Music Tech

Mac Day 1 8/25/09

The MacBook’s welcome wizard walked me through everything that I needed to do right away and within 11 minutes I was up and running with all of the basic functionality of the pre-installed software. I was immediately able to connect to my wireless router. I downloaded all of the current updates, which took a while, but ran flawlessly in the background while I explored some of the programs, watched some tutorials and just got to know the interface.

If there’s one word that sums up the experience, it’s friendly. Not just in the sense of “user friendly” but in the sense of compassionate, caring, friendly. Maybe I am a bit jaded from PCs, but I was just on guard for something to go wrong.

I purposely did not order a Mighty Mouse just yet because I read mixed reviews about it, though I expect it will be one of the next things I get. I was comfortable with the touchpad though, and could easily see myself using it for most tasks. The backlit keyboard, with its light sensitive action, is a major plus. It was fun to test this by turning out the lights and watching it automatically adjust (small things thrill me).

After the updates were downloaded and installed, I restarted and began exploring at a deeper level. I found that Garage Band did not have all of the loop content installed, so I had to pull this from the install disk that came with the machine. Again, this process was very easy and required minimum input from me. One significant difference with PCs is that every update and license install requires you to enter your Mac password, which is a good way to make sure others are not adding anything you don’t want. Not that this will be a problem – no one else will be using this machine except me.

My first session involved using the AC plug, but after the battery was fully charged, I switched to battery to see how much I could do with it. I spent the rest of the night on battery power, easily three or more hours, some of which was spent in dimly lit areas with the backlit keyboard on. Later in the evening, I also tested sleep mode further pushing the battery.

Before I ordered my Mac Book, I took an inventory of what software I already had that was cross-platform. Fortunately, between what comes with the MacBook as standard, and what I have on hand, there’s very little I will need, if anything. I’m pretty much set in the music department for now. I installed CubaseLE 4 and Riffworks very easily, and I have Reason 4.0 to install later. My biggest frustration with the installs was that I forgot my password on one of the vendor sites and had to wait for a new one to be generated.

I sprang for iWork, just to have the basic presentation and calculation options in case I needed them. Since switching my web site to CMS Made Simple, there’s little need for Dreamweaver, although I do have a Mac version just in case. For now, I can do most of my web updates right online, which is great for traveling. I suspect my accounting will still be on my PC, but that seems to make sense right now.

The Stickies electronic post-it program is great for the way I work and my often stream-of-conscious thought process. They work well for keeping track of the various steps I’m taking along the way. I like to document what I am installing and when, so right now I have a sticky that is helping me keep track of items for this blog.

The cons. The day before the Macbok arrived (8/24), I learned that Apple would be coming out with an update to OS X called Snow Leopard. It comes out 8/28, only a few days after my machine would arrive. I still need to see if I need to pay the $29 to upgrade, or if they will grandfather me in. Seems kinda silly. Unless I upgrade, I will be unable to truly utilize the 8GB of memory that was installed. Otherwise, that 4GB is pretty much a waste.

While listening to the various tutorials, I perceived that the right channel audio was a bit louder. I checked the balance control. It was centered. I figured it could have just been me, or the particular recording I was listening to. Headphones sounded fine.

So I then tried two CDs that I am very familiar with (Jai Uttal’s “Shiva Station” and Jethro Tull’s “Rock Island”) and continued to perceive this imbalance. I tried listening in our dining room, and in my studio (ruling out room acoustics), and I tried turning my back to the Mac to switch the placement of my ears (ruling out quirks of my own hearing). Each time, the right channel speaker (when viewing the Mac head on) was louder and deeper.

I researched this online and found that I was not alone. It turns out the problem is that the subwoofer speaker is placed on the right of the unit along with the regular right channel speaker. The left and right channels (independent of the subwoofer) are even when played individually, but the bass frequencies are coming from the right side of the unit, causing the imbalance.

In a larger context, like with surround sound in a TV room, this doesn’t matter as much because the bass frequencies (which have a longer wavelength) are not perceived as directional. In a smaller context, on a laptop, this is more noticeable. A subwoofer on a laptop doesn’t produce extremely low frequencies, so they are more directional. The right channel bias is also quite clear when you turn the volume all the way up and place your hands on the keyboard – your right hand feels much more vibration from the subwoofer than your left.

When I really get into using this for audio, I’ll be using an off-board sound card and monitoring system anyway. I can live with this now that I know the reason for it. But to be honest, it drives me %&$#-ing nuts. I’d call it a design flaw, particularly since I purchased the machine for media work and expected more from all of the hype about Macs as better for audio. It’s a clear “miss,” and shows a lack of subtlety on the designer’s part. It’s not enough for me to box it up and send it back, but I hope this will improve with future models.

I was disappointed to find out that they no longer offer the email address to customers. I am not ready to jump into MobileMe yet. My first attempt at setting up an email account proved to be more difficult than I expected (even with the Mac giving me friendly error messages about the POP and SMTP server). This will have to wait until later, as it is time for bed. …


By jjdeprisco

Sonic explorer, sound artist, guitarist in Fricknadorable, software designer.