Life, Technology, and Meteorology

MacBook Pro Sound

Diego commented on my last blog posting about the sound issues some users have noticed with the MacBook Pro’s. I think it’s best to post about this separately instead of in the comments, so here goes. Diego asks…

I was wondering whether you’ve noticed any problems with the right speaker? I’ve seen some comments from others where there seems to be some distortion/vibrations coming from the right speaker. Just curious. Some of these comments were on the Apple discussion forums.

Let me qualify myself before answering this question. I am a bit of an amateur audiophile…I know what good music sounds like, and I’ve listened to music on speakers costing upwards of $10k/pair. These high-end brands like B&W, Klipsch, and even a few Mirage and PSB systems sound a lot better than your average JBL or Polk setup (though JBLs pro series are excellent in large areas such as for concerts). Sony speakers aren’t even close to this league. I have an M&K home theater system here, and really enjoy kicking back and listening to some music (2 channel, not surround) with my eyes closed. However, with all this said, I’m not an audiophile in the sense that I’ll spend tens of thousands of dollars on a setup. Many audiophiles probably wouldn’t even consider me to be one.

So to answer the question, my right and left speakers do not sound uniform. This is one of the first things I tested when the MacBook Pro arrived. The right speaker doesn’t sound distorted as much as it sounds like there is a lack of bass. Chris Liscio has documented this over on his blog complete with acoustic measurements, and his observations match what I am hearing.

Oddly enough, when the balance is set in the center, the sound combines pretty well. The speakers aren’t far enough apart to give good stereo separation, so really it’s close to just being monaural. I would have never known there was a problem if others hadn’t mentioned it and I hadn’t tried adjusting the balance all the way to the right and left myself. They sound like laptop speakers. 🙂

I’m sure Apple will respond to this issue since I believe it probably effects most, if not all, the MacBook Pros that have shipped. Like Chris, I hope it is a software problem. If they don’t respond to this, then I’m not going to worry about it. 99% of the time the deficiency won’t even be noticeable.


  1. logtar

    I really hate to sound so sarcastic, but seriously Diego… WHO CARES! while you do expect a certain level of performance from laptop speakers I believe that anything above adequate is a win. If you want anything that soulds somewhat decent you need external speakers no question about it. Also headphones now a days produce excellen sound reproduction…

  2. Diego

    Hey Mike, thanks for taking the time to reply. Appreciate it.

    logstar: I don’t really care to attain THX surround sound from a laptop, far from it. I was just trying to ascertain whether this was just a problem with a small number of MacBook Pro’s or just some people that are overly picky. Personally I am not too fussy. I’d only be concerned if there was an actual hardware problem after paying such amounts of money for a laptop.

  3. Jason

    The real problem with the right speaker for me is when I’m using iChat since iChat only uses the right speaker since the micophone is too close to the left one. I find it difficult to understand someone when they are talking to me via iChat. Voices sound very distorted and muffled.

    I think it could be fixed somewhat via software by adjusting the tone and lowering the bass.

  4. Dragon

    I’m sure its the exact same thing as on powerbooks, the speaker system is in fact three speakers, two mid-high range drivers, and an extra one for more bassey sound, the trouble is the bassey one is not centered in the system, its more towards the left speaker, thus unbalancing the sound in some situatins. as such, it’s nothing that can really be fixed, its that way by design limitation of cramming that much in such a thin case.

  5. mike

    If there is a third speaker in the MacBook Pros just as the previous Powerbooks (I’ve heard reports stating both 2 and 3 speakers are present), then Apple’s implementation of the sound balance is incorrect. When a single bass speaker is available, it should always be at the same volume regardless of the sound balance selected. This way, whether the sound is balanced to one side or the other, it would still have the same frequency response and thus the same tonal characteristics. Since the tone changes with the balance, either the left and right speakers have different frequency responses (if there are only 2 speakers), or a third bass speaker isn’t acting as it should.

    Again, this is never really noticable in my case, because I always keep the balance set to the middle and hardly ever voice/video conference over iChat, but I still feel that Apple should resolve this issue.

  6. Jody

    My right speaker is pretty much dead– about 10% the volume of the left. With balance set to center, nothing comes out at all…


  7. mike

    Jody, you’re going to want to get in touch with Apple about that one. It’s definitely not normal for one speaker to have only 10% of the volume of the other, or for nothing to play when the balance is centered for that matter.

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