Music software

A list of things, that I have used or wish to try using, in order to make sound come out of my computer.

See also automated composition for some ideas about structure of the harmony/melody/bassline and all that compositional stuff.

DAWS and trackers of note

DAW=Digital Audio Workstation, the toolkit of digital audio production.

  • Ableton Live is the paradigmatic modern performance-oriented, electronic-music-focussed option
  • Bitwig (Windows/macos/Ubuntu) is an even-more-modern Ableton-competitor with most things done better.
  • Renoise (Windows/macos/Ubuntu) is weird but good. Recommended for its scripting interface (using Lua) and consistent design quirk. Not open-source, but cross-platform and cheap.
  • Sunvox is also a closed source tracker. Its USP is extreme cross-platform compatibility, running on nearly every phone or computer platform that I have heard of. Useful emergency fallback. Even weird UI than renoise.
  • Traktion (Windows/macos/ARM/Ubuntu) is another DAW that works on Windows Linux and macOS. It is also rather cheap, considering the freebies it comes with; there is an older version that is completely free. It is made by the creators of JUCE, a handy C++ music software framework.
  • Reaper (Windows/macos/ARM/Ubuntu) is a cheap, simple, classic style DAW.
  • Non looks interestingly designed and if I want my project to work on Raspberry Pi, it fits the bill. The author is renowned for being grumpy.
  • blue is the oddball DAW for csound.
  • Qtractor is one weird solo DAW that runs on Linux.
  • LMMS is a macos/Linux/windows open source DAW.
  • Many more I don’t use enough to care about. Logic, Protools, Acid, Fruity loops etc.

Some of these I use a lot; let’s drill down.


The default all-purpose stage-n-studio tool.

Full of irritating limitations, but then the competitors are historically full of even more, even more irritating, irritating limitations. It is scriptable, in a half arsed sort of way. That irritation can be soothed by certain hacks. See Ableton live.

Also the rather improved sibling…


A derivative of Ableton live that attempts to remove the irritations and bloat while addressing certain long-standing annoyances. It’s cheaper and IMO better, although the community of fancy libraries and patches is smaller. I’m trying to reduce the number of moving parts in my audio setup so this is not a problem for me. I think I can. See Bitwig.


How to collaborate on music? There are various ssystems that more or less can be described as DAW-optimized Dropbox workalikes.

AFAICT these all work with various DAWs such as Bitwig, Ableton Live etc.

  • Splice: Our desktop app syncs all of your projects, samples, and presets with the cloud — no need for “Collect All and Save” and up to 10x faster than Dropbox.
  • Blend: Publish your projects on Blend to get feedback and invite fresh collaborations.

Realtime collaboration: Studio-link looks interesting and claims to connect many different software tools together over networks via standalone apps and VSTs.

Browser-DAW soundation now has live collaboration.

audiomass, is an in-browser audio editor.


Izotope Rx

Noise-removal-focused. Expensive but useful; as such, my primary go-to tool.


Audacity is the original open source audio killer app. General-purpose, open source. Has a bunch of surprisingly deep functionality behind the clunky interface.


Amadeus is the only one written by a Fields medallist.


Is a demixer of audio. (USD219) Works ok for standard western drum loops, but is not brilliant at much else that I have discovered.


Looping! explained best at the quirked-out 90slicious loopers-delight.

The most commonly cited contenders here are undermaintained and aging, but have many devotees.


SooperLooper is a live looping sampler capable of immediate loop recording, overdubbing, multiplying, reversing and more. It allows for multiple simultaneous multi-channel loops limited only by your computer’s available memory.

The application is a standalone JACK client with an engine controllable via OSC and MIDI. It also includes a GUI which communicates with the engine via OSC (even over a network) for user-friendly control on a desktop. However, this kind of live performance looping tool is most effectively used via hardware (midi footpedals, etc) and the engine can be run standalone on a computer without a monitor.

SooperLooper is currently supported on Linux and Mac OS X, and any other platforms that support JACK.

v1.7.3 release — 11 Dec 2014


Mobius is software for the real-time creation of audio loops. It was inspired by the venerable hardware loopers of the past, but moves beyond them in many powerful and exciting ways. You can think of Mobius as 8 synchronized stereo loopers that can be used in any combination with extensive MIDI and computer keyboard control. Loops may be saved to and loaded from files. A powerful scripting language allows you to create macros or customize Mobius to support your unique style of performance.

Mobius is available for both Windows (XP and Vista) and OS X (10.4 or higher). It can be run standalone, as a VST plugin, or as an Audio Unit plugin on OS X.

It’s hard to work out how old it is, which is a bad sign. the documentation claims to be at release v2.2.0 August 2012 but the binaries are at v2.5. Who knows


Instalooper is also free, and runs on Windows, Linux, macOS.

INSTA LOOPER, is a looper, but not only. This tools allows you to loop your music with many different sizes, to pitch your loop, put some integrated FX on it and reverse it. This tools \[sic\] is useful for making live effects, or to program them when you create your tunes.

The creators, Audioblast, are shy about mentioning who they are, but they seem to be French.


