Volume Logic for iTunes, by Octiv
Posted: 26-Jun-2005

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Octiv Type: SHAREWARE

Reviewer: Matt Perl Class: MULTIMEDIA
     
$12.99   Download

Overview
iTunes is a great music program, storing and organizing one's music library in many useful ways. But the essence of music is the sound, and even the best computers (Macs, of course) with their digital "1's" and "0's" cannot always make the music sing out loud and clear. Sure you can "airport" to your home stereo with its 16" subwoofer and surround sound, but there are times when all you have are the little speakers that came with the computer. And let's face it, they stink. But now there is hope for your lowly computer speakers. And that hope rests with the Volume Logic plug-in (originally from Octiv; recently acquired by Plantronics and promoted as the Plantronics Volume Logic Group). The idea is to boost the performance of any speakers (big or small) and simultaneously bringing the disparate tracks from multiple albums towards a common, polished sound.

In addition to iTunes for Mac, Volume Logic is available for a variety of Windows media players, including iTunes. This review is strictly based upon Volume Logic for iTunes on a Mac.

Requirements

  • Mac OSX 10.2 or 10.3
  • Apple's iTunes for Mac


Setup
The software downloads as a .dmg file from
www.Octive.com as a 30 day free trial package. The file opens with a standard installer and includes three pdf files: Quick Start, FAQ's, and Volume Logic and Sound Check (which reviews the differences between Volume Logic and the Sound Check plug-in which comes native with iTunes). The installer will be familiar to any Mac user and walks one through the typical steps of welcome, credit, read me, license, and installation into the iTunes plug-ins folder. iTunes must be restarted to use the plug-in. If one decides to purchase the software ($19.95) through the Octive website, a confirmatory email includes an order number which is easily entered into the program. Be sure to save the confirmatory number; it will be needed if iTunes crashes or the hard disk needs to be reformatted. A quickstart guide and an uninstaller is also provided.

In Use
Volume Logic is found after opening iTunes under the "Window" header or can be brought to the forefront with "Command-3" from the keyboard. It has to be turned on by checking the "on" box, after which it will stay active until it is turned off again (despite opening and closing iTunes or restarting the computer).

You'll find four controls for Volume Logic: volume, genre, drive, and bass boost. "Volume" is pretty self-explanatory, though one will have to decide whether to use iTunes volume slider, Volume Logic's slider, or the Sound system preference's "Output volume" control. The plug-in's quickstart guide suggests keeping iTunes at maximum volume and using Volume Logic's control. My personal preference it to keep both at their maximum, then use my keyboard volume controls (which control the Sound system preference volume).

The "Genre" control works just like the iTunes equalizer, including 18 presets with headings such as acoustic, classical, dance, hip-hop, jazz, rock and more. The software, however, does not utilize the genre designated by iTunes to vary Volume Logic's genre settings per song. This would have been a nice feature, allowing the automation of assignments if the user does not wish to manually adjust it for each song. Also, though not mentioned in the quick start guide, one should disable iTunes Equalizer when using Volume Logic to get better response from the plug-in's genres.

The "Drive" control is a bit confusing as to how it effects the sounds. The plug-ins pop-up description calls it "oomph." Drive functions as a "loudness" switch, similar to my loudness switch on my trusty, old Kenwood stereo amplifier, boosting the punch of the sound. At low volumes, a higher Drive setting seems to work best, restoring the punch to the music. At higher volumes however, too much Drive causes an unpleasant, sluggish sound. This control takes the most playing around to achieve a satisfying sound. In addition, different genres work with different Drive settings, so fiddle away with the controls.

Finally, there is "Bass Boost," which is pretty much self-explanatory. The sound missing the most from small speakers is the bass; "Bass boost" puts it back in and does a remarkably good job doing so.

Volume Logic also includes colorful meters to give one an idea of the song's stereo input level, gain control, frequency levels being processed, limiters, and output level. The function of the meters is mostly to provide eye candy with regards to music playback. A couple of user comments on the Volume Logic website suggest that the meters take up processing power and could slow down your computer, but I saw no indication of this on my Powermac G5.

Some housekeeping also: check your iTunes' preferences under the "Audio" heading to be sure "Sound enhancer" and "Sound check" are turned off; these are redundant when using Volume Logic.


Volume Logic Control Window


Volume Logic provides great audio boost and clarity, especially noticeable by those, like me, whose computer sound system is not quite "top of the line". Volume Logic lets those woofers woof and the tweeters sing. I tested the software on my G5 with it's Harmon Kardon Soundsticks and on my 15" aluminum Powerbook both with both its built-in speakers and separately with a pair of inexpensive portable speakers. My preferences in music run towards the rock and funk genre. Playing the Jerry Garcia Band or an old Grateful Dead tune (available free from
www.archive.org, by the way) with iTunes alone, the music sounds fine; with the Volume Logic plug-in turned on, the music plays brighter and more alive. Much Grateful Dead music consists of live recordings by amateurs at the shows, for which the Dead actually set up special sections before each show. For this music, background pops, hiss and ambient noise is less noticeable. I tried some classical music as well, using a familiar Beethoven symphony. Toggling Volume Logic on and off gives one a sense of actually being in a concert hall (plug-in on) versus just listening to a recording (plug-in off). The bass notes seem deeper and easier to hear; the high notes are brighter.

Even for those with expensive stereo systems, you may notice that playback through iTunes is not quite as dynamic as playing CDs. This is because your CD player is designed to work with your stereo system, whereas iTunes was designed to work with computer speakers. Playing iTunes through a stereo system on some auxiliary input (there is no "iTunes Input" developed yet), the output has always been a bit weak and flat, and to get any decent sound, you have to really crank up the stereo. Volume Logic really gives iTunes a needed boost, and plays your computer's music library through your stereo much better. Playing your music library through an iPod suffers the same kind of degradation, but unfortunately there is no Volume Logic for your iPod at the time of this review.

The Octiv website's product review refers to improved "volume dynamics and spectral balance," terms that may sound cool, but may not mean much to the average person. In plain talk, Volume Logic definitely makes the music more fun to listen to. Just as s a picture is worth a thousand words, a listen to the Volume Logic plug-in will do a better job of explaining just what a difference it can make to your music experience.


Summary
Volume Logic introduces itself as a tool for bringing "real-time digital remastering to iTunes users." Translation: it makes the music sound better. With its Genre, Drive, and Bass Boost controls, it takes up the slack of iTunes' built in Equalizer, Sound Enhancer and Sound Check. There is no "smart" self-adjust based upon the genre of music playing, and Volume Logic's sound enhancements are currently not recordable. Volume Logic is available as a free demo download, so there is no reason not to check it out. Pick a few of your favorite songs and experiment with Volume Logic's easy-to-use controls. Turn your speakers up and see the difference this little plug-in can make. Volume Logic improves sound through any kind of output, whether a nice set of Harmon-Kardon Soundsticks, a stereo system, or even little Powerbook speakers. If you're looking to boost the quality of music playing from your computer's iTunes library, Volume Logic for iTunes is definitely worth a look.

Pros

  • Greatly improves the richness and depth of music playing from iTunes
  • Easy installation with fully-functional trial period
  • Easy controls with pop-ups that describe function and equivalent keyboard commands
  • Visually attractive interface, keeping in line with the Mac gestalt


Cons

  • Does not self-adjust by reading a song's genre from iTunes
  • When burning CD's from iTunes, Volume Logic sound enhancements are not recordable
  • There is no currently no Volume Logic for iPod


Overall Rating

4 out of 5 Mice