Ma­cuser Re­views

Macworld (USA) - - Contents - BY GLENN FLEISH­MAN

If you’ve ever used an app that ac­cepts an au­dio in­put and was frus­trated that you can spec­ify only one piece of au­dio hard­ware, or if you’ve wanted to route the sound out­put of an app into Skype, Face­time, Google Hang­outs, or an­other con­ver­sa­tion, Rogue Amoeba’s Loop­back is the pro­gram you need. The lat­est ver­sion im­proves sig­nif­i­cantly on its pre­de­ces­sor, which it­self was quite pow­er­ful.

The app lets you com­bine hard­ware au­dio—like mics and line in­put—with the au­dio out­put of apps and sys­tem-level

com­po­nents, like Text-to-speech, to cre­ate vir­tual au­dio de­vices. A com­bined au­dio de­vice ap­pears as a sin­gle item you can se­lect as an in­put in pro­grams like Garage­band or Skype. You can also se­lect it as an out­put de­vice, too, play­ing into the vir­tual au­dio equip­ment sys­tem au­dio or the sound out of apps that al­low au­dio out­put se­lec­tion.

Ver­sion 2 sim­pli­fies the pre­vi­ous in­ter­face, mak­ing it eas­ier to con­nect au­dio sources and pro­vid­ing you with a bet­ter view of how you’ve con­fig­ured a vir­tual au­dio de­vice at a glance. It also adds vol­ume con­trols for ev­ery com­po­nent in an au­dio work­flow, which lets you re­ally mix the sound to­gether in­stead of hav­ing to con­trol it from the source—of­ten not a pos­si­bil­ity—or deal­ing with out-of-bal­ance lev­els.

Loop­back can be used in both ex­tremely sim­ple and com­pli­cated ways, and it ben­e­fits from prac­ti­cal ex­am­ples. Here are a few.

> Tak­ing the out­put of a tab in Sa­fari that’s play­ing ca­ble chan­nel news and record­ing it through Quick­time player.

> With mul­ti­ple USB mics at­tached, com­bin­ing their in­put to feed into a Face­time call.

> Man­ag­ing a call with peo­ple across mul­ti­ple in­ter­net au­dio apps, like au­dio calls within Slack or Google Hang­outs, so that you and ev­ery­one can hear each other.

> On a pod­cast with re­mote guests, where you want to have background mu­sic, live mu­sic, or snip­pets play dur­ing the record­ing that ev­ery­one on the con­nec­tion can hear just as you can.

That scratches the sur­face. But if none of these uses re­mind you of tasks you’ve

tried to man­age or want to do, Loop­back likely doesn’t meet your in­ter­ests.

ONE STEP SHY OF LITERALLY ‘PLUG AND PLAY’

Set­ting up Loop­back is a sim­ple mat­ter, made more vis­ual and eas­ier to un­der­stand in ver­sion 2. You click a + (plus sign) to cre­ate a new vir­tual de­vice, then se­lect sources. A drop-down menu shows all run­ning apps and con­nected au­dio in­put de­vices. Hold down the Option key and a Run­ning Pro­cesses menu item ap­pears, let­ting you se­lect the au­dio out­put of any­thing cur­rently run­ning in the fore­ground as an app or in the background as a sys­tem process or agent—this in­cludes Siri and other parts of macos that pro­duce au­dio or “speak.”

Ev­ery new de­vice au­to­mat­i­cally in­cludes Pass-thru, which lets it be used as an au­dio in­put as well as a com­bined out­put, use­ful for apps that let you choose a spe­cific au­dio out­put de­vice. For ex­am­ple, you might want to dump the out­put from an au­dio ed­i­tor pro­gram as the in­put of a Skype call, so some­one else could lis­ten to changes and ap­prove them as you edit.

Loop­back 2 supports up to 64 chan­nels of passthroug­h au­dio, let­ting you take up to 64 in­put chan­nels (32 stereo chan­nels) and pipe to any com­bi­na­tion of up to 64 out­put chan­nels. That is a heck of a lot. The pre­vi­ous limit was al­ready quite high at 32, and clearly some users asked for more. With large record­ing projects us­ing a lot of mics or other sources, Loop­back could al­low a pro­ducer or mixer to by­pass more ex­pen­sive soft­ware.

