Note: Our best free audio editing software round-up has been fully updated. This feature was first published in March 2013.
Whether it's creating ringtones, tweaking the volume or trimming awkward silences, everyone needs a good audio editor occasionally.
Finding the right package can be a challenge because there's such a vast selection of tools out there, ranging from the feeble and underpowered to the horribly complex.
Don't worry, though, there's no need to investigate every audio editing option, because we've done it for you. We've cut, pasted, trimmed, normalised, re-encoded and generally played around with a host of audio tools – and these are some of the best desktop and mobile audio editors around.
- Also check out: Myth vs. reality: Everything you ever need to know about audio
Audacity is a hugely popular open source audio editor for Windows, OS X and Linux.
The program has built-in support for a good range of files – WAV, OGG, MP3, FLAC – and an optional FFMPEG-based library extends this to just about every audio format that's ever existed (it can even import video soundtracks).
Basic operations work much like other editors. Open a file, its waveform is displayed, and you can select sections, cut, copy or paste them, maybe export the selection as some other format.
Audacity's big plus is its wide range of effects. There are tools to reduce static, hiss or hum, adjust volume, change pitch without adjusting the tempo (or vice versa), remove vocals and more, as well as plugins to extend the program even further. Whether you're a beginner or an audio expert, there's plenty for you here.
Ocenaudio stands out immediately for its well-designed interface. There's none of the dated clutter you get with most of the competition, just a few key buttons and an area to drop your target files.
Despite this apparent simplicity, there's a great deal of power here. File management alone is exceptional: the program opens most audio or video formats (locally or via a URL), you can have several files open simultaneously, and it's easy to create new ones as required (make a selection, click Copy > Paste to New).
You're able to have multiple selections active at the same time, then process them all simultaneously with a good range of effects.
Export options include the ability to save audio files, upload them to an FTP server, or even create an iPhone ringtone.
Ocenaudio doesn't have as many effects and high-end processing features as Audacity, but it's easier to use, and probably a better choice for audio editing beginners. It's available for Windows, OS X, and Linux.
If you're tired of bloated software then Wavosaur might surprise you. It's a mere 289KB download for Windows, with no adware or installation required, yet still comes packed with tools to edit, process, record, analyse and convert audio files.
There are problems here though. File format support is limited (mainly MP3, OGG and WAV), and even then you'll need to install something like the LAME encoder to save MP3s. The program hasn't been updated since 2013, either, so any bugs you find aren't likely to be fixed in the near future.
Still, Wavosaur's core operations are easy enough to use. Click and drag to select a chunk of your file, then delete, copy or paste it somewhere – if you've ever used another Windows audio editor you'll feel at home soon enough.
Wavosaur's lengthy feature list will intimidate beginners, but if you need plenty of audio processing power then it's worth downloading.
mp3DirectCut is a tiny (133KB) specialist MP3 editor and recorder for Windows which allows you to cut, copy, paste or adjust volume without re-encoding. That means there's no loss in sound quality, no matter how many edits you make.
The program is seriously stripped back, and there are none of the high-end extras you'll see in the competition. No spectral view, no lengthy list of filters and effects, video import, VST rack, or anything else.
Of course that also means mp3DirectCut is much easier to use, and there are still options to cut, copy, paste, trim and crop your samples, fade in and out, normalise audio and more. If your needs are simple, why waste your time trying to master anything else?
As you'll guess from the name, Ringtone Maker is mostly about creating ringtones. It can open MP3, WAV, AAC, MP4, 3GPP and AMR files, extract the chunk you need, then save it as a ringtone, alarm or notification, or even assign it to a contact.
Despite the narrow focus, this Android app also has a solid set of more general audio editing features. It displays the waveform of your audio at multiple zoom levels – you're able to select sections, then preview, cut, copy or paste them, fade in or out, or just tweak the volume to suit your needs.
There's plenty of scope for improvement, more editing features to be added, maybe conversions to something other than MP3. But Ringtone Maker delivers the basics well, and just might be all you need.
Lexis Audio Editor
Lexis Audio Editor is a professional app which comes packed with audio processing features, far more than you get with most of the Android competition (plus this program is also available as a Windows 8 app).
It opens with the usual waveform display, and you can select sections, cut, copy or paste them. But there are also options to fade in or out, change pitch, tempo or speed, normalise audio or reduce noise. A compressor and 10 band equaliser are on hand for more complex audio tweaking, and there are some useful tools for mixing one file or section with another.
If you think that sounds too good to be true, there is a notable catch: the free trial version won't let you save your creations as MP3s. But you do get all the same editing features, as well as the ability to save your files as WAV, FLAC or WMA, and we think there's more than enough processing power here to be useful.
Audio Editor Tool
Audio Editor Tool is a straightforward iOS app with such a familiar interface that you'll immediately feel at home.
Open almost any audio format and the waveform will appear right away. You're able to select sections, of course, then copy and paste them, or trim them – cut something here, join something there, and save the results to your preferred format when you're done.
You don't get any complex filters or high-end effects. Actually, there aren't any basic filters or low-end effects, either. And this free version has ads, which can get in the way.
Audio Editor Tool handles simple tasks well, though, and if you're only looking for simple splicing or trimming then it's a good place to start.
Hokusai Audio Editor
Hokusai Audio Editor has been around for a long time, and so it's no surprise that even the free edition has plenty of features.
There's recording via your mic, line in or USB, as well as the usual audio imports. A smart interface uses standard gestures to zoom in, scroll, make selections and more. You'll be cutting, copying and pasting within seconds.
Capable filters allow you to fade tracks in or out, adjust gain, normalise, generate white noise and more. There's also an option to edit left or right channels individually, and you can export to WAV or AAC.
Paying to upgrade gets you an array of extra filters and effects, but there's more than enough here for most purposes, and this iOS app's excellent interface ensures you'll be productive right away.