Free Online Audio Editors
There is a wide range of both free and commercial software which you can install onto your computer to record and edit digital audio, whether for podcast or music production. But what if you don't have the ability to install software on your machine, or it isn't powerful or fast enough for the task, or there isn't enough space, or if you simply don't want to?
For simple audio editing and processing tasks there are now a few versatile audio tools which you can access online via their providers' websites, and which run on remote servers while you remotely operate their interface through your familiar web browser, and stream audio to and from them via the internet.
Many of us are familiar with audio software as a tool for editing and processing digital audio files for both music and spoken word recordings. Programs like Audacity are free and widely used for podcast production, and there is a huge range of commercial and professional audio software, with many excellent alternatives suited to specific tasks. Many of these offer advanced processing and production tools, but all will require installation on a capable host machine, and many are large and power-hungry applications.
While a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) of this type is what you'll need for serious audio work, there is a new generation of tools which run on remote hosted servers, store their data there, and record audio from and output audio to remote users via the internet. These free hosted services can be an excellent solution for more basic tasks like simple editing, level adjustment and automation, or conversion into a different file format, or where a suitable DAW is not available. A couple even offer multitrack features and digital effects.
For advice on choosing audio software for installation on a DAW you may want to look at our advice documents on Choosing Your Digital Audio Software, and others relating to equipping a sound studio. For free online alternatives, read on...
Web-based audio editing
- No software installation necessary (though may require specific Flash and/or Java versions)
- Free to use (some have extra features to paid subscribers, and most require registration)
- Many have total/individual file size limits
- Upload/download speed dependent on your internet connection, which may limit performance
- Many offer hosting, but read terms & conditions carefully!
Because they are web-based you don't need to rely on one computer in one location to use them - as long as you have an internet connection you can access these sites wherever you are. Bear in mind that if you are working with large files, there may be an issue with upload/download speeds depending on your network connection.
What do you want to do?
There are many different audio tasks which you may want to undertake on your computer. Some, like audio archiving for example, require a digital audio workstation with suitable software and peripheral devices, but some can be tackled with free online tools:
- Podcast recording and production - Simple voice recording, top and tail editing and downloading can be done with simple tools like Audio Expert. More ambitious projects incorporating multiple audio tracks, music and effects can be undertaken in a more advanced environment like Myna or Looplabs' Music Studio
- Music creation and/or mixing - Though lacking the ability to import or record tracks, tools such as Soundation Studio give access to a library of music styles, instruments and loops for creating music tracks online, with the ability to combine these elements into original compositions for a variety of uses. Myna and Looplabs also offer libraries of music and effects, as well as allowing you to combine these with your own content.
- Recording & sharing voice memos - Similarly to podcast recording, if you have a microphone attached to your computer you can record voice memos and messages with tools like Audio Expert or Chirbit, and share them via email, RSS or through social media channels such as Twitter or Facebook.
- Format conversion - upload audio files, edit them, tag them, convert them into a wide range of common audio file types, and share them with Audio Expert, youconvertit, Media Convert and onlineConVert
- Skype call recording - read our advice document about Recording Skype Calls
Unlike equivalent online image editors, of which there are many, there is currently a relatively small number of options available for online audio editing, so rather than present their relative capabilities as a table, we'll look at a couple of the more flexible tools, and consider their strengths and weaknesses. There are also, as mentioned, several utilities for file format conversion, including (but not limited to) audio files.
Myna is part of Aviary's free online suite of digital media creation and editing tools. Aviary offer hosted image editing, screen capture, music creation and image markup tools among others, and Myna is their audio editor. We originally blogged at the time of its release in September 2009.
Myna is very similar in appearance and function to many software applications used for audio recording and production, but is currently by far the most capable such utility which is available online through a web browser. It offers a flexible set of features suitable for many differing audio production needs, and a smooth and intuitive user interface.
