A few years ago during the first “Metadata Month,” I compared over 15 sound effects metadata apps. Since then, apps have faded away, and new ones have appeared. Many readers have written me suggesting additions to the list.
I’ll update that list soon. Right now, however, I’d like to profile a metadata app that has caught my interest. It takes a new approach to browsing sound fx libraries that existing metadata apps have missed.
Strangely, there hasn’t been significant chatter about this new app, which was released in the fall of 2015. That’s odd, since its approach has features many sound pros will value. So, today, I’ll take a “first look” at the metadata app Soundly. I’ll examine how well it does in the four core roles metadata apps are expected to perform. I’ll share my thoughts on pros and cons of the app, and how it can help you to find and use clips from your own sound library.
Please note: I am very detailed. This article should take you about 16 minutes to read.Click the button below to email the article to yourself to read later.
An earlier article observed that a metadata app has four key roles:
- Managing sound libraries.
- Using metadata.
- Auditioning sound files.
- Transferring sound files.
Now, not every app checks off every item from that list, nor is it expected to. Entry-level versions may help organizing a collection of clips. Some may allow you to listen to tracks. Others may allow importing sound fx into editing apps. The best, most professional apps complete all four roles and have a price tag to match. When I completed the list of 15 apps a few years ago, not even five apps could make that claim.
That reveals perhaps the most notable feature of Soundly: it completes all four of those steps completely free of charge. Yes, you can download Soundly and have an app that will organize clips, playback tracks, embed metadata to them, and import them into your favourite editing app without spending a cent. How is this possible? How can Soundly stay in business?
Peder Jørgensen and Christian Schaanning of the Soundly team have designed a clever twist. Instead of paying for the software, you have the option of paying to use its 5,000+ cloud-based sound clip library instead. You don’t have to. If you like, you can use the app free of charge forever. However, if you’d like to access the entire sound fx collection, you must upgrade via an in-app purchase.
It’s a novel approach. Sound pros often write me to ask about or comment on metadata. Their most common gripes are the price of metadata apps and a scattershot selection of features. Soundly aims to resolve both of these issues with a new approach: a free sound browser and metadata app with a pay-to-use baked-in sound collection.
How does it do? Well, since the sales model focuses on the sound library, it invites examination of the scope and quality of the collection. We’ll look at that a bit later, as well as the pricing plans. For right now, let’s see how well it performs in the four key roles of a metadata app: library organization, embedding metadata, playback, and importing clips into editing apps.
As I began to dig into the software, I reached out to the Soundly team with questions. Peder Jørgensen kindly responded to many emails asking about finer details.
- Meeting Soundly.
- Managing your sound library.
- Adding sound files.
- Finding and browsing sound files.
- Using metadata.
- Auditioning sound files.
- Transferring sound files.
- The Soundly Pro sound library.
- Other notes.
1. Meeting Soundly
I’ve used Soundly for a while. The current version is 1.25. It’s available for both Mac (OS X 10.6.8+) and Windows (XP+).
After the ~17 megabyte download is unpacked, installed, and launched, Soundly asks you to sign up for a free account. Afterwards, a typical three-pane display appears. Sound libraries and playlists appear on the left. Search results are presented in the larger right pane. A waveform display rests at the base of the app with sliders for volume and pitch as well as transport controls for rewind, play/pause, and reverse. The boxes to the far right indicate playhead position, duration, and sampling rate and bit-depth.
This main display can be collapsed into a “Compact View” where the three panes are arranged left to right in a stubby height. It’s a bit tight at first. However, each of the panes edges can be adjusted to taste. It’s a nice option for those with scant screen real estate.
The upper left area hosts three notable tabs. You’ll find yourself most often in the “Sounds” tab for browsing and importing audio. We’ll look at the “Store” tab a little later. The “News” tab provides a version history and other notes. It’s a nice touch that keeps users connected to the development team (with comments!). This is a minor criticism I have of other app developers: often users have no idea when new versions are released, what features have changed, or where to discover this info. It is helpful to have this news embedded directly into the app.
