Rawr! A real snow leopard at age eight weeks at the Eichberg Zoo. Now, should you let the (operating system) snow leopard mature a little before you try to play with it? Photo (CC) Tamby Tamboko.

Updated: See http://cdm.link/snowleopard for a running report.

Apple’s “Snow Leopard” 10.6 ships Friday, which means it’s time to start compiling information about the new OS flavor. Just don’t upgrade too fast, as always.

Want to push an operating system to the breaking point? Ask a musician. Between the demands of real-time performance and the complex ecosystem of mix-and-match hardware, software, and plug-ins, odds are your local audio geek will break an OS faster than anyone else. Not every operating system upgrade is going to have a big impact on music software, but keep in mind that even subtle changes can cause issues that may interfere with your work.

Of course, all of this means music users should treat any OS update with caution. :

  • If you’ve got a critical, primary production machine, your best bet is often simply to wait. Confirm that software works before you upgrade rather than after.
  • If you’ve got some time to invest in an upgrade or have more than one machine, be sure to do a full backup and system image so you can revert to the previous, known working OS.
  • Best solution: Boot off an external hard drive. Don’t commit to installing internally until you’re sure everything is working. Once you are, go enjoy. (as noted in comments, and yes, I should have said this initially… still, the latest 10.5 build is still the preferred OS for now.)

So, sit back. Enjoy life. Go for a walk on a beach. Recline in your favorite chair with your MacBook running Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. Isn’t it great? Need to waste time? Plants vs. Zombies is out for Mac.

What? Still want to upgrade?

Fair enough. We’ll be tracking changes to Snow Leopard and which of them may impact audio.

The short version: Snow Leopard introduces only small changes, but if a developer hasn’t been on top of those changes, you could see issues. And as for the 64-bit mode that’s attracting most of the attention, the short answer is, you can’t use it for music yet.

Native Instruments and Plogue have each responded to CDM with information on their software.

Executive Summary

  • NI and Plogue have tested their software as functioning on 10.6
  • Neither NI nor Plogue recommends you upgrade your OS yet – Plogue uses stronger language to discourage you
  • 64-bit support, expanded in Mac OS 10.6, is not yet relevant to music use because nothing (not even from Apple) supports it yet, but don’t worry – you can get more RAM through other methods
  • Audio MIDI Setup gets a tune-up, and built-in audio support appears to be improved

Native Instruments

If you’re a Mac user who uses NI products on any version of the operating system, you should stay tuned to this URL:


NI tells CDM they’ve just updated it today with Snow Leopard information:

Native Instruments has conducted initial compatibility tests with Mac OS X 10.6, which have shown all current NI products to work without any specific issues under standard installations of this operating system.

However, users involved in professional audio production or live performance should be cautious about upgrading to Mac OS X 10.6 until compatibility with third-party audio software and hardware has been widely confirmed by the relevant manufacturers.

Native Instruments is currently conducting further systematic compatibility and performance tests with Snow Leopard, and will provide additional information on this page as it becomes available.

The second paragraph sounds like what I just wrote, huh?


Plogue, an independent developer of a variety of software ranging from the awesome modular environment Bidule to sampling engines for Garritan’s orchestra and piano products and an upcoming library of vintage chip sounds have been doing their own work. Privately, I talked with them about some of the work they had to do after Apple rewrote underlying operating system plumbing with Objective-C (from C and Carbon). Here’s their official statement to CDM on Snow Leopard and, in the parallel Windows dimension, Windows 7:

10.6 and W7 each caused only minor modifications to our code base, however these mods are necessary for proper functioning of our products on those platforms. Most of our transition efforts as a company will be of a user support nature.

Any musician foolish enough to jump on new OSes without a hint of caution, inevitably makes me wish for a new kind of Darwin Award prize.

(Emphasis mine. Consider yourself warned.)

Ableton (Unofficial) and a Plug-in Warning

From the Ableton forums, via comments:

It’s currently being tested internally over here, so the current version is not officially compatible yet – on the other hand this does not mean that it doesn’t run.

We will release an update after the tests during the next weeks that will be officially compatible, but we don’t recommend upgrading yet if stability is your main concern.

It’s likely that a few new third party plugin problems will show up due to the changes under the hood in 10.6 and experiences show that the latest 10.5 versions now are the way to go after the gfx performance problems with earlier 10.5 and 10.4 versions.

So, in other words, now is a great time to upgrade to 10.5!

More in the thread here:

Ableton Forums

Now, note, mostly what this extensive discussion reveals is that Snow Leopard is poorly understood, partly thanks to a very successful hype campaign on Apple’s part. (Ahem.)

