Under The Microscope


Archive for August, 2020

The Design of SoundSource 5

Not so long ago, I wrote about the design of SoundSource 4. That version marked SoundSource’s transition from a simple audio device selector into a much more powerful app. Recently, we released the new SoundSource 5, featuring many improvements, both technical and in terms of design.

Getting Better All the Time

When I think of the design process for SoundSource 5, a single word comes to mind: refinement. We revisited every part of the user interface, to deliver an update that goes well beyond the sum of its parts. The new interface both looks better and works better.

In this article, I’ll go over some of the refinements we implemented to make SoundSource 5 both useful and delightful.

Compact View

SoundSource 4 started out very small and compact, but as features were added, the main window grew. While it wasn’t massively oversized, we knew we wanted to find ways to slim things down.

The most obvious way SoundSource 5 accomplishes this is with the new Compact view. As you can see below, when SoundSource is switched to its Compact view, many text labels are removed. This significantly reduces the width of the main window, which is particularly handy if you leave SoundSource pinned open. Clarity in the Compact view is somewhat reduced, but toggling back to the Standard view quickly restores it.

The Compact view also removes text from the device selector, cutting it down to a fraction of its standard length. The device icons which remain work particularly well if you have a small number of devices attached to your Mac, as most users do. To create consistency, we also added those icons to the Standard view, where they serve as a secondary visual cue.

Animation

SoundSource does most of its work while in the background, with its only visible part showing in the menu bar. When it is open, we wanted the app to feel snappy and vibrant. One of the ways we accomplished that was by adding subtle animations throughout. This is most noticeable in the toolbar at the top of the main window, where each icon subtly moves between states.

Here are two of the animations from the toolbar:


The size and pin toggle animations, enlarged and slowed to show details

All of these animations are native CoreAnimation assets, built with a tool called Kite Compositor. Kite builds pre-packaged animation archives, which allowed me to iterate super quickly on the animations. I could open, tweak, and re-export animations without much work from the developer.

Reducing Visual Clutter

Before starting work on SoundSource 5, I took some time away from version 4. When I came back with fresh eyes, I noticed a busier interface than I wanted. The bubbles within bubbles within bubbles were logical, but visually cluttered. The best example of this was the nesting that occurred with effects.


Effects were nested two levels in

We knew we could do better. In SoundSource 5, we cleaned this up significantly, and un-matryoshka’ed those nesting shapes. The selection indicator became full width, which rid us of the bubble around individual effects. We also moved the full version of our built-in 10-band equalizer into a popover, matching the way Audio Units are loaded. This enabled us to make the entire Effects area much more uniform. Moving the EQ’s advanced controls out of the main window also allowed it to fit better in the Compact view.



SoundSource 5, with fewer nested shapes

Overly-nested interface elements are harder to parse, so this new design is a big win for readability.

Accent Colours

For many years, MacOS has made it possible to adjust the hue used for all kinds of standard controls, such as sliders, buttons, and checkboxes. Changing the accent colour setting in the General System Preference lets the OS color those controls in many applications.

Though Rogue Amoeba’s applications use many standard controls, some also use what we call a “key colour”, which overrides the system’s accent colour. For example, our soundboard app Farrago has a purple theme, and many of its controls are thus tinted purple.


Farrago’s purple key colour in action

In a similar fashion, SoundSource 4 used its green key colour on almost all the elements in the UI. For version 5, we toned this down quite a bit. SoundSource now uses neutral greys and blacks in many places, and its remaining green elements can all be re-coloured programmatically:


The default tint

This change allowed us to also provide a new appearance preference. When the “Follow System Accent Color” checkbox is turned on in SoundSource’s preferences, the interface will respect the system’s accent setting, adjusting controls to use the selected colour. Here’s a composite, showing all the system tints SoundSource can take on:


Sorry, this trippy rainbow mode is not available in the app.

These changes should make the app feel at home in almost any setup. And of course, all of these tints look great in both light and dark mode.

Big Sur’s Influence

At the virtual WWDC 2020, Apple announced MacOS 11 (Big Sur), which will bring a wholesale redesign of MacOS. Development of SoundSource 5 was nearly complete when Big Sur was first shown off, so these changes didn’t cause much in the way of updates. Fortunately, many of our design choices for SoundSource 5 already aligned quite well with Apple’s new design guidelines.

However, we did make one change specifically as a result of Big Sur. You may have seen that one of the most talked-about changes in the new OS is its updated style of app icon:


Big Sur’s updated icon style

We don’t plan to rush out updates to all of our app icons to match this style. However, SoundSource’s icon adapted rather easily, so we updated to the new, boxier style for SoundSource 5.

The impact on SoundSource’s icon

We’re hard at work on updates for Big Sur (watch our Status page and social media for more), so this new icon will fit in nicely on Big Sur soon.

Handling Applications

The last big change I’ll touch on is how SoundSource handles configuring per-application audio control. In the previous version, controlling an application’s audio required you to manually add the app to SoundSource. We overhauled this rather dramatically with SoundSource 5. Now, when an app produces sound, it automatically appears in SoundSource’s main window. It’s then immediately ready for adjustment, with less setup required.

This improved behavior seems very natural now that it’s implemented, but it didn’t occur to us for SoundSource 4. Sometimes you arrive at a new solution to a problem, and it’s so obvious that other solutions no longer make sense. That was very much the case here.

Try It Yourself

One of the major areas we focused on for SoundSource 5 was doing existing things better. The update is faster, smarter, and takes up less space on your screen. Overall, it’s a tremendous leap forward in quality, and we couldn’t be more pleased.

