The Next Track, Episode #3 – Audio File Formats

The Next Track Blue Flat Button2 400pxIn episode #3 of The Next Track, Doug Adams and Kirk McElhearn examine the various audio file formats that you may encounter when you listen to music. You’re familiar with MP3, AAC, and, perhaps, Apple Lossless, but do you know your FLAC from your AIFF, or your WAV from your Ogg Vorbis?

Listen to The Next Track: Episode #3 — Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know about Audio File Formats.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at The Next Track website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @NextTrackCast, to keep up to date with new episodes, and new articles from the website.

The Next Track, Episode #2 – To Stream or to Own Music?

The Next Track Blue Flat Button2 400pxIn episode #2 of The Next Track, Doug Adams and Kirk McElhearn take a brief look at the iTunes 12.4 update, and then discuss streaming music versus owning it. Do you want to have access to most of the recorded music available or do you want to own your music, listen to it when you want, even if labels or artists decide they don’t want to play with streaming services?

Listen to The Next Track: Episode #2 — To Stream or to Own Music?.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at The Next Track website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @NextTrackCast, to keep up to date with new episodes, and new articles from the website.

Introducing The Next Track, a Podcast About How People Listen to Music Today, with Doug Adams and Kirk McElhearn

The Next Track Blue Flat Button2 400pxDoug Adams and Kirk McElhearn have launched The Next Track, a weekly podcast about how people listen to music today. This podcast will feature news, opinion, and a look at how music is consumed.

Sharing their experience and know-how about music, digital music, hardware, and software, Doug and Kirk will discuss music and how it’s consumed, whether it be analog or digital, downloaded or streamed, audio or video. They also look at some of the hardware used to listen to music: speakers, headphones, portable players, and home audio equipment. And there will be guests from time to time: musicians, producers, writers, critics, and more.

Each episode of The Next Track will be around 30 minutes, and episodes will be released weekly. Doug and Kirk will also publish article on TheNextTrack.com about music, audio, and more.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at The Next Track website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @NextTrackCast, to keep up to date with new episodes, and new articles from the website.

Listen to Audiobooks with the Overcast Podcast App on iOS

I’m a big fan of Marco Arment’s Overcast, which has become the only podcast app I use on iOS. The most useful feature is the Smart Speed adjustment, which speeds up podcasts by eliminating small bits of silence. I listen to many of my podcast at around 1.5x, and they sound just find, not at all like Alvin and the Chipmunks.

One thing I had long wished Overcast could do was play audiobooks, to take advantage of the Smart Speed feature. Most audiobook players let you speed up playback, but only at set increments, such as 1.25, 1.5, 2, etc. But Overcast’s the Smart Speed feature increases the speed more flexibly, and the different settings, taking advantage of the silences that are eliminated, aren’t fixed intervals, but change depending on the audio file you listen to.

The latest update to Overcast allows paying users to upload up to 2 GB of files to Overcast’s server, then stream or download them to the app. (Overcast is free for its basic features; it offers a voluntary patronage model which unlock this feature, along with a new dark theme.)

So how do you listen to audiobooks with Overcast? You can only use audiobooks that don’t have DRM; books that you’ve ripped from CDs or downloaded without DRM. But it’s a real annoyance to have lots of little files, as is generally the case on CDs.

Doug Adams has long sold an app called Join Together, which can stich up a bunch of small files into larger files to make it easier to store and listen to audiobooks. Doug has written a blog post explaining how to use Join Together and Overcast to listen to audiobooks.

If you are an audiobook listener, I strongly recommend you check out this solution.

Alternatives to Apple’s Podcasts iOS app

If you’re a podcast fan, you have many ways to listen to your favorite shows. You can download them to iTunes and listen to them on your Mac. You can sync them from iTunes to your iOS device, and listen to them with Apple’s Podcasts app. You can subscribe to them on the Podcasts app, and download them only to your iOS device. Or you can use one of a number of third-party apps on iOS.

Apple’s Podcasts app can be complicated and confusing. Designed to sync with iTunes, the app has a befuddling approach to organizing podcasts, with organization by podcast, playlist, and “station.” Syncing is often unreliable, so if you do manage your podcasts in iTunes, and want to listen on your iOS device, you’re likely to have differences between the two.

Unless you listen to podcasts often on your Mac, it’s probably best to not even use iTunes for this type of media. I’ve given up on iTunes for podcasts, and listen to them on my iPhone. I sometimes stream them to my Apple TV in the living room, or to an AirPlay speaker. Or I use Rogue Amoeba’s Airfoil Speakers to turn my Mac into an AirPlay receiver and listen to them there.

Here are a few iOS apps that let you listen to podcasts and manage them much more efficiently than Apple’s solution.

Read the rest of the article on Macworld.

Instacast Podcast App Has Been Discontinued

9to5 Mac is reporting that the Instacast podcast app has been “discontinued.” As the website says:

Popular podcasting app Instacast for iOS and Mac is shutting down as the founders can no longer fund it or any of Vemedio’s other projects.

Vemedio’s website now displays nothing more than an icon with the word Discontinued underneath it.

Instacast discontinued

9to5 Mac shows an email received by a customer, where the developer states that he “ran out of funds to keep the project going.”

