Audacity has Been Improving! Here's What's New in the Free Audio Editor

Latest Blog
February 27, 2024
JJ Lyon
Krotos Studio

After years of being stuck as the same old app, the open-source audio editor and “everyone’s first audio software” has started changing. We’ll tell you what’s new

Have you heard about Audacity recently? This open-source and free software may have been your first experience of mangling audio on a computer, but due to its modest capabilities and lack of change over many years, the software eventually started getting left behind. You’d be forgiven for thinking the program had faded into obscurity, but you’d actually be wrong.

In recent years, Audacity has slowly started adding improvements, and is now, pretty much, in active development. And since the tool can be a boon for quick audio work, we wanted to summarise and fill you in on Audacity’s recent changes and upgrades over the last few years.

The fall and rise of Audacity

Launched at the turn of the millennium, Audacity was considered to be the go-to option for casual audio recorders and editors for quite some time. In its 24-year lifespan, the free software has racked up over 200 million downloads.

So what was the motive for so many people to download a piece of software that has seemed so behind the times? One obvious rationale is the (lack of) price tag.

Secondly, Audacity had very little in the way of competition at the time of launch. Windows 98’s included audio processing tools were sub-par, to say the least. On the Apple front, Audacity pretty much had the monopoly when it came to audio software due to lack of Apple support. Furthermore, Audacity worked on Linux too.

How could it all go so wrong for such a promising piece of freeware? Ultimately, as technology and compatibility improved exponentially, Audacity sadly struggled to keep up. While there have always been many loyal users, the number of overall users dwindled.

That all began to change in 2021 when Audacity was taken over by Muse Group, the Cyprus-based company responsible for a range of music production software including MuseScore, Tonebridge and StaffPad.

At this point, they entrusted MuseScore boss Martin Keary with the task of getting Audacity back on track, while retaining the community feel that keeps the die-hard Audacity users faithful to the software.

There have been some major updates to Audacity over the past few years, and those looking after it show no signs of stopping their mission to bring the audio editor up to speed. Audacity version 3.3 added a new shelf filter, the ability to use some of the built-in effects in real-time, and a beta version of a Beats and Measures mode.

The most recent iteration of Audacity, Version 3.4, was released in November 2023. This version fully incorporated the Beats and Measures Mode, allowing users to snap their audio clips to a quantized grid a la just about every other audio tool ever. It also added Time Stretching, a new audio exporter and several features designed to make Audacity more music producer-friendly.

What’s new in Audacity?

First things first, upon opening the most up-to-date version of Audacity 3.4, you’re not going to be blown away by an overhauled user interface or a new suite of ground-breaking effects.

Instead, many of the updates relate to the audio engine and general workflow of the software. Let’s take a look at some of those updates below.

Non-destructive Editing

Given Audacity’s heritage as one of the most popular pieces of audio editing software, you’d expect to be able to move and trim audio clips with relative ease. Sadly, that’s not always been the case.

Not only did you have to switch to a specific tool for each of these tasks, but cropping audio clips was destructive. This meant that if you cropped a clip and then decided later on that you wanted to uncrop it, you’d need to hit undo until the audio returned.

In version 3.1 of Audacity, moving audio clips was made considerably simpler by clicking and dragging on each clip’s header bar. Additionally, it added the ability to non-destructively trim clips by clicking and dragging on their vertical boundaries.

Stackable Real-time Effects

One previous drawback that has historically plagued Audacity was that effects were unable to be applied to an audio channel in real time. Not only did that mean you had to commit to audio processing at each step, but you couldn’t preview your processing before applying it permanently.

Audacity Version 3.2 changed that by introducing the ability to use some native and third-party plugins akin to how you might be used to using them in a DAW. The new Effects button in each channel’s header lets you add, configure and reorder effects in a non-committal manner.

It’s worth noting that for now, only a select few native effects are able to be used in real-time. These are Bass & Treble, Distortion, Phaser, Reverb and Wahwah.

Beats and Measures Mode

For those who intend to use Audacity for music production or editing purposes, this feature should come as a welcome addition to the program’s growing list of capabilities. Version 3.4 was arguably Audacity’s most substantial update. Among other things, it added an all-new Beats and Measures mode.

If you’re a regular DAW-user, you’ll be familiar with most DAW’s default grid mode that allows you to move audio and MIDI clips along a timeline’s grid, with those clips usually snapping into place according to the grid. Historically, Audacity behaved as if the grid was switched off.

That’s great for extremely fine audio editing, but sometimes you need a quick way of keeping music in time with a particular tempo. Beats and Measures Mode lets users set a BPM and time signature, and snap audio clips to a grid according to a range of beat divisions.

Time Stretching

Off the back of the last point, Audacity’s time stretching feature added in version 3.4 means that you can adjust your project’s Tempo at any point, and the program will time stretch the contained audio clips to remain in time with your project’s new Tempo.

Furthermore, you can manually time stretch any audio clip by clicking and dragging a clip’s vertical boundaries while holding the Alt/Option key. The clip’s header bar will even display the amount of time stretching that is being applied.

An Updated Audio Exporter

While this next feature update might not be the most creative update we’re looking at today, if you’re a heavy Audacity user it’ll be sure to save you some time and headache.

The new and improved Audio Exporter window present in Audacity Version 3.4 onwards makes it easier than ever to select the appropriate export format and location. It also makes it much easier to access the native file browser.

Shelf Filter

As of Audacity Version 3.3, the Low-Pass, High-Pass and Notch Filters are joined by a fourth filter type. The new Shelf Filter can be set to a Low-shelf or High-shelf, and allows the user to attenuate or accentuate areas of their signal without cutting them entirely.

VST3 Support

Those who want to expand upon Audacity’s native capabilities may be inclined to use third-party plugins. While that’s been possible for some time, what’s been missing is the ability to use plugins in the VST3 format.

You’ll be pleased to know that Version 3.2 of Audacity implemented VST3 support, bringing the program up to speed with other audio editing programs and DAWs in the plugin compatibility department.

What’s next for Audacity?

It’s clear that under their new owners Muse Group, Audacity are eager to catch up to the pack in terms of technological capability. Evidenced by the suite of features added in Version 3.4, they also seem keen to position themself more firmly within the music production and editing market.

So what’s next for Audacity? Version 3.5 is currently in Alpha, but we can see from the change log what additions the next iteration is likely to bring. Automatic Tempo Detection and Pitch Shifting appear to be the main headlines, but there are of course a range of usability updates and bug fixes that will accompany those new major features.

The forthcoming addition of Automatic Tempo Detection and Pitch Shifting reinforces that the team behind Audacity has their sights set on the music production market. Beyond Version 3.5, who knows what’s next, but there are clearly exciting times ahead for Audacity and its loyal community.