Audacity: Free Sound Editor and Recording Software

What Audacity can’t do

Like any program, Audacity has its limits that can’t be broken. Each of the following would be best done in a different program.

1. Audacity can’t effectively tag MP3s

Look at Audacity’s tag editor and you’ll notice some missing fields, especially the cover art field. Use a different program like MP3Tag (free for Windows) or ID3 Editor ($15 for Windows and OS X) for tagging your audio files.

2. Audacity can’t make good podcast MP3s

LAME is the best MP3 encoder! But it’s the best for music, and only when you use variable bitrate (VBR). This isn’t very compatible for podcasts, and using LAME any other way produces poor quality MP3s. That’s why I recommend that you export as WAV and create your MP3s with iTunes.

3. Audacity can’t make music

Audacity can import MIDI files, but it won’t be a friendly interface like GarageBand or other music-making apps. Audacity also lacks loops, sequencers, and a host of other features found in other apps.

4. Audacity can’t publish or share [via Bob Boufford]

Export is your only option with Audacity. There aren’t any one-click publishing or sharing options. You’ll have to do that yourself.

5. Audacity can’t apply real-time or editable effects

If you apply an effect in Audacity, you have to apply it to your audio before you hear it. And once applied, you can’t change the settings later unless you undo and re-apply.

5 1/2. Audacity can’t get any cheaper [via David Dell]

You don’t have to pay to use Audacity or its plugins. But do remember that “free” comes at a price: the cost of your time to do what might be easier or quicker in paid software.

What Audacity doesn’t do without workarounds

Audacity has limits, but they can be bypassed with plugins or tweaks.

6. Audacity doesn’t record multiple devices

Audacity can record as many tracks as a single device supports. But if you want to simultaneously record multiple devices, you’ll have to have special drivers on Windows (I don’t know of any) or make an “Aggregate Device” on OS X.

7. Audacity doesn’t offer multiband compression

Audacity offers an audio compression plugin, and I always suggest Chris’s Dynamic Compressor. But if you really want a multiband compressor, you’ll have to look at another plugin—C3 Multiband Compressor. It similar to Adobe Audition’s multiband compressor, but C3 is free and works with Audacity.

8. Audacity doesn’t support WMA, AAC, or other formats

With the FFMPEG plugin, you can import and export M4A (AAC), AMR, WMA, and AC3.

The show-stopping big one

9, ANY audio-editor can’t make bad audio sound good

No matter how much you spend on kitchen equipment, you can never make poop brownies good. If you give Audacity or any other audio-editor bad audio, you can’t make it sound good. You can enhance what you record or even fix some glitches (like removing noise). But there’s no replacement for getting good audio in the first place.

Testimonial on podcast cover art

I designed custom podcast cover art and a website header for author M.E. Anders and she shared this great testimonial.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chNLjAWjsBc

Get your own custom podcast cover art designed by me!

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About the Author
As an award-winning podcaster, Daniel J. Lewis gives you the guts and teaches you the tools to launch and improve your own podcasts for sharing your passions and finding success. Daniel creates resources for podcasters, such as the SEO for Podcasters and Zoom H6 for Podcasters courses, the Social Subscribe & Follow Icons plugin for WordPress, the My Podcast Reviews global-review aggregator, and the Podcasters' Society membership for podcasters. As a recognized authority and influencer in the podcasting industry, Daniel speaks on podcasting and hosts his own podcast about how to podcast. Daniel's other podcasts, a clean-comedy podcast, and the #1 unofficial podcast for ABC's hit drama Once Upon a Time, have also been nominated for multiple awards. Daniel and his son live near Cincinnati.

32 comments on “9 Things Audacity Doesn’t or Can’t Do – TAP056

  1. Scott says:

    If you were going to recommend podcast (only) editing software that was NOT audacity, what would it be?

    Thanks.

    1. That depends.

      What do you want to do that Audacity doesn't do?
      What kind of functionality or features are you looking for?
      How much can you spend?
      Windows, OS X, or Linux?

  2. Scott says:

    1. Don't know (yet), I am in the process of organizing what I need (to get and to learn)
    2. My audio podcast will be used for 2 things, reviewing products and interviews
    3. $4.55 😉 if I had to purchase software I would hope to keep it at no more than $100
    4. Windows

    I had planned on using Audacity (which brought me to you) and as I will be producing my podcast I will need to learn the software, and I would rather start with what I need at the very beginning as opposed to "swapping horses in the middle of the stream".

    Thank you for your time and response.

