Under The Microscope

Get the Latest Audio Hijack for Latency Reduction and More

Audio Hijack IconYesterday, we posted version 3.0.3 of our audio recording tool Audio Hijack. While that’s certainly not the most exciting version number, this update does contain several important fixes and improvements. Perhaps most importantly, we’ve drastically reduced the amount of latency which occurs when capturing audio with Audio Hijack. If you’ve tried Audio Hijack 3 but run into troubles with latency, we urge you to get the newest version and test it out again.

There are many other enhancements and fixes as well. We solved a snag where timers would be off-by-one-hour on days when the clocks changed for Daylight Saving Time. We improved the finalization of AAC and Apple Lossless recording files. To make it more obvious how to remove items from the Recordings and Schedule tab, we’ve added “Delete” buttons in those places. While we were at it, we managed to stomp out a few more rare bugs and issues.

All that is to say that you should make sure you have the latest Audio Hijack by selecting “Check for Update” from the Audio Hijack menu. If you haven’t tried Audio Hijack yet, you can download it here. There’s plenty more on our roadmap, so be sure to stay tuned for further updates as well. Until then, enjoy Audio Hijack 3.0.3!

ScreenCastsOnline Helps You Get Started With Audio Hijack 3

Our pal Allison Sheridan, of the NosillaCast and podfeet.com, recently created an excellent in-depth tutorial on Audio Hijack. In it, she goes over the very basics of getting started with the app, before moving on to cover many of Audio Hijack’s uses. It’s a great 30 minute tutorial, rich in detail and sure to help anyone getting started with our audio recording tool. Check out a preview of the video to see the first ten minutes. To watch the full video, just sign up with ScreenCastsOnline.

If you haven’t heard of ScreenCastsOnline before, you’re in for a treat. For nearly a decade, Don McAllister has been providing the Apple community with a great resource for learning about Mac and iOS apps. For just $8 a month, you’ll get full access to hundreds of tutorial videos, with more added each month. Best of all, you can check out previews of much of the content, and even take a free 14-day trial. Get more details right here.

Capture iPhone Calls Using Audio Hijack

Audio Hijack IconMany users of the new Audio Hijack 3 have asked about recording phone calls from their iPhone. If you’re using Mac OS X 10.10 (Yosemite) and iOS 8.1, it’s easy to record these calls with Audio Hijack.

Thanks to a new feature called Phone Relay1, you can use your Mac as the receiver for making and receiving phone calls. That can be handy on its own, but adding Audio Hijack makes it even better. By setting FaceTime as the source in Audio Hijack, you can record those calls for later reference!2 Have a look:

Audio Hijack Capturing FaceTime
Audio Hijack recording a Phone Relay call via FaceTime

In-Depth Explanation

If you set up your pipeline as above, you’ll be in great shape. Some explanation of just what the pipeline is doing may be helpful though.

This setup began with the “Voice Chat” template, found in Audio Hijack’s Template Chooser (just select “New Session” to get it). We set the Application Block’s source to FaceTime, as that’s the source through which Phone Relay routes audio. The audio then flows through VU meters before branching off. At the top, the audio is simply recorded to MP3 (you can of course change the recording format and other settings).

The bottom portion of the chain is the audio you’ll hear through your headphones, and Audio Hijack makes some adjustments to optimize this. The Channels block duplicates the right channel, which contains the remote audio, so you’ll hear the other party and not your own voice. The Volume block then overdrives their audio – this is done to overcome a “feature” of Mac OS X, where FaceTime lowers other volumes on the system, including Audio Hijack’s audio.3

Make It Go

Once you’ve got your Session setup, just hit the Record button in the lower left, then make your call in FaceTime, or just pass it over from the iPhone. You’ll see it recorded, just as desired!

Many people have asked about recording iPhone calls, so we’re certainly glad to show how it’s done. If you don’t have Audio Hijack yet, just download the latest from our site and get recording!


Footnotes:

  1. 9to5Mac has a great overview of Phone Relay.

  2. People are sometimes unclear on the legality of call recording, but in most places it is entirely legal. In the United States, you’re always allowed to record your own calls, though you may also be required to inform the other parties on the line that you’re recording, and obtain their consent. You’ll want to research the laws in your area and consult a lawyer if necessary.

