Feedback – Music On Your Mac

Hello fellow music lover. Here’s one you might like:
On a discussion forum regarding Apple Computer demonstrating FireWire
products at a Pro Audio Convention, one posting lamented the fact that he
couldn’t find a FireWire MP3 player. Obviously he has gobs of extra cash to
waste; I wonder how he has managed to make it this far without a FireWire
keyboard and mouse.

Gordon Neault


1/20/01

I enjoyed your recent article, “Music on the Mac”. It was very informative,
particularly the information about the proper role of a graphic equalizer. It
came at a good time since I’m planning to buy one of the new G4 Powermacs and
I would like to get quality sound on a moderate budget.

I did have one question concerning Apple’s current speaker offerings. Is it
better to buy the new Apple Pro Speakers and an iSub or buy HK Soundsticks?
Price wise, there isn’t much difference, $160 for the Pro Speakers ($59) plus
the iSub ($99) or $199 for the Soundsticks. On the surface the Soundsticks
seem like a better system but so you loose some advantage of Apple’s new
“internal amplifier” if you use the USB powered Sounsticks? Apple seems to be
pushing the Pro Speakers as they don’t offer the Soundsticks as a speaker
option on the dropdown menu at the Apple store when buying a PowerMac system.
They make you go to the main store menu and buy the speakers as a completely
separate item.

Thank you for any help you can provide with my question.

Response: Honestly? I have heard both, and others, and I went and got the Monsoon M1000.
I think they are simply a better sounding set of speakers.
(http://www.monsoonpower.com/mm1000.htm)
They are $199, and sound fantastic.

But if your set on the Apple and HK, go with the iSub and the Sound Sicks. They
are a good combination, and
have a much fuller sound that the Apple Pro Speakers.

Tim


1/20/01

Tim,

You made a very good argument about the EQ on iTunes. However, I think you missed one point.

I own a very nice stereo (about $9,000). Although it doesnรขt compare with the McIntosh it sounds very nice, so nice that I would never think of using a EQ with it. My computer, on the other hand, sounds bland by comparison. One reason would be that I have a old pair of Apple speakers.
Actually, that is your MAIN problem with the sound on your Mac.

But even with a nice pair of speakers the sound that comes out of the computer would still be poor in comparison with my stereo, for the sound is only as good as the weakest link. With my stereo I have a very fine preamp (Forte) a nice power amp (Tandberg), high quality interconnects, high quality speaker wire, a very good surge supressor, and a more than acceptable DVD player. All of these components put together make the sound what it is, not just the speakers (I own a pair of B&W 802s).

If I were to hook up my Mac (or God forbid my Dull machine) to my stereo the music would still pale in comparison due to the fact that the transport and DA converter are just not as good as quality as the transport and DA converter (DVD player) connected to my stereo.

And to think that adding a pair of $500 or so speakers to this computer would suddenly give me sound so good that I would not need an EQ misses the point.

Actually, that is the MAIN point. I know it is hard to believe (and trust me, I am a pure audiophile, and I would never have believed this myself until I hear it with my own ears) but a pair on Monsoon M1000 ($199) will sound so good, you will NOT believe that this sound is coming from a computer. Now, will it rival your home system? Well, no, but it will come damn close in terms of clarity, bass (at a moderate level, not house shaking) balance, and staging. They really will. In fact, if you live anywhere near Kalamazoo, Michigan, I would be happy to prove it to you.
Because of all of the cheap components involved, an EQ would most likely always be needed to make sound acceptable on a computer. I say most likely because there are many people out there who are just plain deaf.
You last point if very valid. ๐Ÿ™‚

To be honest I will never listen to “Dark Side of The Moon” on my Mac. This experience can only be enjoyed on my stereo. But as for the songs I occasionally listen to on my Mac, I will always use SoundJam with the EQ set to Rock.
You will listen to it on your Mac with the Monsoon. You really will.

Dave

Response: Dave,

BTW: Gold is used on high quality components because it will not corrode over the years.
I know. I have been into stereo’s year before I got into Mac’s. One of my earliest dreams as a career was to write audio component reviews for the now (?) defunt Stereo Review.

