Embracing Obsolescence

SoundApp an Audio Workhorse for PowerPC, 680x0 Macs

- 2006.12.22

I've spent my fair share of time discussing digital music on the Mac. From encoders, decoders, lossy formats, lossless formats, and DRM restrictions, to my review of the iAudio G3, I've found myself bouncing around the entire digital audio spectrum.

Yet, somehow my various articles failed to cover one of the best examples of Mac audio software - SoundApp.

SoundApp PPC 2.7.3 is the version I used for my most recent testing. SoundApp is a very lean, flexible application that has found an instant place in my classic Mac audio workflow.

SoundApp is so easy to use, yet it's powerful enough to satisfy my audio needs - except for one big limitation. SoundApp doesn't support MP3 encoding. It does support MP3 decoding, and all my test MP3s were recognized by SoundApp.

However, for quick work with identifying audio CD track names and playing straight from the CD or converting to AIFF or WAV, there's nothing better for power-challenged Macs running the classic Mac OS. My PowerBook 1400c/133 (with 48 MB of RAM and a 6 GB hard drive), served as a suitable testbed for SoundApp.

The 1400 doesn't have the fastest processor, and even with an upgraded hard drive, throughput doesn't seem to be much faster than a stock drive. Luckily 6 GB is enough to store a few CDs worth of uncompressed AIFF or WAV data. While 48 MB of RAM is not a comfortable amount for recent applications and OS combinations, I can manage quite well with Mac OS 9.1 (taking up 15 MB) and SoundApp running comfortably within a mere 2 MB.

Working with SoundApp

Operation of SoundApp is simple enough. Either drag and drop a file or folder onto the SoundApp icon or select "New Playlist" from the SoundApp File menu. With the drag and drop menu, SoundApp won't display a playlist, but clicking the forward and back controls allows for easily skipping to the next or previous tracks. For shuffle, repeat, or sorting added tracks, the playlist method is the only way to manipulate those settings.

A nice touch to enable more powerful drag and drop is the addition of modifier keys held while dropping files onto the SoundApp icon. Hold option, and the dropped files will automatically create a playlist. Holding the shift key will start the conversion process as previously set from the conversion menu. Holding down the shift and control keys while dropping files onto the icon will prompt a conversion dialogue allowing conversion settings to be selected on the fly.

ControlsPlease note that these modifier keys are the default ones, and SoundApp allows the user to customize the shortcuts from a list of keys. There is also a "play" modifier key, but it's disabled by default.

SoundApp is a very simple application to operate. There is a main window for "Controls" that has the usual selection of play, pause, stop, forward, and back. There are also buttons for getting track info and converting files.


The next major window is the "Playlist" window. This window is a simple list of audio files and can be sorted by name, type, or path - or left unsorted. Buttons exist for playing one file, playing all files, converting one file, converting all files, getting info, one checkbox for shuffle, and one checkbox for repeat. Multiple playlists can be open at the same time, although only one playlist can be actively played or converted.

Soundapp StatusThe last window is the "SoundApp Status" window. This window gives all the relevant information for the selected track such as name, type, encoding, time, status, volume, size, and memory, as well as a sliding bar for jumping forward or backward within the track.

All other options for playing and converting can be accessed via a keyboard shortcut or from the persistent menu bar at the top of the screen. Very simple, and in little time I found myself acclimated with the basics of operating SoundApp. The built-in help is written in a concise and easy to understand manner and can address the more advanced operations or specific preference settings.

Switching to freedb from CDDB

If an audio CD is dragged to a playlist or if the playlist key is held while dragging to the application icon, SoundApp will attempt to identify the track names by querying the CDDB servers. This option has to be enabled in SoundApp's preferences, yet even then the default CDDB query never worked for me.

This isn't a problem for those Mac systems with a configurable hosts file. The directions I found through a quick Google search made switching to the open source freedb a painless process (applicable for Mac OS 8.1 and up - and perhaps even older Mac OS versions, but I only tested back to OS 8.1).

A hosts file works to redirect traffic to another URL from the original prompted address. Configuring a hosts file is a great way for parents or employers to keep their children or employees from reaching undesirable websites. Every time "myspace.com" is typed in, the hosts file will redirect to the substitute URL, perhaps wikipedia.com.

This is also a good way to increase Internet security by warding off accidental visits to questionable sites by creating a hosts file of blacklisted sites. In the case of malware authors, mayhem can ensue by hijacking a computer's hosts file and redirecting good addresses to bad sites.

Since SoundApp doesn't have a preference dialogue for choosing a server for CD lookup, creating a hosts file is the only way to tell SoundApp to query freedb.

Under the TCP/IP control panel select "User Mode..." from the Edit menu. Click the radio button for "Advanced". The TCP/IP window should now look like this:

TCP/IP Advanced

Find a hosts file with the appropriate freedb information, such as the several listed examples from the site where I originally uncovered the freedb information: http://www.birthday-buzzer.com/other/freedb/freedb_switch.html

Select Hosts FileOnce the hosts file (a text file) has been downloaded or created, click the Select Hosts File button in the TCP/IP window and select the file from wherever you decided to save the hosts file.

While in SoundApp, select "Preferences" from the "Options" menu. In the scrolling side bar find "CD Audio" and check "Fetch Track Names Automatically". Click on "Host:" and wait for SoundApp to make a network connection. Once connected, an option for a server should appear. Select the server and click "Okay" to save the selection. Click "Okay" again, and the preference will be saved.

Now when SoundApp or other application looks for the CDDB servers, they will automatically redirect to the freedb servers. Now SoundApp can retrieve track name from audio CDs and that long list of Track 1, Track 2, Track 3. etc. will be replaced by actual song titles.

Once the track names have been selected, I routinely convert to AIFF or sometimes WAV. When the conversion process begins, a save dialogue will appear, requesting a place for the new file to be saved. SoundApp makes comparatively short work of the conversion process, even on my slow PowerBook 1400c/133.

Once the files have been saved, I can rest assured that I will have two or three full quality albums to listen to while on the go without needing to carry around the actual physical CDs - and when necessary I can transcode the AIFF/WAV files to smaller Ogg Vorbis, MP3, or AAC files.

Another tale will have to wait for another day - another year, in fact, as Low End Mac is shutting down for the holidays.

Happy holidays to all Low End Mac readers.


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