Turn off the iTunes Sound Enhancer.

Did you know that by default iTunes is mucking up the sound of your recordings? I’m not sure with what version this started with but iTunes when first installed has its Sound Enhancer turned on. This is fine for easy listening but if you don’t know it exists it can wreak havoc on you mind when you play your own recordings.

I first noticed this when I was mastering my last album. I was listening carefully to a song called The World Will Know Us which had some alternating panned tom fills. In my DAW the toms where perfectly tickling each ear as they bounced from left to right. Later I put all my mastered songs into iTunes and was playing with the order of the songs to see how the album should be best arranged. When The World Will Know Us came on something was very wrong because the panning was strange. The toms seemed pushed to the center right ear only. I rerendered and remastering the song and again the same thing. It was pure luck I discovered that the iTunes Sound Enhancer was on and it was the culprit causing the phenomena. One good fact is iTunes remembers your settings each time you upgrade to a newer version.

“Sound enhancer is absolutely the STUPIDEST thing… App-hole also have it set to ON by default.. I have to send the following disclaimer to all my clients who listen to mixes on iTunes “Please be aware that iTunes had a setting in the preferences, under the “Audio” tab which engages something they like to call “Sound Enhancer”. This setting will increase the L-R component of the stereo signal and supress the L+R component. What does that mean? It means that anything which is only on the left, only on the right or has significantly different information in the left and right channel will be made louder (cymbals, percussion, BGVs, guitars, ambiences) and anything which is identical in the left and right channels (therefore “mono”, Kick Snare, Bass, lead vocal, etc…) will be much quieter. Please be sure that the “sound Enhancer” is OFF before you call to complain that you cannot hear the lead vocal in the chorus, etc…” Apple are ****ing idiots about pro audio…” zmix, Gearslutz.com

Have you noticed this yourself?

17 Comments

  1. Yep, I noticed this too. It’s hard to understand why that setting is enabled by default, it sounds dreadful! Trying not to be elitist, but are people generally so ignorant of how music is supposed to sound?

    I have to say that with all the ‘enhancements’ switched off, iTunes 8 doesn’t sound as muddy as v7 did. I still prefer foobar2000 but, as you say, there’s nothing to beat listening to your DAW in terms of sound reproduction quality.

    Reply

  2. That would make sense on why I found Quicktime Player and iTunes play the same song differently. I have taken to normally referencing music I’m working in in Quicktime player. It just had a cleaner sound… and now I know why. Very cool!

    Reply

  3. I spotted this the other day when I upgraded to v8. It’s pretty annoying that Apple enable it by default. I bet if the EQ was enabled people would complain but because the “sound enhancer” is so vague to 99.9% of people and tucked away in preferences, no one does.

    Reply

  4. Also beware of Sound Check! It will distort many recordings.

    Reply

  5. i’ve had an apple computer since 1980. i love apple computers. and what is the application that finally makes them famous, along with their ipod? itunes – probably the worst thing they’ve ever made. it has very little use for any serious music enthusiast. instead, it is clearly designed for the ‘average’ music listener, which is basically a glorified version of the kind of people that have no problem with commercial FM radio.

    it sounds like shit and assumes users have little to no knowledge of computers or music – in it’s attempt to make ‘life easier’ it makes these kinds of importing, organizational and playback assumptions that drive me insane. i hate it. clearly not designed for a techno musician, since 75% of all the music on my computer is my own stuff, loops, tracks, single shot samples, whatever…

    i actually use the quicktime player to play stuff back. i think it sounds better for some reason, and both itunes and the quicktime player are coming out of my MOTU Traveller… even with all the stupid settings off in itunes, i was still experiencing slight distortion. maybe itunes has problems handling 24-bit? i dunno.

    Reply

  6. Yeah man, thanks so much for that hint. I noticed the phenomenon while listening to our last record. Everything seemed wrong… but i thought, thats becuase of my different Hifi-speakers which i use just for listening to my iTunes music.

    Shame to Apple.

    Daniel

    Reply

  7. yes! I experienced the same thing!
    After I downloaded the newest version of iTunes, I realized that all my songs sounded strange, like the music was much louder than the lyrics. I turned off the Sound Enhancer, and it went right back to normal.

    Reply

  8. Wow, you guys all have severe attitude problems. Holier than thou. Just turn the damn setting off and quit bitching.

    Reply

  9. “clearly not designed for a techno musician, since 75% of all the music on my computer is my own stuff, loops, tracks, single shot samples, whatever…”

    Well, no, it’s not designed for any kind of audio production work. Why on earth would you load loops or samples into iTunes? It’s a music jukebox FFS. I do pro audio work, but I use iTunes to organise my music library and nothing more. It’s actually not a bad piece of software if you use it for what it’s designed for.

    That said, this “sound enhancer” thing is totally retarded. I have no idea why it’s included, or what possible benefit it could serve.

    Reply

  10. I’ve only recently begun using itunes for listening to music. I set up a bit of a system, loaded some CDs, and figured the pain in my ears would go away if I got my speakers sounding right. Went looking for a way to turn off the annoying “cross fade”. I found it, along with the “sound enhancer”. I turned them both off. My ears don’t hurt anymore.

    Reply

  11. To VARNSEN, this is not an attitude problem. If someone uses iTunes to import a thousand songs from 400 CDs before noticing this “on by default” setting, it can be quite a time waster. No one wants to delete and re-import 1,000 songs. Even worse would be to burn a dozen CDs before noticing it.

    Fortunately, my iTunes has never had the Sound Enhancer on by default. I hope everyone knows “off” is the center position, not the far left.

    Reply

    1. It only affects playback, not importing

      Reply

    2. actually “off” is accomplished by unchecking the box on the left

      Reply

  12. I think quite a lot of the posters above have missed the point of iTunes. It is a mass-consumer media purchasing and playing application. It is not an audiophile product. As a result, the vast majority of people who use it will play their music on commodity hardware, and I imagine that the sound enhancer is to make popular music sound better on iPod docks or on their laptop sound card. If you really care about 100% faithful music reproduction (are you using lossless compression?) it is surely best to buy an expensive CD player. It’s not apple that have the problem to be fair, iTunes is wildly popular. But expecting it to perform like an audiophile product is like using an adjustable spanner to put up picture hooks. You’ll look foolish, and the end result won’t satisfy…

    Reply

  13. David Vanderschel January 8, 2010 at 3:14 am

    In iTunes version 9, it is no longer the default.

    Reply

  14. thank you for this post. I was wondering why itunes was turning my recordings into poorly EQ’d high school music appreciation skecthes.

    Reply

  15. So… the sound enhancer makes the left and right “ends” of the music more pronounced than the “middle” part? I actually think that’s a good feature to have, especially for progressive metal bands like Dream Theater, who love playing with the extreme “ends” of sound. :P

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>