Beginner and pro am podcasters and recording artists who own Macs have two main choices in terms of free audio editing suites: Audacity and Garageband. Garageband comes bundled with new Macs as part of the iLife package. Audacity, on the other hand, is a cross-platform, open source audio editing program that can be downloaded for free. Which program is best for you depends on your needs and preferences.
GarageBand, like all Apple products, is geared towards an incredibly user friendly experience. To this end, GarageBand works very well out of the box. Within just a few minutes, most Mac users should be able to master GarageBands audio recording, podcasting and audio editing features. GarageBand also features MIDI recording.
GarageBand has a number of strengths over Audacity. For one, it is much more intuitive for handling loop sequences and multiple splices. GarageBand also comes with a wide variety of pre-recorded loops and synths. For podcasting, GarageBand excels with its chapter creation and simple video scoring.
Overall, GarageBand wins out in terms of interface and simplicity. It’s fun and simple to use and requires little to no configuration or customization of settings. Exporting features make it easy to share and mixdown audio projects without downloading additional codecs, and because it’s part of the iLife group of apps, it works well with other multimedia created in OS X.
Audacity is significantly less user friendly than GarageBand, but it makes up for it by being more full featured and closer to a professional audio editing suite. For example, GarageBand effects can only be applied across an entire track, rather than to a certain section. GarageBand also doesn’t work with audio with sample rates higher than 48 kHz and doesn’t export true AIFF files.
Audacity is better for deep, detailed editing of audio and is best for editing audio pieces longer than an hour. Audacity is also somewhat more robust in terms of disk usage and preserving under high CPU loads. Being cross-platform, Audacity projects can be easily shared between Windows, Mac OS and Linux machines as well.
Audacity also allows sample editing, importing of raw data, noise removal, pitch change, and tempo change, whereas GarageBand does not. Although Audacity doesn’t support MIDI recording, it can import MIDI and editing and exporting MIDI is slowly being developed.
In summary, GarageBand is an excellent, user-friendly tool for beginner to intermediate users. Its easy functionality and professional look and feel give it a good balance between straightforward recording and more advanced creative features. Editing with GarageBand is mostly limited to effects applied to the entire track and simple cutting and splicing of sections within tracks. For more advanced editing, sample editing and longer form audio pieces, Audacity may work better. Audacity also supports a number of plug-ins and libraries that can expand its functionality.
Of course, since both audio editing programs are free, you can easily use them in conjunction. However, GarageBand only runs on OS X, whereas Audacity is available for Linux, OS X and Windows machines.