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Proofing Music With MP3 & SoundJam MP

Apple Notes By Vic Lennard
Published October 2000

Get under the skin of SoundJam MP Plus.Get under the skin of SoundJam MP Plus.

Proofing music with MP3 and SoundJam MP Plus is on the agenda for Vic Lennard this month...

Chatting with a music publishing friend of mine, it suddenly dawned on me that there is a very close analogy between a commercial song‑writing studio and a graphics based one. Each creates artistic products, is client‑based and has to deliver proofs of the product to the client in a flexible format.

In standard publishing, proofs used to be sent on paper as a printout. This has been replaced by Adobe's Acrobat PDF electronic format and few commercial applications now include a paper‑based manual. A music 'proof' used to be sent as a mix on analogue cassette. This was replaced by DAT and Minidisc —and now by MP3 which is the real point, for there is an amazing similarity between MP3 and PDF.

Both MP3 and PDF produce a non‑editable, compressed file and the creator controls the level of compression and also the degree of data loss. In one this loss is visible, in the other it is audible. Each can be sent as an email attachment via the Internet, which is how I got on to the subject with my friend in the first place: his writers send their demos in MP3 format. A PDF requires the freeware Acrobat Reader and an MP3 needs a player, with Apple's QuickTime 4 system software providing the relevant vehicle.


SoundJam MP Plus includes VBR, allowing the user to make a quality‑based encoding decisionSoundJam MP Plus includes VBR, allowing the user to make a quality‑based encoding decision

The Adobe Acrobat package contains everything you need to create PDF files, and the Mac has an equivalent one‑stop product for MP3: Casady & Greene's SoundJam MP Plus. I mentioned this a few months ago, and Simon Trask reviewed v1.6 in SOS March 2000, but much has been added in the meantime including MP2 support, per track EQ, vastly improved playlist, Contextual Menu support, and many cosmetic changes including semi‑transparent skins. The biggest enhancement, however, is in the improved encoding and hence playback quality.

I don't know about you, but I was seriously disappointed when I first heard an MP3 playback. It was thin, harsh and tinny and reminded me of the way early CDs used to sound. However, SoundJam MP Plus has given me renewed confidence in the technology. Its use of Variable Bit Rate (VBR), discussed at length within Paul Sellars' exhaustive MP3 feature in SOS May 2000, allows you to make a quality‑based encoding through the selection of one of seven levels ranging from 'lowest' to 'highest'. Even at 'highest' the encoded file size is still only around 15 percent of the original — and audibly almost identical on a decent audio system (I still use the pair of B&W DM4s I bought back in 1974 and a pro 150W per channel custom power amp).

The biggest difference has to be in the price. Adobe Acrobat retails at around £160; the latest version of SoundJam MP Plus, 2.1.1, will cost you just $39.95 as an Internet download from Even better, you can download SoundJam MP Free, try out all the features (including up to 30 encodings) for 14 days and then be left with a decent player sans EQ.

Humour me. Get hold of the free version and try the following test. Set the converter up for VBR, highest quality, and choose the digital audio master file (in AIFF format) of your favourite, recent mix. Drag‑and‑drop it into the converter window and obtain the final MP3 file. Now play back the two versions. Can you discern any differences? Drop me an email ( marked for the attention of Vic Lennard.

Sound Sense?

A decent vocoder is welcome in anyone's VST plug‑in collectionA decent vocoder is welcome in anyone's VST plug‑in collection

I can't be the only one to be seriously concerned by Apple's latest policy of providing new computers without audio input and output. I mentioned this in the last issue while looking at the G4 Cube and latest iMacs. I've had some time to think about the situation and it worries me. Many of you must be using the old‑fangled mic and headphone sockets to make your Mac the centre of a budget recording studio. What cheap alternative is there without such a facility? I'll start investigating this but, in the meantime, if you are using such sockets on an older Mac please drop me an email with info on your setup.

And Finally

Opus 2.5 — full‑featured notation package with a usable demo.Opus 2.5 — full‑featured notation package with a usable demo.

I'm not usually a Microsoft basher. I use Word (albeit v5.1 rather than Office) and changed to Internet Explorer from Netscape some time ago. But if you really want to see a dog of a program, get hold of a copy of the Windows Media Player. It's supposed to provide Mac support for Windows Media Audio streaming but its performance is very poor. You could, however, do your phone bill a favour and simply avoid the 2.5Mb download.

