BOOT CAMP 477 (22/0/07)

Freeware Top Tens. Part 3, Audio Multimedia


Twenty years ago the only sounds most computers made were an occasional warning bleep. Now listen to them! The PC is fast replacing the hi-fi as the main source of music in many homes and with the right software they can become jukeboxes, home recording studios, digital radio receivers, even musical instruments.


This week’s selection of free software doesn’t go quite that far and with relatively few exceptions your PC’s more advanced musical and multimedia capabilities are best served by commercial software. Nevertheless, freeware and Open Source software can improve its capabilities and functionality, and occasionally do something better than a paid-for application.


As is customary we have to warn you that these programs are believed to be free of any malware content but you install them entirely at you own risk. We cannot answer any technical queries and it’s polite to pay the licence fee or make a donation to the author if you find them useful.



No roundup of multimedia freeware would be complete without Audacity. It’s a sophisticated audio recording and editing program – as good and in some cases better than some commercial programs – but the key feature is its ability to record anything that you can hear through your PC’s speakers. That includes Internet radio (BBC Listen Again etc.), CDs and DVDs, tapes and LPs played back on your PC via though a hi-fi, or just you singing into a microphone. Recordings can then be saved to popular audio formats, including Wav and MP3 for copying to disc or transfer to your digital music player.




Have you been driven mad by a song whose words you just can’t work out? Install EvilLyrics and every time you play a tune on your PC up pops a window with the words. The program automatically searches through more than 15,000,000 lyric files on the web, so your tune is bound to be in there somewhere. As an added bonus you can save and view the words offline and even translate them into another language.




If you own an iPod or MP3 player, download music from the web or ‘rip’ audio CDs you probably have tracks and albums all over your PC’s hard drive and it’s all a bit of a mess. The Godfather brings order to chaos. It takes charge of your collection, no matter where the tracks came from and irrespective of file format, even letting you rename and correct misspelled track and album names and organise and edit file ‘tags’.  



IPod to PC Transfer

This little program is specifically for Apple iPod owners, and in particular those who find it difficult or impossible to copy tracks from the player to a PC. The only limitation of the free version is that you copy one track at a time; if you want to copy in bulk then you will have to upgrade to the Pro version, which costs £8.00.



Media Player Classic

Don’t be misled by the basic appearance – it’s based on the old Windows Media Player – this little program can play just about anything, including DVDs, AVIs and Quick Time and Real Player media (though extra codecs need to be installed for the latter). It’s small, fast, packed with useful features and often plays discs and files that heavyweight media applications have problems with.



Metronome Plus

Even if you are not musical you will enjoy tinkering with this sophisticated PC powered metronome. Yes, it does make the traditional tick-tock sound, but there’s plenty of other things to play with, including tempo adjustment up to 300bpm, it has 15 configurable sounds, 8 program sequences and much, much more.



MP3 Repair Tool

You are bound to have one or two unplayable MP3 music files in your collection, if so there’s a very fair chance that MP3 Repair Tool can fix the problem. Faults usually occur in the ‘header’ section of the file; MP3 Repair Tool deletes this information and in many cases the track can then be played as normal.




Another MP3 tool, this time a cure for the very annoying problems of changes of volume between tracks. MP3Gain analyses each track, checks the volume, works out how it would sound then adjusts the volume and re-saves the file, and it does this without making any changes to the music or affecting quality in any way.



Real Alternative

If you listen to BBC Radio programs on your PC then you will know that you have to download the big and intrusive RealPlayer program to use the Listen Again service. There is an alternative, called appropriately enough, Real Alternative, and you get two for one with this program because it comes bundled with the excellent Media Player Classic (see above).




The granddaddy of free media players, and still arguably the best, able to play virtually all audio and video file formats. The program is highly customisable with hundreds of downloadable ‘skins’, to change the programs layout and appearance, and numerous ‘plug-ins’ to extend its capabilities.



Next Week – More Freeware and Shareware Top Tens





Compression/decompression (or coder - decoder) software utility or add-on used to process digital data



Hidden data contained in an MP3 music file, including track name, album, artist etc. for display on a player’s screen, plus technical info



Extract tracks from an audio CD, so they can be re-recorded or converted to other audio formats, like MP3




Frequency Analyzer

Here’s a bonus program for those who like to see, as well as hear the music and speech coming from their PC speakers. Frequency Analyzer is a tiny little program, (just 148kb) which uses a Fast Fourier Transform algorithm to split sounds into component frequencies. These are displayed on your monitor as a colourful spectrum display. Use it to study the harmonics and sibilants in speech and music, or just for your own amusement, it’s hypnotic!



© R. Maybury 2007, 1605

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