Panic

Panic Blog

January 6th, 2021

Facing Forward

By Michael


With 2020 now squarely behind us, it’s safe to say that the year didn’t go as anyone planned, but at Panic we somehow managed to release Nova as wildfires were approaching our homes, announce Nour: Play With Your Food for PS5, and update our apps for Big Sur, Apple M1, and iOS 14.

We have even more exciting projects in the works for this year, but to start, we’d like to present you with one very small gift.

Once upon a time, we made one of the earliest MP3 players for the Mac, Audion. We’ve come to appreciate that Audion captured a special moment in time, and we’ve been trying to preserve its history. Back in March, we revealed that we were working on converting Audion faces to a more modern format so they could be preserved.

Since then, we’ve succeeded in converting 867 faces, and are currently working on a further 15 faces, representing every Audion face we know of.

Today, we’d like to give you the chance to experience these faces yourself on any Mac running 10.12 or later. We’re releasing a stripped-down version of Audion for modern macOS to view these faces.

Download Audion.app

Now, this isn’t a full-fledged return of Audion. It can play music files and streams, but it doesn’t have playlists, and we’re not offering support for it. Its primary purpose is to view faces in the converted format. In addition, we’re releasing the source code to document how these faces work and an archive of converted faces.

Some Faces

Inside the face archive, you’ll find hundreds of great Audion faces. Some are more traditional music player interfaces; many mimicked the then-brand-new OS X, replete with pinstripes and brushed metal; and others were boldly glossy and skeuomorphic, a trend which, for a short time, seemed like it might be the future of GUI design. The TokyoBay face by Paul Johnson exemplifies this last aesthetic. Like many faces, it displayed track info on a glossy LCD with scanlines.

Of course, not all faces fell into these categories. The Face PP by Rudluph looks like it would fit right in at the Y2K Aesthetic Institute:

As with any themeable software, Audion got its fair share of holiday-themed faces. Bescherung, by Andy Pratioto, cleverly replaced the time display with animating Christmas lights, causing the lights to animate as the track plays:

In fact, many Audion faces really came alive when animating. Audion supported streaming music from the Internet, but it could take a long time to connect and buffer audio streams, during which time the UI would be static. To assure users that Audion had not frozen, it would play animations while connecting and streaming. Lots of face artists created delightful streaming animations, but I was surprised to find that Slap Happy by Chris Fayette contained a ten-second clip from Charlie Chaplin’s The Cure:

But it didn’t take animation to make a great skin. StickyAudion by Dr. Joseph A. Gardner disguised itself as a classic Mac OS sticky note, with the controls hidden in the text of the note:

This kind of interface is fun, but if you’re seeing it for the first time, it can take a minute to figure how how it works. Interface design over the last couple decades has focused on making GUIs as intuitive and easy to use as possible, and that’s one major reason why themeable software fell out of style. Some Audion faces took this to an extreme, hiding buttons in the design so you would have to click around the face to find where they were. But themeable software also allowed for unconventional GUI designs that remained usable while allowing artists to explore new directions for UI design. Contragravity by Margaret Trauth has always stood out to me as a fun face that is easy to use:

It’s also one of the very few faces that still has a working URL in its info field. Most of the faces contain links to expired domains or abandoned email addresses. Given that they were created around twenty years ago, this shouldn’t be surprising. Face artists put a lot of time and effort into their faces, and while it may be sad to think that all their work has largely vanished from the Internet, people change, discovering new interests and reinventing their Internet identities in the process.

Panic has also changed a lot over the same time period. We still develop some of the best Mac shareware around, but we’re also working on exciting things like Playdate, our handheld game system. This is only possible because, as a company, we’re always facing forward, looking for the next challenge. But Audion remains an important part of our past, and that’s why we’re so excited to bring these faces to life again.

Extras

But that’s not the end of the Audion preservation story!

After our March blog post, we got in touch with a few face authors who had some fun tidbits to share.

In 2001, Joel Day developed a third-party Mac app to create and edit Audion faces named FaceEdit. This app only runs on Classic Mac OS, but Joel has generously made a registered copy available for free — and notes that anyone who wants to pay for a registration code can send him a few dollars on GitHub sponsors. Make some faces!

In addition, an amazing long-lost piece of history: Paul Johnson, Author of the TokyoBay face featured earlier, did some work for Panic conceptualizing the default face for the cancelled Audion 4 and sent me this never-seen-before mock-up of it:

Thanks

Well, we hope you enjoyed this final look at Audion and its many faces on our blog. When we finish converting the remaining faces, we’ll post an update on our Twitter.

And here’s to 2021, which we can only hope will be bright and meaningful for all of you. Forward!

Posted at 11:08 am 27 Comments

That’s amazing news really! I’m on 10.13.6, downloaded the app and faces. I can load and play mp3 files but do not see any UI or face o.0 even with “Float on Top” or “Bring All to Front” checked.

Hi Robert, thanks for reporting that. Although I did say in the blog post that the app should work on macOS 10.12 and higher, I only tested it as far back as 10.14, since that’s what I have easy access to. I’m surprised it’s not working on 10.13, and I’ll see if I can figure out a way to fix it.

Thank you Michael, that would be sooo awesome if Audion would be running again. =)

Lily Ballard

1/7/2021 12:53 PM

This is really cool!

If someone were to use FaceEdit to create a new face today, how would they get it running on the updated Audion?

Also, I wonder how much work it would take to turn Audion into a controller for Music.app?

Hi Lily, converting new faces is a complicated process, but if you’d like, I can convert them if you email me (michael at panic.com).

