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What is the best software to record audio with?

For some reason I've been receiving questions about this specific topic from various people over the past couple of weeks, so here is an answer.

On a Macbook, PC or laptop, Audacity is the only thing worth using. It's free and always has been. You can get it right now from AudacityTeam.org.

Is Audacity easy? No, but neither is any other multitrack audio recording software. When you get into the world of software multitracking, it is difficult by default because there is no way to make it easy...

...which is exactly why I recommend using a separate standalone multitrack recording unit like the Zoom R8, which is what I use personally. I liked it so much that I wrote two books about it (they're on my books page).

I still do use Audacity sometimes for audio mastering when I bring audio from the R8 to the computer. For things like normalizing, hard limiting and so on, Audacity does all that stuff very nicely once you know how to do it.

I may go ahead and write a book on how to do basic audio mastering with Audacity, given the fact it's not the most user friendly software in the world. Information on how to get stuff done in Audacity quickly is something I'm sure many would appreciate.

An example of why recording with software can suck

I'll actually use Audacity directly to show the example.

audacity

I put that big red arrow there for a reason.

What you see above is the preferences dialog for the Windows version of Audacity in the Recording section, pointing towards Latency.

Chances are if you're recording with software, you're using USB. Okay, fine, all well and good - except that there's no such thing as latency-free USB audio recording.

What is Latency? Pausing. There is always a pause when sending an audio signal via USB. It doesn't matter if you're using USB 2.0 or 3.0. It doesn't matter how fast your computer is. It doesn't matter how much RAM you have. There is always that @#*&! pause.

How does this pause affect you? When you multitrack, if you don't accommodate for the latency, your layered audio tracks are always "slightly off".

You accommodate for the latency by adjusting latency correction as shown above.

No two computers have the same USB latency, and no two USB audio devices have the same amount of latency either. This means if you switch computers and/or switch USB audio devices, you have to reset latency correction to accommodate the device. How much should you set it? That's the "adventure", you never know. You just have to experiment and figure it out manually. Yes, really.

Latency-free digital recording over USB is impossible. Absolutely. Totally. Impossible...

...which is why the glorious analog inputs of the Zoom R8 (or Zoom R16 or Zoom R24 or Tascam DP-008EX) are such a welcome thing. When you want latency-free zero-lag recording, you go analog.

Now that you know you're supposed to set latency correction, this will make your multitrack audio recording experience with Audacity somewhat easier.

Why use Audacity for mastering if there is latency?

When dealing with a single audio file, that being the exported master track, no latency exists. The latency only happens when you start multitracking over USB. Being the master track is literally just one track, no latency is introduced, so you're okay there.

In other words, a single master track is just Track 1. That's all you're dealing with. When there is just Track 1 and no other tracks, no latency is there.

Again, I will entertain the idea of putting a book together on basic audio mastering with Audacity. Using Audacity for mastering is very good use of that software. But where the latency with multitrack audio recording is concerned, well, the software is free, so you can roll the dice with it and see if it works for you. It won't cost you anything but time, but I'm of the opinion that analog inputs on a standalone recorder are 100 times easier to deal with just to get things done.

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