Fission 2: A Powerful Little Audio Editor

As a podcaster, having an audio editing tool that is simple, quick, and easy to use is priceless. So when Rouge Amoeba, the Mac developers known for popular audio tools like Audio Hijack Pro and NiceCast announced version 2 of their Fission audio editor – I took note.

Although it distinguishes itself from the crowd with the promise of “fast & lossless audio editing”, Fission still faces fierce competition from both ends of the spectrum. To carve out a meaningful niche for itself, Fission 2 needs to be a worthwhile option against the likes of professional tools like Logic Pro, and free options like Garageband or Audacity. So does it succeed? Read on to find out!

Design and Interface

While professional tools can generally get away with “function over form” approach, Fission 2 manages to walk that line nicely with a mix of relatively robust functionality packaged inside a beautiful app. The real wonder of the app, though, is its ability to achieve that functionality within a pretty minimalist interface.

When I first opened Fission, I was surprised at just how few options there were. The top toolbar includes basic controls for trimming your audio as well as options to “Fade In”, “Fade Out” and “Normalize” your audio; all of which can be moved around or deleted from the system standard “Customize Toolbar” menu. In an age where many developers are moving away from standard controls – this is refreshing and especially useful for users looking to build specific workflows around the app.

Also of note is the somewhat unique “Inspector” pane, unlike many apps which push the inspector out into a separate window, Fission’s is attached to the window, making it essentially a single-window interface. Again, I’m going to err on the side of the advanced user here and say that, after getting used to it, this actually a nice interface tweak to help keep things simple.

Fission features a pretty simple user interface.

Fission features a pretty simple user interface.

Inside the Inspector, you won’t find any audio editing tools as I expected, but rather some tools that let you edit the ID3 tags of your file. At first glance, it’s funny not to put these options in the save or export dialog, but after working in the app, I liked being able to work on the tags as I went along. Being a recently released app, Fission also includes some much appreciated support for basic trackpad gestures like zooming in and out on the waveform while editing.

The app also includes a “Light” theme, which is ugly and I can’t really see anyone wanting to use it. On the whole, if you stick with the far more attractive and functional “Dark” theme, Fission is pretty appealing, making use of subtle animations when doing things like the aforementioned pinching to zoom. Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the app icon; in short, it’s not pretty. It’s bright yellow and black, and would, truth be told, look much more at home on the dock of a Mac from 2004 or 2005. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, but a nice app icon really goes a long way.

Functionality

Many audio professionals could’ve skipped over the Interface and Design section completely, as the functionality is really the bread and butter of the app. But to understand where Fission fits in, you’ll need to first understand that it isn’t really a replacement for Logic Pro, or even GarageBand, really. Rather, Fission really excels as a tool to make quick and easy edits to your audio files. Since it’s a lossless editor, any MP3, AAC, Apple Lossless, AIFF, or WAV files you edit within the app won’t have to be decompressed or re-encoded, giving you the two-fold advantage of not losing any audio quality while editing and allowing for quicker exports and saves.

Still, its lossless capability does come at a somewhat high cost; the extent of the app’s audio manipulation ability is essentially a few trimming and fading options, and little more. Moreover, you won’t find any audio effects support in Fission (VST, AudioUnit, and more), which Rouge Amoeba says are unable to support lossless editing. One feature which I did appreciate was the “Normalize” function, which essentially evens out your audio, at little cost to its quality and without adding much noise.

Fission features robust ID3 tagging tools.

Fission features robust ID3 tagging tools.

There’s also amazing support for editing ID3 tags in the app, allowing you to add or change things like artwork, lyrics, and artist information. As a podcaster, that capability, alone, makes Fission a compelling option. Still, I wish there were some way to set presets for the ID3 data, so I don’t have to input the same file information every time I edit a podcast. Also on the features front is a “Smart Split” option which analyzes a file for silence and splits it up, which is useful for things like LP or DVD recordings.

Fission also shines in its exporting capability, allowing you to export to MP3, AAC, ALAC, FLAC, AIFF, and WAV formats, with three quality presets, and the ability to manually change the Maximum Bit Rate and Sample Rate. Finally, Fission includes the ability to export directly to SoundCloud, the popular online audio sharing tool. This feature should be especially useful when SoundCloud launches their long-awaited podcasting accounts.

You're given some advanced control over the exported file.

You’re given some advanced control over the exported file.

Wrap-Up

As a simple tool for editing audio with lossless quality, Fission is in a league of its own. Against other options like Garageband and Audacity, though, many users may find it hard to justify spending $32 on an app that arguably does less. Still, for users such as myself, with generally basic editing needs, who put more value into speed and quality than in quantity of features alone, Fission is a home-run. The ability to make on-the-fly edits to my podcasts without the dread of opening up a larger and clunkier audio editor has made this app worth its weight in gold.


Summary

Fission is a great alternative to Garageband or Audacity, especially for those already using Rouge Amoeba's other software; just be prepared to accept some compromises.

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