New PowerBook's audio is not balanced. Anyone else?

Discussion in 'Macintosh Computers' started by blackpeter, Feb 9, 2005.

  1. blackpeter macrumors 6502a

    Aug 14, 2001
    Just got my new 15" 1.67GHz PowerBook and noticed that the audio coming from the internal speakers sounds a little off-center. After some checking around, I discovered these posts (below). Turns out, the 15" AlBook's speaker arrangement is less than symetrical, making it louder on the left side.

    Anyone else notice this? I can live with this if it's a design flaw. But if it's an issue with my particualr PowerBook, then I want to trade it in immedately.

    New 15" AiBook's odd audio behavior

    John Tuvell
    I purchased a 15" Aibook (1.25ghz) last week from my local Apple Store. When I ran iTunes for the first time I noticed very little or no audio coming from the right speaker. I opened the sound panel and interestingly, the pan left and pan right only produced sound from the left speaker.

    Have you heard of anyone else reporting this problem. I love the 'book but the sound output through the internal speakers is definitely crippled.

    John Bales
    I have a new 15" Powerbook that seems to have an issue with sound volume/balance on the internal speakers. When I received the powerbook, I immediately noticed that the sound was much louder and clearer from the left speaker.

    Jeffrey Baker
    The leftward bias of the sound in the new powerbook is due to the highly assymetrical layout of the interior parts. See

    * Disassembled PowerBook (16)
    * Disassembled PowerBook (17)

    Notice there is one speaker on the right, way up high near the ethernet port. There is another speaker on the left, above the PC Card slot. But there is also a third speaker! It is also on the left, and this is the "midrange-enhancing third speaker" listed in Apple's Tech Specs for the new 12 and 15" Powerbooks.

    I hope these pictures can (finally) put to rest the persistent theory that the sound somehow emerges from the rear and 'bounces off the screen' in these computers.
  2. varmit macrumors 68000


    Aug 5, 2003
    Yep, I was thinking the same thing with my new 15". It does sound louder on the left than on the right.
  3. swiftaw macrumors 603


    Jan 31, 2005
    Omaha, NE, USA
    Yes, I also noticed that the audio seems a little louder from the left side.
  4. blackpeter thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Aug 14, 2001
    Well, it does satisfy me to know that the problem is a design flaw rather than a defect. It took me all day to transfer data and install software. I wouldn't have liked to start all over again.

    Still, a curious speaker layout considering the PowerBooks are targeted at professional artists. I guess most musicians aren't using the internal speakers for their work.
  5. killuminati macrumors 68020


    Dec 6, 2004
    It was one of the first things I noticed when I got my pb. (I listen to a lot of music, I think iTunes was the first app opened :p)
  6. firewire macrumors newbie

    Feb 24, 2003
    Audio not Balanced

    Go to System Preferences and click on SOUND. Then OUTPUT, and you can set the balance how you like it. It is already a little to the left anyway. Hope this works out?????????
  7. Vanilla macrumors 6502a

    Mar 19, 2002
    Atlanta, GA
    Well I've had the same problem with a new 15" PowerBook I purchased yesterday and to be honest it's rather depressed me, as its so incredibly obvious. I'm living with it because apart from this everything else is fine with the machine and I can always use headphones but it has dampened my hithertow unbridled enthusiasm for all things Apple.

    So I went down to the Regent Street, London Apple store this afternoon and checked out four 15" PowerBooks and they all had the same issue as mine, which in a strange way made me feel better. I then managed to collar one of the guys manning the Genius bar and explained what I had discovered.

    He said that its not a fault but a "facet" of the design. Apple have indeed put a third speaker in to the 15" to boost bass and midrange but due to space constraints they positioned it under the Apple key on the left side. This speaker is always on and so when you switch the sound balance full right you are hearing the right speakers and this 3rd speaker which due to its position leaks out of the left side. Net result is that with a central sound balance the stereo image is left biased.

    The guy said he had one guy that went through three replacement machines trying to resolve this and they all had the same issue. However he also said that the vast majority of people simply dont notice it. I can't understand the last point however as its so clear that sound is predominately coming out of the left side. All you have to do to prove your ears are not deceiving you is go to preferences/sound/output and move the sound balance fully to the right to hear that sound is in fact coming from both left and right to prove it.

    I've written feedback to Apple and I suggest everyone that experiences this does the same. Hopefully they can come up with a software solution that will better control the 3rd speaker but I doubt they'll bother unless they get a volume of people highlighting the issue.

