Recently I had a chance to try a plug-in designed to enhance the quality of sound from my iTunes whether listening on my iPod or on my iMac. The name of the plug-in is iWow, from SRS Labs.
Without question, this is one of the most powerful little pieces of software I have ever tried, and let me tell you that it works! Considering the relatively scant price, I highly recommend it. For $30.00 you can expect to experience true surround 3-D sound the instant you activate the plug-in.
Now, for the record, I do not own a bad set of speakers.
In fact, the M-Audio AV 40 Studiophile Reference Speakers (priced around $150.00) I own and use with my iMac are some of the best sounding speakers I have ever heard, regardless of whether we are talking about desktop speakers systems (which these are) or traditional studio monitors (which these are not, though they could easily be used as such).
In short, M-Audio has a reputation for making awesome speakers, and the AV-40′s do not disappoint. I have loved them for the past two years. Still, I had no idea how good these speakers truly were until I installed iWow on my iMac.
Most iTunes fans know that iTunes comes with its own Equalizer. Of course, this feature comes in handy. The equalizer allows a listener to customize the sound on their output device such as built-in iMac or Macbook speakers, or desktop speakers. But as useful as I have found the iTunes Equalizer to be, I was shocked to find out just how limited it was in bringing out the true, full sound of iTunes songs, whether played over computer speakers or an iPod.
I was not familiar with SRS Labs, and I only found the plug-in by poking around on the internet looking for neat ways to expand my iTunes experience. This pithy little plug-in popped up during my search. I downloaded the trial version and gave it a whirl and all I can say is that I now know why the M-Audio AV 40′s are so highly recommended. I enjoy all my music so much more now. iPod users are also in luck because SRS Labs also has an adaptor that connects to the iPod and uses the same iWow plug-in. iPod users will swear that their iPods had magically been transformed. This iWow is just a very cool audio-enhancement tool.
How iWow works is beyond me. It would not surprise me in the least me someone, somewhere won a Pulitzer Prize for this thing. What I can tell you is that iWow outputs a sound that is superior to what you are use to listening to, no matter how good your speakers are (or aren’t).
iWow allows you to customize your music in several ways: First, iWow offers some nifty presets for Rock, Jazz, Classical etc., which can be chosen from a convenient drop-down menu. iWow is similar to iTunes in that regard.
For the desktop environment, iWow plug-in has two medium modes: music and movies. In addition, there are three output modes for Headphones, Laptop and External Speakers. You simply chose your listening medium, choose your output, and you are off to the races.
As with default iTunes, if the iWow presets do not suit your tastes then you can customize your sound even more with the iWow equalizer, which you interact with just like any other graphic equalizer. The big difference is the impact the adjustments make at low volumes. In my opinion, this is the biggest advantage that iWow offers.
With the standard array of sound enhancing features iTunes came with, even though I could tweak my music I still found myself having to turn the volume way up in order to “hear” my songs. This was wearing me out.
iWow allows me to listen to my music at low volumes and yet hear all the detail in the music; so much so that there is no need to crank up the volume. In fact, I truly felt as though I were listening to my music for the very first time. Yet, if I am working out and feel the “need for speed” as it wear, I can crank up the volume without distorting sound or losing detail. Granted, this is due in part to the superb quality of the AV-40 Studiophiles, but iWow simply drives these little beasts to be at their best, no matter what genre of music I am listening to. I just love it.
In terms of the change in sound quality, the plug-in improves spacial imaging, creates depth, fine-tunes the detail, adjusts distance forward and backward, expands the sound stage or shrinks it, and creates a 3-D surround sound that just needs to be heard to be appreciated. A numeric representation might go something like this: iWow easily improves the quality of your music by a factor of x5 over the default iTunes Equalizer, and by a factor of x10 over the standard non-enhanced sound that iTunes generates with its default sound card drivers. iWow is that good!
Another cool feature is that iWow only enhances music from iTunes or iPods. You will not notice the same enhancements on the various sounds and alerts that your computer generates. I think that is a good thing. On the downside, iWow does not enhance the music or sound from Youtube and other streaming sources such as Hulu. That is a bad thing.
Now for the bad – the demo version comes with an annoying pop-up window that features a few buttons (such as Buy, Cancel, Demo and Register) and the buttons often do not work, necessitating ye old “Forced Quit”, whereupon you have to re-launch iTunes, at which point the iWow buttons work. This is REALLY annoying. SRS Labs apparently knows about it. I suppose a fix is in the offing sometime soon, but the good news is that once you purchase the full version for $30.00, this annoyance goes the way of the Do-Do Bird.
I still recommend getting the trial version, bugs and all. It’s worth it just to hear the magic happen and enjoy your music like never before for two weeks. I bet you that once you hear it, you will NEVER want to be without it.
[Editors Note: I had the opportunity to also try a similar plug-in called AstoundSound and there is simply no comparison. iWow kick's AstoundSound's rear end from here to eternity. iWow offers an incredible array of sound controls that AstoundSound simply doesn't have. Do not waste your money on AstoundSound. Sure, try the trial versions of both, but in the end I will bet real money that you will discover that iWow will be the plugin that truly astounds you.]
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