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This is my pick of the bunch in multimedia software. Audacity is outstanding at recording and editing sound files, but it does so with the flexibility and reliability of programs that are often far beyond the budget of the average consumer.
I use this tool every week to record my Zombie Radio podcast, and I can't imagine being able to make such professional-quality recordings without it. Audacity is cross-platform — it runs on Windows, Linux, Mac, among others — and can record live audio, edit audio, import, export, and add effects.
Image credit: Audacity