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Book Review: Getting Started With Audacity 1.3

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the read-all-about-it dept.

Book Reviews 51

MassDosage writes "Getting Started with Audacity 1.3 by Bethany Hiitola covers the basics of using the Audacity software package for recording and editing audio. This book is written in a tutorial style and stays true to its title by covering Audacity from a newcomer's perspective with lots of diagrams and detailed explanations of how to install and setup Audacity and use its most essential features. This is all very much aimed at people who are new to audio software and are looking for a simple way to get started and be guided through creating and editing an audio recording. On the whole it achieves this but is occasionally let down by overly simplistic content and shoddy editing." Read below for the rest of Mass Dosage's review.Audacity 1.3 is the latest version of this well known free and open source software program that runs on GNU/Linux, Windows, Macs and any other operating system that an aspiring techy gets the source code to compile on. The author has done a good job of keeping the software's cross-platform nature in mind by minimizing anything operating system specific and describing alternative approaches where necessary. I followed along with the book's examples using Linux and didn't run into any platform-specific issues.

I've personally had a fair amount of experience with many different audio editors over the years but haven't worked that much with Audacity so I was interested in what this book had to offer me. To be honest most of what is covered I had already figured out myself just from playing with Audacity in the past. This book is really targeted at complete newbies — if you've used an audio editor of any form in the past and are comfortable recording or importing audio and applying some basic filters and effects to it, then the very basic, tutorial nature of this book probably won't be of much interest to you. However, for those who don't know much about audio editing and are looking for somewhere to start then this might just be what you're looking for.

It may not be the prettiest audio tool on the planet, but Audacity really is "good enough" for those wanting to do simple editing. The fact that it is totally open and free for anyone to download and use means that the software itself is a great starting point for an aspiring audio editor or creator as the barriers to entry are very low. The first few chapters of the book take one through installing Audacity and explaining how the program works and how its user interface is laid out. The minimal equipment needed to make a vocal recording (i.e. a microphone, soundcard and headphones) is touched on and again it is very clear that there is a low barrier to creating something simple. If you want to make state of the art recordings then you may need to spend a fortune on equipment but for the purposes of getting started one really doesn't need much.

The main example in the book covers creating a podcast from scratch which is a good choice as its something that many casual users are probably interested in. This also provides an opportunity to discuss most of the important aspects of recording audio and doing common tasks like removing noise, splitting up tracks, adding background music, fading sound in and out and applying various effects.This is all done with lots of diagrams and step-by-step explanations of the menu items and buttons to push to achieve this. Strangely enough the author mentions keyboard shortcuts (which is good) but instead of describing probably the most useful shortcut of all (CTRL-S to save) she describes going to the file menu and selecting "Save" each time.

The podcast example is expanded upon to show how audio can be cut, pasted, silenced and made louder or quieter. Noise removal is covered in a bit more depth than the other topics which is a good thing as the filter that is used to do this isn't very user friendly — after selecting the noise profile it vanishes with no information on what to do next. This is also something most users will probably need at some point as are the steps on how to normalize and compress the audio. The effects and filters covered are also the ones that a new user is most likely to want to start playing with. The bare essentials are wrapped up in a chapter explaining how to export audio to MP3 (or other formats) and some suggestions are given as to how to make this publicly available via an RSS feed or by uploading the audio to iTunes. It would have been nice to have some pointers to alternative ways of doing this, especially some more open form of publishing than Apple's proprietary and closed platform. There is even a whole section on how to circumvent Apple's DRM by converting locked iTunes audio files to CD and then importing from there into Audacity which is probably useful to some but feels a bit out of place in a book about an open tool like this.

The book also covers a number of other topics which are assembled somewhat randomly but are generally useful. These include adding background music, time shifting, adjusting pitch and tempo as well as various options for aligning, splitting, joining and moving multiple tracks around. Every effect that ships with Audacity is covered and this is serves as a reference guide for what each of them does. Adding more functionality to Audacity via the use of plugins is touched on but this is really just a teaser and isn't covered in much depth (probably due to the platform-specific nature of their installation).

