Teaching Examples

Converting audio formats, including WMA
January 29, 2007, 1:24 pm
Filed under: audio, online, tools

I’ve been recommending Olympus audio recorders to everyone for the past year or so. They are quite inexpensive, and with an external mic plugged in, they provide very acceptable audio quality. I have six of the discontinued WS-200S model, and they have all survived weeks of use by students. I think the cheaper WS-100 would do just as well, although I haven’t tested it yet.

The only drawback people have reported is that these recorders store the audio files in the WMA format — and Audacity, for one example, cannot open or convert these files. (We use Adobe Audition in our class labs, and it handles the WMAs with no problems.)

So I’ve been looking into solutions. So far I have two good suggestions:

Switch is available for both Windows and the Mac OS. I downloaded it and tried it on both my Windows XP desktop computer and my new MacBook Pro. It produced a good MP3 file on each computer, and it was very easy to use. While there is a commercial version, called Switch Plus, the basic Switch converter is free. From their Web site:

Using the Plus version allows you to do things like save to extra file formats (see the Switch help documentation for further details) and utilise the Command Line Tool….

The free version of Switch also has the additional features of Switch Plus enabled for a 14-day free trial after the software is first installed. If you choose not to purchase the Switch Plus license upgrade at the end of the free trial period, the advanced features will be disabled but the standard Switch features will continue to work.

It appears (from the Help file) that I will still be able to convert the WMA files to MP3 after the 14 days have passed. It also appears that I will still be able to convert an M4A file (the format GarageBand outputs to disk) after the trial period.

On Windows, I have been using a different program called dBpowerAMP for quite some time. I’m not sure when I downloaded it. It does cost $14 U.S., but I thought that was very reasonable. It works very quickly to convert files to the MP3 format, and it also provides a nice rollover viewer for all your audio files so that you can see the length and encoding information without opening the file. Very convenient.

The great thing about converting your audio files to MP3 format is that then you can play them directly on the page using a free, virtually foolproof player (built in Flash). I posted a tutorial for that yesterday.

The MP3 files are not really much smaller than the WMA files (both formats are compressed). But the WMA format is proprietary, controlled by Microsoft, and that’s why some audio programs cannot edit or even play files in that format. Nowadays just about any player or editing program can handle MP3s. Audio players built in Flash can load and play MP3 files — but no other audio file format.

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7 Comments so far
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I’ve been using EasyWMA for Mac. It’s a $10 shareware program, and well worth the price for my little Olympus audio recorder.

very easy to use. drag and drop the file and poof! out comes an mp3.

Comment by Murley

I’m hurt. 😉 You post on Switch and on the Flash audio player and fail to mention in the posts that I told you about both of them. 😉

Comment by Craig

Sorry, Craig. You’re right, it was you! I do apologize.

Comment by Mindy McAdams

Bryan, you’re right — I know a lot of Mac people are using EasyWMA. I have not tried that one myself yet, but I have heard other satisfied reports.

Comment by Mindy McAdams

I have been happy with the DS-2 recorder from Olympus. It comes with Mac and Windows software which can convert the audio files directly into AIFF. We just run the software, capture the audio files, and then immediately convert to AIFF, which is good quality and easy to use in Audacity and other programs. No other software is needed.

Comment by Tom Priddy

Sweet! The DS-2 lists for $130 U.S., and Amazon.com has it for $100.

Comment by Mindy McAdams

We have gotten the DS-2 for as little as $80 by checking around. It has four quality settings, and by using the highest setting we get a little over an hour of decent stereo sound. It also accepts an external lapel mic.

Comment by Tom Priddy

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