I was asked one time what one application would keep me from ever leaving the Mac, and without thinking, I said, Audio Hijack from Rogue Amoeba. There are several reasons for my response, not the least of which is that it’s fundamental to how I create my podcasts. But there’s more to it than that. It’s a delightful app. It’s well-designed. It’s supported by a dedicated and patient staff. It’s accessible to the blind via VoiceOver. What else can you ask for?
Audio Hijack has had incremental upgrades over the years, but it hasn’t had a major redesign in at least 7 years. I know that because I did a video tutorial for ScreenCastsOnline about Audio Hijack in 2015, and an update show in 2020. Note that during these 7+ years, no extra charge has come from Rogue Amoeba beyond the original purchase price.
I honestly couldn’t have told you what I would like to see improved, but Rogue Amoeba have just released Audio Hijack 4 and it’s a very good upgrade. It may not look like a huge upgrade at first glance. It’s prettier and graphically more interesting, but these changes are huge usability improvements. At the same time, if you’ve been a long-term Audio Hijack user, it will still feel like a comfortable pair of shoes.
In order to tell you about the new Audio Hijack 4, I think it would be good to do a quick primer on what problems Audio Hijack solves and how it solves them.
What Kinds of Problems Does Audio Hijack Solve?
The simplest explanation of the problem Audio Hijack solves is that it allows you access to record and route audio in ways that Apple didn’t build into the Mac operating system. This is why it’s called Audio Hijack – it hijacks these sources.
Let’s say you want to record the audio from a Zoom call. You can do that with Audio Hijack. Or maybe you want to pull the audio from a YouTube video so you can listen to it in the car. Audio Hijack can do that with both hands tied behind its back. What if you need to record both sides of a conversation onto separate tracks, and add filters to improve the audio along the way? That’s where Audio Hijack really starts to shine. Maybe you want to record audio that comes out on a schedule, like an Internet radio station, you can do that too with Audio Hijack. Maybe you want to teach how to do things on the Mac for your blind buddies – you can even capture VoiceOver talking. Want to make digital copies of your vinyl records and clean the audio up? Audio Hijack is a master at that. Is the audio not loud enough on your Mac? With Audio Hijack you can crank the sound up. Pretty much any audio that can come out of your Mac can be captured (or shall I say hijacked?) with Audio Hijack.
Audio Hijack 101
Audio Hijack lets you perform all these feats of magic by dragging blocks onto a canvas. You start building an Audio Hijack session with a Source block and an Output block.
Source blocks can be one of three things: a microphone, an application, or system audio. Output blocks can be an output device such as a speaker or headphones, it can be a recorder to save your audio file, it can be a live streaming service such as YouTube Live or Twitch, or it can be a Broadcast block that is for streaming to an online radio server.
At its simplest, you could drag in a microphone Source block and then a recorder Output block. When you drag in the recorder to the right of the microphone block, a connection line will magically appear between the Source and the Output showing you how the audio will flow. If you run this session and make sure the Output recorder block is turned on, you can speak into your microphone and your voice will be recorded. You can stop recording either by stopping the session or turning off the recorder block.
You’ve now created your first Audio Hijack session. Congratulations!
In addition to the basic Source and Output blocks, Audio Hijack comes with a plethora of built-in effects to make your audio sound exactly as you want. These effects include a 10-band equalizer, adjustments to bass and treble, a low pass filter to get rid of high-frequency noise, a volume block to adjust one source’s volume vs. another, and more. There are two different kinds of meters so you can watch for peaking or audio that’s too low and make real-time adjustments.
There are more advanced blocks such as the one that will remove clicks if you’re recording from vinyl records, and a time-shifting block to pause and rewind live audio. Audio Hijack also supports all of the audio unit effects that come native with the Mac operating system under the hood.
You simply drag these effects in-between the Source and Output blocks; they automatically make room for the new block. If an effect isn’t quite what you wanted you can simply delete the block and try another one. It’s so easy and fun to play with that you’ll find yourself experimenting and learning how the different blocks affect your audio.