    After shelling out a not insignificant some of money it is galling to find that it cant produce a decent stereo sound. I accept we cannot expect perfect bass, midrange and treble notes but Jeez you'd think they could at least ensure that whatever they could produce would be spread evenly across the left and right channels.

  8. wide macrumors 6502a

    May 17, 2004
    I don't have a powerbook (yet :D), but with my iPod, sometimes I only hear music out of the left ear (with a very small noise coming from the right ear). Usually this happens due to cold weather (I think), but it gets more and more frustrating as the winter progresses. Come spring, if it still happens, I will have to get it replaced.

    It might be my headphones, but seeing as how they are Shure e3s I don't think thats the case. Those have a two year warranty, anyway, so I have time to decide how much i really care.

    Anyway...I guess my point is..are you listening to the music on your powerbooks in cold weather (i.e. below room temperature)? if so, that might have something to do with your problems (probably not..)
  9. Arcus macrumors 6502a


    Dec 28, 2004
    of my hand will get me slapped.
    Two things in this world annoy me to no end.

    Cars with broken gas guages
    Unbalanced speakers.

    Thanks for posting this info. I defiantely will be checking this out next time
    I am at the Apple store.

    This may be kind of drastic but I wonder if disableing(sp) the third speaker would make sense.
  10. alex_ant macrumors 68020


    Feb 5, 2002
    All up in your bidness
    I have a 15" TiBook and the audio is perfectly balanced

    but still tinny and crappy. I know that balanced sound should not be too much to ask in a $2k+ laptop, but they are internal speakers after all. They're only there to provide the bare minimum sound quality. It's virtually impossible to make laptop speakers sound as good as even a $20 clock radio, especially in a computer whose chassis is less than 1" thick and cannot provide the type of space necessary to house strong long-throw speakers. These are pro machines, and if you care about sound quality, that's what headphones and line outs and USB/Firewire DACs are for.
  11. Vanilla macrumors 6502a

    Mar 19, 2002
    Atlanta, GA
    I ask you to do one thing: go into any Apple shop, target any new 15" powerbook, fire up iTunes and get a song running, go to preferences/sound/output and move the sound balance fully to the left and then fully to the right.

    I guarantee that you will then understand how mind bogglingly obvious this flaw is, and make no mistake this is a flaw and it appears to affect all new 15" PB's.

    No I do NOT expect great sound quality out of tiny laptop speakers, but for £1579 I DO expect that for a laptop with left and right speakers whatever sound it does manage to make is spread evenly across the left and right channels.

    It's a real shame as everything else about it is great (even the heat is welcome during the current cold snap we are experiencing here in ole blighty), but this has disappointed me somewhat.

  12. devman macrumors 65816


    Apr 19, 2004
    By that logic, why even have laptop speakers at all? (rhetorical)

    This isn't about the quality of the DACs etc. This is simply about balanced sound. I agree with Vanilla.

    Thankfully, I have the previous rev PB15, but I've tried this on the latest models in the store and the left bias is very noticeable to me and it would annoy the heck out of me. I (my personal opinion) could not buy this model PB. However, I appreciate that others might not notice or be bothered by it.
  13. Demon Hunter macrumors 68020

    Mar 30, 2004
    I sincerely hope that you take this "explanation" with a grain of salt.

    The new Powerbook is not the first to utilize this "third" mid-range enhancing speaker; the last generation did, at the least. It sounds like a not-so-clever way of avoiding the real problem, making you think it's supposed to be that way, and reassuring you. "Facet" of the design? Are you kidding me?

    From (previous gen 15"):
    Take a look for yourself: Sound System Developer Note

    If he was implying this was a new feature, he was either a) lying to you... new features are cooler than new defects! or b) didn't know enough about the Powerbook (LOL).

    As far as I know, the previous model did not have this issue. I never experienced it.

    The supposed geniuses do not, in fact, know everything. In some cases, they only know as much as the consumer does about a given problem. How do I know? I worked there.

    I think it is more likely that Apple had a manufacturing defect, and the company is doing what it has always done: ignore the problem or play it off as something else. They're a corporation, and that's what corporations do. No one's going to buy a $2500 computer with clearly faulty speakers.

