Audio Hijack 3: experiences with a record-audio-from-anywhere app

Audio Hijack Pro was Rogue Amoeba’s app for capturing sound from applications as well as input devices. It was powerful, scalable and flexible but not very user-friendly. Audio Hijack 3 changes all that. It’s every bit as powerful — if not more — than its predecessor, but also easier to use. In fact, the new building block paradigm used in Audio Hijack 3 will enable you to do more with your audio recordings because it’s incredibly simple to set up complex sessions. Also new in Audio Hijack 3 are templates, full-screen mode, presets, FLAC recording and more.

Rogue Amoeba decided to drop the “Pro” from Audio Hijack’s name, which is a bit ironic because the new version will definitely appeal to pros as much as it will to ‘amateurs’. When you launch Audio Hijack 3, you’ll first be shown the opportunity to learn a bit about the program. There’s a Guided Tour and a complete user guide to go through. If you’ve ever used Audio Hijack before, chances are you’ll want to delve in immediately, but watching the quick tour can save you time working out the deeper functionality of the app. The second thing you’ll be able to do is import your Audio Hijack Pro presets. They’ll import fine, but some will look slightly different as the entire system has changed.

In the meantime, Audio Hijack has been updated and significantly improved. You can get a walkthrough here.

Audio Hijack 3 interface

 

Build your Recording using Simple Blocks

What will be clear from the start regardless of whether you’ll take the intro or not, is how to set up a simple recording session. That’s because Audio Hijack 3 has Session templates. A Session is a reusable collection of settings to capture audio. It is made up of Blocks that are chained together in the Audio Grid, which basically is the working window. When a Session has been configured the way you want, you can just hit the Record button and everything else happens automatically. Available Blocks are listed in a Block Library and include Audio Hijack Blocks as well as Audio Unit plug-ins.

The template chooser has quick-and-dirty setups for recording from a device (e.g. a microphone), an application (including system sounds), a DVD or the Web. There are also templates that add effects to audio, increase the volume or are all set for podcasting with multiple microphones. There’s even a template to record from vinyl records.

An Audio Hijack 3 Session

When a template has been loaded in the Audio Grid, you can immediately hit the Record button and you’ll see the connections between the Blocks lighten up as audio ‘flows’ through them from left to right. Of course, the real fun is to set up your own Session, which I did to write this review.

Setting up a mixed devices Session

I set up a three-mic/two input devices Session with two different Audio Unit based metering Blocks, a Recorder set for the highest possible AIFF resolution/quality, another one for MP3 recording and an audio monitoring output Block. I used a Duet iPad/Mac at 192kHz and a Røde NT-USB (48kHz max). I put an iZotope Insight metering Block between the NT-USB and the first recording Block and a NUGEN Audio Visualizer metering Block between the Duet and the same recording Block. That first recording Block was an AIFF Block, while the second one was an MP3 low quality Block. I finished the Session with an Output Device Block.

My Session was a bit complex because the Duet has two input and four output channels, while the highest resolution of the NT-USB mic doesn’t match the highest resolution of the Duet.

There are alternative Sessions possible for my test setup. For example, instead of routing all of the microphones to an AIFF Recorder Block and then route that one to an MP3 Block, I could also have routed each mic to its own Recorder, i.e. I could have duplicated my input Blocks and route the first one to the AIFF and the second one to the MP3 Recorder. As I did it, I thought it was simpler and there was no audible loss of quality, but there might be reasons why you should do it differently — an audio engineer probably would frown upon it.

The first factor to complicate matters in my setup was the Duet. It has two input channels, which the Input Device Block was to recognise as I wanted a stereo recording with the two connected microphones. I had an alternative: using only one microphone and routing it to two channels. This is what I usually do when I record using Sony’s Sound Forge Pro 2. Most other audio editors that I’ve tested in the past, however, didn’t give me that option.

Well, the excellent news is Audio Hijack 3 did. It can’t do this by itself because it doesn’t know how you want to record your mono input, just as when four output channels are at play, but it’s very easy to set up as you’ll read in a moment. I also wanted my Output Device Block to route to the Duet’s headphones channels. Again of all the sound editors I’ve tested so far (DAWs don’t count), only Sound Forge Pro gave me the option to set channel 3 and 4 as output channels.

