Social Enterprise

Giving Audacity its due: An audio editor with serious functionality

Jack Wallen finds an open source program deserving of special praise. See what he has to say about Audacity, a robust audio editor and recorder.

Every so often I feel compelled to drop the corporate conspiracy theories and the how-tos and simply offer up kudos to an application and team of developers that work hard to create a piece of open source software that has great functionality and allows the user to enjoy freedom in so many ways. I found one of these programs when l I started creating a podcast (Zombie Radio) to promote my "I Zombie" trilogy of novels. When one of my beta readers came up with the idea, I knew it had to be done...and I knew the open source community would have all the tools I needed to make it a reality.

What I wanted to do was be able to create podcasts that resembled a radio station deejay, so music would be interwoven or added to dialog...a simple task, actually, especially with the right tool. That tool, of course, wound up being Audacity. If you're out of the loop, Audacity is a free, open source, cross-platform sound editor that not only has an amazing feature list, but winds up being incredibly easy to use. Even for someone who has had limited exposure to sound editing, Audacity can have you creating somewhat complex audio files that are then exported as mp3 files.

Audacity features

If you're curious, the feature list for Audacity looks like this.

Recording

  • Record from microphone, line input, or other sources.
  • Dub over existing tracks to create multi-track recordings.
  • Record up to 16 channels at once (requires multi-channel hardware).
  • Level meters can monitor volume levels before, during, and after recording.
Import/Export
  • Import and export WAV, AIFF, AU, and Ogg Vorbis files.
  • Import MPEG audio (including MP2 and MP3 files) with libmad.
  • Export MP3s with the optional LAME encoder library.
  • Create WAV or AIFF files suitable for burning to CD.
  • Import and export all file formats supported by libsndfile.
  • Open raw (headerless) audio files using the “Import Raw” command.
  • Audacity does not currently support WMA, AAC, or most other proprietary or restricted file formats.
Editing
  • Easy editing with Cut, Copy, Paste, and Delete.
  • Use unlimited Undo (and Redo) to go back any number of steps.
  • Very fast editing of large files.
  • Edit and mix an unlimited number of tracks.
  • Use the Drawing tool to alter individual sample points.
  • Fade the volume up or down smoothly with the Envelope tool.
Effects
  • Change the pitch without altering the tempo, or vice-versa.
  • Remove static, hiss, hum, or other constant background noises.
  • Alter frequencies with Equalization, FFT Filter, and Bass Boost effects.
  • Adjust volumes with Compressor, Amplify, and Normalize effects.
  • Other built-in effects include:
    • Echo
    • Phaser
    • Wahwah
    • Reverse

The feature list goes on from there, but you get the idea.

Audacity is one of those tools that, when you introduce it to others (that are generally not aware of open source software) they tend to be amazed that such a tool exists without a significant cost attached. If I could actually separate myself from my knowledge of open source, I could completely understand where that perspective comes from. Audacity is an incredible application.

So often tools like this tend to go unnoticed on sites primarily dedicated to IT-related issues. But I firmly believe that attitude is beginning to change. Why? Primarily because of how social media has begun to re-shape the landscape for marketing and the business-to-client relationship. Thanks to so many tools, the individual has been empowered to take things into his own hands. This empowerment is saving businesses thousands (if not millions) of dollars in the long run. Consumers have become incredibly dependent upon social media...and to that end, the ability to create in-house podcasts, audio snippets, etc. can mean the difference between reaching the social media crowd and not. What Audacity does is allow you (with a little extra equipment -- such as a good USB mic) to easily create professional quality podcasts that can serve a multitude of purposes.

I don't know how many TechRepublic readers actually make use of tools like Audacity, but if you have a need for any type of audio creation/editing, and you're not using Audacity -- you're seriously missing out.

Of all the open source tools I have used, Audacity might well be one of the most impressive to date. Not only is it incredibly powerful and simple to install, it's user-friendliness makes it possible for just about anyone to begin producing audio quickly and easily.

Bravo to the developers of Audacity. I realize I've spent a lot of time overlooking you, but today you get a nod of respect from TechRepublic and its readership.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

8 comments
PMPsicle
PMPsicle

Sometimes it seems to do too much ... :D I've used several other free and paid sound tools and Audacity is one of the best. The only problem is that it has so many capabilities that aren't well documented that you really need to be a sound engineer to understand the full capability of it. Fortunately, you can do most of the basic things easily with only a basic understanding. I'm surprised no one has mentioned truncate silence. It's a great tool for removing all those dead spots while you're getting ready to say the next word.

paul.visser@nccw.nl
paul.visser@nccw.nl

One of the most used apps on my linux DAW. Edit recordings, transposing music to the key I want, slowing down to listen carefully. One I miss is adding track marks and burn to CD.

derekRAU
derekRAU

I use Audacity to record DJ mixes and edit my music. It is the best program I've used for such tasks.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Made a perfect replacement for my old soundblaster suite of tools. It has exactly the same features and a couple more. Not as easy to use though, but certainly easy enough.

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

Finding the hiss and pops is key and maybe not eliminating but reducing it beyond the point of noticable. The sound studio is very adequate.. Expanding the scale of display will make it a bit more precise when reducing the offensive content. Equalizing may help but sometimes just handicaps the rest of the recording. Compressing is supposed to help reduce the size of a file without any loss of content compared to original content and de-compressed. Not possible. Even the real audio, analog event recording begins with limitations in microphone, cables, mixers, have losses, points across the audio spectrum where the the hardware is not at its best. Multiple inputs require multiple channels to save that information. Hardware media include vinyl, tape, wire, continous loops and so on. Digital processing throws a whole new ballgame and set of parameters that need attending to. Amplify again has bandwidth to consider, even with audio, digital and analog. More so with digital as once that content is limited or not reproduced with audible effect, is lost and can not be reinserted or reproduced. again, analog has many losses and are impedence based where phase imbalances go unnoticed but makes things a bit muddled. Normalized implies matching all levels equally, amplifing some, reducing other. It implies a flat response. All of these are dependant on the quality of the original content and media transfer sources.

kliss
kliss

I have used audacity to break apart long recordings and to convert to mp3, but how about some tips on using the other features? how do i Remove static, hiss, hum, or other constant background noises using audacity? What does it mean to Use the Drawing tool to alter individual sample points? How are these features different: Compressor, Amplify, and Normalize effects?

LorinRicker
LorinRicker

One of the finest "how to" books about Audacity is Carla Schroder's "The Book of Audacity" (2011, No Starch Press, ISBN 978-1-59327-270-8). She covers just about everything you'd need to really get started and master this great program, plus she covers practical topics on general sound recording and processing in Linux, Win and Mac environments. Recommended.