If you’d rather keep them private, the new format is just a folder full of PNG files with a JSON file specifying which images go where. If you have the original assets you used to make your face, it should be possible to duplicate one of the existing faces, replace the PNG files with your own, and edit the JSON file.

I have an app that automates most of this process, but it only runs on 10.14 and earlier, it’s difficult to use, and it’s not perfect. OS X never supported PICT files perfectly, and most of the faces that have yet to be converted have PICTs that don’t render properly after Mac OS 9. For those, I’ve been using GraphicConverter on a classic Mac to convert the PICT resources to PNG manually.

We considered making this release function as a Music.app controller, decided against it for a few reasons, but open-sourced the code partially in case someone else wants to that. (And now that you mention it, I need to attach a license to the code so others can use it. I’ll do that shortly.)

The main reasons we didn’t want to do this ourselves is because we wanted the focus of this project to be preservation, and we didn’t want to make it appear we were getting back in this market. We’re not trying to compete with any of the great iTunes/Music.app controller apps out there.

Scott Boone

1/8/2021 7:33 AM

Shut up… those aren’t tears… ALLERGIES, IT’S ALLERGIES!

Erin Brown

1/8/2021 9:05 AM

Yay! I have such fond memories of Audion! :) One question, though: Why not release the stripped-down version as open-source so others might pick up the flag and add functionality (like playlists)?

Hi Erin, we actually did release it as open source. There’s a link to the source in the blog post right below the download button.

Erin Brown

1/8/2021 12:29 PM

:: BLUSH :: My apologies! I don’t know how I overlooked that detail! Thank you!

Jeff Byrnes

1/9/2021 8:15 PM

Hey y’all, this is awesome. Thanks for this super fun labor of love; Audion is a big part of my early days enjoying digitized music, so it’s super fun to see this effort to preserve it!

For anyone who couldn’t see the faces on older versions of macOS, I’ve updated the download link with version 4.0.1, which fixes this issue.

This is a fun romp, but please bring Audion back for realsies. iTunes has never been as good as its host body (yeah, SoundJam), and it gets less usable with each update. I don’t even know what it is anymore. I’ve been pining for an good music player, it’d be Audion if it were an option.

The cycle is complete. The software which first led me to Panic is now again functional.

That’s it, folks! We can close up the internet. It doesn’t get better.

Thanks, everyone!

Grant Hutchinson

1/14/2021 10:00 PM

Abe Schmoigle lives!

Thank you from the depths of my pre-Y2K heart.

Thats just awesome!
I hope you (or someone) will soon add a playlist window :)

It works now, thank you so much Michael!

Cool stuff, thanks!

When going to the Prefs with the default skin, “Clicking here to download more cool faces” goes to a Panic.com URL that is 404. Perhaps redirect this to your blog or a download of faces? It’s https://panic.com/ppack/audion/faces.shtml

OMG – I used this from day one back in the day! Ironically I ended up working in the music biz where of course the MP3 destroyed the old physical model!
I think I paid for it? I always support the little software guys, and man I missed this player!
Thanks for the gift!

This is great, thanks, but sorry, for the life of me, I can’t see how to actually open the different faces. I’ve done File > Open Faces Folder, added the files there, but then what?

Hi, Colin. You can change faces in Audion’s preferences.

Ah of course! I feel silly. Many thanks Michael!

Victoria Rodriguez

2/1/2021 4:44 PM

I didn’t knew this app before, but I’ve been looking for a MP3 Player like this for so long! I adore the old-school aesthetics. You guys are great 💖

Allan Nyholm Nielsen

2/4/2021 10:47 AM

There isn’t much of any Music/iTunes/Spotify controllers left that has skins as part of their structure. The only known Spotify/iTunes controller left(and that’s not being maintained anymore) is Bowtie. Audion and the Spotify-variant called Spaudion is the only ones that are recent enough that has skins as their code structure. Bowtie runs fine on Big Sur(with minor bugs of course) – you’ll have to use either iTunes or Spotify together with Bowtie.
I’m a huge fan of Audion, especially David Parise’s skins. And the Y5.2 skin from Sascha Höhne(RAD-E8) too most certainly.
Of course, if we are counting programs that has the ability to hook into Spotify/Music/iTunes – then there’s more than a handful to be tried. They just aren’t that skin/theme friendly. At least not in the capacity that Audion and Bowtie have.

Brad Miller

2/21/2021 7:38 AM

Hello.. I can’t seem to locate the folder where the faces are keep… I am using a MacPro Mojave 10.14.6. Little confused a would appreciate any help… Love the app.. Good see that is is back….

I was not only a paying Audion customer, but also a user until 2015 (my mac with ppc emulation croaked, had it not, I’d still be using it). At the time of my last use, it was STILL the best sounding mp3 player for the mac. I even did double-blind tests with my co-workers. Not only did Audion win against everything it was pitted up against, it was wasn’t even close. If that wasn’t enough, the skins were just fantastic. Winamp probably had 4x the skins, yet none as attractive. And while I’m super-happy this project exists, I really wish you’d update the full version, as it was truly something special.

Brad, you can open the folder where faces should be stored by choosing “Open Faces Folder” from the File menu in Audion.

jojo, I have a lot of fondness for the full version of Audion as well, but it’s really not possible to update the full version at this point. Apple’s programming interfaces have changed so much since 2001 that we would have to rewrite the entirety of the app from scratch. Unfortunately, this isn’t feasible for an app the size of Audion when there’s not a large enough market to support the development.

Brad Miller

2/23/2021 6:54 AM

Thank you so Much I appreciate all of your great work,, I really enjoy the app, please bring it back.. The Mac has not been the same. I was one of the things that made the Mac OS so special……..

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