Article from Issue 217/2018

Synth-nut Graham pulls himself away from Moog One hype to unveil the best free software released this month.

Podcast manager


It's amazing that podcasts became and have remained so popular. They seem to have so much in common with radio that many of us thought they'd suffer a similar slow declining fate, falling beneath the wheels of low attention spans and social media. Instead, they've outlived the iPod that gave them their name, and they're thriving in all kinds of ways and genres. Their offline nature and length often makes them perfect for the commute, during a workout, or even just in the background of a working day. If the subject is loosely work-related, then all the better. There are now podcasts for every niche, from crime to cookery, whether you've got only 10 minutes to spare or an hour.

Something that can really help with your podcast enjoyment is a great application to help you consume them. Many can be downloaded as audio files that will play on almost anything, but there aren't many applications that will help you stay on top of the feeds you subscribe to and discover new ones. And that's exactly what Vocal does. Its GUI looks very much like an old version of iTunes, which means it's not surprising that the "Top 100" feature that dominates its default view is pulled from Apple's own podcast listing. But that doesn't take anything away from the quality of Vocal, or that it's using what's mostly likely the best source of podcasts you can find online.

Vocal has two fundamental modes. The first lets you discover new podcasts by presenting the most popular as a thumbnail view of their cover art. Clicking on the + symbol subscribes you to the podcast and takes you to the second mode. This is your "library," a listing of your podcast subscriptions. Selecting one of these displays the podcast's background information and keeps track of exactly where you are in your listening progress. This view will also neatly list each episode and let you start listening to any one of them without first having to download the audio. It's a brilliant way to experiment with new podcasts and to dip into what you might think is interesting before fully committing to a new series in its entirety. You can also add your own podcasts using their raw RSS feeds. There are settings that let you import or export an entire set of subscriptions with an OPML file and set the geographic location for the iTunes "Top 100" feature. This is great for exploring what's popular in different parts of the world.

The best thing about Vocal is the great UI design. It never gets in the way and feels built by people who really understand the nature of podcasts. There's never any friction when you want to download something or simply start listening to a new episode. Vocal attempts to make these common tasks as quick and painless as possible to access. And from my perspective, it completely succeeds. If you've been looking for a desktop application to help with your podcast addiction, this isn't it. It will only make that addiction worse.

Project Website

1. Podcast details: Explore any of your subscribed podcasts. 2. Personal library: Your subscribed podcasts appear in their own view, showing the next podcast in the queue. 3. Show notes: See the details for each podcast as you're listening. 4. Top 100: Vocal lets you browse the iTunes top 100 podcasts for any geographic location. 5. Import podcasts: Export a list of podcasts from your current player. 6. Search: Look for specific podcasts online and in your own library. 7. Subscribe: Quickly subscribe to anything that sounds interesting, and unsubscribe as well.

Media sequencer

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