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With AstoundStereo Expander Version 2 due out May 1, the company has slashed the price of version 1 to $19.95
AstoundStereo is designed to improve the audio from any application on a Mac or Windows. In a way AstoundStereo uses its own set of equalizers and filters to turn relatively flat stereo channels into a dynamic stereo surround-like sound. First off it's probably a good idea to point out that after you install AstoundStereo you should also disable any other audio enhancing software installed on your computer, including sound enhancers built into programs such as iTunes and QuickTime.
When first using AstoundStereo I remembered a Sony Discman that had a Loudness booster that boosted the bass and an effect slider that used different equalizer settings to enhance the audio. AstoundStereo's effects on audio remind me of the effect slider on that Discman; the stereo sound felt much more like surround sound with fuller deeper sound coming from the same speakers. Besides enhancing the treble and bass, AstoundStereo also seems to add a reverb effect and other effects that create a different listening experience.
Personally I enjoy listening to classical music and a lot of music with acoustics in it. With the classical there are a lot of lows and highs that a lot of speakers aren't able to reproduce. With my first use of Astound Stereo I played Symphony No. 25 in G Major, K138, Allegro Con Brio by Mozart and the first thing I noticed was a bit of distortion and over effect on the sound. The distortion was bad enough to basically ruin the symphony and my first thought was that it was too loud so I turned down the volume and played with the iTunes equalizer. I mentioned earlier in the first line of this review that it's important to turn off all other audio enhancing programs while running AstoundStereo. iTunes has a built in Sound Enhancer in the preferences that is selected on by default.
AstoundStereo works at enhancing sounds from whatever is being played on the computer at any time. One problem with this is that some music, movies, etc. already use synthesized, enhanced or other digitally altered sounds at their source. So AstoundStereo would be basically enhancing what has already been enhanced which would go along the lines of degrading the sound rather than enhancing it. There can only be so much of a good thing and once you get too much you're working against the good. Earlier I mentioned a warning prompt that shows up when first installing AstoundStereo. The problem is that the warning doesn't show with future use. The prompt warns of other sound enhancers in other programs but I think that it would be better that there be a prompt within the preference panel itself that reminds users of the other enhancers.
Another problem with AstoundStereo is that it isn't adaptive to the media played at the time and once it's set it has the same level of effect on everything played. In the pictures below you'll see the preference panel in the Mac OS for AstoundStereo.
There are five preset effect levels that can be accessed in the control panel as well as through using programmable keyboard shortcuts. You can program five keyboard shortcuts for the presets as well as two shortcuts that allow for increased or decreased expansion in the effect field.
Hopefully we'll see in future versions the addition of these shortcuts in the form of a menu that's always present on the desktop either in the task bar in Windows computers and in the Mac version an icon logo in the top bar by the clock. In these locations, the AstoundStereo icon would hold a popup or pull down menu with the presets listed. This way it would be globally accessible in all applications.
The image above contains buttons that lead to the Technical Support, and Legal Copy information page for AstoundStereo and GenAudio. There's also the options to check for an update as well as a check for update checkbox. In Mac OS the preference pane can be accessed both through the system preferences panel as well as through the icon by the clock. The User Guide can also be accessed through the icon by the clock.
Using AstoundStereo you'll probably want to adjust the equalizer in other programs as well as turn down the volume because it usually makes most audio sources louder. Overall the effects that AstoundStereo have on most audio sources are good and the listening experience is enhanced.
Now there are a number of issues with version 1 of the software that are listed publicly on the Support page of the website. Most problems are claimed as short term and will be resolved with future updates. But one problem that I did run into a few time is a time lag in audio playback when playing large movie files. Now keep in mind audio lag is usually normal in most computers when attempting to play HD video content or media that uses more resources than a computer has to offer. In my problem though I was playing standard definition video with low complexity encoded stereo audio. Though I found that quitting the playback program, QuickTime, and relaunching solved the audio lag I hope that in the future this doesn't become a problem for more people using AstoundStereo. Everyone's experience with the software will be different due to different operating systems, and system configurations.
With AstoundStereo Expander Version 2 due out May 1, the company has slashed the price of version 1 to $19.95 USD until then. New in version 2 will be the expansion of system-wide audio for all applications in Windows and the inclusion of new Pro Audio features in the Mac OS version. AstoundStereo Expander works as it advertises and makes your stereo audio sound more like surround sound with the listening equipment you already own. But note in making your audio sound better doesn't mean that your equipment is better, it's a shortcut that saves you a couple $20's for new headphones or a few $100 on a new speaker system.
Joshua Virata is a 2008 graduate of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, CA. He has been using computers since the age of 2 and is proficient in the areas of home wired and wireless networking, music creation, secure computing, cell phone communication and GPS navigation. You can email him at [email protected]