Audacity is a free, open source audio editing and recording application that was initially released in 2000 and is still being very actively updated today, most recently updating to version 3.2.4 on January 7, 2023. Although it isn’t necessarily the nicest looking audio editor compared to paid applications like Pro Tools or Adobe Audition, it is completely free and has the same level of quality and functionality. Audacity also has a level of available support and community contribution that makes it simple to figure out if you’re new to working with audio, and to improve with outside plug-ins that can be easily found and downloaded through the Audacity website.

The home screen of the Audacity website

Once you get to the home screen, to download Audacity you can either click the button down towards the bottom or use the dropdown menu at the top to select the correct operating system. From there, simply install it like any other application, it doesn’t require an account or anything like that to download or use. Once it’s downloaded, open it up and it will look like the image below.

This is what an empty Audacity window will look like before anything is imported or edited. At the top there are controls for playing and recording audio, editing audio, and tracking input and output volume levels. At the bottom are various timecodes to know where in the audio you’re at.

If you’re recording audio to edit in Audacity right away, you can record a new track of audio through either your built-in computer microphone or an external mic by pressing the red button at the top. If you’re importing audio you’ve already got to edit, you can do through the “File” dropdown or with a keyboard shortcut.

Once you have audio imported or recorded, there are a ton of tools that can be used to cut, remove, add effects to, and otherwise edit. At times, some keyboard shortcuts for can be hard to remember or intuit, but practice will certainly make perfect the more you play around with the application, and all of the dropdown menus show applicable shortcuts next to the specific action. The “Edit” menu shows simple clip editing tools like copy, paste, and splitting or silencing clips. The “Tracks” menu is the simplest way to add and sort your audio tracks. The “Effect” menu contains the same types of effects that would be found on any paid audio editing software. The newest update has also separated these effects into clearly defined, standard effect categories instead of having them in one long list, making them much easier to find.

To see an example of what a basic multi-track sound edit can look like, the gallery below shows different stages of an oral history clip that I cut together. There are several tracks with separate titles, that can be color-coded and edited together across tracks or while one continuous clip using the envelope tool.

If you’re new to audio editing and don’t know how to put things like these effects to good use, there are manual and quick help options in the application’s “Help” drop-down, as well as forums and guides on the website.

The Audacity forum contain several categories and subcategories that questions and discussions can be housed under, the main umbrellas being: help, discussion, special interests, and programming.

These forums offer a space for users to help each other out in a bind, but also—since Audacity is open source—space to discuss changes and additions that folks have made on their own that could be implemented in future updates. The main Audacity website also encourages community contribution, stating on the home page that “All are welcome to contribute to Audacity by helping us with code, documentation, translations, user support and by testing our latest code” and guiding users, developers, and translators to pages that provide more details on how they can help Audacity continue to improve. One of the most visible sites of outsider contribution is the Audacity Plugins page, which can help expand options available to audio editors of all types by making new effects created by others easily downloadable. This is especially helpful for people doing more heavy duty sound recording and editing for music, audio dramas, and sound design for videos and films. This page is a great resource once you get the hang of the more than adequate set of effects that come with Audacity upon downloading if you feel an itch to play around with more complicated or specific effects.

All in all, Audacity is an easy-to-learn audio editing application that has the same level of functionality as similar paid, industry standard programs with a remarkable price tag of $0. For basic work especially, it is simple to record, import, edit across tracks, and export your audio, and it has the capacity to be used for much more in-depth detailed work if you want to get the hang of the effects and other tools that are available. That it has been so actively updated for over two decades means that it also on track to continue improving basically indefinitely. The community support functions facilitate continual improvement to the program, the creation and sharing of new add-ons by outside users, and active forums that can help users learn from each other. While it may not be the most *aesthetic* of programs when you first open it up, the available effects and other tools provide a professional experience with a nonexistent price tag.

2 Replies to “Audacity”

  1. Hi Corrine, I know we both used Audacity for Oral History, and I definitely agree with your assessment. It can definitely be a lot to take in at first, but once you get used to all the tools, it’s super user-friendly. One thing I will say is that it takes up a lot of storage on your computer. I had trouble completing a project last semester because Audacity would crash whenever I tried to add more audio clips. But perhaps that’s less Audacity’s fault and more my computer. Just something to think about.

  2. Hi, Corrine! I agree with your assessment of Audacity since that’s how I also felt with using the software last year in Oral History. I liked how you added the links and brought attention to the forums. While we had to do the training on LinkedIn, it still took me a while to learn the ropes, so the forums would have been helpful to me as a first-time user to more fully understand how to use Audacity.

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