I was a bit disappointed in the book as I didn't learn as much as I would have liked, this is really more of a "how to do the basics" and doesn't provide much depth on Audacity or audio concepts in general. It would have been nice if the book had wrapped up with some pointers for those wanting to know more or go further with their audio editing skills. The overall tone of the book is friendly which suits its "for beginners" approach but at times it is let down by not sounding very authoritative or convincing. The bad grammar and silly typos that weren't caught by the editors don't help much in this regard either. Give it a go if you're the type of person who needs a tutorial guide to get started, otherwise you can probably figure out most of the topics covered by just playing with the software yourself.

You can purchase Getting Started with Audacity 1.3 from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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51 comments

Useful gift (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37097460)

A great birthday present for my mom.

Packt Publishing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37097510)

Yet another Packt Publishing book review... at least it's not about Drupal.

Re:Packt Publishing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37097594)

Here's an idea, maybe Packt can read some of their own books and set up a website using Drupal where they can publish their reviews they wrote of their own books and keep this astroturfing bullshit off of slashdot.

Re:Packt Publishing (2)

HarrySquatter (1698416) | more than 2 years ago | (#37097676)

And at least this one actually somewhat rated the book more correctly than others at 6/10. Though with all the flaws pointed out that still seems high. I'm sure RickJWagner will come along soon enough with another 9/10 or 10/10 rated Slashvertisement for the next Packt book on Drupal he is offered.

Re:Packt Publishing (1)

dainbug (678555) | more than 2 years ago | (#37097818)

Amen. If there is one more review of Drupal posted, my tears will flood the data center.

Awesome! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37097518)

I work for the Republican National Committee in the campaign department. I really could use this to splice together sound bites from our candidates to make them appear intelligent and insightful. I may have to mix candidates a bit. You know start off with Perry and end with Bachmann - our members won't notice at all. Splice in "cut spending"! with "Lower Taxes!" and "Jesus!" and they'll never know!

Thank you so much F/OSS community!

Sorry, when our candidates get elected, we will continue with our complete and utter unabashed backing of corporate interests fucking all of you in the process - after we gut all the wasted spending in Democrat districts. Government spending in Republican districts are necessary for National Security and the Freedom of this Country!

Oh yeah, Fuck the Poor!

Shoddy editing? (1)

xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) | more than 2 years ago | (#37097532)

On the whole it achieves this but is occasionally let down by overly simplistic content and shoddy editing.

Are you talking about the book, the audio mashups people build with Audacity or SlashDot itself? ;)

Price (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37097548)

$34.85 seems a bit steep.

Why do authors of FOSS guides charge so much? (1)

MyFirstNameIsPaul (1552283) | more than 2 years ago | (#37098698)

Just what price do they think users of FREE and open source software are really going to pay? Why don't they take a tip from the top ebook authors and charge $.99? I'd rather troll around the Internet trying to find an answer than pay $34.85 for what is nearly always a poorly edited, half-ass attempt at writing a book.

Re:Why do authors of FOSS guides charge so much? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37100020)

Should they really put that much more effort into what is a poorly-designed, half-ass attempt at writing audio editing software?

Audacity is one of the worst, and I'd pay to *not* know how to use it.

Packt = Junk (2)

afabbro (33948) | more than 2 years ago | (#37097592)

That's really all you need to know. I wonder what their revenue deal with Slashdot is...

Re:Packt = Junk (1)

geogob (569250) | more than 2 years ago | (#37097628)

Interesting and (could be) good to know. Never had anything from this publisher in the hand. Care to elaborate?

Re:Packt = Junk (2)

HarrySquatter (1698416) | more than 2 years ago | (#37097656)

Well as this review states the biggest issue is with shoddy editing. The books also tend to copy and paste lots of material from web sources but then add all sorts of errors into the mix. Also, by the time they release a book on some piece of software it is almost always a major version behind.

Re:Packt = Junk (1)

mvdwege (243851) | more than 2 years ago | (#37098380)

Actually, Jonathan Rockway's book on Catalyst was pretty good; I've definitely picked up a lot of useful Catalyst and Perl knowledge from it.

My second Packt purchase was less good though; their book on Cacti is mostly a long, redundant explanation on how to install cacti on various distributions, both from packages and source.