The Device Output Block also can’t predict which channels I want to use, so I was very curious to see if it would only list stereo channels 1 and 2. At first sight, Blocks look like they’re too simple, but they’re not. Click on them and you’ll reveal a nice dark popover with options. Some popovers have a very short list of options while others, like the Recorder Block, are categorised into sections — File Settings, Recording Format, Tags…

The Output Device Block for the Duet has two sections: a volume slider and a channel selector, which indeed lists all four channels ready to select. The best part of this story is that you can save settings in the popovers as global presets! And there’s something equally nice about them:

  • You can tear off popovers so you can drag them across the screen where you like them
  • You can pin popovers so they will float above everything else, even when you switch to another application.

Audio Hijack 3 floating popovers

I found that last feature extremely effective when using the metering plug-ins. Except for these niceties, popovers also allow you to turn off a Block so you can bypass it (you can do that from the Block’s context menu too).

My test involved recording to 16-bit AIFF / Auto resolution. Because I had my AIFF Record Block located downstream of the two Input Device Blocks — Duet 192kHz and NT-USB 48kHz — the AIFF file Audio Hijack created was a 48kHz file. In fact, Audio Hijack changed the Duet’s resolution to 48kHz. However, if I were to have left the Auto setting on and record only from the Duet at 192 kHz, the file would have been a 192kHz file. I know because I tried this too.

Effects and formats

Audio Hijack comes with its own generous set of effects, including its VU meters that now look definitely more modern. To the already generous set that was available in Audio Hijack Pro, Rogue Amoeba has added three more that use iZotope technology. These three will certainly make your day if you record from lower quality input sources: Dehum, Denoise and Declick.

In addition to its own set of effects, Hijack Audio 3 supports all of the Audio Units installed on your system. If you own an iZotope RX4 plug-in or a NUGEN Audio SEQ-S linear phase equaliser you can use them right inside Audio Hijack, complete with their native interface — not just the generic user interface some sound editors tend to use instead.

Audio Hijack 3 schedules

Not really an effect but more like a workflow option is that you can create multiple recorders in parallel. For example, if you want to record to MP3 and AAC simultaneously, just drag each of these Blocks close to the Input Device Block until the connection line appears.

Audio Hijack 3 also comes with a new audio format to record to. Besides the formats you could already capture audio into, Audio Hijack now supports FLAC, which is a popular lossless compressed audio file format. Finally, when your app or Mac crashes, Audio Hijack 3 not just saves your MP3 and AIFF files, but also AAC and ALAC files.

Recordings and schedules

The Audio Hijack 3 window has two more tabs besides the Sessions one. The Recordings tab holds all of your recordings. It allows you to add tags, file information, etc. You can also see the file in the Finder by clicking on the magnifying icon next to each entry. A very nice touch is that even when you move a file in the Finder while Audio Hijack is open, the app will still find the file next time you click the magnifying glass. When you delete files in the Finder, the Recordings panel will reflect that too.

Audio Hijack 3 recordings

You can also schedule recordings — or use Audio Hijack 3 as a sophisticated alarm clock. An easy to use panel lets you set recurring sessions or date/time fixed ones. Sessions will start and stop at the defined time. By the way, another way of limiting a recording in time (or by file size) is using the Recording Block’s popover options “Start new File Every” or “End recording After”.

Conclusion

If there ever was an upgrade to an audio recording app that I was really excited about, it would have to be Audio Hijack 3. It was worth waiting for as it’s become an even better upgrade than I could ever imagine and I am 100% sure you will feel the same if you give it a shot.

Of course Audio Hijack 3 isn’t perfect. For example, it doesn’t let you edit recordings. For that purpose, Rogue Amoeba has another very nice app, Fission, which I reviewed a couple of years ago. Audio Hijack 3 has remained true to its calling: to be — in my opinion at least — the best app/device recording software available for the Mac. In fact, I would even say this new version is better than Sound Forge Pro 2.x, provided you have AU plug-ins that measure your loudness — something the newest version of Sound Forge has built-in.

An Audio Hijack 3 licence costs approx. €42.15. The upgrade is just approx. €21.50. It’s money well spent.

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