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ATPM 12.12
December 2006


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Software Review

by Lee Bennett,

Fission 1.1


Developer: Rogue Amoeba

Price: $32

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.4. Universal.

Trial: Feature-limited (saved files degraded with a series of audio fades).

With a rather long history of excellent audio-related products, it’s rather surprising that Rogue Amoeba has only just recently produced a standard audio editor. ProTools is just far beyond my needs (and budget), and while Audacity is free, its lack of intuitiveness made me groan every time I launched it, not to mention its frequent crashes.

But at last, the company I consider to be expert at audio-related software priced for the masses has released Fission. Like most version 1.x software I’ve reviewed, Fission has some maturing to do, but that isn’t to say it can’t get the basic job done.


Fission’s user interface is very clean and simple. Its metaphor of the entire audio clip at the top expanding to a zoomed section in the main editing region might take a second to get used to—but only a second. Click to enlarge.

The most useful feature for me is Fission’s ability to edit and save MP3 files without re-encoding them. As part of various projects in which I am involved, I often encounter audio recordings in MP3 format either because the recorder saved directly to MP3 or because uncompressed source files are no longer available. I’m now finally able to “trim the fat” from recordings that started too early and/or ended too late, and not end up with an MP3 that is lower quality than the original.

Be cautious, however, of trimming MP3 files too closely to content that isn’t essentially silent. I tried to trim right at the beginning of a word and this resulted in a brief audible defect. This occurred only on MP3s—not AACs, WAVs, or AIFFs. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this is simply an issue of the MP3 codec and that any lossless MP3 editor would have the same problem. But, of course, if Rogue Amoeba were able to address it, so much the better!

As I said, Fission does have some maturing to do, but nearly all of it lies within additional features and user interface improvements. Before I touch on those, I first want to describe what I perceived as a significant bug and is the sole reason I chose a Good rating over Very Nice. During my testing, Fission hung three times, requiring a force quit. In all three instances, the hang occurred when I clicked a portion of a recording that I had split into clips (note the dark blue tabs above the main editing area in the image above). It didn’t happen every time I clicked a tab to select a clip but, when it did happen, it was always just when a tab had been clicked.

So, by now you may possibly have concluded that the function of these clips is to break up a long recording into multiple files. When you save an edited file, if it is split into clips, you’ll get a file for each clip in whatever file format you chose. This is perfect for recording a series of songs in one swoop, then saving each individual song. Fission even includes a Smart Split function that locates breaks both by duration and by sensitivity to silence. It can be adjusted on the fly, showing you an instant preview of how many breaks the settings will produce and where they will be located.


The Smart Split’s live preview is probably the most perfect element of Fission’s user interface. Click to enlarge.

All that’s left is to mention that Fission includes a normalize command, fade in and out controls, and access to primary ID3 tags (plus lyrics and album art), and that’s the long and short of what Fission is all about.

Wish List

Here’s what I want to see in version 2.0, in no particular order:

Speed Adjustment

The icing for this feature would be for both a speed and pitch adjustment, but even just a basic speed control in which pitch was linearly tied to the speed would be handy. The user should be able to adjust by either desired duration or percentage above or below 100%.

Ability to Open Multiple Files

Fission currently permits only one audio file to be open at a time. As such, it’s not a simple matter to add one recording to the end of another. I do realize, however, that merging multiple files would create a problem with the lossless editing function. Perhaps the ability to copy and paste from one file into another would work only if both files were uncompressed formats or if the bit rates on MP3s and AACs matched exactly. Or, if they didn’t match, Fission would only save them to an uncompressed format such as AIFF.

Figuring out this dilemma makes my head hurt, so I’ll just say that even if copying/pasting between files wasn’t possible, I’d still love to be able to have more than one file open.

Basic Filters

Fission currently possesses exactly two filters: normalize and fade in/out. Again, the ability to save a new MP3 or AAC without re-encoding might be in jeopardy, but when saving AIFFs or WAVs, wouldn’t a few basic equalization, envelope, and special-effects filters be nice?

