Using REAPER instead of Audacity for Podcasts

I’m switching to REAPER for editing our podcast audio. My buddies and I started the Reel DMC movie podcast at the start of the pandemic and two years later still going strong (both the podcast and pandemic ☹️).

Previously I used Audacity and I’m still a big fan of the open-source tool, but REAPER is a lot more powerful, well worth the low price of $60 for personal and small business use. This post is primarily for my co-hosts to explain why REAPER — we each pick a movie to discuss and then edit our own podcasts.

I edited our recent Cloverfield podcast using REAPER, a few hours experience in one edit, so I’m far from expert and had to watch several videos just to get the basics. Please forgive any mistakes, I’m still learning.

Background

I started looking for a new tool because Audacity started feeling sluggish to me, especially when using an Apple M1 chip. There is noticeable lag from what I see in the timeline to what I hear.

I’ve read positive things previously about REAPER, but wasn’t that keen since it suffers the same UI as every other digital audio workstation, it looks like the control center for the space shuttle. They just look overly complicated and have such a steep learning curve. This is what makes Audacity so approachable, it is easier to start with and the editing model is more familiar, almost like Microsoft Word.

However, this easier editing model ends up missing out on some key features.

REAPER only tracks edits you make, it doesn’t alter the original sound files. All it does is save the edits you make and re-apply them when you listen or render it out. This leads to smaller project files— in Audacity the project file for one of our podcasts is typically around 3 gigs, the REAPER file is only 360kb. (10,000x smaller!)

The smaller size is a side benefit, the true power is that it allows for undoing and redoing all of your edits at anytime. You can apply an effect, and do a bunch of edits, realize the effect sounds off in parts and adjust after the fact. 🪄

Key Features in REAPER

The key features that won me over to use REAPER:

  • Faster user interface
  • Non-destructive edits
  • Customizable
  • Easier to use (once you know how)

REAPER is fast, it is more responsive and works better on Mac while Audacity feels sluggish to me. I’m impressed with how fast REAPER is, even when working with multiple tracks that are around 2 hours long, zooming in and out with mouse wheel is quick. Even all the little minor interactions from selecting areas, applying effects, or anything else I’ve tried, everything feels smooth and responsive.

Beyond speed, the best differentiating features for REAPER over Audacity is the non-destructive edits. This allows to redo and change edits at any point even after quitting the app and restarting. You can also apply audio effects, such as a Noise Gate or Compression, then go about your editing and notice the effect needs adjusting. You can tweak the effects at any point later, even after numerous edits.

REAPER is highly customizable from keyboard shortcuts to complex workflows. I recommend watching this How to Improve Loud Breaths video (5min) It shows how to create your own custom action and shows getting the most out of them, for example by clearing the selection at the end of the action so you’re ready to continue editing.

I’ve already found numerous shortcuts that make editing with REAPER quicker and easier:

  • Easier to adjust selections after selecting an area, works across tracks and in all directions.
  • Preview potential cuts using Alt+Space to play and the selected area will be skipped, so you hear what a cut may sound like.
  • Adjusting volume, cross-fade, and fading in/out all work more naturally for me, seeing the manipulation directly in the timeline
  • High speed editing – set playback at 1.25X speed for faster listening and editing. Reaper has a setting to correct pitch so it doesn’t sound like the chipmunks. Just remember to change it back before rendering.

Ripple Editing

Ripple editing is the key for multi-track editing, it is similar to the Sync Tracks in Audacity, except there is an additional option for horizontal syncing. I made a couple of minor issues while learning, but it is easier to back out of and correct mistakes in REAPER. I made similar mistakes when first learning Audacity sync tracks and had to redo a lot more.

The settings for ripple editing are:

  • Free moment of individual clips (not locked)
  • All (vertical) – all clips on the vertical move (locked)
  • Per Track (horizontal) – all clips on the horizontal move (Not sure there is an Audacity equivalent without selecting everything first)

I recommend watching these two videos for different approaches to editing Razor Edit by Kenny Gioia and Custom Smart Cut by Daniel Abendroth, I demo both in my video below.

Demo

A quick demo I recorded showing off the basics to get started using REAPER, editing multiple tracks, and ripple editing.

Useful Resources

There are numerous resources and tutorials available, these two sources I’ve found particularly helpful: