Under The Microscope

Migrating Your Broadcast From Nicecast to Audio Hijack

As you may already know, our internet radio broadcasting app Nicecast was retired back in February. When we made the difficult decision to end development of the app, we knew it would pain users who still relied on Nicecast to power their Internet broadcasts. To help both those users, as well as others looking to stream online, we set out to provide a more modern solution for creating internet radio broadcasts.

Today, we’ve released Audio Hijack 3.5, which includes powerful new broadcasting functionality. Using the new Broadcast block, you can broadcast to Shoutcast and Icecast streaming servers right from within Audio Hijack.

At this time, we strongly encourage all Nicecast users to migrate to a modern Audio Hijack setup for broadcasting. Read on for more details.

Broadcasting Basics

Whether you’re new to Audio Hijack or a long-time user, you’ll be able to get started broadcasting with ease. Audio Hijack’s intuitive audio grid provides a pipeline-style view to show exactly how audio is flowing. By adding the new Broadcast block, any audio chain can now send audio to a Shoutcast or Icecast streaming server.

Above, you can see a very basic broadcasting setup. Audio is being pulled in from two sources: a USB microphone and iTunes. It’s then passed on to a remote server, via Broadcast. Audio chains can be much more complex than this, including audio effects, recorders for archiving your broadcast, and more, but even this basic chain will stream audio out.

Configuring the Block

To set up the Broadcast block, you just need to enter your server information in the “Setup” tab, and you’ll be ready to connect.

Once you’ve got the block configured properly, your broadcast will be triggered by running the session in Audio Hijack. As soon as you start your session, the Broadcast block will connect to your remote server and begin streaming.

After downloading Audio Hijack, you should be able to recreate your old Nicecast setup in just a few minutes. Of course, if you have questions or need assistance, our top-notch support team is here to help.

Audio Hijack’s Many Improvements Over Nicecast

Streaming with the new Broadcast block in Audio Hijack offers many advantages over Nicecast. Here are just a few of the improvements and enhancements you’ll find upon migrating your broadcasting setup to Audio Hijack.

Shoutcast 2 support

While Nicecast could only work with Shoutcast 2 servers in their Shoutcast 1 compatibility mode, the new Broadcast block has full support for Shoutcast 2 servers.

AAC Streaming

In addition to standard MP3 streaming, the new Broadcast block can also stream in AAC/AAC+ (HE-AAC) format. When streaming AAC, Broadcast automatically switches to the superior-sounding HE-AAC whenever possible.

Send to Multiple Servers at Once

By placing multiple Broadcast blocks in one Audio Hijack session, you can create multiple streams for multiple servers. It’s a snap to stream your audio at multiple qualities or in multiple audio formats.

Track Titles

We’ve overhauled and improved the track titles system which originated in Nicecast. You can now select supported application sources to automatically have their information embedded in the stream for listeners to see. You can also customize the exact display, and even manually enter track titles in real time as you broadcast.

A Beautifully Designed Interface

Audio Hijack’s pipeline shows you exactly how your audio is flowing through the app. With an easy-to-understand view of your broadcast, complex audio processing with effects and more is now simpler than ever.

Fully Accessible

Due in large part to its advanced age, Nicecast had some unfortunate holes in its accessibility, particularly when it came to using to audio effects. Audio Hijack is fully accessible, and great for our visually impaired users. It’s even been awarded a Golden Apple by the AppleVis community, recognizing great and accessible applications.

Audio Hijack will make a fantastic replacement for your older Nicecast setup, and we hope you’ll try it today. Read on for details on making the move to Audio Hijack.

Moving to Audio Hijack

Nicecast is no longer in development, having been retired earlier this year. The last version of Nicecast (v1.11.13, available from our Legacy page) works as expected on MacOS 10.13 (High Sierra) and lower, and should continue to work there indefinitely without needing updates. However, it’s very likely it will experience issues running on the forthcoming MacOS 10.14 (Mojave). Further, due to changes made by Apple, the app will not run at all on MacOS 10.15 and up.

Given the above, we strongly encourage all active users of Nicecast to move to Audio Hijack. Audio Hijack is fully supported and in active development, with frequent updates. The app offers nearly all the functionality Nicecast had1, with many additional features and improvements as described above.

If you already own Audio Hijack, just grab version 3.5 (or higher), and get started. This is a free update for owners of Audio Hijack 3, and re-creating your setup should be quick.

If you’re a Nicecast user who doesn’t yet own Audio Hijack 3, we’re providing an exclusive discount to make this transition easier. With your valid license for Nicecast, you can save $20 off the purchase of Audio Hijack. To access your exclusive discount, just click this button:

Act now, as this offer is only available through the end of 2018.

We’re excited to see how folks take advantage of Audio Hijack’s new broadcasting ability, and former Nicecast users are sure to be a big part of that. We hope to hear you using Audio Hijack to broadcast soon!


