Under The Microscope

Half A Decade Looking Great

It’s once again time to celebrate an employee milestone here at Rogue Amoeba. Today, we want to honor our designer Neale Van Fleet, who recently hit the five year mark working with us. We’re beyond delighted to celebrate his tenure thus far, which includes countless contributions.

Neale’s Work

As the sole designer here at Rogue Amoeba, Neale is in charge of just about everything visual. Whether it’s artwork for our blog posts, the design of our web site, or the user interfaces of our applications, you’ve definitely been touched by Neale’s tremendous work.

Since joining us in 2015, he’s made every single one of our products better. That works has included the creation of tremendously well-received new designs for apps including Loopback:

and SoundSource:

Neale also took charge of our company rebranding, an important effort which produced a more polished logo and brand that still retains a sense of fun.

Neale has also overhauled nearly every corner of our website, added helpful introductory tours to every product we make, powered our Instagram account, and so much more.


A small sample of images from the Rogue Amoeba Instagram account

He’s even written articles for this very blog, and those posts are some of my favorites. In particular, I love his reviews whenever we unveil a major new design, such as his recent look at “The Design of SoundSource 5”.

Neale has produced stellar work while being a great teammate. What more could we ask for?

Looking to the Heavens

Speaking of stellar, let’s briefly discuss Neale’s anniversary gift. To celebrating a five year anniversary, we like to find a personalized gift that will mean something to the recipient. While working on his Everywhere School project, Neale made particular note of some astronomy streams he’d watched with his son. On top of that, Neale and his family recently acquired a small cabin out away from his home city of Montreal.

Those two things inspired us to find what we hoped would be the perfect gift: A top-notch telescope.

Happily, this gift turned out very well indeed. While Neale already had a borrowed telescope, it was low-end, and needed to go back to its owner eventually. Now, Neale has a vastly superior telescope to call his own. It even features a computerized stand, which solves one of the most annoying problems of using a telescope, aiming it at tiny objects millions upon millions of miles away. It should provide many years of stargazing delight.

Closing

Since joining Rogue Amoeba, Neale has had a dramatic influence on the appearance and feel of everything we do. Whenever I step back and look at our website or our products, I’m blown away by the level of quality and attention to detail that are a direct result of Neale’s efforts.

Speaking for both the Rogue Amoeba team, and our entire user base, thank you, Neale! We’re delighted with what you’ve done since joining us, and we hope for many more fruitful years together.

P.S. We’re Still Hiring

Once again, a celebration post is coinciding with job openings here at Rogue Amoeba. In addition to the Mac software developer we’ve had open for a bit (we’re taking our time there), we also have an open role for a new Support tech, which we’d like to fill soon.

If you’re interested in joining our team, see our Jobs page, then get in touch. We just might be celebrating you in a few years.

Public Betas Available for the New M1 Chip-Based Macs

Update (December 16th, 2020): All our products now have support for the new M Chip-based Macs. See this blog post for more details.

Today, we have an update especially for users of Apple’s brand-new M1 chip-based Macs. We’re pleased to announce the availability of Universal public betas for all of our products. These updates will run natively on the new Apple Silicon-powered machines, providing the best possible performance.

To get the public betas, just visit our Status page. There, you can scroll down to the desired product to find the relevant download. We’re still working on these updates, so if you find any rough edges, be sure to report them using the support form in the “Help” menu.

A Note on Getting ACE Authorized for M1 Chip-Based Macs

If you use Airfoil, Audio Hijack, Loopback, Piezo, or SoundSource, you may already be familiar with the name “ACE”. ACE is the audio handling component which powers these applications, making it possible for them to capture and adjust audio from other apps on your Mac.

On MacOS 11 (Big Sur), installing ACE for the first time requires authorizing it with the OS, and on M1 chip-based Macs, that setup has a few extra steps. The in-app installer provides an overview and will get you up and running in just a few minutes.

Fortunately, it’s a quick process, and it’s only required once. After you’ve authorized ACE for any app, you’ll be able to update and install our other apps with no further settings adjustments required.

Using MacOS 11 (Big Sur) on Intel-Based Macs

In our post last week, we also noted that our entire product line had initial compatibility with the new Big Sur. While testing continues, we have thus far found no issues with our software running on Big Sur.