I’ve long recommended Instacast as an alternative to using iTunes for podcasts. I found it to be a well-designed app, and it was much easier to use for managing podcasts than iTunes. Alas, it’s too difficult to compete in the podcast sector these days.

Personally, I’ve been using Overcast since it was released last summer. I only listen to podcasts on my iPhone, and Overcast’s wonderful speed feature makes listening much better than with other apps. While Overcast’s podcast management features may not be as good for people who listen to a lot of podcasts – and especially for those who want to keep some of their podcasts – it’s clearly the best sounding podcast app.

Speaking with a few people in the podcasting sphere recently, I’ve realised that many people find the aspect of audio effects processing to be mystifying. While I’m no expert, I thought I might write about what I have learnt during my time editing radio shows and podcasts.

So, here it goes, but I apologise in advance if I’m teaching my grandmother to suck on those proverbial eggs.

Joe Nash, who edits the podcast I co-host, The Committed, wrote an interesting article about how he gets rid of the excess noise in our audio files. If you work with podcasts, or any kind of audio, it’s worth a read. There are no complicated techniques, just some simple ways to make sure voices sound better.

A Podcaster’s Guide To Noise Reduction — Medium.

On Speeding Up Podcasts

In an article on The Verge, John Lagomarsino issues an order: “Stop listening to podcasts at 1.5x”. This is one of those prescriptive articles that bubble up to the surface from time to time, the digital “get off my lawn” rants that tell people that there is One Right Way to do something. A while back, Steve Guttenberg, writing at CNet, told people how they should listen to music; now it’s time for podcasts.

It’s one thing to enjoy a leisure activity or art form, it’s another to tell people how they should enjoy it. It’s haughty, presumptive, and just plain aggressive. It tells readers that they are too stupid, that they Are Doing It Wrong.

Since the article mentions Marco Arment’s podcast app Overcast, Arment replied, saying “Listen to podcasts at whatever speed you want”. The difference between the tone of the two articles is obvious. In the first, you read things like:

“you need to stop listening to podcasts sped up to 1.5x.”

The author takes a couple of examples of professionally produced podcasts, showing how their pauses are important, how they are part of the “producer’s intention.” He’s not wrong, but he’s wrong.

Because, after all, there’s no way you can match the “producer’s intention” when listening to podcasts. You may be in your car, paying attention to the road; you may be on your commute or working out; you may be in bed, listening before you sleep. Is Mr Lagormasino going to tell you that you’re doing it wrong? “Hey, you, stop the car, wake up, LISTEN TO THE PODCAST THE WAY YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO!”

As for Mr. Arment, he’s more open-minded. He starts by explaining that he’s a coffee purist, and how he listens to music on “what I can confidently say are the best headphones in the world.” (He listens to Phish, apparently; so he’s not perfect.) And he says:

“Enjoying the full experience of all media and preserving “what the artist intends” is a romantic ideal, but it’s both overrated and unrealistic in reality. Not everything is that good, not everyone cares that much, and not all media produced is perfect and immutable.”

What Arment did in Overcast is introduce a speed feature that doesn’t make podcasts sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks. Part of his feature removes silence and pauses, allowing people to get a speed boost without the voices changing much. The other part of his feature speeds up voices with no pitch change. Together, they let me listen to podcasts at around 1.5x (the speed varies in Overcast, because of the silence removal). As Arment concludes:

“If the option to speed up podcasts lets people listen to more podcasts, everyone wins.”

That’s exactly what it allows me to do. My time is limited, and this feature has made a world of difference to me.

So, if you want to listen to podcasts sped up, go ahead. If you don’t, then don’t. But don’t go preaching to people that your way is the right way; because you’re not right.

Audio Hijack 3: Easily Record Any Audio on a Mac

Rogue Amoeba software has just released an update to its excellent audio recording app: Audio Hijack 3 maintains the app’s position as the best audio recorder for Mac, and its new design makes it easier to use, and more efficient.

I’ve long used Audio Hijack to record streamed content, as well as podcasts, and seeing the new interface is like discovering a brand new car. While it does the same things as before, it’s so much easier to use that complex audio recording is now just a few clicks away.

Audio Hijack 3 uses Session Templates, which allow you to quickly set up a recording for any use.

Screen Shot 2015 01 21 at 11 45 12 AM

Most of what you will record is visible in the Template Chooser, and if you have more complex recording needs, you can choose New Blank Session and roll your own.

In the Template Chooser, you can see the many ways you can use Audio Hijack 3.

  • You can record streams: audio from the web, from your Mac, or voice chats, such as Skype or FaceTime.
  • You can record from physical media, such as DVDs, to capture audio from concert videos, or vinyl records, to digitize them (and filter out hisses and clicks while you’re doing it).
  • You can use it to alter the audio on your Mac as you’re listening to it: the Sweeten template lets you apply EQ and effects, and the Increase Volume template lets you make your Mac louder.
  • You can record any application, any input device.
  • And you can record podcasts, with complex settings and effects.

Here’s the session I use to record The Committed podcast:

Screen Shot 2015 01 21 at 11 23 44 AM

All I need to do is drag a few blocks, connect them, and click the Record button. Audio Hijack saves the files, with my settings, which are then edited with the recordings of my other hosts.

If you have any audio recording needs – from Skype calls to streaming audio to podcasts – Audio Hijack 3 is for you.