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What is an Audio Editing Software? – You Need It!

Music producers and audio engineers talk about this vital tool all the time. In this modern age of audio recording and music production, it is almost impossible to embark on a professional media project, without using this editing tool. If you are new to the world of audio engineering, then you will surely need to ask yourself – What is an Audio Editing Software?

In this article, we will discuss various topics surrounding the core functions of the audio editing software. Understand what makes this tool a major aspect of any audio or music production. Learn specific capabilities of the editing software and also the advantages and disadvantages of various functions. So, without wasting any more precious time, let us begin!

Introduction – Its Purpose

The Audio Editing Software is a software that allows you to edit and generate audio data. The editing software may be completely or partially integrated as a library, computer application, Web application or as a loadable kernel module.

Pro Tools

Photo by Recording Connection Audio Institute / CC BY 3.0

There are also digital audio editors (typically called Wave Editors), and there are a vast range of software available out there in the market, to perform this function. Most of them are capable of editing music, applying effects and filters (such as delay, EQ etc.), and also attenuating stereo channels.

On a larger scale, there is the digital audio workstation (DAW), which largely consists of software, and is typically made up of multiple distinct software suite components, allowing access to them via a unified graphical user interface using GTK+, Qt or some alternate library for the GUI widgets.

Let us now look at the various topics we will be covering:

  • Music applications
  • Destructive and Real-time editing
  • Speech applications

Music Applications

In this section, we will go through the very basic functions that most editing software (designed for use with music) are capable of. These include:

  • The ability to facilitate the import and export of audio files (in multiple formats) for editing.
  • Allowing you to record audio from more than one input, and then save it in the computer’s storage as a digital audio file.
  • Changing the start and stop time, or the duration of any sound track within the audio timeline.
  • Fading into or out of a recorded audio track (such as an S-fade out during applause after a performance), or between tracks (e.g. cross-fading between takes).
  • Mixing multiple audio/instrument tracks, adjusting the volume levels of all tracks and panning each of them to one or more output tracks.
  • Applying various effects or filters (plugins), such as compression, delay, reverberation, audio noise reduction (noise gate) and equalization to alter the audio.
  • The ability for sound playback (typically after mixing), that can be routed to more than one output, such as monitor speakers, outboard processors, or a recording console.
  • Converting various audio file formats, or changing the sound quality levels.

All of the above-mentioned tasks can usually be executed in a non-linear manner. Audio data may be processed non-destructively in real-time, or destructively as an “off-line” process, or a combination of both methods with some real-time effects and some off-line effects.

Editing Automation

Photo by Recording Connection Audio Institute / CC BY 3.0

Destructive and Real-time editing

The modification of the original audio file’s data, is known as destructive editing. This is contrary to the practice of just editing its playback parameters. Destructive editors are commonly known as “sample editors”.

In destructive editing, the processing and edits are directly applied to the audio data itself, which immediately changes the data. If, for instance, a section of the track is deleted, the “deleted” audio data is instantly removed from that part of the audio track.

On the other hand, real-time editing does not immediately apply changes, but the processing and edits are applied “on the fly” during playback. If, for instance, a section of the track is deleted, the “deleted” audio data will not actually be removed from the track, but is concealed and will not be heard during playback.

Advantages of destructive editing

Sample Editing

Sample editing / Photo by Recording Connection Audio Institute / CC BY 3.0

  • When using graphical editors, all editing done to the audio will be instantly visible as the visible waveform will be immediately updated to match the changes in the audio data.
  • There is virtually no limit as to the number of effects that may be applied (however it may be limited by disk space available for “undo” data).
  • All editing done is typically accurate down to exact sample intervals.
  • Various effects may be precisely applied to any selected region.
  • The process of mixing down and exporting the edited audio file is normally relatively fast, as not much additional processing is required.

Limitations of destructive editing

  • After an effect has been applied, it is normally not possible to change it. This issue is often resolved by the “undo” function. A destructive audio editor will usually store many levels of “undo history” data, in order to allow multiple actions to be undone in the reverse order that they were applied.
  • The “undo” function can only undo edits in the reverse order that they were applied (meaning that the most recent edit will be undone first).

