Over the past decade or so, TiVo and similar DVRs have changed the way we watch TV—so much so that many of us take for granted that we can pause live TV, rewind to watch something again, and jump forward to skip commercials. These features have become such an ingrained part of my media-consuming experience that I often miss them when listening to music on my Mac.
Sure, iTunes has a pause button, and if I’m listening to tracks in my iTunes library, I can skim forward and back. But I’ve got plenty of other ways to listen to music on my Mac that don’t necessarily provide such features: In addition to iTunes and other apps for playing local music tracks, I’ve got streaming-audio apps such as Pandora and Spotify (and, of course, iTunes Radio), and I’ve got myriad websites and online services providing music, podcasts, and online “radio” shows. Some of these let me skip forward and back, but not all; some have ads, while others don’t. And while most have a pause button, I have to remember which app I’m currently using, switch to that app, and then pause or resume—I don’t have a universal Pause button.
At least I didn’t until I started using Rogue Amoeba’s Intermission, which aims to bring TiVo-like features to your Mac’s audio, regardless of the source of that audio. Like TiVo on your TV, Intermission constantly records your Mac’s audio in order to create a buffer you can browse.
Click Intermission’s systemwide menubar icon, and you get commands to pause/resume audio, jump back, jump forward, or jump to live, along with a scrubbing slider that displays the current buffer location and lets you quickly move to any location in the buffer. By default, the jump back and forward buttons skip ten seconds, though you customize those durations; Jump To Live skips you all the way to live playback. You can also assign keyboard shortcuts to each of the four button actions. That’s all there is to it—Intermission is dead simple to use.
Intermission’s most-obvious benefits are letting you temporarily pause music and letting you quickly rewind audio when you miss something. But it’s also great if, say, you want to hear an iTunes Radio track over…and over and over and over. Similarly, if you’re not a fan of the ads on your favorite music service, or you want the option to skip tracks more frequently than the music service allows, just start playback and then immediately pause it using Intermission—you can later start playback with up to three hours of buffer, letting you skip ads and tracks as much as you like.
Keep in mind that Intermission captures all your Mac’s non-system audio, so its buffer will also pick up, for example, audio from YouTube videos that you might play while listening to music; however, Intermission ignores things like alert sounds, so you’ll still hear those in real time. And when music is playing live—with no Intermission buffer—the app passes it through untouched.
Unlike iTunes, Intermission doesn’t directly support AirPlay, so if you want to send your computer’s audio to a set of AirPlay speakers, you’ll need to change the output destination using the Sound pane of System Preference, or use Rogue Amoeba’s own Airfoil. Another minor complaint is that the Intermission menu disappears immediately after you press one of the buttons, so if you want to perform multiple jumps, you must open the menu and click the jump button each time (or use keyboard shortcuts). I’d prefer the option to keep the menu open until I dismiss it. And I occasionally experienced a minor stutter when listening to buffered audio, though this was rare.
In fact, my biggest complaint about Intermission is that given how much it feels like TiVo, I sometimes wished I could schedule recording times and apps. Interestingly, you can pair Intermission with Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack Pro to record audio from Intermission’s buffer. Rogue Amoeba includes instructions for such a setup in Intermissions’s electronic manual, accessible from within the app.
Despite a few quibbles, I’ve been enjoying Intermission, especially when listening to Internet radio and streaming-music services. It brings these audio sources into the 2000s.
This review is part of Macworld’s GemFest 2014. Every weekday from July until September, the Macworld staff will use the Mac Gems blog to briefly cover a standout free, low-cost, or great-value program. You can view a list of this year’s apps, updated daily, on our handy GemFest chart, and you can visit the Mac Gems homepage for past Mac Gems reviews.