When you want to edit a sound file – whether it's to create a custom ringtone for your phone, make your own podcasts or record music – the prospect of choosing the right audio editor for the job can be a daunting one.
The complexity of some audio-editing tools might be enough to scare you away, but it's more likely to be the price tag attached to such software that sends you running. Never fear, though – there are free options packed with professional-quality features.
Whether you're looking for a tool to help create a soundtrack for your home movies, or you need something to help you convert your old record and cassette collection into MP3 format while removing background static, there's a free software download out there for you.
Before you begin, it's worth noting that most audio editors use the LAME codec. It's probably already installed on your system, but if you receive a warning that you need to install it, you can download a free codec pack containing it.
The very best free audio editor, Audacity has all the tools you could possibly need
Available for any desktop platform you care to mention, Audacity is our first choice audio editor. It has a huge following, and it's one that is entirely justified. It's a powerful tool that would put some paid-for product to shame, and although the interface might initially seem slightly intimidating, it's actually surprisingly approachable even for beginners.
Audacity is equipped with an extensive suite of built-in tools, enabling you to edit pre-recorded files, capture sound through an attached microphone, or even stream music and podcasts. There's support for a wide range of audio formats for both importing and exporting, and the range of built-in effect is impressive.
There's also a great selection of third-party plug-ins to make it even more versatile (one of our favourites is autotune add-on Gsnap, for that T-Pain effect), and a comprehensive manual is available to help you to get to grips with the more complicated aspects of the program.
2. Free Audio Editor
Ideal for recording and editing your own songs and podcasts
Free Audio Editor's name tells you everything you need to know here. You have to deselect a few checkboxes to avoid installing unwanted software, but the tool itself is worth the effort. It can be used to record audio via line-in, work with existing audio files, or to rip CDs.
One thing that makes stand out from the competition is the way the interface has been designed. Rather than hiding option deep in confusing menus, everything you need to right at your fingertips. A neat effects sidebar makes it simple to get to the tools you need, and you can even bookmark those you use most to make your life even easier.
You can get as hands on as you like, but many of the readymade filters such as breath reduction (particularly handy for podcasts) and background noise reduction mean that you'll be able to perform many audio clean-up tasks in just a few clicks.
3. Free MP3 Cutter and Editor
If you don't want advanced functions, this little audio editor is just what you need
Free MP3 Cutter and Editor is a simple program designed with a very specific type of audio editing in mind. Audacity would be a better choice if you want fine control of your tracks, but if you're looking for nothing more than a quick and dirty program for trimming the fat from your MP3s, this is perfect.
Open your MP3 file and you can cut out unwanted sections, add a fade-in or fade-out, adjust the volume, and convert between stereo and mono. That's it.
It might sound limited, but it's extremely good at what it does (for example, if you have saved a live recording as one large MP3 and then want to divide it up into a number of individual tracks). It's not the sort of task you would need a professional audio editor for, and Free MP3 Cutter and Editor fits the bill nicely.
4. WavePad Audio Editor Free
Easy sound editing for Windows, Android and Apple devices
The iPad has, over the years, become recognised as a value tool for music creation, but not so much for editing tracks. WavePad Audio Editor Free is an interesting app for a couple of reasons: not only is it a free audio editing app, but it's also available for iOS and Android as well as Windows.
The mobile apps are surprisingly powerful - helped, perhaps, by the fact that the iOS and Android versions are designed like the desktop software.
There are a number of filters and editing options available such as trimming, a high pass filter, normalization and merging files, and you can add more tools via in-app purchases. There are some nice extra touches too, including voice-activated recording, and an auto-trim editing function.
A good choice for small tasks, like creating ringtones
Like Audacity, ocenaudio is available for multiple platforms (Windows, Linux and Mac). While not bursting with features, it's a great tool for everyday audio editing. Real-time effect previewing should help to speed up your work as there's no need to apply a change just to try it out, and a highly precise selection tool makes it easy to apply the same effect to multiple section of a files.
You can work with locally stored files, or even open those hosted online. This audio editor's somewhat sparse interface quickly becomes a joy to use, and if you spend a little time familiarizing yourself with the keyboard shortcuts, you should fly through common tasks in next to no time.
There's a decent range of effects to choose from, and there's even the option of exporting your creations as a ringtone for your iPhone.
Trim and normalize recorded audio files
Despite its name, mp3DirectCut does more than just slicing up MP3s (although it does that very well). You can record directly into the program or work with existing audio files, and although there are no fancy options, all of the basics are covered. As well as simple track splitting, this compact audio editor also contains tools for normalising audio, increasing volume, and fading.
Automatic pause detection is available to help make it easier to decided where to split a track, and if you have created cue files to automate file processing, there's support for those here.
mp3DirectCut also features a batching processing option that can be used to quickly apply the same settings and effects to entire folders full of files, which is handy for normalising a series of tracks, or increasing the volume of a set that were recorded at the same time.
7. Acoustica Basic Edition
A more advanced mastering audio editor, with effect layering
Acoustica Basic Edition is a superb audio editor, and is particularly good at cleaning up old audio recordings from vinyl or cassettes by removing unwanted noise.
Opting for the free version means missing out on options such as a multi-track editor and support for 7.1 surround sound, but you still get a lot to play with. It has a very professional look and feel, and the Effect Chain - an area where you can build up and play with a layered series of filters - is a particular highlight.
There's support for DirectX and VST plug-ins, so you can easily expand the program's repertoire. If you want to get a taste for audio editing with the freedom to move beyond the basics when you feel ready, Acoustica Basic Edition is an excellent starting point.
A portable app for simple editing on any PC
Wavosaur differs from the rest of the audio editors we're looking at because it's a portable app. You can therefore save it to a USB stick, ready for use on any PC without installation.
Despite its tiny size, packs a punch. It's designed with MP3 editing in mind, but supports other key formats as well. It also boasts features like pitch shifting and vocal removal (ideal for making DIY karaoke tracks, and as with Audacity, its feature set can be expanded with .
The basic program hasn't been updated in quite some time, but don't let that put you off - it's an absolute gem of an audio editor.