Ry Cooder used iTunes to master his latest album

This is intriguing: Apparently Ry Cooder used the “sound enhancer” inside iTunes to master his latest album. According to the New York Times, Cooder has been struggling for years to capture the correct sound for a solo album; in fact, he’d delayed releasing the album for years because he couldn’t get the sound right. Whenever he took his mixes and burned a CD of them, they sounded “processed”.

Then one day he had an accidental breakthrough:

When he burned a copy of the album using Apple’s iTunes software, it sounded fine. He didn’t know why until one of his younger engineers told him that the default settings on iTunes apply a “sound enhancer.” (It’s in the preferences menu, under “playback.”) Usually, that feature sweetens the sound of digital music files, but Mr. Cooder so liked its effect on his studio recordings that he used it to master — that is, make the final sound mixes — his album. “We didn’t do anything else to it,” he said.

Apparently he’s the first known producer to master an album using iTunes’ sound enhancer. But what precisely does the sound enhancer do? I can’t quite figure it out. Possibly it’s a sonic maximizer, or an aural exciter — something that tries to restore audio frequencies and dynamics that get lost during the recording process. Interestingly, some audiophiles complain they have to turn the enhancer off because it ruins songs during playback.

Anyone know how iTunes’ enhancer works?

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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