Advantages of real-time editing

Effects Stacking

Stacking effects on every track / Photo by Justin Gaudreault / CC BY 3.0

  • Effects can generally be attenuated during playback, or at any other time.
  • Possible for edits to be undone or adjusted in any order, at any time.
  • An “effect chain” can be applied to the audio track by stacking multiple effects and edits.
  • The order of a stack of effects may be altered to achieve different outcomes, in other words, effects can be inserted or removed from the chain.
  • Some real-time editors have the ability to allow effect automation so that various effect parameters may be attenuated and programmed to take place at specified times during audio playback.

Limitations of real-time editing

DAW Automation

Real-time effect automation / Photo by golemus / CC BY 3.0

  • The effect of any processing will not be instantly reflected unto the waveform. It can only be seen after the audio has been mixed-down or “bounced” (rendered) to another track.
  • The computer’s or editing hardware’s processing power, determines the total number of effects that may be applied. This setback may be mitigated in some editors, by “freezing” the track (applying the effect stack destructively).
  • Often times, it is impossible to apply an effect only on one part of a track. For a real-time effect to be applied to one part of a track, the effect usually has to be automated to turn on at one point, and turn off at another.
  • Copying or moving audio from one track to another in multi-track editors, may cause the audio in the new track to sound different from how it sounded before, as it may be affected by real-time effects in every track.
  • Depending on the complexity of the audio project, exporting or mixing down the final edited audio may take a long time, as all the effects and processing needs to be applied.

Speech Applications

Engineers that are involved in speech research, make use of editors that have the ability to make measurements and execute acoustic analyses such as extracting and displaying a fundamental frequency contour or spectrogram. These specialized audio editing software, usually lack most or all of the effects that are beneficial to musicians.

That is all I have for you folks today. Hope you people have found this to be of use, when deciding on getting an audio editing software for your projects!

Do leave a comment or question below, and share this article if you like!

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Farhan

When I'm not rocking out to great music, I'd prefer to be sleeping on a field on a windy day =)

10 Comments

  1. I was a heavy user of Sony SoundForge, but this was probably over 10 years ago. So I was glad to come across your page that offers more up to date and thorough information about audio-editing. I used Sound Forge editing program to edit samples quite a bit. I did not know that this process was referred to as destructive editing, so I definitely learned something new on your blog. Thanks for sharing your expertise!

    • Hey Ciandress!

      Well, you can look at the current versions of the SoundForge if you are really keen on it. It is not very popular among professional audio engineers and producers though. That is not to say that it will not serve you well.

      I am glad that you have learned something from my site! Do come back for more updates!

      Thanks a lot =)

  2. This looks amazing. How much would something like this cost? How does it compare to other products in the market?

  3. Great info! I’ve always wanted to know how to make music mashups using an editing program. Do you have an article about that? Which program do you think would be best for it? Looks like you know a lot about audio and audio engineering! Do you put up samples of your own work at all?

    • Hello Christina!

      Music mash-ups are often done by overlaying the vocal track of one song seamlessly over the instrumental track of another. This process can be done on most major music production software. Check this article out: http://myaudioeducation.com/best-home-studio-recor

      I haven’t been very active in production, as I am focusing on some side projects at the moment. However, I’ll be sure to update the website if I have anything worth putting up!

      Thanks for visiting my site!

  4. Great article on audio editing software, I never really thought about audio editing software before reading your article today. I was aware it existed and was used, but never knew really anything about it before reading your article today. I never imagined there were so many different audio editing software available, I have learned so much from your article in such a short time. That is what is so awesome about the internet, people are more aware of what is available and how to find them.

    • Hi there!

      Its always a pleasure to be able to bring quality content to people who need it. Thanks a lot for taking the time to visit my site!

      Do come back for more!

  5. Great review! Thanks for sharing!
    It was especially interesting for me to learn more about Speech Applications. Maybe you can write more about this topic?

    • Hi Kevin!

      Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts. I have to admit that any subject under acoustical engineering, is not my cup of tea. Nonetheless, I will still seriously consider your suggestion!

      Hope to see you again!

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