Loopback: Tom's Mac Software Pick

Turn Your Mac Into an Audio Patch Panel

Loopback app from Rogue Amoeba
Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

Loopback from Rogue Amoeba is the modern equivalent of an audio engineer's patch panel. Loopback lets you route audio on your Mac to and from multiple apps or audio devices you may have connected to your Mac. In addition to routing audio signals, Loopback can combine multiple sources, and even reassign audio channels, in just about any way you wish.

Pro

  • Easily build custom Loopback Audio devices.
  • Interface is easy to use.
  • Combine audio output from multiple apps into one device you can use anywhere on your Mac.

Con

  • Strictly an audio patching device; no audio processing built in.

Installing Loopback

The first time you launch Loopback, the app will need to install audio handling components. After the audio components are installed, you’re ready to use Loopback to create your first audio device.

I know many of you are concerned when an app installs components deep within Mac’s operating system, but in this case, I haven't seen any issues. If you decide not to use Loopback, it includes a built-in uninstaller that will leave your Mac just as it was before you started using the app.

Creating Your First Loopback Audio Device

The first time you use Loopback, it will walk you through creating your first Loopback device. Although you may wish to dash through this process so you can get to the fun of using Loopback, it’s important to take your time and see what Loopback is doing.

After all, you’re going to be creating many different Loopback devices over time.

The first device created is the default Loopback Audio. This simple virtual audio device allows you to pipe the audio output from one app into the audio input of another. A simple example would be taking the output of iTunes and sending it to FaceTime, so the person you're video chatting with can listen to the music you're playing in the background.

Of course, if you set FaceTime's input to just the iTunes Loopback Audio device, your friend on the other end of the call will only hear the music. If you're using FaceTime in order to do some lip-syncing to your favorite iTunes song, this is a pretty nifty trick, but otherwise, you're going to want to combine multiple audio devices, say iTunes and your microphone, and send the mix along to the FaceTime app.

Loopback handles combining devices, including mixing multiple devices together, however, it lacks its own mixer; that is, Loopback can't set the volume for each device that is combined in a Loopback Audio device.

You'll need to set the volume of each device in the source app or hardware device, independent of Loopback, to set the balance or mix heard as the output of the Loopback Audio device you're using.

Using Loopback

Loopback’s user interface is clean and straightforward, with standard Mac interface elements. It won’t take long for an average user to figure out how to create custom Loopback devices, or even discover the advanced channel mapping features that can help create a complex audio workflow.

For the basics, you simply create a new Loopback Audio device (don’t forget to give it a descriptive name), and then add one or more audio sources to the device.

Audio sources can be any audio device recognized by your Mac, or any app running on your Mac that contains audio information.

Using a Loopback Device

Once you've created a Loopback device, you'll likely want to use its output with some other app or audio output device. In our example, we created a Loopback Audio device to combine iTunes and our Mac’s built-in microphone; now we want to send that mix to FaceTime.

Using the Loopback Audio device is as simple as selecting it as the input within the app, in this case, FaceTime.

In the case of sending the output of a Loopback device to an external audio device, you can do so in the Sound preference pane; you can also do it by option-clicking the Sound menu bar icon, and selecting the Loopback device from the list of available devices.

Final Thoughts

Loopback reminds me of an audio engineer's patch panel from days gone by. It's important to think of it in that light. It's not so much an audio processor or mixer, although it does mix multiple sources together; it's more of a patch panel, where you dutifully plug one component into another to build up an audio processing system that meets your needs.

Loopback will appeal to anyone doing audio or video work on a Mac. This can range from creating screencasts or podcasts to recording audio or video.

Loopback has a lot going for it, including an interface that's easy to understand and use, and the ability to create very complex audio processes with just a few clicks. If you work with audio, give Loopback a look-see, or more accurately, get an earful of what it can do.

Loopback is $99.00. A demo is available.

See other software choices from Tom's Mac Software Picks.

Published: 1/16/2016