Footnotes:

  1. There is one difference between the old Nicecast application and the new Broadcast block which must be noted. The Broadcast block does not offer a built-in server, as Nicecast did. We know that the majority of Nicecast users were already using an external server, so this will only affect a minority of folks migrating to Audio Hijack.

    If you were previously using Nicecast’s built-in server, however, you’ll need to find remote hosting in order to broadcast. See this knowledge base article for several good options. The more technically inclined can also self-host Shoutcast or Icecast, right on their own server. ↩︎

Current Notes on Airfoil & AirPlay 2

Since Apple first announced AirPlay 2 at WWDC 2017, we’ve heard many questions from users about how it would affect our home audio streamers Airfoil for Mac and Airfoil for Windows, as well as our software audio receiver Airfoil Satellite. It took quite awhile for Apple to ship AirPlay 2, but it’s finally here.

The biggest user-facing change provided by AirPlay 2 is the new ability for iOS devices to send directly to multiple AirPlay outputs. Airfoil for Mac and Airfoil for Windows have both been able to stream to multiple outputs for many years, so AirPlay 2 doesn’t change anything there.

However, there are some relevant questions, which we’re still in the process of answering.

Can Airfoil send to AirPlay 2 devices?

Update (July 21st, 2018): Sonos has now updated several of their newest speakers with AirPlay 2 support. Airfoil for Mac 5.8 added support for streaming to these Sonos devices, and Airfoil for Windows support is coming soon as well. Other vendors will be providing AirPlay 2 compatibility in their own hardware later this year, and we expect that Airfoil will support those devices as well.


Currently, the only available AirPlay 2 receivers are the Apple TV and the HomePod. Airfoil has long supported playing audio to any number of these devices, all in sync, and that continues to work great. Below, you can see Airfoil sending to these devices perfectly:

Later this year, several dozen third-party devices from manufacturers like Sonos and Denon will add AirPlay 2 support. We expect to work with these devices when they’re updated. Watch for further updates to Airfoil in the future.

Can Airfoil send to a stereo pair of HomePods?

It’s possible to configure two HomePods in a special mode where they act as a stereo pair. When configured this way, audio is split between the two devices, with one playing the left channel and the other the right channel.

At present, sending audio to stereo pairs is not supported by Airfoil, but we’re exploring this for the future.

Can Airfoil Satellite receive AirPlay 2 audio?

Airfoil Satellite receives audio via the AirPlay 1 protocol. Because of this, it can’t currently be part of a multi-speaker group receiving audio from iOS. If you attempt to add Airfoil Satellite to such a group on iOS, it will become the only receiver.

It’s still possible to send audio from iOS to a group of outputs that includes Airfoil Satellite, with the help of Airfoil in the middle. As well, Airfoil Satellite can still be part as part of a multi-speaker group receiving audio sent by iTunes on your Mac.

It remains to be seen if we’ll be able to support receiving audio via AirPlay 2 in our Airfoil Satellite apps. We’re always working on updates to Airfoil, so stay tuned for more in the future.

Quieting Vuvuzelas at the 2018 World Cup

Way back in 2010, we told World Cup fans about how to reduce the annoying sound of vuvuzelas while streaming games online. The most-watched tournament in the world is back, and so are the vuvuzelas. Fortunately, there’s still a great and easy solution for enjoying World Cup 2018 in relative peace: VuvuX.

Hear the Difference

Fortunately, in the twenty first century, better living through audio processing is possible. The free VuvuX plugin was released by the now-defunct Prosoniq way back in 2010, to help with this very problem. You can easily hear the difference with this clip:

In this recording, the Vuvux plugin was toggled twice (right after “evening” as well as near the end), and the difference is incredible. Using Vuvux, you can cut down on background noise and actually hear the commentary.

Downloading and Installing

The original site for the VuvuX plugin is no longer online, and the plugin seems to have been abandoned. We’re re-hosting a copy of VuvuX, so that others can benefit from this orphaned work.

Click here to download VuvuX

Once you’ve download VuvuX, it’s a snap to install on your Mac. Just follow these steps:

1) Go to the Finder and click the Go menu in the menu bar. Select the “Go to Folder…” command.

2) Enter the following location into the field:

/Library/Audio/Plug-Ins/Components

3) Move the VuvuX.component file to this folder.

That’s all you need to do to make the plugin available to all apps on your Mac that load Audio Units.1

Using VuvuX

The VuvuX plugin will work with any modern Audio Unit host on your Mac, but for removing audio from streamed games, we recommend our own Audio Hijack. Once you’ve installed it on your Mac (as explained above), restart Audio Hijack. You’ll then find VuvuX in the “Audio Unit Effects” section of Audio Hijack’s Library. Add the plugin in the middle of any audio chain, and it will adjust your audio.2

Above, you can see VuvuX being used to adjust audio streaming through Safari, quieting the vuvuzelas then playing the audio out to the Mac’s internal speakers. That’s really all it takes. Happy listening!