There are not magical performance and speed improvements found by installing Snow Leopard – or, most likely, any OS. (Would that such things were true.) The presence of a set of multithreading tools, for instance, is specific only to developers for whom that set of tools is useful. Audio software already has finely-tuned multithreading implementations specific to real-time applications, and in the case of something like Ableton Live, it really needs to work across platforms.

If you install a new OS with the expectation that it’ll be “faster,” you’ll almost certainly be disappointed. If you install a new OS hoping you’ll “break things,” then you probably won’t be disappointed. I don’t mean to suggest don’t ever upgrade or live in fear of all software, just that you should imagine that, like redoing the plumbing in your basement, long-term advantages will come, but with significant effort and time.

PreSonus Hardware

See a separate post: at Snow Leopard launch, PreSonus audio interfaces are likely to be entirely incompatible.

About 64-bit (Nothing to see here…)

NI notes that the 10.6 offers significant changes to 64-bit support, including a new 64-bit kernel mode – this being the rough equivalent of the “x64” 64-bit versions of Windows (and Linux) that have been available for some time.

Here’s the bottom line: 64-bit support on Mac OS isn’t yet relevant to audio users, period. It’s not supported by Apple’s own Logic Studio, or any other major host at this time. This is a situation we’ll be watching, as it is something developers appear to be investigating.

But before we get too far into that issue, you should consider why you’re asking about 64-bit in the first place. 64-bit computing offers two potential advantage. First, running processor computation natively at 64 bits offers a marginal improvement. Second – the issue most people care about for music – 64-bit memory addressing offers access to massive amounts of memory, beyond the approximate 4 GB barrier that applies to 32-bit applications.

More memory is a very good thing. But you probably don’t want to sacrifice compatibility just to get it. Fortunately, you don’t need the 64-bit OS to get beyond that 4 GB barrier. On the Mac, some workarounds have extended the practical life of 32-bit memory addressing for music applications – thus avoiding the need to get a 64-bit native version of every driver and every piece of software you want to use.

On Windows and Linux, you can indeed get a number of audio applications (like SONAR on Windows, for instance) that have excellent 64-bit support, and a number of the drivers have followed suit. Even, then, though, many users choose to stick with 32-bit versions in order to have superior compatibility.

Note that processing “64-bit audio” – that is, digital audio represented using 64-bit data – is a completely different issues. A 32-bit processor and 32-bit operating system and 32-bit software can all do 64-bit audio processing. Whether you really need 64 bits for audio production is a whole other can of worms I won’t open here.

Getting More Memory – Without Any 64-bit Snow Leopards

When I spoke to Apple earlier this month, they downplayed the 64-bit issue and pointed out that their own EXS24 sampler in Logic Studio can access additional installed memory just fine with 32-bit – that means if you have Logic 8 or later, Pro or Express, Tiger or Leopard or Snow Leopard, you can use additional RAM. Each EXS24 sampler instance has its own memory space, so you can use as much memory as you want.

Apple even has a support doc on the subject:

Logic Pro/Express 8: How the EXS24 sampler addresses RAM in Logic 8

Last month, we looked at the situation for Native Instruments’ Kontakt. Again, using some of the flexibility of the memory architecture unique to the Mac, they’ve managed to access bigger amounts of RAM even on 32-bit OS.

Kontakt, Battery: Enhanced, More Compatible, 64-bit Memory

Kontakt is able to get up to a whopping 32 GB thanks to something called the Kontakt Memory Server. Again, you can get still more than 32 GB using 64-bit Windows, but for most users, that’s overkill.

All of this is to say, 64-bit is not a reason to upgrade to Snow Leopard for audio work – at least, not yet. Some of the built-in applications (like the Finder and Safari) get performance boosts from 64-bit optimization on 10.6, but none of that is critical to audio and music – and it’s certainly not worth upgrading too soon only to find some compatibility wrinkle we haven’t yet found.

Updates to Audio MIDI Setup

A reader tips us off to some small changes to Apple’s centralized Core Audio settings panel, Audio MIDI Setup. Audio and MIDI are now separated into separate windows, and Audio gets some nice improvements.

Note the per-app settings and adjustments for sample rate, bit depth, and Format. As in previous recent versions of Mac OS, you can also aggregate multiple physical audio interfaces into one – one of a number of reasons we really love Core Audio as a sound system.


The reader also notes that the update seems to improve support for his built-in hardware:

It’s now possible to choose a higher sample rate and resolution for all inputs/outputs on the built-in sound card of my MacBook Pro early ’08, which is pretty cool. Before there was clearly hearable, annoying digital fragments when playing back any sounds, especially on low volume – all magically gone, i don’t hear anymore noise.

