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Audacity: The Free Dimensional Sound Editor, Part One

The audacity of developers who create, maintain and support an advanced sound editor free of charge is unfathomable but appreciated.

Audacity is a free, open source, cross-platform sound recorder and editor program that allows you to perform simple and advanced sound recording and editing tasks. If you’re into recording, sound effects, mixing, or editing, Audacity takes you there and beyond. Audacity offers a huge (and growing) list of features found in expensive and proprietary sound software. Can you imagine the audacity of developers who would create and maintain software of this caliber? Alas, that is but one of free software’s primary pillars.

This article focuses on Audacity 1.3.12 Beta on Ubuntu Linux 10.10 and uses a Logitech 350 USB Headset* with built-in microphone.

The Basics

Two of Audacity’s little-known features are that it is very easy to install and use. Visit the Downloads page for your particular operating system or, if your distribution includes a precompiled package, follow the instructions for simple installation.

To compile from source, the simple method is to download the source tarball, unzip (bunzip2), untar, prep, and compile.

$ bunzip2 audacity-fullsrc-1.3.12-beta.tar.bz2

$ tar xvf audacity-fullsrc-1.3.12-beta.tar

$ cd audacity-fullsrc-1.3.12-beta

$ ./configure
$  make
$ sudo make install  # as root

You’ll have to resolve any dependencies called for in the configure script, depending on the distribution and version you’re running. To install from a prepackaged repository, run the following command line installation.

$ sudo apt-get install audacity
Reading package lists... Done
Building dependency tree
Reading state information... Done
The following extra packages will be installed:
  audacity-data libavformat52 libflac++6 libid3tag0 libmad0 libsoundtouch1c2
  libtwolame0 libvamp-hostsdk3 libwxbase2.8-0 libwxgtk2.8-0
Suggested packages:
  ladspa-plugin libgnomeprintui2.2-0
The following NEW packages will be installed:
  audacity audacity-data libavformat52 libflac++6 libid3tag0 libmad0
  libsoundtouch1c2 libtwolame0 libvamp-hostsdk3 libwxbase2.8-0 libwxgtk2.8-0
0 upgraded, 11 newly installed, 0 to remove and 64 not upgraded.
Need to get 9,993kB of archives.
After this operation, 29.5MB of additional disk space will be used.
Do you want to continue [Y/n]? y

Once complete, you’ll have an Audacity entry in your menus under Sound & Video. But, before you attempt to run Audacity, there is more prep work to do. You have to make sure that your system uses the correct input and output devices or else Audacity won’t work for you.

Setting Up Audio Devices

In the upper right corner of your GNOME desktop, locate the speaker icon, as shown in Figure 1. Click the speaker icon and then select Sound Preferences from the menu.

Figure 1: Selecting System Sound Preferences
Figure 1: Selecting System Sound Preferences

In the Sound Preferences window, select the Hardware tab (See Figure 2) and verify that your sound device is in the list (For example, Clear Chat Comfort USB Headset). Select your device. If you wish to further verify that this is indeed the correct device, click the Test Speakers button at the bottom of the Sound Preferences window.

Figure 2: System Audio Device Configuration
Figure 2: System Audio Device Configuration

Select the Input tab, as shown in Figure 3, and verify that you input (microphone) is selected here. You may also adjust the input volume on this tab.,/p>

Figure 3: Input Audio Device Selection and Configuration
Figure 3: Input Audio Device Selection and Configuration

Finally, select the Output tab and select your output (speaker) device from the list. Click Close when finished. Now, you’re ready to open Audacity and start using your new high-end sound system.

Figure 4: Output Audio Device Selection and Configuration
Figure 4: Output Audio Device Selection and Configuration

Open Audacity from your menu. Once open select Edit->Preferences from the Audacity menu. Select your Playback and Recording devices from the dropdown lists. See Figure 5. For this demonstration, the recording and playback devices are the same (Logitech USB Headset).

Figure 5: Selecting Correct Audio Playback and Recording Devices in Audacity
Figure 5: Selecting Correct Audio Playback and Recording Devices in Audacity

Using Audacity

At the top of the Audacity window, you have standard recording and playback buttons. Try recording a short sentence or two by clicking the Record button (Red circle) and begin speaking in a normal tone. As the system records your voice, you’ll see your voice pattern appear in the Audio Track window. Press the Stop button (Yellow square) to stop the recording. Click the Play button (Green triangle) to listen to your recording. See Figure 6.

Figure 6: Editing a Recorded Voice File
Figure 6: Editing a Recorded Voice File

To remove a mistake in your recording, click into the Audio Track window and drag over the area that you want to remove. Click Edit->Delete from the menu to remove the selected area. Playback will allow you to preview your change. If you want to reverse your edit, and bring back the deleted portion of your recording, click Edit->Undo Delete from the menu.

If you would like to try some effects, select your entire recording with your mouse or use the key combination Ctrl-A. Click Effect>Bass Boost. See Figure 7. Adjust the settings on the Bass Boost dialog that appears or accept the default and click OK. Your Audio Track changes to reflect your change. Press Play to listen to the change. Remember that you can reverse any change by selecting Edit->Undo [Effect] from the menu.

Figure 7: Using Bass Boost Sound Effect
Figure 7: Using Bass Boost Sound Effect

You’ll find that some effects produce better results with music than with voice. For example, the Fade In/Fade Out effect is useful when syncing video and audio for music intros and endings. Experiment on your own.

Like any media editing program, Audacity creates a ‘project’ which includes your raw data files (.au) and a project file (.aup) so that your original edited project can be created. To save your file in a usable format, you’ll have to export it by selecting File->Export and select the audio format you want to create. Figure 8 shows an export to the Ogg Vorbis format.

Figure 8: Exporting a Sound File to Ogg Vorbis Format
Figure 8: Exporting a Sound File to Ogg Vorbis Format

This brief introduction to Audacity and its basic functions will start you with the program but it can’t replace diving in an trying out the options for yourself. Don’t worry, you can’t break anything. Have fun with Audacity and next week we’ll take on some advanced topics and editing features.

* ~$40 Retail.

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