iWow 3D comes from SRS Labs (www.srslabs.com), a long-established audio-technology company that licenses its surround-sound and volume-leveling algorithms to numerous TV makers among others (iWow also exploits audio DSP technology from Rogue Amoeba: www.rogueamoeba.com). Like Bongiovi’s DPS, iWow 3D is an iTunes plug-in available for either Mac OSX or Windows, at $25.
Also like DPS, iWow produces a floating window over your iTunes screen. The floater has an on/off icon, icons to select among Headphone, Speakers, and Laptop output options, and a Music/Movie pair to select overall mode. To listen, click your options, click the power-key-styled on/off icon, and enjoy “. . . immersive 3D audio…with deep, rich bass response. . .” and you will, presumably, go “Wow!”
As with DPS, my initial impression was of equalization and plenty of it: the iWow 3D process adds a good 6-8 dB of relative output below perhaps 120 Hz; a bit less over the top 3 octaves or so (depending on settings), while also boosting overall average level by several dB. Many listeners will automatically think “Wow! This really does sound better!”, but without correct level-matching making quality comparisons is fruitless.
However, careful listening both on “cans” and speakers satisfied me that once again there’s more going on than just volume-boost and EQ – though my conclusions are of course highly subjective, and highly dependent upon the headphones (and, no doubt, the head and ears) in use.
With iWow 3D engaged in its default headphone setting, headphone listening became a bit more forward and natural, that is, somewhat more proscenium-stage-sounding as opposed to lateral, “in-head.” Treble, in addition to being more forward (the EQ), was audibly airier and “lighter” (and not simply brighter, though that as well) while bass took on added roundness and heft. As with DPS I chalk these effects up, to some extent, to some “exciter”-type DSP, which adds small-scale, even-order (euphonic) harmonics that thicken and “liven” pitched sounds.
However, iWow 3D’s goes a bit further, with a drop-down Options menu that reveals sliders for a sextet of parameters: Definition, Focus, TruBass Level and Size, and Center and Space Levels. Space (excuse me) does not permit detailed discussion of these, but I spent many a happy hour fiddling with combinations.
If your time too precious to spend fiddling, another drop-down offers up nine pre-set combinations of these variables, labeled Classical, Blues, Hip-Hop, Rock, and so on. These certainly give you a solid idea of the SRS software’s capabilities, but I found all of them a bit over-baked for my taste. In general, the longer I listened the lower I set various sliders, until I eventually found a balance that suited my ears.
Unhappily, there is no way to save your own presets. And what’s worse, the “Custom” preset — what you get when you open the Advanced Controls pane with all its sliders — doesn’t even persist in its settings. Subsequently select a Preset such as “Jazz,” and when you return to Custom your carefully defined slider locations are gone, replaced by those of the named preset you just visited. This strikes me as a major design oversight.
At its best — and just as with DPS, this is highly dependent on program material — iWow 3D can add a distinct and quite listenable spatial element, as well as the EQ and dynamics-processing changes that Focus, TruBass Level, and the all the rest bring to the party. Using the sliders to make my own Custom setting — alas, only one — I could indeed make many recordings “sound better” over my modest desktop speakers.
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