Under The Microscope

Archive for January, 2019

Rogue Amoeba’s 2019 Status Report

It’s the beginning of a new year, which means it’s once again time for a Rogue Amoeba status report. This post offers a look at what we did in 2018, as well as a glimpse at our plans for the future.

Impressive Release Numbers

Last year, we shipped an astonishing 65 releases, averaging well over one per week. That number represents our highest raw number of releases ever for a calendar year, and it was almost twice what we shipped in 2017. We worked hard to provide users with bug fixes, minor improvements, and compatibility with new operating systems. We were also pleased to have all of our software ready for MacOS 10.14 (Mojave) well in advance of Apple shipping it to the public.

Major Updates

2018 also saw us ship a brand-new product, a major upgrade, and major features and functionality in several of our existing applications.

In January, we unveiled Farrago, a new soundboard app that provides podcasters, theater techs, and more with an easy way to play sound bites, music clips, and audio effects. That initial release was followed Farrago 1.1 in April, which added a dark mode and undo support, and by Farrago 1.2 in July, which made it possible to control things via MIDI. If you’re looking for a great soundboard app for the Mac, be sure to check out Farrago.

Our home audio streamer Airfoil received multiple improvements to continue supporting the latest hardware and devices. Apple’s HomePod began shipping in February, and we quickly had Airfoil for Mac 5.7 available, to stream audio to the new smart speaker. In the summer, Sonos became the first third-party vendor to ship AirPlay 2 compatible speakers, and Airfoil was updated to version 5.8, with Sonos support.

Updates on the PC side took a little bit longer. In August, Airfoil for Windows 5.5 brought support for the HomePod, as well as long-awaited Chromecast support. Just a month later, Airfoil for Windows 5.6 was released, with Sonos support.

Airfoil’s been around for well over a decade on both platforms, and we continue to make it easy for you to stream audio everywhere you want, with support for new protocols and devices.

Our flagship audio recording product Audio Hijack saw a major update which brought even more value to a subset of users. In June, we shipped version 3.5, which now lets you use Audio Hijack to broadcast audio across the internet. It supports MP3 and AAC streaming to remotely hosted servers, making it a perfect tool for livecasting podcast recordings, creating the internet stream for a terrestrial radio station, and more. Anyone who used our now-retired Nicecast broadcasting tool will want to have a look at Audio Hijack. As for Nicecast, read on for more information there.

We finished up 2018 by shipping Loopback 2, a massive overhaul of our powerful audio routing tool. This update included plenty of new functionality, from more powerful audio monitoring to myriad volume controls. The biggest change, however, was seen in the user interface itself. We worked hard to redesign Loopback to be more intuitive, showing how your audio will flow, and we’ve been very gratified to hear tremendously positive feedback on this new version.

Assorted Company News

Software releases are always our main focus, but there are other things we do throughout the year.

New Revenue Streams

Farrago was actually just one of three new sources of revenue we unveiled in 2018. Though it’s not of direct use to most of our readers, software developers were pleased when we began licensing our audio capture technology for use in other Mac applications. Now, in addition to making products that solve our users’ audio needs, we’re assisting other developers in making their own products work better. From screen sharing tools to game streamers, our ACE technology is now helping several different applications on the Mac, with more on the way. If you’re a developer who needs to capture audio on the Mac, get in touch via our Licensing page.

On the consumer side, our new Ultimate Podcast Bundle has proven to be quite popular. Several of our tools have long been the go-to solutions for podcasters, and this bundle allows users to save when purchasing them together. If you’re interested in creating a podcast, the Ultimate Podcast Bundle is the place to start.

Holidays with Rogue Amoeba

While I write much of the content for this blog, we also get great contributions from the other Amoebas. This year, that included two different holiday-related posts. In April, Lee Falin described how he pranked his own children using a combination of Fission, Airfoil, and Farrago. Meanwhile, Neale Van Fleet worked alongside his young son to make a truly great Halloween setup, with help from Farrago and Airfoil. Our tools are designed to help you be productive, but mischief is definitely encouraged as well.

