An update to macOS Mojave yesterday promises to “improve reliability” of USB audio on recent Apple hardware, addressing a serious issue many users had flagged.
macOS Mojave 10.14.4 Update deals mainly with Apple News+, the (North American-only, for now) Apple subscription service, and Safari and iTunes updates. But buried in the release notes is this mention:
“Improves the reliability of USB audio devices when used with MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac mini models introduced in 2018”
I had heard anecdotally over the past week from macOS beta testers that they had seen the issue at least partially resolved after an update. This particular language is fairly tenuous. The symptoms as reported were specific only to Apple’s own hardware, not any other Mac or PC device, and it’d be more comforting to see this listed as a fix than improved reliability. There’s also been no official word from Apple or its partners about the source of the issue, though the culprit appears to be Apple’s own custom silicon which now includes the USB controller.
Sure enough, reader reports suggest this is a partial fix only. Symptoms are reduced but, depending on hardware, possibly not entirely fixed. For now, the only sure solution is to use a Thunderbolt interface or Thunderbolt adapter.
It’s too soon to endorse buying the 2018 models until more test data comes in, but it’s at least safe to say, if you’re using USB audio and you have one of these machines, you should probably update your OS immediately.
Previously – and yeah, this is everything Apple makes:
What about OS reliability for sound generally?
While we’re talking quality issues and third-party hardware, Native Instruments experienced an issue with Windows updates to Windows 7, 8, and 10 causing TRAKTOR KONTROL S4 Mk2, MASCHINE STUDIO, and all KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series Mk1 devices to fail to be recognized. That issue, first made public on March 1, was already fixed by March 18.
There’s nothing particularly important about bringing that up, except this: while I’d like to see Microsoft (and Apple) make it easier for pro users to opt out of software updates, Microsoft does make it reasonably straightforward to roll back a problematic update to the previous version. Sure, you should backup regularly, but as restoring the backup of the operating system is rarely an easy affair, it makes sense for the OS itself to provide these tools. So in the case of this Windows issue, NI was able to advise customers to reverse the update. Apple hasn’t made a similar feature available to all users. (Clarification: yes, you can use APFS snapshots, as reader Mike Halloran points out to us. cleverfiles.com details an approach to managing this feature. But you’ll need a drive that’s APFS formatted in advance, and there are some other caveats; it’s not a solution that’s terribly easy for users to find and manage and won’t work for all use cases.)
I remain concerned about Apple’s present reliability for audio applications. And I think it’s fair to hold them to a higher bar, given the company tends to charge a premium for its machine and offer fewer choices, in exchange for greater responsibility for the integration of hardware and software. Third parties have told me that Apple have audio devices to test, and obviously the Logic and GarageBand teams all use audio interfaces just like the rest of us (in addition to the hardware people).
This isn’t about 90s-style platform wars. (Amiga! Atari ST!) No one wants to see musicians and audio makers having frustrating experiences with sound gear. I do hope Apple gets back on track and stays there.
What I can say across the board is this: audio and music users would benefit from more transparency, more detailed up-to-date information on tests, and more control over OS and hardware to avoid problems, on all platforms.