Review – Audio Annotation Comparisons

So, as I have benefited so many times before from user-written summaries of softwares, products, etc. I thought, on the odd chance this comes up on somebody’s search engine, I’d write my own experience so far looking at audio annotation software programs (to say nothing of my long searches for decent video annotations….)

What do I mean by audio annotation – well, a program that allows for the labelling of a sound recording, based on a timeline view, for the purposes of visualizing some sort of analytical investigation of sound. Qualitative programs such as Atlas.ti that offer more comprehensive analysis tools, do offer a video coding, that can work with an audio file. However, the view of the sound is a player strip, where the coder identifies in/out time segments each time they enter a code or annotation. Cumbersome and inefficient, and the subsequent visualization of the annotations is not timeline-based, but coding schema-based. Another initiative I recently ran into  – ProjectPad, an open-source suite of audio and video annotation tools looks good, and intuitive to use, even though it still does not display waveform, just a player control:

For my own purposes, I’ve realized that I need a program that displays a rich, full resolution waveform, and then, on a multi-track timeline view, it allows easy entry of annotations, both event-based and duration-based, and easy editing of start and end points. This is the ideal case, of course. ProjectPad seemed promising by the looks of the documentation, however, once I went to install it, it seems to be virtually impossible for the average computer literate geek (me). Perhaps a more savvy person could have done it, but I am warning other souls there – this program is not compiled, the instructions for installing TomCat (huh?) and setting Java Jar to point to 1.5 (huh?) is dreadfully sparse, inadequate, and frankly thwarted any efforts I was willing to put into installing this software. It is also distributed as a “set of Sakai tools” (another huh?) and when I looked into Sakai, which seems to be some sort of EduCAUSE set of educational technology tools, looked like I can download a “compiled demo” ready with TomCat and stuff. All I had to do was drop the Sakai ready Project pad app into the folder. It still didn’t work. Even if it had worked though – the awful instructions still spoke of having to go to a website, enter a domain and in that way, connect to the ProjectPad interface. Overall, disappointing, and makes me feel like perhaps it was developed strictly for sharing in a specific EdTech learning environment, to be installed and used with the properly trained support staff. Just didn’t seem like it was compiled with a “general user” in mind.

Just found also this set of video coding tools – VCode/VData – probably work with audio too, and at least potentially (i couldn’t figure it out) – display waveform. They are somewhat intuitive to use, as a coding device, but I can’t find much documentation to explain the mysterious “data profile” that has to be set up initially in order to make the thing fully work. Still, nice interface, seems promising.
But most of all, I want to recommend this set of tools here: Audio Analysis Tools . In addition to having amazing audio analysis capabilities, such as RTA, Spectrum, Sonogram, variable scaling settings, etc. this one program, Sonic Visualizer, allows both notes and text-based annotations to be added right onto the waveform space. I believe the “notes” feature works with the MIDI notation grid, and the text-layer with free floating boxes. In any case – wonderful interface, super easy-to-use (I figured it out without any manual, in a few minutes) and seems to have a lot of potential for those who are looking both for a powerful audio analysis tool and audio annotation software. If I had to guess any downfalls, I’d say that its annotation features may be character-limited, not as sophisticated in nature, as qualitative analysis programs, may not be configured for export or further visualization (so, I’d have to take screenshots of my coding logs – not the end of the world I guess) and this is open coding – no option to start with a coding schema and retain relationships between codes, classifications, etc.

I hope this helps, and I’ll add more if /when I find anything. I wish so hard I knew Flash well enough to actually build my own simple, yet functional tool, with everything I want, exactly how I want it! Yes!

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