
Wavosaur is a portable audio editor with the mere size of 1MB, lightweight enough that you can put it in a memory stick and edit audio on the go. Despite an interface that makes Wavosaur a dinosaur (pun intended) among other choices, this program is still a fully featured audio editor that supports VST plugins, ASIO driver and multichannel files. You can find the VST plug-ins on their site, ranging from VST compressor, limiter and equalizer to reverb, autotune, and chorus tools.
If you are not familiar with all those acoustic theories to navigate around VST, you can simply use Wavosaur as a basic mp3 cutter and editor. You can convert audio file format, crop out unwanted parts, normalize audio, or use the envelope tool to manipulate volume. Same as Ocenaudio, Wavosaur also supports real-time effect processing. You can hear the difference instantly.
Supported OS: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android
Price: $24.9 Standard Version | $34.9 Master Version
- Wide choice of cleanup tools to enhance your audio recordings.
- Ready-to-use iPhone ringtone templates.
- Support CD input and burning.
- Only works with a single audio track (though you can batch process multiple single tracks), no multi-track editor.
- Could be inefficient if you have huge piles of audio pieces to work with.
As the name suggests, WavePad is an audio waveform editor for single track editing. It can be a good companion for voice recordings and editing. You can cut out sections from the recordings, insert another audio piece into the existing work, or splice several audio clips into one entire track.
There are a handful of cleanup tools and filters to manipulate your audios. You can use the noise removal tool, compressor, amplifier, and high pass & low pass filters to achieve the desired result. However, if you have a trained ear and want to take the audio editing to the next level, you won't be able to find more advanced tools that other professional music editing software provide. For instance, the program doesn't include low shelf & high shelf pass or bell filters.
Besides audio recording and editing, there are handy tools for spectral analysis, text to speech synthesis and voice changing. You can also batch export and convert audio files to WAV, MP3, OGG, M4R, AAC, FLAC and several more.
Supported OS: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android
Price: $45 one time purchase | $15 per year
- Detailed guide and active forum to solve your problems.
- Affordable program with decent features.
- No multi-track editor or optical media burning capability.
- The program might slow down if you are working with large files.
Initially released in 1993, GoldWave is a dated but robust audio editing software. It is created for various tasks from the simplest recording and editing to more sophisticated audio restoration and enhancement. Despite its obsolete GUI design, this veteran program offers wide possibilities for small groups and home use.
The program offers a handy feature for voice recording, where you can let it to start recording when there are voices. In that way, there won't be long pauses and silent part. The feature can be found in the level-activated function, with settings for decibel level that determines when to record. Another nice feature is the ability to remaster the old vinyl records and tapes. Once the audio is recorded, you can use GoldWave to enhance and restore it. There are noise reduction and filters that clean the click and pop vinyl recordings.
For audio editing and enhancement, you can use equalizer and compressor with visual display. It also offers you a wide selection of FX, including pitch, flanger and mechanize effect. You can add reverberation, time warp, and fade in and out effects to spice up your audio files. With precise controls, filters and analyzers, it allows you to meet the demand if you are submitting audio files with strict requirements.
7. Acon Digital Acoustica
Supported OS: Windows, Mac
Price: $59.9 Standard Version | $199.9 Premium Version
- Ability to batch apply effect chain to multiple audio clips makes it a big time saver.
- Powerful time stretcher tool to change the tempo.
- Takes time and effort to dig through if you want to fully grasp the functions.
- Not for casual users and novices.
Acoustica is an advanced audio engineering program with editing, mastering and restoration capabilities. The clucky interface could be overwhelming until you learn its idiosyncrasies, and the dashboard is certainly not designed for novices trying to accomplish basic editings. With Acoustica, you can switch between waveform and spectrogram  for clip editing, cut, copy, insert and trim waveforms, use retouch tool to attenuate noise, add loops and fade. All your edits are non-destructive thanks to the program's high-quality editing engine.
 Waveform vs Spectrogram
Waveform displays the changes of a signal's amplitude changes over time. It is the ebbs and flows that you see in many editors, where the wider vertical lines indicating louder sound, and narrow vertical lines represent the opposite.
The spectrogram indicates amplitude at specific frequencies as it varies with time. With such a visual representation, it is handy to adjust or remove the amplitude of specific frequencies.
For audio restoration, you can easily apply DeClick, DeClip, DeNoise, DeHum and more to clean up your clips and remove noise. Acoustic offers a wide variety of effects, from reverb to convolution reverb, flanger to phaser, and pitch change controls. With the right amount of adjustment, you can maintain the integrity and crispness of the audio file.
Note: Acoustica reviewed in the list is developed by Acon Digital, an Olso-based software producer. Please do not mistake it for Mixcraft 9 from Acoustica inc.
8. DVDVideoSoft Free Audio Editor
Supported OS: Windows
- Free and lightweight.
- Option to change album art.
- Cannot split stereo tracks to edit individually.
- Cannot preview the trimmed audio unless you export it.
Free Audio Editor by DVDVideoSoft is a barebone wave editor designed for quick cutting. It mainly helps you to split audio or delete unwanted sections. You can also set album art and edit audio metadata. The only filters or sound effects you can use is the volume control, which allows you to boost the volume up to 10x and then rebuild the audio waveform. There are several output formats to choose from, including AAC, ALAC, AMR, FLAC, M4B (iPhone audiobook), M4R (iPhone ringtone format), MP3, OGG and WAV.