  3. See “Why is the audio so quiet when I capture FaceTime?” in our Knowledge Base for more details. We’re hoping to find a workaround for this, but for now, the Volume Overdrive functionality should suffice.

More Great Audio Hijack Reviews

Audio Hijack IconPerhaps you saw our Audio Hijack 3 announcement, but you didn’t want to take our word on how great it is. Maybe you even saw the great initial round of reviews, but you weren’t yet convinced. Well then for you, friend, we present even more stellar Audio Hijack 3 reviews!

Over at TidBITS, Glenn Fleishman wrote about some great use cases for Audio Hijack, including making timed recordings and recording a multi-input podcast. He’s got some great, powerful examples of just what you can do with the new version.

Meanwhile, at Random Maccess, Chuck La Tournous gave us 4 and a half stars out of five. You can’t beat that! Well, you can, but just barely, and we’ll be striving to get to that five-star rating with future updates to come.

Finally, Chuck Joiner invited me (and my amaryllis) on to MacVoices to discuss the update. This is especially nice, as the video features screen captures showing off some of Audio Hijack’s highlights. I always have fun speaking with Chuck, and the result here provides a great in-depth look at the app.

Especial for our Spanish speakers

Because we feel we can only provide a top-notch experience in English, our products are not localized to other languages. However, we do have many foreign-language users, and Audio Hijack scored two great reviews in Spanish. Check out Appsmac.com, where we earned four stars out of five, and Macsoluciones, where we scored a perfect five out of five! Gracias to both of these sites for spreading the word!

Download and Enjoy

Hopefully by now, you’ve been convinced to take Audio Hijack for a spin. As always, you can get the free trial right from our site, so download now!

The Evolution of Audio Hijack

We unveiled Audio Hijack 3 to the world last month, but it was almost six years earlier that I downloaded Audio Hijack Pro for the first time. I was doing contract work for Rogue Amoeba in September of 2009, hoping to get hired full-time (spoiler alert: I got the job!), so I wanted to familiarize myself with their full software lineup.

Awesome,” I thought. “I’m going to love this application, and I’ll really be able to use it to its full extent, thanks to those audio recording classes I took in college. See, Mom, Film Production was a sensible major!

That first launch was intimidating, though. I could tell immediately that Audio Hijack Pro was a sophisticated piece of software…but I had no idea where to begin. The manual was a huge help, of course, but I still felt like I was up against a steep learning curve. I wasn’t alone in that feeling. Audio Hijack had long provided users with an incredibly powerful, but often challenging, solution to their needs.

Co-founders Paul and Quentin knew there had to be a better way to present Audio Hijack’s wide range of capabilities, and they’d been kicking around ideas on how to improve the design and experience for quite some time before I joined the discussion. Visually designing a software application that revolves around something inherently non-visual—like sound—is daunting. The immediate impulse is to lean on idioms and affordances from existing audio hardware (as our charming and easy-to-use Piezo does). The more complex a task becomes, however, the less convenient it is to refer to these real-world devices, which themselves can have steep learning curves and be a chore to use.

Complex software based on analog devices

Software like Propellorheads’ powerful-but-complex Reason is based on analog devices [Photo credit: possan]

Saying Yes to Nodes

Quentin was the first person to suggest a node-based design approach for Audio Hijack 3. He and Paul both liked the idea of starting with the audio source you wanted to capture, hooking it up to various effects, and ending with a recording file node.

My initial response was something along the lines of “absolutely not”. Having used the node-based applications Quartz Composer and Shake, I imagined Audio Hijack users dealing with a hairy web of randomly-placed, text-heavy rectangles connected by fiddly, intersecting lines and a general sense of chaos.

Quartz Composer's UI
The complex interface of Quartz Composer

Even if this style of interface made the application more flexible and powerful, this was not my idea of an improvement. Fortunately for all involved, my protests were ignored. “We’re doing nodes,” Paul said. “We’ll just have to make nodes easier to use.”

And so we worked our way through many different designs. We eventually settled on four basic types of blocks which would automatically snap together when dragged to a grid. The blocks themselves went through many iterations, with various methods for connecting and showing the flow of audio. We finally arrived at the idea of blocks auto-connecting via “pipes”, which would then show a live spectrogram as audio moved through the pipeline from left to right. Here are some early mock-ups showing that evolution. (I’m just as appalled by Past Christa’s design choices as you are, I assure you, but in her defense, these were closer to wireframes than true mock-ups.)