Additional Keyboard Shortcuts and/or Toolbar Buttons

There should be a keystroke or button (preferably both) for a few behaviors. My list is not exhaustive, but two that immediately come to mind are a way to quickly fit the entire recording within the larger main editing window, and a way to jump the playhead to the next or previous split. I’m thinking Command-0 for the zoom out and the up/down arrows for the playhead movement. Fission does define Command-[ and -] for selecting the previous and next clips, but these only select the clip and do not move the playhead. And, of course, I’ve already described what eventually happened to me after selecting a few clips.

Removing Splits

I was nearly going to say, as my last wish list item, that there needs to be a way to remove a split, but thought better of it because I just couldn’t believe there wasn’t a means for doing so. I was right, but this was essentially the only item for which I found myself needing to hunt in the manual. Maybe I’m just being a little dense, but it wasn’t immediately apparent that splits are easily removed by clicking once on the triangle pointer for a split and pressing the Delete key. I had been trying to Control-click on a split and expecting to find some sort of Delete Split function in the contextual menu. Fission already has a number of functions available via the contextual menu, so adding a Delete Split command when a Control-click occurs near a split shouldn’t be very difficult.


So once again, there’s the long and the short of it—with a wish list on top! To me, the price is right, but if it’s too steep for you, give Audacity a try and let us know how you think it compares to Fission (translation: I don’t anticipate any remarks favoring Audacity to Fission).

One final remark: a perfect companion to Fission is Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack or Audio Hijack Pro (a product comparison page is available). Wes Meltzer is working on a review of Audio Hijack Pro, which will appear soon in an upcoming issue of ATPM.

Reader Comments (18)

MCO · December 2, 2006 - 12:15 EST #1
Fission is nice and simple but it's basically a rework of Felt Tip's Sound Studio which has all the 2.0 whistles and bells you asked for and has the same look and feel and ease of use.
Lee Bennett (ATPM Staff) · December 2, 2006 - 19:48 EST #2
MCO - while you may be right about the features that I thought were missing from Fission, but Sound Studio is 80 bucks—putting it substantially further out of range of people who are on a tight budget.
Lee Bennett (ATPM Staff) · December 2, 2006 - 19:50 EST #3
A quick note to all readers—developers at Rogue Amoeba have been talking to me via e-mail about the hang I described in this review. I'm happy to be able to assist them and have provided Activity Monitor Samples to help nail down the problem which I was, again, able to reproduce this morning.
Rick L · December 2, 2006 - 21:04 EST #4
This is interesting stuff, but it seems to presume a lot of knowledge shared between writer and readers. It would be nice if you could put a short paragraph near the beginning of the review saying what Fission does. We get all kinds of information about bugs, wishlists, pricing, and the reasons for your reservations, but deducing Fission's actual present abilities requires a fair amount of detective work!

Thanks for alerting us to the existence of such software, though!
Lee Bennett (ATPM Staff) · December 2, 2006 - 22:39 EST #5
Rick - my apologies that you didn't understand right away that this was a review for an audio file editor, but you'll have to help me understand what it is about the very first sentence of this review that doesn't explain what Fission does. It is an audio file editor, and I said so. Very soon afterward, I reveal Fission's strongest feature and (I would say) it's main ability: editing and re-saving an MP3 without re-encoding it.
Tanner Lovelace · December 2, 2006 - 22:44 EST #6
Rick, try reading the very first sentence, especially the part that says "a standard audio editor". It don't come much clearer than that.
Rick L · December 3, 2006 - 06:53 EST #7
On reflection, I guess it's a problem with my lack of knowledge of audio than with the article. I'm afraid I didn't really know what a standard audio editor is supposed to do, nor what a non-standard audio editor would be. As you suggest, it's possible to work out what a standard audio editor does from your account of Fission's claim to fame.

