Record system alerts

Today’s question took a somewhat circuitous root to my Inbox. Macworld’s Gem-meister, Dan Frakes, passes along this audio-centric message from Reader Unknown. He writes:

A reader asked me for a recommendation for simple software for recording AIFF sounds for use as system sounds. As he (rightly) points out, “It used to be so easy to create your own system sound right in the Mac OS. You’d click ‘New’ and record the sound via the built in microphone. But those days are over.” What’s your AIFF recorder of choice for simple tasks?

Like Dan, my software of choice often depends on its price. I prefer free and, in a case like this where your needs are modest, there’s very little reason to look beyond free.

If you’ve purchased a new Mac in the past few years, that Mac has a perfectly fine audio recording application accessible via the Dock—GarageBand. Just fire it up, create a new music project, click the Plus button in the lower-left corner of the window, choose to create a new Real Instrument track, and record your voice through a microphone attached to your Mac. Trim the track to your satisfaction.

When you export your file you’ll need to do it in the AIFF format as that’s the audio format required for the Mac’s alert sounds. The method for doing this varies for GarageBand 3 (the version that was part of iLife 06) and the current GarageBand (part of iLife 08).

In GarageBand 3 choose Share -> Send Song to iTunes. The track will be exported as an AIFF file and added to your iTunes library. In iTunes, Control-click on the track and choose Show in Finder. Follow this path: youruserfolder /Library/Sounds, and copy the sound file into the Sounds folder. When you next launch System Preferences and choose Sounds, you’ll find your sound in the list of alert sounds in the Sound Effects tab.

In the latest version of GarageBand you can skip some of this rigmarole by choosing Share -> Export Song to Disk. In the sheet that appears you’ll see “Export Your Song to Disk in its Original Quality” followed by a Compress checkbox. Leave that checkbox unchecked and GarageBand will export the file as an AIFF. Again, copy it to youruserfolder /Library/Sounds and it will become part of your Mac’s alert sounds repertoire.

If you’re intimidated by GarageBand, Ben Shanfelder makes a dead-simple (and free) audio recorder called, aptly enough, Audio Recorder. From its bottom pop-up menu choose Edit Profiles and in the Profiles window that appears choose AIFF from the Format pop-up menu. If you’d like to save some space you’re welcome to choose Mono from the Channels pop-up menu and 22.050 kHz from the Sample Rate pop-up menu—the AIFF files produced with these settings will work as system alerts. Close the Profiles window and click Audio Recorder’s Record button. Save the file and put it in youruserfolder /Library/Sounds to add it as a system alert.

Finally, a free-ish solution is QuickTime Pro (the -ish part comes in if you’ve already purchased QuickTime Pro for $29). One of QuickTime Player Pro’s most overlooked features is its ability to record audio and video. Just hook up your mic, choose File -> New Audio Recording, and start talking. Edit your file with the built-in trim controls and choose File -> Export. In the resulting Save Exported File As dialog box, choose Sound to AIFF from the Export pop-up menu. Add the saved file to youruserfolder /Library/Sounds.

And because I’m sure someone will comment on it if I don’t mention it, there’s also Audacity, a free and reasonably full-featured-given-the-price audio editor that I find convoluted and occasionally unstable. Audacity can also record and edit AIFF files, which you can use as alert sounds by copying them to the folder I cited.

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