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Joe’s Guide to Free Elearning Tools: Two Quick Tips on using Audacity December 9, 2009

Posted by jmullock in e-Learning Tools.
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Item: Two Quick Tips on Using Audacity

Category: Audio Recording, Editing & Resources

At a recent eLearning conference, I spoke to a colleague who said that his office had purchased an audio recording/editing software package.  I asked how he liked it, but it turns out he never opened the package and was still happily using Audacity.  While I am sure there are projects and applications that may need more advanced features, there is not a lot I can think of that can’t be done with Audacity.  The only minor drawback may be that some of the features in Audacity may require additional plug-ins or technical knowhow to do some of the tricks that paid software may handle “out of the box”.  If you are not already familiar with the product, take a look at the brief overview (I wrote some months back—not to mention the tons of information available online).

If you are already familiar with audacity, but haven’t yet “looked under the hood”, here are two quick tips to show you

  1. How to set up Audacity for use with MP3 files, and
  2. How to make use of the Noise Removal effect


How to Set-up Audacity for Use with MP3 Files:

What?  Audacity doesn’t use MP3 files “out of the box”?  Well, technically no.  Due to patent considerations, including an MP3 encoder with a software package may require a licensing fee. Since Audacity is free—no MP3 encoder.

The good news is that there is a very good, open source MP3 encoder which can be easily downloaded and added to Audacity as a kind of plug in.  The Audacity Wiki has an entire page (http://wiki.audacityteam.org/index.php?title=Lame_Installation#For_1.3.3_and_later_users) set-up with the full who-what-when-where-and-how, including troubleshooting.

To be honest though, if I saw that page in advance it might have scared me right off.  Instead, here is the short extract (from that page) of what you need to do to save Audacity recordings as MP3’s:

1)      Download the required encoder file, “lame_enc.dll” (the Wiki recommends this location: http://lame.buanzo.com.ar/lame_enc.dll).

2)      Save that file to your Audacity directory.

3)      Select the “File Format” tab from Preferences, and click the [Find Library] or [Browse] button (depends on which Audacity version you have).

That’s it!  Now whenever you want to save your Audacity recordings in the MP3 format, simply choose “Export as MP3”, instead of WAV.

Advantages of Saving Audacity Recordings as MP3 Files:

The easiest and most obvious is file size, which can translate into quite a bit of time savings as you work through a project.  I typically save my files on my work hard drive, and use a thumb-drive for back-up and for files I want to work on from home.  Saving several dozen sound files as MP3’s is much quicker than doing the same with WAV files—not to mention when uploading these same files to a server.

On the user end, the MP3 format makes it much easier for the learner to move files onto and off an MP3 player or iPod.  Even if the audio is intended for use within a full web-presentation, having access to the source MP3 files—and the ability to edit them using Audacity—makes it that much easier to update sections of training or to repurpose as an audio-only learning aid.

How to Make Use of the Noise Removal Effect:

Actually, the biggest improvement I was able to make to the sound qualify of my recordings was to get rid of my #%$^@ headset mic and replace it with a decent quality desktop model USB mic instead.  Unfortunately, that cost money, so we won’t discuss that here!

In terms of a very good free way to help reduce background noise, Audacity comes with a easy to use Noise Removal “effect”.  The premise is similar to that of the noise-reduction headphones you may have seen advertised for use on planes, etc.  By getting a sample of what is considered “noise”, that part of the audio can be inverted, or filtered out.

Here is an example how you can make use of this feature in Audacity:

  1. Hit the record button, but don’t start your script just yet.  Let the first 5-10 seconds record only the electrical hum of your computer system and the incidental noise from moving your microphone, etc.
  2. After the first 5-10 seconds, start recording your script as usual.
  3. When you are finished with your track, select only the first 5-10 seconds of noise.
  4. Choose Noise Removal from the effects menu, and click the [Get Noise Profile] button.
  5. Now select your entire track.  The Noise Removal effect allows you to [Preview] and tweak the results before you commit to changing the actual file.

Extra tips:

  • To be cautious, I recommend you duplicate your original files and only edit/add effects to the duplicate file.  In case of a real editing disaster, you will then always be able to go back to the source file for a “do over”.
  • I tend to record in the same location using the same set-up and my noise issue is basically my computer itself.  Instead of redoing it each time I record, I have saved a “Joes_Noisy_Computer.MP3” file that I import and use as my noise profile each time.

Again, the Audacity Wiki (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/) has tons of useful tips that may be useful to you, so give it a look.  In the meantime, if anyone has any tips and tricks that they would like to personally recommend, please feel free to share them in the comments.

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Comments»

1. Abdul - December 15, 2009

Thanks for sharing jmullock. Its really helpful. We are basically in elearning industry. We record the voice manually and convert in required format.

this post is good to handle Audio tools.


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