Freewheeling is a left-field looper, open source, for macOS and Linux

Freewheeling provides a highly configurable, intuitive, and fluid user interface for instrumentalists to capture audio loops in real-time. […]

Freewheeling allows us to build repetitive grooves by sampling and directing loops from within spirited improvisation. It works because, down to the core, it’s built around improv. We leave mice and menus, and dive into our own process of making sound. The principle author of Freewheeling is JP Mercury. Freewheeling was also originally a Max/MSP external.

Enso looper

Enso has a beautiful interface reimagining the looper for modern DAWs. Haven’t had time to digest this yet., but Audio Damage does good thoughtful tweaking of old ideas.


Augustus loop

Ugly but solid, Augustus loop (USD49)

Augustus Loop is an emulation of a tape-based delay effect, with some extra features to facilitate its use as a looping device. […]

  • Really long maximum delay (3600 seconds - that’s one hour).
  • Tap length/tap record. You can set the loop delay time while recording your first phrase.
  • Virtual tape. The delay simulates an old-style tape delay, meaning you can
    • change the tape speed (i.e. pitch up and down)
    • reverse the tape direction
    • stop the tape
    • smoothly change the delay time (as if you were changing the head gap on a tape delay).
  • […]
  • Loop length can be set in terms of the host’s tempo setting.
  • Output of MIDI clock messages to synchronise other applications to the plug-in.
  • Ability to sync multiple instances of the plug-in running at once.


See transcoding.


See “patchers” in music software frameworks.

DJing software

see DJing.

Libraries, frameworks, musical-domain-specific-languages

See audio frameworks.

Sundry synthesizers

  • Fluidsynth is an open-source Sound Font synthesizer. Which sounds boring but is splendidly useful, producing audio with no fuss whatever. You will need SoundFonts.

  • Helm is an open source very-modulatable synthesizer

  • Usuriously expensive, but cool: Kontakt, a de-facto standard for sample-based instruments.

    • If you want it to build new sample ambient libraries you might want to use in addition photosynthesis
  • polyphone is an editor of Sound Fonts, which you might want to use with fluidsynth

  • And DinIsNoise, the wonderful, quixotic, idiosyncratic project of peripatetic waveform genius Jagannathan Sampath, who is good value and deserves your support. I have no use for it personally, but my life is made more wonderful by knowledge of its existence.

  • STEIM’s RoSa is a freaky sample-based synth which only the Dutch can ever truly understand.


  • SIR sounds OK. Free: SIR1 (windows) Paid version does lots of freak modulation tricks: SIR2 (mac/windows USD185)
  • Altiverb (💸💸💸) (mac/Windows, USD600-1000)
  • Waves IR*
  • Reverberate: Fancy and free editions. (Windows, GBP50)
  • The name LAconvolver tells you all you need to know about the aesthetics and currency of that plugin (free, mac)
  • freeverb3 is a fugly reverb library suite that does sophisticated hybrid convolution, allpass and physical modeling, oh my, and is open source, but is so oldskool they think your DAW is a text editor. You probably should get the freeverb3vst if you don’t want to compile your own code. (downloads.)

Modern versions of Logic and Ableton have convolution reverbs built in too.

Wacky Delays

None of these do what I want. Long story.

I have some ideas I want to implement myself but I will probably never have time.


Somewhere between delays and samplers, slicers are about creative rearrangement of repetitive sound.


Less-tempo-oriented than slicers are granular synthesizers, i.e. they do concatenative synthesis. In a sense these are everywhere, since much of modern DSP is based on granular processing, e.g. pitch shifting is based on it - but granular synthesizers put more parameters under your control.

There are comprehensive indices of these things, but I’ve only a used a few.

Arturia’s Efx FRAGMENTS seems to be rather nice.

Hadron is an open-source csound-backed VST. Also runs on Linux, or in fact anywhere. Great for the price

The Mangle is a popular and very beautiful commercial one (also quite cheap at GBP20) for Mac/Win. Ribs is pay-what-you like granulator for mac/win.

There are a number of granular delays and effects in Ableton but I am bored of that platform.

There are also many unmaintained open-source ones of waning renown and waxing bitrot, e.g. soundmosaic, Mosievius, etc.

The best lineage is the series of Bob-Sturm-backed academic projects, culminating in nimfks.

Misc plugins

  • NES are Max4live spectrum editors. Free. If you own the expensive Max4live suite.
  • Celemony. (polyphonic autotune)
  • protoplug again (creates plugins)
  • FaustDSP again (Of course, Faust creates plugins too. The polyphony handling is clunky enough that you probably don’t want to do this for synths bareback, but might be fine for effects.)
  • Redux, the plugin version of renoise.
  • csound can create VST plugins.

Arpeggiators and sequencers

Don’t judge me. See composition.

Software audio routers

See audio routers.


KXStudio, the latest open-source-y sound OS. (There have been so many, and so many crushed dreams) See also Ubuntu studio, which will probably win by default, as Ubuntu is the de facto standard for random OS forks.

Weird left-field space crazy

Argeïphontes Lyre by Akira Rabelais.


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