As we head into the holiday season, we’re working on wrapping up the rest of this year’s reviews. This week, we tested the MacBook Pro M1 to see how well the company’s new chipset would work for professionals. We also checked out Razer’s active noise-cancelling Hammerhead True Wireless Pro earbuds, spent some time admiring the fauna in Alba: A Wildlife Adventure, and played around with the Atom SQ, a pad controller built specifically for Studio One users.
MacBook Pro M1 lacks features that professionals need
Devindra Hardawar was thrilled with the performance he got out of Apple’s MacBook Air M1: the fanless laptop provided him with the best gaming experience he’d ever seen on an Apple machine, and it was responsive and had a solid battery life. When it came time to review the other M1 laptop in the lineup, the MacBook Pro, he experienced many of the same advantages. The Pro is just as zippy and efficient as the Air, plus it has the same 2,560 x 1,600 Retina Display and a battery life that lasted over 16 hours in our testing.
However, the Pro M1 is fan-cooled whereas the Air doesn’t have a fan, and the Pro M1 is more expensive starting at $1,299. The Pro M1 is also limited to 16GB of RAM and a single external display, which could impact professional users’ ability to work efficiently. Not to mention there are still some software and plugins, like Autodesk Revit and other music apps, that don’t work well with the M1’s emulation. Devindra called it a solid workhorse, but confessed that there are compatibility concerns that may make the Air M1 the better buy overall.
Razer’s Hammerhead True Wireless Pro earbuds have great sound quality but poor battery life
Razer’s first set of true wireless earbuds, released last fall, were designed to be attractive to gamers with a mode that promised latency as low as 60ms. This year’s refresh, the $200 Hammerhead True Wireless Pro, brings many of the same features from the company’s Opus headphones, including the stick-bud design, active noise cancellation, THX sound and that low-latency gaming mode. Billy Steele was pleased that the True Wireless Pro earbuds provided a good assortment of ear tips to help give users a comfortable fit. He said he had no trouble wearing them for hours at a time.
Despite a number of promising features, Billy found drawbacks. Battery life, which was a specific complaint in the first version of the earbuds, is likewise lacking here. The low-latency gaming mode, which did lessen lag time, didn’t sync up well during audio/video testing. Also, while he said the sound quality was stellar, the noise cancellation wasn’t as good as he was expecting. But the excellent sound quality, extensive customization for touch controls and comfortable fit prompted Billy to declare this model a joy to use.
Alba: A Wildlife Adventure is a relaxing game centered on nature
UsTwo Games made its name with the release of Monument Valley, a puzzle game that led its heroine through mazes of visually stunning illusions inspired by Japanese art and sculpture. UsTwo’s latest release, Alba: A Wildlife Adventure, is a family-friendly game that continues that tradition while focusing on nature. Nick Summers says the game is relaxing to play, good for all age groups and can be completed in a single evening (it took him four hours).
Available via Apple Arcade, Steam or GOG.com, the 3D game follows its titular character through various attempts to catalogue the animals on an island which echoes the focus of Pokemon Snap. Using mostly a traditional camera-and-control scheme, players can find and photograph more than 60 animal species for Alba’s wildlife book while working to restore the island's nature reserve. Nick said that the game play is laid-back and he found the humdrum missions quite satisfying.
Atom SQ is a pad controller designed for Studio One
Terrence O’Brien wants to make it clear: He’s not a Studio One guy. He is generally an Ableton user but has been spending time with the alternative software specifically to review the Atom SQ. As PreSonus built the Atom SQ explicitly for Studio One, the two are nicely unified -- and when paired, the SQ adds a step sequencer. Terrence said the build quality of the Atom SQ is solid for the price, and that the device was compact enough to be reasonably portable.
However, because they work so completely in sync, the Atom SQ is mostly intended for those who already use -- or want to use -- PreSonus’ DAW. Terrence said it can’t eliminate the mouse from your workflow but will reduce your dependency on it. Also, the pads on the controller were unique and adaptable, and the sequencing and live-playing tools are intuitive and generally helpful. For those who are already in the Studio One ecosystem, the Atom SQ is a safe bet.