Tim


1/20/01

Tim,

I read your article with great interest because I don’t know much
about audio. However, I have to make a comment about your 2nd last
paragraph: “If you enjoy listening to music, and you do so often on
your Mac, why not spend a few extra bucks and make it an even more
enjoyable experience?” As a college student, I love music, but I
don’t have much money to go around, and if I did, I would rather use
the cash to buy more hard disk space to store more music, and the
songs would be stored at a lower frequency so I can cram more songs
in. Also, if you ask me to choose between pro speakers like Apple’s
Harmon Kardon Sound Sticks ($155 Apple Store educational price) and
software with EQ like SoundJam Pro ($39.95 download), I’d have to go
with software. In the end, I think money is still important even in
the quest for high-fidelity sound.

Just my $0.02 worth.

Yuhui

Response: Yuhui,

I agree. In your circumstance, you made a better choice on where to
spend your money.

Tim


1/20/01

I realize that the quote you mention is a bit misinformed but the point
stands (and is reinforced by your article) that an EQ is helpful..
actually as you state “in a program such as
SoundJam MP, the need for an EQ is a must.” Why would iTunes not need
something that the very program that gave birth to it provided? I too
have the monsoon speakers.. but
unfortunately most people don’t. This product is going to be used
primarily by computer novices with sub par speakers and sub par
recordings.. this is just the way it is.. if an EQ
is good for what you say it is good for then it is a glaring omission on
Apple’s part not to include one. Especially since this program is aimed
at the masses.. not the audiophile.
Those of us blessed with heavenly sound systems can just turn it off.

Darren Shaw


1/20/01

Dare I suggest that you too seem to not fully understand the whole
purpose of equalizers? Implying that using an EQ with that McIntosh
system is almost illegal (I got the hyperbole) is what really struck
me.. no real audiophile would ever NOT have an EQ unit.

Most audiophiles I know are purists. That means, they do NOT want any
unwanted colorations being introduced by the room acoustics. Take you
McIntosh system and put it in a room with 2 inch thick drapes all
over the walls and it’s going to sound dead. Perhaps unnaturally
dead. Need to introduce a little brightness. Put it in a empty room
with real brick and mortar walls and it’s going to sound a tad
bright.. need to back off on that brightness.

EQs are used to make sure that the response curve from the amplifier
is as flat as possible, that the tonal curve isn’t distorted by
furniture or walls.

Then there’s the whole personal preference issue. I get everything
set up as flat as possible and then I’m listening to music exactly
the way the engineer and producer intended. No colorations from my
surroundings.

But I know producer X like to have his high end goosed a little more
than suits my taste. With an EQ I can roll off a bit of the high end
to take the edginess off it. I’m created what I consider to be
flatter in this case. I have the choice because I have the control.

Then again, I’ve had this argument with the straight-wire guys.. some
understand and some don’t seem to.

My major problem with itunez is that I HATE that damned QuickTime
“look.” And I also use the equalizer to add some missing punch!

Paul Constantine


1/20/01

Where do I start?

An equalizer is certainly not a necessity in today’s high-end audio
systems – as long as the room is acoustically perfect! An EQ can cut the
highs if the room is too lively from hard floors, etc. or boost the lows
if you have a lot of curtains, furniture, etc.. So, although you may
have a beautiful McIntosh that reproduces all frequencies with no
discernable THD, once the sound goes to your speakers – which may color
the sound – and gets to your ears, the sound can change perceptibly,
even dramatically. How many people out there actually take a spectrum
analyzer and an equalizer to tune up a room (other than me)? Hard to
say. How many could benefit from a bit of bass boost while playing MP3’s
from their PowerBook? Legion. An EQ is NOT a must-have, but a nice
feature.

Let me also be one of many to draw attention the proper spelling of the
word chord (a cord is usually a piece of string or a unit of firewood).

Wayne Linder


1/20/01

Tim,

Just read your article on Music on Your Mac. I have a JVC unit from the
same family (actually the MX-J10 – which it is much lower in power and
way less sophisticated by far)
for regular non computer listening. As a matter of fact I am returning
it because of problems with the CD changer. It constantly refuses to
work or recognize a disk is loaded. I’ve
gone through two sets (same model, same problems). Sears is gonna give
me a better unit or else!!! Of course you can tell that I’m not in any
way an audiofile.

