Few audio technologies have had the dramatic effect of MP3 – not even Sony’s MiniDisc. Perhaps it’s because MP3 has no master as such (it’s an ISO standard) and doesn’t rely on any particular medium. It’s as at home on a computer as it is on a small stand-alone player. But you need good software to encode MP3 files, play them and to offer a slew of nice add-on facilities. Where MP3 is concerned, that piece of software is SoundJam.
SoundJam is the Microsoft Office of MP3 software. For starters, it’s probably the easiest and best MP3 encoder available on the Mac. Pop a CD into the drive, watch SoundJam automatically connect to the CDDB online database to get album and track names, select the required tracks and hit “convert”.
Features include variable bit rate (VBR) encoding, where SoundJam decides the rate according to the quality you choose, plus smart high-end frequency reduction, and a file-size reducing filter for frequencies below 10Hz. You can even plug a cassette player into the Mac’s mic socket and use the Record-to-MP3 facility to transfer old recordings.
Improvements in the current version include support for the new Dual Processor G4 Power Macs, the ability to encode at lower bit-rates (below 32Kbps) and sampling rates (down to 8KHz), plus conversion to WAV files for better cross-platform compatibility.
SoundJam’s player is also one of the best around, courtesy of almost bottomless drag-&-drop playlists and the ability to recognize and play any file, irrespective of the file creator. The built-in ten-band graphic EQ is pretty well standard – but the cut-down version
of Arboretum Systems’ Realizer, which works on a song’s sonic characteristics, is a nice extra. It even has a Playlist Composer that uses existing playlists, or folders of MP3s, to create new playlists according to your criteria. Also, each song can have a custom start/stop time, a different level and an equalizer preset. The latest version sports an enhanced playlist with hierarchical folders – much like the Mac’s Finder.
The player also supports streaming MP3 from the Internet, including two new features: Internet Stream Tuner, that finds music over the Internet automatically; and Internet Broadcasting, for streaming music from your computer using a re-broadcaster – such as FlyCast, ShoutCast or IceCast. Powerful stuff.
For those who are lucky enough to own a stand-alone MP3 player, SoundJam can control most Rio and DMP machines, including the DMP Jukebox.
Min specs: Mac OS 8.1; 6MB RAM.
It really is very difficult to fault SoundJam MP Plus. The open nature of its plug-ins means there are plenty of third-party skins and visual effects, aside from the standard ones. And all updates from version 1.0 have been free of charge – on a product that costs less than £30.
More to the point, SoundJam MP Plus works well in all departments –apart from one, the karaoke feature.
But that’s the only negative point on a quality product that goes from strength to strength. There’s a 14-day trial on Macworld’s cover CD this month.