While everyone is freaking out about headphone jacks on phones, the news this week musicians should really care about is that a badly needed OS update is on its away. Apple quietly set Tuesday, the 20th of September as the release date for the next major Mac revision – macOS Sierra (10.12). (It’s no longer called “OS X,” so as with Hillary Clinton and techno and Crystal Pepsi in stores, it’s the 90s all over again.)

Here’s where I get to do something unprecedented. For the first time in … eesh, almost 12 years of writing things on this site … I may actually get to tell people to run out and install a major OS update the day it comes out.

Wait — why?

Because the current release, 10.11 El Capitan, has had serious audio issues for a wide variety of users since it came out last fall. While not universal, it frequently has audio dropouts and playback problems with external audio interfaces. Native Instruments, for one, has suffered issues — impacting in particular DJs, who notice crackles and pops when playing on longer sessions. An example thread:

El Capitan 10.11.1 & Traktor 2.10 Audio Dropouts – Help please!

In the case of NI, there’s already a public beta and a set of fixes, but it does require Sierra.

And NI isn’t alone; I’ve seen audio issues and major performance problems across the board since updating and heard support complaints from other vendors.

I think this is grossly unacceptable, frankly. It’s not cute any more. macOS is today a mature operating system; we shouldn’t see these kind of regressions if there’s adequate QA and product management. Even more so with iOS and iPad Pro, the whole point of the Mac is that it’s the stable, powerful cousin of the mobile operating system.

And, if anything, you should be able to trust desktop OS updates the way people have come to trust mobile updates.

It’s not just this particular OS issue that has me concerned. This is an important inflection point for Apple. Apple’s flagship desktop OS has serious quality issues at the same time that its desktop computer offerings lag the industry in price/performance ratio and processor and graphics architecture. (Graphics architecture is a particular worry, one that has made PCs as ubiquitous among media artists, VJs, and visualists as the Mac has in audio.) The Mac Pro never saw an update, but even the MacBook Pro – traditionally the machine that drives Apple hardware sales – is badly behind.

That hurts the whole music ecosystem, because even if you’re devoted to Eurorack or Elektron drum machines, you almost certainly rely on your computer for recording, arrangement, and more. It’s doubly embarrassing for the computer company most associated with musicians and visual artists, the one that makes Logic Pro and Final Cut Pro, when that company’s software and hardware offerings run counter to the needs of people at the cutting edge of expression.

So, does Apple have their eye on the ball, or are years of complaints that the company had lost their way actually proving right? We should know more once Sierra ships later this month, and expected computer revisions show up hopefully not long after.

And yeah, meanwhile, it really does mean that the experience of El Capitan support did wind up being like this:

Please, can I just be dead wrong next time? I ask so little.

  • One small addition to your recommendation: Don’t upgrade to macOS Sierra, before the manufacturer of your most important audio interface or other directly connected, crucial accessory has announced driver compatibility.

    • Right – in this case, we’re assuming you may be *starting* broken and have nothing to lose. πŸ™‚

      That is, of course, a terrible situation for Mac audio users to be in for over a year in any significant numbers – and these are pretty large numbers. Completely unacceptable.

      • Jeff Laity

        Because broken + broken = fixed?

        This is why I’m still on 10.10.5. Having my mouse cursor get bigger when I wiggle it is not worth making Pro Tools slow to a crawl.

  • Dubby Labby

    The key of all this could be summarized in:
    Cars vs trucks or macbook pro vs iPad pro.

    Apple is focusing in prosumers more than professionals. The post-pc era also means post-professional (as usually they were) era.

    How many professionals can do their living in actual crisis? How many people could do “onions”?


    • nothingnatural

      We’re too late- someone already did “onions” in 2007.


      • Dubby Labby

        Yt error…

        • nothingnatural

          I quit, this is too much effort for a joke. It was a link to Detroit Grand Pubas “Big Onion”, which I could figure out how to format correctly. Sigh.

    • Yeah, but if Dodge makes trucks and cars, and suddenly the Dodge trucks start sucking… πŸ˜‰

      • Dubby Labby

        It wasn’t suddenly. It’s their business plan since iMac years. They are only stepping forward as they did with PPC to x86 intel. Nobody remembers the Rosetta times? Most of us (switchers with intel) didn’t lived it directly but I remember the drama… It’s not the same nowadays?

