Record and host audio online with SpeakPipe Voice Recorder

Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 7.09.30 PMOne tool I use quote often in my English language classroom is a voice recorder. For years, I used Vocaroo as my online recorder, but I have stopped that completely due to the awful ads that are shared with the listener of the shared audio file. Instead, I am using SpeakPipe Voice Recorder. It is a simple, online voice recorder that doesn’t need registration. Files are downloaded or shared online using a unique URL. Listeners can also download the file or listen online. Best of all, there are no ads anywhere on the site. It evens works with mobile devices. Here is how it works:

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  • For laptop and desktop users, you will be asked to give permission to Adobe Flash to have access to the microphone. Click on ‘Allow’.

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  • SpeakPipe will immediately start recording. If you would like to restart, simply click on ‘Reset’. When you are done, click on ‘Stop’.

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  • If you audio is quiet, you may get this message. You can click on ‘Replay’ to listen to the audio. If you are then happy with it, click on ‘Save on server’, otherwise click on ‘Reset’ to start again.

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  • You may give your recording a title or simply leave it blank. Click on ‘Save’ to upload to the server. Notice, the file will be saved there for three months from the last playback.

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  • You will then be given a playback window with an embed code shown along the bottom. You can embed this file in your website using the code. Click on ‘Link to this recording’ to get the unique URL that you can share with others.

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  • This is the final step. Simply copy the URL from the top of the page and share it with the person or people you would like. You can also click on the ‘download’ text to download the file to your computer.

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Audacity vs. Ocenaudio – Comparing Free Audio Editor Programs

Image courtesy of Kris S.

Image courtesy of Kris S.

If you have been involved in language teaching for any length of time, you have probably had some experience in using the free, open-source audio program, Audacity. In fact, for some schools, this is installed on all of the lab computers and is the primary audio recorder for both students and teachers. It comes in various versions, such as a portable version you can take with you on your USB drive, and for multiple platforms, such as Mac and Windows.

Recently, I have come across the free, but not open-source, audio editor Ocenaudio that is also cross-platform, but for myself is a much more user-friendly offering for those wishing to record and edit audio on their computer. Because of this, I have decided to do my first head-to-head software comparison by looking at the installation, features, and usability of these two apps.

Audacity

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Cost: Completely free. Audacity is open source which means that it can be adapted by anyone who wants to tweak or change the source code. In other words, it has been created over time by a whole lot of people working apart, yet together on the same project. The advantage to this is that if anything goes wrong, anyone can fix it. Also, since there is no company involved, there is no fear that the support will dry up.

Installation:

  • Windows (Option 1): Download the main installer (23MB) and run the installer. You will need administration rights to do this.
  • Windows (Option 2): Download the ZIP file of the installer (9MB) and uncompress the file and then run the installer. You will need administration rights to run the installer.
  • Windows (Option 3): Download the portable version from PortableApps (21MB) and run the installer to uncompress and copy to a portable drive such as a USB thumb drive. You can get around the administration rights problem doing it this way, but it takes longer to boot up each time (minimal) and you can’t associate file types with it (ie. you can’t make Windows always open certain file types with it simply by double-clicking on the file. You will need to start Audacity and then open the file that way).
  • Mac (Option 1): Download the DMG file (33MB) and open the DMG file (click or double-click depending on where you do this) and copy (ie. drag-and-drop) the Audacity folder to the Applications folder (actually, you can copy this anywhere you would like on your computer, but the Applications folder makes the most sense).
  • Mac (Option 2): Download the ZIP file (15MB) and open the file (click or double-click depending on where you do this) and then move the folder to the Applications folder (actually, you can copy this anywhere you would like on your computer, but the Applications folder makes the most sense). Note that this option does not have the help files with it.
  • Additional installation: For either the Mac or Windows version, you will need to install the LAME plug in if you want to export (ie. save) your work as an MP3 file. Since most devices (computers, portable audio players, phones, and so on) can play MP3 files, this is highly recommended. In order to do that, you will need to download the LAME plugin and run the installer (Mac or Windows). Once that is done, you will be able to export any file as an MP3 file.
Basic Features:
  • Recording: Once you open Audacity, you will be presented with the main window with buttons, drop-down menus, and the main audio channels. It can be very overwhelming for someone who isn’t used to audio editing or the options that you are presented with. To do a simple audio recording, you need to choose the audio host, the output and input devices, and the input channels. Once that is okay, you can simply press the Record button to start and the Stop button to stop.
  • Cutting: If you have just recorded something, you will see the waveform of the file in the central window. To edit, simply click-and-drag over the area you would like to delete and press play to hear if that is okay. If you need to adjust, simply move either end of the selection and play to check again. Once you are satisfied that you would like to remove that section, simply hit the delete key and that section will be discarded and the remaining two sections will merge. If you are editing an imported file (ex. MP3) file, Audacity has to encode it as a lossless file before editing and then re-encodes the file, losing quality along the way.
  • Adding: Select the area you would like to copy from by clicking-and-dragging over the area. Copy or cut that section (I use hotkeys, but you can also use the Edit menu or right-click on the mouse and select copy or cut) and then click in the area you would like to insert the new section and paste your selection.
  • Adjusting the audio for a section: Select the area you would like to adjust the volume by clicking-and-dragging over the area. Along the top menu, choose Effect and then Amplify. Adjust the slider up or down and click on OK to apply the changes. If the OK button greys out (ie. you can’t click on it), either adjust your slider since you have put it up too much and part of the audio wave will be cut off (ie. clipped), or select the ‘Allow Clipping’ option and then OK.
  • Saving: You can save an recording or editing project as an Audacity file, allowing you to continue working on it at a later time. Once you are finished, you can export the product in various formats including MP3 if you have the LAME plugin installed (see above).

