SoundBunny review: Control the audio output of your Mac

It’s surprising how loud the built-in speakers are on MacBooks and MacBook Pros. You really find out when you’re trying to work while listening to some music in the background or watching a movie – and Mail’s incoming alert sound chimes in. Of course, it’s even worse if you’re connected to a pair of powered speakers. The problem is that while some apps give you control over any audio they create, most just share the main system level.

About 10 years ago Rogue Amoeba launched Detour. This app routed audio to different outputs on an app-by-app basis along with changing individual app sound volume levels and even muting them. Discontinued in 2005, and never updated beyond Mac OS X 10.4 or PPC machines, it was never replaced. SoundBunny from Prosoft Engineering (the company behind Data Rescue and Drive Genius) may just fill the gap.

SoundBunny’s interface is modern and clean, showing all current running apps

Once installed and Mac rebooted, SoundBunny can be accessed via its funky icon in the menu bar. Resembling an audio mixer, the interface shows all current active apps in a neat column with a slider and mute per app. Grabbing a slider and moving it immediately affects the audio level for that particular app as does clicking on the mute button, as long as the output isn’t USB speakers which are not supported. The orange sound meter gives decent visual feedback as to which app is currently making a sound. Rather frustrating is the awful squelchy bunny sound that accompanies each slider movement. It’s supposed to give an indication of the change in sound level – at the very least it should be mutable!

An app has to be running in order to change its sound level but once altered, it stays that way until you change it again. This includes the likes of the Adobe Flash Player plugin that gets activated by various websites.

The ‘ignore’ lists handle both default and user selections

An ‘ignore list’ is part of SoundBunny’s preferences. Some apps have been set to be ignored by default; you can set up a second list as you wish. Simply control-click an app to add it to this list. Removing apps requires a reboot.

SoundBunny’s a great idea but there’s a pretty big fly in the ointment: Apple’s sandbox. Along with Gatekeeper, which defaults to installing only verified apps, this is part of the security measures within Mac OS X 10.8. In essence it separates running apps, only allowing access to a limited number of pre-designated features. Any Mac apps that run plugins or codecs are likely to be sandboxed. Doing this substantially reduces the risk of malware infiltrating such apps and the Mac’s system. Activity Monitor has a new column that shows whether an app is handled this way.

SoundBunny can’t access apps controlled by Apple’s sandbox security feature – including QuickTime Player and Mail

So what’s the problem? SoundBunny cannot control the sound level of any sandboxed apps – and this includes QuickTime Player and Mail. Both apps show up in SoundBunny’s list but their meters show no activity even when audio is playing. Moving the sliders or clicking the mute buttons have no effect on the audio output. While there are workarounds for QuickTime Player (use iTunes or VLC), Mail is a bigger problem.

OUR VERDICT

The inability of SoundBunny to control all apps that have a sound output may well be a deal-breaker for many of you. It’s a real shame because this is a classy, easy-to-use app that would be recommended otherwise. You can always try the 30-day demo and decide for yourself.

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