      • foljs

        There’s this underlying assumption that Windows/PC card drivers don’t have problems?

        Or that professionals somehow use PCs (who still cater to pros) and Macs are for “prosumers”?

        Because that’s not what I’ve seen in 80% of the live shows, studios or post-production facilities (for video/movies) I’ve been…

  • chaircrusher

    The last time I had a serious problem with audio software and Windows was almost a decade ago.

    Current Windows laptop that cost less than $1000 can be great production and live performance machines. And with Skylake processors, they’re well beyond anything Apple offers currently in raw performance.

    Apple’s not abandoning laptops and desktops, but it’s clear where their product focus lies. This might be a savvy business decision, but it’s a terrible one for people who actually compute — scientists, musicians, graphic artists.

    • Michael L

      Why do Windows users so often feel they must justify their purchase by highjacking an Apple thread? Methinks thou doth protest too much….

    • trash80

      Speaking from someone who owns and uses both… OS X / macOS(yawn) still rules in audio for many reasons: No ASIO for near zero latency, no program locks out audio or MIDI from other applications using it at the same time, MIDI device naming & mapping, audio aggregation (several audio devices mapped to a single virtual one), and no “buzz” from either ground loops nor USB bus noise (hardware related).

      Having said that, Apple REALLY needs to update their laptop & Mac Pro line-up. At this point it’s very much out of date and somewhat infuriating.

    • foljs

      Alonside a Mac there’s a PC with Windows 8 in my studio running Cubase and few Windows only plugins and stuff. It’s been nothing but constant trouble. I’m using it with an MOTU card. So?

      • chaircrusher

        Well without coming into your studio and looking at everything about your setup I can’t begin to debug that for you. One thing that raises immediate alarms for me: MOTU. MOTU in my experience has viewed PC users as a population to punish. And ‘MOTU Card’ — do you mean some sort of PCI card? Do people still put cards in their PCs?

        • foljs

          No, I call it card because when I started it was mostly PCI expansion cards (back 2 decades+ ago), but it’s an external soundcard in this case (firewire).

          That said, people do still use cards in their PCs (and even Mac Pros). For a desktop system it makes lotta sense. Here are some great models for example: http://www.rme-audio.de/en/products/overview_pci_express.php

          • chaircrusher

            OK, so I don’t use Cubase much any more, but it runs fine on my Windows 10 box, using a Focusrite Saffire Pro 40.

            MOTU, as far as I know, are better at Windows support than they used to be. Back in the day (1990s/early 2000s) they were absolute shite, and their support was terrible to nonexistent.

            You still haven’t said what is actually going wrong. Given my experience — which is a Windows box that started out with Windows 7 and upgraded through Windows 8 & Windows 10, with 2 motherboard swaps and system drive repolacement — my guess that it is either MOTU driver problems or — if you’re using a Firewire Interface — using motherboard Firewire, which is almost never any good for low-latency audio.

          • foljs

            > You still haven’t said what is actually going wrong.

            Basically random spikes, dropouts, sometimes the card needs on/off for the mike input to start picking sound, stuff like that.

            Not saying it’s the card 100% — as I had similar problems with the built-in soundcard (that comes with the PC), could also be Cubase, the Windows low level sound API, etc.

            It’s not the load either — I can get that in projects with just a few plain audio tracks and not much effects, even with larger buffers. It is firewire indeed.

            On the Mac laptop, with a USB Focusrite and Cubase 8.5 (same version) I don’t have the same issues.

          • chaircrusher

            If it’s a Firewire interface, and you’re not using a TI Chipset Firewire port, that would have exactly the symptoms you describe. It’s also the case that you need a very fast, modern PC to run very low latency (like 32 samples) with any kind of CPU load. Raising the ASIO buffer size can help, 64 or 128 samples is still fairly low latency.

            I use something like this card http://amzn.to/2cZH8QL

            The only mandatory configuration for audio work on Windows 8 & Windows 10 is
            to optimize performance for background services. I also disable drive indexing because that seems to slow down the computer all the time.

            This is pretty good guide to optimizing Windows computers.

  • Anonymous

    This is truly terrible advice. Never update to a new OS on the day it is released. No professional would do this, in fact many are still using Snow Leopard or some other stable OS. Go to a major post facility and you might see Pro Tools 7 on the screen, because it is solid every day. Wait for reports that all of your hardware is compatible before updating.