Footnotes:

  1. If you’d like to install the plugin solely for your user, it can alternately be placed in ~/Library/Audio/Plug-ins/Components. ↩︎

  2. When first initialized, the plugin will send your web browser to the now-defunct vuvux.com. Unfortunately, this action is caused by the plugin itself, and can’t be prevented. ↩︎

On The Sad State of Macintosh Hardware

With Apple recently releasing their first developer beta of MacOS 10.14 (Mojave), we’ve been installing it on various test machines to test our apps. The inevitable march of technology means Mojave won’t install on all of our older hardware. There’s no shock there, but the situation is rather distressing when it comes to spending money to purchase new equipment. Here is the situation, as reported by the wonderful MacRumor’s Buyers Guide:

Buyer's Guide showing 'Don't Buy' on nearly all Macs

At the time of the writing, with the exception of the $5,000 iMac Pro, no Macintosh has been updated at all in the past year. Here are the last updates to the entire line of Macs:

  • iMac Pro: 182 days ago

  • iMac: 374 days ago

  • MacBook: 374 days ago

  • MacBook Air: 374 days ago

  • MacBook Pro: 374 days ago

  • Mac Pro: 436 days ago

  • Mac Mini: 1337 days ago

Worse, most of these counts are misleading, with many machines not seeing a true update in quite a bit longer. While the Mac Mini hasn’t seen an update of any kind in almost 4 years (nor, for that matter, a price drop), even that 2014 update was lackluster. The once-solid Mac Pro was replaced by the dead-end cylindrical version all the way back in 2013, which was then left to stagnate. I don’t even want to get started on the MacBook Pro’s questionable keyboard, or the MacBook’s sole port (USB-C, which must also be used to provide power).

It’s very difficult to recommend much from the current crop of Macs to customers, and that’s deeply worrisome to us, as a Mac-based software company. For our own internal needs, we’ve wound up purchasing used hardware for testing, rather than opting to compromise heavily on a new machine. That isn’t good for Apple, nor is it what we want.

Rather than attempting to wow the world with “innovative” new designs like the failed Mac Pro, Apple could and should simply provide updates and speed bumps to the entire lineup on a much more frequent basis. The much smaller Apple of the mid-2000s managed this with ease. Their current failure to keep the Mac lineup fresh, even as they approach a trillion dollar market cap, is both baffling and frightening to anyone who depends on the platform for their livelihood.

Given the incredibly sad state of the Mac lineup, it’s difficult to understand how WWDC could have come and gone with no hardware releases. Apple’s transparency in 2017 regarding their miscalculation with the Mac Pro seemed encouraging, but over a year later, the company has utterly failed to produce anything tangible. Instead, customers are still forced to choose between purchasing new computers that are actually years old or holding out in the faint hope that hardware updates are still to come. Every day, the situation becomes more dire.

Apple needs to publicly show their commitment to the full Macintosh hardware line, and they need to do it now. As a long (long) time Mac OS developer, one hesitates to bite the hand that feeds. At a certain point, however, it seems there won’t even be anything left worth biting.

A Celebration of Maximalism

Despite this post’s title, I’m going to start by talking about minimalism.

I’ve been at least a partial follower of the minimalist Steve Jobs/Jony Ive school of design since I was a teenager. Early on, Jobs famously lived in a mostly-empty home (as seen below), and he eventually minimized his wardrobe to the same bespoke turtleneck, Levi’s jeans, and New Balance sneakers. I looked up to Steve as a pioneer of interface design, and took on some of his minimalist ideals.


Steve probably wasn’t the best host for a movie night with friends.

Photo credit: Diana Walker

Being the son of an auto mechanic, however, I likely have a less high-minded approach to design than Steve had. I see minimalism as more of a tool than a religion. I also like to have furniture in my house.

From 1x to 2x

Minimalism in UI design most recently came into vogue shortly after the adoption of ultra-high resolution (“Retina”) displays. Decorative elements had less appeal when everything on screen looked so nice and crisp. Like many designers, I followed Apple’s lead on iOS 7, and purged my work of textures, drop shadows, and glossy finishes.


Flatter app icons in the style of iOS 7

Photo by William Hook on Unsplash

I’ve mostly maintained these minimalist ideals in my designs, but outside of work, I’ve increasingly found myself drawn to things that are complicated, chaotic, and full of surprises.

So I’d like to take a couple minutes to celebrate some great things that shun the idea that less is more.

The Sagrada Família

Seeing Antonio Gaudí’s sublime church, the Sagrada Família, in Barcelona is what first made the idea of maximalism pop into my head. I thought “I’m always trying to pare things down, but this place does the exact opposite, and it’s wonderful”.