Got More Information?

Help us continue our “More Than You Wanted to Know,” obsessive series of coverage on CDM and tip us off!

Corrections and clarifications are welcome, too – that’s why I enjoy the maleable nature of the Web.

  • i didn't upgrade to leopard from tiger until about a month ago.

    i probably won't wait near as long for snow leopard, but i've usually found that waiting until the audio software you're using actually *requires* an os upgrade is a pretty safe way to go.

  • @waveplant: "Require" is a long way off. Note that NI now says 10.4 is considered "legacy." So I think now that 10.6 is out, 10.5 is the new baseline. The 10.4 – 10.5 change was much bigger than 10.5 – 10.6, too, as the name (rightfully) implies.

  • Now, note – I think the advice may be very different on Windows 7. The compatibility changes appear to be the same as with Vista, but enhanced audio performance – and the fact that people have been happily running the release candidates, even for serious audio work – may actually mean we'll recommend the upgrade earlier.

    That's not a Windows vs. Mac comment, but it just shows that each situation should be evaluated differently. I do like the fact that Microsoft got that many copies of the OS out in the wild, though that didn't really help us with Vista, so just getting more testers isn't a panacea, either.

  • @domtak

    NI should fix their hardware with _current_ Mac OS.

    Traktor & Audio8 soundcard doesn't work properly on the unibody macbooks/pros – if you plug & replug the card in the sound becomes distorted and is only fixed by restarting the laptop.

    After about 6 months of wrangling I've managed to get them to recognise the problem. It would seem there is an issue with those laptops and having the default 4gig of RAM.

    The problem happens in Serato also. Very strange.

    I'm hopeful the new update will fix the issue, but this post doesn't fill me with hope.



  • Jeffplaysmoog

    The head of Ableton forums had this to say:

    It's currently being tested internally over here, so the current version is not officially compatible yet – on the other hand this does not mean that it doesn't run.

    We will release an update after the tests during the next weeks that will be officially compatible, but we don't recommend upgrading yet if stability is your main concern.

    It's likely that a few new third party plugin problems will show up due to the changes under the hood in 10.6 and experiences show that the latest 10.5 versions now are the way to go after the gfx performance problems with earlier 10.5 and 10.4 versions.

  • Willem

    Just buy an external HD and copy the "Macintosh HD" (boot) drive to it with SuperDuper, boot from it, and test there. Never compromise your workstation with anything. I don't understand why this isn't in the article.

  • Justin

    @domtak that sounds more like an Apple problem since it is happening with multiple 3rd party pieces of hardware. Check out this link for other unibody mac issues http://createdigitalmusic.com/2009/04/27/mac-usb-

  • @domtak

    Edit: Live 8.0.4 & Traktor Scratch Pro 1.12.004

  • Thanks for this post… I was just about to troll the Ableton forum to see about Leopard compatibility.

  • robb

    yeah, plants vs zombies!

  • I'm not totally sure how to distinguish "this doesn't work under my test boot volume of Snow Leopard" from "this doesn't work because this particular variety of copy protection doesn't like different boot volumes".

  • Kewl

    I've been using the various beta version of 10.6 since the June WWDC release. Every piece of audio software and hardware that I've thrown at Snow Leopard works.

    That includes:

    – Nuendo 4.2.2 & 4.3

    – Bidule 0.9690 & 0.9691

    – TwistedWave

    – Wave Editor

    – Logic 8 & 9

    – SonicBirth-made plug-ins (1.3.1b2 version)

    – Metric Halo ULN-2 & ULN-8

    – Roland UA-1EX

    But there you, I'm rarely in a "mission-critical" situation, so I experiment…

  • CPRoth

    Thanks so much for this Peter! I've posted a link for this article over at MAC-MOTU since this has been a discussion over there (mostly questions) for a while. Really useful stuff.

  • robb

    10.6 on my macbook pro with live 8.04.

    Here's what doesn't work:

    my moto 828 mk I

    reaktor (crashes when I press the open button)

    Vember SURGE (GUI not responding)

    d16 silver line

    I didn't get farther than that.

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  • @domtak

    Yup although from what I’ve read Serato have been working with Apple to get it fixed whereas NI haven’t (as yet)…

    Anyways – my apps (Live, Traktor Scratch Pro) are both working good so far… if that’s any reassurance 🙂


  • kipplekeeper

    @Justin: just because it's happening with multiple 3rd party devices doesn't mean that it's not possible that they are all just doing it wrong. it should be noted that audio devices manufactured by companies who are you know, actually in the audio interface business haven't really had this issue. even cheapies like edirol interfaces…

    Also just to add to the compatibility lists, my Fireface 400 has been working perfectly in 10.6.

