Can Audacity work with linked files?

I have transferred my Tascam 4-track tapes to digital and am in the process of saving them as two files each: as two stereo tracks in Apple Lossless format. That way I save space, and in future when I want to edit the files they can be opened by other audio software, and not just Audacity. I haven’t yet decided what software I will be using in future. It may be Audacity, it may not.

For some of the recordings I want to use Audacity to do a rough mix; to play around and see how capable it is. What I do is import the two stereo files, separate them into mono tracks, and then pan and whatever. To not lose my playthings, and to save space, I’d like to be able to save just the settings, and not the whole audio. I have two questions:

Q1: Is it possible for Audacity to link to external sound files (the same way, for example, that InDesign can links to images) so that when you save a project only the “setup” is saved and not the actual sound files?

Q2: Given that I want to reduce storage space, and want my files to be readable in the future, have I chosen the best way to archive my 4-track files by storing two stereo files (in Apple Lossless format) for each recording? Is there a better way?

There is a good reason for my concern about readability. Two years ago I saved the 4-track recordings in Apple Lossless format using an old version of SoundStudio, only to find that Audacity cannot open them correctly. As a result, I am presently going through my entire collection of 4-track recordings and breaking them down to stereo. I am assuming that iTunes will be around for longer than I will, and it will always be able to convert from Apple Lossless to Aiff if all else fails.

Yes, Audacity can work with “linked” files, but at present they must be AIF or WAV.
Unfortunately as soon as you split the stereo tracks to mono, Audacity will bring the Audio into the project so you will lose any space saving. You could import the two stereo tracks, split them to mono then export each mono track as a mono AIF. Then clear the project and import those 4 mono AIFs with the “read directly” setting. But this will not save you any space given that Audacity is set to store information in 16-bit PCM - the audio files in the _data folder will add up to about the same size as the AIF files.

For safety and redundancy, I would save the original captures from the 4-track tapes in FLAC format. I would import the FLACs into Audacity and save the Audacity project complete with audio. Yes, it uses a lot of space but you now have two copies of your audio - inside Audacity and in the FLAC files.

Have you installed the FFmpeg extension? It may be able to open those Apple Lossless 4-track files.

A program called Max may also be able to convert those weird files.
It uses the same FFmpeg and LAME libraries that Audacity uses.

– Bill

Thanks for the suggestions, Bill. Pity about not being able to link to stereo Apple Lossless.

I should add that my Audacity can open stereo Apple Lossless files correctly, but not the multitrack SoundStudio versions. When I open a three-track Apple Lossless file in Audacity, all three tracks are the same and play back at three times the speed. Four-track recordings play back at four times. SoundStudio must save the files in a special format that is not compatible with Audacity.

Max was able to convert the SoundStudio Apple-Lossless 4-track files to FLAC, and that file was able to be opened in Audacity as four mono tracks. Perfect! That was a great success. The FLAC version was 15.3 MB versus 15.4 MB for the Apple Lossless. So that’s even better.

I’ll have to investigate this a bit more. FLAC may be the way to go, instead of Apple Lossless. What has always put me off (a silly attitude, I know) is the unattractive names these other formats have compared to Apple Lossless. A classy name, and being a Mac man, I like the Apple bit. Ogg, Vobis, FLAC, and other weird names always sounded sus to me.

Convince me that FLAC is the way to go. Then I can open my original 4-track versions, save to FLAC in SoundStudio, and have a secure, readable archive for the future, ready to edit in Audacity.

FLAC = “Free Lossless Audio CODEC”. Pretty enough name? It is my preferred archive format (and I’ve been a Mac guy since 1984).

FLAC is free and open source. It will always work. No proprietary or weird formats like SoundStudio produced.

Glad that Max was able to do the job. Since Max uses the same FFmpeg libraries as Audacity I’m surprised Audacity was not able to do it.

Audacity’s ability to link to WAV and AIF files is (IMO) mainly a boon to those working on large files where they are doing minimal editing. For example trim beginning and end, maybe a fade at beginning and end. The file loads faster, and the Audacity project is very small since it only needs to keep audio files of the changed parts of the original. But in the end it still requires more disk space since you must keep the entire original uncompressed file and Audacity must keep the uncompressed audio files covering the changed parts of the original.

Disk space is cheap these days (at least that’s my attitude). If I were undertaking your project I would first create the FLAC files from the originals, then bring them into an Audacity project (set to 16-bit PCM) do the rough mix and save the Audacity project. Yes, I’m now using 3 times as much space as the FLACs alone, but it’s the only reliable way I can see to keep a record of the envelope, pan and gain settings.

Then I’d back everything up on a second hard disk. – Bill

Bill, you convinced me about FLAC. Now I’ll spend a few days and go back through all my recordings, reassemble them to 4-Track (from 2 x stereo) and use Max to convert them to FLAC.

The recordings are mostly soundtracks from audio-visuals I produced in the 1980s and 1990s (two tracks of music, one commentary, and one sync signal), which will eventually be converted to HD format. I’ve decide to purchase a pretty good Blu-ray player, the Oppo BDP93, and when I looked at the audio files it could play (, FLAC was at the top of the list and Apple Lossless was near the bottom with the comment:

Can I send Apple lossless music from my iMac to the Oppo?
No, there is no support for Apple lossless.

So, fancy name and all, Apple Lossless is getting the boot.