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Ambiance comes to the desktop

Dave Caolo , @davidcaolo

Ambiance from Urban Apps is an "environment enhancer" that supplies a variety of sounds and noises to help you sleep, set a mood and so on. I've been using the iPhone app for years to help me catch some Zs, and now Urban Apps has released Ambiance for the desktop. It's got an iTunes-line interface with a store and support for playlists, mixes and more. Here's our first look at Ambiance for the Mac.


Ambiance is an Adobe Air app. When I asked developer Matt Coneybeare why he chose Air instead of the Mac App Store for Ambiance, he said that the goal was to have Ambiance for desktop available to as many systems as possible at launch. If you've installed an Air app in the past, the process should be familiar to you. If not, download Air and then grab Ambiance. You'll be walked through the process. When you're through, launch the app and let's check it out.

Ambiance for the desktop starts you off with a 14-day free trial. After that, you'll pay US$9.99 for a license.


If you've used iTunes or the App Store within the past few years, Ambiance will look immediately familiar. On the left you'll find links to your library of sounds plus the Ambiance store. Beneath that you'll find your playlists and mixes. The main content area is on the right. Choose between list or grid view, and sort by name, date, category or rating.

To play a track in your library, simply mouse over it and press the triangle. An image depicting the current sound appears in the lower left (similar to the album art in iTunes) along with that sound's rating, description and location (on a playlist, general library item, etc.). You can also play and pause from the image on the left.

The top of the window again borrows from iTunes and offers standard playback controls, volume and repeat/shuffle buttons. What's really nice is the timer. Those using Ambiance to fall asleep will want to have the sound stop playing after a given amount of time. You can even opt to have the volume slowly fade to nothing over a period of minutes, so as not to jar you awake with an abrupt halt.


Click the gear icon in the lower right-hand corner to reveal the Settings window. Here you'll find Timer and Cycle (or "repeat") functions. As I said, the timer option is very nice. The duration can range from anytime between a minute and 24 hours. When that's through, you can opt to have an alarm sound (12 alarm sounds are available).

Beneath the Advanced disclosure triangle you'll find options to fade your sound in or out over time, and even quit the app once the sound has faded out. Again, that's a super option for those looking to conk out.

Finally, Cycle settings let you loop a sound over and over. What's really nice about the Settings window is that the help buttons (marked with a "?") pop up an image of the button in question. That's much tidier than a text explanation and just as effective.


What use is a clean UI if the app performs poorly, right? Fortunately, Ambiance for the Mac is a worthy companion to its iOS counterpart. There's a huge library of sounds in the store, each very high quality. Even the accompanying photos look good. Previews are available for each, and it's all sorted by category. My only complaint is that the sub-category windows are a bit small. For example, click the Industrial category (my favorite) and three subcategories are presented: What's New, What's Hot and Top Rated. Each shows only two sounds at a time. I'd like to have a list view option here, mostly because I'm impatient.

I should also comment on playlists and mixes. As with the iOS apps, Ambiance for the Desktop lets you create a playlist of sounds, say "Going to Sleep" or "Getting Ready for the Game." Additionally, mixes let you combine two or more sounds into one. For instance, if you like "Dryer A" but feel it could use a little beefing up from "Dryer B," combine then into The Ultimate Dryer!

Bottom Line

Not everyone needs an ambient sound effects app for their Mac, but those who do will enjoy Ambiance. It's simple UI, wealth of high-quality sounds and useful options make it fun to use. Check it out and have fun!

In this article: ambiance, mac, software, urban apps, UrbanApps

For six years, Dave worked as the IT Director of a Mac-friendly, residential school in rural Massachusetts and has been writing for the Web professionally since 2001. Today, Dave is an editor at TUAW where he's blogged since 2004. He's also the author of two books from FT Press: Using Your iPad as a Business Productivity Tool and Using Your iPhone as a Business Productivity Tool.

Dave believes that technology has the power to improve our life at its most important moments, and explores that conviction every day. 

A native of Scranton, Pa (Yes, just like on The Office), Dave moved to Cape Cod, Ma in 1994. When he's not writing, Dave can be found kayaking, rooting for the Boston Red Sox and spending time with his wife, two kids and Boston Terrier, Batgirl.