Book Review: To Serve & Groove

To Serve & Groove is subtitled "A Comprehensive Compendium of Numerically Disposed Mellifluous Servitude or How To Make Your Mac Into A Real Fine Music Server" which provides a fairly good synopsis of the author Oliver Masciarotte's style and approach to his subject. Namely, this is some complicated stuff but it doesn't have to be. You can also hear a certain cool jivey cadence to Mr. Masciarotte's prose which makes sense seeing as he comes from a musical background as well as being a graduate of MIT. Brains and musical prose sounds good to me but does Mr. Masciarotte answer his fundamental question on his way to the Appendices?

Writing a book about Computer Audio, or file-based playback as Mr. Masciarotte refers to our endeavors (which I like), is kinda like hiring a courtroom sketch artist to report on Nascar—by the time you've finished, a lot of important stuff has passed you by. Mr. Masciarotte comes from a Pro Audio background and he appears to be technically well grounded so he's at his best when dealing with the nuts and bolts of digital reproduction. His layman's guide to sampling, jitter & noise, filters, ringing, etc. make these potentiality complex subjects easily accessible and I appreciate his loose, casual writing style. Mr. Masciarotte, or OMas as he refers to himself in the "About the Author" section, seems like the kind of guy I'd like to share a pitcher of beer with and talk about music.

However Mr. Masciarotte the author could have been well-served by a more active Editor. I know, I'm being snarky and critical and you may very well write that off to my fierce competitive nature, but I have a real hatred for typos, and I make them all the time, but they bother me even more in a book and there are more than a few in this one. I also have to wonder why the section on Sampling and Sample Rates isn't immediately followed by a section titled Bit Depth? That's like talking about sandwiches and leaving out jelly after the section on peanut butter. We do get to learn about bit depth in the section titled "Sampling Precision" where Mr. Masciarotte talks about "word length" but it seems advisable to employ the more common usage (bit depth/sample rate as in 24/96...). "Now, take your bread, peanut butter, and crushed fruiting berry of the deciduous woody vines of the botanical genus described as Vitis...."

And why are we introduced to USB's asynchronous mode in "DACs & Clocks" and not in the section on USB which comes before "DACs & Clocks"? There are also what strike me as odd intrusions from Mr. Masciarotte's pro audio background such as his recommended reverb software in Chapter 6. Do we really want to be encouraging people to mess around with adding reverberation to their music playback in an intro to Mac-based computer audio? (my answer is no, we don't)

There are some recommended systems provided in Chapter 9 which I always enjoy and Mr. Masciarotte's examples are well-considered if necessarily limited. But again the shelf-life of relevant info for file-based playback is hard to keep fresh in book form. For example DSD is discussed but presented as follows, "Nowadays, you can find the occasional DSD, DSF (DSD Streaming File Format), DSDIFF (Direct Stream Digital Interchange File Format) or even WSD files lurking on the 'net." Yet Blue Coast Records and Channel Classics who both sell DSD-based music are listed in Appendix B.

It's also worth noting that Mr. Masciarotte was one of the founding members of Sonic Studio makers of the popular Amarra media player software so he's obviously had his feet in this pond for some time (he also recommends and prefers...Amarra).

So my critical brain is suggesting that this book could have been improved by better organizing the subjects and some judicious editing. But for those people who are curious about file-based playback, using a Mac as a music server, and don't want to spend the time and effort gathering up information from around the web, Mr. Masciarotte has provided a nice collection of information in one place and he's done so in a friendly and eminently approachable and understandable way.

To Serve & Groove: A Comprehensive Compendium of Numerically Disposed Mellifluous Servitude or How To Make Your Mac Into A Real Fine Music Server is published by Other Munday Press and is available in book form and electronic editions for the iPad and Kindle.