On Wednesday, SRS Labs, maker of audio enhancement hardware and applications, released an updated version of its MyTunes music browser and player and added an iPad-compatible version for the first time. MyTunes Pro (iPhone and iPod touch) and MyTunes Pro HD (iPad) are akin to Apple’s Music app, but include options for tweaking the sound of your music. (I’ve been testing the MyTunes Pro HD iPad app for several weeks and my observations that follow relate to that version, although the features are almost entirely the same on the non-HD app – the non-HD version has a Driving feature for easier app navigation.)
The free app allows you to use its advanced features for 10 minutes a day is available for free (think of it as a demo of the real app). The Premium Package costs $10.49, via in-app purchase. For that $10.49 (or $7.49 for the iPhone/iPod touch version) you gain full access to the Wow HD sound enhancement, EQ, TruSpeed speed control, TruVolume volume levelling and Party and Workout mixer features. The app additionally contains some limited support for iTunes Match tracks. These are my first impressions.
Why another music browser?
Not everyone who owns an iPad is satisfied with Apple’s Music app. While its album-cover view is attractive, it becomes clumsy to navigate when you have a large music collection. And it becomes less attractive when you have unmatched album artwork – leading to scores of generic icons – which can easily happen with iTunes Match content.
Although MyTunes Pro HD displays artwork in the Album and Playlists views, every other view – Song, Artists, Genres, Composers, Audiobooks, Podcasts and Compilations – is a list. These lists aren’t nearly as sexy as album covers, but I’ve found they get you to where you want to go more quickly than scrolling through screen after screen of album artwork. Unlike the Music App, MyTunes Pro HD offers a variety of attractive generic album art, which is assigns randomly to those albums that lack artwork.
Another issue with the iPad’s Music app is that its designers emphasize artwork to the point where the play controls are on the small side. MyTune Pro HD offers much larger play controls as well as larger buttons for engaging such features as shuffle, loop, full-screen, volume and access to the app’s sound enhancement pane.
The music enhancements
SRS is known primarily for the sound enhancement technology that adds space and depth to music in everything from home entertainment systems to mobile devices. In its marketing copy SRS uses the phrase “Restoring natural sound is our passion.” Some audio purists would suggest that the sound of SRS’s technologies is anything but natural and I’d agree – the sounds that this technology produces are unlikely aligned with the sound intended by the music’s creator, engineer and producer. But while it may be unnatural, it can be very pleasing – particularly when you’re playing music through small speakers or not-terribly-high-fidelity components. I like having the greater definition and soundstage that this technology provides, but not everyone may.
The enhancement you think of when seeing the SRS name is the Wow HD component. This is the one that adds space and definition to the iPad’s audio. When you call it up you’ll see eight presets – Small Speaker, Medium Speaker, Large Speaker, Internal, In Ear, Earbud, Over Ear and Car. All but the Internal preset are for the devices you’d attach to the iPad’s Headphone or dock connector port or devices you access via AirPlay (which is supported by the app). The Internal preset is tuned for music played through the iPad’s internal speaker.
Next to the selection of presets is a large dial. You use this to adjust how much of the effect is applied. Even when the dial is turned all the way to the left, some of the effect is still there. If you want to switch it off entirely for comparison purposes, simply tap the Power button within the effect pane to switch it off. You’ll likely be startled at how flat your music sounds without the effect.
If you don’t care for one of the presets, simply tap the My Custom Tuning button and a pane appears where you can adjust the effect’s space, TruBass, Definition and Vocal controls. Regrettably there’s no option for saving your presets. Rather, you just create the one you like and exit the effect. Your settings will remain.
Again, I like the effect and used it when the iPad was connected to small speakers and cheap headphones. It also greatly improved the sound of the iPad’s speaker – that speaker sounded puny without it. Even with better components it can sound quite good provided you don’t dial up the effect too much. Dialed up toward the extreme end with these components I found the high frequencies and unnatural separation grating.
The app offers three other enhancements – EQ, Auto-volume and Speed. EQ is what you’d expect – a 3- or 10-band equaliser for accentuating or diminishing particular audio frequencies. Tap the Presets button in this pane to select from several EQ settings including Loudness, Treble Boost, Rock, Classical, Vocal and Live.
