Updated: May 20
Macs are great. Stable, reliable, attractive, easy-to-use - apart from the cost, in many ways they’re the perfect tool for online teaching. Like many people who teach english online, Skype is my go-to video tool. But there’s one thing that drives me mad, and that’s not being able to use Skype to share audio as well as video with students.
I use educational videos - my own and third party (teaching sites, YouTube, TEDx talks…) It drives me to distraction that there’s no way to share my screen and audio with students.
But don’t worry, the answer is at hand.
The bad news: it’s not free 😐 The good news is that it’s easy to set up and use, and there’s a trial version so you can make sure it works before you splash out the cash 👍🏻
If you're not interested in the background and history, I suggest you scroll down to "Setting Up Loopback Audio" below!
History of Skype on Mac
Skype has been around forever. Like, 2003 forever. Although it started as audio-only, it quickly became the early de facto standard video messaging app. Microsoft bought it in 2011, and started to integrate it into its own products.
To paraphrase Douglas Adams: “...this made a lot of people very angry, and [was] widely regarded as a bad move.”
A lot of the abuse was just because it was Microsoft, of course; but they did make changes which were unhelpful. On the other hand, when they replaced their own Microsoft Messenger with Skype, this led to another big uptick in the user base.
Although there are plenty of alternatives to Skype, it’s still one of the most popular video chat tools out there (although Zoom has taken a huge leap up the charts during the pandemic). Lots of teachers (and students) are already using it and know how it works. So for me it’s still the natural choice for online teaching.
Up until version 7 of Skype, you could share screen and audio on Mac just fine. (You can still do this on a PC of course). With Skype version 8, they killed the feature. For a time V7 was still supported (‘Skype Classic’), but after a while it was withdrawn.
You can still download Skype Classic for Mac from third party sites - but it doesn’t work. In case something had changed since I last tried doing this, I tried again today. After several minutes of spinning progress icon, I got this error:
When it comes to Mac audio sharing, Skype is broken. Apparently it’s possible to hack it, but honestly, I’m too old to be screwing about with software like that. It’s also never a good idea to be running unsupported applications.
Clearly another option was needed!
How To Send Mac Audio Via Skype
No amount of messing around on Mac forums and Reddit got me to a solution for this which lies entirely within the Mac. There may be some way to hack it, but see my comment above about being too old.
Besides - unless you know what you’re doing it’s going to be easy to mess up your setup - and you don’t need that in the middle of a class.
The answer is a really neat piece of software called Loopback. It’s powerful - we're only going to touch on its features in this article - and it’s easy to use and understand. People use it (and its partner tools) for sound recording, audio mixing, podcasts, radio recording, and much more.
Unfortunately, it’s also paid software. I’m happy that I’ve already covered the cost from the classes I teach using it, but your mileage may vary. The good news it that there’s a free version which is limited to 20 minutes, before it degrades the sound making it unusable. So you can set it up and try it out first, before deciding whether or not to buy it.
Setting Up Loopback Audio
Part of Loopback’s power is that you can set up different paths for different applications. You can set it up, for instance, so that some programmes send their audio to Skype, and others don’t. Ever. This is great if you’re always having message alerts going off from WhatsApp or other messaging applications, and forget to quit them before teaching.
For me, I use Chrome for teaching. I also sometimes play video clips on my desktop using QuickTime Player. So for this tutorial I’m going to show you how to route these apps only. The process is the same for Safari, Firefox or whatever other tools you need to use.
STEP 1. Download and install Loopback from the Rogue Amoeba website. The installation is pretty straightforward. (Direct link to download the free trial version.) If you decide to purchase the software, you don’t need to download anything else.
STEP 2. Run the application and you'll see the screen below:
What we want to do is create a new audio device just for Skype. This will appear as a device on your Mac, just like 'MacBook Pro Microphone', or 'External Microphone'
STEP 3. Go ahead and click on "New Virtual Device". This tells Loopback that you want to create this new device - a new source:
The highlighted ('Loopback Audio') text is Loopback's suggested name for the new device - we want to change this. Type in 'Skype Audio Feed' and hit return. Your screen should look like this:
STEP 4. Next, delete the 'Pass-Thru' source. Click on the box to highlight it, then hit 'Delete' at the bottom of the screen. You should have a solitary box in the middle of the screen:
STEP 5. We now want to set up the applications I mentioned earlier - Chrome and QuickTime Player. At the top of the screen, under 'Skype Audio Feed', click the '+' plus button next to 'Sources':
If you don't see the app you want in the dropdown menu, click on 'Select Application' and select it from the Finder in the normal way.
The screen should now show Chrome going to the output like this:
See how the Left and Right channels from Chrome now go into the R and L channels on the output? It's just like connecting up an old home hi-fi separates system! If it helps, you can think of the 'Output' device as the amplifier unit 😉
Repeat the process to add QuickTime Player - '+' next to 'Sources', then select 'QuickTime Player' from the dropdown menu:
The R+L channels from QuickTime Player are now also 'plugged into' the output.
