A couple of very cool audio utilities for the Macintosh have passed before my gaze in the last week. Although they perform different functions, they have one thing in common: Blessed simplicity.
The first is Ambrosia Software’s $19
WireTap Pro. Those who follow the doings at Ambrosia — makers of the ultimate screen capture utility for the Mac,
Snapz Pro X
— know of the company’s free WireTap, an easy-does-it application for capturing any sound playing on the Mac. In addition to it costing nary a cent, WireTap is cool because it takes no effort to grab audio from a playing DVD or audio application such as Real Player or Windows Media Player. Just hit its record button and start playing whatever you want recorded.
But the original WireTap is pretty limited. It doesn’t offer scheduling (though you can create schedules through AppleScript) and it records only in AIFF format (an uncompressed audio format that takes up far more disk space than MP3 or AAC files).
WireTap Pro is a far more mature product. Yes, you can still use it in “record this now” mode, but it does that and a whole lot more. For example, it can record not only what’s playing from your Mac’s speakers, but also grab the audio from whatever is designated as the input device in the Sound system preference (or Audio MIDI Setup application). This can be anything from the Mac’s built-in audio input to a more sophisticated audio interface such as a USB or FireWire audio breakout box (I understand that even Bluetooth headsets work).
Scheduling is fully supported and works in tandem with Apple’s iCal. When you create a scheduled recording — a broadcast of NPR’s Fresh Air played through Windows Media Player, for example — iCal launches, creates a new calendar called WireTap Pro, and schedules a recording (or a series of recordings) to take place at the time designated in the schedule. Once you’ve created a schedule you can save it as a package, which you can then pass along to your pals so that they too will never miss an episode of Car Talk.
One particularly nice thing about WireTap Pro is its integration with Griffin Technology’s
— a radio receiver in the shape of a shark fin that allows you to record local broadcast radio into your Mac. Within WireTap Pro you can designate the radioSHARK as an input device and even select which frequencies you’d like to set it to before recording (and yes, this information is also included in schedules). The software that accompanies the radioSHARK allows scheduling, but iCal’s options are more flexible plus, unlike with the radioSHARK software, WireTap Pro lets you choose to save your files in MP3 format as well as AIFF and AAC (Griffin’s software offers AIFF and AAC support only).
One thing missing from WireTap Pro is the ability to automatically segment files when the program detects a period of silence. Roxio’s Spin Doctor and Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack offer this feature — one that’s extremely helpful when you want to rip vinyl and cassette recordings to your hard disk. Given the popularity of this kind of thing I wouldn’t be surprised to see it rolled into a future release.
The original WireTap is gone but when you use WireTap Pro in unpaid demo mode, it offers all the features of the original WireTap.
Slip Into the Stream
Speaking of Rogue Amoeba, this week’s other notable audio utility is a currently unreleased product (it’s in beta) from the makers of
Nicecast. It’s called
and performs one very useful trick — it allows you to stream any audio playing on your Mac through Apple’s AirPort Express (APEX) wireless hub. That’s right, no longer does iTunes get to have all the fun. Just launch an application that you’d like to play through the APEX (audio that streams from a website, for example), launch Slipstream, choose the application from which you’d like to stream audio, select your APEX in the Remote Speakers list (you likely will have just one but some people like to live large and have APEXs scattered throughout the house), and click Slipstream’s Transmit button. In short order, audio from the designated application is streamed to your APEX and played through whatever’s attached to it.
Hang on, before you deluge the nice people at Rogue Amoeba with requests along the lines of
“Finish it! I’ve been dying to watch DVDs on my PowerBook and stream the movie’s audio through my home stereo!”
I should warn you that the encoding/decoding voodoo that the APEX does so well introduces a delay — it takes time to muck with the audio and move it from here to there. When I streamed audio from DVD Player to my APEX, the video and audio tracks were out of sync by a second or so — as I should have expected. Slipstream is cool, but not cool enough to overcome the laws of physics.
Paul over at Rogue Amoeba reports that Slipstream is coming along nicely, it will cost $20 initially (regular price will be $25), and should be ready for primetime in early 2005.