Are Free DAW Software A Waste Of Time? Taking A Closer Look At Audacity
DAW software is the heart and soul of any commercial and home recording studio. They are involved at every phase, from recording, editing and processing, to outputting the final product. Deciding on the right software to suite your needs, is turning out to be a very important one.
Most high-end DAW software is fairly expensive though. With many experts discouraging the use of free software, how do you learn the basics to make an informed decision when it comes to choosing more advanced DAW software? We take a look at Audacity, a popular free DAW to find out.
The best thing to do before discussing the features and functions, is to first take a realistic look at what it is and what it isn't, so that you have a realistic expectation of the software.
What It Is Not
Audacity is not a fully fledged Digital Audio Workstation. Many audio technicians refuse to even call it a DAW. Yes, it is not extremely flexible, and not packed with features to make your life a lot easier.
It will also take you a lot longer to produce the same end result than on high-end DAW software. One analogy I read from an analyst, is that using Audacity is like building a house just using a hammer and saw. From my own experience, I won't exactly go that far, but paid fully-featured DAW software do streamline the process, provide additional tools and advanced features to provide a finished and polished product in a fraction of the time it will take Audacity.
What It Is
Before pushing even the thought of getting to know Audacity out of your mind, just consider this. If you are starting your first home recording studio and know very little, if anything at all about DAW software, doesn't it make sense to learn and familiarize yourself with the basics before diving in at the deep end?
And that is exactly what Audacity is. It is a fairly straightforward no-thrills software suite that still covers all the basics of recording software, and throws in some more advanced futures to make it more than just usable.
None of the knowledge you will learn using Audacity will be wasted. The basics and features used in the software, are used in more advanced full-blown DAW software. It will probably be just more powerful and expanded, and maybe situated on a different menu/screen. But more importantly, the principles are basically the same
With that said, it is time to have closer look at Audacity's features and functions to get a clear picture of how the software works and how effective it is.
Audacity comes with a user-friendly customizable interface interface with a variety of toolbars available right from the menu. The interface is clean and pretty self-explanatory, making it easy to navigate your way. It is pretty basic compared to to its high-end expensive peers, which is a good thing when coming to grip with an audio interface for the first time.
It has a simple recording panel on the interface, allowing you to record audio and voice-overs directly in the software. The recording can be saved as a project file.
Audacity also supports multiple tracks, which can each be import as separate audio files, effects and filters applied to, then exported as an audio file.
There are a number filters to apply to your audio, and I will just highlight a few noteworthy ones to illustrate their diversity.
- Background Noise Removal Tool is quite handy and effective, especially for an entry level audio editing application.
- Compressor Effect Tool does a good job of reducing the dynamic range of the audio, with quite few options to play around with to create the desired effect.
- Normalize Effect is used to set the peak amplitude of the audio, which means the loudest point is at a set level.
- Amplify Effect is used to change the volume of specific tracks.
- Equalization Effect is achieved by adjusting the Bass Boost and Treble Boost.
- Silence Audio Tool is used to remove unwanted pieces of audio from a track.
- Auto Duck Tool is another handy feature to use, especially when you combine voice-over and background music audio.
These are just a few of a host of effects and filters available, so you really have a lot to experiment and get creative with.
Files can be exported in a variety of formats, the Windows WAV file being one of the standards you will probably use. Unfortunately you can not export your final audio files as MP3 files directly from Audacity. Luckily this is not an issue, as you can install and use the Lame MP3 Encoder to export your audio files.
As Audacity is a "light" application, it does not take up a lot of your system resources, meaning any changes and effects are quickly applied. Obviously, the bigger your piece of audio and the more tracks you have, the bigger the effect on your software's performance. Still, the effect on your performance is so insignificant, it is barely noticeable.
The user-friendly interface speeds up productivity as important functions can be accessed and executed quickly. The ability to customize and add keyboard shortcuts to often-used functions, adds to the ease of use and increase productivity even further.
There is no getting away from the fact that you are going to get very diverse reactions and opinions on Audacity, depending on who you ask. A seasoned sound engineer with years of experience with professional software like Pro Tools or Ableton Live, will have no time at all for the very "limited" capabilities of Audacity.
A new user who never worked with audio software before, will enjoy weeks of exploring and experimenting with all the functions and features available in Audacity. This software has evolved so much since its humble beginnings, that it is a much more fully-featured and streamlined product than most users realize.
If you are getting your feet wet for the first time, I would definitely recommend downloading and learning the basics of this "simple" but surprisingly powerful audio application. You really have nothing to loose and will most probably be pleasantly surprised.
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Catch you in the next article and happy recording!