Laptop with audio editing software on screen

Audio has always taken a backseat to video, but imagine any production sans sound and the importance becomes obvious. To be able to edit audio effectively requires efficient software, but due to the misconception that audio is easy compared to video, the number of choices available are limited. That’s not to say that there aren’t choices that can be made; just not as many as there are for video programs.

The programs can be distinguished as being basic, prosumer or professional. A basic audio editing program is non-intimidating, partly due to automated features and limited functionality. Moving to prosumer, more power is placed in the hands of the user, but again some limitations are put into effect, while the professional audio will be the most expensive as they don’t stint at what can be done. Pro programs are also the most likely to be not just maintained but updated — with the company validating the program by keeping its abilities current to industry standards and changes in the field. Whether to go with basic, prosumer or professional software is dependent partly on cost but mostly on the level of functionality desired and offered for editing audio.

BASIC

Audacity | Mac-PC, Free
Audacity interface
Audacity interface

Available on multiple platforms, this audio editor has the distinction of being an open source program for the recording and editing of audio files. It can post-process a wide range of audio files and comes with a large array of digital effects and plug-ins. It includes noise removal and audio spectral analysis. Multitrack mixing capabilities are included, as is support for multi-channel modes with sampling rates of up to 96 kHz with 32 bits per sample. Its graphical interface features controls expected of modern multitrack software, such as navigation, zoom and single track edit and non-destructive and destructive effect processing. Its limitations include supporting only 32-bit VST audio effect plug-ins but not 64-bit or instrument VST and a lack of dynamic equalizer controls, real time effects and scrubbing support. Additionally, it cannot natively import or export WMA, AAC, AA3 or other proprietary or restricted file formats, and can only display MIDI files.

AudioDirector 5 | PC, $130
AudioDirector 5 interface

The program can record multiple audio channels either individually or simultaneously, with a mixer panel allowing for real-time manual track volume adjustment when in playback mode.
Audio editing is simplified through the use of a layered timeline that runs below the audio waveform — allowing the included effects that have been inserted to be easily seen with both granular and fine control. Each audio track can be controlled though sensibly placed buttons. The program takes the approach of providing the choice between waveform interface or as a frequency spectrum interface — the spectrum view enables audio imperfections to be more readily identified. There is also an audio restoration feature which uses a wide assortment of tools: noise reduction, hiss and hum removal, declip being among them with control over the section of sound to be repaired delineated by section of time, frequency range through its isolation via the brush or magic wand tools. The one low spot seems to be the vocal removal feature, as it does not remove all of the sound unless the vocals are panned to center.

PROSUMER

Adobe Audition CC | Mac-PC, $20/month Subscription only
Adobe Audition CC interface

This program allows for the recording, editing and restoration of audio content — mixing multiple tracks of dialogue, music and sound effects and enhancing the quality of the audio through built-in audio effects. It comes with a waveform toolkit as well as a spectral display and multitrack capabilities. The visual interface makes for a simplified use, especially among those who are novices to using such programs. Features also include a sound remover, a preview editor and a pitch bender. It is also 64-bit capable, though the32-bit Audio Units plug-ins are not compatible, and integrates with Adobe Premiere Pro for editing audio within a video project.

A preview editor allows for a split-screen view for viewing the waveforms of the original file and how it has been changed prior to being applied.

A preview editor allows for a split-screen view for viewing the waveforms of the original file and how it has been changed prior to being applied. Additionally, different colors can be assigned to each track for an easier way of keeping track of individual audio tracks. There is also a frequency band splitter for splitting a track into frequency bands. All files can be exported to Soundcloud as well.

Recently added is a refreshed UI with high pixel density display support, an enhanced Speech Volume Leveler and MediaCore support. Additionally, there is extensive native media support for the editing of all the major video, image and audio formats, along with being able to review Soundbooth project files in the Adobe Sound Document file format directly.

iZotope RX 4 | Mac-PC, $349

iZotopeRX 4 interface

RX 4 is an audio repair and enhancement program as opposed to other programs, which fold these functions in with others. It runs as a stand-alone app or as a suite of plug-ins for DAW or NLE. RX 4 minimizes the manual tasks in a project in post-production for correcting and enhancing audio problems both common and otherwise. The company touts it as the industry standard and includes such control as denoise for unwanted background noise, declick to eliminate crackling, pops and digital impulse noises and an adaptive hum removal.

