Most computers come with basic audio hardware and software installed for recording and playback. However, there are hundreds of computer programs available which allow you to do more with your audio - playing, editing, analysing, transcribing and converting sounds. This page offers a few examples.
1. Free software downloads
(a) Audio players
Although your computer can play many sound files, these free tools will play a larger variety of audio and video files:
Media Player Classic
A good general purpose player with a small footprint
A popular general purpose player for Windows
A general purpose player from Apple
A useful player combined with a useful facility for organising audio libraries
(b) Audio editors
Audacity – an open-source, cross-platform, feature-rich player
with many features including recording, converting, mixing, filtering, effects,
(c) Visualisers and analysers
Sonic Visualiser open-source software for viewing and analysing
the contents of music audio files, for Linux, OS/X, and Windows
Avisoft SASLab Lite – designed for bioacoustics analysis, but useful
for graphical representation of waveforms or spectrograms of any sounds.
Raven Lite - designed for bioacoustics analysis, but useful for
graphical representation by waveform or spectrogram of any sounds.
Praat - used especially for speech analysis and phonetics
(d) Audio transcription tools
Express Scribe, useful for transcribing written speech to a computer.
Windows, Mac and Linux versions. Easily control of playback at different speeds
using mouse, keyboard shortcuts or by purchasing a foot pedals.
(e) mp3 and CD ripping
Note that you should not copy CDs that are copyright unless you have permission from the rights holder.
Exact Audio Copy: makes high quality grabs of CDs
2. Commercial software and hardware
There are also many excellent programs on the market that at a price will handle multiple audio functions in one single program, for example: Wavelab, SoundForge, Adobe Audition, Bias Peak LE (for Macs) to name but a few.
Computers play sound files via a hardware sound card or sound processor chip, which can be upgraded to achieve better sound quality. Good quality units range in price from £80 to over £2000. Internal sound cards are available for Windows PCs at low cost.
External audio interface units that connect to a computer via high-speed USB or Firewire cables are becoming more popular. For around £150, these provide rugged audio inputs and outputs to connect a variety of external devices, along with good quality analogue-digital converters.