Nice fixer feature for adjusting output volumes of running applications
Can produce welcome results from otherwise uninteresting speakers
Too many unpleasant-sounding presets
Hear mission is to take the pure audio flowing through a Mac—movie soundtracks, music tracks, and game audio—and alter it in a variety of ways with the end result being something that’s more pleasing to the listener’s ears. For some purists, this kind of enhancement is considered cheating because it augments the intended experience. But to others who are not offended by such sugar coating, there’s a lot to be gained from Hear 1.0.3.
Hear enhances audio by letting you apply a range of effects via a paned interface. Unlike SRS’ $30
iWow iTunes plug-in, which features a bare-bones interface, Hear is quite configurable through its 13 tabs. Within those tabs you find, among many other things, controls for modifying EQ, enhancing 3-D space, and applying limiting and compressor effects (for limiting volume peaks and generally smoothing out volumes). In the General tab you can switch on and off most of the major effects (as well as all of Hear’s effects at once so you can compare its sound to the original) and apply general effects such as bass boost and reverb. Within the Mixer tab you can change the volume of each running application—helpful when you don’t want an e-mail alert sound to drown out the music you’re listening to—as well as enable the Hear effects on a per-application basis.
Auditioning the presets
Although you’re welcome to venture in and tweak each effect, you may find it tedious to work through Hear’s 13 tabs. You’re better off starting with the program’s presets. Organized into Defaults, Effects, Games, Movie and TV, Music, and Speech groups, you can select presets from either a pop-up menu in the Hear window or the program’s File menu. Each group includes a variety of presets. For example, when you choose the Movie and TV group, you can choose Action, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Horror, News, Romance, Science Fiction, or Talk Show (with two variations for each of these presets).
Such fine distinction is silly. What makes a preset more appropriate for Fantasy than Science Fiction is beyond me. These are suggested starting points only, and it’s absolutely worth your while to walk through each preset—regardless of what it’s called—to find the ones that best suit your taste and gear.
While exploring the presets, you’ll probably find many that you don’t like. While there are some attractive presets in the bunch, others will sound terrible through the speakers or headphones you’re using—no middle, overblown bass, and the kind of sound you’d expect from a cheap radio. I would have been just as happy with half as many presets that, on average, were likely to be useful.
Roll your own
You needn’t accept what Hear provides, however. Rather, you’ll want to take a preset you like and then adjust it to your liking. For example, I managed to create a great-sounding preset by starting with Default Preset-H and adjusting some of its parameters. And this is where that General pane comes in really handy.
I liked the overall tone of the preset and the amount of 3-D effect, but there was detectable compressor pumping on the music I typically listen to through my Monsoon computer speakers. Using the General pane, I could adjust the Super Bass, DeWoofer, Ambience, and Fidelity sliders, as well as switch each effect off to hear where the problem was. Once I cranked down the Super Bass and DeWoofer, adjusted the Compressor/Limiter settings, and nixed the FAT option, the sound was more attractive to my ears. And during the process, I could easily compare the processed sound to the original by clicking on the red On button that always appears at the top of the Hear window. Once you configure a preset you like, simply choose Save As from the File menu to name it and save it to any group of presets you like.
Macworld’s buying advice
Listen to your music with Hear long enough, and switching off the enhancements can be a rude surprise. Where once you had a large, detailed sound stage, your music suddenly sounds boxed-in and flat. Imagine removing all the spice from your favorite meal and you get the idea. But Hear 1.0.3 is unquestionably artificial. If you want to hear your music as the artist, engineer, producer, and mastering engineer intended, and you’re perfectly happy with the sound of your speakers and headphones, this is not the product for you. However, if you’d like to bring greater life to your music and customize it to your tastes, hear hear! for Hear.
[Senior Editor Christopher Breen pens Macworld’s Playlist blog.]