Programs for Music

Looking at the Sonic Visualiser user survey (part 1)

Ever since Sonic Visualiser hit version 1.7 in mid-2009, it has included a survey feature to find out what its users think of it.

It waits until you’ve used it a few times. Then it pops up a dialog, just once, asking if you’d like to fill in the survey.

If you say yes, you get the survey page in your browser. If you say no, it won’t ask again—not even after an upgrade to a new version (unless you reinstall on a different machine).

This survey has been running ever since, unchanged, and has been completed over 1000 times. We’ve periodically read through the survey submissions, but we haven’t previously published any results from it. Since the survey was designed rather hastily four years ago and it’s high time we updated it, this is probably a good time to catch up on the responses before we do that.

What’s in this post

The survey had both open questions (with big text fields) and simple multiple-choice ones. This post will deal with numerical results from the simple questions.

Many of these results are pretty basic, so please don’t be disappointed if the analysis doesn’t turn out to be all that exciting. If you have any suggestions or questions, please do post a comment!

I intend to follow up by summarising the open questions in another post.

Number and distribution of responses

We have 1071 responses in total, from 6 October 2009 to 25 April 2013 (as of this analysis—the survey is still open).

However, I won’t be using all of those here. Owing to “technical problems” (and/or my incompetence) some responses from mid-2010 have been lost, so to ensure the record doesn’t have any holes in it, I’ll be limiting this post to the 821 responses from 11 Oct 2010 onwards. Here’s the number of responses per quarter:

Note that the most recent quarter (starting April 2013) only has three weeks’ worth of responses.

(Every chart in this post is linked to the data in text format, so click through if you’re interested in the numbers.)

Who are these people?

We asked,

Which of the following best describes your position?

  • A student, researcher, or academic in music
  • A student, researcher, or academic in audio engineering, audio analysis, multimedia, or a related discipline
  • I am employed in some field that is related to my use of Sonic Visualiser
  • I use Sonic Visualiser solely for personal purposes
  • None of the above

Sonic Visualiser comes from an academic environment, and if you add up the slightly arbitrary academic subdivisions they’re close to an overall majority, but there are plenty of personal-use responses and quite a few professionals:

Approximate IP geolocation shows that most respondents come from the US and Europe. Here are the top ten countries:

But 66 countries are represented in total, and the top ten only make up 70% of responses.

Platform, browser, and software version

Windows users are most numerous, while Linux users appear to be relatively on the wane. (Their numbers aren’t actually decreasing, they just haven’t increased as much). Neither of these surprises me, but I am surprised that Windows has been going up more than OS/X. Maybe Mac users don’t like being asked to fill in surveys.

As you might expect, academics, particularly in music, are relatively likely to be using OS/X, while a high proportion of those using SV for personal use are doing so on Windows.

Linux is overrepresented in France, which makes sense, as it is a civilised nation.

Firefox is the most common browser, but it’s been losing out here as everywhere recently. I’m a bit surprised that IE is only in third place even on Windows. I’m probably just a decade or so behind the times.

Few surprises in the breakdown of Sonic Visualiser version number. New versions take over fairly quickly after each release, but that’s to be expected because the survey only polls new installations—this doesn’t tell us anything about upgrade rates.

Linux users seem more likely to be using an old version, presumably because they often install from distribution packages.

Ease of use and general contentment

We asked,

Do you enjoy using Sonic Visualiser?

  • Yes, I do!
  • I have no strong feelings about it
  • I don’t enjoy using it, but I haven’t found any other software to replace it
  • I don’t enjoy using it, I use it because I’ve been told to (by a teacher, for example)


How easy do you find Sonic Visualiser to use?

  • I find it straightforward to use
  • Getting started was tricky, but I’m OK with it now
  • I can get things done, but it’s frustrating and I’m often caught out by unexpected behaviour
  • I can use a few features, but I don’t understand most of it
  • I don’t understand it at all

Most respondents are happy, but the results for ease of use are less satisfactory:

A great many respondents checked the “getting started was tricky” or “I don’t understand most of it” boxes. I think there is room for a simpler Sonic Visualiser. The open survey questions, to be covered in a subsequent post, might give us more ideas.

Features and plugins

We asked,

Which of the following features of Sonic Visualiser have you used? (Please select all that apply, or none.)

  • Saving and reloading complete sessions
  • Running Vamp plugins
  • Speeding up or slowing down playback
  • Annotation by tapping using the computer keyboard
  • Annotation by tapping using a MIDI keyboard
  • Data import or export using RDF formats
  • Audio alignment using the MATCH plugin
  • Editing note or region layers
  • Image layers

This isn’t a well-judged question. It has too many options and some of them are too ambiguous. In particular, “image layers” was intended to refer to layers in which external images can be attached—quite a niche feature—yet it appears as the third most popular option in the survey:

I assume this means people were (quite reasonably) interpreting “image layers” as meaning “any layers that look like images”, such as spectrograms.

Looking more closely at this, it seems that users who said they used the “image layer” feature were less likely to also report using common features such as session save/load or Vamp plugins, but more likely to report using uncommon features such as MIDI tapping or alignment.

This suggests these respondents could probably be clustered into a large group of novice users who use only the built-in analysis tools on a single audio file at a time (for whom “image layers” means spectrograms), and a smaller group who use many features and for whom, perhaps, “image layers” means layers of image type.

Also worth noting is the generally low number of people reporting use of any single feature—none of the features listed here gained support from more than 50% of respondents. Yet more than 90% of respondents checked at least one box. It seems there are different sets of users starting out with quite disjoint needs.

The survey also included a record of which Vamp plugins were installed. Here are the top ten overall:


We asked whether users were familiar with any programming languages (from a fixed multiple selection list, plus “Others” box) and whether they would have any interest in developing new plugins.

I was surprised by the language familiarity question: nearly 60% of respondents checked at least one box, and over a third claimed familiarity with C or C++. That’s far more than for Python, MATLAB, Java, Javascript or PHP, but all of those have pretty good showings even so.

Even among academics in the music field, over 40% professed familiarity with some programming language and over 20% with C.

I’m not quite sure what to make of this. Perhaps Sonic Visualiser is so hard to get started with that only very technically-minded users get as far as answering a survey about it!

Some respondents mentioned further languages in the Other box; these are the ones that appeared most often:

(BASIC includes Visual Basic; Lisp variants include Scheme and Clojure.)

Having asked about programming languages, we asked:

Have you ever considered writing Vamp plugins for use in Sonic Visualiser or any other host application?

  • Yes, I have written some plugins already
  • Yes, I’m interested in the idea
  • No, I wouldn’t be technically capable
  • No, I don’t see any reason to
  • No, I’ve looked at Vamp and found the format unsatisfactory in some way

As you can see, most respondents thought they wouldn’t be technically capable, but a pretty high number did express an interest.