STEP 6. Don't forget to add a microphone!
As things stand, this setup would let you send audio to Skype from Chrome and QuickTime.
But remember how I said Loopback lets you decide exactly what you do or don't send?
Unless you tell it that we want to be able to talk to students as well as play audio, that won't happen 😀
Again, go to '+' next to 'Sources'.
Select 'External Microphone'.
(I'm going to assume you're using an external microphone as part of a headset. Using the inbuilt microphone works, but the quality is poorer. As well as that, part of the way Skype handles audio is to try to work out who's talking when. If you don't use a microphone, and environmental audio is being picked up by your Mac, you may find the person at the other end 'cuts out' and it's hard to hear them.)
Note: Loopback tries to be smart. If you don't see the option 'External Microphone'... make sure your headset/microphone is actually plugged in. It won't let you select something it can't see!
If you've followed this all correctly, you should now have your 'home stereo' set up looking like this:
You can check that it's working visually. Tap or talk into the mic, and you should see the level bar (the thin blue line next to the microphone icon) jump up and down. Play a YouTube video in Chrome, or a video in QuickTime and you should see the same on their boxes.
In addition, the level bars on the output box - the 'amplifier' - should also change.
Great! We've set up a new device on our Mac which mixes together the apps we want to send, as well as our microphone. If you look in the Sound Preferences, you should now see a new Input device called 'Skype Audio Feed':
Now let's head over to Skype and set it up!
Route Mac Audio To Skype
Fire up Skype. We need to tell it to use the new device we've just created. Go to Skype/Preferences, or hit Command-comma. Select the 'Audio and Video' option:
See where it says 'Microphone - Default device'? Click on that and select 'Skype Audio Feed':
Once that's set you're good to go:
Well done! You now have Skype set up to send Chrome, QuickTime and your own dulcet voice through Skype to students!
You can use the Skype test call to check that all the sources are being mixed properly.
Because we've set it up as the audio input into Skype, you don't even need to share your screen.
Let's say you have an audio clip you want to share. As long as you play it from Chrome or QuickTime, it'll be sent to the student.
If you do want to share screen - for a TED talk or a video from Linguahouse.com, say - the audio will automatically be sent along with the video. Again - as long as you're playing it from Chrome or QuickTime.
The only problem with this setup is that you can't actually be sure that your mic is being sent along with the other audio channels. (Remember - normally the Mac won't route the microphone output to the speakers or headphone; so you can't confirm it's part of the mix).
If you want to be absolutely certain that everything is working before a class, you can add a monitor output. This lets you check what's actually being sent to the student.
Go back to Loopback and select the plus '+' button next to 'Monitors'. Again, making sure you have your headphones connected, select 'External Headphones':
You'll see a new option on the right of the screen. Think of this as plugging a set of headphones into your amp. If you play audio from Chrome or QT, you'll now hear it in your cans - as well as the microphone.
Because of the minor delay processing the audio, you'll hear a slight echo behind your voice. Don't worry - this isn't sent to the student. But it can be annoying.
What I like to do is run Loopback before a lesson where I know I'm going to be sending audio. I check that everything is working with the headphone monitor switched 'On'.
I then switch it 'Off' in Loopback as shown. Again, this doesn't have any effect on the audio that's sent to the student - this is purely your own local monitoring.
If at any point during the lesson you're having problems with audio, you can go back to the Loopback display to make sure everything is as it should be. You can quickly turn monitoring off and on again to make sure all's good.
However - you don't need to have Loopback running all the time. It's more like a Preferences panel - the routing and changes you make there stay in place even when it's not open. If you're confident that your audio is routing properly and don't feel the need for monitoring, then don't!
Price and Licensing
As I said at the top of the article, Loopback is a great piece of software - but it is commercial software. The list price is $99 US. They offer an educational discount, but I believe that only applies for teachers at recognised .edu domains. I've contacted them to confirm.
UPDATE: While I'm still trying to clarify whether remote teachers can qualify for the educational discount, Rogue Amoeba have confirmed that for the time being, due to the Covid-19 outbreak, they are offering a 15% discount:
In my opinion it's well worthwhile. I covered the cost in a few lessons at the higher price I charge for structured lessons using multimedia materials. You need to decide yourself if you think it's good value.
If you decide to register, the company will sent you a license key which activates your setup. You don't need to reconfigure anything - just cut and paste the key and you're good to go.
There are fans of Skype, and there are people who prefer to use other video platforms. Some let you share audio and some don't. The beauty of Loopback is that it doesn't make any change to the applications themselves: it creates a new audio source over which you have complete control.
So this approach will work with any application which lets you choose the input source/microphone.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to drop them below!
I’m a user of Loopback and happily paid for the cost of a full license. I'm not affiliated with Rogue Amoeba, and I have not received any payment or other form of inducement for promoting the product.
For general information on teaching on italki, check out my Unofficial italki Teaching FAQ!
If you enjoyed this article, I'd love you to share it! You can use the buttons below 👍🏻