GarageBand vs Cakewalk

GarageBand and Cakewalk are two popular DAWs that cater to beginners and have one significant feature in common – they are free. This makes them an ideal option for beginners or anyone who wants to record on a budget. 

GarageBand is a little easier to use than Cakewalk and features a highly user-friendly interface. GarageBand is only available on Apple devices, where Cakewalk is only available on Windows. 

My name is Donovan, and I’ve been an avid musician for most of my life. I love to write, record, and produce music as often as possible and have spent time using GarageBand and Cakewalk. I know through first-hand experience how each of these DAWs work. 

This post will explore GarageBand and Cakewalk in a side-by-side comparison to give you a better understanding of how they hold up to one another. My goal is to help you determine which option best meets your needs and preferences. 

Let’s get started. 

Quick Comparison

Ease of UseVery easy to use. One of the simplest DAWs around. Good for beginners and people with little or no audio or music experience. Very easy to use but not quite as simple as GarageBand. Good help features can allow you to figure things out quickly 
Features/Functions Basic recording and editing functions. Limited number of software instruments and plugins. Great help feature. Basic recording and editing functions. Also has some mixing and mastering functions GarageBand lacks. 
Professional Capabilities Not designed for full-on professional recordings. Limited in function and scope and not a commonly used option in studios. Not a pro-level DAW, but capable of some pro-level functions. Mixing and mastering functions in a basic app are nice. 
Expandability Can easily pair with an external microphone, but not a great option for widespread expandability. Can connect to external controllers and microphones for decent expansion and increased recording capabilities. 
LimitationsOnly available on Apple devices. Limited mixing and mastering functions.Only available on Windows. Limited pro-level recording and production capabilities. 
Pricing FreeFree

Detailed Comparison

Here is a comprehensive look at GarageBand versus Cakewalk to give you the in-depth information needed to decide which option is better for your needs or preferences. 

1. Ease of Use

GarageBand and Cakewalk are both designed to be beginner DAWs, which means they get good marks for ease of use. Whether you have limited or no experience working with audio, these apps will help you get started. 

GarageBand is one of the most simple and straightforward audio recording apps around. This is especially true if you are familiar with using Apple products because the app has a similar design and layout to other apps you already use. 

GarageBand has a great Quick Help feature that gives you information on the various tools and functions in the app when you hover your cursor over elements in the window. It’s a solid learning tool that comes in helpful time and time again. 

You can also take advantage of various templates to help you get started with a recording project. This takes the work out of setting up a project, so you can start putting things together without much setup time. 

Cakewalk is also pretty easy to use. It’s not quite as simple as GarageBand, but it is still designed with beginners in mind. Once you launch the app, you can figure things out even if you don’t have any experience working with DAWs.

The app also makes editing and arranging your music easy and is not overly complicated. This intuitive layout is a definite benefit and can help speed up the time it takes from writing a part and getting it recorded or edited. 

Winner: Tie 

2. Features/Functions

GarageBand and Cakewalk do not have the same features and functions as pro-level DAWs like Logic Pro X and Pro Tools. But they still give you enough to make basic recordings and perform other audio production tasks. 

You can use the software instruments in GarageBand to start making music right on your Mac or iPhone. This is a nice feature because you don’t need external instruments or even need to know how to play them.

GarageBand also comes with several plugins you can use to help shape audio or MIDI tracks once you have them recorded. These plugins offer basic capabilities but are still nice to have in a beginner-focused app. 

Cakewalk also has many software instruments, which are all easily accessible in the app. There are more options to explore here than in GarageBand, which is an advantage if you don’t play instruments. 

There are also numerous effects in Cakewalk that allow you to shape your audio a bit better than in GarageBand. The options available in Cakewalk more closely resemble what you’d see in more complex recording apps. 

The reverb and compression effects in Cakewalk are pretty solid, and although these are options you’ll see in every DAW, it’s cool to have better-sounding tools at your disposal. There are other EQ options that perform well too. 

Winner: Cakewalk 

Screenshot taken in GarageBand on my Mac

3. Professional Capabilities

These are not professional-level DAWs, so you don’t get as many tools, functions, and features intended for that purpose. They are more geared toward complete beginners, and simple capabilities are the focus. 

