Many people believe Pro Tools to be the standard in high end audio production. Can anyone recommend a free replacement that has as many of the essential features of Pro Tools as possible? I completely understand that something free will not completely (or possibly even remotely) emulate the feature set of such an advanced DAW. What I'm asking for is the next best thing in the freeware world, before I leap off the Pro Tools cliff. Maybe a different direction to ask this question from could be, "If I plan on going the Pro Tools route in the future, which freeware DAW will help me on that migration path by providing the easiest transition to Pro Tools?"
If it helps I'm currently using Audacity. I'm interesting in getting into VST instruments to generate instrumentals.