The upper right hosts your account info. The sprocket on the right accesses preferences. Here’s a screenshot of those preferences:
2. Managing Your Sound Library
Managing a sound library boils down to two tasks: adding your existing sound library, then finding selections of clips afterwards. Let’s take a look.
Adding Sound Files
To add a new sound library to Soundly, simply select the File/Import menubar item. Then, drag and drop sound files or a folder of clips onto the main Soundly window. Free users can add 2,500 clips to Soundly, with paid plans removing any limit.
Are you arriving to Soundly from another metadata app? No problem. Simply add a CSV file with the import to populate a description field along with its related file name.
All imports will be grouped in the “Local” sidebar item. Folders added will be given their own sub-menu item. All others will be grouped in Soundly’s “Loose Files” menu item. This approach is different than other metadata apps, which use reference “databases” that can modified at will. Because of this, Soundly’s local library requires a bit of planning. Why? Once a folder or files are added, single items within them cannot be removed. For example, let’s say you added a folder of 100 train sounds. You can remove the entire folder of 100 clips, but not a single effect from within that sub-menu list.
Because of this, it’s best to organize your sounds on your hard drive in small sub-folders first, as opposed to dumping 50,000 clips onto Soundly at once. Now, to help with this, Soundly allows the option to “monitor” a folder. Thereafter, a manual refresh will add or remove clips to reflect clip changes outside of Soundly. Otherwise, if you want to modify the folder contents, the folder must be deleted, then added again.
You can organize sound clips more easily by creating Playlists. They are similar to iTunes playlists. Other metadata apps use playlists for batch importing and so on. At the moment the Soundly’s Playlists simply gather selections of tracks that reference clips elsewhere in your library, say, your favourite tracks for the upcoming episode of Fargo you’re working on.
Click the outlined star beside any search result item to add it to the “Starred” sidebar item. This is a helpful way to save preferred takes on the fly while auditioning.
Soundly also allows uploading your sound collection to the cloud. Multi-user accounts are given 100 GB of online storage. This cool feature has the effect of backing up your sound library and making it portable as well. The team tells me they plan to offer this feature to other paid users at a future date.
Finding and Browsing Sounds
One of a metadata app’s most important roles is finding the perfect sound quickly. Soundly provides search results from both local files and the Soundly Pro cloud library extremely fast. An auto-fill search field helps suggest common terms.
Results are presented in the right pane under Filename, Time, Format, Channels, Library, and Description columns. These columns can be rearranged to taste and sorted by clicking on the header. Icons indicate whether the file is stored locally or in the cloud.
Soundly finds clips by searching two fields: Filename and Description. It shows results from every sound within the app, drawing from both local files and the Soundly Pro cloud collection. Uncheck sidebar items to omit categories and folders of sounds from search results.
Incidentally, this is why it’s a good idea to import local libraries in smaller folders. By contrast, the Soundly Pro library doesn’t allow searching within each of its single categories; users must search the entire library or not at all.
At the moment Soundly doesn’t appear to support an advanced search or boolean expressions (e.g., using “-” to omit terms or surrounding text in quotes for precise matches). The result is that search results tend to be somewhat broad. Of course, this depends on your sound file naming abilities, however finer searching tools would be appreciated.
3. Using Metadata
Want to find precise sound clips faster? Sound pros know one quick trick is to add metadata to their sound collections.
In a first for a free metadata app, Soundly allows not only adding metadata to sound effects, but embedding it to clips, and doing it in batches, as well. Right now Soundly is able to add two fields of metadata: Description and Originator. It writes to the BWAV or iXML formats.
Right-click a sound or type Command-T to invoke the “Edit Metadata” window to allow modifying the Description and Originator fields. Changes may be saved locally or embedded to the file itself.
Selecting a group of files and doing the same shows the bulk-renaming window. File names, metadata Description, and the Originator field can be modified by adding text to the beginning or end of the field, replacing text, or replacing its entire contents. It’s a surprisingly powerful metadata option given that existing free metadata apps have only a rudimentary metadata workflow in bland interfaces. Soundly gets full points for providing bulk metadata writing in a usable interface, completely free of charge.