Partial tours are available of the cathedral, which has been under construction since 1882, and at best will be completed in 2026.

One small corner of the massive church

Photo by Rutger Lanser on Unsplash

The Sagrada Família is decidedly not an exercise in removing every unnecessary thing until the platonic ideal of a cathedral remains. Instead, it is the chaotic addition of more and more, until every space is overloaded with surprises. Every single crevice of this building, inside and out, is filled with carvings, statues, stained glass, engravings, and shafts of coloured light. Exploring the building puts one in a constant state of discovery and delight.

Gloomhaven

Next is the ridiculously epic tabletop combat game Gloomhaven, which is one of the best games I’ve ever played. Gloomhaven comes in a 20+ pound box, and takes 100+ hours to complete. The total number of figures, cards, and pieces in the game is in the neighbourhood of 2000. It’s not without elegance, but it is definitely not minimal.

Some of what comes in the Gloomhaven box. This isn’t even all of it.

Photo by Darcy Pennell on Board Game Geek

Gloomhaven is the first game I’ve tried that’s worthy of the word “epic”. It will realistically take me years to finish, and even then I’ll probably only ever see a small percentage of the content in that mammoth box. Knowing there’s so much in there I’ll probably never see is actually part of its appeal.

RuPaul’s Drag Race


There is nothing subtle about this show.

I don’t much care for fashion or makeup, and my wardrobe is a muted rainbow of drab colours and earth tones. So I’m as surprised as anyone that a television show about people dressing up in gaudy outfits and garish makeup is one of my very favourites.

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” is basically an outright rejection of subtlety, with one judge even outright stating that he “hates minimalism”. It’s unabashedly over-the-top. I’m a sucker for watching skilled people do their thing, whatever it is, and this show is packed with exactly that.

Drag Race miraculously takes what could be flaws and turns them into strengths. Endless corny jokes, over-acting, and garish colours are woven into a uniquely compelling extravaganza.

Maximalism as a Tool

All these maximalist things use their expansiveness for different effects. For the Sagrada Família, maximalism creates a sense of wonder. In Gloomhaven, it gives the world an epic feel. RuPaul’s Drag Race uses maximalism to create a sense of celebration. The idea that minimalism, or any other style, is superior to all other aesthetics is silly—all of these things would be much worse if done in a minimalist style. The style of something should follow its goals.

Where Apple’s Minimalism Has Gone Wrong

While thinking about maximalism, I also got to thinking about Apple’s recent excesses of minimalism. Apple deserves tons of praise for their transformative design work, but recently, it’s seemed as though the company has forgotten why they’re pursuing things. There has been a great deal of pushback on recent designs, most notably with the finicky keyboards and lack of ports on their recent laptops, as well as a lack of progress on their pro-level Macs. There are undoubtedly many reasons for these issues, but it seems to me that part of the problem is that Apple is more concerned with making their products minimal than making them useful.

Apple is a company with strong design in their DNA. Since the days of Steve Jobs, they’ve sought to make tools that are as simple as possible, while still enabling the user to accomplish their goals. Recently, however, it seems like they’re making things simpler at the expense of being able to get the job done. It increasingly feels like Apple is following the path of minimalism because it’s something they’ve done in the past, and not because of a clear understanding of how that minimalism actually helped people work.

Similarly, Apple’s obsession with getting manufacturing tolerances ever more exact seems to have moved beyond the point of it actually bringing any benefits. A few years ago, making parts out of precision glass and aluminum led to rugged and well-wearing products. Adding an additional decimal point to their manufacturing precision seems only to have resulted in keyboards that can be rendered unusable by the tiniest speck of dust.


Apple’s recent MacBooks Pro famously cut ports and computing power in exchange for being smaller and simpler.

Photo by Bram Naus on Unsplash

I applaud their pursuit of progress in design and manufacturing, but minimalism in itself is an empty pursuit—helping people work or play should be the goal. Relentlessly cutting features, size, and especially ports for its own sake eventually leads to negative returns. People, especially professionals, have the capacity to handle complexity. We need look no farther than the wonderful maximalist examples previously mentioned to prove that.

Apple’s relentless pursuit of minimalism for its own sake was perhaps best lampooned in The Onion’s video: “Apple Introduces Revolutionary New Laptop With No Keyboard“. It was posted in 2009, but it has never felt more relevant than now.

In Closing

As far as my own design inspirations go, I still love simple things like a beautiful Dieter Rams-designed radio, or a wabi-sabi inspired garden. I live in a small apartment and try to minimize the quantity of stuff I own, while striving to keep things of high quality. Still, it’s good to recognize that not everything needs to be simple, minimal, or elegant. There is also a place for the big, the bold, and the over-the-top.

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