Cakewalk By Bandlab: The Ultimate Free DAW [Review]


Cakewalk, Inc. was dissolved in November 2017 by its parent company, Gibson Brands, after 30 years of operation. 

Gibson ceased all Cakewalk software development and support at this time, with only the licensing and support forum servers remaining operational.

Key info:

Developer: Bandlab Technologies

Original author:: Cakewalk, Inc.

Initial release: April 4th,2018.

Current version: 2022.02 / February 16, 2022

Operating system: Windows 8.1 or higher (64-bit only

License: Proprietary.

Website: www.bandlab.com/products/cakewalk

Cost: FREE

How to use Cakewalk by Bandlab

  • Download the software from here. You can install it directly or via the bandlab assistant desktop app. The desktop app allows you to activate the software and access other resources instantly and effortlessly.
  • Start a project
  • Do basic setup and connect your audio interface and 
  • start recording

Things you can do with Cakewalk by Bandlab (Features)

Recording: audio and midi:

Like other Digital audio workstations (DAW), Cakewalk can record audio and midi seamlessly and with a single click. Arm your track by clicking the record button and pressing the button “R” on your keyboard. The recording starts immediately.


Cakewalk has an extensive collection of editing tools to ensure you can clean up and adequately organize your tracks. It comes with advanced tools for pitch correction, time-stretching, and quantization. For more on quantization, see the article How to quantize in Cakewalk.

Mix and master: 

All The tools you need for mixing and mastering your tracks are available in Cakewalk natively. The channel feature available on all channels is a potent tool for quickly adding vintage style compression, equalization, tape saturation, and more to any of your tracks. The Sonitus suite of plugins is also powerful and adds quality processing with low CPU hits for your mixes and masters.

Film audio scoring and soundtracks (video compatibility)

Cakewalk is not a video editing software; however, it comes with essential editing tools to cut, copy and align your audio tracks with video all within the software. You can also extract audio from video easily. You can export to various standard video formats, e.g., AVI or MP4.

Why would you pick Cakewalk by Bandlab over other DAWs? (Advantages)


Price, for me, is the most significant benefit of using Cakewalk. It’s totally free to use. Despite the $ 0 price tag, it outperforms many other DAWs in the market today with much better features.

GUI Customization and appeal (Theme editor available)

The Cakewalk skylight interface was introduced in SONAR X1 ( previous name for Cakewalk). The interface is very customizable. Cakewalk has a very colorful interface, the timeline, the note editor, the Console, and the piano roll interfaces. All are very user-customizable. You can install the theme editor using the bandlab desktop app. It enables you to make adjustments to the theme and change color, fonts, etc., as you may choose.

Lots of VSts and VSti

One area where Cakewalk shines is in the extensive collection of Vsts and instruments bundled in. You have the Sonitus plugins, SI instruments, pro channel strip plugins, etc. It supports most plugin formats like the Dx, Dxi, Vst 2, and Vst 3 formats. It also supports rewire devices like Reason.

The very stable audio engine

Throughout my professional career as a recording engineer, I have used Cakewalk countless times as my DAW for multichannel tracking at live gigs. It has been very stable mostly, and hitches are very rare.

You can run extensive sessions without worries. The only limitation most times will be your computer power.

CPU usage efficiency:

Cakewalk has a built-in CPU load balancing feature which enhances the efficient use of multicores of your machine. There is also a meter on the toolbar for monitoring power usage by the software.

Other CPU enhancement features include freezing and archiving tracks and bouncing to tracks. These are very useful in large projects running many plugins to manage CPU usage.

Controller friendly:

The Automatic Controller Technology (ACT) feature enables automatic mapping of controller parameters to Cakewalk’s controls. You can also use it to map plugins and transport controls quickly.

Lots of start-up templates:

When you launch Cakewalk, you will see various templates for different projects. These present a quick workflow to get to production at once without bothering too much about initial setups.

Furthermore, Cakewalk allows you to save any project as a start-up template for future projects.

Smooth workflow:

Cakewalk presents a seamless workflow whereby you can route channels to buses, aux, etc. The prochannel feature turns the DAW into a virtual vintage console with the console emulator and tape saturation. Routing tracks is as simple as defining the input and output channels. Channels can be routed to buses or auxiliaries. You can also set track folders for grouping a collection of tracks.

Comping in lanes:

Over the years, I have used Pro Tools, Cubase, Nuendo, REAPER, Mixbus X32 C, Logic Pro, etc. I must confess, in all honesty, that Cakewalk still has the very best comping system for tracks. The lanes per track system enable individual control of track lanes within a channel and come with many comping features to make the comping process a delight.

ARA 2 compatible:

Cakewalk is compatible with Audio Random Access (ARA) technology. This technology extends specific audio plugins AU, Vst, and RTAS by enabling them to exchange more information with digital audio workstations (DAW). Such plugins include Vocal sync, Melodyne, Drum replacer, etc.

Drawbacks in using Cakewalk by Bandlab

  • The interface may be intimidating for beginners, and diving deep into its functionalities might be a steep learning process.
  • There is an Operating System limitation as Cakewalk by Bandlab ONLY runs on x64 from windows8.1 and up. No plans for a MAC-compatible version at the moment.
  • Insufficient availability of training materials. You may have to depend on forums.
  • Reactivation may be required for continued use of the software if you don’t use it often or are not logged in to bandlab from within Cakewalk. Though it’s free, it gets de-activated after a period of inactivity or disconnection from your bandlab account and must be re-activated before you continue usage.

Wrapping Up

Having used Cakewalk for so long, I can confidently say that it’s probably the best free digital audio workstation today. Its many advantages and stock plugins make it a must-have in your studio if you are on Windows. See how to activate Cakewalk by Bandlab.


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