Audacity(R) is a free, open source (cross-platform) digital audio editor, recorder and mixer. It is a mature software application, that comes with a long list of features such as:
- recording (from a microphone or mixer)
- import/export of WAV, AIFF, AU, FLAC, MP3 (via LAME encoder) Ogg Vorbis files
- advanced editing (cut, copy, paste, delete commands with unlimited "Undo" and "Redo", multitrack mixing)
- digital effects (change the pitch, remove background noises, alter frequencies, remove vocals, create voice-overs for podcasts etc.) and plug-ins (support for LADSPA, Nyquist, VST Audio Unit, including VAMP analysis plug-ins).
The full list of Audacity(R) features can be found on its official homepage here. This software is licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL), offers support for over 20 languages and it runs on Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.
Setup: Please note that when you install Audacity(R) for the first time (in Windows), you will be prompted to install two shipped DLL effects (hard limiter and sc4) which are not actually VST's, and they will load in Audacity whatever you decide in the dialog. You can find them in "Plug-Ins" folder and if you need to add a new effect later, you should check the manual, section "Adding a new VST effect in Audacity(R)".
Important: I've seen a lot of useful programs without a proper help guide. Audacity(R) is a positive example of how support should look for the "regular" user. When you open this application for the first time, there's a dialog window named "How to Get Help". The first two support links "Quick Help" and "Manual" point respectively to the "Getting Started" section and front page of the Manual. The Manual is installed if you get the Windows Installer or Mac DMG file, so no internet connection is needed to start learning and experimenting.
If you download the ZIP or the source code, you can still download and install the Manual. Otherwise, an internet connection is required for the online version of the Manual.
Introduction: Audacity(R) is a complex tool, you can achieve a lot of things but still, unless you're an audio engineer, a passionate or advanced user, you have to spend some time with the help files. I believe most (novice) users use this software to perform only one or a few functions. For those who never used this program before, I thought it might be a good idea to list a couple of things that Audacity(R) can accomplish.
Copy tapes, LPs, MiniDiscs and other legacy media: You can preserve old recordings by transferring them from many sources (cassette tapes, Vinyl LPs, reel-to-reel tapes, videocassettes, mixers, portable MP3 players, digital voice recorders, personal video recorders etc.) to a DVD, CD, external storage device (USB HDD or memory stick) or even on your computer. If you want to use this function, you might want to check the Audacity(R) tutorial - "Tutorial - Copying tapes, LPs or MiniDiscs to CD".
Create and edit live tracks: Manipulate tracks recorded from various sources before copying them to another source such as a DVD or CD. You can split long tracks (that would not fit due to their size) in multiple individual songs, cut certain portions between your songs and unite them in a single track. This was just a basic example of a process that can get even more complex. You can check this tutorial - "Tutorial - Recording and Editing".
Create Podcasts: If you're interested in producing podcasts, Audacity(R) is an excellent choice. You have two options: first, you can use another device such as a digital recorder and then edit the file in Audacity(R) or you can record it on your computer. All you need is a microphone or a headset for recording process (please note that depending on your equipment, the sound quality might vary) and again, you can use Audacity(R) for making podcasts. You can create a simple podcast and choose to export it to a compressed lossy format such as MP3 or Ogg Vorbis. Additionally you can use other lossy formats such as WMA, AAC and AC3. The support for such formats is provided by the FFmpeg library in Microsoft Windows and Linux. For more info on creating a podcast check this Tutorial - "Creating a simple voice and music Podcast with Audacity(R)".
Create Ringtones: Right-now, certain mobile operators are charging their users if they want a customized ringtone. Those who do not wish to pay for this, usually search for an alternative; such as a free site that offers free ringtones. Unfortunately, most websites that I know delivers a bonus (beside the free ringtone): adware or malware. Now, why would you pay or download from an untrustworthy website when it's easy to do it using this free, clean digital editor? To keep it short, there are three simple steps: (1) create the audio file (you can import an MP3, MP2, WAV, AIFF, OGG and FLAC files including MP4 files on Mac OS X - without additional libraries), (2) check the audio file format supported by your mobile phone and (3) transfer the file(s) on your mobile phone (it's a good idea to check the manual/website of your phone as the audio file formats, including the folder where you need to copy the new files is different from one manufacturer to another). Again, there's a great tutorial covering this subject here - "Tutorial - Making Ringtones".
Conclusion: There is much more to explore and discover in Audacity(R). You can perform multitrack recording and editing, create mono/stereo recording and even surround sound. The plug-ins (also known as add-ons) helps Audacity(R) to offer even more features: special effects, filters, tone generatos and analysis capabilities. I will jump over a lot of other features that I didn't list and I will say that you can customize this editor in many ways but this is a territory for advanced users.
My humble review is trying to reveal only a few things that you can achieve using this free digital audio editor and recorder. This may sound dumb for an audio engineer but, I am confident that users who never used an audio editor, might feel overwhelmed about this wonderful but complex tool. My intention was to list only a few features that can encourage the regular home user to use this software, even if it's for a simple task such as a ringtone creation. Once the user feels comfortable, it might be tempted to explore other advanced functions. Finally, please don't forget that Audacity(R) was and it still is a clean, free, open source software for the last 14 years! There's a whole dedicated team working on a daily basis so, a donation will help and encourage them to release new, better, improved versions in the future. Therefore, please donate for an excellent piece of software!
Link to download Audacity: http://audacity.sourceforge.net/download/windows