Audio conversion is a mystery of modern technological life.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

Stop Paying for Software
How's this sound? Pay nothing for audio fixes

June 7, 2009

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2009, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2009, The Post-Standard

   The best way to save money is to stop spending it. That's the idea behind my new series on the best free software for Windows and Macs. This week I'm recommending free audio conversion and editing programs.

   If you listen to music on your computer or portable player, sooner or later you'll need some way to fix the sound.
   Maybe you just need to convert a bunch of sound files so they take up less space. Or maybe you want to combine two or three sound files into one long musical interlude. The software I'm recommending this week will handle those chores easily -- and without cost.
   Audio conversion is a mystery of modern technological life. But it doesn't have to be. Here's my 25-word explanation:
   Sound files can be shrunk (to fit more music in a small space) or altered (to work with certain portable players) by audio conversion software.
   For example, you'd need audio conversion software to shrink a "talking book" enough so it will fit on a disk. I had to do that to reduce the size of one of my MP3 audio Bibles so it would fit on a CD. (Our motor home's in-dash sound system can play MP3 CDs.)
   To pare all the MP3 files down to size --there was one for each chapter of every book in the Bible! -- I used the software I'm recommending this week. It's called Switch, from NCH Swift Sound at www.nch.com.au/switch. It's available in Windows and Mac versions, both free.
   I downloaded and installed half a dozen free audio converters before settling on Switch. You don't have to know anything geeky about audio to use it, and yet it's quite powerful.
   My Bible-squeezing project went well. I dragged the folder that contained all the chapters to the main window in Switch and clicked a lower-quality setting than I normally use. That made the files smaller. (MP3 files are quality-conscious. The better the quality, the more space they take up.)
   Choosing an audio editor was easier. There's an outstanding (and totally free) sound editing program that, like Switch, is available in both Windows and Mac versions. It's Audacity, from www.audacity.sourceforge.net.
   Audacity is a great little sound-recording program as well as a good audio editor. My Windows and Mac laptops both have built-in microphones, which are put to good use any time I want to make a quick memo recording with Audacity. Editing is easy, and Audacity shows sound waveforms to help locate the right edit points.
   As a longime audio enthusiast, I usually have high-cost professional-level software just a click away, but I often choose to record and edit with Audacity. It's that good.