Auto-volume, like iTunes’ Sound Check feature, attempts to automatically adjust your iPad’s audio tracks so that all tracks play back at a similar volume. I found it to be effective.
And the Speed enhancement is largely intended for podcast and audiobook tracks. It allows you to force tracks to play back faster or slower without affecting the track’s pitch, thus allowing you to dash through these recordings yet still understand what’s being said. It’s not a great effect to use with music if you adjust it more than a couple of percentage points either way – you’ll definitely hear artifacts. (However, even with the artifacts, it’s not a bad tool for musicians who want to slow down a raging guitar solo to help learn just how it was put together.)
Mixers and transitions
MyTunes Pro HD includes two mixer modes – Party Mixer and Workout Mixer. The first will take any playlist or group of tracks (in an album, for example) and rearrange that playlist so that it matches a “groove” that you’ve set up for the playlist. For example you might tap Party Mixer and then choose Rise. This should rearrange the playlist so that mellower tunes are placed at the beginning of the playlist and harder driving tracks appear later. Cycle has an “M” pattern – so rise, fall, rise, fall. I tried this feature with a couple of playlists and I’m not entirely sure I agree with the app’s assessment of just how groovy each track is, but it’s still a fun way to put tracks in an order you might not have thought of.
I’m more leery of the Workout Mixer. The idea here is that you tap out the tempo of your workout in beats per minutes (so tap 1, 2, 3, 4 to accompany your footfalls on a treadmill) and the app will adjust the speed of the tracks in the playlist to hit near this tempo. Personally, while I may not be persnickety about enhancements like Wow HD, I’m more particular about a song’s tempo. Some tracks just don’t sound right speeded up or slowed down. But then I don’t listen to a lot of the music that people play during their workouts. If you listen to club music while sweating away at the club, you may find the feature helpful.
And then there are the transitions. Tap the Transitions icon next to the track information area and you can choose from a handful of transitions – the effects used to move between one track and the next. Some are fairly standard – a crossfade between one track and the next, for instance – while others are edgy and yet others something that’s cute one time only. You can audition transitions by playing a track, selecting one of the transitions, closing the Transitions pane and then tapping the Start Transition button. In a little over 10 seconds you’ll move to the next track using the transition you chose.
About iTunes Match
If you’ve configured your iPad to use iTunes Match (you switch this setting on the Music settings screen), MyTunes Pro HD will display the contents of your iTunes Match library in the cloud. Regrettably, this is about all it’s good for. Unlike with the Music app, you can’t download multiple tracks with the tap of a button. Rather, you must tap on a track, tap through a dialogue box that tells you that the track is downloading and wait while the track downloads. Unfortunately in my testing, that track didn’t start playing automatically and the icon that indicates that the track has finished downloading didn’t always work properly. So you keep tapping Play until it eventually starts playing. Unfortunately, again, the track may not actually be fully downloaded to the app’s satisfaction so the enhanced audio features won’t work with it until such time that the app believes it’s fully on board the device.
And playlists aren’t useful because you can’t tap the first track in a playlist and expect the succeeding tracks to download as their turn comes up in the queue. Nor will the mixer tools work because, again, the selected track isn’t on your iPad. An SRS representative I spoke to suggested that if you want to have a satisfactory experience with iTunes Match tracks you open the Music app, download the tracks you want, return to MyTunes Pro HD and then play the tracks with any music enhancements you’ve chosen. Given how little direct support the app has for iTunes Match, it might have been better to leave it out altogether rather than frustrate users who expect it to work better than it does.
Despite the issues with iTunes Match and the fact that some of the features are gimmicky – the mixers and transitions, in particular – this is still an attractive app given its $10.49 price. If you wanted just the Wow HD effect on your iPad previously, you’d have paid $70 for SRS’s iWow 3D for iPod, iPhone & iPad audio adapter. That’s no longer necessary provided that you play your music within the MyTunes Pro HD app.
The time-limited free version is awfully time-limited at just 10 minutes a day. But those 10 minute should give you enough time to decide if MyTunes Pro HD is a good fit for you and your music.