Capture Quality Audio on Your Computer Using Audacity

Do you want to make and edit audio recordings on your computer and output the resulting files to MP3 format? If so, Audacity is the program for you.

Do you ever listen to broadcasts on you Windows PC, Mac OS X, or Linux machine and wish that you could make a recording of the sound that is being processed by your speakers or headphones? Do you want to use your computer microphone to record conversations or interviews? Do you want to create podcasts at home? Do you want to create MP3 files of the resulting audio?

Each of these tasks can be easily accomplished using a remarkable, free, open source, piece of software called Audacity.

You can obtain Audacity here: http://audacity.sourceforge.net (I am not associated with Audacity development in any way, I should hasten to add).

Here are some hints and tips on getting started with Audacity. Installation is straightforward, obtain the appropriate download for your platform and follow the instructions provided at the Audacity site. Once you have the program installed, fire up the interface. There are just a few controls to master for basic use.

Firstly, you will probably want to set the 'Project rate' for your particular project. This is controlled by a tab lower left in the interface. If you left click on this you will see a list of sampling frequencies which you can select between. If you are recording speech and do not need particularly high quality, select a lower frequency than the default which is 44100 Hz, and Audacity will produce smaller files as the recording is made.

Secondly, you will want to select the appropriate sound source for your application. This is achieved with a drop down list which is on the upper tool bar of the user interface, to the right of the various tools which are displayed. By default this will be set to Microphone, and if you are trying to record the output of your sound card, you will not get a working recording until you set this to Stereo Mix.

Whenever you start Audacity, take a quick look at these two settings. In my experience, which is on Windows XP, the program does not remember these items between invocations.

However, the good news is that you are now ready to make recordings. This is extremely straightforward. Arrange for sound to be coming through your sound card, start up Audacity (remember those initial settings, of course), and hit the circular, red, record button on the Audacity interface. You will be greeted with the creation of a black horizontal bar with a line indicating the sound being recorded by Audacity. If you have your sound source set correctly, and your sound card is working, this indicator will be showing you the familiar pattern of a sound recording in its fluctuations.

When you have finished making your recording, hit the stop button, this is an orange square on the interface. You will then be able to output the recording you have just made to a suitable file. Audacity, by default, offers WAV and OGG formats. If you want to use MP3, as many people will, then when you first invoke this format you will obtain information about an additional library that you will need to install. Once this is installed, MP3 file exports of your recorded sounds can be easily made.

If you want to export only a section of the recording, Audacity makes this trivial. Navigate in the interface to highlight the appropriate section. You will be able to play back chunks of sound by finding a section of the horizontal timeline, placing the cursor at a given location, and clicking the play button. When you know where your desired chunk of sound lies, you will be able to export that section to the appropriate format of file. Just use the File/Export Selection As ... command. The Audacity interface makes it straightforward to deal with chunks of sound from seconds to hours in length. Just remember to use the shift key to extend your selection if you are scrolling through large sections of the recording.

Audacity is wonderfully straightforward, as you can see from this simple introduction, and the authors of the program deserve great credit for creating an elegant user interface combined with robust sound processing functionality. Once you have tried the basic recording described here you can then go on to make use of the more powerful multi-track and editing capabilities that Audacity also supports. You will soon appreciate just how powerful Audacity is.

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