|Interview: M-Audio's Jason Ivan
January 10, 2003 | Lucian Fong
IMG: The SoundBlaster Live! for Mac suffered a premature death because of poor execution and driver support by Creative Labs. How will M-Audio and your new products succeed where others have failed?
JI: Really there are two questions here. One is “why did the SoundBlaster Live! fail?” (which I think you almost answered yourself) and the second is “why does M-Audio think it will succeed?”. To further elaborate on the first, the SoundBlaster Live! was the only audio card Creative ported to the Mac. It’s difficult to build a business, or judge a market, off of a single product. It was also a product that was somewhat “old” by their PC product line standards and their Mac drivers were known to be buggy. Mac users historically don’t gravitate towards products that appear to be “hand me downs.”
M-Audio can succeed here because we’ve already succeeded in Mac Pro audio for more than a decade. This is not a half-hearted attempt to enter an unknown market, but modifying what we are already doing well and succeeding at, but addressing a larger number of customers with more consumer-friendly pricing and usability. We have other advantages that help us. We have a driver architecture that’s been honed and optimized for more than a decade. This makes it easier to create a new product than starting from scratch. We can leverage some of our software and hardware technologies for both the Mac and PC markets, and for both Pro and Consumer. That gives us a lot more volume and means better products that cost less and require less re-engineering. We’re also committed to making products that are powerful, but easy to use.
IMG: Companies that make both Mac and PC products must often cut corners or disable features because of the nature of the Mac market. With the exception of Windows-only features, will the Revolution 7.1 and Sonica Theater have the same functionality as the Windows variant?
JI: We’ve worked incredibly hard to make sure that the Mac version doesn’t have a reduced feature set from the PC version. Some of this has been a challenge because, honestly, the PC platform has a big head start over the Mac in multi-channel audio. This means we have less existing tools to work with and have to do more ourselves. Mac OS 9 is really a challenge since it lacks many of the underlying features needed to truly support multi-channel audio. Mac OS X is light years ahead of 9 in terms of audio capability, but there are still a few big limitations. The Apple DVD Player still doesn’t support output or decoding of Dolby Digital or DTS. To work around this, M-Audio actually contributed to the open source VLC (Video Lan Client) DVD player project and enabled AC3 output from this DVD player in Mac OS X. We also include SRS CircleSurround II technology in Revolution and Sonica Theater that can create extremely realistic surround sound from any CD or MP3, or even using Apple’s DVD player. Sensaura and EAX are PC-only technologies and no Mac games would utilize them anyway, so we’re not able to offer them for the Mac. The WinDVD 4 application is PC-only and, at the time we signed our contracts, there was no Mac version of Tony Hawk III. Those applications are the only two in our bundle that are PC-only. Otherwise, you can expect the Mac version to be as good (or better :-) than the PC version.