That said, you do still get a few features within each app that can help your recordings sound great. You might not be able to reach a professional level by using them, but you can still hash out projects and share them with your friends. 

Overall, Cakewalk has more professional capabilities than GarageBand. It’s a slightly more expansive app that has more features. This alone makes it more professionally capable because you have more things to use when recording and producing. 

Cakewalk has pretty decent mixing and mastering capabilities for an entry-level music production app. It has a 64-bit mix engine that helps your audio sound better while keeping your mixes crisp and accurate along the way. 

GarageBand is basically a diet version of Logic Pro X. While you can get pretty decent-sounding recordings through the app, there aren’t many features within it that allow you to make great mixes or complex edits. 

Working in GarageBand might feel professional, but that’s because the app is designed to have a nice visual appeal. It’s a great learning tool, but you’re not going to be able to create professional recordings through the use of it. 

Winner: Cakewalk 

4. Expandability 

If you want real instruments or microphones in your recordings, you need to use recording apps that are expandable and able to connect to various external tools and devices. This is a given with higher-end options, but not always with free apps. 

Both GarageBand and Cakewalk can connect to various instruments and devices to provide you with the expandability you need to make more expansive recordings. You can make it happen whether you want to plug in your guitar or use a microphone. 

You’ll need an audio interface to connect multiple instruments, devices, or microphones to either of these apps. But you can quickly hook up a single mic, instrument, or controller through one of the ports on your computer. 

The simplest way to do this is to get a microphone that plugs directly into your computer. USB mics will work with GarageBand and Cakewalk, allowing you to lay down vocals or record other instruments like a guitar. 

You’re not going to get pro-level sound with a USB mic, but since neither of these apps are intended to be fully professional, that shouldn’t be a big deal. GarageBand makes it very easy to connect simple mics or single-channel interfaces. 

Cakewalk will give you more expandable options because of all the added tools it has built into the app. So once you have an instrument or interface plugged in, you’ll be able to edit and adjust the sound better than in GarageBand. 

Winner: Tie 

5. Limitations

There are quite a few limitations that come along with using entry-level audio production apps. You simply aren’t going to get all of the features and tools with GarageBand and Cakewalk that you would with more expansive options. 

If you are a beginner, there’s a good chance you won’t even know these limitations from a technical perspective. In that sense, you’ll not be held back much because you don’t have the needs or skills yet to know what you’re missing. 

But once you get into more complex recordings, the limitations of these apps start to pop up. GarageBand, in particular, is not great when it comes to mixing and mastering, so making complete recordings can be challenging. 

There are also compatibility limitations with each of these apps. GarageBand is only available on Apple devices, so you’ll need either a Mac, iPhone, or iPad to use it. But it should be preinstalled on these devices when you purchase them. 

Cakewalk is only available for Windows, so you’ll need a computer or other device running that system. There is a mobile version of Cakewalk available, but I don’t think it’s that great compared to the mobile version of GarageBand. 

The best way to avoid these limitations is to buy a more expansive DAW. GarageBand and Cakewalk are fantastic options for beginners or people just looking to make basic recordings, but you won’t get far in the long run with either. 

Winner: Tie 

6. Pricing

Ok, the best aspect of both GarageBand and Cakewalk has to do with their price tags. And both of them are free! They don’t work on every device, but you don’t have to pay a single cent for either. 

That alone makes both of the apps worth checking out. There is zero risk to either, and they make great learning tools for beginners. To make things even simpler, you don’t need to download GarageBand, as it is preinstalled on Apple devices. 

Pro-level DAWs can cost hundreds of dollars, which is definitely a limitation for many musicians and producers. So take advantage of the fact that GarageBand and Cakewalk are free if you want to get started and improve your skills on a budget. 

Winner: Tie

Final Verdict

GarageBand and Cakewalk may not be the most high-level audio production apps out there, but with easy-to-use interfaces and zero cost, they are both well-worth exploring for beginners who want to record and edit audio. 

The free cost also makes them appealing to just about anyone, and if you want to try out a new DAW for fun, give either of these a shot!

Have you used GarageBand and Cakewalk? Which do you like better and why? Let me know in the comments below.

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