That’s kind of a top-level overview of how Audio Hijack works and a taste of a few things it can do. It’s very tempting to keep digging deeper but I want to talk about the new look and features of Audio Hijack 4.
Not Just a New Coat of Paint
If you’ve been a long-time user of Audio Hijack, the first thing you’ll notice is that Rogue Amoeba gave it a fresh coat of paint. The blocks are a brighter blue, the graphics on them stand out even more, and the familiar round grey button to make your sessions “go” has turned into a bright blue Run button. But this is so much more than a new coat of paint.
That little change in the Run button is actually the bellwether for the visual changes Rogue Amoeba made in Audio Hijack. In the old design, the round grey button looked like a record button. For the uninitiated, this was very confusing. You’d hit the round button but depending on your session, it may or may not start recording. That simple change from a grey, unlabeled button to a bright blue Run button tells both new and experienced users exactly what’s going to happen. The session will be run, activating all of the session’s blocks. I can’t emphasize enough how this is the kind of change that is all over the new Audio Hijack 4 to make it more user-friendly and easier to learn.
You know how in an equalizer you’ve got a set of sliders to go up and down from the low-end bass to the high-end treble? The new 10-band equalizer block in Audio Hijack 4 has a graphic right on it that looks exactly like the shape you’ve drawn or chosen with the equalizer. You can tell at a glance if it’s boosting the high or the low end.
Another example of better graphics on the blocks is on Channels. With this block, you can do things like killing the left channel and only keeping the right. On the block, now you can see the left channel coming to a dead end and the right channel continuing on with an arrow. It’s a complicated concept to work with and having the graphics so much more obvious makes it that much easier to understand.
Detaching and Pinning
With Audio Hijack, some blocks have interfaces that are helpful to keep up at all times. For example, the Recorder block is handy to have floating and available to be turned on and off to start and stop recording.
In the old version of Audio Hijack, you could tear the window off to make it float but there was no visual indicator that it could be done; you just had to be “in the know.” You can still tear it off, but there’s also a graphical button showing that the window can be detached and then pinned so it stays visible. It’s another small change but one which will help beginners use the tool much more quickly.
Sessions Window & Sidebar
I’ve been using the word Sessions to explain the setups you create for different scenarios. In Audio Hijack 3, the Sessions window was a grid showing the sessions you’d created. Each session was represented by one Source and one Output block but there wasn’t enough information to help identify a session. The main function of the Sessions window was to launch sessions.
In Audio Hijack 4, the Sessions window is much more powerful. Instead of a grid, it’s a list of the sessions. By using a list view they can have a lot more information and controls available. The Sources icons provide more information, so for example, my Chit Chat session shows a mic and Skype, which is exactly what is recorded in that session. Next in the list view is a column entitled Auto Run with a toggle to set each session to run at launch or do nothing. If you have a few you run every time you launch Audio Hijack, this would be a big time saver.
Finally, the last column shows the Status of each session with a bright blue Run button right at your fingertips. If you know what a session does, and there are no controls you need to fiddle with, having the run button on the main sessions window is awesome. My Live Show session requires no fiddling so I don’t need the window floating around in my way unless something goes wrong. Once you start a session running, in bright gold letters you can see how long it’s been running. I never had a problem with the old Sessions window but I like the utility and find the information on this newly formatted window gives me more situational awareness of my sessions.
In Audio Hijack 3, Sessions were just one of three tabs in the same window. The other two tabs were to view all of your stored recordings for all of your sessions and the schedules you have created for all of your sessions. In the redesign, these two capabilities have been moved to the right sidebar of individual sessions.
This is a much more intuitive place for these options. If I’m in my Chit Chat Across the Pond session, the sidebar only shows me my Chit Chat Across the Pond recordings instead of having them jumbled up with all of the other recordings. Likewise, schedules are specific to sessions so why see them lumped together?
