Audacity is a free, open-source audio editing software compatible with Mac and Windows computers. The user interface isn’t pretty, but it makes finding editing tools easy and can speed up workflow because of its uncluttered design. The one-click repair and restoration plug-ins are easy-to-use and performed well in our tests. The program had a hard time booting up, and crashed a couple times during testing, but that’s normal with a free software. If you are having a hard time deciding on an editing software to produce podcasts or digitize a vinyl collection, Audacity is a great place to start because it can teach you some basic editing functions for free.
Audacity has a good selection of editing and effect plug-ins, easily accessible from the main menu bar. They look as outdated as the user interface, but the controls are easy to understand, and most of them have a few presets to get you started. The Noise Reduction tool performed well in our tests. Once you highlight the portion of your recording that needs some attention, the plug-in analyzes that section and automatically filters out unwanted noise. There are also sensitivity and reduction controls so you can try your hand at manually removing room noise. The preview function allows you to check your edit before you make any destructive changes.
Audacity allows you to record multiple sources simultaneously, and an unlimited amount of audio tracks per session. The recording engine isn’t as high-fidelity as some programs we tested, like WaveLab and Adobe Audition, but it is perfectly capable of recording a podcast or small musical projects. There are plenty of useful keyboard shortcuts to improve workflow, and almost all the tools and features are found in the main menu bar.
The file compatibility isn’t as comprehensive as the best for-pay programs we tested, but you can import and export most of the popular formats, like MP3, WAV and AIFF. It took almost a minute to import our 1.5-hour test file in MP3 format, which is longer than most programs, but manageable. You need to download a free LAME encoder file to export any MP3 files, but you can find that link during the download process for the software.
Audacity is a great software for fledgling podcast producers and vinyl enthusiasts that want to digitize a record collection. The interface may look clunky, but it’s easy to navigate and has all the tools for simple edits and produce a professional-sounding project. If you are nervous about the initial investment associated with the best for-pay programs, try Audacity first.