Mac OSX Mavericks - An Audio Engineer Review

On Tuesday October 22, 2013 Apple Inc. once again shook up the computer industry with one word: Free. At Apple's "iPad" event, they did more than just release some new iPad hardware, they updated just about every area of their business. They updated apps, they updated their main Mac operating system, they released new Mac hardware, and they released new iPads. For those that don't follow every Apple rumor site out there, some of these updates were expected, but some were surprises. Let's talk about Apple's release of their new Mac OS: Mavericks. 

Originally announced in June at the World Wide Developer's Conference (WWDC hosted by Apple in San Francisco), Mavericks was the 9th iteration of Apple's famed "OSX". Coming in at 10.9, Mavericks was also the first in the line of OS "upgrades" to not sport a cat name. On an aside, I found it hilarious when they teased the name "Sea Lion" because they were running out of big cat names. Anyway, 10.9 was to be a shift for Apple. A shift from big cat names, yes, but also some other unforeseen shifts...

FREE?!?!

Back to this revolutionary word: Free. For those that don't know yet, Apple is offering their new OS as a FREE upgrade. Over the last 4 or so years Apple has been finding "ways" to reduce the price. First from around $120 to $60, then to $20. I can't remember the specifics, but it was something like that. Lion and Mountain Lion (10.7 and 10.8) were made available through the App Store instead of physical CD. Many people whined about this but it seems the industry is now ok with the App Store -- probably because of the success of their iOS App Store. At $20 an OS upgrade seems reasonable, but Apple went further to make it free in Mavericks. Why? I have no clue. I tend not to argue with a good thing. I read in a recent article that Apple "believes their customers are honest, even if that belief is in vain". But think about it, Microsoft, Apple's only real competitor, is still offering their new operating systems with the price tag in the 100s of dollars. Not to mention all of the confusing versions, and you can buy an upgrade for cheeper but then you can't do a fresh install... bla bla. I don't care if you prefer Windows or Mac, I'm just pointing out the large difference between two "competing" companies. It is interesting. 

Well, I'm an audio engineer, Mac/Apple enthusiast, and a person who generally likes to work efficiently. With each OS refinement Apple adds new tools to streamline and speed up some tasks. Sure there's lots of mods that the Mac world can't do that others can, but for the most part it's a clean environment that "just works". Mavericks is continuing on this trend. My 3+ year old iMac feels faster than ever. Programs open snappy, respond quickly (both visually and with processing). A lot of this comes from refinements in the RAM and graphics management systems. 

Multiple Screens:

One of the more useful and/or confusing parts of Mavericks is the paradigm shift in the use of multiple monitors. Lion & Mountain Lion had spaces and fullscreen apps. These were fun, but not practical if you have 2 monitors. A fullscreen app would only run on one display and the other would hangout out with nothing to do. Mavericks changes this by letting both screen operate as a separate desktop. You can switch between a standard application space and a fullscreen app on your left monitor while your right monitor stays right where you left it. To aid in the usefulness, they've made the top menu bar appear on both screens. If you've got an app selected on the left monitor, the left menu bar is illuminated and the right monitor's menu bar is greyed out. This has been the hardest thing for me to get used to. Especially if using a fullscreen app because you can't use the other display's menu bar for the fullscreen app. It's nice, but very confusing if you've gotten used to using multiple monitors on other versions of the OS. 

Apple has thought ahead for you that don't like this change. They've given us the ability to toggle this feature on/off within system preferences > Mission Control. By default "Displays have separate spaces" is selected. You'll need to close everything and logout/login, but you'll essentially get the old way of doing things back. 

Drivers & DAWs

On to the audio side of things. As I write this I'm recording 19 channels at 96khz/24bit via USB on my RME Fireface UFX. Yes... via USB. RME's usb drivers are killer. Anyway, All 19 channels record just fine. A few weeks after Mavericks came out RME officially released a comparable driver, but I didn't notice anything not working prior to installing that. However, with any OS update comes the potential for catastrophic compatibility issues. Especially if you're not one to upgrade hardware/software regularly. Luckily Mavericks still runs 32 bit software (aka old programs like my Reason 5 that I haven't found need to pay to upgrade yet). However, hardware is another story. Drivers are what enables software to interpret what the hardware is saying. Old hardware drivers may become unstable or un-usable with new operating systems. Case in point: I upgraded to Lion 2 years ago and my M-Audio Profire 2626 was plugged into my computer. Of course, I hadn't thought to upgrade my driver prior to OS install, so when the computer restarted from it's update it got stuck in a kernel panic crash cycle. Luckily I thought to un-plug all of my peripherals and that gave me a clue that my Profire was causing the issue. The moral of the story: check you hardware compatibility first!!! Also, if you are on the hunt for used gear but own a new computer, make sure the manufacture has drivers for your used gear! My Profire 2626 is old. It isn't getting updated drivers. So I have no clue if you can use it with Mavericks or not. Just make sure to be careful. 

At the time of finishing this review, all of the main DAW manufactures have given the green light to upgrade to Mavericks. The only caveat there is if you're running old un-updated generations of software be careful! You may need to downgrade your OS if you don't upgrade your software! 

The audio world won't be too shaken up from the update to Mavericks, but many practical users will find there machines working more efficiently on day to day activities. If you're looking to breathe extra life into your Mac I always suggest upgrading your RAM. I suggest a minimum of 4GB if you're a light user. If you do a lot of tracking, sampling, or mixing you'll want a minimum of 8GB of RAM.

Conclusion: 

Mavericks is a great step forward for the Mac OS. No it's not revolutionizing the world with features, but it's free! Give new life to your Mac by upgrading, but make sure to check software and hardware driver compatibility first. Explore the fun new integrations with iCloud and such. Other Apple apps have also been updated to the Mavericks feel. The integration and feel of their iOS platform and their OSX platform are slowly converging. It will be interesting to see where they take us from here!

 

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Posted on November 27, 2013 and filed under All Posts, News, Original, Review.