A Pro Tools system for free? Believe it. Digidesign Pro Tools Free 5.01 (digidesign.com/ptfree) offers eight tracks of audio and up to 48 MIDI tracks, but it’s for older systems. The Windows version is for Windows 98/ME users, and the Mac version works in systems as late as Mac OS 9. Free even lets you use some RTAS and AudioSuite plug-ins for added signal processing and effects, and the download includes a dynamics processor, a delay, and EQ.
Although it falls more closely into the category of audio editor, Audacity (audacity.sourceforge.net) lets you record and overdub tracks—up to 16 at once if your hardware can support it—and the software comes in Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux-based varieties. It also imports and exports a hefty variety of file formats, including WAV, AIFF, and mp3. If you need help, the Web site links to a very active forum. You can use LADSPA or VST plug-ins with the use of an optional (also free) VST Enabler, which opens up your recording options to a ton of great-sounding, free plug-ins.
The Kristal Audio Engine (kreatives.org) gets you 16 audio tracks, and features built-in EQ, delay, chorus, reverb, and something called a “Kristalizer.” The software supports third-party VST effects, and, best of all, it features LiveIN—a virtual rack that lets you play live through a stack of VST effects in real time.
Ardour (Ardour.org) is an open-source, platform-independent, multitrack audio recorder. Currently, you can only download Linux and Mac versions, but Ardour makes the source code available to anyone who wants to build the program for another platform. The software offers unlimited audio tracks (up to the capabilities of your computer), and MIDI support is in the works. Ardour only works with LADSPA plug-ins, but the company’s Web site provides links to more than 100 plug-ins.
If you’d like to investigate your recording options further, kvraudio.com is a mind-bogglingly complete nexus for all things related to computer-based recording. It provides links, news, and forums for recording software, plug-ins, software synthesizers, and lots more. In addition, the Shareware Music Machine (hitsquad.com) is an amazing source of links to commercial, shareware, and freeware music software of all kinds.