I will write more about using Soundly to write metadata in a future article.
4. Auditioning Sound Files
Selecting a stereo, mono, or 5.1 sound will present a reasonably detailed random-access waveform in the bottom pane. The resolution of the waveform can be altered by dragging the slider at the right of the pane. Waveforms from the cloud library are streamed quickly to the display. Those on slower Internet connections may click the arrow to the left of any search result and choose the alternative MP3 option to stream audio more quickly at a lower resolution.
Playback is silky smooth both locally and from the cloud, including pitch-shifting and reversing audio on the fly. Pref options allow auto-play and looping. Selecting a span of audio displays the duration above the selection.
As a bonus, Soundly recently added the option to install Propellerhead’s ReWire to audition audio through your existing set up.
5. Transferring Sound Files
Soundly’s search results wouldn’t be much good if the clips were trapped in the app. So, Soundly supports drag-and-drop into most editing apps (Reaper 4 or older being an exception). Entire sounds and even selected portions of a clip can be pulled and dropped smoothly and fluidly into timelines and bins. In another first for a free app, Soundly also imports to Pro Tools in either spot-to-cursor or direct-to-bin modes.
6. The Soundly Pro Sound Library
We’ve seen an impressive feature list so far, especially considering Soundly is entirely free. It’s bold to offer an app free of charge and base their revenue model on a sound library. This suggests that the library should be fairly compelling to encourage people to upgrade to a pro plan. So how does Soundly’s clip collection hold up?
The native 96 kHz/24-bit Soundly library includes 5,000+ sound effects. 300 of those are available to any Soundly user. Access to the full collection costs $9.99 for 24 hours, or $14.99 a month. This is comparable with Soundsnap’s model, and in some ways is better priced.
The entire Soundly Pro library includes these categories:
The majority of categories have sub-categories that sort clips more finely.
The sound effects I listened to were well recorded and mastered. I didn’t hear any glitches, bad edits, mic bumps, or wind. They’re named decently with consistent, readable terms using an average of 7 words per clip. A small handful of tracks use a sequential naming scheme (Drum Accent 01, 02, 03…), which limits accurate search results. Browsing would also benefit from a detailed Description metadata field, which the Soundly Pro library strangely lacks.
The sounds are organized well in their categories. There’s a good balance of ambiences and specifics. The collection offers crowds, weather, sound design clips, vehicles, materials (wood, metal, plastic, etc.), and more. Some categories are stronger than others, and a few feel a bit empty. So, advanced pros may find that a lack of alternative takes or breadth of material may limit the usability of the Soundly library as a sole solution to edit the next Bond or Star Wars feature.
However, the Soundly library is a good “foundation library” ideal for beginners just starting out in audio. Video editors with less demanding needs may find it completely sufficient. It has enough clips in its toolbox to edit standard projects, and works well to supplement any existing library brought to the app. Soundly appears to be adding new clips quarterly. The app would benefit from a broader selection of clips with alts. I estimate at double its existing size it would find a valuable place in a greater number of edit suites.
I’m sure the Soundly team is aware of this. Adding new files may be just a matter of time. Regardless, the app cleverly sidesteps this issue by allowing users to enhance the base Soundly Pro collection with other files. A very slick feature allows the app to audition and download sound fx directly from Freesound.org’s archive of 100,000+ clips.
What’s more, Soundly allows in-app secure Stripe purchases of independent sound libraries via the main window’s middle tab. Purchases are immediately available from Soundly’s cloud sidebar. Nearly 20 collections from familiar publishers such as SoundBits, ShapingWaves, SoundMorph, and others offer the opportunity to expand upon the base Soundly Pro library. Peder told me that they have plans to expand these offerings later this year.
I don’t believe that the Soundly Pro collection was intended to blow your socks off with rare, triple-A sounds. Instead, it serves sufficiently as a foundation library that can supplement existing collections. If you need rockstar sound effects, you can download them from the store or source them from other indie sound fx publishers.