You can mon­i­tor out­puts, too, which is use­ful when you’re plug­ging them into places that aren’t play­ing the re­sults as well, or where you want to lis­ten to a com­bined set of au­dio with­out rout­ing it to a pro­gram. You could pipe si­mul­ta­ne­ous calls you linked to­gether, as in one of the above ex­am­ples, and then use a mon­i­tor to lis­ten to them all on a head­phone out­put.

The graph­i­cal ap­proach in ver­sion 2 lets you drag out­put con­nec­tions al­most like you’re grab­bing au­dio ca­bles and plug­ging them into dif­fer­ent jacks. This can get a lit­tle tricky in three ways be­fore you get fully used to it. First, you al­ways drag a new wire from the out­put chan­nel “jack” of a source to an out­put chan­nel, or from an out­put chan­nel to a mon­i­tor. You can­not drag to move the link from an in­put side, which seems like a log­i­cal and in­tu­itive ac­tion—ex­cept it isn’t sup­ported.

Sec­ond, you can route an out­put to mul­ti­ple in­puts, drag­ging re­peat­edly from the same out­put jack. But drag­ging a new “wire” doesn’t re-reroute ex­ist­ing con­nec­tions, even though that might also seem log­i­cal. Third, to avoid ac­ci­den­tal dele­tion of au­dio rout­ing, when you se­lect a route and it high­lights by thick­en­ing its line, press­ing Delete on its own doesn’t re­move it. In­stead, you have to use Com­mand-delete.

Loop­back pairs neatly with two other Rogue Amoeba prod­ucts: Au­dio Hi­jack ( go.mac­world.com/adhj, $59), which has a

few fea­ture over­laps, and Far­rago ( go.mac­world.com/ frgo, $49), a sound­board that lets you store and play sound ef­fects and au­dio snip­pets. Au­dio Hi­jack in­cludes record­ing and ef­fect options, and is aimed more at a front-to­back au­dio-cap­ture process. Loop­back makes it eas­ier to cre­ate and con­trol sets of de­vices to feed into Au­dio Hi­jack, how­ever, and make them avail­able sys­temwide. Far­rago can be just an­other sound source into a Loop­back in­ter­face. Rogue Amoeba has two bun­dles that re­duce the cost: Loop­back and Au­dio Hi­jack for $130 and those two apps plus Far­rago and its Fis­sion sim­ple au­dio ed­i­tor for $175.

BOT­TOM LINE

Loop­back 2 of­fers sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments to the ini­tial re­lease across the board, even though ver­sion 1 was quite use­ful and good. The in­ter­face change to al­low a more vis­ual drag-and-drop ap­proach helps con­sid­er­ably, as does ex­pos­ing Pass-thru as yet an­other el­e­ment in sources. The ad­di­tion of vol­umes con­trols for set­ting bal­ance is com­pletely invaluable.

Ap­ple didn’t in­clude ro­bust au­dio rout­ing and mix­ing con­trols in macos, and it’s hard to blame the com­pany for that, be­cause only a small sub­set of Mac users need them. Loop­back bridges that gap, although its $99 price tag aims the prod­uct at au­dio pro­fes­sion­als, pod­cast­ers with a bud­get, or busi­ness users. It’s not a ca­sual tool, but it can be vi­tal and af­ford­able for those peo­ple who read this re­view and are left pump­ing their fists. ■

A typ­i­cal con­fig­u­ra­tion lets you route the out­put of mul­ti­ple apps into a sin­gle de­vice that you could use to record or pass to an­other app.

You can even cap­ture Siri talk­ing.

An Option-click gains ac­cess to ev­ery­thing run­ning on a Mac, in­clud­ing hid­den agents.

I’m sure some folks need this many chan­nels, and if so, Loop­back is there for them.

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