Sometimes, it’s the simplest and most innocuous product features that have the biggest impact on the user experience.
The one-handedness of the iPhone 13 mini is a great example. The way the iPad mini’s volume buttons automatically reorientate themselves based on the device orientation is another.
What surprises me the most about these features is that they often sneak into your life or way of working completely under the radar. Before you know it, you find yourself relying on them more than anything else.
I realised yesterday that this has happened to me with the 16-inch MacBook Pro. Indeed, I was wrong about a specific element of this laptop.
Who needs headphones?
The 16-inch MacBook Pro is my main production machine. Every video, podcast, and Skillshare class I create is made on that computer. It smashes every task; I barely touch the performance the maxed-out M1 Max chip is capable of.
Like so many people, I wanted one as soon as Apple revealed the retro-chic MacBook Pro in October last year. But there were a couple of things I wasn’t that fussed about.
For instance, as much as I understood the reason for the inclusion of an HDMI port, it wasn’t something that would set my trousers alight. Similarly, while ProMotion has promise, it is damn near non-existent in everyday use.
And the six-speaker system Apple promises will “fill the room with up to 80 per cent more bass”? I just don’t…
I realised yesterday that I’ve polished my last few videos without a pair of headphones. I’ve simply used the MacBook Pro’s speakers to monitor the audio and judge its suitability for publication.
This has been a completely subconscious decision.
Sure, I have a pretty solid workflow for my YouTube audio now, and the static nature of my set and production kit means there are very few variables to worry about. But I’ve never finished off so much work of this kind without a decent pair of studio monitor headphones.
What’s going on?
A note on the MacBook Pro speakers
Apple is doing some wonderful stuff with audio. As much as I’ve criticised the role spatial audio plays in music, there’s no doubting the technical brilliance behind it. And the quality of their consumer headphones never ceases to amaze me.
But I’ve always questioned the hyperbole surrounding the speaker system on recent MacBook Pros and iPads. Don’t get me wrong – they perform significantly better than virtually anything else on the market, but they’re not quite the room-filling, Sonos-conquering behemoths some reviewers will have you believe.
The new 16-inch MacBook Pro is no different. Its speakers are loud, clear, and exhibit zero distortion. They’re relatively full-sounding, too.
But they won’t replace your HiFi.
Despite this, the frequency response on offer and relatively flat sound actually make them a pretty handy set of mini studio monitors for the kind of work I do. The fact that most people will be listening to my audio on similar speakers (or worse) is the icing on the cake.
For my YouTube videos, I’m only really producing my voice and an audio ident that appears at the start and end of videos. I don’t need racks of monitoring gear to hear every last decibel and frequency. It doesn’t matter.
The speakers in the 16-inch MacBook Pro aren’t groundbreaking, and they won’t knock your socks off. But if you’re producing a lot of content that includes audio, they’re better than ‘good enough’. Just like the stellar battery performance in this laptop, they offer ultimate convenience and a ‘just get it done’ attitude which is lacking from most of the competition.
Don’t write off the ‘boring’ stuff
This has been a lesson for me. Just as I wrote off the Apple TV before realising that it is, in fact, one of the best devices you can place in your living room, I completely ignored the importance of those MacBook Pro speakers.
The headline stuff is always exciting. A super-fast CPU! A massive, XDR Pro Workflow Mega Max Retina Super Nit ProMotion Super Display! The return of MagSafe!
But with every product I get my hands on (Apple or otherwise), it’s usually the smaller stuff that has a much bigger impact on my daily work.
I’m a big fan of the 16-inch MacBook Pro’s speakers. I never thought I’d say that.