Updating your Mac’s operating system should always be done with caution, particularly if you have a production setup. That said, we’re confident our products are ready for Big Sur. As always, make sure you have the latest versions.

Still More to Come

After we’ve had more time to test and refine, the public betas will be followed by officially supported releases. All of our software has built-in version checking enabled by default, so be sure to keep that on, and always run the newest version.

For more news, follow us on social media, and keep an eye on our Status page.

Rogue Amoeba Software Updates for MacOS 11 (Big Sur) and M1 Chip-Based Macs

Last week was a big week for Apple and the Mac, with the release of MacOS 11 (Big Sur), as well as all new M1 chip-based Macs.

Since June, we’ve been working tirelessly to get all of our products ready for these transitions. As of last week, all of Rogue Amoeba’s products are Big Sur compatible. Further updates for M1-based Macs are in the works, and will be available soon.

Our team has done incredible work over the past five months, and our Status page has been continually updated throughout the summer and fall. This post provides more details on where things stand right now, as well as what updates are still in the works.

Updates for MacOS 11 (Big Sur)

Rogue Amoeba’s products are now all compatible with Big Sur. If you’ve already updated to Big Sur on your Mac, just download the latest versions of our applications to get up and running.

However, if you haven’t yet updated your operating system, we encourage you to take things slow. Both our own apps, and the OS itself, are not as well-tested as they will be after some time has passed. If you have an important production setup, or even if you just enjoy having a fully functioning Mac, it’s smart to wait on updating your OS.

Most of Our Applications Feature Initial Compatibility

Our home audio streamer Airfoil, our audio capture tools Audio Hijack and Piezo, our audio router Loopback, and our sound control SoundSource all have initial compatibility with Big Sur. Testing and refining is ongoing, and we strongly suggest that mission-critical setups delay moving to Big Sur until we’ve more thoroughly vetted the update. That said, if you’re already on Big Sur, we are too.

A Note on Getting ACE Authorized for Big Sur

All of the aforementioned tools rely on ACE, our audio handling component which enables them to work with audio from other apps on your Mac. In MacOS 11 (Big Sur), the initial installation of ACE requires a bit more set-up than was previously required. The in-app installer provides an overview of the process, and you should be up and running in just a few minutes.

However, we’ve seen a bug in MacOS itself that’s causing some headaches. In rare instances, the “Security & Privacy” system preference can fail to show the prompt needed to allow ACE to run. If you don’t see the expected prompt, restart your Mac, then check System Preferences again.

Farrago and Fission Have Full Compatibility

Both our soundboard app Farrago and our audio editor Fission feature full compatibility with Big Sur. They have been extensively tested, and should work flawlessly for you on the new operating system. Just make sure you’ve got the latest versions, and enjoy!

Updates for M Chip-Based Macs

Update (December 16th, 2020): All our products now have support for the new M Chip-based Macs. See this blog post for more details.

Our ACE-based releases (again, that’s Airfoil, Audio Hijack, Loopback, Piezo, and SoundSource) will not yet run on M1 Chip-Based Macs. When you launch them, they’ll warn you that they’re not compatible, and you won’t be able to proceed any further.

Fear not, good user, for we already have internal versions which work on these new Macs. Because we’re still in the process of testing and validating them, they’re not quite ready for release. We’ll have more to share in the near future, but for now, you’ll want to be sure to keep your Intel-based Mac around to run these applications.

By contrast, Farrago and Fission work fine on Apple Silicon-powered Macs. These apps are currently running under Rosetta emulation, and as a result, we’ve marked them as having “initial compatibility”. However, we’re not aware of any issues, and don’t expect you’ll run into any trouble. Native versions will be released in the future, but the current versions will work quite well on the new Macs from day one.

Watch for More Updates

We’ll have more updates in the near future. For the most up-to-date information on OS and device compatibility, you should always check our Status page. We’ll also post news via social media, and likely here on our blog. Stay tuned!

Get the Latest Refinements in SoundSource 5.1

It’s only been about two months since we shipped SoundSource 5, but the latest upgrade to our essential audio control has already helped countless new users. As more people discover every day, if you listen to any type of audio on your Mac, SoundSource is for you.

