Good recording program for a mac?

I have a friend who is wanting to start home recording. He has a mac and he is asking me about what program to use for a beginner. I am a IBM guy so I only know about Pro Tools for mac. Does anyone recommend a program for a newbie to recording for a mac?

Many thanks,

Garageband is a native Mac app that is either bundled in OSX or can be downloaded for free. It has good sounds and is user friendly and is great for beginners but is not full featured or good for serious users.

Logic Pro X is an excellent DAW that is made by Apple also, sells for $200 USD and is used by many pros. Reaper will run on Mac if you match versions of OSX and Reaper correctly. Many of us (me included) here on IRD like Reaper and it sells for $60 USD and has a 30 day free trial.

Cakewalk Sonar requires a conversion program for Mac, probably avoid that. Pro Tools is the expensive “industry standard” and works on Mac for the most part with some issues with some versions, probably not good for a beginner.


Yeah, I’d say Garageband if he’s just getting started, or Audacity (also free) to just learn recording basics. If he’s more serious, he could go ahead with Reaper which essentially has an unlimited free demo with “please purchase” nag screen on startup after a certain time period. Any of those he can try for free and then decide which suits him better.

1 Like

Garageband is definitely the program to use if you don’t know much about recording. Whereas it used to be strictly a beginners program, it has in recent updates become a beginner to intermediate program. Whereas it concentrated heavily on loops with basic audio recording, Apple have now added the Drummer - which is a phenomenal virtual drummer. They then added the Alchemy synth, which is by any standard an amazing synth. You can now also add 3rd party plugins to channels. Up until a week ago I was using Garageband on my living room Mac just to practice my guitar chops and I was surprised at just how capable it is as a DAW.

1 Like

Thanks for the input, so the upgrade from Garageband would be Logic Pro X?

Well they are two separate programs but yes. As @madpsychot says many people happily use GarageBand to do a lot of recording at no cost. And Logic Pro X is comparable to any professional DAW but at a cost and with more of a learning curve. As we have said, there are other good DAWs that work with Macs but the big advantage for a beginner is that Apple is a very stable platform and both GarageBand and Logic Pro X are made by Apple which means that they should be easy to install, set up and learn to use which is a big plus for a beginner.

Here’s an article comparing Garageband and Logic Pro X

1 Like

I remember I moved from GarageBand, as I got more curious and I daresay a little more experienced. GarageBand is by far the best DAW a beginner can use in my opinion.


If you look at GarageBand, it gives you a Noise Gate as standard in an audio track, a plugins rack, and just an echo and reverb bus. There’s a Master Bus panel, that lets you insert some plugins if you want. And to be fair, if you’re staring at the GarageBand tracks wanting a little more, you’ll be about ready to progress to Pro Tools, or Logic or Cubase. But with a midi keyboard and some ideas GarageBand is ludicrously good for Mac users to get for free

1 Like

Really sorry, but I gotta disagree with everyone here in a courteous and respectful way.

If the individual is serious, fairly self-motivated, and willing to take the time learn, then skip Garageband and go strait to Pro Tools. Garageband in my opinion is not a good stepping stone for getting into recording.

If he can’t afford Pro Tools, then MixCraft, Reaper, S1 Artist (which is $70), or Logic are hands down more capable DAWs that you won’t outgrow after the first year of serious training.

I would also steer any beginner away from Ableton unless they have a clear reason to learn it.

1 Like

Mixcraft is not available for Mac.

1 Like

As Jonathon wrote with the utmost respect, then I am motivated to do exactly the same. I’m the son of an engineer, so technical and mechanical things never phased me. I’m happy to open up a machine or engine and just go for it. I first started recording into a computer about 15 years ago, and at the time you could get a trial for Logic Studio. I had it installed on an iMac, and I could not understand anything. It was intimidation just to create an audio track and try to record.

A little later I bought iLife, which came with GarageBand. After the initial “oohs” and 'aahs" at the shininess of the software, and messing around with loops, I got a little more serious about my life as a recording engineer. A few years later of occasional recording and I realised that I really needed to upgrade to something else. Cubase was my first choice, as I’d messed around with Cubasis in the 90’s. Enter Logic 9, with a slightly different layout, and workflow, and I was sold. It still took me months to get my head around what I was doing, but I could definitely attribute GarageBand’s friendliness to getting me to appreciate what I was doing. And not it’s free!

So I’ll agree with Jonathon. Determination and perseverance with a side order of enthusiasm, and there’s nothing you can’t learn. But I think sometimes you need a “lite” version to get you hooked until you can move to the “harder” stuff!

1 Like

I meant DP. Thank you.

Wrote that in a hurry!!

1 Like

I’m a Mac guy. I started on Windows with Cakewalk a LONG time ago. Upgraded to the SONAR version. Liked it at first, but got annoyed at how bloated and clunky it was.

