Although it’s possible to do some audio editing inside your video editor, sometimes you need the options and working space that only a dedicated audio editor can provide. And if you only need audio editing software on an occasional basis, then it can be very hard to justify the cost of specialist tools such as Adobe Audition.
Audition has it all including multi tracking, all the effects you could want and then the option to add even more using VST plugins. Audition is a great piece of software but paying £20/$20 for a subscription every month means that it needs to earn its keep.
So here are three audio editors that come with a much lower price tag – free.
Audacity is free, open-source software that can be used on Windows, Mac and Linux. It’s been around for over twenty years and downloaded around a 100 million times.
This longevity does mean that the interface looks a little dated, but since we are looking for functionality over cool looks, this shouldn’t be a problem.
And Audacity has truck loads of functionality. There is little you will want to do that this software can’t handle. All the basics are there, of course, including cut, copy, paste and amplitude envelope editing.
There is also a large line-up of effects and processing tools including noise reduction and vocal isolation. You can also do precise adjustments to the audio speed without changing the pitch so that a piece of audio will run for a fixed period. If you need more, you can also use VST plugins for additional effects and processing.
Unlike other free audio editors, Audacity can do multi track mixing. If you want to combine elements such as sound effects with music tracks or use music tracks supplied as stems then this is essential.
In short, Audacity can do almost everything that Audition can do without the hefty price tag. The online manual is professionally written, there are a vast number of tutorial videos online and being open-source software there are no limitations on its use.
WavePad is from NCH who produce a range of audio visual software. It is available for Windows and Mac.
Although the graphics on WavePad don’t look quite as dated as on Audacity, there is still something a little retro about the look of the software, but all the main functions are there in the toolbar. When you first launch the software there is a useful graphic overlay to help you get started.
All the basics are there such as various built-in effects and the option to add VST and Direct X effects. One of the built-in effects is a text to speech process which produces satisfactory results. Some of the effects supplied by NCH require a further download and after that, annoyingly, a system restart.
There is no multi track function, although there is an option to do what is called a ‘paste mix’. This can work in some circumstances but lacks the fine editing control that you may need.
Another issue is that the free version of WavePad is only available for non-commercial use. This is not an issue for home and hobby use, and the upgrade to the professional version is a one off $99 which is often heavily discounted.
Of the three options here ocenaudio has the most modern looking interface and the easiest navigation. All the usual functions are here, plus, of course, the option to add VST effects. Windows, Mac and Linux are supported.
One big advantage of ocenaudio is real time preview of the effects. With other free editors you must change the parameters of an effect and then preview the changes. With ocenaudio you hear the changes in, say, the equalizer in real time as you make them. The fully featured spectrogram updates in real time too.
There is also a multi-selection option where you can select several sections of a recording and add processing to just that section. So, for example, you could just normalize the parts of an interview where the interviewee is talking.
Editing large files is also not a problem. Most editors load the whole of the file into memory at once, slowing down the system, but ocenaudio has an advanced memory management system that can speed up editing of the largest files.
But again, no multitracking, which could be the key feature you are looking for.
This is a quick round up of the free audio editors I’ve worked with, but there are others. It’s also possible to get free digital audio workstations such as Waveform Free, but these will have a lot of functionality that you may not need.