    In my odyssey to repair the keyboard on my Powerbook, myself and many others have experienced this exact phenomenon, if you can call it such (I prefer "deception" myself). Good, paying customers were told "oh, it's supposed to be this way," "you're expecting perfection," "we've never heard of this problem before." When, in fact, the sticky keys are well documented on several different forums; a user even video-taped the problem. I've even been given an answer from the geniuses that was not only incorrect, but he passed it off as genuine, hopefully from his own ignorance of the problem.

    My point is this: it is very likely, IMHO, that this response they gave you is a lot of... horse excrement. It is unfortunate that they can't just acknowledge their defects and do something about it.

    I do hope you find your machine satisfactory; there's nothing worse than going through all the trouble to repair something right after you bought it (I should know).

    Apple's customers deserve so much better than this. :mad:
  14. Vanilla macrumors 6502a

    Mar 19, 2002
    Atlanta, GA

    Yeah, I have taken the information with a hefty side portion of salt, but I thought it was useful info to share. I'm talking to my dealer tomorrow and see what happens there. Oh and of course this also affects playing DVD's!

    Its not a major flaw, but it IS irritating.

  15. Vanilla macrumors 6502a

    Mar 19, 2002
    Atlanta, GA
    As a related aside, I note that a thread on Apple Support discussing this exact same issue is now "locked". Not sure whether one can read anything into that or not, but thought I'd mention it.

    Dferrara: My dealer has promised to check on some new stock he has and get back to me, but given that every machine in the Regent street Apple store had the same issue I don't hold out much hope. Did you get a resolution on the keyboard issue? If so, what steps did you take? I'm just keen to understand what I should do next. I've posted feedback to Apple, I've contacted my dealer, I've chatted to a genius guy and I've posted on an Apple support thread and now I'm wondering what else to do, to keep this alive.

  16. bentmywookie macrumors regular

    Nov 6, 2002
    Palo Alto
    Please check System Preferences First!

    Please check your speaker balance according to the directions above - I had this same problem (albeit with my Ti 1 gig SD) and it was because, for some odd reason, the speaker balance was off in System Preferences.
  17. Deslock macrumors member

    Aug 18, 2004
    Just got a 15" powerbook today... there is a lot of sound distortion through the built-in speakers when watching DVDs (I don't have the volume very high either). I haven't noticed it as much with music CDs.

    Anyone else have this problem?
  18. jackieonasses macrumors 6502a


    Mar 3, 2004
    the great OKLAHOMA....
    The gain? No matter what the speakers really really really are not that high of a quality component anyways. Try another DVD or something, and how bad is the distortion?

  19. Vanilla macrumors 6502a

    Mar 19, 2002
    Atlanta, GA
    Just to clarify, this only seems to affect the new 15" powerbooks:

    1. Get yourself in front of a new PowerBook 1.67ghz 15"
    2. Fire up iTunes and get a song playing
    3. You should notice that the sound is left biased
    4. Go to preferences/sounds/output
    5. Move the sound balance fully to the left: you should notice that the sound comes out only from the left speaker grille
    6. Now move the sound balance fully to the right: you should notice that the sound appears to come out of both speakers.

    From what I understand there is a third speaker left of centre (under the apple key) that is always on and is there to boost bass and midrange. When you move the sound balance fully to the right you are actually hearing the right speaker and this 3rd speaker which leaks out of the left speaker grille. The net result is that when the sound balance is centred, the stereo image is skewed to the left as more sound (left stereo channel and midrange boost) is being pumped out of the left side of the laptop.

    This also affects playback of DVD movies of course.

    The complaint is NOT the quality of the sound, it's only a laptop after all. The complaint is that whatever sound the laptop manages to make with its soundcard should at least be balanced across both speakers.

    Hopefully this can be resolved via a software fix, controlling the 3rd speaker in some way, but unless people raise the issue with Apple I fear this will be conveniently brushed under the carpet and quietly corrected in later models, leaving those of us with recent purchases in the lurch.

    If that happens it wont destroy my experience of the Powerbook as at the end of the day the problem is not strong enough to warrant a return and refund, but it certainly leaves one feeling somewhat disillusioned with Apple, akin to discovering Santa doesn't exist after all.

    So, when you are next in an Apple store, have a go at the test above and if you agree with the issue I'd be very grateful if you could raise the issue with people there. Its a start anyway.