    1. So it sounds like you believe Audacity is something you'll "grow out of." Am I understanding you correctly?

      I have high-end audio gear that cost over $1,200. But I still use Audacity because it's free and gets the job done very well. I and most other podcasters really don't need software any better than Audacity, unless there's a particular tool or way of doing something that we prefer.

      I've talked to many other professional podcasters who also still use Audacity (many of them listen to this podcast). Other software will range from $50 to $350. You would be better to put any money you have into nicer equipment before spending it on software.

  3. Scott says:

    Well, I thought it (Audacity) would be fine and have installed it and the plug-ins you recommend (like Chris’s Dynamic Compressor) but I took this post as a negative and thought maybe I should reconsider before I was in too deep.

    But I trust your judgment, I like what I read here and what others have said about you, so if you think Audacity is the way to go, then that's what I'll do.

    In the audio of this post it sounded I liked your Photoshop layers analogy, so if I could run with it a bit more… if I save an audacity file with its different tracks (layers) before I export it was a wav file, I could always go back, open the saved Audacity file, tweak it and then re-export it?

    Staying with the Photoshop theme, as a photographers the rule is never to edit the original file, copy it and work on the copy, sounds like the same rules should apply to audio files.

    Okay, off to learn Audacity.

    Thanks again.

    1. Yes, this post could seem negative, and I tried to be objectively critical (oxymoron?). But I still use and recommend Audacity since most people won't face the issues I mentioned above, or they can implement the simple workarounds.

      You're close on the layers analogy. Consider Audacity's effects to audio tracks like Photoshop's not-smart filters on layers. Once you've applied and done other things, you can't go back and re-adjust the filter.

      But editable effects would be like Photoshop's smart filters on smart objects. I can apply the filter and it looks the same, but I can come back later and change the filter I applied.

      Saving your Audacity project with multiple tracks is the same as multiple layers in Photoshop. Having separate layers is great, but it's also important to keep the unedited edition somewhere. Either "Save As…" to get a working copy, or keep you raw recordings separate.

  4. Great episode Daniel! Lots of valuable info for those of us who use Audacity.

    I have an Audacity question for you.

    A few months ago I upgraded my desktop PC from an old Win XP box to a new custom built Win 7 machine. Since then, Audacity always "forgets" where to grab the incoming audio from. In other words, I run the output from my mixer into the line in jack on the PC, but if that cord is ever unplugged and then plugged back in, Audacity doesn't recognize the line in input and I have to restart the machine with the cord plugged in and then Audacity has no problem seeing that audio input.

    Have you heard of this or similar issues? Any ideas on what might be the problem?

    Thanks!

    -JD

    1. In Windows, set the extra device as your default input. Then as long as Audacity 1.3.13 is set to the default input, it will always capture that line.

      Also try Transport > Rescan audio devices.

  5. I have already done the things you suggested, but to no avail. It's more than a little frustrating. I have no idea what else to try.

    But it's free software so I guess I can't complain too much.

    1. One last thing I recommend is that you enable the Device Toolbar (View > Toolbars > Device Toolbar) to show you your device selection when you're in Audacity.

  6. zipdrive says:

    Hello Daniel,
    I’m a first time listener and stumbled onto your site when searching for a compressor plug-in for a friend new to podcasting.
    I’ve been podcasting for over 4 years and I found this list spot on – actually, it taught me something new regarding the inadequacy of LAME in Audacity- I just had a conversation about MP3 quality with another podcasting friend who uses VBR to get better quality than my poor 64 Kbps CBR. I was wondering how podcasts like Security Now have such nice quality using 64Kbps and that’s probably the answer.

    On a completely different note, while I found the actual content of your podcast excellent, I found the presentation lacking- specifically you repeated the points way too many time- why go over points 1-4 then 1-5 then 1-6 then 1-7 then 1-8 then again 1-9? I think you’ve just added an unnecessary 5-10 minutes to the podcast length (especially as episode 56 is essentially a bullet-point list).

    Lastly, I wanted to note that using software workarounds in Mac or Windows to mix several devices to put into Audacity misses out on one of the chief advantages of multi-device recording – being able to edit tracks from different devices separately. I found a piece of freeware called Krystal Engine that allows me to record multiple devices, which I then import into Audacity for editing.

    Thanks for the podcast!

  7. BarbaraEdelmanvoice@gmail.com says:

    It can’t do punch and roll edits. If you can figure a way around this you would be a hero.

    1. I’m not familiar with this. Can you explain it some more?

  8. Bruceblake1 says:

    were can i see your art, your very smart and i’d love to match a sound with an art piece, just an old musician, wrapping it up. 

