The Boom Box: Make the most of your iPod
Roxio's affordable The Boom Box suite comes packed with tools that will thrill newcomers and digital audio newbies in general. There's nothing in this reasonably priced $50 suite that experienced Mac buffs haven't seen before, but those curious about yet intimidated by the prospect of copying their vinyl and cassettes to MP3, improving their shuffles, or dipping into the white-hot world of podcasting will get a kick out of The Boom Box's quintet of easy-to-use utilities. In particular, iPod owners will be pleased that the included apps can help them make the most out of their favorite player. That said, audiophiles looking for advanced features will be better served by meatier standalone tools, and Roxio's anemic support options will rankle users in need of help. And if you run Windows, you're out of luck--The Boom Box is Mac only. Setup for the suite was characteristically simple; we just dragged The Boom Box's folder into our Applications directory, entered our CD key for each tool, and were good to go. The only app that needed additional setup was MusicMagic Mixer, but even that was basic--it merely prompted us that it was beginning to scan our music library.
Each application in the suite has a distinct look and feel--understandable, given that the tools have such different functions, and forgivable since the user interfaces have such easy learning curves. However, many of the apps are designed distinctly with iTunes in mind and for good reason (more on this in the Features section).
"Random is the new order," or so Apple keeps telling us with the release of the iPod Shuffle. It's a great marketing concept, but when we're heading to the gym for an hour of pulse-pounding exercise, we'd rather not have Ella Fitzgerald mixed in with our Propellerheads. That's where Roxio The Boom Box's MusicMagic Mixer comes in. The program promises to build "intelligent" mixes based on the individual songs and artists you pick, and while the app initially takes many hours to pore over your music library, it does an admirable job of serving up shuffles for any occasion.
MusicMagic starts by fingerprinting and analyzing the actual sound waves of all the tunes in your library--a process that took more than 15 hours for our relatively modest 11GB collection. Luckily, you can run the analysis in the background without too much of a performance hit. Once that's finished, you open the MusicMagic interface (which sharesthree-pane browse mode); select a song, an album, or an artist; and click New Mix. A new shuffle appears instantly, based on your "seed" selection. See some picks you don't like? Right-click any offending tracks, and select Less Like This to tweak the mix, or eliminate an artist from your shuffle altogether. All finished? Click Send To iTunes, and you're ready to jam. Mixes can be set to fit any time or disk-space limits, and you can shuffle mixes for smooth transitions or alternate between loud and soft songs. For the most part, we were pleased with MusicMagic's shuffles, and with a little tweaking, we managed to iron out the odd picks. Now if MusicMagic worked as an integrated iTunes plug-in, we'd really have something.
There's no shortage of utilities that will record the audio from any application on your Mac (the free WireTap is one of our favorites), but The Boom Box's Audio Hijack takes the hassle out of transferring your clips to iTunes. Once you've set the app to "hijack" a program such as DVD Player, Safari, QuickTime, RealPlayer, or Windows Media Player, just hit Record to make a clip. When you're finished recording, Audio Hijack encodes the track into MP3, AAC, WAV, or Apple Lossless formats and transfers the file to iTunes or your &ontid=&siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=search&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Freviews%2Esearch%2Ecom%2Fsearch%3Fq%3Dapple+ipod%26nodeid%3D6490%26format%3Dcustomlayout%26channel%3D54%26cat%3D312%26mode%3Dproducts%26allfields%3D0%26k%3D97011450>iPod, or it runs the AppleScript of your choosing.
Audio Hijack comes with some enticing options, such as a timer that will start recording an application on a set schedule, provided your Mac is awake and Audio Hijack is running; ideally, a helper app could wake Audio Hijack when it's time to record, à la iCal. You can also specify a file or a URL to be opened for a given session or set Audio Hijack to break a recording into separate files or stop recoding after a designated amount of time or disk space. We especially like the equalizer settings that let you boost the sound quality of your recordings. Another thing: system sounds are not recorded.
CD Spin Doctor
Got a stack of vinyl or cassettes that you want in your iPod? Converting those old discs and tapes to MP3 is a daunting task, but CD Spin Doctor does a good job of easing the pain. While its simple, beginner-friendly tools are a little blunt compared to those of, say, the audiophile-oriented , CD Spin Doctor makes it easy to reduce the hiss, pops, and scratches from your aging records, as well as detect separate tracks and enhance the sound quality of older recordings.