If you’re new to SoundSource, learn more on the main SoundSource page. For existing users, we have a helpful “What’s New in SoundSource 5” page available. SoundSource has become an indispensable tool for controlling audio on our Macs, and we hope you’ll find it similarly useful.

SoundSource 5 Is Sound Control, Reimagined

Today, we’re releasing a major upgrade to SoundSource, our essential audio control utility. With the new version 5, SoundSource is both more powerful and more refined than ever before. Read on to learn about this major leap forward.

A Refined New Interface

The most noticeable change in SoundSource 5 is its dramatically overhauled interface. We’ve reviewed every part of the user experience, striving to make it better than ever.

Space Saving

We started by streamlining SoundSource’s main window. It now uses less width, while still providing all the controls and information you need. Further, the System and Applications sections can now be closed to reduce height. All of this is particularly useful when you keep SoundSource pinned open for fast access.

Optionally Even Slimmer

For an even skinnier look, SoundSource now offers a great new Compact view as well. Save even more screen space, while retaining access to all controls.


An Updated Menu Bar Icon

SoundSource’s menu bar icon will now always act as a volume indicator. It shows the volume level for your default output device, and will also show you when your output is muted.

Still More to See

From subtle animations and artwork enhancements throughout the app, to the new support for matching system accent colors, SoundSource 5’s new interface is a sight to behold.

Apps Handled, Automatically

With version 5, it’s no longer necessary to manage the applications SoundSource keeps in its list. Instead, SoundSource automatically adds applications to its list whenever they produce audio. That way, everything is always ready for you to make any adjustments you desire.

Of course, SoundSource also keeps this list tidy. It removes applications when they stop producing audio, while storing your settings for the future.

If you want to make sure an application is in the list even when it’s not producing audio, you can still do that as well. Just click the “Favorites” star to keep an application in the list permanently.

Menu Bar Meters

While previous versions offered a single menu bar meter for your default output device, but we’ve taken visual indicators to the next level in SoundSource 5.

With the new meters preferences, activity can be shown in the menu bar for the default output device, the default input device, and for any active applications. Of course, these indicators are all optional, so you can turn on the exact combination of meters that suits your needs.

These meters also provide a ridiculously handy mute control for anything audio related. With a fast click in the menu bar, you now can mute your microphone or silence a bothersome app.

Using the new menu bar meters, you can control your audio without even needing to open SoundSource’s main window.

Audio Effects Are Better Than Ever

One of SoundSource’s most popular features is its ability to apply audio effects to any audio. Whether you want to improve the quality of Zoom calls, add an equalizer to a movie, or just get more from small laptop speakers, SoundSource makes it possible. In version 5, we’ve super-charged audio effects.

Magic Boost 2

In SoundSource 5, we’ve optimized Magic Boost to use less CPU. The new Magic Boost 2 is the best way yet to get rich, full sound from even the tiniest speakers.

Simplified Equalizer

The built-in 10-band Lagutin equalizer sounds great, of course. With this update, we’ve simplified the default display, so you can more easily adjust audio. It’s also now possible to pin the equalizer, so you can adjust it from anywhere, without pulling SoundSource forward.

Pinnable Audio Units

Audio Unit effects in SoundSource can also now be pinned, for fast access no matter what you’re doing. Pin an effect, and it will float above everything on your Mac for instant adjustments.

Audio Unit Search

If you have a large number of Audio Unit effects installed, you’ll love the built-in search. Just type a few characters to get the exact plugin you need.

Support for Audio Unit v3

SoundSource now supports the newest Audio Unit plugins, made with the Audio Unit v3 API

With these changes, applying audio effects your Mac is better than ever.

Try SoundSource Now

SoundSource 5 has lots more to offer, from an enhanced right-click menu to advancements for VoiceOver users, and so much more. Ultimately, there are simply too many improvements to list them all here. Fortunately, you can check them out for yourself.

To explore all that SoundSource 5 has to offer, download our free, fully-featured trial for MacOS 10.13 and up. When you’re ready, you can unlock the full version by purchasing through our online store.

SoundSource’s regular price is just $39, but we’re also running a special introductory price. Through the end of August, you can purchase for just $29.

Download SoundSource 5 to experience sound control so good, it ought to be built in to MacOS.


Get Started With SoundSource


Notes for Owners of SoundSource 4

If you previously purchased SoundSource 4, you’re eligible to upgrade to SoundSource 5 for just $19. Download the new version to try it out, then click to purchase your discounted upgrade to version 5.

As is our standard practice, we’re also providing complimentary upgrades to a generous number of recent purchasers of SoundSource. If you purchased SoundSource 4 on or after May 1st, 2020, you’re eligible for a complimentary upgrade. We’ve sent an email with the relevant details, so check your inbox to get started using SoundSource 5 today.

Adjusting Zoom Volume Without Affecting Your System Volume, With SoundSource

If you’re looking to lower the volume of your Zoom calls without affecting your system volume, SoundSource has you covered, with this quick tip.

Zoom has a volume control in its Audio settings, but it’s linked directly to your output device. That means changing it will likely adjust the output volume for everything on your computer, often an undesired outcome.

To avoid this, you can instead use SoundSource to set an app-specific volume for Zoom, like so:


Voila!

With this configuration, SoundSource will only lower the volume of Zoom, while keeping your music at a higher level. Use SoundSource’s controls to get the exact audio setup you desire.

Interested in doing even more to make Zoom calls sound better? See our in-depth article on improving audio from Zoom calls.

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