As part of CDM's ongoing construction of the "Completely Free Studio,"
I'm working on assembling good freeware hosts for Windows and Mac.
(Linux, of course, being a no-brainer!) Here's what's on my recommend
list at the moment:

  • Audio editor: Audacity (open source), Win/Mac/Linux, with the addition of the VST Enabler / LADSPA bridge for Linux plugs
  • Windows: Buzz, freeware, lets you host VSTs as well as build your own effects and instruments
  • Mac: The Mac's a bit lacking in the freeware department, but while Rax
    is technically $29.95 shareware it will host/record one AU instrument
    at a time. (A great app, worth spending $30 on — but then no longer in
    this category.)

Already, you can see some of the problems. There's no real
cross-platform free host, Buzz doesn't support DirectX, and Rax is
limited unregistered and even if you shell out the $30 doesn't support
VST. The Mac in particular is disappointing in this round. Why worry
about freeware at all? Because if an app is free, everyone can use it
— critical, for example, in college computer music classes.

Of course, if you're geek enough, there's Pure Data
(free, Mac/Windows/Linux) from Miller Puckette, but it's got an
interface so ugly and hard-to-use it makes its cousin Max/MSP look like
GarageBand, and documentation is scant.

Am I leaving anything out? Hit comments!

Stay tuned here for the Official CDM Freeware Studio, emerging in the next few weeks!

  • Guest

    I think there is another but can't find it right now.

    Then there is SynthTest which hosts 1 AU instrument and 1 effect. Free but doesn't really have anything over Rax in free mode.

    Be sure to check's index of OS X stuff. There is a lot in there.

    Glad you like Rax, I did the UI Design on that one 🙂


  • Guest

    Since you listed Rax at $30, you should list VSTi Host at $35, for VST instrument/effect hosting on Mac X/9. Also routes external audio in or audio files through the VST effects, and can record the output too..

  • Guest

    I know iLife costs money but should we really not count it as freeware? Every new mac comes with a free host, Garageband! and if not you can just get it from a friend who bought it or bought a new mac. The install is huge though so it can't really be freeware, you can't download it anyway. but a somewhat free host and audio recorder/editor. (I leave out midi sequencer because it's so bad at midi I feel it's unusable) -Sabastian

  • admin

    Thanks for your help, gang.

    For me, VSTi Host is disqualified as, unlike Rax, unregistered it's unusable. I can run audio through VST effects for free on Audacity.

    Likewise, yes, GarageBand gets major cred for being on new Macs, but that does nothing for people who have old Macs.

    I've always been a major advocate of buying software, but this is more an experiment: if you can define a freeware studio, then you can build a sort of lowest common denominator selection of stuff everyone would want. Even if you've got DP / Live / Reaktor / Max/MSP / Logic etc. chugging away (like my overburdened system!) — it's these additional tools that are worth having and that you can make sure your mates have, too.

    The Ugly is definitely a step, though, good call!

    My guess is imminent Linux ports may fill some of these voids on OS X.


  • Guest

    Available as shareware – bundled on some Macs,

  • Personally I enjoy PD, they could have better VST support to begin with, but you can find the external around if you so desire. Anywho, to me it is just more sensical than reaktor or other modular programs, plus from what I have heard its much more powerful. Reaktor to me is hard to learn and doesn't have very straight foward documentation which would clear up alot of ambiguities. I hear however… you can run reaktor in Max/MSP as a VSTI and then just tweak the hell out of it. Although if you Know Max in and out you probobly don't really need to worry about progs like reaktor or ableton as you could just as easily make them, albeit less pretty. Sonically it will probobly be much more brilliant. I just wish Max wasn't so damn expensive.