Xounds 2.1, by Unsanity LLC
Posted: 20-Apr-2004

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Unsanity LLC Type: SHAREWARE

Reviewer: Bill Catambay Class: UTILITY
     
$10   Download

Overview
I don't remember the exact OS version when Apple first introduced appearance sounds, but I remember what a welcome new feature it was. Having the OS widgets make subtle unobtrusive sounds had the effect of turning my silent Mac into a living breathing machine. It made my Mac experience more enjoyable. Unfortunately, appearance sounds were dropped by Apple when they moved to Mac OS X, muting my Mac and leaving me in cold silence.

Once again, Unsanity has come to the rescue, this time with it's Xounds utility. Xounds is an OS X utility, known as a haxie, that gives you the ability to add and customize widget sounds under OS X, such as menu clicks, opening folders, and emptying the trash. Xounds can convert your current OS 9 sound set and load those sounds in, or you can customize it to use any sounds you want. Xounds is a shareware utility that is priced at $10.

Features

  • Plays sounds when you work - when you pull down menus, drag windows, select menu items, empty trash, and more.
  • Assign freely which events you want to be voiced and which not.
  • Assign any AIFF sound to supported events.
  • Ability to import Mac OS 8 or 9 sound sets for use in Mac OS X.
  • Stereo or mono output - so you actually hear on what side you have pulled the menu down.
  • Exclude list to remove certain applications from being affected by Xounds.
  • Easy to configure through System Preferences.

Installation
Xounds can be downloaded from Unsanity's web site, and easily installs with a simple installer program. Like most Unsanity products, it requires the Application Enhancer, which is installed automatically if it is not already present. Xounds is shareware, so if you like it, you pay a $10 shareware fee to register the product.

The only downside to installing Xounds, a problem that seems to be present in other Unsanity haxies as well, is that you have to re-enter the serial number for each account on the same computer. It really needs an option to register the product just once for all users on the Mac it is being installed on.

In Use
Activating Xounds under OS X brings back the familiar sound feedback that was standard under OS 9. When you perform certain actions, such as selecting menus, dragging windows, emptying the trash, and more, the Mac emits a subtle sound representative of the action taking place. Xounds expands on this feature by allowing you to easily define each of the sounds, or turning them off. Xounds installs a preference panel that provides three tabbed categories: Xounds, Sounds Setup, and Exclude List.

In the Xounds tab, you can toggle Xounds on and off, and if on, you can toggle stereo panning on or off. Stereo panning means that if you click a menu on the left side of your screen, the sound comes out of your left speaker, and if you click on a menu on the right, the sound comes out of your right speaker (and adjusted accordingly for everything in-between). This is default under OS 9, and a welcome feature under OS X. The option to turn it off is there to lessen the load on your OS, but if your Mac can run OS X, it can handle stereo panning just fine. In other words, keep it on! Another nice feature on this screen is the ability to adjust the sound level for the Xounds effects. In OS 9, the volume was controlled by the master volume, but here you can lower the sound of the effects (to make them more subtle) without affecting the volume of other OS audio output. This screen also provides a button for importing sounds from OS 9, as well as downloading OS 9 sound sets from the internet. Importing from OS 9 converts all of the sounds in an OS 9 sound set to OS X format, and makes them assignable within Xounds. The download buttons takes you to a web site where you can download more OS 9 sound sets; afterwhich, you can convert those for Xounds as well. I tried the most popular sound sets, but I found them all to be over-the-top and not pleasing for my needs. I like subtle effects, and hopefully more subtle effects will be available in the future.

The last set of buttons on the Xounds settings page is for Help, Register, and About. Help opens up a Xounds manual in Text Edit, Register lets you enter a serial number to register the product, and About displays your typical About dialog box.