I switched to REAPER cuz i wanted something that was cross platform, Windows or Mac. Absolutely couldn’t be happier. It’s an amazing program: stable, inexpensive, very easy yet used by professionals everywhere. Very popular.

Heck, I bought a license almost a decade ago for $40. Have gotten probably 30 or more free upgrades. It has an outstanding support community in the form of user forums.

That’d be my first choice personally. However, the nice thing about Garage Band is that it’s basically a scaled-down version of Logic, so there’s a built-in upgrade path.

One of the things I’ve always appreciated about REAPER is how non-bloated it is. SONAR/Cakewalk came up with upgrades every year. Would cost me $100-150 or more each time, and it came with all kinds of synths and plugins and “stuff” that I didn’t use or care for. Not that they weren’t great plugins, but I prefer simplicity and building my own system with the plugins I like and will use.

It’s an amazing age we live in. We’ve come a long way from my original Tascam 244 Portastudio. OMG! :grin:


I had a Tascam 424 Portastudio. You can still buy them on Ebay for a hundred bucks. :smiley:

1 Like

I totally get where you were coming from, and I actually agree for the most part. Although, it’s interesting to see the sheer amount of popular music that has come out that was created in Garageband, so you can’t really discount it entirely. It definitely has an advantage as it pertains to being able to dive in quickly and create musical ideas. I just wish it had the ability to export tracks individually etc.

1 Like

No contest there. I completely agree, and I wouldn’t discount it entirely. Consider any lesser ‘thing’ that isn’t a stepping stone toward a greater ‘thing’. Many lesser things are sufficient in and of themselves to accomplish a given task. And a therefore a perfectly adequate solution for the user. So not knocking it in that regard.

I wish it had more editing features.

1 Like

Isn’t garage band a pretty good stepping stone to Logic now? Garageband is kind of like a Logic Light these days, so at least it has that.

1 Like

@bozmillar - good to see you on here again!

Why take a stepping stone unless its price realted?

If it IS price related, then it seems to me that Reaper is a better stepping stone, because it has an acceptable and adequate arsenal of editing and workflow tools.

If the stepping stone is learning curve related, then I’d question the value behind a ‘training wheels’ software like Garageband. Just go strait to Logic, rent a couple videos, and dive right in.

Its really hard to say though…In my opinion, Reaper and DP had a steepest learning curves of all DAWs.

I can say after using several DAW’s now over the years, there is a benefit to having even a little experience with a few. The first thing is that when I am talking to someone who is using that program, and they are new to it, I find I can help them out in some ways to get going and navigate. I also find that it helps me shape my overall view of computer recording as I take away something from each program I have used. I also have found that my brain changes the way it anticipates where something is on a new program. I feel better about my overall recording experience, that I can talk to others who use different programs and I can understand what they are saying, it’s like knowing how to speak several languages. I get what you are saying on cutting to the chase and not getting bogged down in jumping around and just learning one better program, and for some people that is a good thing. But I do find I prefer to be a little versed in knowing and having experience at several programs, both simpler and more advanced.

1 Like

Because the better you are at something, the more features you need, and the more features that a piece of software has, the harder it is to learn how to use it. Something like Garageband has the minimum features someone needs to make a song, so the learning curve is way easier.

It’s the same reason that it’s easier for a kid to look at a simple calculator and know how to use it, but looking at a graphic calculator is hard. Technically all you have to do is ignore the extra buttons on a graphic calculator and you can use it in the same way as a simple calculator, but when you are new and you don’t know what’s basic and what’s advanced, too many options makes it hard to tell what you need.


I think in this respect, Garageband > Logic is almost too logical, and a really smart marketing move on Apple’s part. Garageband is free, and has now 50% overlap with Logic. They’ve added Plugin support, Amps, Drummer and some Logic editing workflows to Garageband. When you get a Mac, you’ll naturally try out some of the apps, and Garageband starts up introducing you to loops and editing. You almost don’t realise you’re making and mixing music. If you plug in a keyboard and start making your own music, I would guess that within a short period of time you’d be limited by Garageband and would be looking around trying to get more tracks, and having more control over what you were doing. Switching to Logic at that point would almost be seamless. The two are matched up that well. Jumping from Garageband to Cubase or Reason, or Reaper would be quite jarring.

Now I take @Jonathan’s point of view - if you want to get into photography, go and get an SLR and learn. Don’t get a point and click because you’re just delaying your knowledge until you actually get an SLR. But having worked with Macs for a very long time, I can say that Garageband “discovers” those kids who know they’re musical, but haven’t quite found their place yet.

I will also say that the latest update of Logic Pro X may just be the one factor that a lot of people will skip Garageband for - Apple took a professional grade DAW and dare I say… made it actually fun to use??

1 Like