Component Reviews

SRS Labs iWOW Audio Software for Mac & PC

iWOW is designed to allow users to enjoy improved audio quality from less-than-audiophile-quality computers and components.

Published on November 21, 2008

SRS Labs iWOW Audio Software for Mac & PC
SRS Labs iWOW Audio Software
for Mac & PC v. 3.0
SRP: $79.95; iPod Adaptor: $99.95

2509 Daimler St.
Santa Ana, CA 92705

SRS Labs is a leader in surround sound, audio and voice technologies. Their various audio enhancement technologies are used by many manufacturers and include SRS WOW, WOW HD, TruSurround XT, SRS VIP, SRS Circle Surround II and SRS Headphone. Some of these enhancements are used in HDTV displays and in entry-level audio players to provide improved sound and even surround sound from the small, basic speaker systems and electronics in such units. Now SRS offers cross-platform enhancement software to improve the sonics from computers and iPods.  Until recently the iWOW software was only available for Macs, but now it has also been made available for PC users.  Both versions are included in the same package. The previous v. 2.0 has just been superceded by v. 3.0, which I evaluated.

iWOW is designed to allow users to enjoy improved audio quality from either the tiny speakers built into their computer video displays, a larger but still entry-level separate speaker system, or over stereo headphones. It can restore sonic fidelity to compressed digital audio files such as MP3s, podcasts, video soundtracks and streaming music from webcasters. The user interface is quite simple.  I merely dropped iWow into my iMac’s Applications Folder and it attached itself to iTunes, which then needs no further adjustment.  Whenever iTunes is opened to listen to any audio sources, this display comes up on the screen and can be moved around or out of your way:

There is a volume slider, a digital level meter, and where the pop-down says General there appears a list of various EQ settings for classical, rock, jazz, blues, country and more genres. I found the most accurate setting to be just plain General. Clicking anywhere on the SRS small screen brings up the advanced setting, allowed further customization to your particular speaker setup and your personal hearing. By the way, you can compare the iWOW effects to the untreated signal easily just by clicking on the blue ellipse just under the SRS logo.

I didn’t make any adjustments to the Advanced Controls but just A/B’d the tiny built-in speakers of my 20-inch iMac display with and without iWow, followed by feeding the analog out of my iMac to my office integrated amp and Paradigm Atom speakers plus Cambridge Soundworks subwoofer.  The sound quality from the display’s tiny speakers is surprising considering the low output of the amp and their small size, plus their downward-facing orientation.  However, adding the iWow processing produces a much more listenable and more stereo-conscious sound.  It made even more of an improvement on the even small speakers in the keyboard of my iBook, as well as bringing up the listening level which had already been at maximum and was still often difficult to hear.

Next I plugged in my office amp and monitor speakers. I formerly had a D/A processor feeding the iMac’s digital out to the amp, but I had taken it out of the circuit because it sounded slightly better feeding the analog signal to my amp. The addition of the iWow processing made a much greater improvement in the sound than had the D/A processor. I had been living with a somewhat thin playback in my office due to having removed the stacked Atoms in order to use them in my main listening room for auditioning the 2+2+2 SACDs.  With iWow, the richer, wider-range sound of the stacked speakers was recreated, and there was also a more pronounced stereo separation. I wouldn’t say the surround sound effect was immersing, but it did enhance the soundstage over the unprocessed signal. Also, my 20-inch screen is partially in the way of the sound from the two speakers across the room coming directly to me.  The iWow processing adds details in the presence frequencies and makes all source material sound higher res.  it is said to restore audio cues buried in the source material so music sounds more natural.  If you have especially wide range tweeters on your speakers, you might want to reduce the Definition level on the Advanced Controls.  iWow won a MacLife Editor’s Choice award last year, and was a top iTunes software download, so its audio enhancement has been appreciated. To summarize, I found the iWow processing to be immediately useful and practical for less than audiophile-level gear, as well as easily customizable to your needs. When I switched back to non-processed audio it sounded dull and lifeless, with instrumental and vocal lines other than the main melody buried in the muddy sonics. The only time I found I had to bypass the iWow processing was when listening to reissues of very early 78s or mono recordings.  In such cases the iWow processing was too similar to the enhancement processing done on the original recordings by the remastering engineers, making the sound strident and harsh.

I don’t have an iPod (horrors!), so didn’t test the new iWow adaptor for iPods. The new software plugin is an audio management peripheral that looks like this:

and it seamlessly connects to the iPod or iPhone to deliver its enhancements over headphones or earbuds. It works with all iPods and iPhones that have the 30-pin connector, including the Classic, Nano 3G and others. It attaches to the dock connector, bypassing the headphone jack. One light-up button turns processing on or off.  It is unclear whether or not the wide variety of settings and adjustments of the software iWow are available in the mobile physical unit. 

 – John Sunier

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