in review

Audio editors for podcasting

In my work life, one of my tasks is to produce an audio podcast. I use Soundtrack Pro and GarageBand to do the job. However, I recently tried out a few audio editing alternatives. I evaluated Adobe Soundbooth, Adobe Audition, and Audacity. I thought I’d share my conclusions:

Adobe Soundbooth CS4 ($200). I found Soundbooth was a bit hard to use (read: non-intuitive) and had limited features. You can only split stereo tracks to mono by exporting them, which is silly. Even the free Audacity can split stereo tracks and convert to mono on the fly. You also can’t divide clips (at least, I couldn’t find how to do it after a reasonable period of time spent searching around). I was also unable to locate a scrubber, mixer, amplitude filter, and several other key features. They may be there somewhere, but I lost patience.

Audacity (free). I found this to be an excellent open-source, free editor. Available filter and effect extensions (add-ons) give this editor most of the features available in pro-level applications. For a simple audio project, this would be sufficient. However, I discovered several limitations which render the current iteration of the app ineffective for large, complex multitrack projects: (1) for me at least, the app starts to crash periodically when I have more than 15 or so tracks, (2) When you split a file, it creates a new track (instead of leaving it in the same track as Soundtrack Pro and Audition do). This is a problem when you are editing an hour-long recording and need to pull out only about 10 minutes of clips. You soon end up with tons of separate tracks and it’s a pain to manage them; (3) You cannot drag and drop tracks around. You must manually select ‘move up’ or ‘move down’ from a drop-down list. This may not sound like a big deal, but it’s a huge deal when you have many tracks and need to order them. (4) While you can mute select tracks (so you can edit one or two clips at a time) and shrink the size of each track to save screen real-estate (necessary when you have many tracks), these settings aren’t saved. The next time you open up the app, all the tracks are ‘unmuted’ and expanded to the full size. The good news about Audacity is that the development community is active, there’s lots of online documentation and support, and the app continues to get better and better.

Adobe Audition 3 ($350). Clearly, this is intended to be the main competitor for Soundtrack Pro. It does everything that Soundtrack Pro does, but several aspects of the design and layout of the application make it hard to use (at least from the perspective of someone very used to Soundtrack Pro). Overall, this is a very competent and powerful editor. However, I could do the same job in Soundtrack in about half the time. Again, I stress that this is coming from someone who knows Soundtrack Pro very well. I would recommend this to someone who has intensive audio editing needs, but does not wish to purchase or need the full Final Cut Studio.

My conclusion: I’m ready to head back to Soundtrack Pro. Maybe it’s because I’m most-familiar with it, but it’s the easiest tool I’ve found to put together podcasts. Another benefit of Soundtrack is that it seamlessly meshes with the other Final Cut tools for creating more complex multimedia and video projects (or for, say, pulling an audio track from a video interview to use in an audio podcast).

It’s not my preferred tool for creating enhanced podcasts or exporting AAC/MP3 files, though. I use GarageBand for this. GarageBand exports MP3s and AACs faster than Soundtrack Pro and produces smaller files. This shouldn’t be too surprising, considering it’s tailored to podcasting. Soundtrack Pro does podcasting as well, but I’ve found that the best way to use it is to export an uncompressed AIF file, and then work with that in GarageBand. It’s also the easiest tool to use for creating enhanced podcasts (adding chapters, pictures, and links to the audio podcast). And, it’s worth noting, it’s the only tool to use other than Soundtrack Pro that I’m aware of that allows one to create an enhanced file. GarageBand is, of course, also an all-in-one solution to create a podcast. You don’t need Soundtrack Pro. What you get with Soundtrack Pro is much greater control in terms of editing, filtering, and mixing. For many people, though, GarageBand will do the job nicely. And it’s cheap. Conversely, Soundtrack Pro only comes as part of the Final Cut Studio, which is quite expensive. I really wish Apple would offer the choice to by the apps in the Studio a la carte (an option they discontinued). If you’re on a Mac and wish to try your hand at podcasting, definitely start with GarageBand.

Audacity is a good general-purpose editor that does the job for simple podcasts (no interviews, or simple Q/A interviews that do not require a lot of nonlinear editing, and those podcasts that are 10 or less tracks). It is a good ‘starter’ solution for those who wish to try their hand at creating a podcast, and it runs on PC, Mac, or Linux. Audacity projects created on one platform open on any platform, which is nice. For more complex audio editing on a PC, Adobe Audition is a solid next step up. And if you want to go the Adobe route, you can always try out Audition and Soundbooth first with Adobe’s free 30 day trial and see which works best for you.

In a few weeks, I’ll have a completed screencast demonstrating how I put together a podcast, which I’ll share in this space.

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