The usual advice applies: if you’re thinking of rushing to update to a major new OS, and you’re a musician, take your time.
That’s the advice for OS X Mavericks as it would be for any big update to OS X, Windows, Linux, and now even iOS.
But with that disclaimer, OS X Mavericks is so far looking like an uncommonly smooth release. The impact of App Nap, a new power-saving feature, appears to be negligible. (Presumably, it isn’t getting aggressive with apps using the audio system. We’ll need to do more testing, and as always it’s worth keeping your Mac plugged into power for optimal performance, but so far we’ve seen no reported problems.) That means the main area of interest is Apple’s extensive optimization of the graphics systems. So far, most reliability problems with apps have been in this area. And in some sense, that’s kind of good news. Some OS X developers had been using outdated APIs for graphics support; part of the idea of Mavericks is to modernize the use of OpenGL even on integrated graphics (as found on the mini and more affordable MacBooks).
I also think the focus of this update blows holes in the oft-repeated gripe that Apple uses OS updates to obsolete old hardware. (Hint: wearing tin foil on your head won’t control the urge to buy a new Retina MacBook, either.) The new OS makes it easier to update from older versions, supports a wide range of hardware back to 2007 (see Macworld’s guide, below), and improves battery life and graphics performance on older machines. (Anyone remember that old Apple slogan about upgrading being like “getting a whole new Mac.” Yeah. Like that.)
Of course, these same graphics optimizations and so on mean, crucially, some older apps will have problems, and some key software is going to need updates. If you like tinkering, or you have one of those spells where you aren’t under deadlines or gigging, you might want to update. Almost everyone else is going to want to wait just a little while for some key app updates.
Details of what works and what doesn’t?
Thanks to Benjamin Weiss at De:Bug for the first exhaustive guide I’ve seen (German). I’m going to pillage his links shamelessly here:
Ableton Live 8 and 9 are compatible via new betas. Live 8 and Live 9 stable currently are not recommended for Mavericks. If you’re on the beta list, though, beta updates (8.4.2 and 9.1) are available now. Those two betas are very stable, so oddly, beta Ableton users may feel free to jump for the new OS. Everyone else should wait.
Steinberg software has hardware audio problems. Steinberg cautions it hasn’t finished testing, but has this somewhat dire warning:
… what is known so far is that all Steinberg software products (except for Cubase LE / AI / Elements 7.0.6) are affected by an issue with the CoreAudio2ASIO component when using audio hardware in class-compliant mode which may lead to dangerous digital noise. Some Steinberg hardware products need to be updated as well to ensure full compatibility with the new OS X version. We therefore recommend you not to upgrade to OS X 10.9 yet.*
As far as I know, this particular component is specific to Steinberg’s cross-platform support; I haven’t heard any other class-compliant audio issues (though please correct me). We’ll let you know when there’s an update.
Various (mostly minor) Pro Tools, Sibelius issues. The bad news is, there are some wrinkles with Avid audio and Sibelius. The good news is, most of these are minor, most have workarounds, and I have to say, this must be the first OS X release I’ve seen yet to which Pro Tools users might seriously consider updating on the first day.
Lots of little details, so best to read through this one:
Show-stopper Max bug (but not Max for Live) Switching audio on can cause a crash in Max 6. See the forum thread:
“Max 6 users are advised to NOT update to Mavericks at this stage” [Cycling ’74 forum]
PreSonus generally compatible (with Mavericks and iOS 7). Good news on two fronts: read the details, but PreSonus reports wide compatibility not only with Mavericks but with iOS 7, too.
Is my PreSonus software compatible with Mac OS X 10.9 and iOS 7? [PreSonus support]
Propellerhead looking good. Read the statement here closely – they’re not yet advocating that you upgrade. But Propellerhead software and hardware seems to be performing without incident. In a statement, Stockholm tells us:
Our initial testing of the new Mac OS X Maverick [sic] has not revealed any problems with Reason 7.0.1, ReCycle 2.2 or the Balance audio interface. We are doing more in-depth testing as we speak and will release a more formal compatibility statement as soon as we are done.
SuperCollider, Pd working. Another win for open source software (and its fairly conservative development approach). SuperCollider and Pd are each working flawlessly in user reports so far.
Some issues with … Logic. Confirming details on this, but Logic 8 users are reporting some issues, and there may even be some issues in Logic Pro 9, pending an update. I have nothing other than some non-specific gripes, so take this with a grain of salt (or just an excuse to hold off updating a few days until there’s more information, which is wise if you’re doing anything essential). And this may be related to:
Plug-ins. Yeah, those. Too many of them to say decisively what is and isn’t working, so, again, apply caution. Upgrade if you’ve got extra time and nothing critical coming up; hold off otherwise to check on updates.
Ready to Upgrade?
Highly recommended reading, elsewhere:
Ars Technica has a thorough, technically-detailed review – pages and pages of it.
Macworld has an insanely-detailed upgrade guide, walking you through every single step that will happen along the way, worth reading for complete beginners and advanced users alike. It’s particularly interesting in that it covers how the download-only process works, as well as smart strategies for backup (so you can revert to the previous OS if you need), and how to make installers on external media. I will say, though, it’s now possible to contemplate an Apple OS update without doing a clean install as you once did – just make sure you have a fast, uninterrupted Internet connection. (Otherwise, that external media idea is very, very wise.)
I’ve seen various stories on how to do clean installs. But before you make extra work for yourself and waste valuable time, again, I’d read Macworld:
Dan Frakes goes into this in some detail. In short, the answer is no, but there are cases in which the answer is still yes. Read to see if you fit into that small category, and learn how to do it – or, otherwise, calm your fears by reading the rest.
I hope we have an updated iOS 7 report shortly, as well. There’s some great stuff in iOS 7 for audio which I’ve been playing with, and I’ve been happy with how it’s doing on my iPhone 5; I think we’ll shortly be at the point when owners of newer iPads will upgrade, too.