Hear came to us as a $50 Mac OSX (only) download from the JoeSoft division of ProSoft, an established source of Mac OSX drive utility and data recovery software (http://www.prosoft.com). It's since been taken under the home office's wing, with a Windows version added, along with a welcome price reduction to $19.99. By a comfortable margin Hear is the most user-configurable of the three products discussed here. And, unlike either SRS’ iWow 3D or Bongiovi’s DPS, it is a standalone, global Mac-audio application rather than an iTunes plug-in (as mentioned above, Bongiovi’s website reports a system-wide Mac version is on the way). This means it can be set up to process all audio passing through your Mac rather than just iTunes songs, playlists, and videos, or just selected sources. (There’s a even a Mixer page that lets you set the relative volumes of sound from the various inputs and sources.)
The basic Hear layout is unlike the others, in that you have access to 13 different panes for functions including EQ, 3D, Maximizer, Space, and nine others. Each pane has from one to four sliders to adjust its function’s action.
But Hear is similar to DPS and iWow in that you can get started by choosing from a list of presets; in this case, a roster of 100-plus (I kept losing count), each representing different settings of some or all functions — any of which, by the way, can be independently enabled and disabled from the General page to which Hear initially opens.
Presets are grouped in folders (Defaults, Effects, Games, Movies and TV, Music, Speech), and are listed in identical pairs suffixed “–S” and “–H” (for speakers or headphones, respectively). You can save your modified presets under your own names, in the existing folders or in new ones you create.
As valuable as its flexibility is, Hear also makes it possible — and even easy — to get a handle on each of its processes, since you can enable them one-by-one and study what each actually does (or does not do). Very cool.
I, of course, did this — and found that most of the controls proved pretty self-explanatory. Features like EQ (supremely flexible) Ambience (a reverb processor), and Limiter do about what you expect. But some, like FX, BW, and Fidelity, were more obscure. Each makes audible changes — much of what I heard sounded, at bottom, like amplitude-domain (equalization) effects, but clearly there was other, more sophisticated stuff going on as well. One of my faves was the 3D feature, which lets you meddle with the blend of direct and ambient (phase-cued) elements in a typical stereo mix, and thus make definite soundstage changes without doing too much violence to underlying balance and tonality.
There’s much, much, more, obviously: “Maximizer” sounded very BBE-like, making things punchier and crisper (and simultaneously a little honkier/muddier, counterintuitive as that may seem). “Fidelity” was a head-scratcher: it could make transients sound airier and more distinct, sometimes at a modest cost in sizzle, but I’m still not sure exactly what it does.
Clearly, you could spend weeks experiencing different combinations and tweaking things to your own liking on your own music (and I certainly will, cumulatively). Equally clearly, Hear is the obvious choice for the terminally geeky and aurally curious. Its ability to store an infinite array of user-tweaked presets is key. And, as with the others, I suspect that the longer you play with it, you’ll find yourself preferring lower and lower settings of the various parameters.
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