We’ve been hard at work on additional improvements for SoundSource, and today, we’re delighted to unveil version 5.1. It’s a free update for all SoundSource 5 users, and it’s available right now. Read on for details, or click to download immediately.

Improve Headphone Output, With Headphone EQ

The biggest change in SoundSource 5.1 is located in the System Output section. There, you’ll find the new “Headphone EQ” effect.

With Headphone EQ, you can get the very best sound out of headphones connected to your Mac. It’s built on top of the renowned AutoEq project, which provides equalization profiles for literally thousands of models of headphones.

By making adjustments specifically for the headphones you’re using, SoundSource can provide custom calibrated audio that sounds great. Headphone EQ is also incredibly easy to set up. Just add it to the system output, search for your headphone model, and add the profile.

Additional Effects Improvements

We also made improvements for users taking advantage of SoundSource’s support for third-party Audio Unit effects. First, we added a “Recent” section to the “Add Effect” menu, so it’s easy to insert a recently-used effect without drilling down to find it.

We also made it possible to move and copy effects within SoundSource. Move an effect from one application to another just by dragging and dropping. If you wish to copy an effect, hold the option key as you move it.

Latency Improvements

We always strive to minimize the latency added by our products, and SoundSource is no exception. With this update, we’ve made two important adjustments that reduce latency. First, when audio from a voice chat (VoIP) application is adjusted, SoundSource now automatically uses the lowest possible latency mode. In addition, latency on the system’s input device has also been minimized.

Loopback Compatibility

Many SoundSource users also take advantage of the powerful audio routing capabilities of our tool Loopback. Thanks to backend changes, it’s now possible for SoundSource to redirect per-application audio to a virtual audio device made by Loopback. We’ve also cleaned up the way audio flows when a Loopback device is set as the Mac’s default input. With this update, the two applications will work together better than ever before.

Smaller Updates

SoundSource 5.1 also brings many smaller updates, including:

  • Improved Audio Handling, with ACE 11.2 – Our ACE audio capture engine is at the heart of many of our products, and the latest version (currently ACE 11.2.2) features backend improvements we’ve been working on for months. These include full support for Apple’s “Catalyst” apps, better support for aggregate audio devices, and much more.

  • Full Catalyst Support – SoundSource now works as expected with Catalyst apps such as “Podcasts”, “TV”, and “Voice Memos”, so you can adjust their volume, apply audio effects, and more.

  • Support for Devices with Data Sources – SoundSource now works fully with hardware devices that feature “data sources”. Those data sources can now be adjusted via a sub-selector, further reducing the need to open the “Audio MIDI Setup” app.

  • Disable In-Window Meters – Want to turn off the level meter for a specific audio source to save CPU or reduce distractions? Control-click a meter in SoundSource’s main window, then select “Disable Metering”.

Stamping Out Bugs

When it comes to software, the only good bug is a dead bug. SoundSource 5.1 includes no small number of fixes. We’ve corrected channel mappings with aggregate audio devices, and worked on accessibility improvements, like making the License window behave better with the on-screen keyboard. The full functionality of Audio Unit effects like TC Electronic’s “LM2n” has also been restored, rare crashes have been prevented, and rare audio glitches have been eradicated.

We always aim to provide the best possible experience with our software, and rooting out issues like these is a big part of that. Feedback from users like you is always helpful, so if you spot a new bug, please get in touch!

Available Now

SoundSource 5.1 is a free update for all users of version 5. Just open the Preferences window in SoundSource, click the “Check for Updates” button, and enjoy!

If you’re a SoundSource 4 user who hasn’t yet moved up, you’re still eligible for a discounted upgrade to version 5. See the “What’s New in SoundSource 5” page to get started.

If you’re entirely new to SoundSource, today is a great day to up your Mac’s audio game. Click to learn more about SoundSource, and download the free trial.


Big Sur Updates Coming Soon

The latest update to the Mac’s operating system, MacOS 11 (Big Sur), is scheduled to be released in the coming weeks. We’re still hard at work on updates for the new OS, and planning for compatible releases in the near future. We’ll have more news very soon, so watch our Status page, and stay tuned to this blog and our social media accounts.

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.

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