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Book Review: Getting Started With Audacity 1.3 51

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
MassDosage writes "Getting Started with Audacity 1.3 by Bethany Hiitola covers the basics of using the Audacity software package for recording and editing audio. This book is written in a tutorial style and stays true to its title by covering Audacity from a newcomer's perspective with lots of diagrams and detailed explanations of how to install and setup Audacity and use its most essential features. This is all very much aimed at people who are new to audio software and are looking for a simple way to get started and be guided through creating and editing an audio recording. On the whole it achieves this but is occasionally let down by overly simplistic content and shoddy editing." Read below for the rest of Mass Dosage's review.
Getting started with Audacity 1.3
author Bethany Hiitola
pages 220
publisher Packt Publishing
rating 6/10
reviewer Mass Dosage
ISBN 1847197647
summary Create your own podcasts, edit music and more with this open source audio editor
Audacity 1.3 is the latest version of this well known free and open source software program that runs on GNU/Linux, Windows, Macs and any other operating system that an aspiring techy gets the source code to compile on. The author has done a good job of keeping the software's cross-platform nature in mind by minimizing anything operating system specific and describing alternative approaches where necessary. I followed along with the book's examples using Linux and didn't run into any platform-specific issues.

I've personally had a fair amount of experience with many different audio editors over the years but haven't worked that much with Audacity so I was interested in what this book had to offer me. To be honest most of what is covered I had already figured out myself just from playing with Audacity in the past. This book is really targeted at complete newbies — if you've used an audio editor of any form in the past and are comfortable recording or importing audio and applying some basic filters and effects to it, then the very basic, tutorial nature of this book probably won't be of much interest to you. However, for those who don't know much about audio editing and are looking for somewhere to start then this might just be what you're looking for.

It may not be the prettiest audio tool on the planet, but Audacity really is "good enough" for those wanting to do simple editing. The fact that it is totally open and free for anyone to download and use means that the software itself is a great starting point for an aspiring audio editor or creator as the barriers to entry are very low. The first few chapters of the book take one through installing Audacity and explaining how the program works and how its user interface is laid out. The minimal equipment needed to make a vocal recording (i.e. a microphone, soundcard and headphones) is touched on and again it is very clear that there is a low barrier to creating something simple. If you want to make state of the art recordings then you may need to spend a fortune on equipment but for the purposes of getting started one really doesn't need much.

The main example in the book covers creating a podcast from scratch which is a good choice as its something that many casual users are probably interested in. This also provides an opportunity to discuss most of the important aspects of recording audio and doing common tasks like removing noise, splitting up tracks, adding background music, fading sound in and out and applying various effects.This is all done with lots of diagrams and step-by-step explanations of the menu items and buttons to push to achieve this. Strangely enough the author mentions keyboard shortcuts (which is good) but instead of describing probably the most useful shortcut of all (CTRL-S to save) she describes going to the file menu and selecting "Save" each time.

The podcast example is expanded upon to show how audio can be cut, pasted, silenced and made louder or quieter. Noise removal is covered in a bit more depth than the other topics which is a good thing as the filter that is used to do this isn't very user friendly — after selecting the noise profile it vanishes with no information on what to do next. This is also something most users will probably need at some point as are the steps on how to normalize and compress the audio. The effects and filters covered are also the ones that a new user is most likely to want to start playing with. The bare essentials are wrapped up in a chapter explaining how to export audio to MP3 (or other formats) and some suggestions are given as to how to make this publicly available via an RSS feed or by uploading the audio to iTunes. It would have been nice to have some pointers to alternative ways of doing this, especially some more open form of publishing than Apple's proprietary and closed platform. There is even a whole section on how to circumvent Apple's DRM by converting locked iTunes audio files to CD and then importing from there into Audacity which is probably useful to some but feels a bit out of place in a book about an open tool like this.

The book also covers a number of other topics which are assembled somewhat randomly but are generally useful. These include adding background music, time shifting, adjusting pitch and tempo as well as various options for aligning, splitting, joining and moving multiple tracks around. Every effect that ships with Audacity is covered and this is serves as a reference guide for what each of them does. Adding more functionality to Audacity via the use of plugins is touched on but this is really just a teaser and isn't covered in much depth (probably due to the platform-specific nature of their installation).

I was a bit disappointed in the book as I didn't learn as much as I would have liked, this is really more of a "how to do the basics" and doesn't provide much depth on Audacity or audio concepts in general. It would have been nice if the book had wrapped up with some pointers for those wanting to know more or go further with their audio editing skills. The overall tone of the book is friendly which suits its "for beginners" approach but at times it is let down by not sounding very authoritative or convincing. The bad grammar and silly typos that weren't caught by the editors don't help much in this regard either. Give it a go if you're the type of person who needs a tutorial guide to get started, otherwise you can probably figure out most of the topics covered by just playing with the software yourself.

You can purchase Getting Started with Audacity 1.3 from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Book Review: Getting Started With Audacity 1.3

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  • On the whole it achieves this but is occasionally let down by overly simplistic content and shoddy editing.

    Are you talking about the book, the audio mashups people build with Audacity or SlashDot itself? ;)

  • Price (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    $34.85 seems a bit steep.

    • Just what price do they think users of FREE and open source software are really going to pay? Why don't they take a tip from the top ebook authors and charge $.99? I'd rather troll around the Internet trying to find an answer than pay $34.85 for what is nearly always a poorly edited, half-ass attempt at writing a book.
  • by afabbro (33948) on Monday August 15, 2011 @02:55PM (#37097592) Homepage
    That's really all you need to know. I wonder what their revenue deal with Slashdot is...
    • by geogob (569250)

      Interesting and (could be) good to know. Never had anything from this publisher in the hand. Care to elaborate?