Ralph


1/20/01

Even though your article sounds a bit like you are tooting your own horn
I
agree that the EQ is not a critical component in most cases. However, it

can be very useful as you point out when using what is available.
Particularly for laptops and even low end computers (early iMacs for
example). As well, irrespective of the equipment you have available
(none
could compare to yours) it may be that the space your are listening in
may
have specific sound qualities that could be compensated for with an
equalizer.

Enjoy your music.

Regards,

Joe Webb


1/19/01

Tim,

I was linked to your article from MacFixit.
I’m regular reader.

The anti-equalizer point of view has always
perplexed me.

It almost makes sense if you assume all the
music you’re playing was well recorded–a
strange assumption from an audiophile, unless
you heavily restrict your exposure to music.
I’m often offended my the sound quality of
recordings–even recordings of music I like.

Recording engineers are people too, and they
often make bad decisions. Look at how “stereo”
was used in some eary Beatles recordings (of
course, an EQ can’t undo that). Listening to
some live Hendrix recordings without an equalizer
can be downright painful. Once the sound quality
is made tolerable through equalization, listening
is wonderful.

Many modern rock recordings benefit from the use
of even more signal processing. A quality
dynamic range expander can do wonders for
modern rock recordings squashed to death for
radio loudness ratings.

Even with a perfect recording, room resonances
can be tamed with a well adjusted equalizer.
Even in a perfect room, an equalizer can be
used to restore the loss of perceived bass and
treble extension when music is played at low
loudness levels–also known as loundess
compensation. Boosting deep bass while playing
quiet background music really does improve the
experience. With a nice dynamic range compressor
one can even enjoy a symphony while the wife is
sleeping–and still hear the quiet parts!

If you only listen to perfect recordings with a
perfect system in a perfect room at proper listen
levels, then you’re probably better off avoiding
the possible pitfalls of a maladjusted EQ. For
everybody else (and that’s almost everybody), an
EQ is a very useful tool, don’t you think?

Jeff Rothermel


1/19/01

I enjoyed the article which was written on the “discriminating” use of EQ.
As a budding sound engineer in Los Angeles I can tell you that the best
recordings we make in the studio require very little post production in the
EQ area. There is an exception however and a good reason for everyone to
have access to EQ. When I record something in the studio, either
multi-track or live, I am going to place mics on the instruments relative to
the timbre that I want my instruments to have, IE: Placing my mic slightly
off axis of a guitar amp to get more low frequencies. It is possible though
that when I have all the instruments and tracks recorded that I need to
change, sometimes in a major way, the frequency content of a certain
instrument to reduce muddiness and increase clarity. It’s also possible
that when I master the recording, I use my own personal tastes and
subjectively EQ the entire mix for mix-down. If I favor a scooped sound for
one particular mastering I am going to boost my lows, cut my mids, and raise
highs. The end listener might not like what I did, or what the overall mix
sounds like on “their” system. I am not writing this to pick a fight with
you, I hope that this doesn’t come off as that. I am just saying that while
I agree with your advocacy for public awareness on the dangerous use of EQ,
your article is a bit one sided and from the professional end of the
industry, not how we look at things. We want our recordings to sound good
on whatever system you, the end user, is going to use. We know that they
sound good on our $50,000 monitors but just because it sounds one way on
someone’s JVC Boombox, that’s not necessarily the way we wanted it to sound,
due to the systems inability to accurately reproduce certain frequencies. I
understand that your point is that iTunes “sounds” better that Sound Jam and
therefor doesn’t need to be EQed. The truth is that Sound Jam and iTunes
given all things are equal, ( bit rate, encoder, speakers, etc) sound
exactly the same.

Sean Wiedeman


1/19/01

Mr. Robertson,

While I agree iTunes is perfectly useable without an EQ, I take issue with
your insistence that it does not “need” one.

We’re not talking all things being equal. We’re talking about millions of
differently recorded and mixed sessions, all using graphic equalizers i.e.,
the mixing board, after all. You don’t take into account that some mixes
“suck”. Some thing’s “need” more bass and less treble (Stooges/Cramps for
example). Other things sound better with more midrange. Even on your dream
system the user might want to override or compensate for the
negligence/preference of the clueless artist or hack producer or cheap
budget.

You forget that the beauty of Macintosh is enabling user choice. ๐Ÿ™‚

SoundJam let’s you assign EQ setting on a song-by-song basis. Regardless of
the sampling quality, the mix chosen by the producer for a track may not
suit the user’s taste. Over a wide variety of recordings a user may want to
have a more uniform or custom range of EQ settings. You assert, rather
smugly, that one does not need to change the EQ. But you fail to consider
“want” over “need”.

