Apple’s Garageband program is renowned for making it unbelievably easy to record, edit and produce music in your own home….or your garage.
The only downside is that Garageband for Windows does not exist as an Apple product, nor is it ever likely to. If you want Garageband, you’ll ultimately need to purchase a Mac to run it, however you should know that there are several programs that can successfully meet your recording needs in a home studio. One of them in particular stands head and shoulders above the competition as a Garageband alternative, and that’s Mixcraft 6 (see our full review) – it does such a convincing impression that you’ll have to seriously question whether it’s worth going Mac just for the sake of Garageband.
Whilst Mixcraft is the PC software that comes closest to Garageband in terms of usability, functionality, interface, results, price and just sheer fun to play with, I’ve also included some information about a runner-up Garageband for Windows contender below. If you prefer a PC-style interface, you should explore Acid Music Studio 8 as a Garageband for Windows alternative.
1. Mixcraft 6 by Acoustica
Of all the PC recording software out there (and there’s a lot of them), this is absolutely the closest you’ll get to a version of Garageband for Windows, bar none. First off, a quick soundbite of Mixcraft’s features:
Mixcraft 6 is a powerful music production and multi-track recording workstation that comes packed with thousands of music loops and dozens of audio effects and virtual instruments. Mixcraft enables you to record audio, arrange loops, remix tracks, compose with MIDI and virtual instruments, add effects, score and edit video, and mix and master your tracks to create polished, professional compositions. Mixcraft is your music production dream come true, instantly turning your computer into a fully-stocked professional recording studio.
It sounds a lot like Apple’s Garageband, doesn’t it? The good news is that it’s equally inexpensive, versatile and easy to use (it’s also been showered with music magazine awards, which hasn’t hurt its reputation whatsoever).
Like Garageband, some of Mixcraft 6′s key features include:
- Record and create an unlimited number of audio and MIDI tracks.
- Arrange and score video files, adding transitions, visual effects, music, sound effects, and voice-overs with ease.
- Includes over 6000 professionally produced music loops and sound effects in a wide variety of popular styles, from dubstep to folk rock.
- Includes 11 virtual instruments, ranging from modelled vintage synthesizers to high-quality sampled acoustic instruments, and an inspiring collection of studio-quality acoustic and electric drums.
- Includes 22 high quality effects, ranging from studio standards such as reverb, chorus and delay, to ultra-realistic guitar amp simulators, vintage tube EQ, vocal reduction, multi-band compression, and more.
- Powerful, professional features include ReWire hosting, multi-take loop recording, time stretching and pitch shifting, support for unlimited hardware inputs and outputs, support for multi-channel VSTis, and much more.
Features aside, one of the nicest things about using Mixcraft is that actually feels a lot like you’re using a version of Garageband for Windows. The interface is similarly sleek and professional, the layout is intuitive, and it’s just a really polished piece of affordable music software. On top of this, it’s available to download as a free trial.
Because it’s ultimately your closest Garageband for Windows option, I’ve included additional technical information about Mixcraft 6 on this site for you boffins who really want to go to town on their product research.
I’d also recommend that you watch this 4-minute video overview:
Mixcraft 6 is available in several incarnations, however I’d recommend the top of the line version, Mixcraft Pro Studio 6. It’s the absolute pinnacle for Mixcraft users, and yet unbelievably it’s still under $150. If in doubt, please download the free trial version first – you’ve absolutely nothing to lose and musically speaking, everything to gain.
2. Acid Music Studio 8 by Sony
Like Apple, Sony is a brand name associated with quality products – we know they produce great hardware, but how does their software stack up? Sony’s soundbite for Acid Music Studio 8 tells us:
If you’re serious about making music, ACID Music Studio is the perfect tool for original song creation, audio recording, MIDI production, studio-quality mixing, and effects processing. Share your songs any way you want – burn CDs, upload to the Web, or export to MP3 for portable devices such as the PSP® or iPod®. With built-in tutorials to guide you, you’ll be composing, remixing, and mastering like a pro in no time.
Aside from Mixcraft, Music Studio is the next closest Garageband for Windows equivalent I have found. Acid Music Studio was one of the first consumer-accessible audio recording tools, and it remains a solid option for audio newbies. Although the interface is much less Garageband-like than Mixcraft (it definitely looks like a Windows programme), it has many useful features, including:
- the ability to simultaneously record live audio and midi tracks – essential for band recording
- interactive tutorials to help you learn the software (which is great, because the interface can be a little intimidating if you’re totally new to recording software)
- a huge assortment of built-in loops (over 3000)
- output to a variety of formats, including CD, PSP, iPod, iPhone, and MP3
- an audio- and MIDI-mixing console that mimics an old-fashioned hardware-based mixer, providing an integrated view of your tracks along with pitch-shifting time-stretching tools
- a cool “Paint it on” feature that lets you use a brush tool to paint music on to tracks.
ACID Music Studio 8 is the middle level offering from Sony’s ACID suite of creative music applications, and as such it’s built to meet the not-too-basic but not-too-complex expectations of the music production market. It balances both aspects well, and in terms of functionality is a reasonable Garageband for Windows option.
Aesthetically speaking, we have to admit that Music Studio is nowhere near as pretty as Garageband or Mixcraft, so it may well come down to visual preferences as to which programme will more likely suit your needs. If you want the look and feel of Garageband, then there’s little doubt you’ll prefer Mixcraft.