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Are you wondering if Audacity is part of the DAW family that includes industry giants like Pro Tools, Ableton Live, FL Studio, and Cubase? Or maybe you’re interested in music production but unsure if Audacity is a good starting point. Well, we’re here to answer all your questions.
Audacity is highly popular amongst newbie music producers and people looking to simply edit an audio file without going through the complications of paying for a DAW and watching tutorials to learn about how it functions. Audacity was released in 2000 by Dominic Mazzoni and Roger Dannenberg as a free and open-source audio editor, and it has since been downloaded over 200 million times worldwide.
Even though Audacity isn’t commonly used by professional music producers and mixing engineers, it nevertheless works well and accomplishes the task at hand.
Is Audacity a DAW?
The short answer is NO. Audacity is not a DAW.
It’s safe to assume that the developers of Audacity do not consider their software a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) since they have defined it on their website as a “Free, open source, cross-platform audio software.” It is a multi-track audio editor and recorder that works with most operating systems, including Windows, macOS, Linux, and others. It is perfect for entry-level music producers who only need basic features, such as editing audio clips, adjusting pitch and tempo, exporting MP3 files, etc., and who aren’t looking to use Audacity to record their upcoming single.
However, Audacity continues to grow and take significant steps toward becoming a more powerful audio editing software. So let’s explore Audacity’s capabilities and restrictions and explain why it doesn’t currently qualify as a DAW but might be in the future.
What can Audacity do?
Audacity is a powerful recorder and multi-track audio editor that offers plenty of features that could help you edit a simple audio file, or create entire songs from scratch. Let’s check out some of its main features.
Audio importing and exporting
Audacity lets you import and export WAV, MP3, AIFF, FLAC, AU, Ogg Vorbis, and all formats supported by libsndfile library such as GSM 6.10, 32-bit and 64-bit float WAV, RF64, and U/A-Law. You can import raw audio files and MPEG audio (including MP2 and MP3) using libmad. You can also use the FFmpeg library to import and export AC3, M4A/M4R, Opus, and WMA files.
Recording and Playback
Audacity can record live high-quality audio at 16-bit, 24-bit, and 32-bit, at sample rates up to 192kHz, at very low latencies through your laptop’s microphone or any mic connected to an audio interface or other devices.
Audacity can also capture streaming audio, build multi-track recordings, simultaneously record multiple channels, monitor volume levels, navigate through your audio file (scrubbing), import and play MIDI files, and many other features that you can control using your keyboard or the keyboard shortcuts assigned to each task.
Audacity offers many ways that let you seamlessly edit your audio files.
One of the most basic ways is to cut, copy, paste and delete any waveform selection using the scrubbing feature we mentioned earlier.
You can label your tracks, undo any step or mistake that you make, trim and un-trim your audio files, insert multiple clips to your track that you can edit and mix, automate the volume (envelope tool), use real-time effects, and adjust the tempo of your track without messing with the pitch. You can also enjoy multi-track features like zoom and single-track editing, project pane, and XY project navigation.
There are plenty of editing features provided by Audacity to help you create and mix your sound, which seems to grow with each update.
Effects and Plugins
Hardly any song is created without effects being added to it. And with Audacity, you can alter the tempo and pitch of your file, remove unwanted hiss and noise, EQ your sound by manipulating the bass, mids, and treble, and change the volume with tools like the Compressor, Fade In/Out, Crossfade Clips, Normalize, Amplify, Crossfade Tracks, among others.
You can use the Auto Duck effect to create voiceovers. Reduce or isolate your vocals, and run a chain of effects on multiple files or projects.
Audacity also offers classic built-in effects such as reverb, distortion, wah-wah, reverse, limiter, phaser, echo, truncate silence, and Paulstretch.
Regarding plugins, Audacity supports LADSPA, LV2, Nyquist, VST, and Audio Unit effect plugins.
What can’t Audacity do?
Audacity has a few limitations, which are a few of the main reasons why it can’t be it can’t be considered a DAW.
No VSTi Support and Restricted MIDI Use
Support for VSTi (Virtual Studio Technology instrument plugins) is one of the most crucial features that Audacity is missing. But what does this actually mean? You cannot design your sound using software instruments like pianos, guitars, drums, etc. As a result, you cannot record MIDI input; you can only import and play MIDI. The conversion of audio formats to MIDI or vice versa is not currently possible.
These two drawbacks will be enough to discourage the majority of music producers from using Audacity as their primary audio editing software. Imagine not being able to produce your tracks with the help of amazing plugins like Nexus, Omnisphere, Kontakt, or Sylenth. You will be limiting your creativity and likelihood of producing radio hits, which are more than compelling reasons to ditch the software.
No Real-Time Effect Support
Another drawback is the lack of utilizing real-time effects for the recording. The effects on your sound cannot be automated; they can only be added and heard after recording. So you can’t have effects moving and changing throughout your track in real-time. The only automation available on Audacity is for volume.
This feature is available in all DAWs, and the lack of it is yet another setback for Audacity.
The three limitations we just mentioned are why Audacity isn’t considered a DAW, but perhaps this will change as more updates are released.
Check our Guide on Best DAW for Mixing and Mastering
Is Audacity good for music production among free software?
How many tracks can Audacity handle?
How do you mix vocals in Audacity?
Audacity is one of the best free audio editing software on the market and shows no signs of stopping. In fact, new features continue to be added with every update, improving and expanding the software’s versatility. However, we can conclude that Audacity is not a DAW and is missing many crucial features that DAWs like Ableton Live, Pro Tools, and Logic Pro have.
For the average person looking to make minor adjustments to their audio or those wishing to record podcasts and voiceovers with little mixing and editing, Audacity is perfect. But if you want to start producing hit records and have complete control over your creativity and sound, you might want to think about switching from Audacity to an actual DAW.
Maybe in a few years, Audacity will add these missing features and start competing with the big boys, but for now, it is just a “free, easy-to-use, open-source, cross-platform audio software.”