capsule review

WireTap Studio 1.0.1

At a Glance
  • Ambrosia Software WireTap Studio 1.0.1

    Macworld Rating

After making modest efforts in the audio capture and editing arena with its WireTap Pro, Ambrosia Software has released the fuller-featured WireTap Studio, a $69 application that focuses on easily capturing audio, performing common editing tasks, and—its stand-out feature—allowing you to non-destructively edit audio and preview it in a variety of formats.

Recording

When you launch WireTap Studio, a recording controller appears, from which you choose a recording source (or two, as you might when recording the output from an application such as iChat or Skype along with the input from a microphone plugged into your Mac). From this controller you also select an audio format (AAC, MP3, AIFF, WAV, or lossless .mov) and a quality setting. You’ll also find Record, Stop, and Pause buttons. Finally, and most intriguing, is the LivePreview button you can click to hear how your audio will sound when processed with the selected setting. Choose a low-quality setting—MP3 Cellphone Ringtone, for example—and the audio sounds highly compressed. Choose AIFF CD Quality, on the other hand, and you hear the audio at full quality.

LivePreview is good for more than auditioning how your file will sound with a certain format and quality. You can also non-destructively apply effects on input. For example, you can apply a reverb effect to a radio station you’re streaming through iTunes or change the pitch of someone on the other end of a Skype call. Again, you can remove this effect at any time you like. It becomes permanent only when you export your file.

It’s important to note that while WireTap Studio will create a file at the settings you’ve selected, by default it also records a lossless master. Although the lossless version necessarily requires more disk space, it’s useful for those times when you think you’ve chosen a reasonable recording setting only to be disappointed with the quality when you listen to that recording. With other audio editors, you’d have to re-record to gain the quality you’re after. In WireTap Studio it’s simply a matter of choosing a higher quality setting. And when you do this, you can see the resulting size of the file, letting you balance file size and recording quality, something that’s important for podcasters concerned about exceeding bandwidth limits (or forcing their listeners to download huge files). Once you’re happy with your results, you can delete the lossless version and free up some hard drive space. If you’re running short of hard drive space, you can configure a preference setting so that the lossless version isn’t recorded.

Library and editing

Completed and imported recordings appear in WireTap Studio’s Library window. Like its equivalent in iTunes, this window provides a list of all your recordings. Within this window you can create groups and drag recordings to them. (In contrast with iTunes’ playlists, if you delete a recording or a group the file or files are gone; they don’t remain in the Library.) Along the bottom of the window are export buttons marked Local, Server, iDisk, eMail, Bluetooth, iPod, iTunes, and iPhone. (The iPhone option is for sending compatible audio files to the phone where they’re used as ringtones.) Select files in the library and click one of these buttons and the file will be transferred using the current file format. If you don’t care for the format, open the file in the editor by double-clicking it or clicking the Edit Recording button, click the Format button in the resulting window, choose a new File format, sample rate, bit rate, and quality, and then save the file. The file in the Library window will change to the settings you’ve just chosen.

Within that editing window, you can do more than convert file formats. In the Waveform view you can trim the beginning and end of the file by dragging sliders at either end of the display—audio scrubs as you drag the slider across it, allowing you to zero in on just the place you want to trim. If you’d like to add a fade, a different slider does that (the program supports four varieties of fade). And if you’d care to adjust the track’s volume, just drag a control for doing exactly that—you’ll see the waveform grow taller or shorter to reflect the volume change. You can also select a portion of the waveform to delete or silence. (When you silence the selection, you don’t delete any time but rather reduce any audio to 0 volume. This is useful for removing noise between tracks without cutting any part of the space between those tracks.) And you can crop the waveform to just the selected portion.

Any of these edits can be undone, even after you’ve saved the file. Just locate the triangle that marks the spot of any edit in the waveform, click it, and click the Restore icon within the edit area to undo the edit. Very slick.

Along the bottom-left of the editing window are Play and Stop buttons, a timeline, VU meters (for displaying volume levels), and Loop and Scrub buttons. With Scrub enabled, you can drag the editor’s playhead around and hear the audio under it. Click Loop and the selected audio repeatedly plays. Click the nearby FX button to produce the Effects Inspector window. Here you can chose the effects you’d like to apply to your file. WireTap Studio supports VST and AudioUnits plug-ins.

