Editing Loops with Audacity

In any list of "must-have software", gushing editors invariably include Audacity (currently at version 2.0.5), an audio editor that supposedly is as good or better as the for-pay big-boys. Perhaps its audio engine is powerful and flexible. Unfortunately, like so many other free, open-source projects, it utterly fails when it comes to usability.

Let's say I want to do something simple like edit a selection which I want to duplicate in a song; that is, I want to make a loop. In this investigation, I'm comparing the level of usability with expensive software such as Cakewalk SONAR for audio editing or Sony Vegas for video editing.

The cursor cannot be placed at playback stop. In top-end audio programs, if I'm trying to find a rough position for starting a selection, I can hit the Enter key rather than Space to stop playback and leave the cursor where playback stopped. Audacity doesn't seem to have that option; the cursor always goes back to the beginning (of the selection or of the audio) and the current playback location is lost.

Editing is cumbersome. Once I've found the rough area where I want to loop, I want to mark the beginning and ending of a selection to test. Sure, I can use Shift+Left and Shift+Right to widen the selection or Ctrl+Shift+Right and Ctrl+Shift+Left to narrow the selection (which is a little awkward at first, but I'm sure it soon comes natural). But I want to be able to click on one of the endpoints and then use keystrokes to push the selection end forward or backwards at various granularities. This is not possible as far as I can tell. If I get one end set the way I like it and I accidentally hit Shift+Right when I wanted to hit Ctrl+Shift+Right, for example, I've just screwed up the end I thought I had set.

Loop playback cursor cannot be repositioned. I want to play the given selection over and over. (I'm going to copy it into a loop, after all.) Audacity allows Shift+Space (instead of normal Space) for loop playback of the current selection, but this functionality is a joke. Let's say my selection is 10 seconds long and I make an adjustment of the right end of the selection. I want to play the loop, but I'm most interested in whether the right end of the selection is at the correct location to seamlessly blend into the first part of the selection when looping occurs. Do I want to wait 10 seconds ever time I make a minute adjustment to the end? No, I want to jump into the middle of the loop and start playback near the end. You have two choices in Audacity: start at the beginning of the selection and loop, or start somewhere else in the selection and not loop. There is no way to toggle looping on and then position the cursor wherever you want for playback. This problem was discussed on the Audacity forums over three years ago, but nothing apparently came of this seemingly simple but powerful feature request.

Looping ignores dynamic selection changes. If you do decide to give in and loop from the beginning of the selection, it's likely you'll want to change the selection endpoints during loop playback for experimenting. In Audacity you can dynamically change the selection endpoints, but Audacity completely ignores those new endpoints during loop playback—looping continues to occur from the endpoints that were set when playback started.

I don't know whether it is easy or hard to duplicate the selection to create a loop. I threw in the towel just trying to set the selection endpoints where I wanted them.

I you are a pauper then free software is a bargain. But if your time is valuable and you want to get things done quickly and efficiently, a lot of free software such as Audacity winds up costing more than if you would have bought something with a modern interface to begin with.