Other News

As I noted above, our old stand-alone broadcasting tool Nicecast has been retired. We announced this at the end of February, with a detailed post discussing the change. It’s sad to end development of a product, but Apple’s pending removal of support for 32-bit apps in MacOS combined with gradual but substantial market changes to make this the right move. We encourage all former Nicecast users to check out our post “Migrating Your Broadcast From Nicecast to Audio Hijack”. It will guide you on transitioning, and our support team is always here to help.

It wasn’t all retirements, though, as July saw the hiring of our newest employee Nathan. He’s already done solid work adding MIDI support to Farrago, and he’s now focused on a major update to SoundSource. You’ll see more of Nathan’s work in the near future.

As we marked Rogue Amoeba’s 16th anniversary in September, I took a moment to write about the long progression of part of our software, our license window. This small piece of our apps has evolved over the years, and it was interesting to review the different iterations.

Finally, we closed out 2018 as the grateful recipients of several awards and honors. We’re extremely proud to see the love people have for Audio Hijack, Farrago, and indeed, all of our products.

The State of the Mac in 2019

In recent years, Apple’s pace of updates to Mac hardware has slowed considerably. After the Worldwide Developers Conference passed in June with no new Mac announcements, we were concerned enough to write about the issue. This piece was widely shared, with many heads nodding in depressed agreement.

Happily, Apple shipped some major Mac updates in the fall, giving us renewed hope in Mac hardware. Of note for our users, the new Macs Mini and MacBooks Air both feature improved built-in audio hardware. We hope to see continued positive signs for the Mac in 2019, particularly the long-awaited new Mac Pro.

Support Improvements

We doubled the size of our support team in 2017, and that extra manpower led us to change and improve our support systems throughout 2018.

The most visible change is the re-design of our support center. Each product now has its own section, with app-specific information. As well, the underlying knowledge base is now fully searchable, providing fast access to information the goes beyond the product manual. We’re now frequently adding more knowledge base content, enabling users to find instant answers to many questions, rather than needing to email us.

Audio Hijack’s Support page, showing several Knowledge Base articles

However, if you do need to contact us directly, don’t hesitate! We strive to provide friendly and responsive support via email, and that’s only gotten better. We recently made our contact form simpler and more powerful, even providing carefully curated suggestions to knowledge base articles which could help you instantly. We’re also using a more modern support backend, Help Scout, to better process support requests. This has enabled us to integrate several tools which allow for even more rapid responses.

That covers last year pretty well. Now, let’s have a look behind the curtain to discuss our plans for 2019. We’re always busy keeping all of our current products running smoothly. That means providing support for the likely release of MacOS 10.15 (this year’s guess: Sonoma), as well as updates small and big for the entire line-up. Beyond the standard maintenance releases, we have specific plans for several larger releases.

A Major SoundSource Update

We plan to ship a major update to SoundSource in the first half of 2019, and it’s going to change the way you listen to audio on your Mac. We’re very excited to get this update out to our users, hopefully in the very near future! For now, here’s a carefully cropped sneak preview:

A vision of SoundSource to come

Focusing on Audio Hijack

We’re also hard at work on the next iterations of our flagship product, Audio Hijack. Since the initial release of Audio Hijack 3 in 2015, we’ve shipped a steady stream of large updates to add functionality and improve the product, and we have plans for much more.

We’re currently working on additional interface refinements based on user feedback and other work we’ve done. We’re also adding and improving features in ways that will please both existing users and new customers. We should have more to share about Audio Hijack updates later this year.

Loopback 2.1, and Beyond

The recently released Loopback 2.0.0 is certainly not the last update we plan for Loopback. Prior to unveiling version 2, we had a rough roadmap for additional versions, and now user feedback has helped us flesh that out further. Look for Loopback 2.1 in the coming months, as well as further updates throughout 2019.

Stay Tuned

Our software’s built-in version checking is the best way to ensure you have the very latest releases, but you can also stay up to date with Rogue Amoeba in one (or more!) of the following ways:

That’s all for now. All the folks here at Rogue Amoeba wish you a happy and healthy 2019! Stay tuned for more news from your favorite Mac audio software company.

Recent Honors for Rogue Amoeba

Recently, several awards were bestowed on our software, and we’d like to share the news of these honors.

Audio Hijack is the 2018 Mac App of the Year!

