Best free audio software: II

This month I’ll be continuing my exploration of the best free tools for the audio-phile, focusing on music management but also taking a brief look at text-to-speech.

Get organised

The music library management features of free jukebox software such as Apple’s iTunes (page 109, January 2004) and Nullsoft’s Winamp 5 (page 126, May 2004) are contributing factors to both titles’ popularity.

For instance, Winamp allows you to make searches from the search field at the top of its Media Library area when viewing saved media such as MP3s. As you type an artist name or track title into the text field, the search results beneath are dynamically refined as you go. It’s a feature shared by iTunes, along with auto-playlist creation (including a rating-based playlist) and the ability to sort songs by their track information.

If you want all these features, and more, I’d recommend MediaMonkey (www.mediamonkey.com) see here for a screen shot. Let’s start by changing MediaMonkey’s skin (a term used to describe the appearance of a product’s interface) by navigating to Tools-Options-Player Skin. Three skins are supplied by default, but more can be downloaded from the program’s Web site, along with plug-ins for wider file support, cross fading, lyric display and more.

Add your music files to MediaMonkey’s library by pressing <Insert> or clicking File-Add tracks to the Library, then selecting the drives, subdirectories and file types you want to include in your scan. You might also want to tick Analyze tracks for duplicates under Library, as this will limit any duplicated tracks in your collection. Click OK when you’re finished, which will initiate scanning.

That done, you can now use the Explorer-style interface on the left to view your library in various ways (by artist, genre, year, tempo, quality or rating) as well as using the search and playlist functions.

A common problem that you may experience with your music collection is that the music files might lack some of the information tags displayed during playback, even though this information is in the file itself. MediaMonkey does its best to help out here with the Tools-Auto-Tag from Filename function. First, choose the filename format, which will display the properties that will be changed in yellow, then click OK to continue. You can also tick ‘Update empty fields only’ if you only want missing elements to be filled in.

Another common issue is that your music files may be strewn about your hard disk, or lumped together in one directory. MediaMonkey can help fix this by automatically renaming and re-organising selected files into a directory structure and name format. Go to Tools-Auto-Rename Files and follow a procedure similar to that outlined above. Remember that reliable results will only come when files have all their correct tag information. For more detailed information, you may also wish to read the program’s help files.

Note that any duplicate music files found when you scanned to create the MediaMonkey library will be listed in the Library view, under Files to Edit-Duplicate Titles. Unfortunately, the free version of MediaMonkey only allows you to remove them manually, so you may want to use another handy free program called Duplicates Killer from www.mzk-soft.com.

Singularly impressive

After you’ve fired up Duplicates Killer, select Add volume and browse to the directory on your hard disk with your MP3s. Once the directory has been scanned, you’ll be asked to give your collection a name. Next, click on your MP3 listing and press <Ctrl>-A to select them all before clicking the centrally located Search button. Select the Duplicates tab, tick each Compare box and click Find. Any doubled-up tracks will appear in the bottom window, with one selected and one not. When the search has completed, click on Close to exit the Search window. Scroll through the list to double-check possible inaccuracies, then, when you’re happy with the list, click the Delete button to remove all duplicates. It’s that easy, and you may just be surprised at how many duplicates you have in your collection.

Text-to-speech

I’ll finish up for the moment by taking a brief look at text-to-speech (TTS) tech-nology in the form of Natural Voice Reader Standard. This free version doesn’t offer natural voice technology, which is typically less monotonous and dalek-like, but can certainly read out any text copied to the clipboard from your e-mail, Web sites, or your word processor, and save it as a WAV file at various reading speeds. Not just for the visually impaired, TTS can be handy for reading out recipes while you’re cooking or reading out long memos while you’re finishing paper work. It’s also just plain fun!

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Danny Allen

PC World
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