Audio Utilities

Most people who have been using computers for some time will have gathered a collection of handy applications that they just can't do without. Often small and dedicated to a narrow set of tasks, these utilities can fill in some of the gaps that higher-end software leaves open in terms of functionality, or offer a quick and easy alternative without costly frills. Here's a quick look at some quirky little utilities that may meet your needs, or just give you some ideas for things you might like to try.

AUDIO FILE COMPRESSION

What do .mp3, the open source .ogg [vorbis], and proprietary formats such as .wma, .ra and .lqt all have in common? They're all lossy audio compression formats, meaning they reduce quality to save space. One freeware application called Monkey's Audio is arguably the fastest and easiest way to compress audio with no loss of quality (lossless). This is just like the way WinZip zips files to reduce space then unzips them exactly as they were originally. The program supports ID3 information tags used for mp3 information and the native .ape format can be played in Winamp and media Jukebox.

As an illustration, this is how to compress a WAV file. Go to the Mode menu and select Compress. (Selecting decompress later allows you to decompress .ape files again.) Now select File-Add File(s) to add your wave file; press the Compress icon, wait a couple of minutes for the file to compress, and you're done. You can adjust compression options by pressing the Normal icon. As an indication, I was able to turn a 69MB .wav file into a 25MB lossless .ape file.

BATCH CONVERSION

Batch conversion means that rather than having to convert one file at a time, you are able to select a group of files and change them at the same time, making things easier and saving you time. Arguably, the best program available to do this for audio is Awave Studio (30 day shareware -- $US89.95). Able to read over 150 audio formats including .wma, .mp3 and .wav, and write/save to over 60 formats, the program is also able to function as a simple audio editor, audio and MIDI player and a wavetable synthesiser instrument editor and converter.

Take a look at the Batch Conversion Wizard, accessed under Tools, or started by pressing -B. A dialogue box will appear asking you to select the type of items you wish to convert: leave Convert ‘Waveforms' selected and click Next. Now select Add Files and select the files that you wish to convert; you can select multiple files by holding down . Press Open when you're done. You should now see a list of the files that you have selected. As the program hints, you can also drag and drop files into the list from Windows Explorer. Press Next and each option you'll see is pretty much self-explanatory, so for now leave everything at default and just change the output format and directory to meet your needs.

TURNING TEXT INTO MP3

Converting text to synthesised voice to be saved as .mp3 or .wav files can be a neat little trick if you've got a lot of reading to do or if you want a novel way of experimenting with audio on your computer. Ultimate Reading Machine (URM) is shareware costing $US29.99 and does just this.

First, click on the New Book icon and fill out any fields. You can adjust the current book's spoken voice type, speed, volume and quality by clicking on Preferences for Current Book, located under the Preferences menu. Next, click on the New Chapter icon and once again fill out all relevant details. The Import TextFile button allows you to select a text file you've already got or saved, or, alternatively, you can select Import from web and type in the URL into the address field and press . Provided you are connected to the Internet, you should see the Web page appear in the bottom window. Now press Import this page, or highlight what you want read out, right-click the mouse and press Copy. Press Cancel and in the large field down the bottom where "please type your text here" is written, right-click the mouse and select Paste.

Now press the Save audio as button, type a file name and select a location. To create an .mp3 you may need to go to www.ultimatereadingmachine.com/mp3.html and download lame.exe to URM's installation directory. This done, you're free to press the Generate audio button -- and you're done.