Reaper: By Cockos
The lightweight, flexible & free(ish) DAW.
If you’ve ever found the workflow of a particular DAW to be creatively restrictive, then this one’s for you. Created by Justin Frankel — the programmer behind WinAmp and the Gnutella P2P network — Reaper is possibly the most powerful, lightweight, flexible, and deeply editable DAW available. While not technically free per se, Reaper from Cockos does continue to offer its unlimited, unrestricted free-trial that can be used as long as desired. Outside of that users can choose to pay license fees under two different tiers. These very affordable licenses will last a full version of updates, so to put that into perspective, Reaper clicked over from v5 to v6 on 3rd December 2019. As of 2nd February 2023 it’s at v6.74. Pretty good value.
So, back to the free stuff. Reaper comes loaded with the ReaPlugs VST FX suite, which provides some basic but entirely useable plugins to get you started. There’s also the ability to install extensions which allow users to drastically modify the look, layout, and usability of the software. The main point of interest here is the SWS/S&M extension pack, which adds a slew of deep tweakability to the DAW. Kenny Gioia is the other invaluable free resource when it comes to Reaper. His YouTube tutorials are well planned, clear and succinct. Just the info, no chat.
Some people prefer the dependable, bulletproof reliability of old computer hardware, and with Reaper being so CPU-friendly it allows users to run a sophisticated, modern audio editing platform on pretty much anything that can still be turned on. Outside of Audacity, there’s not much else out there that can claim that.
Thanks to all of this, Reaper has gained a cult-like status, garnering a vibrant community of educators, developers, and users, and while it is important to support the ongoing development of the platform, it can be used for free — if you don’t mind clicking away a small nag-screen on startup.