  20. Deslock macrumors member

    Aug 18, 2004
    Dialog and music are sometimes distorted when played back on the 15" PB. When played at a comparable volume, my PocketPC (Axim X50v) and other laptop (Panasonic W2), don't have this problem.
  21. Vanilla macrumors 6502a

    Mar 19, 2002
    Atlanta, GA
    So I called Apple Support and chatted to a guy there. Basically they are washing their hands off it by saying that the left-bias I am hearing is in their opinion "normal" and due to the placement of the 3rd speaker.

    I tried to say that issuing powerbooks with a design that causes a left-bias in the sound surely cannot be regarded as normal but the person I was speaking to said he doesnt make the things, this is what his tech people are saying and there is nothing more he can do.

    He also sent me the following article:
    PowerBook G4 (15-inch FW 800): Sound Specifications
    Learn about the sound specifications for the PowerBook G4 (15-inch FW 800) computer.
    The PowerBook G4 (15-inch FW 800) computer has an audio line-in port, headphone port, integrated microphone, two stereo speakers, and a midrange-enhancing speaker.

    The audio line-in port is a stereo 3.5 mm mini-phono jack that allows the connection of a line-level microphone or other audio equipment.

    The headphone port also uses a 3.5 mm mini-phono jack and provides enough current to drive a pair of low-impedance headphones. It can support external speakers (which may require external power) or other sound output devices.

    The integrated microphone is located underneath the left speaker grill near the Tab key.

    The PowerBook G4 (15-inch FW 800) computer includes two stereo speakers, located beneath the speaker grills on each side of the keyboard.

    The PowerBook G4 (15-inch FW 800) computer also has a midrange-enhancing speaker, designed to produce a separate channel of midrange sound. The midrange speaker is located underneath and to the left of the space bar. There are no settings in the Sound pane of System Preferences to adjust the midrange speaker independently. Increasing and decreasing the system volume changes both the stereo speakers and the midrange speaker at the same time.

    Thank you,

    So I'm wondering what to do next, really. I guess first I need to consider what I expect them to do, given that it appears to be a design flaw (or normal feature in Apple-speak).

    If they could just issue a software update that enabled you to play with the volume and/or sound balance of the midrange enhancing speaker then in combination with the main speaker volume & sound/balance you could - I think - get a better stereo image.

    But how do you get such a change when the company officially states in their opinion the current situation is normal?

  22. emotion macrumors 68040


    Mar 29, 2004
    Manchester, UK
    It's not a good thing that Apple overlooked this but come on, as alex_ant has pointed out, why would anyone who isn't deaf want to use the internal speakers for playing music?

    They're there just in case you're without your headphones or are not in reach of the lead into your stereo.

    A fix would be for the mid speaker to be configured as a woofer only. Bass is more or less non-directional.
  23. Vanilla macrumors 6502a

    Mar 19, 2002
    Atlanta, GA
    I hear you but there are a number of occasions in life where you do not want to - or are not able to - wear headphones or plug in a set of external speakers into your powerbook.

    In such cases (such as watching a movie with the missus while in a hotel room, having music playing low while working in the office etc.) you accept the reduced sound quality in favour of portability. Having unbalanced speakers really puts a dampener on this though.

    Sure I can wear headphones and when I'm at home I can sacrifice portability by taking the laptop upstairs to my study and plug-in a set of externals but its irritating that these two options are almost mandatory unless you can accept a skewed stereo image. With my previous 17" I never came across this problem, it perfectly balancing admittedly sub-standard sound output across its speakers.

    Your solution sounds cool and I just hope that some equivalent kind of software update will become available to resolve the issue.

    PS: One thing I DO like about the 15' is the quietness of the fans. I hardly know their on unless I'm in a really quiet environment. My 17" had quite loud whirring fans, which I grew used to but this 15" is brilliant in comparison. Just thought it was time to say something positive about a machine I do actually love a little more as each day goes by.
  24. emotion macrumors 68040


    Mar 29, 2004
    Manchester, UK
    Yeah fair do's Vanilla. It's a design flaw they could have done more to tackle really.

    Personally i'd do without speakers if it'd mean less weight and/or a smaller enclosure. I doubt they have much bearing on the design or weight tho which is why they never sound good.

    btw. I use my laptop mostly for music production/djing (Ableton Live). So audio is a consideration.
  25. nesbitt_a macrumors 6502

    Nov 1, 2003
    I've just ordered a new 1.67Ghz PowerBook, and am slightly concerned about this audio defect! I dont really use the speakers on laptops much anyway, usually connect a set of speakers or high def headphones!

    However for the price of PowerBooks, and their target audience - Apple shouldn't have overlooked this feature.

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