  • kobe

    i hope apogee comes out with some snow leopard drivers to get the ensemble to actually work. this thing doesn't work for shit. i've been hoping & praying that they've just been waiting for snow leopard to come out with a stable driver.

  • Brian

    hmmm too tempting i have a spare machine i have already ordered i have a backup and i want to sink my teeth into snow leopard i dont recommend it for people with only one work computer but for me its just too tempting 🙂 seeing new apps pop up around me based on new os is really exiting id rather be in that situation and deal with potential problems that might arise than not be 🙂



  • I'm not sure quite how this discussion has gone off the rails again.

    Let's be clear:

    Apple changes stuff – as they should, as all OS vendors do, continuing to improve their OS.

    Not every change is documented.

    Not every issue is immediately apparent.

    When an OS release date winds up being early, when there has not been a public test of the OS – and, in fairness, even if the release date is scheduled and their *has* been a public test… you're going to see additional issues when the OS ships to a larger group.

    You personally have a system where everything is working great is fantastic! But if you haven't upgraded yet, the whole point is to apply some caution. Assume things *will* go wrong so that if they do, you're prepared. If they don't, fantastic.

    What mystifies me is how the attitude can be, effectively, Apple does no wrong and any issue with the OS must be the fault of the vendor. Stuff changes, stuff breaks. No one writes perfect code, and no one writes perfect documentation. And there's no way to anticipate every possible combination. We just have to assume that the freedom we have to tweak our machines and mix and match hardware and software is counterbalanced by extra effort to keep it working all the time. Blaming your product vendor at the first sign of trouble doesn't necessarily help that to happen.

  • Ericdano

    It took digidesign about 8 months to get protools working on 10.5. I'm betting maybe December……

  • AudioFinder 4.9.5 is tested with Snow Leopard and works well.

  • @domtak


    I'm pointing at NI because Traktor hasn't worked as proposed with my MacBook Unibody since the day it came out – which is coming up to 9 months now. I'm aware it's an issue for both them and Apple to resolve but after 9 months still nothing. That's bad on both parties… especially Apple's as they've developed their operating system further whilst issues still remain.

    Ultimately, £1000 for a laptop and £500 for gear is a lot of money to spend when it doesn't work as advertised.

    Sorry 9 months of frustration being vented… :-/

    Bringing it back on topic, I totally agree, only upgrade if you either need the extra features or like to keep on top of things. I remember the headache going from PPC to Intel with the Adobe apps… and even the major headache from OS 9 to OS X with virtually every app.

    For me gaining back 8 gigs of HD space is a real bonus and generally the speed improvements are welcomed.

    But my fan now seems to be permanently on which is slightly concerning… Not very 'snowy'



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  • griotspeak

    @Peter I wish you had posted something more like that last post as first snow leopard related post. i really appreciate this site and even seek to emulate it soon enough, but that first post didn't get across the point that this is 'supposed' to happen, in a sense.

    Apple had to change stuff (they didn't have to push up the release but, for a good number of people, that is good news) and things will have to break.

    i am only going to wait to see if logic and/or max break. if those work, i will be a guinea pig.

  • It could possible run appz in 32bits mode?

    Maybe a middle way solution…

  • Pro Tools anyone ? We gonna wait another 6 months for this to update ?? Anyone ready to bounce from PT to Logic yet ??

  • We have released a small update for Sibelius 6 for Mac that provides compatibility with Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. Details here.

    Older versions of Sibelius are not officially supported on Mac OS X 10.6, but there are no major problems that will prevent them from running; details also at the page above.

  • Well, running Snow Leopard would NOT be a good reason to switch from Pro Tools to Logic. Snow Leopard is a really big release for Apple, and it lays a foundation for a lot of stuff in the future, but I see really no compelling reason for musicians to upgrade right this instant. Six months would actually be a fairly logical timeframe.

    No schedule yet:

    "Apple has announced that they will begin shipping the new Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard 64-bit operating system on August 28th. Avid is working closely with Apple to deliver compatible, high-quality versions of Pro Tools® as soon as possible. Please check back periodically for updates on Avid's Snow Leopard support status."

  • NI's Maschine will install from DVD on a fresh Snow Leopard, but the 1.0.3 upgrade fails and removes the application upon failure. Perhaps NI only tested on upgrade installs.

    If anyone uses MacPorts at all, that is totally hosed right now if anything you need has python26 in the dependency chain.

  • Everything went smoothly except (and a big except) MOTU Ethno Instrument. They are not offering a fix to make it compatible with Snow Leopard. They want me to spend $180 to buy their latest upgrade! I will never buy MOTU again.