As example, there is a low-latency Dialogue Denoiser, which focuses on real-time vocals and dialogue treatment and is able to adjust to changing noise profiles. Spectral Repair works as a way for seeing issues that a waveform won’t reveal. It works through a visualization process for identifying and working on problem frequencies and unwanted sounds, and working to resynthesizing the audio while taking the tonal harmonics in consideration, allowing for the removal, also called attenuation, of unwanted, interfering sounds. RX Connect uses the tools from the program in conjunction with the audio or video editing software — sending audio from the host app to RX 4 where it can be worked on, then returned to the host in place of the original audio. RX Monitor provides a view of the audio through the host application.

Also available for $1200 is RX 4 Advanced. It adds to, as well as enhances the functionality of RX 4, with many of the features provided being highly desirable, such as a metering suite and an Adaptive Mode for analyzing changing noise profiles and fixing audio imperfections on the fly.

SpectraLayers Pro 3 | Mac-PC, $400
SpectraLayers Pro 3 interface

Oriented toward those looking for deep audio analysis of the audio files that are to be edited, to understand the difference in approach to editing of this program one needs to consider each individual sound in an audio file as if it was an object in a photograph. Thus, one sees the audio file as being able to be cut, copied and pasted through frequency as well as time. The frequency spectrum of one layer can be used as a “cast” or “mold” for carving an “impression” directly into the spectrum of another layer. Audio can be divided into component parts for processing and mixing. Material can also be selected by frequency, with new music constructed entirely on the spectral graph. The interface has a similar appearance overall to other audio editors, with the central display area being a spectral graph that includes all layers currently enabled for playback.

Among its many attributes, audio extraction allows for pulling target sounds for analysis, replacement or rights-management uses. Additionally, there are noise reduction tools that use customized templates and can eliminate unwanted noise precisely.

All of this power comes at a price: the hardware requirements, which need to be fairly current.

Sound Forge Pro 11 | PC, $400
Sound Forge Pro 11 interface

Designed for professional use, this audio waveform editor features a real-time sample level wave editor, stereo or multichannel recording and high resolution audio support including 24-Bit, 32-Bit, 64-bit (IEEE float) 192 kHz. Video support is also included in both NTSC and PAL, utilizing popular file formats such as AVI, WMV and MPEG (1-2), so as to facilitate synchronization on a frame-by-frame basis. There are also spectrum analysis tools, noise generators (White, Pink, Brown and Filtered) and DTMF/MF tone synthesis. It can record up to 32 channels of 64-bit/192 kHz audio simultaneously and includes a wide range of repair and restoration tools, as well as a full complement of native signal and effects processing plug-ins. It also has the ability to output multichannel files in surround AC-3 format.

Newly added features include one-touch recording, metering for the new critical standards and exclusive round-trip interoperability with SpectraLayers Pro 2. However, though there have been updates, it continues to be a 32-bit program, so 64-bit VST plug-ins cannot be used.

PROFESSIONAL

Avid Pro Tools 11 | Software/Mac-PC $899.00
Avid Pro Tools 11 interface

Capable of multitrack recording and mixing, this program supports sampling rates of up to 192 kHz for audio at 16-bit, 24-bit, 32-bit and 64-bit. File formats supported include WAV, AIFF, AIFC, mp3 and SDII as well as Quicktime video formats such as ProRe, H.264, PhotoJPG and DV. However there is no support for expanded metering or for SD2 audio files.

Videos  in either SD or HD can be edited in the timeline without transcoding and the core engine supports the use of multi-core processors with no user adjustments needed. As a result a fairly recent computer and OS should be employed with 8GB of RAM or more being recommended.