Over on their popular Upgrade podcast, Myke Hurley and Jason Snell have just hosted the Fifth Annual Upgradies. With the input from over 1000 listeners, they chose the best apps, hardware, and more from 2018. Our very own recording tool Audio Hijack was chosen as the winner in the “Best Mac App” category. Excellent!

As the Upgradies.com archive shows, this isn’t Audio Hijack’s first win, either. In 2016, Audio Hijack earned its first “Best Mac App” award, and 2015 saw the then-new version 3.0 take home a runner-up award in the “Best Newcomer Mac App” category. We’re delighted to be chosen yet again, and aim to satisfy Upgrade listeners and others in 2019 and beyond.

Farrago Is Honored as a Best Mac App Nominee

Over at iMore.com, the writers and editors selected their own “Best of 2018”. That included a “Best Mac App” category, looking at new releases and major upgrades which shipped in 2018. Our soundboard tool Farrago didn’t take home the top prize, but we were thrilled to have been selected as one of two runners-up. It really is an honor just to be nominated

A Must-Have Mac App, Two Years Running

For the second year in a row, MacStories has selected Audio Hijack as a “Must-Have Mac app”. In 2017, they wrote that “Audio Hijack is as much a pleasure to use as Skype isn’t”. If you use Skype, you know that that’s very high praise indeed.

For 2018, they were even more effusive: “Rogue Amoeba’s audio apps are all rock-solid. I’ve used Audio Hijack since the very first podcast I recorded…What’s especially nice about Audio Hijack is the simple, customizable, node-based system for setting up sessions.” We’re always pleased to hear about how our tools are helping podcasters create their content, and this is no exception.

Audio Hijack and Piezo Are “Cool Tools” Selections

Finally, though there were no actual awards involved, both of our recording tools were mentioned on recent episodes of the well-known Cool Tools podcast. In episode #155, Aaron Lammer touted the power and versatility of Audio Hijack, while episode #139 saw Adam Fisher noting how dead-simple Piezo is. If you’re looking to record any audio on your Mac, both Audio Hijack and its simpler little sibling Piezo have you covered.

Try for Yourself

Recognition from podcasters and pundits is very gratifying, of course. However, even better is knowing we’re helping out thousands of users each day. Please, visit our homepage to learn more about our apps, then try them yourself to see how they can help you work with audio on your Mac.

The Design of Loopback 2

When we shipped the first version of our audio routing tool Loopback in early 2016, its powerful technology was packaged into a somewhat stripped-down interface. Because we were uncertain how large the market for this tool would be, we chose not to devote too much time to the front-end of that initial release.

Loopback’s first design got the job done, but it was plain and not very intuitive.

By Loopback’s first birthday, it was clearly a hit with audio professionals and hobbyists alike. We knew it was time to begin planning how to flesh out the skeletal Loopback 1 into a much more refined version 2.

Initial Thinking

We knew we wanted users to have an easier time understanding and using Loopback, while also having access to even more functionality. Power and ease-of-use tend to be countervailing forces in interface design, so these requirements meant we had our work cut out for us.

The first step in our redesign was boiling down Loopback to its essential components. Loopback creates virtual audio devices, and these virtual devices consist of three logical parts: audio sources, output channels, and monitors. Our challenge was to determine how best to arrange and connect those parts, so configuration would be both easy to understand and extremely flexible.

Back in 2015, we brought an updated UI to our recording tool Audio Hijack. This block-based interface allows users to see how audio flows through their specific configuration, and it was very well-received.

Audio Hijack 3 shows audio flowing visually.

Knowing how well this “nodes and wires” concept had worked for Audio Hijack made it an early favourite for Loopback as well. However, we wanted to consider other options to see if a different design would suit Loopback better.

Failed Concepts

I often sketch out multiple ideas so we can do head-to-head comparisons, which tend to be a productive way of evaluating options. While these low-fidelity sketches are very rudimentary, they still helped us determine how we wanted to proceed.

Rejected Concept: Channel Checkboxes

This idea involved having each source channel on its own line, with output channel checkboxes available for that source. Above, you can see “iTunes L” (for iTunes’ left channel) and “iTunes R” (for iTunes’ right channel), with four output channel possibilities. Configuration isn’t too terrible with a small number of sources and output channels, but even slightly complex devices would quickly require dozens of checkboxes to configure. Worse, most devices would require a good deal of analysis to understand. This one didn’t really leave the drawing board, thank goodness.

