February 14, 2013 at 10:04 am

How To Make iPhone, Android Sound More ‘Present’ for Under $3

For almost as long as scientists have devised ways to store digital music in ever more efficient ways, other scientists have agonized over how to “repair” that work. This typically involves trying to replace what the process of acoustic compression has removed — compression that is necessary for the files to fly around the internet the way they do, stream without lagging, and get stored on your phone.

The most common way to mess around with how a file sound is equalization, which amplifies some frequencies and/or attenuates others. Plenty of apps do that.

However, like Audio Xciter (which also impressed us), SonicMax and SonicMax Pro – from veteran (1985) sonic engineers BBE Sound – go beyond equalization or simple “loudness” controls, by performing complex processing on the music on your iPhone to make your music sound punchier and more “present.”

The Android version is free, for whatever reason. The iOS crowd will need to cough up a dollar for the regular version, or $2.99 for the Pro version (the one that is free on Android) that we recommend out of the two, if you’re going to bother, because it offers the greatest degree of control.

Before you go any further, some caveats! You must meet some or all of the following requirements:

  • You already have great headphones. Those have a bigger influence on sound quality than any app can. (Or you have subpar headphones, can’t afford nice ones, and want to make them sound better, which this app definitely can.)
  • You care about sound quality enough to switch your music playback app.
  • You primarily listen to raw music downloads, as opposed to music from Rdio, Rhapsody, Spotify, streaming radio, and so on. This app only works on regular files stored on your phone.
  • You believe that the engineers who mastered the album maybe could have done a better job, and/or that compression negatively affects music.
  • If you use iTunes Match, you don’t mind going in to Apple’s Music app and making those files download to your phone.
  • You make all of your playlists in iTunes (you can’t make playlists within this app).

Do those sound familiar? Yes? Then let’s proceed.

After testing SonicMax Pro, we can verify that it makes music sound more present. It also sounds louder, with thicker bass, depending on where you set the knobs, based on technology BBE has long used to make live acts sound better. If you like to tweak sound and are bored of mere bass and treble, you will find plenty of fun, effective ways to make your jams sound more present, although obviously, audio purists should steer clear of apps like this in favor of high-resolution files and expensive headphones.

The regular version of SonicMax offers only presets for stuff like earbuds/earphones, headphones, speakers, and docks. The Pro version adds dials that let you control aspects of the sound within those presets, as well as creating your own presets. If you’re going to mess with this sort of thing, go all the way — the $2 version offers a lot more than the $1 version. Of course, if you’re on Android, you don’t need to worry about that (although granted, the Android version doesn’t look as pretty).