Why do reviews like this make the main page? (1)

gauauu (649169) | more than 2 years ago | (#37097624)

I don't get it -- there are about 8 bajillion tech books like this one: Beginners guide to XYZ, This-and-That for dummies, ABC inside-and-out. Why would a book review for any of them make the front page of slashdot, unless there was something particularly interesting or newsworthy about them?

Do we really need a front-page post to say: "Breaking news! Another mediocre book has been written about a random software package!"

Re:Why do reviews like this make the main page? (1)

westlake (615356) | more than 2 years ago | (#37098272)

I don't get it -- there are about 8 bajillion tech books like this one: Beginners guide to XYZ, This-and-That for dummies, ABC inside-and-out. Why would a book review for any of them make the front page of slashdot?

The short answer is the guy who is fantastically productive and articulate about working with Photoshop or Blender may know next to nothing about audio editing and Audacity.

Wavosaur mashed Audacity in my setup (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37097648)

I consider myself a semi-professional sound designer. My working gear consist of Ableton Suite 8, Reason 4, Komplete 7 Elements combined with Max/MSP/Jitter and Max for Live (the later for programming purposes; required whenever I want something done which isn't natively supported by my stuff). My usually used editor / processor is normally Samplitude 10SE.

However, whenever I required a quick and clean editor I used to resort to Audacity. Small, free and relatively easy to use. That was until I discovered Wavosaur [wavosaur.com].

In every aspect Wavosaur can match Audacity (even though its 2 years old!) but what's more; thanks to its native support for VSTs (plugins which can be used for musical instruments or sound effects / processors) you can even easily enhance it with extra functionality that isn't available out of the box. I am aware that Audacity nowadays supports this too but in comparison it was a laugh, for example when looking at speed or stability. The numerous times I had Audacity blow up in my face by merely clicking somewhere (sometimes clicking somewhere would crash the entire program; out of nowhere!)....

The main difference? Audacity is 'open source' and Wavosaur is merely free of charge. I don't care about source code; all I want is a program which works. If you're on Linux then well, I guess you then have little choice in this field.

Re:Wavosaur mashed Audacity in my setup (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37097830)

Thanks, I will definitely give Wavosaur a look.

I love what Audacity can do, but I hate hate hate its user interface!

Re:Wavosaur mashed Audacity in my setup (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37098408)

I don't suppose anyone has noticed a trend in this? Gimp, Audacity, Blender... etc. "I love what [program] can do, but I hate hate hate its user interface1"

It seems that Blender is the only one of those that actually did something about it, for which I'm am hugely grateful. I really wish others could do the same. What would be really great, is for someone to make a site where OSS projects can submit their program to be... looked at... by people who are good at UI design. Let UI and graphic designers make contributions to OSS too!

Re:Wavosaur mashed Audacity in my setup (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37098694)

Blender's user interface has absolutely nothing wrong with it, especially since the recent major revamp. GIMP now supports a single-window mode. Essentially all the problems with their interfaces have been fixed, and I would say that Blender's interface is pretty damn slick.

Audacity, on the other hand, is a steaming, buggy pile of crap. Even basic things like fade-in/fade-out produce audible clicks, cutting tracks produces tracks whose samples aren't aligned in time, it uses wxWidgets in a non-portable way which breaks the UI if you have a high screen DPI and it crashes too. Audacity is too immature to be put alongside the GIMP or Blender.

Re:Wavosaur mashed Audacity in my setup (2)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#37098740)

Explanation: most programmers are poor UI designers. The cross section between good programmers and good designers is surprisingly small.

Re:Wavosaur mashed Audacity in my setup (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37099392)

I disagree. The disasters that are KDE 4, Gnome 3 and Unity resulted from the meddling of non-programmers.

Re:Wavosaur mashed Audacity in my setup (1)

jones_supa (887896) | more than 2 years ago | (#37103800)

Well, that wouldn't technically disprove the point. It only says that in addition to programmers who can't design, there's bad designers too...

Re:Wavosaur mashed Audacity in my setup (1)

gorzek (647352) | more than 2 years ago | (#37098322)

Free sound editor with built-in ASIO and VST support? SOLD!

I've been using Audacity for a while now but I'll at least give Wavosaur a shot! I normally use a separate VST host, but if Wavosaur can do both then I can cut out Audacity altogether.

