Adobe Podcast's text-based editing turns limitation into liberation

Top-down editing makes a lot of sense but you might miss the fine-detailed control

James Trew / Engadget

Ever found yourself with a killer podcast idea, only for it to fizzle out once you realize all the hoops you have to jump through just to make it? Learning an audio editing tool is a skill of its own and, while getting your audio masterpiece online has never been easier, today’s listeners are savvy and won’t tolerate subpar sound and editing for long. These are all problems that Adobe’s browser-based new Podcast tool aims to solve.

Adobe Podcast, formerly known as Project Shasta, is a cloud-based audio production tool. As the name suggests, it’s aimed primarily at podcast production, though it might interest anyone that works with narrative audio. The main thing to know is there’s no audio timeline here and no mixer view with channels. The first thing you’ll notice is how it doesn’t look like an audio editor at all. In fact, it almost never was.

“The goal was to come up with a broader voice strategy for Adobe,” Mark Webster, Director of Product told Engadget. “That could have been creating a creative cloud voice assistant or speaking to Photoshop. But we kind of took a step back [...] it was really about just building services and a platform to make it really easy to create spoken audio.’“

The result is Adobe Podcast which is still in beta. Anyone can apply for access, but currently you’ll need to be based in the US.

Engadget · The Generic Podcast

Unlike traditional audio editors, including Adobe’s own Audition, you won’t work left to right or even really work with audio files at all. Instead you’ll work on your podcasts like you would a text document. And not just because you work top down, but for the most part, you really are just editing a text document. Anything you record through Adobe Podcast will be automatically transcribed and you simply edit the text to make changes (which are then magically reflected in the audio). There are even some extra tools for creating artwork (as seen above).

“We don't think of Adobe Podcast as another audio tool. It really is a storytelling tool. When you think about it as a storytelling tool, suddenly all the things that are in traditional audio tools, like looking at the audio waveforms and decibel levels, they're actually not relevant.” Sam Anderson, Adobe Podcast’s Lead Designer told Engadget.

Apps like Descript have been doing it this way for a while. And it makes some sense. Podcasts are about what is being said, so it’s logical to work on the text first rather than the raw audio.

Not to mention, being able to see what’s being said without endlessly playing it back to find the right spot is also much easier on the ears, eyes and soul. But it’s not without some trade offs.

For one, there’s a certain amount of control you have to learn to relinquish. In an audio editor, you can choose exactly where you want to trim a segment of audio to. In Adobe Podcast, you can only highlight text and the finer details of the edit are taken care of by the backend. For the most part that’s fine, but if you wanted to add or trim some silence, for example, you can’t do that here, you’ll have to get creative.

Generic podcast artwork created with Adobe Podcast.
Image by James Trew / Engadget

For example, removing a sentence is as easy as highlighting it in the transcription and smacking the delete key. Similarly, you can cut/paste to move things around as you see fit. But you might not quite get the smooth edit you would if you did this manually in an audio editing app. So, for now at least, you might still have to make some minor edits after you export from Podcast. In the future, the system might leverage AI to make these sorts of edits for you.

“I think we could use some really interesting technology to look at the space between words and when you make deletions and just find a way to just do it automatically.” Anderson said.

One of the major benefits for online tools like Podcast or similar services such as Riverside Fm and Zencastr is how easy it is to invite guests. In the past you might have had to have a pre-brief with a guest to figure out their audio setup, maybe guide them into recording it locally with Audacity and then deal with transferring large audio files around after the fact.

With Podcast, your guests simply accept an invite, much like they would for a Zoom meeting, and then you converse in real time while the local audio is uploaded in the background. The result is an incredibly frictionless way to get local audio, transcribed and ready to be edited in one fell swoop.

Perhaps Adobe’s secret weapon here is two-fold. First, unlike the rival products mentioned above, Podcast has a singular focus on audio, so there are no video editing, presentation or livestreaming tools you might not need. Second would be some proprietary tools - notably “Enhance Speech.” With one click, this magic button basically transforms garbage audio recorded in the worst of rooms into something that sounds more professional.

In testing this, I recorded a conversation between my colleague Mat Smith and myself. I was using a dedicated XLR podcasting mic (Focusrite’s DM14v) into an audio interface. Mat, on the other hand, was just speaking into his Macbook’s built-in microphone. Once we finished our recording, I tapped the “Enhance” toggle and suddenly it sounded like we were in the same room with the same equipment. You can hear the untreated and treated audio below.

Engadget · James & Mat untreated segment

Engadget · James & Mat with Adobe Enhance Speech

Now audio purists might find the treated audio a little too dry or isolated (with no sense of space). Especially right now as there are no controls - the effect is either fully on or off. But Webster explained that in the future you’ll be able to adjust the amount of the effect if the default setting isn’t to your liking.

The effect was good enough though that I tried uploading the audio for a telephone interview I conducted for a story a few weeks ago. The result was good enough that I am considering cutting that down into an audio version of the article it was for.

Engadget · Matt Moneymaker Untreated

Engadget · Matt Moneymaker with Adobe Enhance Speech

Another feature in the works is the removal of filler words (uhms & ahhs etc). Again, this is something you can find on rival products, but right now there’s not even a way to edit them out as the transcription doesn’t show them so this is something you’d have to do in post.

Handily, Adobe Podcast includes lots of free music for you to use for intros/outros and transitions. Editing them to work with your speech isn’t as intuitive as it could be, but this is an example of why the service is still in beta. You can be creative. For example, if you want to talk over a bit of music and then have it fade up to full volume, you can splice it in two and set one to “background” and achieve the effect that way. Webster explained that they’re figuring out the best way for adding such tools that will guide novices without alienating more advanced users (and vice versa).

If you’re wondering if Adobe will add in an AI voice tool so you can not only the audio you have with text, but actually add words by typing them in (something you can do in Descript), don’t hold your breath. Webster pointed out that to make an effective voice model it needs to be trained on enough material so it only makes sense for your own voice. Given that AI voices can be clunky, they decided to just make it really really easy to re-record the line you wanted. After all, this isn't a video where patching over a misspeak is a lot more complicated.

Perhaps the best feature of all is the lack of friction between ideas and getting something down on the page. If you can use Google Docs, you can make something with Adobe Podcast. And with the bundled music and mic-enhancement tools there’s a solid chance it’ll sound pretty good, too.

For now, Podcast will remain in beta for the foreseeable future, and Webster confirmed that there will always be a free tier. And if you don’t even want to make a podcast, but you like the sound of the speech enhancing feature, you don’t even need to sign up for the beta, it’s available right here, right now.

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