FL Studio vs LMMS – Which is Better?
FL Studio is better than LMMS because it’s a better-looking program with more features and better-sounding stock plugins. Unlike LMMS, FL Studio can be used for recording audio and is the preferred production tool of countless music pros. However, FL Studio is a paid DAW, whereas LMMS is 100% free.
Pricing helps to put the differences between FL Studio and LMMS into perspective. While FL Studio is a hands-down superior music-making suite, with all the features you could ask from a proper DAW, the underrated LMMS has its pros too. Crucially, it’s an open-source software run by a passionate community of tech-savvy enthusiasts and music producers.
There’s no doubt that it’s much easier to make a professional-sounding song in FL Studio than in LMMS. FL Studio is easier to navigate, better developed, and better-looking than LMMS. Keeping FL Studio’s overall superiority and LMMS’s free, open-source nature in mind, let’s take a closer look at what truly sets these two music programs apart.
Key Differences Between FL Studio and LMMS
- A complete FL Studio suite costs up to hundreds of dollars, while the complete LMMS program is 100% free.
- FL Studio is developed by the Belgian manufacturer Image-Line Software, whereas LMMS is a community-based, open-source music program.
- FL Studio allows for direct audio recording. LMMS doesn’t.
- FL Studio features a Performance Mode for playing live, while LMMS doesn’t have any stage-ready mode or view.
- FL Studio is more CPU-demanding than LMMS.
- FL Studio boasts a fine selection of high-quality stock plugins, whereas some of LMMS’s stock plugins can be disappointing.
No comparison between FL Studio and LMMS could ever leave out the differences in pricing. FL Studio offers a time-unlimited free trial in which is you can save projects, but cannot open them. To get a usable version of the software with full song creation and recording features, you need to invest at least a few hundred dollars.
As for LMMS, it’s a completely free program. You can have access to LMMS’s complete features for the price of nothing. The software is also open-source.
The arrangement views in FL Studio and LMMS are very similar. For one, both feature a Channel Rack, used to create short loops that can later be dragged into a Playlist/Song Editor section (closer to the traditional arrangement view section you’d find in most DAWs).
The Playlist section in FL Studio looks better than the somewhat clunky LMMS Song Editor. Functionality-wise, though, both offer similar options, including the possibility to create automation tracks. A more complete and well-structured music software, FL Studio features a wider array of workflow tools than LMMS, including a handy Snap control.
In FL Studio and LMMS, you also have access to a Mixer and a Piano Roll. FL Studio’s Mixer is much better, with sleek-looking faders, an integrated FX section, and even a few modulation options. As for LMMS’s Mixer, it’s mainly used for applying audio effects to multiple tracks. FL Studio and LMMS’s Piano Roll sections look similar but, again, the latter is much more limited, with fewer time-marking, slide, and portamento options.
When it comes to performing live, FL Studio isn’t quite at the level of a DAW like Ableton Live. However, the program includes a Performance Mode that should be good enough to create a fully-usable live set, with launchable clips and even a few advanced performance settings.
LMMS, on the other hand, completely misses out on the needs of live musicians. The only videos I could find of LMMS “live performances” were based around the idea of live loop recording—which is far from convenient. Don’t expect to perform your LMMS projects live if you don’t want to take a computer mouse to the stage.
To run FL Studio without overloading your computer’s CPU, you should rely on a machine with at least 2 GB of free disk space and 4 GB of RAM. To use it flawlessly, a computer with 512 GB SSD storage and 16 GB of RAM is recommended. However, like most paid DAWs, FL Studio is a versatile music program featuring an adjustable buffer length setting, an underrun count for preventing overloads, and a ‘Reset plugins on transport’ feature.
This means you can optimize its CPU usage by changing the audio-settings balance and doing a bit of “housecleaning.” You can learn more about it here.
If you’re making music on an old computer with less than 4 GB of RAM, LMMS has got you covered. One of the program’s main advantages is its low CPU dependency. According to their official website, you can run LMMS’s software on any computer with a minimum of 512 MB of RAM. This means you can come up with a few basic tracks on pretty much any computer made in the last 20 years. To run LMMS without experiencing any issues, a multicore computer with a minimum of 2 GB of RAM is recommended.
Both FL Studio and LMMS support MIDI controllers but haven’t developed fully-integrated hardware options. Hardware developers such as Editors Keys, for instance, have created an FL Studio-specific computer keyboard. You should be able to find similar products in the market.
However, Image-Line Software (the company behind the creation of FL Studio) never came up with a fully integrated FL Studio hardware solution, in line with what Ableton Live did with Push (a dedicated MIDI controller with Ableton Live). As far as I know, LMMS-specific hardware is impossible to find.
Working With Audio
Working with audio is when push comes to shove. While FL Studio is loaded with useful audio-editing features, LMMS is so limited that it doesn’t even allow for recording.
This is one of the most crucial differences between the two music programs, and the reason why LMMS cannot technically be called a DAW. To use recordings in LMMS, you first need to drag in pre-recorded files from different programs and then treat them as samples. This is not only highly inconvenient but single-handedly leaves LMMS out of the professional-DAW category it should strive to be a part of.
Contrary to LMMS, FL Studio allows for direct recording and, most importantly, is equipped with an impressive number of audio-editing features. There’s a whole array of handy editing tools, as well as a game-changing auto-slice menu—perhaps one of the main reasons why FL Studio has such a high reputation amongst hip-hop beatmakers. You can also detect beats and pitch regions and freeze audio.
Working With MIDI
Most modern-day music programs feature decent MIDI integration, and both FL Studio and LMMS do so without hitting the ballpark. With FL Studio and LMMS, you can play virtual instruments using a MIDI keyboard, or play drums with an MPC-style controller.
Both programs have no issues with working with MIDI, but LMMS features less mappable controls, especially if third-part VSTs are involved. MIDI configurations for VSTs are limited in LMMS, meaning you won’t be able to map some knobs of your favorite virtual instruments and audio effects to the physical knobs in your MIDI controller. While annoying, this can also happen—albeit rarely—in FL Studio and, quite honestly, in every other DAW out there.
FL Studio and LMMS offer great VST plugin compatibility, meaning you can use your favorite external instruments and audio effects inside both programs. The difference between the two (and the reason why FL Studio beats LMMS yet again) is less functional and more workflow-orientated. Allow me to explain…
To use plugins in FL Studio, all you have to do is load your .dll files into a VST plugin folder and scan it using the Plugin Manager from ‘Options > File Settings.’ There, you can take a look at the full list of available plugins, scan new plugins, and even search for installed plugins. If you have ever used a VST in pretty much any DAW, you should be familiar with this standard process.
Using VSTs in LMMS, however, seems unnecessarily time-consuming and counterintuitive. To do so, you need to create an instrument rack, open the VeSTige plugin, and only then choose the VST you want to use. This means you have to go through two additional steps anytime you want to use a third-party plugin in LMMS.
Both FL Studio and LMMS include stock plugins, and some make for pretty unique, high-quality music-making tools. Again, FL Studio beats LMMS: the stock instrument plugins and audio effects in the latter are fun to play with but tend to be rough-sounding and hard to control. Unlike FL Studio’s stock plugins such as Flex, Fruity Vocoder, or Soundgoodizer, LMMS’s native instruments are yet to become household names.
Another downside is that LMMS’ native instruments, while pretty decent, all have the same graphical user interface. This takes something away from their decent sonic power, which is unfortunate. FL Studio’s effects are pretty much on the other side of the spectrum: they’re loaded with charisma, even when you put them up against the stock plugins of market-leader DAWs such as Pro Tools and Abelton Live.
To make justice to LMMS, though, it’s important to mention that the stock Game Boy emulator FreeBoy is not so bad at all.
FL Studio and LMMS offer great OS compatibility and can run successfully on the three most common operating systems: Microsoft Windows, macOS, and Linux. Unlike LMMS, FL Studio isn’t yet fully integrated with Linux but can be used flawlessly through the Windows compatibility layer Wine.
Mobile users should be happy to know that FL Studio is also available as a complete multi-track workstation for Android, iOS, and Windows UWP. FL Studio Mobile is loaded with all the fundamental features that make its computer version great. As for LMMS, it’s still not available as a mobile app, much to the disappointment of some of its loyal users.
All things considered, FL Studio makes for a complete DAW that can be used to do everything from making basic beats to cooking a number-one hit. Beloved by hip-hop beatmakers and listed as one of the best DAWs for beginners, it’s a recommended music program that should fit the needs of bedroom producers and studio pros alike.
On the other hand, LMMS is free and open-source. It’s not as popular as the fan-favorite FL Studio, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s fun to play around with, it’s supported by a vibrant online community, and yes, it can be used for making decent songs if you truly put your mind to it.
If you’re still struggling to make a decision, I’d recommend downloading LMMS for free first to see if it fits your need. Once you feel like its limitations are getting in the way of your results, it’s probably a good idea to invest some money in an FL Studio license.