So is it possible that Apple no longer wants you to buy music? They’d rather have you pay $10 or $15 monthly for the rest of your life to keep your music library?
In the past, Steve Jobs said people wanted to own music when asked about subscriptions. Since then, an industry headed by market leader Spotify has demonstrated that many people, particularly millennials, are only too happy to build huge music libraries for low monthly payments. Apple certainly is aware of the market potential, which explains the purchase of Beats Electronics and the introduction of Apple Music.
Apple didn’t spend $3 billion just to market premium headphones.
Now in the real world, people have different priorities. Apple Music — or Spotify for that matter — is cheap and reasonably easy to use. If you can afford the monthly fee, you don’t have to worry about needing more money to buy the 10 albums you want that month. You have a choice of millions, all at your beck and call. Well, for as long as your subscription lasts, or the service exists. So if you’re 20 now, are you going to depend on Apple Music or Spotify being there 50 years from now? I’ll still have my CDs if I live that long, and set a record for longevity!
But the music industry is not single-minded. There are still many who prefer to buy music on physical media or digital. There has been a resurgence of vinyl, a format for recorded music that one might have thought was dead. But vinyl’s growth may be only a fad, and it still occupies a fraction of the market. If you embrace vinyl — and I grew up during its heyday — you will see the downsides soon enough. If you pay a record too many times, even on the most expensive gear, audio quality deteriorates and surface noise increases. It’s also supremely breakable. Should you want to preserve a pristine copy to avoid deterioration, you may rip a copy, on digital.
Now on this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented blogger and podcaster Kirk McElhearn, also known as Macworld’s “iTunes Guy.” He talked about his strange problems moving from the beta channel of iOS 10 to the release version, outlined the interface changes that are meant to simplify Apple Music, and briefly commented about a decision by the U.S. Senate to spend a mere $19.5 million on plans for Mars exploration and a new spaceship design. The discussion moved to computer speakers, as Gene talked about his quest to find a system that won’t blow the circuit breaker for his office when he’s listening to music and also printing a document on his laser printer.
You also heard from commentator Jeff Gamet, Managing Editor for The Mac Observer. He talked about Gene’s quest for new computer speakers, Apple’s application to patent an exclusive design for a — paper bag, Apple’s alleged attempt to discourage customers from buying music with Apple Music, new developments in AI technology at Apple, and the latest scuttlebutt about alleged plans for an Apple Car. Is Apple giving up on building a car and focusing instead on self-driving technology? What about those published reports that Apple is in talks to acquire a luxury sports car maker, McLaren Automotive? Does such a move even makes sense?
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris welcome veteran UFO researchers Stanton T. Friedman and Kathleen Marden, authors of “Fact, Fiction and Flying Saucers,” which is subtitled, “The Truth Behind the Misinformation, Distortion, and Derision by Debunkers, Government Agencies, and Conspiracy Conmen.” The book traces the origins of the government’s ongoing conspiracy to debunk UFO sightings in order to hide the truth about the phenomenon. The book focuses on three of the most famous — or infamous — debunkers, astronomer Dr. Howard Menzel, aviation journalist Philip Klass, and Dr. Edward Condon, a nuclear physicist, and how they attempted to obscure the truth with casual dismissals of some of the most significant evidence.
My efforts to solve a problem with the electrical wiring in my home, where outputting a document on my laser printer would sometimes trigger the circuit breaker for that room, has taken on some curious twists and turns. When it first happened, the landlord agreed to have an electrician install a more robust circuit breaker, from 15 amps to 20 amps. Yes, the wiring is capable of handling the larger current load.
After the installation, the problem continued to occur, only not as often. So I did a little online checking, and found that other owners of the low-cost Brother HL-5450DN printer had encountered similar problems, as did owners of other Brother lasers. So I contacted tech support, and talked with a supervisor who seemed very aware of the problem. He promised to offer a solution.
The first attempted resolution to circuit breaker tripping was to install a special version of the printer’s firmware. Only it cannot be installed using the Java installer available on Macs. Instead, I needed to use Brother’s admin utility for Windows. I ended up downloading the firmware via Windows 10 on a Parallels Desktop 12 virtual machine.