God forbid you base any endeavor’s business logic on this faulty thinking.

Capitalism would curl up and die if it were based on “need” rather than
“need” and “want”.

Now as for “visual plug-ins”….don’t get me started!! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Sincerely,

John Queenan


1/19/01

I guess you haven’t seen all the other sound tools availible in Sound
Jam. You change bit rates. It has presets for equalizer settins that can
be saved for each MP3 selection. There are at least 10 things SoundJam
can do that iToons can’t I am not going to list them all. iToons has
quite aways to go to catch-up to Sound Jam.

Al Ennor

Response: Al,

I totally agree. SoundJam is in fact a better (and more polished) program.
And if you look again at my article, I never once suggest otherwise.

Thanks for the feedback, it keeps me honest:-)
Tim


1/19/01

Excellent article…finally someone comes out and says it!

Man, I boil up too at the ignorant comments tons of people make. Just
listening to the Mac/PC issue is enough to drive you up the wall. Sometimes
I wish I took up cooking class rather than become an I.T. Consultant : )

Regards,

Tony


1/19/01

With all due respect, I think there is one set of circumstances when an
EQ can be helpful: to compensate for the accoustics of the room. I agree
that good electronics and good speakers should not need EQ in and of
themselves. (I also don’t listen to music on my Mac except when I’m
preparing tracks for burning on a CD-R. And I also don’t listen to MP3
stuff, because I find too many compromises in the sound.)

For example, the accoustics of my office are such that I need no EQ at
all. The only time I use an tone modification is when I have to correct
for problems in the original recording, which is rare. But our main
stereo, in our family room, does need a slight bit of help. Because of
the layout of the room, the opinions of my wife (!) and the sometimes
sticky fingers of our children, my speakers (Kef, by the by, with a
Canton subwoofer) are not where I’d like them to be. The only way to
compensate is with moderate use of a graphic equalizer.

Anyway, one man’s opinion.

David

Response: David,

Good point, but I would ask how an EQ corrects a speaker placement problem?
(Those KEF’s are great speakers, BTW. No experience with a Canton sub. Good
sound?)

Tim


1/19/01

My GOD I miss my MC-30 monoblocks. When my daughters were born, they had to
go (the McIntoshes, that is). In time, I’ll get back to the high end, Harry
Pearson, et al.

The thing I miss most of all from SoundJam is the volume boost on the
equalizer for the headphone experience (have you heard the sound from a
Cube?! It’s almost high end!). But you had to use the equalizer to take down
the frequency levels so the volume could go louder with little distortion.

So, Apple, how ’bout an “unequalizer?”

Jeff Halmos

Response: Jeff,

ohhhh… monoblocks…. (whipping drool from chin and chest) There was a audio
store called Stereo Showcase in Kalamazoo, Michigan (A half hour from me) that
had an entire soundroom set up with the MC-30’s and some great speakers whose
name escapes me now. On it, they were playing Bach. I have yet to hear ANYTHING
come THAT close to a concert hall. It was unbelievable.

But I understand. I sold off quite a bit of my “good stuff” when my own
daughter was born. Priorities suck sometimes, eh? Ah well… I have always said
that someday I will get the audio equipment that I want and build a great sound
room in my house for it all. Well, I am 31 now, and am no closer than I was 10
years ago to doing it. (Actually, I am closer now, as I do own my own home.
That is step one!)

Tim


1/19/01

I enjoyed your article on not needing a graphic equalizer. Very informative. You said one thing in the intro which I have a question about. You stated that “A person who knows that a good record played on a good turntable has much better fidelity than any CD player could hope to match.” Is that true? I thought Id read somewhere that CDs captured a far greater range of sound than vinyl, and sounded far better as a result. Is that not true?

Neil McDougall

Response: Neil,

Well, all I can tell you is what other high-end audiophiles have told me, and what I have experienced myself. A year ago, a friend picked up the soundtrack to The GodFather on CD. He already had it on a double record, but “everything is moving to CD” got him. I was there when he first played it. (This is on an NED system, very good) We then decided to blow the dust of the record. I was simply amazed. It just sounded better. It really felt

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