The Difference

Between Hokusai Audio Editor and Ferrite Recording Studio

It’s funny, back when I first announced Ferrite Recording Studio, I was expecting a whole bunch of folks to ask how it was different from Hokusai Audio Editor. I mean, it’s understandable that people would ask: both Ferrite and Hokusai are iOS apps that let you record and edit audio. But no-one did — even months after release, still nothing.

But I recently announced that a major update to Hokusai is around the corner, and suddenly lots of people are asking.

I could get into more technical details of the differences (and later, I will) but I think most people want a more high-level overview. I guess the shortest version is:

  • If you’re a podcaster, journalist, educator, public speaker, etc, you want Ferrite Recording Studio.
  • If you’re a sound designer, or a musician working in certain genres, you want Hokusai Audio Editor — especially when version 2 is released.

Now, both tools are pretty flexible, and to a certain extent, you can (try to) use either one for purposes it’s not designed for. But there are both technical and user-interface reasons why each is suited to different tasks. You might think of it like this:

You could make artwork by creating a giant spreadsheet and filling each cell with a colour, one-by-one. But you probably want to use an art package.

You could produce a novel in an art package, by creating hundreds of separate pictures, one for each page, and using the “add text” command to lay out the words on each page. But you probably want to use a word-processor or publishing tool.

Spreadsheets, art packages, word processors — if you try to make them something they’re not, you’re likely to have a bad time. But they’re all great tools, when you use them for their intended purpose.

It’s all about using the right tool for the job.

Broadly speaking:

  • Ferrite is “like Desktop Publishing for audio”: a tool for creating polished audio “publications” (podcasts, radio journalism, audiobooks, educational materials, and so on) by assembling together pieces of audio, either recorded in the app, or imported from elsewhere. It can deal with very, very large projects and its tools are based around taking audio — primarily voice work, but also pre-produced music and effects — and arranging them into a finished piece of work. An important point is that Ferrite never, ever changes your original recordings: it creates new projects that use them as source material.
  • Hokusai is “like an art package for audio”: a tool for creating new audio or performing complicated, detailed editing on existing audio. It was originally designed to create sound effects for games, and has become something of a “multitool”footnote 1 for audio — great to have in your back pocket for when you need to mess around with audio in unusual ways. It is designed for shorter audio, but has a much wider range of effects and tools.

You can, of course, find uses for both — perhaps even in the same project. For example, you might use Hokusai to produce sound effects, which you then import into Ferrite to use in a podcast.footnote 2

Technical Details: Ferrite

Ferrite is a “non-destructive digital audio workstation”, which means that Ferrite never writes over your recordings (or other imported audio). A Ferrite project is a kind of recipe that describes how to take the raw ingredients (your recordings, music, etc) and create a finished project using them. The app is doing this, in realtime, whenever you tap Play, which gives you a bunch of neat advantages. For starters:

  • You never have to wait to hear a change. As soon as you adjust something, you can hear the result.
  • You can Undo/Redo as much as you like, and it takes up very little extra storage space on your device — because it’s changing the “recipe”, not your audio.
  • You can easily edit vast amounts of audio
  • Because effects are applied when you listen, you can change your mind about them later, adjusting their settings or removing them altogether.
  • Because it’s designed around production work, audio sits in “clips” that can be moved around the timeline like beads on a wire, making it very quick and easy to do complex arrangements. So it’s a lot faster and easier to use, too — for this kind of work.

The downside is that you’re limited to only what your device is capable of doing in realtime. In other words, if it takes more than 1 second of time to process 1 second of your project, it won’t be able to keep up during playback, and this restriction limits what you can do. For journalism, podcasting, etc this isn’t really a problem, though.

Technical Details: Hokusai

By contrast, Hokusai is a “destructive audio wave editor”. Making changes in Hokusai is like making changes in a paint package:footnote 3 you’re “painting over the top of” what’s already there, rewriting the audio file with new content each time you make an edit. When you apply an effect, it figures out what the new audio should be, and writes it over the top of what was there before, right then and there — not when you play it back.

This, too, has some neat advantages:

  • You can apply effect after effect after effect, and it can always keep up, because all it needs to do when you tap Play, is send the (already-processed) audio to the speaker. So there’s no limit to how many times you can edit something, or how many effects you can apply.
  • You can apply effects where even applying it once would be too slow or awkward to process in realtime. Hokusai can flip audio backwards, or stretch it faster or slower than the original audio, and perform other commands that require it to analyse the entire duration of the audio before it even begins.
  • It has a very different user interface for actually editing the audio; each track is a single, solid waveform and you can select from any position to any other position without worrying about “clips”. So it’s a lot faster and easier to use — for this kind of work.

The downside — as you may have guessed, it’s kind of the mirror-image of Ferrite’s. So if you edit long files in Hokusai, it can start to take up a bunch more storage space, for example. But, again — not really a problem, for the tasks Hokusai is designed for.

It’s all about the right tool for the job. I think it should be pretty clear by now which one you need, or when you would want to use one versus the other, but if not, drop me an email!

1. like the well-known knife with a trademarked name that references the armed forces of a mountainous European country

2. many podcasts these days are using sound effects, whether to introduce segments, or to start and end sponsored messages, to warn people of “spoilers”, or to better illustrate aspects of the story they’re telling.

3. this, by the way, is why there’s a paintbrush in the icon