A very early wireframe of Audio Hijack 3, from 2010
A very early Audio Hijack concept design (Oof!)

We also spent quite a lot of time on the button which initiates audio capture. While Audio Hijack Pro had differentiated between capturing (“hijacking”) audio and recording it, we eventually settled on a single button for Audio Hijack 3 to activate the entire pipeline. Adjacent text in the LCD details what’s happening in the grid.

An iteration of Audio Hijack from 2013, with a rectangular Run button and zany colors
A later Audio Hijack design with a rectangular “Run” button
and 50% zanier color scheme

The blocks above are color-coded by block type. While this helped differentiate between various blocks at a glance, it was decided to be overwhelmingly colorful and a bit too whimsical, so we shelved the idea. Perhaps it will find its way back into a future version of the app, though!

After many more iterations, we got to our shipping design, seen below:

Audio Hijack 3.0, 2015
Audio Hijack 3.0, as she shipped

A Unified Home, A Stand-Alone Audio Grid

I originally wanted all of Audio Hijack to exist within one window, with tabs for Audio Capture, Schedule, and Recordings. I quickly realized that this was just too complex, cramming far too much into one place.

The former Audio Capture tab
A concept combining the audio grid with other sections of the app

Instead, we created a unified Home window, with tabs for Sessions, Recordings, and Schedules. The Home window provides a place to work on tasks related to all Sessions, while each individual Session opens in its own window for active use.

Audio Hijack 3's unified Home window, showing the Recordings tab
The Home window’s Recordings tab

IT LIVES!

Another huge component of the design was the use of subtle animation throughout the application. Audio Hijack 3 feels responsive and alive, thanks to the way the blocks pop and grow as you drag them from the Library, how they slide and snap together, and even the way they jump off the grid when deleted. Lead developer Grant was able to breathe life into every interaction within Audio Hijack, and the overall effect is delightful.

Deleting and un-deleting audio blocks on the grid
Deleting and un-deleting audio blocks in the grid

Streamlining Common Tasks with the Template Chooser

Even after all our work on the node-based design, we knew that jumping into a completely overhauled Audio Hijack interface might be confusing for veteran and new users alike. Thus, Templates were a key feature of the app from the outset, with the aim of making it as simple as possible for users to get to their task. As a bonus, Templates also serve to suggest additional uses for Audio Hijack.

The first concept for Templates and the Template window as it appears in Audio Hijack 3
Left: An early concept for Templates; Right: Templates in Audio Hijack 3

Capturing Sound in an Icon

A wholly re-imagined application, Audio Hijack needed a re-imagined icon, too. I tried to conjure ideas that would illustrate the concept of “capturing audio”, and even returned to an old Piezo idea of catching a sound wave in a net (which several people have said looks like a ham at first glance).

Icon sketches
A few sketches of icon ideas

We settled on a “jar of sound” concept, like something from a sci-fi laboratory. We still had more work to do, though.

Some variations on the jar-of-sound theme
Some versions of the “jar of sound” idea

We worked through many variations, starting with a sound wave and landing on representing sound as a sort of glowing ether in a stoppered glass jar. Of course, a glowing ether isn’t immediately recognizable as sound, so the jar needed a label. After a few iterations, we arrived at the bar-type spectrogram:

The final app icon
Audio Hijack’s final icon design

The Long and Winding Road

Because Rogue Amoeba is a small team, we’re continuously working on all of our applications. This massive update to Audio Hijack has been literally years in the making. In 2014, we made a major push to finally finish it and send it out into the world. Just a couple of weeks into the new year, we finally accomplished our goal.

The reception for Audio Hijack 3 has been the most positive I’ve experienced in over five years of making software with Rogue Amoeba. It’s been incredibly gratifying to hear from satisfied users. The path to Audio Hijack 3 was long, and at times it resembled a nest of interconnected Quartz Composer nodes. Ultimately though, it was a fantastic journey to make our flagship product visually intuitive and, with any luck, fun!

An animated Audio Hijack Icon