Re:Wavosaur mashed Audacity in my setup (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#37098724)

I could have sworn I could load VSTs into Audacity. Maybe I'm just thinking of DXI. Can't say, as I haven't used Audacity in a long time. The WAV editor [image-line.com] in my DAW of choice is the nicest I've ever had, and the in-DAW integration is quite handy.

Unfortunately it's neither Free nor free, but I do consider it worth the cost.

Re:Wavosaur mashed Audacity in my setup (2)

gnarfel (1135055) | more than 2 years ago | (#37098726)

(Ok, so I understand that this is probably not the recommended way to use Audacity, but it's infuriating nonetheless.)

I use Audacity to record music from each stage independently at multi-stage festivals. I can go to Wal-mart and buy 300$ laptops and use USB soundcard devices to get my 1/4" or XLR inputs, and it definitely works well enough. The biggest advice I can offer anybody is DON'T RUN OUT OF DISK SPACE!! Audacity can easily handle ~18 hour recordings, I'm going through one right now. However, if you run out of disk space, the ENTIRE PROJECT FILE is useless. It overwrites the beginning files, destroys the metadata that ties all the 2MB files together, and takes countless hours to repair. Now, when you're the only person who is hitting that 'Stop', 'Save', 'Record' button on one laptop, it's not bad. But, when you have 5 stages it's nice to do a level check and walk away. When you end up with 80GB of data (number out of my ass), and you only had 76GB free on the computer, now I've lost at least an entire day of productivity.

So, don't get me wrong. I LOVE Audacity, it works well, but there are caveats as TFS implied.

Also, Audacity, why do you do my edits inline? Have you ever heard of insert patches? I always have to copy my original track to a second track (oh great, ANOTHER 80GB data chunk, just so I can edit?), edit and master to my heart's content, then delete the original when I'm satisfied. If anyone has ever used ProTools or Cubase or Reason/Record or any of the 'big name' tools, you'd understand why Aud's implementation is somewhat retarded.

Okay, time for another coffee.

Re:Wavosaur mashed Audacity in my setup (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37114092)

Have you ever tried Reaper? It is has good as all the big names and costs 60$ a licence (the demo is unlimited both in features in time, minus a 5 second splash screen if you are a dishonest penny-pincher). Without buggy free VSTs it is rock stable and is extremely customizable. I use it to create music, record, do post-prod work, anything you can throw at it. It also supports network processing, so you could, for example record everything locally as well as put all your laptops in network and record on one master computer, or any routing you can think of really. Give it a try!

Re:Wavosaur mashed Audacity in my setup (1)

FaxeTheCat (1394763) | more than 2 years ago | (#37099036)

For some reason, when I need to edit a sound file, I always have to dig out Cool Edit 2000 to get it done.
I have tried a few sound editors over the years (amongst them a few versions of Audacity), but none really match it.
Too bad it was taken off the market.

I have bookmarked Wavosaur as the next one to be tried. Could be the one...

Re:Wavosaur mashed Audacity in my setup (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37099400)

""Wavosaur freeware audio editor works on Windows 98, Windows XP and Windows Vista.""

Wow, it supports all three operating systems too!

--edfardos

Wow very nice. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37101422)

Nice, looks like I found a replacement for my 1999 era Sound Forge XP 4.5. that not only is free, adds VST and ASIO support, but is 1/13th the size! And the best part, NO INSTALL! It just runs.

Re:Wavosaur mashed Audacity in my setup (1)

bored (40072) | more than 2 years ago | (#37103718)

I will second that, I found wavosaur one day when I discovered something really simple that audacity couldn't do (don't remember exactly what it was, maybe some kind of re-sampling from a flac?)... Anyway, wavosaur, actually worked, and now its my primary editor for basic stuff.

Frankly, I never understood all the noise about audacity, it just seemed to weak to be taken seriously.

Re:Wavosaur mashed Audacity in my setup (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37109446)

> In every aspect Wavosaur can match Audacity

Multi-track?

Really? (2)

rgviza (1303161) | more than 2 years ago | (#37097878)

"I was a bit disappointed in the book as I didn't learn as much as I would have liked, this is really more of a "how to do the basics" and doesn't provide much depth on Audacity or audio concepts in general."

