Videomaker's Audio Recording Software Buyer's Guide

Finding the right audio software for your operation (and budget)

It can be frustrating to have a great message, only to find that you do not have the proper means to capture it. Investing in the right audio recording software could mean the difference between a well-received message and one lost in time.

A Little History Lesson

History has documented that Thomas Edison was the patriarch behind recording audio, with his needle-to-diaphragm rendition of Mary Had a Little Lamb. This well-documented mastery of then cutting-edge technology literally caught the “ear” of the world in 1877 and sparked imaginations regarding what might be coming in the years ahead.

However, in 2008, researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, successfully reconstructed what’s believed to be the very first-ever recorded audio – a scratchy, haunting rendition of the French folksong Au Clair de la Lune – credited to Edouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, a French typesetter and inventor. His creation, the phonautograph, is believed to be a precursor to the phonograph. Martinville’s invention predates Edison’s audio recording by more than two decades.

While technology and audio recording have certainly come a long way since the late 1800s, the theory of capturing and delivering quality audio in a practical way has been an age-old debate. With dozens of software programs you can purchase – at just about every conceivable price point – the ability to pick and choose which is right for you may have you scratching your head in a manner similar to that heard in Martinville’s recording.

Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind when deciding to invest in audio software:

Purpose

What purpose will your audio recordings serve – are you creating a downloadable podcast for your multitudes of followers on Facebook? Are you planning to sit down with local politicians and post those interviews on your blog? Will the recordings serve as audio press releases to promote goods or services you offer to the public? Or are you simply hoping to record the sound of your own voice to aid in your quest to become the next Ryan Seacrest? (Seacrest, as you may not know, got his start reading the morning announcements at his high school.)

Whatever the reason you plan to utilize your audio software, it’s important to make sure you are investing in the proper program. Having a program that can blend over a thousand audio tracks may be quite overwhelming for someone who simply wants to create a two-minute weekly podcast. That said, knowing what your project scope will be before investing in software – and forecasting a change in needs one way or another – will make your decision that much easier.

Additionally, be sure that your software meets your technological specifications. Some programs require extensive memory, external peripherals and storage capacities to function properly. Keeping this in mind when evaluating software is crucial to a fluid implementation of your investment.

Quality

As early audio pioneers discovered, technology certainly didn’t do recorded audio any favors. Just as the quality of recordings has improved, so have the means of acquiring what we hear. And as technology has evolved, so has the way we listen to audio. Some argue that vinyl sounds better than digital, but, when it comes to recording audio, it’s truly an apples-and- oranges comparison.

While deciding if digital audio sounds better than analog audio or vice versa may be a conversation that will never completely conclude, debating the ease of use could be settled fairly quickly. Just ask Martinville or Edison what they’d prefer: a phonograph with wax-coated media or a program where you can – in real time – manipulate multiple channels of audio, splicing out deficiencies and incorporating reverberations and other audio effects? The answer would be unanimous.

So, while the Ghosts of Audio Past may be spinning in their graves with how far audio recording has come in the past 140+ years, keep in mind the quality of recordings you will need. While one program may offer you countless options to edit and improve your audio recording, the actual workflow necessary for capabilities you need may be found in the lower-end software that won’t break your budget.


Ease of Use

A portable digital recorder may be all you need to accomplish your audio goals. Maybe a full-blown audio recording studio is more your style. It’s important to remember that the software you choose should match your ability level. If your knowledge of audio recording goes as far as pushing the Record and Play button on your old cassette recorder, having a program that synthesizes multiple channels of audio while editing out aural blemishes might be for you.

Choosing an audio software program that incorporates all the functions you see as viable to your production is more important than what the program description says it can do. Be sure that you understand how the software works, why it works and what it does before you make the investment.

Upgrading

Much like upsizing your value meal at any fast-food restaurant, there is always going to be an upgradeable option when it comes to audio recording software. Regardless of your budget or project demands, as technology continues to evolve and improve, finding a program that meets your needs shouldn’t be that hard.

If you are just starting out in the world of audio recording, you’ll probably want to consider the most basic software program that is available. If your skills are more advanced, do your research and find the program that delivers the tools you need at a price you’re comfortable with. And if your projects are big-ticket productions that will revolutionize the way consumers listen to audio, then, by all means, keep on changing the world.

After all, Edison and Martinville may not have seen the audio recording revolution coming, but they certainly made the best of the “software” they had available. The only question left to ask: what recording will you be remembered for?

Dave Sniadak is a video production consultant, servicing clients that include broadcast stations, corporations and non-profit organizations.

Manufacturer’s list

Click here to download a PDF Manufacturer’s list of Videomaker‘s Audio Editing Buyer’s Guide.

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