Digital Power Station is an iTunes plug-in available for both Mac OSX and Windows, downloadable at www.bongioviacoustics.com ($15 in either case). There’s also an iPhone/Touch app, while a Mac system-wide-audio version is said to be on the way.
DPS for Mac is very simple to use (I did not try the Windows version but it appears very similar or identical). After installation, when you run iTunes a floating window with a big blue DPS logo opens with it. Select and play music from your iTunes music library in he usual way, but when you click the floater’s magic DPS logo you’ll hear a dramatic difference, instantly.
Just what’s going on here? Bongiovi Acoustics (founded by recording engineer/producer Tony Bongiovi, cousin to the rock singer Jon) volunteers only that its “…patented process re-masters…” audio. In the pro-audio world “re-mastering” can mean almost anything, from the simple, straight-up copying of a studio master, to equalization and DSP extensive enough to utterly transform a recording.
DPS has no user controls beyond icons to select either Music or Movie mode, and Built-In (speaker), Desktop (speaker), or Headphone output settings. However, the plug-in lets you select among a dozen or so Profiles for each hardware type, each of which imposes a different sonic imprint. (Profiles are named for specific devices: desktop and laptop Mac models for the Built-In options, “Universal 1-5” for the Desktop and Headphone options.
But that’s far from the end of it. Click over to the DPS plug-in’s Preferences window and you can add to your Profiles collection from an ever-growing list named for Apple and third-party speakers (and streaming-playback appliances), including popular models from makers like B&W, Bose, Skullcandy, and more.
Each DPS Profile sounds different — often markedly so — in ways that presumably reflect engineering to complement their namesakes. (And DPS’ Movie mode sounds radically different than Music, being obviously EQ’d to maximize intelligibility on laptop speakers and devices of that ilk.)
Ultimately you have to listen and choose on purely subjective grounds. I tried quite a few, including a handful of downloads including one named “MDRv6,” a Sony headphone I happen to have on hand in my studio, and I agreed that it did in fact sound well-matched to that popular model.
But regardless of what Profile I engaged, it was clear that a large part of the “re-mastering” process is our old friend, equalization. (A casual test-bench exam confirmed the impression.) Relative to un-DPS’d sound all Profiles featured substantial bass and treble increases, but the shape of each EQ-“smile” was distinctly different. Equally significant, every Profile imposed a substantial subjective average-level boost — something on the order of 10 dB —which made on/off comparisons difficult (careful, correct level-matching is a prerequisite for any meaningful listening comparison). While this may indeed be an inadvertent byproduct of DPS’ processing, every old audio hand knows that a slight volume increase translates to “sounds better” to most unschooled listeners (and DPS’ is not so slight).
However, EQ and level were not the only changes. There were decided stereo-imaging effects (which also differed among Profiles): for my desktop computer speakers I settled on one called “Soundsticks II” (a popular Harman Kardon desktop speaker), and this broadened the image noticeably and contributed a modest degree of wrap-around, while audibly elevating the soundstage a good six inches, a most welcome shift.
Beyond EQ and spatial processing, DPS definitely lends a qualitative, dynamically responsive change to musical textures, especially dense, harmonically rich sounds like the transients of cymbals, drums, brass, and string sections. I expect that some or all DPS Profiles incorporate some dynamics-linked “sweetening” DSP, along the lines of the Aphex or BBS processes well known to recording-studio denizens. The results might be variously described as “airier,” “clearer,” “punchier,” “solider-bottomed,” or many other descriptors depending on the Profile, program material, and — of course — listener.
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