Review of Audacity Freeware

Casey J Rudkin
Michigan Technological University


As the composition field comes to embrace multimodal composition, new ways to compose find their places in the classroom.  One of these options, audio composition, is made easier with a simple freeware program called Audacity, a digital audio editor.  Audacity can be used on Windows and Macintosh computers, as well as Linux and “other Unix-like operating systems” (from the “About Audacity” Help section).  This review is based on Audacity 1.2.6 for Mac OSX.  It is presently available as a complete release at and is a quick download.

An Overview of How to Use Audacity

In general, one of Audacity’s best features is its simplicity.  It is the type of program that looks familiar at first glance due to its controls’ resemblance to tape recorder or compact disc functions.  Upon opening, Audacity brings up a standard menu at the top of the computer screen as well as a window containing the basic controls.  Tool buttons available include selection, zoom, and a multi-tool mode.  These options allow the user to select and manipulate specific sections of an audio file with precision.  Next to these tools are the tape recorder or CD buttons: the standard Play (with a Shift option to loop), Record, Pause, Stop, Skip to Start and Skip to End.  These look and work exactly as a tape recorder or CD user would expect, giving the first-time user a head start on creating an audio file.  Other controls on the main window include volume, as well as input and output meters, all of which operate as slide bar functions.  There are also cut, copy, and paste buttons, which work similarly to corresponding functions in a word processor.

Users create a digital audio track that is represented visually as a bar displaying the sound as waves.  This is useful for determining audio levels, as well as finding specific segments of the track.  It is this bar where the user can select portions of the audio track to manipulate.  Additionally, Audacity supports both mono and stereo audio production, allowing for flexibility in the sound of the final product.  Users can create single or overlapping audio tracks by recording voices and sounds to a computer, or importing sounds, songs, or audio files from other audio sources attached to the computer. Audacity allows for such sound modifications as fades, filters, amplifications, pitch changes, and speed changes, as well as specialty effects like reverb and wahwah.  Audacity also lets users combine multiple tracks, which is useful for including musical backgrounds or sound effects under spoken word tracks.  All of these features are easily accessed between the buttons, slide bars, and menu options within the program.

In order to optimize use of Audacity, the user may want to have access to a few extras, such as a quality microphone and CD writing capability, allowing for more flexibility in creating audio tracks and exporting them, although many computers have these options already built-in.  There are many sites on the Internet, including, and, which make available copyright free music, sound effects, and other audio goodies.  Some sites involve restrictions for use, such as academic use only.

Using Audacity for Classroom Projects

Audacity’s simplicity and partial flexibility make it ideal for academic audio composition projects.  Because the software is free and the learning curve gentle, Audacity offers the user a quick-start launch that encourages immersion in the creation of the project, not a lengthy lesson in the software.  Audacity is excellent for basic tasks like creating audio files for podcasts, which can be used in the composition classroom.  In fact, after completing a composition section on podcasting, one student, the leader of the university’s dance team, switched programs from DJ Mix Master to Audacity because, as she said, she spent more time with the music than the “digital stuff,” giving the team more time to create and practice dance routines. 

Students seem to especially enjoy the introductory portion of the podcasting section in class because they are asked to create files and conduct trials with various options on the Effect menu.  These low-risk activities, not culminating in saved audio files, allow them to discover ways to manipulate sounds and mix audio.  Audacity also encourages experimentation because it has a ready Undo function.  Any action can be undone with a click of a button.  The Redo button allows duplication of effects as well.

One potential drawback to using Audacity in the classroom or elsewhere is that files do not work well off of their native computers, meaning that files saved in the .aud format will not reliably play on other machines, even with Audacity installed there, particularly if the user crosses operating systems.  One work-around for this is to export the Audacity file into an .mp3 format.  To do this, the user first has to download a library file called LameLib, which is available from  Once that file is on the machine, Audacity will access it to export its file to .mp3 format, an option under the File menu; however, these files cannot be readily reopened in Audacity.  Users will still have to reopen the .aud files to make changes.

Overall, Audacity is an accessible program with a lot of potential for academic use.  It is simple to learn and easy to use.  Personal and professional users of Audacity should find that these same attributes provide a range of options to create audio that can be used for websites, podcasts, or PowerPoint presentations.  While it does not have the range of an audio mixing program such as Adobe Audition 3 ($349), or the professional capabilities of Digidesign Pro Tools ($1200+), it performs basic audio tasks admirably, making it an excellent piece of freeware for podcasting, digital sound clips, and basic music mixing.