David Snow, author at Cult of Mac

Pump up Mac audio quality with new Sound Blaster X5

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In addition to jacking up speaker sound, the X5 should make most headphones sound better.
In addition to jacking up speaker sound, the X5 should make most headphones sound better.
Photo: Creative

Creative’s new Sound Blaster X5, a USB sound card, digital-to-analog converter (DAC) and headphone amplifier, promises to jack up your Mac’s audio quality.

It’s not cheap at $280. But the device launched Tuesday might make big difference in the sound flowing from speakers and headphones alike.

Evolving eSIM technology is a huge boon to iPhone users

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An iPhone with the Holafly website and the U.S. Capitol in the background and the phrase,
The United States is one of 164 countries where you can travel with Holafly eSIM. You can enjoy unlimited data at a low price.
Image: Holafly

You’re probably familiar with SIM cards, the little microchip cards that you can slide into your cellular device via a tiny tray on the side. But do you know that virtual SIM card technology — eSIM — has evolved to replace the clumsy SIM card? eSIM makes changing up your data plan for travel and other needs easier than ever before.

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This post is brought to you by Holafly.
It’s no exaggeration to say eSIM is the future of cellular. And one reason that’s especially clear is that Apple released iPhone 14 models in some countries without a SIM card tray. The leading smartphone maker is “all in” on eSIM. And you should be, too.

HomePod 2 review roundup: Great sound but no giant leap forward

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A second-generation HomePod and a hand holding an iPhone.
The new HomePod looks almost exactly like the original, but it packs definite improvements.
Photo: Apple

The first reviews of the updated HomePod say the new smart speaker sounds excellent but doesn’t break much new ground.

Compared to Apple’s original smart speaker, the second-generation HomePod is more of an asset in a smart home than before. However, the device’s limitations on playing music from third-party sources mean that the home in question better be an Apple household.

You can already listen to your Apple Music Replay 2023 playlist

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Recapping your top tunes for 2023 is possible if you've streamed enough music.
Recapping your top tunes for 2023 is possible if you've streamed enough music.
Photo: Apple Music

It’s that time of year again. Apple Music made Replay 2023 most-streamed playlists available Monday to anyone who’s listened to enough music in January to have one.

It may be something you associate with the end of a year — Spotify Wrapped comes out only in December, for example. But Apple Music opens up access early with updates on Sundays so you can track your hit list and more continuously, plus a year-end recap.

Apple Music goes big on Rihanna ahead of Super Bowl performance

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Rihanna performs at the Apple Music Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show on Sunday, February 12, 2023.
Rihanna performs at the Apple Music Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show on Sunday, February 12, 2023.
Photo: Apple Music

Apple Music trotted out various ways Monday for fans to get into Rihanna ahead of her Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show in Glendale, Arizona, February 12.

These include a halftime-show press conference on February 9, her catalog in Spatial Audio on Apple Music, Apple Music Sing karaoke and Apple Music Radio commentary, the service said.

Get 20% off iPad styluses and tips already much cheaper than Apple’s

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EasyPencil 3 and 4 both feature magnetic stylus attachment to an iPad (but charging requires USB-C).
EasyPencil 3 and 4 both feature magnetic stylus attachment to an iPad (but charging requires USB-C).
Photo: SwitchEasy

If you recently got an iPad, you probably want a stylus so you can write and draw on it more precisely than you can with your fingertips. But Apple Pencil 2 might set you back $129. So how about something similar for less than half the price?

A good option is the SwitchEasy EasyPencil Pro. Through Friday (February 3), you can get the fourth-gen version of it in the Cult of Mac Store for just $56. Plus you can get 20% off extra tips for different uses. Or you can nab the third-gen EasyPencil for only $48. See below.

Man shed MacBook Pro rig craves Studio Display [Setups]

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Maxed-out M1 Max MacBook Pro, curved 4K display, solid audio ... but a setup is never really done, is it?
Maxed-out M1 Max MacBook Pro, curved 4K display, solid audio ... but a computer setup is never really done, is it?
Photo: teh24@Reddit.com

To the age-old question “Is a computer setup ever really done?” the answer is obviously “no.” There’s always something to add or something to fix, and once you do that it’s time to update something else (even if you don’t technically “need” the latest thing).

Today’s well-laid MacBook Pro setup has a nice curved monitor, but its user “craves” a Studio Display like he sees in other setups. And for that matter, how about a quieter mechanical keyboard and some plants that won’t die immediately, too.

Emergency SOS saves two women stranded in Canadian wilderness

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No search was needed in this rescue, never mind helicopters.
No search was needed in this rescue, never mind helicopters.
Photo: Robson Valley Search and Rescue

Emergency SOS via satellite on an iPhone 14 took the “search” out of “search and rescue” for two fortunate Canadian women. They got stuck in snow on a logging road in British Columbia, Canada.

Rescuers said they thought it was the feature’s first use in BC. And the way it pinpointed the women’s location may have saved the women’s lives without the need for a time-consuming search.

Friday only: $300 off 14-inch 2021 MacBook Pro with 32GB RAM

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The 2021 M1 Pro MacBook Pro will last you even longer with 32GB of RAM.
The 2021 M1 Pro MacBook Pro will last you even longer with 32GB of RAM.
Photo: Apple

The 2021 14-inch M1 Pro MacBook Pro with added memory is a popular choice, and Friday you can get a configuration with 32GB of RAM for about $300 less than usual prices at Woot!, owned by Amazon.

The configuration is a winner because folks know you can’t easily add integrated memory later to most Macs, so why settle for the base 16GB for that model?

Beware, though, the sale ends just after midnight in Saturday’s wee hours.

Apple Watch Ultra is tough, but this new case makes it tougher

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Want your Apple Watch Ultra to be all-but-indestructable? Try this case.
Want your Apple Watch Ultra to be all-but-indestructable? Try this case.
Photo: Elkson

Apple Watch Ultra, released in September 2022, is famously rugged and great for endurance sports. But no wearable is truly indestructible. So if you want to make your Ultra even tougher, put it in the new Elkson Quattro Pro 2.0 case for Apple Watch Ultra.

The new case arrived Friday in the Cult of Mac Store. And you can get it for just $25.99.