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To Serve & Groove – Oliver Masciarotte

To Serve & Groove

A Comprehensive Compendium of Numerically Disposed Mellifluous Servitude


How To Make Your Mac Into A Real Fine Music Server

by Oliver Masciarotte

Some months ago, while capturing my own experiences in getting set up with computer audio on the Mac in my own system (in a tutorial introduction to computer audio on the Mac, finally in this issue), I was surprised to get an email from Oliver Masciarotte saying that he had written a whole book on the subject and would I like to review it. I said of course, and having read it a couple of times from front to back now, I’m pleased to report that Oliver’s book is one that I would whole-heartedly recommend. I wish I had it sooner, in fact.

Oliver Masciarotte is one of the people involved in creating the first high-fidelity music player for the Mac, Amarra. He has spent his career working in pro and consumer audio, and as you would expect, this background brings with it a wealth of invaluable knowledge about audio and how it is recorded and (more importantly, for our purposes) reproduced. Oliver has no reservation in expressing his opinions about things audio, and does so often, and with humour.

The book starts with a number of chapters devoted to explaining some technical intricacies of digital audio in layman’s terms. Things like bit depth, sample rate, and jitter are covered in an accessible way. For those not familiar with these terms, these chapters provide both an accessible overview and a useful reference that you may like to come back to now and again. While the presentation is necessarily somewhat imprecise, it is nonetheless important background reading.

Following chapters delve into specific topics related to setting up a Mac computer for music playback. Oliver makes no bones about his preference for this platform. Even if you are setting up a Windows computer, though, some of the information, such as the discussion about disk drives, interface formats, and so on, will be helpful. Detailed information about the computer hardware, music players, disk storage, file formats, and DACs fill the next few chapters. There’s a lot in here, and you’ll know where to come back to in future when you are stumped with a question. For example, is it time to try ripping DVD-Audio? It’s right here. Should I use RAID, and what type? Again, right here.

One very interesting section in particular in the chapter on players caught my eye, and is on my list for further investigation: the use of audio “plugins” to perform DSP (digital signal processing). With his experience in pro audio, Oliver clearly has a lot of knowledge in this area, and as a hifi enthusiast himself, he is able to make recommendations worthy of investigation. From “How to Listen,” through measurement and analysis, reverberation, and headphone processing, Oliver’s recommendations are a fantastic starting point for anyone with an interest in exploring the full potential of computer-based playback.

One possible criticism of these chapters is that there is too much detail. If you’re new to computer-based audio, you may be left wondering where to start. The final chapter solves this dilemma and gets right to the point, by listing several configurations of computer hardware, DAC, and player software that ground all of the previous discussion. Whimsically named “The Toddler,” ‘The Social Climber,” and “The One Upsman,” each is a complete recommendation – with some room left for choice – ranging in price from relatively inexpensive to “up there.”

Oliver includes some interesting appendixes as well, but the real gem here is a list of sources of downloadable music. (Not free, but downloadable.) The file formats available from each source are listed, so if you’re looking for something particular it’s much easier to find.

With any book of this nature, it’s inevitable that some parts will go out of date quickly. Apple comes out with new hardware every year and the music players are constantly changing and leap-frogging each other. But there’s also a lot of substance in here that will long outlast changes in the specifics of this year’s hardware and software.

If you have any interest at all in playback of audio from a Mac computer, purchasing this book is a complete no-brainer. And – let’s face it – there aren’t that many potential purchases in this hobby that you can say that about! Just get one. The ePub version of the book is available now, and Oliver informs me that a hardcopy version is in preparation and will be available before long.

Table of Contents (abbreviated)

Chapter 1 — Overview
Chapter 2 — Numbers & Music
Chapter 3 — More Gazintas & Gazoutas
Chapter 4 — The Host
Chapter 5 — The ’Ware
Chapter 6 — The DAC
Chapter 7 — The Content
Chapter 8 — Storing Your Files
Chapter 9 — It’s A Wrap
Appendix A — The OS
Appendix B — The Music
Appendix C — The Antecedents of Computer Audio


Where to buy

Readers' comments

    Hey John,

    Thanks very much for your review. Agreed that some of the content, especially hardware, doesn’t remain fresh for long. I plan on updating the book every year to keep it almost up to date, and there’s this whole interwebs thingy I hear is good for that! 😉

    Thanks again,

  • Oliver, have you run across any books, websites, etc. you would recommend for optimizing Mac OS X for audio playback. I have a 2 Mac minis, one for data which uses 10.7.x & the other is a server for audio playback using 10.9.x. I think you can probably disable, turn-off, etc. a lot of unneeded applications, copy them to an external HDD & maybe improve audio quality. Maybe you discuss how to optimize/modify Mac OS for audio in your book or will add it in a future edition but I think I about done configuring for now.

  • Oliver, I loved your book (2012 edition) and look forward to an update. Rajan

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