If you'd like to edit a few audio files then there's a vast selection of free tools which claim they can help - but the reality is often very different.

Some packages are too old, for instance, and don't work reliably (or at all) on modern PCs. Others are too basic, or horribly complex. And many just promise way more than they actually deliver.

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 the very best free audio editing programs there are.

1. Wavosaur

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If you're tired of bloated software then Wavosaur will appeal immediately: it's a 269KB download, no adware, no installation, just unzip and go.

Wavosaur

The program is amazingly powerful, too, despite its small size. It can open all the usual file formats; displays the usual waveform view of your file; can trim, cut, copy or paste wherever you like; and has plenty of useful effects (fade in and out, normalize, remove vocals, tweak volume, auto trim, a silence remover and more).

Elsewhere, expert users will appreciate extras like the ASIO and VST effect plugin support. And while the interface is a little dated, it's easy to use, and you'll soon feel at home.

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2. Waveshop

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Work on a sample in most audio editors and it'll be changed in various ways, perhaps affecting sound quality.

WaveShop, though, is different. It's bit-perfect, which means it only alters your files when absolutely necessary. And so you can trim one section of the file without affecting anything else, while copying and pasting audio won't affect its contents at all.

WaveShop

That's not all, though. WaveShop also supports a wide range of audio formats, has some useful effects (amplify, fade in and out, adjust sample rate and size), and includes plenty of tools for working with channels.

You can swap, insert of delete them, extract individual channels to mono files, and even work with surround sound audio, reassigning channels to another speaker.

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3. Acoustica Basic Edition

Download Acoustica Basic Edition

Acoustica Basic Edition is the free version of a commercial product - but don't let that put you off, it still has plenty of features to explore.

You can open multiple files via an excellent tabbed interface, for example; standard cut, copy, paste and mix editing is easy - you can even drag and drop your selection around - and it's all non-destructive, no re-encoding required.

Acoustica

There's good volume control (normalize, adjust, multiple fades, freehand volume curve), and the program can record audio, too.

Effects are more limited, but support for VST and DirectX plug-ins means you can extend the program, if necessary.

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4. MP3Gain

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While this list is mostly about general audio editing software, there are some more specialist tools which you might like to try - and MP3Gain is one of the best.

The program has only one purpose: to normalise MP3 files so that they all have the same loudness. Others claim to do something similar, but MP3Gain uses smart statistical analysis to produce better results.

MP3Gain

The program works directly with the MP3 file, which means there's no re-encoding, and absolutely no loss in quality. It's extremely easy to use (although if you do have any problems, there's a local help file which explains everything), and you can even undo your last changes if you don't like the results.

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5. Audacity

Download Audacity

Audacity first appeared back in 1999, and is still being developed, so it's no surprise that the program comes packed with features.

It can record live or streaming audio, imports multiple file formats, has all the usual editing options (cut, delete, copy, paste, mix). A lengthy list of effects helps you change sample pitch, adjust frequencies and volume, and you can remove many background noises, strip off vocals and more.