It's in the Sounds Setup tab where you actually start assigning sounds to OS X actions. Xounds provides a list of several actions to assign sounds. Some of these sounds, such as "Application Hidden", don't have OS 9 equivalents, and I couldn't find any appropriate sound to assign to them. Some other actions that did have sounds in OS 9, such as "Window Moving", I did not activate under OS X because the sound behavior is jarring. For instance, in OS 9, the sound for a window moving only played when the window was actually moving. Under OS X, however, the sound in continuous as long as the mouse button is down (so the window can be sitting still, but making a clicking sound as if it were moving). I stuck with the main sounds, such as window activate, window close, menu actions, and of course, emptying the trash.


Setting up sounds in Xounds

Under the list of actions, there are two window panes, one for the available sounds (grouped by sound set names), and one for "Smart Picks". When you click on an action, the Smart Picks lists the sounds that Xounds determines is appropriate for that action. You can use one of the suggestions, or just go pick any of the available sounds that you desire. To assign the sound, you just drag the sound from the list and drop it over the action. To mute an action, you just click on the circled "x" that appears at the end of the line. It's really easy to assign and deassign sounds. You can also save the assignments as a Xounds set using the popup menu at the top right of the actions list. That way, if you want to experiment with other sounds, you could easily go back to a previous set without having to do all the re-assignments. There's also a button that you can use to grab a sound from anywhere on your hard drive. By pressing the "Other..." button, Xounds lets you navigate through your folders to pick a sound of your choosing. Unfortunately, it only lets you assign AIF sound files. It would be nice if it could read an OS 9 sound file and convert it for me (because I have a ton of those sound files laying around).

The last tab is the Exclude List, and lets you specify applications that should ignore sounds assigned by Xounds. I could not find any applications on my system where I saw a need to use this option.

Besides the problem of problem some actions not behaving properly with sounds (such as moving windows making sounds when the window is not moving), the other complaint I have is that there aren't any sounds provided with Xounds to spruce up the deal. You have the OS X sounds, the Platinum sounds from OS 9, and a sleu of sounds that you can download from the internet (none of which I have been pleased with). I was hoping to see some built-in sounds that were new and different, and still sutble and appropriate to the actions. If you have time on your hands, you could probably find some good sounds on the internet, or even make some of your own. One of the nice features of Xounds is that you can utilize any sound that you can get your hands on (as long as it is an AIFF format).

Since previous versions, Xounds has greatly improved in terms of quality and stability of the sound playback. The sounds always play when I expect them to play, and they play uninterrupted and at the volume that I set. I did stumble upon one bug, however, in the preference panel. In saving a Xounds set, if I use a name that already exists, I get the expected "Replace" dialog, but after specifying to replace it, it fails to do so (no error message, just keeps the same save dialog on the screen as if I canceled the replace).

Summary
If you once used Appearance sounds in OS 9, then moving from OS 9 to OS X can be quite disturbing, making your computer seem like it lost it's sound capabilities. Sounds have a way of breathing life into inanimate things, especially a computer. While Apple's Appearance sounds brought life into Mac OS 9, it takes Unsanity's Xounds to restore audio life to Mac OS X. Xounds is a $10 shareware OS X haxie that allows you to activate subtle (or unsubtle) sounds for different OS X actions. It provides an import option that lets you convert OS 9 sounds to use under OS X. Unfortunately it does not come with any new sounds of its own, and has a few minor interface quarks. Also, the dragging sounds need to be fixed so that they do not play when the object is not actually being moved. All in all, Xounds is a fine utility with a good set of customization options. Moreover, when you pay the shareware fee, you get a lifetime of upgrades, making this utility well worth the price!

Pros

  • Brings Appearance sounds to OS X
  • Low shareware fee includes lifetime upgrades
  • Supports converting any OS 9 Sound Set
  • Easy to install and use

Cons

  • Drag sound plays during non-movement
  • No new sounds provided and does not recognize OS 9 sound files
  • Registration required for each account on computer
  • Bug exists for overwriting Xounds sets

Overall Rating

4 out of 5 Mice