AutoHotKey for Sound Designers

If your studio set-up is anything like mine, you may find yourself regularly having to jump in and out of your soundcards control panel window. You may also notice that most soundcard control panels seem to completely neglect shortcut keys or macros. This is where AutoHotKey might be able to help.

What is AutoHotKey?

This Windows only software allows you to script all sorts of OS and UI related tasks, such as sequences of shortcut keys, mouse movements, button presses and so on.

It’s incredibly powerful, especially when you consider that it opens up macro type automation of software that doesn’t have it built in. Importantly you can call these scripts regardless of what software you currently have focussed. This means that the learning curve for non-programmers is quite steep, but there are plenty of tutorials and exhaustive online documentation should you need it. Fortunately in my case, I’m only using it for reasonably simple tasks, so although there was some head-scratching and a fair amount of trial and error, within a couple of hours I had all my scripts up and running.

What am I using it for?

Giving step by step instructions as to how I achieved this is beyond the scope of this tutorial and will vary depending on what soundcard you have, instead I’ll show you some of the ways I’m using AutoHotKey on a daily basis.

Firstly, my soundcard is pretty temperamental about switching sample rates. Some software deals with incorrect sample rates fine, others such as web browsers and media players don’t respond if I’m at anything higher than 44.1kHz. Using AutoHotKey I can jump between sample rates using a keyboard shortcut without having to manually go through the various windows to change it (which was starting to drive me crazy).

Excerpt from my AuotHotKey script

The second script, and perhaps the most universally useful, is that I’ve automated my volume control. When I moved studio a few months back I calibrated the loudness of my monitors so that I know exactly what the volume in the room is when my software meters are at zero. I highly recommend you do this and get into the habit of leaving your volume control alone as much as possible (I’ll cover some of the reasons for this in a future post).

The problem you then have is that the volume control on most soundcards is not stepped and not marked so you’ll lose your calibration as soon as you touch the pot. To overcome this I instead use the soundcards control panel to adjust the output volume as most soundcard control panels display this as dB. I have made two AutoHotKey scripts which can hop between a standard setting (-9dB in soundcard / 75dB in the room) and dim (-25db / 59dB). Using only these two settings, and calibrating my media players to the same levels, means I am much confident about the volume of what I’m hearing and negates some of the uncertainty relating to the Fletcher Munson curve and room acoustics.

My third and final use of AutoHotKey is to switch the soundcard output between my speakers and my headphones. Again, much faster and less tiresome then having to manually toggle output routing options.

Future scripts?

There’s a number of scripts I’m keen to make in the near future. These include shortcuts that will open and my file explorer to specific work folders, scripts to switch between my main monitor speakers and reference (in my case, some crappy Logitech grot boxes) and so on. If you’re using batch processes you could use AutoHotKey to call them regardless of what software you are currently in. Presumably you could even use it to call command line audio processing tools such as Sox or CDP.

All-in-all, AutoHotKey is an incredibly powerful tool regardless of your profession and one that I’m sure I will end-up using with a number of soundcards over the coming years.

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