Audacity is one of the most frequently downloaded audio editing software of the past two decades. Cue in Garageband – Apple’s free and widely held music production software. Ergo, Audacity vs. Garageband – a battle of two powerful and popular audio suites.
It’s common to be torn between two widely used software, especially when they are efficient, popular, and free. The Audacity vs. GarageBand topic is a common brainteaser among those seeking high-quality software for audio editing, podcasting, and/or music production.
Luckily, this shootout is not convoluted since both software have a different purpose and excel at different tasks. In this post, I will walk you through their features and different scenarios where one might be more useful than the other.
Garageband and Audacity: What to Expect
Garageband is a digital audio workstation (DAW) and Audacity is a digital audio editor. In simple words, Garageband is more commonly used to create music whereas Audacity is used to edit or manipulate audio recordings.
Using Garageband for advanced audio editing tasks is like trying to make an electric guitar sound like a bass via an EQ and octave pedal. Conversely, using Audacity as a DAW for music production also involves donkeywork. There are better DAWs for the task, like Garageband.
In practice, you can use Garageband and Audacity in both scenarios. They both are free to use and offer a variety of features and plugins. Mac users have a pre-installed free version of GarageBand. It’s also available on the App Store. Similarly, you can download Audacity from the official website for any operating system for free.
With that key difference outlined, let’s start with an overview and zoom in on specific aspects of each software.
What is Garageband: An Overview
Garageband is a free digital audio workstation pre-installed in Apple computers and available on the App Store. It was originally created by Emagic and acquired by Apple in 2002. It was spiced up and added to the Apple iLife package in 2004 alongside iMovie, iPhoto, and other digital content organization software.
Apple made it available on the App Store in 2011, which is when it really took off. Think of Garageband as a full-featured music creation studio to create projects from scratch. You can use it to sample, record, edit, or transpose with or without third-party plug-ins.
Garageband is also very popular with podcasters who use iOS devices. It can be used to edit long-format audio and add music or pre-made loops by those who have music production knowledge. That said, there are some differences between the macOS and iOS versions.
Simply put, it is an audio software with a clean interface, sound library, virtual instruments, presets, and a drummer/percussionist selection. You can use GarageBand to compose, arrange, edit, and mix audio files. However, it performs each of those tasks with varying proficiency.
- User-friendly interface
- Easy to use (small learning curve)
- Pre-installed in macOS
- Pre-recorded loops
- Virtual instruments & built-in synths
- Supports MIDI recording
- Can use VST effects and VST instruments
You can download Garageband for free (Mac and iOS only) from the App Store.
What is Audacity: An Overview
Audacity is a multi-track audio editor available for macOS, Linux, Windows, and other operating systems. It is open-source and has been around for more than two decades. Recent figures suggest that Audacity has been downloaded more than 200 million times.
Audacity offers a wide range of editing options and is popular with podcasters and for quick audio edits. It can be used as a recording application and for post processing. Audacity is not comparable to a full-featured DAW, but it is considered to be the most feature-rich free software.
It is primarily used to mix, edit, combine, or render audio tracks for what we call ‘quick ‘n dirty’ work. Either way, it is a beginner-friendly medium with powerful features such as a spectrogram, built-in dithering, unlimited undos, and flexible editing.
Audacity 3.0 was released this year, which features several improvements, new project formats, bug fixes, and new features. The unwieldy user experience is one of the few drawbacks of Audacity. After all these years, it still has an unsightly GUI and lacks non-destructive editing.
- Free to use
- Flexible editing
- Lots of usable effects
- Built-in dithering
- CPU efficiency
You can download Audacity for free from the Audacity Team website.
Difference between Audacity and Garageband
Audacity = Digital Audio Editing
Audacity is simple and you can operate the basic controls and functions within a day or two. Since it is specifically designed as an audio editor, the features are structured and designed to make that task easy. I’m talking about noise removal, tempo change, EQ, and normalization.
GarageBand can work as an audio editor. But some tasks need to be performed in a different (and more tedious) manner. Or, you may need 3rd party plug-ins to fill the gaps. Simply put, Audacity is more nuanced and advanced for audio editing use cases compared to Garageband.
Garageband = Digital Audio Workstation
GarageBand is intended as an all-around software for creating, recording, and editing music. Think of it as a jack of all trades, but a master of none, especially not editing or mixing. It is not as feature-rich as Audacity for audio editing tasks.
It also features built-in synths with EDM presets and shape-shifting controls to tweak sounds. Additionally, you can access your tracks through any iOS device using Cloud. Garageband tracks can be uploaded directly to the iTunes library or social networks.
Audacity comes with a learning curve if you have no background in audio production. That’s the downside of so many effects and features. You need to spend a few weeks to pick up all the audio manipulation tasks and the non-intuitive user interface isn’t on your side.
On the other hand, Garageband is very intuitive and smooth. You will still encounter a learning curve, but the time required to feel at home is relatively less compared to Audacity. Whatever you choose, there is a large user community and online learning resources for your perusal.