    1. Can you explain what you’re trying to do a bit more?

  9. Some Dude says:

    I agree that Audacity needs more tools for music such as actual MIDI and maybe better tools than “pluck”, etc. I think that one of the best comments is that Audacity effects can only be applied once and aren’t kept track of for later editing. This and Audacity’s inability to effectively create good-sounding music somewhat cripples it. Audacity is mainly good for effects and cleaning up sound.

    On the other hand, the point about publishing/sharing is a very lazy complaint. Would it be so hard to find your favorite networking site to publish/share? Besides, Audacity won’t know what sites you want to publish on and it’s nowhere near their focus. Your “show-stopper” point is kind of generalized and obvious one. I don’t see a problem with it, nor do I see a point. I would say that podcasts are definitely not the point of Audacity anyway.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Some Dude!

      “Lazy complaint” or not, some people do need that kind of one-stop solution because they don’t have the time to learn new tools. Like you said, this simply isn’t Audacity’s intention. So I wouldn’t call it a disadvantage, just that it’s something that Audacity doesn’t do. (Kind of like Microsoft Word can’t make movies.)

      My point of the last “show-stopper” is that I’ve heard so many people say, “I want my podcasts to sound better, so I’m upgrading to something better than Audacity.” So while this point is obvious to you and me, it’s not obvious to everyone else.

  10. Ron Hyatt says:

    One thing Audacity does very well, better than commercial products is time compression. at 12-15 percent, there is none of the chorus like effect that other programs like mixcraft exhibit. This is important for spoken word, especially when you have exactly 3 minutes to fill and your News Guy goes 3:28 consistently. *SQUASH*

    1. Nice! I hadn’t compared something like that before. I know Audacity’s noise removal it’s also among the best and easiest to use.

  11. hiphop says:

    WAV. Files are better than MP3. Files and are more used by musicians so exporting files as MP3 are pretty useless anyway.

  12. socialistweasel says:

    Hello Daniel. I use Audacity to make DJ mixes and it does most everything i need. Why though did they change it so i can’t chose the export bitrate anymore!? Its always at 128 and sometimes you can hear the quality loss

    1. Are you referring to exporting the MP3s from Audacity using LAME?

      1. socialistweasel says:

        Nevermind, I was using the Beta Unicode 1.3 version and didn’t realise there was a new version which fixes this issue.

  13. TaTheWriter says:

    I like audacity and I disagree that you can’t make “good” music with this program. I have made some major hits using audacity!!

  14. Geoffrey Sparkes says:

    I’ve loaded Audacity to a Win 7 machine and the input selection box is greyed out. It only allows MIC but I am running line input resulting in severe clipping of the audio. Does any one know what I’m doing wrong, or is there a work around? Thanks guys

    1. Look at the two volume sliders in Audacity. One is for the output, one is for the input (microphone icon). Lower the input volume and you won’t peak so much.

  15. Davo says:

    You have a point with the MP3 encoding/quality, and the real time effects.. but Audacity can’t make music? It can generate a click track and multiple tones, what is music again? Your bias is showing.

    1. amber says:

      Like he said. It can’t make music.

  16. Surfermensch says:

    Pfffff, I made an entire music album with audacity

    1. You recorded music and mixed it in Audacity. But you didn’t make the actual music with Audacity.

  17. j7ndominica0 says:

    I don’t understand how Audacity has become almost everyone’s editor of choice. It feels very work in progress and linuxy to me; basic functions that other programs have had for years require updating to the latest version. I tried to look at Audacity a few times. Zooming in to the waveform with Ctrl-1, Ctrl-3, really? No 24-bit recording? One thing they have done right is using wxwidgets for the UI.

    In Windows I like to use Reaper multi-track DAW, which can be practically used for free, or at a low price, and comes with quality real-time plugins including compressors, and midi editing and VSTi capabilities. The plugins alone are actually freeware. I migrated to Reaper from Sound Forge, and it feels intuitive. One doesn’t lose a lot of flexibility by using a DAW instead of a stereo editor, because Audacity is project-oriented already.

    I can’t speak about low bitrates, but LAME is excellent at 320 kbit CBR, and better than Fraunhofer. Speech, especially with an obvious and distrating noise gate, or with occasional stereo music, actually is the kind of signal that VBR would be useful for. Music is relatively constant throughout.

    I think that a big obstacle with recording from multiple devices is sync between their clocks. The recorder would have to do sample rate conversion behind the scenes, which would add latency or compromise quality.

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