Audio Hijack 4 introduces the ability to script your sessions. This 4th tab in the sidebar invites you to use some of the pre-built scripts, such as defining what should happen when the recording stops. I always look for my recording in Finder as soon as the recording stops, so I immediately added the pre-built script to reveal in Finder when the recording stops to my sessions.
Manually Create Audio Connections
I’ve mentioned that when you drag blocks onto the canvas of Audio Hijack, little blue lines form to show you the audio connections. These connections are created automatically. If, for example, if you drag an audio unit effect to the right of a microphone block, the line will connect them automatically. This works great until you get into more complex setups.
If you have two parallel audio paths, like if you’re hijacking your own mic and the output of an application, and you drag a recorder to the right between the two rows, both sources will connect to the recorder. That’s great if you wanted to record both of them, but what if you only want to record your mic? In order to get rid of the automatic connection line, you have to start dragging that recorder block farther and farther away until the connection line snaps, leaving only the one connection. It is probably the only irritating thing in all of Audio Hijack.
But it’s not irritating anymore. In Audio Hijack 4’s session windows, there is one more tab called Info, which contains settings for the session. One setting allows you to toggle off Automatic Connections.
With Automatic Connections toggled off, every block gets extra little connection +’s designating where you can make connections. If you drag from the + on one block to the + on another block, you get a new connection. When you’re happy with your new anarchist connections, tap the Stop Editing button and the +’s go away.
While Automatic Connections are quite orderly, you can get some delightfully wiggly connections when you go off-roading with manual connections. You can toggle Automatic Connections back on, but they warn you that your connections might change. In my silly example, the hard work I’d done to rearrange them was lost, but I was able to get it back with a simple undo.
Rogue Amoeba added two very important new effects which seem to be targeted toward podcasters. I suppose musicians could use them too but I choose to think they’re just for us.
One of the problems when recording from multiple microphones or from a mic and an application is that you can get wide variations in the volumes over time. Audio Hijack now contains a Simple Compressor block that is designed to reduce the volume of loud audio and boost the volume of quiet audio, all before the audio is recorded. I currently use Auphonic Leveler to do this to my recordings after they’ve been saved, but this might be even better.
The Simple Compressor block has four modes: voice, music, radio, and movie. As I said, I suppose it could be for non-podcasters.
The second effect they added is a virtual mixer. If you have multiple sources being recorded, whether they be microphones or applications, by running them through a Mixer Block you can control each source independently through one interface. You can change the volume live while recording, you can use the solo button to mute all but the one source, and you can fade each source from left to right. If you want to control all of the sources at once, you can do a multi-track fade to 0 or 100%.
If you have the need to use the same mixer setup often, you can save up to five mixer presets and bring them back with a single button push.
This and That
There are a lot of little changes with Audio Hijack 4. If the dark grey background of Audio Hijack depresses you, Audio Hijack 4 now allows for light mode. I find it very pretty, although it is a bit harder to tell which connection line is selected while editing. I’ve sent Rogue Amoeba a suggestion that they could increase the contrast to fix this.
Audio Hijack now allows you to change the name of any block in a session. It’s not something I’d do all the time but I can definitely see where I’d want to do it. I use an Elgato Wave XLR interface which has my microphone input and my headphones’ output, which means all sessions in Audio Hijack show that name for the input and the output. With Audio Hijack 4, I was able to change the name of these blocks to say “Mic” and “Headphones”. It’s not a necessary improvement but yet again a way that the new design improves understanding of how Audio Hijack works.
I’m starting to picture how the design process worked at Rogue Amoeba. I envision CEO Paul Kafasis saying to the crew, “No graphical element is sacred, question everything.” Only by starting in this way could it be possible that they found every little pain point, even those in the paper cut category, and found ways to improve the user’s immediate understanding of the functionality.
Audio Hijack 4 is $64 to new customers, and an upgrade from Audio Hijack 3 for existing customers is only $29. When you look at the purchase price, remember that Audio Hijack hasn’t charged a single dime for upgrades throughout at least the last 7 years, and remember how tired you are of subscriptions! They have bundle pricing too, so check out all of the options at rogueamoeba.com/…