      • Well as this review states the biggest issue is with shoddy editing. The books also tend to copy and paste lots of material from web sources but then add all sorts of errors into the mix. Also, by the time they release a book on some piece of software it is almost always a major version behind.

    • by mvdwege (243851)

      Actually, Jonathan Rockway's book on Catalyst was pretty good; I've definitely picked up a lot of useful Catalyst and Perl knowledge from it.

      My second Packt purchase was less good though; their book on Cacti is mostly a long, redundant explanation on how to install cacti on various distributions, both from packages and source.

  • I don't get it -- there are about 8 bajillion tech books like this one: Beginners guide to XYZ, This-and-That for dummies, ABC inside-and-out. Why would a book review for any of them make the front page of slashdot, unless there was something particularly interesting or newsworthy about them?

    Do we really need a front-page post to say: "Breaking news! Another mediocre book has been written about a random software package!"

    • by westlake (615356)

      I don't get it -- there are about 8 bajillion tech books like this one: Beginners guide to XYZ, This-and-That for dummies, ABC inside-and-out. Why would a book review for any of them make the front page of slashdot?

      The short answer is the guy who is fantastically productive and articulate about working with Photoshop or Blender may know next to nothing about audio editing and Audacity.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 15, 2011 @03:00PM (#37097648)

    I consider myself a semi-professional sound designer. My working gear consist of Ableton Suite 8, Reason 4, Komplete 7 Elements combined with Max/MSP/Jitter and Max for Live (the later for programming purposes; required whenever I want something done which isn't natively supported by my stuff). My usually used editor / processor is normally Samplitude 10SE.

    However, whenever I required a quick and clean editor I used to resort to Audacity. Small, free and relatively easy to use. That was until I discovered Wavosaur [wavosaur.com].

    In every aspect Wavosaur can match Audacity (even though its 2 years old!) but what's more; thanks to its native support for VSTs (plugins which can be used for musical instruments or sound effects / processors) you can even easily enhance it with extra functionality that isn't available out of the box. I am aware that Audacity nowadays supports this too but in comparison it was a laugh, for example when looking at speed or stability. The numerous times I had Audacity blow up in my face by merely clicking somewhere (sometimes clicking somewhere would crash the entire program; out of nowhere!)....

    The main difference? Audacity is 'open source' and Wavosaur is merely free of charge. I don't care about source code; all I want is a program which works. If you're on Linux then well, I guess you then have little choice in this field.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Thanks, I will definitely give Wavosaur a look.

      I love what Audacity can do, but I hate hate hate its user interface!

    • by gorzek (647352)

      Free sound editor with built-in ASIO and VST support? SOLD!

      I've been using Audacity for a while now but I'll at least give Wavosaur a shot! I normally use a separate VST host, but if Wavosaur can do both then I can cut out Audacity altogether.

    • by X0563511 (793323)

      I could have sworn I could load VSTs into Audacity. Maybe I'm just thinking of DXI. Can't say, as I haven't used Audacity in a long time. The WAV editor [image-line.com] in my DAW of choice is the nicest I've ever had, and the in-DAW integration is quite handy.

      Unfortunately it's neither Free nor free, but I do consider it worth the cost.

    • by gnarfel (1135055)
      (Ok, so I understand that this is probably not the recommended way to use Audacity, but it's infuriating nonetheless.)

      I use Audacity to record music from each stage independently at multi-stage festivals. I can go to Wal-mart and buy 300$ laptops and use USB soundcard devices to get my 1/4" or XLR inputs, and it definitely works well enough. The biggest advice I can offer anybody is DON'T RUN OUT OF DISK SPACE!! Audacity can easily handle ~18 hour recordings, I'm going through one right now. However,
    • For some reason, when I need to edit a sound file, I always have to dig out Cool Edit 2000 to get it done.
      I have tried a few sound editors over the years (amongst them a few versions of Audacity), but none really match it.
      Too bad it was taken off the market.

      I have bookmarked Wavosaur as the next one to be tried. Could be the one...
    • by bored (40072)

      I will second that, I found wavosaur one day when I discovered something really simple that audacity couldn't do (don't remember exactly what it was, maybe some kind of re-sampling from a flac?)... Anyway, wavosaur, actually worked, and now its my primary editor for basic stuff.

      Frankly, I never understood all the noise about audacity, it just seemed to weak to be taken seriously.

  • by rgviza (1303161) on Monday August 15, 2011 @03:16PM (#37097878)
    "I was a bit disappointed in the book as I didn't learn as much as I would have liked, this is really more of a "how to do the basics" and doesn't provide much depth on Audacity or audio concepts in general."

    You can't really expect a book that teaches a piece of software to cover audio concepts and teach you how to mix. There are whole books devoted entirely to recording engineering, mix engineering, and mastering (each of which is a discipline that takes years of practice to master, usually people specialize in one of them), which are some of the activities one would do on Audacity.

    There are entire volumes dedicated to mic placement alone.

    Don't expect a book like this to school you on engineering. It won't. Read the book, learn the software, then you can begin learning something about engineering.

    Mastery of any type of audio engineering is a very long road to travel indeed...
    • by X0563511 (793323)

      Enjoy: (not you in particular, but this is good for beginners)
      http://www.archive.org/details/GuideToMixing [archive.org]

  • I've kicked the tires of Audacity, and found it to be a nifty product; but one thing it lacks big-time is built-in documentation on the 30-odd filters it provides.

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