The fat lady is about to sing for the Mac world's most powerful MP3 music software. On June 1, publisher Casady & Greene will stop selling SoundJam MP.
SoundJam was the most popular MP3 encoding and playback software for the Mac until Apple released iTunes in January. What's behind SoundJam's swan song? Has Apple squeezed out a small software publisher by giving away iTunes?
Some online discussion boards are crackling with flames aimed at Apple the Goliath, but the story behind SoundJam's demise is a bit more complicated and a lot less dramatic. The short version: Apple bought SoundJam, hired its programmers and put them to work remodeling SoundJam into iTunes.
The slightly longer version: Although Casady & Greene published SoundJam, it didn't develop the program. SoundJam's developers retained ownership of the code, and last fall, when Apple realized it had better catch up to the MP3 bandwagon, it approached SoundJam's developers with an offer: Sell us your program and come to work here.
They accepted, but their publishing agreement with Casady & Greene doesn't expire until June 1. That's why SoundJam and iTunes have coexisted since the beginning of the year--and it's why you still have two weeks to buy SoundJam.
So should you? If you only dabble with MP3, probably not. Apple's iTunes handles all the essentials--converting CD tracks into MP3 format, playing MP3 tunes and listening to streaming MP3 Internet radio stations. The search features in iTunes also do a better job of taming a large MP3 library. And unlike SoundJam, iTunes can burn CDs. For basic burning, there's no need for a separate burning program such as Roxio's Toast.
But for MP3 addicts, SoundJam has some appealing talents that iTunes currently lacks. My favorite is a feature that records audio directly to disk in MP3 format. Plug a stereo system into your Mac's microphone-input jack, and you can make MP3s of old records and cassettes. With some creative cabling, you can use SoundJam's recording features to save streaming audio content on your hard drive. By themselves, the QuickTime Player and RealPlayer don't permit this, but by adding SoundJam to the mix, you can save live streams for playback at your convenience.
First, you'll need a patch cord with an eighth-inch stereo miniplug on each end. (Radio Shack's catalog number 42-2387 will set you back $3.99.) Plug one end into the Mac's earphone jack and the other end into the mike jack. Next, open the Sound control panel and verify that the current sound input setting reads "Built-in."
Now start your streaming audio player, switch back to SoundJam and choose its Record From Sound Input command. Use the volume slider to adjust the recording levels, and then click the Start Recording button to begin recording. When you're done, click the Stop Recording button. If yours is a newer Mac that lacks an audio-input jack, you can use a third-party audio adapter. Just connect the Mac's audio-output jack to the adapter's audio-input jack.
Unlike iTunes, SoundJam also has an equalizer that lets you fine-tune bass and treble to optimize sound quality. There's also an alarm clock mode that plays a tune or series of tunes at a specified time.
Another unique SoundJam feature is its ability to broadcast to streaming services such as Live365. With this feature and a continuous Internet connection, such as a DSL or cable modem, you can produce your own live streaming broadcast.
Apple might add these features to future versions of iTunes, but SoundJam provides them now. And to stoke its fire sale, Casady & Green has cut SoundJam's price by $10. The download version, available at http://www.soundjam.com, now costs $29, and the CD version with printed manual is $39. Casady & Greene will provide SoundJam technical support after June 1, but it won't be releasing any updates, so SoundJam might not be compatible with future updates to Mac OS 9. (SoundJam doesn't run in native form under Mac OS X.) In the meantime, if you're an MP3 lover, buy this program while you still can.
Jim Heid is a contributing editor of Macworld magazine.