Apple laptops are swell for a lot of uses, but the one area in which most of them fall down is audio. Their tiny little built-in speakers even at their best can't reproduce bass with any true semblance of the original bottom end leading to a tinny unconvincing sound with little musicality. Is there a fix for music lovers with an Apple laptop?
We have tested many laptops and sound systems over the years, and they all had one thing in common: the best ones essentially replaced your laptop's internal audio and speakers. This is great, if you want to keep your laptop on a desk, plugged into a 2.1 system with a subwoofer. The travel models we've worked with are also of the same philosophy – a unique speaker system promising great sound, which usually means Loud Sound without a lot of finesse. And, they often require the user to carry batteries, or in lower power units, run off the USB port. All of these are nice solutions, but the word "elegant" doesn't always come to mind.
In the past, one of the best sound systems from Apple was found in the PowerPC-based PowerBook 3400, which not only had speakers near the keyboard, but sported additional speakers for improved bass response into the lid of the LCD panel. However, current MacBook Pros and MacBooks don't have robust audio.
Twelve South's Andrew Green's solution was to create a small, dedicated subwoofer, powered by the USB port, with software to send the low frequencies to the BassJump, allowing the internal speakers to handle mid and high frequencies. The software, which boasts a set of old fashioned analog VU Meters, allows the user to adjust the volume on the unit, as well as the crossover frequency. Settings can be saved to accommodate a variety of musical tastes and source material. The crossover frequencies seem well handled and drift is kept to a minimum.
One of Green's concerns has always been the industrial design at work in the products he has had responsibility for, and the BassJump gives Apple's industrial design maven Jonathan Ive a run for his money. Smooth satin aluminum with a black speaker grill over the driver makes it a perfect compliment and fit for a MacBook or MacBook Pro. It is so visually compatible with the Mac products, that one of my colleagues saw me using it and wondered when Apple introduced it! It has a solid feel, comes with a soft carrying bag, and at the size of some stacked up CDs, it's an easy travel companion.
Such attention to detail and design doesn't mean anything if the audio isn't up to snuff. The BassJump delivers a solid, tight sound, but not boomy or muddy. Using software to drive a subwoofer isn't new; in fact, Apple's iMac DV model was designed to support a Harman Kardon subwoofer, the iSub, which suddenly provided a much improved audio experience, but it was a desktop-only solution. The BassJump creates a solid sound field, surprisingly detailed since the little speakers in the laptops hardly boast multiple drivers, or tweeters, so it was a pleasant surprise to plug in the BassJump and discover the bass that was missing. We tested it with a variety of music, using Apple Lossless encoding, 24-bit recordings from B&W's Sound of Music program with FLAC encoding, MP3s and AAC files from Apple's iTunes. What pleased us the most was the warmth, which provides a well-balanced, subtle system, deserving of anyone who listens to music on an Apple laptop, and only Apple products since Twelve South is dedicated to the Mac platform.
While the combination isn't designed to take the place of a set of Marshall stacks, it delivers enough volume that it sounds great in the office or home, as well as on the road. For users who have their laptop on their desk, the BassJump will provide a huge improvement in audio quality with very little additional footprint, nor speaker cables or power supplies to get in the way.
We think that the BassJump Portable Subwoofer is a great product - elegant, well designed and executed. The same is true of its case and packaging, including a witty little card with ideas on how to reuse the box. Once you've had the pleasure of listening with the BassJump, you realize just how much music you've been missing with the stock internal speakers. Highly recommended for any music-loving Apple laptop user!
Nancy Burlan & Harris Fogel, Posted 6/21/2010
For more information on the BassJump, please visit: www.twelvesouth.com