Functions include time code, tempo maps, surround sound and a faster-than-real-time offline bounce for speeding up the final mix or stem deliveries touted as being 150 percent faster. Also, there is the ability to automate tracks while recording. Elastic Time allows for the changing of the tempo or timing of any clip, while Elastic Pro allows for fixing wrong notes, creating harmonies and the transposing of clips in real-time without tempo changes. Mixing includes built-in effects and replications such as guitar amp emulations, while the Beat Detective tool fixes timing issues across multiple tracks.

Other additions include being able to monitor record inputs with extreme low latency at no sacrificing of plug-in performance courtesy of dedication low latency input and playback buffers. There is also a Workspace Browser for audio file search. A number of functions are being prepped for use; these include being able to store sessions locally in the cloud, the ability to document, manage, protect and track assets using a universal metadata schema, a “track freeze” function and being able to sell your sound assets in the Avid Marketplace.

Logic Pro X | Mac $200
Logic Pro X interface

The past saw Macintosh computer users passing on Apple-created software due to high pricing compared to third parties. Logic Pro X is certainly reasonably priced, yet it contains a wealth of high-end elements to use for audio editing. Controls are streamlined, with advanced tools able to be personalized in use. A new design makes for a larger and more viewable screen, although there are those who will find it a bit more difficult to view if using a smaller screen, such as on a 13-inch or smaller screen sized laptop.

The interface boasts a number of changes to allow for quicker access — such as moving the transport controls to the top of the main window and a convenient placement for selecting sounds from the Sound Library. Alignment and editing of regions benefit from Visual Snap Guides, as does Quick Help tips appearing over cursor positions and an autosave. Exporting tracks can now be done directly from a Soundcloud account, with asset exportation to other Apple apps also possible. MusicXML format support ensures that score markings and ornamentations transfer intact to other notation apps as well.

The Sound Library and loop collection has been remade, with a Patch architecture for allowing the layering of different effects on different instruments. Sounds can be saved as a Patch, with this applicable not just to the track or multi channel track stack, but also all the processing, mixer router and controls related to it. There will be those who will find the Flex Pitch editing system praiseworthy in how it allows for fine-tuning pitch and adding or increasing vibrato, even creating removing pitch slides between notes. It also allows for changing the melody or an audio recording after it was performed.

Well designed for music creation as well as audio editing for video production, the mixer features mouse-driven access for controlling 64-bit plug-in use such as opening/closing or bypassing them.  There is also a new MIDI effects plug-in system. A Bass Amp Designer allows for sound customization that mimics popular vintage and modern bass amps and cabinets. There is also now a gain-reduction meter and the Score editor’s design is now track-based. Highly realistic drum kits and redesigned vintage keyboard, along with classic vintage synthesizers, are included as well. A remote app enables wireless pairing of the program to an iPad.  

Sidebar:  Audio Editing Apps For Tablets

Tablets have replaced laptops in many cases due to their instant-on capabilities, lightweight design and ease-of-use. So it’s no surprise that audio editing software designed to function on a tablet has arrived. Priced many times less than its computer software brethren, tablet-driven apps provide features designed for ease of use. In many cases the software is free with upgraded features requiring in-app purchases or the acquisition of a “pro” version.

As an example: There’s the TwistedWave Audio Editor (iOS | $9.99), which provides such features as amplifying or normalizing to adjust the sound level and applying different kinds of filters to adjust the level of the low and high frequencies. A free version, minus editing and export features, provides a hands-on look. 

Another example, available on Android devices, is the Wavepad Free Audio Editor, which edits recordings and can add in sound from other files or apply sound effect filters to alter audio quality.

Additionally, more sophisticated apps are also available, such as the Hokusai Audio Editor (iOS | free, in-app purchases) which uses a touch-screen interface, and the Voddio – Video Audio Editor (iOS |free, in-app purchases) which allows for the editing of up to four tracks of audio.

Marshal M. Rosenthal is a technology, business and consumer electronics freelance writer located on the West Coast

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Susan is the Art Director at Videomaker and YouTuber Magazines.

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