Playing custom sounds from your compact Mac

As evidenced by my latest adventures with the monaural Califone AV80 cassette player, low quality sound doesn’t bother me.

Much like the Califone, no audiophile is going to want to listen to a 1980s compact Macintosh — on its own, at least.

Apple’s earliest Macintosh computers were not designed with sophisticated audio playback in mind. However, there’s some ways to convert MP3s and other modern audio formats into one that can be played on most systems running System 6 or System 7.

With newer (as in most 68030, 040 and PowerPC) Macs, audio software such as SoundApp can easily open AIFF and other audio formats for playback or manipulation. However, SoundApp 68K — along with most other audio players from that time — isn’t compatible with earlier compact Macs, as it requires System 7 and a 68020 or better.

Outside of my PowerBook 165 (which remains partially disassembled although usable, but I’m unable to close the lid as I still need to sort out the hinge/case issue), I don’t have a machine that can run SoundApp. The SuperSE has a ‘030 and 16MB of RAM — more than enough to do the job, but can’t run System 7. My Classic, which has been finicky lately anyways, runs System 7 but only has the basic Motorola 68000 and 4 MB of RAM.

However, System 7 can play system sound files right from the Finder. While these are meant to be short clips of sound used for alerts, such as “Sosumi” and “Clink-Klank,” users could record their own files. SoundApp can easily convert an AIFF file to a system sound file, allowing for it to be played on any machine running System 7 (or System 6 if additional software is installed — more on that later).

Conversion process

To begin converting a file, I open the “modern” audio file (MP3, WAV, AIFF, etc.) in Audacity for some prep work, such as amplifying or leveling the audio levels as needed. Because you will not be able to adjust the volume later, it is important to have good audio levels. I export the final audio to a monaural AIFF file, downsampling to 8kHz. This is to avoid potential issues later.

Exporting the 8-bit PCM audio as a monaural AIFF file at 8kHz.

From Audacity I’ll launch Basilisk II, which I fortunately got working again recently. With the exported AIFF file in the shared Unix folder, I use SoundApp 68k (specifically SoundApp 2.7.3) to convert the file to “System Sound” format with PCM encoding at 8kHz, mono, 8-bit. I’ve used these base settings to keep the file size small and avoid potential issues with running on older hardware (such as the 68000 in my Classic). Larger file sizes also, obviously, consume more memory. I have not tried changing any settings.

Converting the AIFF file to a System Sound file, 8-bit PCM encoded at 8,000 Hz sample rate, using SoundApp 2.7.3 in Basilisk II (System 7.5.3.)
Info on the converted System Sound file.

To access the converted System Sound file on my old Macs, I then stuff the resulting file into a StuffIt archive using StuffIt Lite.

Stuffing the 2 MB system sound file into a 1.5 MB StuffIt Lite archive.
The 1.5 MB StuffIt archive is ready to drop into the shared Unix folder and transmit to my classic Mac. Now the real fun begins!

I then transmit the StuffIt archive to the old Mac via a blazing-fast 19.2K or 57.6K serial connection. The SuperSE can (usually) handle the faster 57.6K connection, cutting the transmission time in half, but the Classic has to use the slower 19.2K connection. In the case of the 1.5 MB StuffIt file seen in the screenshots (example used for this post), I had to operate the SuperSE at the slower 19.2K speed because of a strange issue. It took nearly an entire hour to transfer the entire file.

Of course, the 57.6K connection has issues and aborts halfway through the file.

With the StuffIt archive on the old Mac, I open StuffIt Lite and un-stuff the sound file.

The Mac displaying the contents of the StuffIt archive.
Un-stuffing the file can take some time, even with a mighty 68030.

If you’re running System 7, just double-click on the exported System Sound file and it should begin playing. There is no player interface or any way to pause/rewind/fast forward playback. To stop playback, you will need to manually reset the Mac. Also, unfortunately, you cannot use any other apps while playing the sounds.

The sound files will not work on System 6 without additional software.

Information on the exported System Sound file.

You may have noticed I keep mentioning the SuperSE, and the above photos/”screenshots” were taken of the SuperSE. However, it can’t run System 7.

7th Symphony

7th Symphony is a software package that allows you to listen to the System Sound files found in System 7 using System 6.

It comes with three applications to be installed on the Mac. The “Application Memory Size” in the Info window (File > Get Info, or Command + I) must be adjusted on all three apps to play larger files. (As per the readme file instructions, simply add 75 to the kilobytes of the file you’d like to play, and insert it into the Info window for each app. For instance, you would need 475 kb to play a 400 kb file. Personally, I keep the SuperSE set at 4000K. Only one app is running at a time.)

Unlike in System 7, the system sound file must be opened in 7th Symphony to play. Launch one of the three 7th Symphony apps, and use the Open (File > Open) menu to locate and play the file.

Like with System 7, however, there is no way to control playback. Once the sound begins playing, it continues until it’s over or you manually reset the Mac. (I have found the Command-. combination does not stop playback.) Control of the computer — being able to use other apps, etc. — is not relinquished back to the user until the file completes playing.

Robin Emig, of Black Ice Engineering, developed 7th Symphony.

About 7th Symphony

The playback from the SuperSE is a little choppy, but otherwise the quality isn’t too bad. (Here’s an example of a royalty-free song, “Mall Walker” by, that was converted in my screenshots and played back in 7th Symphony on the SuperSE.)