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ATPM 11.02
February 2005


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The Desktop Muse

by David Ozab,


Every January brings an important convergence of events for those of us who consider the Mac our Muse: Macworld San Francisco and the NAMM Convention in Los Angeles. Each January, Apple sets the tone for the year at these two conventions. Two years ago, we saw a plethora of products newly upgraded to OS X. Last year, we witnessed the birth of GarageBand. This year, Apple unveiled its most affordable computer and music player to date, and added GarageBand intergration to Logic Express and Logic Pro in order to complete their digital music upgrade path. These two developments together will allow musicians and music lovers of every budget to join in on the jam.

Make It Smaller and Cheaper, But Every Bit as Cool

The two big new product announcements this year were the iPod Shuffle, and the Mac Mini. Both products expand an existing market downward in price range. The original iMac (which debuted in 1998) all but single handedly brought Apple back from the brink. After the novelty wore off, though, the demand grew for a more affordable entry level computer (the so-called “headless iMac). Apple took its time and did it right. The Mini is the right price ($499) and it stands out from the boring black boxes by being both smaller and sexier.

Apple’s other headline grabber was the iPod, which pretty much created the market for digital music players and then proceeded to dominate that market. But what about those people who don’t need thousands of songs on hand? How about a couple of hundred? Apple answered that need with the Shuffle. Again, though, instead of just reducing disk space and making a cheaper iPod, Apple shrank the Shuffle down to the size of a pack of gum. I remember the first time I saw the original iPod and how small it seemed. (I also thought my cell phone was small until I saw a really small cell phone.) Now the iPod almost looks big in comparison.

A Solution for Every Price Range

So let’s say you’re a musician looking to get started in digital music (or a music lover wanting to play around and maybe write a song or two), but you’re on a tight budget. Thanks to Apple you can now build a fully functional Mac digital music studio for under $1000:

Mac Mini* $499
CRT or LCD Monitor $0-$699**
M-Audio Keystation 49e (MIDI Keyboard) $99***
M-Audio Nova Microphone $100***
M-Audio StudioPro 4s Speakers $149***
Griffin iMic (USB Audio Interface) $40
Griffin GarageBand Mic Cable $25
Total $912-$1,611

* Includes GarageBand, iTunes, and a CD Burner

** Price range from low (existing CRT) to high (17" Studio Display)

*** Price through the Apple Store

Now you have everything needed to create your own music and put it on CD. Add an iPod Shuffle for another $99 and you can take your tunes with you.

Upward Mobility

The basic studio listed above is great for beginners, but what about experienced digital musicians with a bigger budget? Well, that’s what’s so great about Apple’s completed upgrade path. For example, GarageBand ($79 with iLife 5 or free with a Mac Mini) to Logic Express ($299) to Logic Pro ($999 or $699 upgrade from Logic Express). Apple touted the new interelationship between these products at NAMM, and I think it’s a great idea. My only complaint is the lack of upgrade pricing options at the low end. For example, I own iLife 4. In order to get the GarageBand upgrade, however, I need to pay for the full iLife 5 package. By the same token, if I get iLife 5 (to upgrade GarageBand) and in a few months I want to move up to Logic Express (and given the newly touted releationship between the two applications, I’d be highly motivated to do so) I’ll still have to pay full price. I remember when existing software owners received a discount on upgrades, but, at least at the low end of the price scale, those days appear to be over.

Not Perfect, But Well Above Average

Such complaints, though, are minor in the face of Apple’s continuing commitment to digital music creation. Now all I need is a way to record CD-quality live audio on an iPod. Maybe next year…please.

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