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Yellow Fade
Comparative Review: SoundJamMP vs. MacAMP 1.0 Preview
. July 15, 1999
by Misha Sakellaropoulo


SoundJamMP
 4 stars
SRP: boxed $49.95; web download $39.95
SoundJamMP
Casady & Greene
Download Demo
System Requirements: 100 MHz PowerPC (G3 recommended), Mac OS 7.6.1 or later, 5 MB of RAM

Pros: great playback (especially with Realizer plug-in), solid streaming support, excellent encoding features
Cons: included skins aren't very practical, interface is questionably similar to MacAMP



MacAMP 1.0 Preview
 3.5 stars
Shareware Fee: $25 (Preview is free)
MacAMP Home
MacAMP 1.0 Preview
System Requirements: 100 MHz PowerPC, System 7.5 or later, 4 MB of RAM

Pros: good playback, slick interface, nifty sleep timer, the original
Cons: some questionable interface changes, previous skins/plug-ins don't work, no encoding


     In the past year alone the mp3 audio file format has caught on like wildfire and has become one of the main topics of conversation on the internet. The controversial file format, which is deemed so because of its portability and therefore promotion of music piracy, achieves CD quality sound in a file that's a tenth of the size of a traditional audio CD, AAIF file.

SoundJam Default Skinmp3 meets the Mac

     During this time the MacAMP player has been the mp3 player of choice for Macintosh users, but as the finishing touches on the final version are completed (a preview edition is due out this Saturday with the final version expected in September) a newer player, SoundJamMP from Casady & Greene (creators of the popular Conflict Catcher 8 utility) has emerged.

     Announced exactly one month ago, SoundJamMP is visually similar to MacAMP, which has been in development for almost a year. So much so, in fact, that even the avid MacAMP user may not be able to discern the differences between the two on the surface. SoundJam Default Skin SmallMacAMP Preview, mind you, is visually different in and of itself from previous betas.

Imitation is the...

     The interface similarities between SoundJamMP and MacAMP Preview can be seen all over. SoundJamMP uses three windows in the player (the actual player, an equalizer, and a playlist) just as previous versions of MacAMP did, although with MacAMP Preview the equalizer has now been combined into the player. Both support the use of Skins, which can completely change the appearance of the player. Although skins for each application are not interchangeable, SoundJamMP does come with a Skin Converter that lets you convert WinAmp skins to SoundJamMP format.

MacAMP Default Skin, Fire Plug     Each application offers the user a wide array of controls from the basic player controls to being able to repeat a song or shuffle the playlist. You can also jump to any point in a song through a convenient slide bar in SoundJamMP, although this feature has changed with MacAMP Preview into an awkward percentage bar that doesn't offer real-time updating of the track counter, making it difficult to jump to a specific time in a song.

     Both players also offer 10 band graphic equalizers for fine tuning the sound. Although impressive, most users will be satisfied with the default settings while MacAMP Default Skin SmallSoundJamMP also offers traditional bass and treble controls which do slightly affect the respective properties in a song.

     If you plan on amassing a collection of mp3 files you'll be happy to know that each application supports playlists. Apart from allowing you to see what songs you've already played, and jumping quickly back to them, playlists can also be saved. This is especially convenient if you have a full album in mp3 format; rather than selecting all the songs and dragging them onto a player, all you have to do is double click the album's playlist. MacAMP Preview takes the prize for most attractive playlist, the appearance of which can be changed according to what skin you use, while SoundJamMP's playlist is clearly more functional. Although it surprisingly doesn't sport a Total Playlist Time counter like MacAMP Preview, it allows you to view the track name, file name, artist name, album, time, and more.

SoundJam Plug: Melt     As far as the actual playing of mp3 files is concerned, both SoundJamMP and MacAMP perform very well. If you have a fast PowerPC, though, you'll really appreciate SoundJamMP's bundled Arboretum Realizer plug-in. The mp3 file format is able to achieve its impressive compression by, among other things, discarding certain ranges of frequencies. This means that an mp3 file will never sound quite as good as a CD (although it comes close) but the Realizer plug-in will recreate lost frequencies especially improving the bass and stereo quality. The difference in quality is so noticeable that once installed you'll never want to disable Realizer, and this is where SoundJamMP gets a leg up on MacAMP Preview, which currently offers no such plug-in.

     SoundJamMP comes bundled with a handful of skins but almost all of them are far more visual than they are functional. MacAMP Preview's skins, in contrast, take a "form following function" approach while retaining their visually pleasing aesthetics. Both applications also support visual plug-ins which produce special effects synchronized with music. MacAMP Preview also uses Base Layer Rendering visual plug-ins which are displayed right in the player rather than in their own window. This, of course, means that you're limited to a very small space but this isn't much of a problem for basic counter plug-ins.

     MacAMP Preview offers support for streaming audio from the web for the first time, just as SoundJamMP does. Both players performed equally well in handling the streaming content (although again, because of the Realizer plug-in, SoundJamMP sounded a bit better).

SoundJam Skin: Jelly     At $25 MacAMP Preview will set you back half as much as a boxed copy of SoundJamMP; if you download SoundJamMP from the web you'll only spend $40. The boxed copy of SoundJamMP comes with a handy plug for hooking your Mac up to your stereo.

     The price difference, however, can be attributed to the fact that while MacAMP Preview is only a Player, SoundJamMP is both a player and an encoder. SoundJamMP will convert a number of file formats to mp3, including AAIF (Audio CD) and WAV formats.

SoundJamMP's impressive encoding

     The encoding portion of SoundJamMP is truly spectacular. It's the first encoder for the Mac that can encode directly from a CD without needing to first copy the CD to the hard drive. On a PowerBook G3/300 SoundJam encoded at an average speed of 2.5x (two and a half minutes of a audio took one minute to encode), much faster than MPecker Drop Encoder (which @soft, creators of MacAMP, recommend). The savings from not having to create a scratch file coupled with the speedy encoding means that all of a sudden a full CD can take less than a half hour to encode, rather than the traditional wait of an hour or more. SoundJamMP also offers the full range of encoding options, including bit and sampling rates and channel support. While AudioCatalyst 2.0 features the same encoding features as SoundJam, it also carries a $30 price tag.

The bottom line

     If you only occasionally listen to mp3s, Apple's MoviePlayer that comes with QuickTime 4.0 is an acceptable player but if you're looking for something more robust then both MacAMP and SoundJamMP offer a lot for your money. If you can afford the extra $15, though, SoundJamMP with its excellent encoding capabilities and Realizer plug-in is the one to have. tr