At first, the fix appeared to work, until the printer spontaneously printed out huge quantities of pages with a line or two of gibberish. It only stopped when the paper tray was emptied, and I power cycled the unit. This problem repeated itself every day or two. Indeed — and most of you won’t believe this — one time those pages bore a single word in caps, “TRUMP”! I am not joking!
In addition, the circuit breaker tripped yet again, so I called Brother for further advice. This time they decided to, I suppose, take pity on me and replace the printer with something much newer. My printer first went on sale in 2012. A similarly priced model, the HL-L5100DN, has been available since earlier this year. Supposedly its current demands on powering up to output a document were better tolerated by a sensitive circuit breaker system. Supposedly.
The printer arrived on a Monday. It looked similar to the older model, except for a somewhat sleeker design and an LED display. It also ran quieter, but output speed and quality appeared to be pretty much the same otherwise.
No, it didn’t solve the problem. Two days later, the circuit breaker tripped.
So is there anything else on that circuit that may have prodigious power requirements? Yes, one item, a Bose Companion 5 Computer Speaker system that I purchased several years ago. Understand that this setup never caused a problem in my previous home, or the one before that. But the system’s 17-pound Acoustimass woofer probably pulled a lot of juice under normal use. The combo of printer and woofer evidently triggered the problem.
So I turned off and disconnected the Bose system, and tolerated the inferior audio of my iMac as I sought other solutions.
The first was a shareware app, Boom 2, which optimizes the equalization curve on any Mac to provide somewhat richer sound quality. It’s also a little louder, so it seems even more impressive, but there was still no bass to speak of, so I thought yet another solution.
It came in the form of a small woofer module mainly designed for MacBooks, the BassJump 2. It weighs about a pound-and-a-half and comes in a case that resembles an Apple product, specifically a Mac mini. This $69.99 accessory is powered via the USB bus, so current draw is no problem. It comes with a convenient carrying case, and as I said, it is mainly designed for Mac portables. But the supplied software can tailor itself to any Mac.
So the manufacturer, Twelve South, agreed to send me one to review despite the fact that it’s been out for several years.
As advertised, it does provide an audible degree of oomph to the iMac’s sound. There is real bass there, and I positioned it on the floor in front of the rear wall to maximize the boost. To my ears, the best setting is “Rock,” which increases the bass to a level just shy of making it muddy. It’s not nearly as robust as the dedicated woofer on the Bose, but it didn’t trip any circuit breakers.
But this isn’t quite the end of my quest. I use my home office as a recording studio, and the improvement to the iMac’s audio, while impressive, isn’t quite what I need. So I’ve continued to search for alternatives. I’ve contacted several audio makers, but one suggested that the power requirements would likely trigger the circuit breaker if I installed their flagship speaker system. That problem has not recurred since I turned off the Bose system.
I welcome your suggestions. The problem is that the best quality speakers usually pump lots of current to feed the woofer, and, without specific power measurements (which Bose doesn’t provide) it’s difficult to know without trial and error whether I’ll run into any more problems.
Meantime, if you want to improve the audio on your Mac, with an emphasis on notebooks, BassJump 2 can definitely get the job done, and, as I said, the audible improvement is impressive. But I hope that Apple might consider using Beats technology to boost the audio on all Macs. While I don’t expect the thumping bass delivered by the best subwoofers, or Beats headphones, I think there’s room for improvement if Apple applies the right technology.
One possible solution is Bose’s waveguide technology, used on their Wave radios. But it requires pumping the audio through a tube with a complicated maze or path, which will probably occupy far more space than Apple would consider on a super slim Mac. Providing decent bass involves moving air. Some systems use ports to accomplish the task. Consider waveguide essentially a closed and winding port through which the sound waves are sent, but that’s an oversimplification.
If Apple cares about delivering quality audio from a Mac, I’m sure they can devise a workable method, despite having limited space with which to manage an audio system. But I don’t expect a solution anytime soon, so my quest for the ideal low-powered computer speaker system will go on.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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