Finally, clicking a Tags tab in the upper-right portion of the window causes a Tags drawer to appear. Here you can add title, artist, album, genre, copyright, year, and comments entries to MP3 and AAC files—the only file types that WireTap Studio allows you to tag.

Unlike some other audio capture and editing applications, which can be cluttered and confusing, WireTap Studio has an interface that’s a joy to behold. The controls you need are close at hand and it’s clear what they do. In short, those who’ve never used an audio editor before won’t feel overwhelmed.

More

WireTap Studio offers a few additional welcome features. Under the File menu, you’ll find a Timed Recording command. Invoke it and you can ask for a one-time recording that you can configure to run for a particular duration (60 minutes, for example) or to start and stop at specific times (5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., for instance). This is handy when you want to quickly capture audio playing from something like an Internet radio broadcast.

If you have more time to consider upcoming recordings, you can create scheduled recordings. Within the Recording Sessions window, you can choose the time and date of the recording, the recording’s format and effects, and the source for the recordings (your Mac’s audio input or an application such as iTunes or Safari).

And WireTap Studio supports splitting files both as they’re recorded as well as after. For example, you can ask the program to create a new file whenever it detects silence of a certain length or volume that falls below a particular level. It can also split the file based on duration or size.

Additionally, the program can remove hiss and hum from your audio files. This is controlled through Apple’s AUHipass and AULowpass effects. Invoke the commands and you can control the effects through Cutoff Frequency and Resonance sliders.

What’s missing

WireTap Studio is a terrific capture utility and a fine easy-does-it audio editor, but it’s not designed to take the place of Bias’s $129 Peak LE, HairerSoft’s $40 Amadeus Pro (   ), or Freeverse’s $80 Sound Studio 3. You’re not going to find controls for normalizing or reversing audio, analysis tools, or noise generators. And you can’t burn an audio CD from within the program.

Rather, WireTap Studio’s closest competitor is Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack Pro and Fission (   )—each $32 or $50 for both. I’m fond of both applications, and while Rogue Amoeba’s programs can do much of what WireTap Studio does, they lack WireTap Studio’s LivePreview feature and its non-destructive editing capabilities. And WireTap Studio’s interface is far more intuitive than Audio Hijack Pro’s.

WireTap Studio has a few rough edges. It could be more communicative, for example, when you’ve converted a file to a format iTunes doesn’t support and you try to export that file to iTunes. Just for kicks I attempted to send a batch of files encoded in the AAC ADTS format (a variety of AAC files supported by Nokia phones) to iTunes, and while WireTap Studio appeared to export the files, they didn't appear in iTunes. A dialog box saying “Sorry, no can do,” would have been useful. Just as useful would be a way to batch-convert multiple files in the library. Currently, you have to change each file’s format individually in an editor window.

WireTap Studio’s tagging could be smarter, as well. For example, if you capture an LP as one large file, assign Album and Artist tags to it, and then split it, the resulting splits don’t retain the tag information. And while the program does a reasonable job of identifying silences, it’s not as slick about it as Rogue Amoeba’s Fission. With Fission, you can adjust the silence threshold and duration limit sliders and watch markers appear and disappear based on those sliders movements. With WireTap Studio you adjust the sliders, click OK, view the results, and, if you’re not happy with the results, adjust the markers or give the Mark Silence command another shot with different slider settings.

Macworld’s buying advice

Very minor quirks aside, WireTap Studio 1.0.1 performs its job admirably. The ability to muck with audio files in just about any way the program allows and later restore them to a perfect state will be a godsend for some. Podcasters, in particular, will appreciate the ability to audition different format and quality settings, balancing quality and file size in the process. And those new to sound capture and editing as well as audio old-timers will be pleased with WireTap Studio’s clean and intuitive interface. If you’re in the market for a tool for capturing audio and moderately editing the results, look no further than WireTap Studio.

[ Senior Editor Christopher Breen is the author of The iPod and iTunes Pocket Guide , third edition, and The iPhone Pocket Guide (2007, Peachpit Press). ]

Within WireTap Studio’s Format pane you can audition and change the file’s audio format.
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At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • Intuitive interface
    • LivePreview feature lets you audition formats and quality settings on the fly
    • Flexible export options, including iPhone-compatible ringtones
    • Non-destructive editing

    Cons

    • No batch-convert option
    • Tagging a little weak
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