    There are many challenges to keeping current drivers working on macOS. First, the “Gold Master” is not necessarily the final version of the operating system. There have been cases where drivers worked on an OSX GM, but not the release version. So manufacturers really need to test with Apple’s release version, which means full testing doesn’t get completed until well after the OS is released. Many will do preliminary testing on the beta versions (to find products that are definitely not working) but wait for the release for full QA. Because they’ll need to do it again, anyway.

    Second, incompatible drivers are *always* the result of OS changes and often their own bugs – and Apple are secretive about bug fixes. They will tell you “we are aware of it” but not “this will be fixed in 10.11.7, releasing on Oct 12.” Even Apple’s own engineers don’t know the status of a bug if it is being fixed in another division (Audio, USB, Thunderbolt, etc.)

    I realize the frustration about not having new interface drivers 30 seconds after Apple releases a new shiny, but they do not make it easy for manufacturers.

    • James

      Yeah, I think Pete tempers this statement with historically good advice on updating. It’s more a challenging, eye-catching statement than anything else. And I think it’s meant to apply to those who’s interfaces already don’t work and need a jostling. So yes, your advice still is the bigger picture: if, in the majority of cases, it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

    • 30 seconds? We’re well over a year without fixing a critical OS problem.

      Yes, yes, yes – I totally agree no one should jump the gun on upgrading. But you have to understand, in this case people already have a machine that’s been rendered unusable. And downgrading to a previous OS may simply not be an option. So for once – and I already said this was unprecedented – people in that boat may want to start trying to evaluate the fix.

      I didn’t say I thought this was a good situation. It clearly isn’t.

      • Migari

        OS X audio issues started with OS X 10.7 and not 10.11. It’s just still there in the latter, possibly somewhat less severe.

        • Yermom

          No version of Mac OS likes my Echo Audiofire 12s. I would’ve probably switched production to my Mac by now, if it did. Instead, I’m stuck on Windows 7 with Aero turned off, because with each passing year, people releasing operating systems pretend low latency audio doesn’t matter.

          • foljs

            Does the company making it put out updated drivers?

            From what I see their last drivers meant to cover 10.11 were released back in 2014.

            They haven’t found any bugs since then, or they just don’t care once they’ve sold a unit?

      • foljs

        >30 seconds? We’re well over a year without fixing a critical OS problem.

        What is that “critical OS problem” and why don’t I have it on any of 3 macs?

    • Developer

      Thanks for the usual “conservative audio pro” rant but as a developer, I call complete BS.

      Firstly, please go ahead and tell us which drivers supposedly were fine on an OSX GM (the very final release candidate, 1-2 weeks before D-Day at most) but suddenly were horribly broken in the released version. Heck, I can even barely remember the last time the OS X GM didn’t end up being nearly or exactly the same as the released one, so… a driver-breaking change made at the very last minute, really ? Do you know anything about software QA ?

      Secondly, yes drivers become incompatible as the result of OS changes, thanks Captain Obvious. APIs get modernized and others deprecated, and developers are expected to follow and refresh their stuff to take advantage of them. That’s great, and having little tolerance for old cruft is why Apple has been able to keep innovating while maintaining stability.

      To ensure everyone is ready on release day, Apple gives manufacturers 3 months of developer previews (this year the first one was released on June 13th).

      Sure, bugs might get fixed along the way during the 3 months, and it’s a good idea to do final QA on the GM version (then a quick re-run on release day in the unlikely event it’s not the same build as GM).

      But any major API changes (the cause for incompatible drivers) will ALWAYS have been here since day 1, so from June it will have been very clear to any responsible manufacturer what changes are gonna be required, and there’s simply NO good excuse not to start working on it right away.

      Most Mac software developers do take advantage of that time (you’ll notice a lot of updates over the summer), but for some reason there’s always this habit in the audio world of standing still like rabbits in headlights, until the train comes hitting in September. Then they blame it on the new thing and their customers, astonishingly, nod in approval.

  • Got 10.9.5. Sooo… no.

  • Vayner

    Does the update do anything for all the devices that lost their support? Specifically Firewire soundcards that didn’t even require drivers and got discontinued over the last years. I’m thinking of Mackie and Tascam for example. Last time I checked, getting a Mackie onyx to work with El Capitan involved disabling one of the core level protections against errors caused by all hardware.