You can record audio directly into Myna from your computer's audio peripherals, with a 2 minute limit for a single take
or import audio in various formats from your hard drive:
[Note the inclusion of Ogg Vorbis, AIFF and M4A amongst the more commonly supported MP3 and WAV file formats]
Once audio is recorded or imported, editing is carried out in a conventional timeline-based multitrack audio environment, with tracks stacked on top of each other, and playback corresponding to a playhead passing along the timeline at the top of the screen. Easy-to-use tools can be used within this arrange window to apply timestretching (altering length without changing pitch) - with the usual caveats about excessive stretching, which will lead to noticeable audio degradation and 'phantom' echoes - and to change the start and end points of the region. Right click on an audio region and you can preview and apply a series of simple effects.
Effects can be auditioned before application, but only in isolation, and not within the context of the mix, so there will still be an element of guesswork involved, though you can always go back and remove or change effects after listening to them positioned in the complete mix. There are one or two key effects missing from the list, most notably compression and other dynamics processing, though these may find their way into an update some time soon. The quality of the reverb algorithm is also quite basic.
Tracks can be individually level balanced, and panned between speakers, and these values can be automated to change over time, allowing for some sophisticated automated mixing. Fade in/out for each region can also be easily applied.
Recordings and imported files can be combined with music and effects from a large library of loops and sounds within Myna. These offer a large amount of styles, and can be grouped by mood or tempo, if you're trying to match to a specific ambience or speed. However, be aware that using the supplied library sounds in your Myna project will grant the sounds' producers (APM) some rights over the use of the work:
"By submitting or sending information or other material to APM you grant APM the royalty-free, unrestricted, world-wide, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, and fully sub-licensable right and license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, and display such Content (in whole or part) worldwide and/or to incorporate it in other works in any form, media, or technology now known or later developed."
extract from Aviary Terms and Conditions with reference to use of APM library sounds
Once your track is sounding the way you want, select 'mixdown' and a stereo master will be rendered of your project, which you can then choose to publish and/or download it as a 128kbps MP3 or a WAV.
Aviary's site is clear and remarkably ad-free, and Myna is a powerful addition to a very useful set of tools.
Audio Expert is an altogether simpler, but nonetheless useful service. It allows you again either to record or import audio in a variety of formats (see below). Free accounts have a 150Mb upload limit. Files can then be edited (top and tail only, with preview), tagged with appropriate metadata, and output in the format of choice, according to these options:
This is a useful tool for simple editing, management and format conversion of single files, with a clean, no fuss interface.
Audio Expert's site does feature advertising, but it is relatively unobtrusive, allowing the core content to take centre stage.
When producing, recording, publishing and sharing audio online, you should follow the same guidelines on usage of IPR and copyrighted material as you would for any other audio/video project. Unauthorised use of copyrighted material is of course forbidden, and all third party materials should be used and attributed according to the owners' licensing terms.
Further advice regarding copyright is outlined in our advice document Copyright and other rights for creating time based media, and related papers.
The potential risks to which you are exposing yourself and others should therefore be carefully examined.
There is still only a fairly exclusive (i.e. small) field of online audio applications available, but those that do exist seem to address some real needs for the user wishing to free themselves from the studio. Web access means the freedom to access your materials and essential services from anywhere you can fire up a browser, which increasingly means 'anywhere'. It also means on almost any machine - even network managed machines - and it thus allows users who might otherwise not have access to these kinds of tools due to network or IT policies edit and manipulate their audio in simple and essential ways.
While these services do not yet offer a viable replacement for a dedicated audio workstation, tools like Myna show what can already be done with online hosted tools. Online tools like Google Docs are already making traditional text-based tools redundant in some scenarios, and as internet connections get faster and cloud storage grows, the same may begin to happen for the more processing, bandwidth and storage intensive media like images and photography, which already have many well established online services (see Free Online Image Editors) - audio (on the way, as shown here), screencast (guide in development - watch this space) and video (early days yet).
Published in: Creating