Many times in the past, I have stated that I am an audiophile. The Webster’s dictionary states that an audiophile is a “devotee of high-fidelity sound reproduction.” An apt term, I suppose, if not a little dry and unimaginative. I prefer a more colorful definition: “A person who craves the best sound, be it music or movie theater sound, reproduction. A person who gets a thrill hearing the speeder bikes in Return of the Jedi zoom around his living room. A person who can actually hear a missed chord in the Hunt for Red October soundtrack album. A person who knows that a good rechord played on a good turntable has much better fidelity than any CD player could hope to match. A person who still owns (and uses) a turntable and a reel-to-reel. A person who would not be caught dead with a “Graphic Equalizer” connected to his home audio system.”
That would be me.
I have been reading some forum posts at different Macintosh websites bemoaning the fact of no EQ in Apple’s latest free music program, iTunes. One post, which illustrates a lot of iTunes detractors, wrote “For the rechord, just about every song can sound better with an equalizer, even with kick butt speakers.”
Okay, FOR THE REchord, an EQ is designed to do one thing, which is to correct any deficiencies in sound reproduction. In the case of an EQ in a program such as SoundJam MP, the need for an EQ is a must. Most people listen to music on their Mac with crappy little speakers or cheap, $10.99 headphones. They listen to MP3’s, which was have been converted at a low bit rate, such as 128kbps. And for a lot of people, this is fine and acceptable. With the EQ, they can make the music sound better than the speakers, headphones, and crappy MP3 encoding would normally allow. The EQ, in effects, either turns up or down the volume of certain musical (sound) frequencies.
Now, in a high quality MP3, such as 192 kbps, high quality speakers such as Apple’s own Sound Sticks or the Monsoon MM-1000 (which I personally own) you do not need an EQ. There are little, if any, deficiencies in my sound reproduction. In fact, I would hazard to say that audio reproduction on my Mac sounds better than many peoples entire home audio system. (Unless we’re talking about surround sound)
Now, if there is one thing I hate, it is ignorance. When someone makes the statement “For the rechord, just about every song can sound better with an equalizer, even with kick butt speakers.” Well, that just really burns me up. The person who wrote that has no clue about good sounding music. Worse yet, many people could read that and think it true, when it is far from being the truth.
Let’s take an example in the home audio world for a moment. Which of these Amplifiers do you think will do a better job of reproducing music between the following two products?
Power: 120 watts front channels, 30 watts center, 30 watts rear
Dolby Pro Logic
6 Preset EQ with 3 manual settings
Surround Modes: Dolby Pro Logic, 3D Phonic, and 3 Mode “Live Surround”
Rotary encoder volume control
1-bit D/A converter
Average price: $450.00
Sound like a good system, eh? For many people, this is all the stereo you will ever need. It will sound pretty good. And in case it don’t, hey, there is an EQ to adjust the quality of the sound. This system NEEDS an EQ.
Stereo vacuum tube power amplifier
Dual monoblock design with dual independent power supplies
Famous patented McIntosh Unity Coupled Circuit
Bifilar output transformers
130 watts per channel
Low distortion at rated output from 20Hz to 20kHz
Wide power bandwidth
Illuminated peak-responding meters with hold switch
Balanced and unbalanced inputs
Outputs for 2, 4, or 8 ohms
Gold-plated input jacks
Gold-plated multi-way output binding posts rated to 200 amperes
Gold-plated stainless steel chassis with glass front panel
Gold-plated handles and knobs
Black transformer enclosures and chassis base
Removable black cage for tubes
Premium KT88 output tubes
Ceramic tube sockets with gold contacts
Air-pipe cooling for bases of output tubes
Long-life premium capacitors and resistors
Electronically filtered high voltage power supplies
Twin regulated DC heater supplies for input tubes
Power transformers accept 100V, 120V, or 230V at 50/60 Hz
Modern circuit design with all signal amplification by tubes
Semiconductors for power supplies, voltage regulators, meter drivers, emitter follower isolators
Wow, look at all the gold in that sucker! Man, you could probably melt this puppy down and get half you money back! Holy smokes!
Now, honestly, which of these two musical reproduction machines do you think will reproduce sound better? If you picked the first, well, your also probably using a 486 PC.
Do you see anywhere in the features listed for the McIntosh an “EQ?” In fact, in 36 out of 50 states, you could actually do jail time if you even have an EQ in the same room as this fine piece of work.
My objective of writing this column is not to make anyone feel inadequate about their Mac, how they listen to music, what programs they use, or what speakers or headphones are being used. Rather, I just want people to be informed.
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? Get a better pair of speakers. Invest in some really nice headphones. If you are going to convert your CD’s to MP3, and can spare a little extra hard drive space, then convert that music at a high bit-rate. 256kbps really DOES sound better. And if it doesn’t for you, don’t worry about it. As long as you enjoy it, that is really all that matters.
But don’t feel that just because Apple’s iTunes not having a built-in EQ makes it any less a product than an MP3 player that does. Very fine reproduced sound does not NEED an EQ. And neither does iTunes. But if your equipment or the quality of your MP3’s need one, then use SoundJam or Audion. All I ask is that you realize the problem is not that iTunes does not have an EQ. The problem is that you need one.