7. Other Notes
Soundly evades the need for HASP or iLok software copy protection via its online sign-in method. The license is stored on the local machine. Soundly allows exporting your license and installing it on other machines, too. This is a nice touch to allow freelancers to use Soundly both at home and in whatever facilities they visit. Part of this is possible because Soundly saves all playlists, star selections, and so on to the cloud.
I found Soundly’s customer service quite speedy, with a reasonable one-day turn around given that I am on the opposite side of the planet from their Norwegian headquarters. The team was helpful, polite, and understanding.
I’ve mentioned that the technology underlying Soundly appears to be solid. I had a few issues with the app recognizing my audio interface and also spotting to Pro Tools, but these resolved themselves after reboots. The auditioning, cloud access, and transferring were smooth. After I became comfortable relying on the tech, I turned my eye to the user interface and user experience of the app.
Metadata apps are complex software. They pack a lot of features into a small space. This may be why – in my view – the majority of metadata apps lack an inspired design (Basehead is an exception). Of course, much of this depends on personal taste. However, I do feel Soundly could benefit from some design polish.
A dark colour scheme is the natural choice for working in gloomy edit suites. We don’t want a strobe light shining from a laptop screen in the mix theatre, after all. However, I wasn’t particularly taken with the green-grey-black colour scheme. Also, I also found myself missing the Mac OS X Human Interface standards as seen in impressive apps such as Things, Ulysses, and Transmit that include standardized OS-like buttons, menu items, pop-up screens, titled windows and so on. I found a handful of examples of inconsistent spelling and capitalization in menu text.
Soundly also makes extensive use of right-clicking. I’m not a huge fan of right-clicking simply because it conceals actions. They’re often essential ones. There’s no way to know where you should right-click to perform a task. It requires guessing. I was puzzled how to accomplish some tasks after searching menubar items without any luck. In most cases the support team led me to the right-click menus to solve the problem.
I imagine right-clicking is intuitive for PC users, but for Mac users it is not as natural. This is why most Mac apps mirror these contextual menus with menubar items, with the tasks greyed-out until they can be performed. I’m sure this design decision evolved from creating the app for Windows and Mac from a single code base.
Of course, the software is perfectly usable. Sound pros need an app to get the job done, and Soundly does so. If I could add these quibbles to a wish list, I would enjoy seeing the UI tweaked, text improved, and reliance on right-clicking diminished.
How does Soundly rate overall?
I found it easy to use. It performs excellently adding libraries, browsing and auditioning them, and adding them to editing apps. The basic metadata functionality is a nice plus.
Things I particularly enjoyed:
- It’s free.
- Imports audio fluidly to editing apps, with Pro Tools’ spot-to-cursor being a highlight.
- Best free basic metadata editor currently on the market.
- Most advanced free sound library browser outside of iTunes.
- Easy-to-use access to the Freesound.org library.
- Responsive and friendly customer service.
- Speedy and flawless cloud access.
- Optional access to Soundly Pro sound library.
And some things on my wish list:
- User interface polish (text, design, right-clicking).
- Broader Soundly Pro sound library selections. A library 2-3 times the size would provide a powerful foundation collection with stronger incentive to subscribe to the service.
- Addition of advanced search and boolean searching tools.
- Addition of help files and documentation beyond existing tooltips.
- Include local sound file fields beyond file name and description (category, microphone, etc).
- In-app purchasing pages seemed a bit raw. Including a back button and secure padlock for transactions would improve the experience.
Overall, I don’t believe Soundly intends to compete with the Soundminers or Baseheads of the metadata app world. Instead, Soundly adopts a provocative new model and finds a niche helping beginning sound pros or audio editors on a budget.
As a bonus, it sneaks under the radar as a surprisingly functional free metadata-writing app that allows seamless access to the entire Freesound.org library. These reasons alone may be a good reason for sound pros to give Soundly a spin.
- Visit Soundly’s website.
- Follow them on Twitter.
- Watch a YouTube video of the development team introducing Soundly.