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TUAW Review and Giveaway: Twelve South BassJump subwoofer for MacBook

It's no secret that I am an unabashed fanboy of Mac accessory design firm Twelve South. Their BackPack for the iMac and Apple Cinema Display is sleek and utilitarian, and the BookArc is a stylish way to stash that MacBook Pro when you want to use it with the cover closed. So it was with a great deal of interest that I read about another of the company's accessories, the BassJump portable subwoofer for MacBook.

The idea behind the US$79.99 BassJump is simple -- the built-in speakers on the current MacBooks do a poor job of replicating the low-end of the sound spectrum, so why not add a USB-powered subwoofer to the mix to make the MacBook sound better?

The BassJump portable subwoofer kind of reminds me of a shrunken Mac mini. Five inches on a side and a tiny bit over two inches tall, the speaker has a rubberized base to avoid sympathetic vibrations that could ruin sound quality. There's no power supply -- as noted earlier, this is a USB-powered accessory.

You're not going to be able to use the BassJump as a replacement for a high-end audio system. The existing speakers in the MacBook line do an "OK" job of replicating the higher frequencies and the BassJump can fill in on the lower frequencies, but the combo still doesn't beat a dedicated audio system. But if you have a need to pump good-quality sound out of a MacBook for a presentation, or just don't want to be tied to a set of earbuds or headphones when listening to your iTunes library, the BassJump is a great solution.
I've mentioned before that Twelve South does a great job of design, not only on their products, but on the packaging as well. The BassJump comes in an attractive dark brown box that, when opened, reveals a bright red foam and cardboard frame holding the speaker in place. The aluminum sides of the BassJump are a perfect match for the unibody MacBooks, and the black perforated grill over the speaker provides a nice accent. Since the BassJump is made to be a portable subwoofer, Twelve South provides a small zippered case to hold the speaker and the USB cable.

The MacBook's sound system needs a way of piping the lower frequencies to the BassJump, so there's a driver that you must download and install before using the speaker. The driver includes a System Preference panel as well as a menu bar icon, both of which display an old-school analog VU meter (or two) to show the sound levels. The driver installation requires a reboot of your MacBook, but once the software is installed you're ready to roll. You just attach the BassJump to the MacBook with the included USB cable, enable the subwoofer through the syspref panel or menu, and then enjoy the sound.

In some cases, you may feel that the bass sound is too overwhelming. No problem! The system preferences allow you to adjust the crossover frequency and volume for the BassJump, or you can choose one of five presets (Classical, Default, Pop, R&B, and Rock) that optimize the BassJump for a specific music genre.

If you watched yesterday's TUAW TV Live, you saw and heard a demonstration of the BassJump. For those of you who didn't get a chance to watch it, I've put together a couple of short sound bites that illustrate just how much the BassJump adds to the sound quality of a MacBook (in this case, a MacBook Air). Both use the same short snippet of music and the same volume on the MacBook, and they demonstrate the difference the BassJump makes. I think you'll agree that the BassJump does an incredible job of providing the low frequency sounds that are missing from the built-in MacBook speakers. (Note: the sound snippets are best when listened to through earbuds or headphones).

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Now we're going to continue a TUAW tradition and let one lucky reader win a BassJump. Remember, this device requires a MacBook (plain vanilla, Pro, or Air), so please don't enter unless you have a MacBook. The details follow:
  • Open to legal US residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia who are 18 and older.
  • To enter leave a comment telling us what kind of MacBook you own and what your favorite song is.
  • The comment must be left before Saturday, January 16, 2010, 11:59PM Eastern Standard Time.
  • You may enter only once.
  • One winner will be selected in a random drawing.
  • Prizes: Twelve South BassJump portable subwoofer (Value: US$79.99)
  • Click Here for complete Official Rules.
The BassJump is also available at Apple Stores, so if you're not our lucky winner, you'll have the option of picking one up locally. Check out the gallery for some photos and screen shots.

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