You can't really expect a book that teaches a piece of software to cover audio concepts and teach you how to mix. There are whole books devoted entirely to recording engineering, mix engineering, and mastering (each of which is a discipline that takes years of practice to master, usually people specialize in one of them), which are some of the activities one would do on Audacity.

There are entire volumes dedicated to mic placement alone.

Don't expect a book like this to school you on engineering. It won't. Read the book, learn the software, then you can begin learning something about engineering.

Mastery of any type of audio engineering is a very long road to travel indeed...

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37098178)

You can't really expect a book that teaches a piece of software to cover audio concepts and teach you how to mix.

Why? Why can't I expect a book on a piece of software that has to do with editing and mixing audio to teach me those things? That's like saying you can't expect a book on Windows to actually teach you how to use Windows.

Re:Really? (1)

McNally (105243) | more than 2 years ago | (#37098792)

Why? Why can't I expect a book on a piece of software that has to do with editing and mixing audio to teach me those things? That's like saying you can't expect a book on Windows to actually teach you how to use Windows.

It's more like expecting a book on Microsoft Word to teach you how to write.

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37098228)

isn't the audio industry these days centered around turning it up to eleven, no matter the quality/distortion cost?

Re:Really? (1)

Falconhell (1289630) | more than 2 years ago | (#37100400)

In my current experience, (live mixing again after 10 years off) you are spot on. The bands I am mixing afe stupid loud, to the point where I had to tell them turn down or I will quit.

Re:Really? (1)

digsbo (1292334) | more than 2 years ago | (#37103054)

I've been frustrated the other way, going to events with small jazz groups performing where the audio engineer thinks it's OK that all frequencies under 60 Hz should sound like thunder. I can't hear a thing other than the boomy bass. It's asinine. Sorry this was so off topic but I need to vent to people who understand...

Re:Really? (1)

Falconhell (1289630) | more than 2 years ago | (#37103340)

Always an issue with double bass as I suspect they would be using. Remember the open E string is at 42HZ so LF response is important. My solution is easy- I dont mix jazz bands!

Have you heard the joke about the jazz guitarist who won a million dollars. When asked what he would now do he said, clicking his fingers, "I will keep playing jazz until the money runs out" (:

Re:Really? (1)

digsbo (1292334) | more than 2 years ago | (#37103074)

I used to play in a rock band that came real close to the "stupid loud" level, and as a sax player it was damn near impossible to hear myself with our normal audio engineer (who to be fair wasn't terrible for a regular rock group w/ no sax, he just struggled with me sometimes). One night we were at a gig where the sound was just incredibly clear and vibrant, and I could hear everything through my monitor. I gave my thanks to the house engineer and while we were chatting he said he used to do sound once in a while for Tower of Power and was happy to know a horn player appreciated his work again.

Re:Really? (1)

Falconhell (1289630) | more than 2 years ago | (#37103362)

For most brass, we use clear plastic reflectors to help in this situation. (Not so useful for sax)Your experence at the gig you mention was more likely the result of very good montors rather than the engineer. I am constantly seeing bands who want to play loud but dont want to pay for the PA they NEED to allow such high levels in both FOH and monitors.

Better off buying Reaper instead. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37098192)

Reaper is non-DRM laden (has a nag screen), is way more powerful, has an update schedule that makes Linux look pokey, and the manual is free and always updated.

http://www.cockos.com/reaper/index.php [cockos.com]

review (-1, Offtopic)

acer925 (2363164) | more than 2 years ago | (#37098214)

the program does exactly what it says, nothing more and nothing less. I enjoyed the simplicity of it. If you wanted more, than you need to get specific books for whatever your looking for. I like Top Poker Sitest [poker-pokersites.com]

Internal doc (2)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 2 years ago | (#37098382)

I've kicked the tires of Audacity, and found it to be a nifty product; but one thing it lacks big-time is built-in documentation on the 30-odd filters it provides.

worst. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37098942)

software. evar! it's like the drupal of soundediting.

Really??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37100000)

A whole book on a relatively small audio editor? Is this for real?

How to get the most from audacity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37100302)

1. apt-get --purge remove audacity
2. apt-get install ardour
(3. ??????
4. Profit!!!!!!!!!!!)

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