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!