Rogue Amoeba Moves Broadcast Audio to the Desktop

Most of us who came of age in radio and television stations learned to use a variety of hardware, including cart machines, turntables, tape machines and boards with oversized knobs. Then came software, which moved these functions to dedicated computers. Now, thanks to companies like Rogue Amoeba, an entire broadcast audio complex can be managed and operated on a personal computer.

Central to Rogue Amoeba’s suite of software is Audio Hijack ($59), a set of building blocks that allows any Mac user to visually lay out each step of the audio workflow and then repeatedly make it happen. Say you want to record interviews from Skype calls. Just drag the blocks in the right order to record it. The same with microphones, mixers or web audio. If you can hear it, Audio Hijack can record it.

Audio can recorded in all the pro formats, including WAV, AIFF and FLAC. Timed recordings can be made, effects can be included and the interface is remarkably intuitive. The visual interface makes it easy even for non-engineers to create a workflow.

Another companion app is Fission ($29), a lossless, very fast audio editing app. Users can join files, crop and trim audio and batch convert between audio apps. Fission is incredibly easy to use and has no quality loss. It can normalize clips to maintain a constant volume level. It is an excellent editor for podcasts and simple broadcast programs like newscasts.

Farrago is the Mac's digital version of the analog cart machine. Click to enlarge.

Farrago is the Mac's digital version of the analog cart machine. Click to enlarge.

Brand new is Farrago ($39), a new reinterpretation in software of the vintage broadcast cart machine. It can play sound bites, effects, music beds or any sound on the fly. Simple press a visual icon. The tile interface allows users to lay out audio in the sequence it’s desired.

An inspector allows users to customize each bite with unique settings, in and out points, fade outs and other tweaks. Groups of audio based on shows, mood and other criteria can be set and managed.

Farrago can be used for broadcasting, especially live radio, podcasting and theatre for sound cues. It is beautifully designed and a no-brainer to operate.

Loopback is an audio routing switcher for the Mac. Click to enlarge.

Loopback is an audio routing switcher for the Mac. Click to enlarge.

Loopback ($99) is a cable-free routing app that makes it easy to pass audio between applications on a Mac. Create virtual audio devices to take the sound from applications and audio input devices, then send it to audio processing applications. Loopback offers the power of a high-end studio mixing board inside a desktop computer.

Configuring a virtual audio device from multiple sources is easy. Add the applications and physical audio devices you want to include to the Audio Sources table to get started. The Mac will show Loopback's virtual devices exactly like physical devices. Find them listed among other devices in System Preferences or select them as an input or output in any audio app.

Loopback can also create pass-thru devices, which send audio from one app to another. Set the Loopback device as the output in one app and the input in another to make audio flow directly between the applications.

Set a simple (pass-thru) device as the output at the end of an Audio Hijack chain, and then as the input source in Nicecast. Now listeners can tune in to a live stream of a podcast as it is being recorded.

Nicecast is the streaming equivalent of a broadcast transmitter and gets the audio program onto the internet.

Nicecast is the streaming equivalent of a broadcast transmitter and gets the audio program onto the internet.

Nicecast ($59) is essentially the transmitter for an old school radio station. It allows users to broadcast programs directly from a Mac by creating an internet radio station.

Many terrestrial broadcast radio stations already create their internet radio streams with Nicecast. It has a built-in server that requires almost no configuration. More popular streams can relay Nicecast's audio to a remote MP3 server. Use higher quality for excellent sound or support more listeners with lower quality. Skype can be used to chat with callers on the air.

Rogue Amoeba, based in Boston and operating since 2002, has copied the functionality of vintage broadcast hardware into simple-to-use software. Though most of their apps are for Macs, they also do some Windows products.

Only if one has tinkered with flaky cart machines, can apps like Farrago be fully appreciated. It is simple enough to operate without reading the manual — my criteria for great design.

As podcasts replace broadcast radio for niche programming, companies like Rogue Amoeba are building the tools to further democratize the technology and lower the cost.

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