  • foljs

    >The Mac Pro never saw an update, but even the MacBook Pro – traditionally the machine that drives Apple hardware sales – is badly behind.

    Badly behind what? Yes, the MBPr has a 2 year old CPU. But the CPUs that Intel put out since then are at best 10% faster, and at worst (in some tasks) slower than that.

    Simply put, some extra interfacing aside (TB etc), the last 2 years of Intel CPUs were crap.

    Now that Skylake is available in the format needed for MBPr, they might use it (or Kaby Lake).

    Yes, there have been PC laptops with Skylake for some time. No, those don’t use the same power/cpu specs as the MBPr’s do. Until mid-summer the suitable for MBPr Skylake CPUs were still unavailable (TBD) from Intel. Apple wouldn’t suddenly drop battery life or make a bigger case for more heat dissipation, just to use the different classes of Skylake CPU that were available and seen in PC laptops/desktop replacements/gamers beasts that weight 3kg etc.

    Regarding Audio and El Capitan, never had an issue (working with Focursite boxes). Surely it’s not driver issues? If it was in the OSes audio stack, wouldn’t it affect all/most users?

  • James

    Now that I checked the announcements I’m a bit less optimistic about these hoped-for fixes. The fact that half the headline is a rallying cry for maps (that same service which sent me to a state park when I was 1 block away from the winter jazz festival on Sullivan St), that inflection point sounds more like the scales have completely tipped (Throw in Siri and animated gifs that are not gifs) into lifestyle/consumer. I can only imagine that this frustrates sales of music equipment-for one I’m sitting it out until I see the new drivers/support, and not holding my breath.

  • Bent6

    Received this from Plugin Alliance yesterday re: Sierra upgrades and AudioUnits

    Dear Valued Plugin Alliance Customer,

    We’re writing to let you know that in our qualification of Apple’s new Sierra OS (v 10.12) we have discovered serious problems with many Plugin Alliance products that primarily affect customers who use the Audio Unit format. Our developers are working hard on a solution but at this time we are recommending that all Mac based Plugin Alliance customers do not upgrade to Sierra. We will continue our qualification efforts and expect to announce full support in the near future. We greatly appreciate your patience while we complete our qualification process.

    Thank you,

    The Plugin Alliance Team

    Just wanted to pass this on. As always, check with all the developers you rely on before upgrading!


  • Vlad Sorokin

    well, my old Nio 2|4 from Novation didn’t work with El Capitan and doesn’t work with macOS Sierra. It really sucks. Why should I change the hardware if it is working and satisfying? Why should I spend additional money only because some people want me to do that?

    Fuck this. Hey, Yosemite

  • Andreas S

    The fix in Sierra is: Driver for M-Audio ProFire 2626 stops working!!! M-audio will not fix this. Now we will have to buy new hardware?! Amazing.

  • gLOW-x

    I think a lot of ppl missed the point : Apple don’t care anymore about power users, professionals included.
    Once upon a time, Apple was ONLY a computer/OS maker.
    But things changed really fast : iPod/iTunes,iPhone,iPad, TV…even Apple watch πŸ˜‰

    At first, Apple needed their “think different” vision. They used power users, professionals and “hyped” ppl as promotion for their products. It was a closed, happy few, elite… users crown.
    But those days are gone : Apple sell computers as iPhone accessories now. And they sell more iPhones than anything else.

    Take it or leave it : Apple don’t care anymore about pro/power users, because they sell so much iPhones and Macs as “accessories” they don’t NEED to care about few thousand ppl REALLY using their computers to the core (like me) when they have millions behind.

    Apple promotion is easy : how many iPhones you see every day around you ?
    Compare it to how many Macs you see every day…

    Every year a new forced update, because ppl buying new Macs get the last OS…and they can’t rollback.
    Third party are upset because they need to follow the new OS version (especially for new users)…and they give up on previous OSX version.
    Power/pro users are upset, too. Because when they ask their third party about any upgrade/bug fix…they tell us to upgrade OSX to get the last version. But if they do, they get other bugs, loose drivers support and more…

    Every year, Apple still just don’t care. Because MOST of their Mac users will never install those third party softwares/drivers.
    Welcome to the new Apple world : “Think mainstream”.