Rejected Concept: Grid Outputs

Here, output channels would be represented by a space on the grid. You could drag sources to the output you wanted. Channels that were paired (like the left and right of most sources) would have a line between them to denote the link.

Even as I made this, I realized it had severe issues. It was very difficult to parse how audio would flow through a device, and monitoring would have required an additional step in the interface beyond this grid. The fatal flaw, however, was that splitting sources into multiple channels would require creating many copies of each source, which would quickly get out of hand.

Selecting Our Final Concept

The aforementioned concepts, and others like them, scaled poorly for complex devices and didn’t lend themselves to easy scanning. Eventually, we returned to our early idea of nodes and wires.

This very early sketch of Loopback 2’s wires isn’t too far off from what shipped.

This wire-based approach was our clear winner, working well for simple devices and complex ones. Importantly, this layout offered space to add monitors and volume controls, and provided an easy-to-understand look at how audio flows through each step of a virtual device in Loopback.

Refining the Design

Of course, determining the fundamental layout of the app was really only the beginning. There was still lots of additional work required to turn those rudimentary sketches into mockups representing a real app.

I used Apple’s Keynote presentation tool to rapidly test how the product would work, creating many quick prototypes. The sketch below helped visualize how wire connections would be created automatically when a new source was added to a virtual device:

Starting from my rough sketches, I began to create higher-fidelity mockups showing the application in action. Here’s the first serious iteration of what would become Loopback 2’s design:

This minty green mockup looks similar to what we eventually shipped, but we were still relatively early in our process. When I compare this against our final product, I can spot dozens of changes, big and small.

More Powerful Monitoring

Early on, it became obvious that our design offered very powerful mapping to output channels, but an underwhelming monitoring function. That above image shows a single monitor available in the bottom bar, with no channel adjustments possible. Our earlier wire sketch had shown a more robust monitoring column, and we determined that this was worth adding back.

Flexible monitors in Loopback 2

Giving monitoring its own column made it possible to fully map channels and add multiple monitoring devices. We also allowed users to hide the column entirely if they don’t need to monitor their device.

Connection Wires

The connection wires also received a lot of polish. While they started out as simple straight lines, they eventually became elegant curves, which were more visually pleasing. Even better, the curved wires create visual groups which make the mapping easier to follow.

Evolution of the wires from early mockup to shipping app

Many More Small Changes

Many other things were tweaked, adjusted, and refined as we tested and experimented. For instance, we opted to make channels appear in pairs, as we realized odd-channel devices are rare (and there’s no real downside to having an unused channel).

We moved the device’s on/off toggle to be more logically placed next to the device name. The “on” state was also toned down, because it needs less attention, while the “off” state was given more color to draw the eye.

As well, we de-mint-ified the app, removing the green background and other green elements. This provided better emphasis to the more important parts of the interface, where color was used in a more exacting fashion.

Going from that first high-fidelity mockup to the shipping version of Loopback 2 required quite a bit of time and effort. Getting the details right took many more iterations, before we could eventually call Loopback 2 finished.

Shipping It

The culmination of this work recently shipped as the completely re-thought Loopback 2. While this upgrade offers many new features, the most obvious change is of course the overhauled interface. Here’s a direct comparison between old and new:

The original Loopback 1 was powerful but extremely utilitarian in design.

While Loopback 2 is polished and refined, to provide both power and ease-of-use.

As you can see, Loopback 2 replaces the previous version’s spreadsheet-esque look with a more intuitive wiring-based interface. It’s now easier to understand how audio will flow through a virtual audio device, and this visualization makes Loopback easier to grasp as a whole. That should make Loopback accessible to even more users, all without sacrificing anything in the way of functionality.

The Future

To paraphrase a line often attributed to da Vinci, software is never finished, only shipped. Loopback 2.0.0 has now shipped, but there are still many more updates and enhancements we hope to make in the future. The new and improved design found in Loopback 2 should provide us with a solid base to build on for years to come.

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