As a real Mac games freak, I tend to download all the latest demos. Current fave is Deus Ex, a futuristic adventure game — the Inside Mac Games web site has had over 7,000 downloads. Not untypical, except that the file is a whopping great 135Mb! That's around eight hours with a 56K modem and a half‑decent line — and that's just from one web site. How times change...

Recent Apple Update

Two‑track mastering doesn't come much easier than with Spark XL.Two‑track mastering doesn't come much easier than with Spark XL.

No sooner does iMovie 2 arrive (included on every new iMac, Power Mac G4 and Power Mac G4 Cube) than it's updated to 2.0.1. Improvements include stability and performance enhancements as well as support for the new iMovie Plug‑in Pack 2. More information can be obtained from

New VST Plug‑ins

If your digital audio sequencer uses VST plug‑ins, check out the new FXpansion Series One. This collection of six effects plug‑ins (RingModulator, Autopole, Phat.Sync, MTap, MidiComb and Vocoder) will seriously enhance any sound studio. Priced at $100, it's also very cost effective. More information at

Downloadable Goodies

There has been a spate of notation packages recently but Opus 2.5 seems to have more features than most. Input via mouse, MIDI keyboard (step‑ or real‑time) or MIDI file import, playback via OMS or QuickTime Musical Instruments, and paper print or MIDI File export is impressive — as is the very lengthy feature list. Well worth a look at; the demo is a 5Mb download and includes sample files and a tutorial.

OnTheAir Home Studio ( purports to be the world's "easiest to use live‑assist software for radio stations", and its ability to play back, mix and crossfade sound files (including AIFF and MP3 formats) makes it an interesting competitor to BayTex Party! Pro. Other features include playlists capable of fading out other playlists and the use of QuickTime to set out points with MoviePlayer.

TC Spark XL 1.6 ( is a superb 2‑track mastering editor from TC Works that can function with VST‑ or TDM‑compatible software. The seven‑day trial gives you access to all the facilities apart from MPEG encoding and decoding. On top of stunning mastering tools there are 12 high‑quality plug‑ins including the new de‑noiser and de‑clicker. Another one to try — but be ready to shell out your cash at the end of the trial!

VSamp ( turns your Mac into an OMS, FreeMIDI and VST‑compatible multitimbral sample playback module. Much like a hardware sampler, VSamp can be configured to play samples on 16 MIDI channels with up to 64 samples per channel, mapped and enveloped to user‑defined configurations. This can then be driven by an OMS‑compatible sequencer or the included application 'OMS Thru' running on the same computer. It also includes a VST plug‑in, VSamp VST, that can play VSamp instruments allowing you access to the audio output of VSamp from within a VST‑2 compatible sequencer. The demo stops playing a loaded bank after about four minutes from when the bank is loaded.


How about a music editor designed for polyphonic music? Try Virtual Composer ( which can be used to enter a whole musical score (and then execute it) or to create professional looking scores for printout.

If you need a simple program to play a set of audio files (for backing or the like), then PlayQT ( is perfect. It creates playlists and handles any format supported by QuickTime 4.1 (which is required).

Talking of simplicity, Coaster 1.1.2 ( is a neat direct‑to‑disk recording utility that writes standard AIFF files. Its features include input gain, accurate level meters with headroom indication, clipping detection, click elimination, automatic recording based on incoming signal level with file‑splitting, and manual file‑splitting on the fly.


  • SoundJam MP Plus 2.1.1: fixed jerky cursor and sound quality problem through some USB subwoofers.
  • Studio System 3.1: various bug fixes.
  • Amadeus II v2.4r3 (shareware): zoom in/out functions, more bug fixes and shortcuts.
  • Audiocorder v1.9.8 (shareware): now selects the folder in which AIFF files are saved.
  • BayTex Party! Pro 2.5.1 (shareware): Song Setup menu option now works.
  • BitMapMusic 1.6.2 (freeware): minimum memory requirement is increased to 6Mb to make 'Save as JPEG' function more reliable.
  • MPLAY Multimedia Player 1.4.3 (freeware).
  • Sound Studio 1.4.1 (shareware): fixes a bug that affects insert edits, including Insert Silence and Paste.
  • SoundApp 2.7 (freeware): huge number of changes.