Thanks for the extra explanations.
Sho · December 5, 2006 - 12:28 EST #8
I agree with Rick L, what on earth is a "standard" audio editor?

Basic maybe, or entry-level. "Standard" means something completely different and I also found it momentarily confusing, and this is from someone who works with audio every day.

Thanks for the article!
Lee Bennett (ATPM Staff) · December 5, 2006 - 13:09 EST #9
Sho - well okay, perhaps the word "standard" wasn't the best adjective, but I stand by my conviction that we stated right at the beginning that Fission is an audio editing application. I suppose I meant "standard" as in not one of these little bitty apps that don't really edit the audio—only the meta tags and/or convert from one format to another.
Stephen R. Smith · December 5, 2006 - 16:09 EST #10
I looked at Fission, and really liked it from an editing standpoint, but missed the ability to record into it in the first place. I'm recording spoken audio for the 365tomorrows podcast, and currently using Amadeus II to capture and edit. Fission appears to be a much more capable editor, and I love the fact that it's Universal, though Amadeus Pro is in beta, and is also Universal (though I haven't tried it yet).

My recording needs are simple, basically to capture a stream of audio from a Mic, where I normally read the same paragraph over and over until I'm happy with it, then move on and slice and dice the resulting file at the end, so but for the lack of a recording feature, Fission looks to be an excellent tool. Does Fission have a recording ability that I'm missing, or is there any indication this might be added as a feature? Alternately, what would the best audio capture program be that would complement Fission's editing capabilities?
Lee Bennett (ATPM Staff) · December 5, 2006 - 16:26 EST #11
Stephen - I agree that recording capabilities would be nice. You didn't miss anything—Fission does not have a recording function.

You might consider the upgrade for QuickTime Pro which would let you create both audio and video recordings within QuickTime Player. Those files could then be opened and edited in Fission. Whether or not its added to Fission—someone from Rogue Amoeba will have to respond to that one.
Jim Blohm · December 13, 2006 - 23:18 EST #12
Rogue Amoeba has a companion product that will record sound, Audio Hijack Pro. They offer a package price with Fission. Visit their site for more information.
Mark Hilton · January 30, 2007 - 08:53 EST #13
Interesting article and I'll have a look at it, but I have just upgraded to Amadeus Pro, which is multi-track and has most of what you seem to be wanting in Fission, though it doesn't edit MP3s without re-encoding as I understand it. I couldn't get on with Audacity either.
Lee Bennett (ATPM Staff) · January 30, 2007 - 09:06 EST #14
Mark - yeah, the lossless MP3 editing is, in my opinion, the primary function of Fission. If Amadeus and/or Audacity added this feature, it's quite safe to say they'd give Fission a huge run for the money.
Phillip Gould · April 1, 2008 - 17:37 EST #15
I have to say I've used so many audio editors it makes my head spin. Once it stops spinning, though, I must say that Audacity is the tool for me. It's free (yay) and a much deeper application for any and all needs. Fission is okay but, honestly, even at version 1.5.2 now, it doesn't touch Audacity.
I understand the pros of Fission, but frankly, it doesn't do much that most other basic editors don't already do.
Lee Bennett (ATPM Staff) · April 1, 2008 - 17:47 EST #16
Phillip - you're largely correct that Audacity is a more full-featured editor. It's Fission's simple interface and ability to losslessly re-save an edited MP3 that earns its marks. Not to mention that Audacity has never been stable on any Mac on which I've tried using it. But obviously, I speak from my own experiences. If Audacity is performing fine for you, then I'm thrilled you found a free tool that does what you need.
Specks · August 21, 2008 - 20:59 EST #17
Lee - You mentioned that Audacity is not stable on your Mac, are you using OSX or 9?
Lee Bennett (ATPM Staff) · August 21, 2008 - 21:47 EST #18
Specks - Fully up to date on OS X 10.5.4.

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