VSTi (Virtual Instruments)
For musicians, GarageBand is a better choice. It has virtual instruments, guitar lessons, audio samples/loops, and other tools for composing or creating music. Furthermore, it has a fantastic assortment of beats thanks to the virtual session drummer and percussionist features.
Audacity can only load VST effects and AU (Mac) plug-ins. It does not support VST instruments, at least not yet. This means you can use Garageband with VST instruments with pre-recorded loops to create background music or make jingles, but cannot do so with Audacity.
This, of course, is moot if you aren’t a musician or can’t play an instrument.
Audio Formats and Encoding
Audacity uses high quality uncompressed audio (internally) and offers significantly more audio formats or file formats. You can import MP3, Ogg Vorbis, FLac and MP3 and export in Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, and other common audio formats.
Garageband supports relatively fewer file formats. However, it does cover the common music formats such as MIDI, AIFF, and WAV. You can export to the four basic file form mats – AAC, MP3, MP4, and AIFF.
Device Compatibility – PC and Mac
Garageband is only available for MAC or iOS. It is developed and owned by Apple and is free to download on the Apple App Store. Audacity, on the other hand, is a cross-platform software – meaning it works on all devices including PC, Linux, Mac, and other Apple products.
Apple users can choose between both. Audacity is the only choice for Linux and PC users. And before you ask, it’s a silly idea to buy a Mac just for Garageband. Logic Pro X maybe, but not Garageband. There are far too many great DAWs out there for all sorts of operating systems.
Podcasting-friendly Software: Garageband or Audacity
Audacity is a better choice for recording and editing audio related to podcasting. It has a steeper learning curve than GarageBand but also hosts more options to import raw audio, change pitch/tempo, and edit samples. The detailed features, cross-platform functionality, and CPU efficiency make Audacity ideal for long-format audio and detailed edits.
The advantage of Garageband is that it has a clean GUI, loops/samples, virtual instruments, and MIDI recording. Plus, it’s extremely user-friendly and easy to get going within a few hours of first contact. Features such as adding loops, splicing, and sequencing are good for adding music. However, if composing is not mandated, Audacity has an edge over Garageband for podcasting.
Audio Editing: Audacity or Garageband
Garageband can do some basic to intermediate audio editing tasks. It is best for small or quick edit jobs, but not something I recommend to mix or master a track. In theory, Garageband could be a one-stop solution for all your audio editing needs. However, Audacity is more apt for audio-editing and manipulation because it has more nuanced and well-structured features.
Firstly, Audacity has noise removal, built-in dithering, level meters, and the ability to export to FLAC (lossless formats). It also allows 32-bit depth with sample rates up to 384KHz. These are just some examples of how Audacity has an edge over Garageband for nuanced editing.
Secondly, Audacity has been used by bands to professionally mix entire albums. I’m not encouraging you to try it but shows how capable Audacity can be. Moreover, it has built-in plugins, effects, and other audio manipulation capabilities that Apple’s Garageband lacks. You could bridge this gap with 3rd party plugins or workarounds.
But that’s more work and a less streamlined workflow.
Music Production: Garageband or Audacity?
Garageband is the obvious choice between the two unless you are a non-Mac user. You can record and edit music in Audacity to use it for music production. However, the software is intended as a wave editor, not a full-featured DAW. It has limitations, especially if recording music is an integral aspect of your production.
The three biggest drawbacks of Audacity for music production are a) you can’t add real-time effects while recording, c) you can’t load VSTi plugins, and c) it does not support MIDI recordings. This can be seriously detrimental to music production beyond curious noodling.
Of course, there are workarounds for those willing to put in the legwork. Nevertheless, it would be more rewarding to use other free software (read: Garageband) or to buy a DAW if you want to compose and record music for a living.
Overall Verdict: Audacity vs Garageband
To summarize, I would say GarageBand is for those who want a clean GUI, easy functionality, and a do-it-all DAW for recording, music creation, or performing basic audio editing tasks. It is a better choice for beginners, bedroom music producers, and those with no audio engineering background. The lessons, loops, and MIDI support are preferable for music production.
Audacity is good if the bulk of your work revolves around editing audio or samples, for podcasts or otherwise. It is more efficient, powerful, and advanced for that specific task. Imaginably, it is better to edit and mix tracks but ranks beneath Garageband for recording or music production. All you need to do is get over the primitive user interface.
Both of these have the potential to assist you in your audio needs. The rank atop the currently available free software for audio editing and music-making. Audacity is the only choice for Windows, Linux, and other interfaces.
Mac users are the only ones who need to duke it out. Luckily, both of them are free to download and use. Test them and stick with the one that you enjoy. Better yet, use both as and when a project calls for it. If neither appeals to you, try alternatives like LMMS or Waveosaur.
Reaper is a possibility if you can spend $60 for a pro-grade, full-featured digital audio workstation. Either way, share your experience in the comments. Let other readers know which software earned you allegiance (and why) in the Garageband vs. Audacity battle.