If you’re a podcaster looking to move on from the comfort of GarageBand or Audacity without shelling out the cash for a pro-level solution like Apple’s Soundtrack or Digidesign’s Pro Tools, Pleasant Software’s Übercaster 1.0.1 ( ; $80) might hit the sweet spot between price and capability. Not only is it much cheaper than pro-level packages, but it’s built from the ground up for podcasters, integrating a number of podcast-specific features for which users of GarageBand or Audacity have had to turn to other programs.
Like most of those other programs, Übercaster features a multi-track editing environment and, through the use of Apple’s Core Audio technology, it can access the same AudioUnit effects as GarageBand, such as filters, pitch adjustment, and reverb effects. Naturally, there’s all the audio-editing functionality you’d expect: trimming and merging sound clips, adjusting track volume levels via “rubber bands,” muting and soloing tracks, and so on. And like GarageBand, Übercaster lets you create enhanced podcasts that use the AAC format and feature artwork, chapters, and hyperlinks.
But where Übercaster really shines is in its podcast-specific features. GarageBand, Audacity, and even those high-end programs are all primarily designed as general audio-recording apps. Even GarageBand’s podcast features, which are probably the best of the pack, were added as an afterthought. For example, if you want to record a multi-person audio conference using a voice-over-IP service, your only option in GarageBand is to use iChat; otherwise you have to record a Skype or Gizmo Project conversation using something like Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack or Ecamm’s Call Recorder and then import that recording into GarageBand. Übercaster, on the other hand, includes an optional piece of software called Pleasant Connect, which adds the capability to record conversations held in those apps directly in Übercaster.
And while GarageBand lets you add sound effects in post-production, Übercaster lets you prepare sound effects and other audio clips ahead of time, then trigger each during recording with a mouse click, a key press, or even—via the program’s “stealth mode”—by simply hovering the cursor over the panel that represents that clip. (If you’re recording an audio conference using the Pleasant Connect software, the other participants will be able to hear the sounds too.) And by enabling Übercaster’s “exhaustive keyboard shortcuts” option, you can increase or decrease the volume of clips, toggle an audio effect, or even fade effects in and out, all with a few simple keystrokes.
Besides recording, Übercaster’s other forte is in actually producing your podcast. By default, GarageBand wants you to export your podcast in AAC format; a little trickery is required to export in AIFF format. But Übercaster lets you choose from MP3, AAC, or AIFF, with a variety of options for bit rate and encoding quality. Better yet, if you want both a vanilla MP3 version and an enhanced AAC version, you can set up multiple formats and have Übercaster create a file in each format at the press of a button. You can even enter the information for your FTP/SFTP server or .Mac account and Übercaster will handle uploading the resulting file(s) for you. Übercaster also has more-robust tagging tools than GarageBand, so people like me, who previously had to import their podcasts into iTunes to correctly fill out all that information before publication, will be saved the electronic trip.
Finally, my favorite feature of Übercaster is its templates. Just as Microsoft Word’s templates save you time by providing “starting places” for common types of documents, Übercaster’s templates can give you a head-start on producing episodes of your podcast without having to, say, re-import your theme music or fill in your show’s tags each time. Unfortunately, Übercaster’s templates let you store only sound clips and tagging information; they don’t let you designate, for example, where on the podcast timeline each sound clip should play, or adjust track volume if you want the same theme-music fade-in/fade-out for each episode.
Performance-wise, Übercaster is a demanding app, requiring plenty of RAM and a powerful processor; Pleasant Software recommends a minimum system of a dual-core G5 with 1GB RAM; on my 2GHz Core Duo MacBook with 2GB of RAM, I occasionally ran into spinning beachballs and slowdowns when editing a fairly complex podcast. That said, performance is often better than that of GarageBand; for example, Übercaster adds AIFF files into a project instantaneously, whereas GarageBand can take up to a minute to do the same thing. (The reason for this particular difference is likely because Übercaster does not make its own copy of audio files unless you use the “Save as self-contained archive” option in the Save As dialog.)
As much as I’d like to recommend Übercaster without reservations, I encountered a few problems while using the app to produce several podcasts. For example, the support for recording audio conferences is very touchy; you need to carefully follow the steps in the manual in setting them up. Even doing that, I sometimes ended up with feedback blaring in my headphones, and sometimes I could hear the other person, but they couldn’t hear me. And I wasn’t able to get Pleasant Connect to work properly with Gizmo Project at all. Also, in the process of editing an hourlong multi-track podcast, I often ran into a glitch where Übercaster would decide to stop playing back a particular audio track for no apparent reason (rewinding and replaying it would usually fix the problem, but it’s an irritating issue nonetheless).
Übercaster is an ambitious program that aims to be a Swiss Army knife of podcasting functionality. If the developers can work out some of the kinks in future versions, it’ll be an even stronger presence in the podcasting field.