Usability / Design: Audacity is an older program (started in 1999) and the design has basically remained unchanged over that time. It was designed to be a full-featured audio editor for those who were familiar with all of the terms and features of a full blown audio editor. As a result, the design is a bit overwhelming for the average user and also a bit clunky to operate. To be perfectly honest, it is ugly. I don’t expect it to be super stylish, but the design often works against the usage and makes it more difficult to use than necessary. After saying that, at least it is consistent. Once a person learns how to use it, future updates should remain familiar if the past is any indication. There is something to be said about not having to re-learn everything with a new update (I’m looking at you Microsoft!).

Ocenaudio

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Cost: Completely free. Ocenaudio is not open source, but did start off with a research group in a Brazilian university needed an app for a specific project. Therefore, it can not be adapted or changed by anyone outside of that group. If the group wants to kill the project or start charging for it or any part of it, they can. The likelihood of this is remote, but something to consider.

Installation:

  • Windows: Download the installer (16-18MB) and run it. You will need administration rights to run the installer.
  • Mac: Download the DMG file (22MB) and copy the app to your Applications folder (actually, you can copy this anywhere you would like on your computer, but the Applications folder makes the most sense).
Basic Features:
  • Recording: Upon opening Ocenaudio, you are presented with a very clean, minimalistic main window with a few buttons, a file window on the left, and a audio window in the centre. It looks very easy to use, even for those who are not accustomed to audio editing. To do a simple audio recording, simply press the Record button to start and a menu for the sample rate, channels, and resolution options drops down. Click on ‘OK’ to start recording, and then click on the Record button to stop recording.
  • Cutting: If you have just recorded something, you will see the waveform of the file in the central window. To edit, simply click-and-drag over the area you would like to delete and press play to hear if that is okay. If you need to adjust, simply move either end of the selection and play to check again. Once you are satisfied that you would like to remove that section, simply hit the delete key and that section will be discarded and the remaining two sections will merge. If you are editing an imported file (ex. MP3) file, Ocenaudio doesn’t require re-encoding, making it faster and simpler as well as cleaner since the audio is compressed multiple times.
  • Adding: Select the area you would like to copy from by clicking-and-dragging over the area. Copy or cut that section (I use hotkeys, but you can also use the Edit menu or right-click on the mouse and select copy or cut) and then click in the area you would like to insert the new section and paste your selection.
  • Adjusting the audio for a section: Select the area you would like to adjust the volume by clicking-and-dragging over the area. Along the top menu, choose Effects and then Amplitude and Gain. Adjust the slider left or right and click on OK to apply the changes.
  • Saving: You can save an recording or editing project in various formats including MP3 (no plug in required).

Usability / Design: Ocenaudio is a new program and the design certainly shows that. The interface is welcoming, clean, and easy to use. It feels familiar for those who are used to using similar programs. Instead of opening multiple windows, each file is listed along the left-hand side, making it easier to toggle between them. Also, the lack of buttons makes it simpler for those who just want to record, edit, and save.

Conclusion

After using Audacity for many years, I am aware of the quirks and benefits of this fairly well known program. Ocenaudio is a newcomer to this market, but a welcome one. From what I can see, Ocenaudio is more than capable of handling what language learners and instructors need in an audio recorder / editor, making it more user friendly to install and use. Where Audacity still has an edge is in the area of portability. If you have to switch computers all of the time and don’t have the recorder installed on all of those machines, the portable version of Audacity is a handy friend to have in your bag. After saying that, it isn’t very often that I have this problem and I suspect that is the same for most instructors. If that is the case, I would lean towards Ocenaudio as my main audio editor.