By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1997, The Syracuse Newspapers
I'm mad about MOD.
You can find out what this obsession is all about by following these links to my special selection of downloadable MOD files and downloadable MOD players.
You'll find dozens of MOD audio files you can download directly from my pages, and you'll also find links to software programs that let just about any modern computer play these recordings.
MODs are stereo music modules—fully digital recordings that often match the quality of the music you now listen to on your home CD player. MODs are enjoying a rebirth among Macintosh and Windows users after a long life as the standard digital-music format on the Commodore Amiga and the Atari ST.
MOD audio files have a huge advantage over the standard digital-audio music format for PCs, called WAV files: They're much smaller than WAV files, even though they usually play much longer. But there's a disadvantage, too: Because of the way MODs are created, they're usually full of the riffs and loops that are common to disco music and funk-rock. That means most MODs are single-genre compositions. (And it means you'll probably never find a good classical MOD composition. I've never come across one in the 10 years I've been collecting MOD files.)
MOD players are available for PCs and Macintosh computers in addition to Amigas and STs. On the PC side, you'll find players that work on computers running both old and new versions of Windows and on PCs that use the OS/2 Warp operating system. There are even players for diehards who still run MS-DOS or PC-DOS without Windows or OS/2.
MODs are files, just as word-processing documents are files. Because they are so small—one of the MODs I've posted on the Web plays for 20 minutes yet is not much larger than half a megabyte—they can easily be stored on floppy disks or sent across the Internet. A WAV audio file of the same composition as this 20-minute MOD would take up more than 50 megabytes of storage. Among audio formats that can handle any kind of music and sound, only MPEG Layer 3 files are more compact than MODs. (I'll tell you how you can sample MPEG audio files in a few weeks.)
For PCs using Windows, the standard high-quality MOD player is called Mod4Win. Although Mod4Win was not designed to take advantage of the modern versions of Windows, it works very well under Windows 95 and its successor, Windows 98. (Download links to Mod4Win and the other players I'm mentioning here can be found on my Web site.)
Mod4Win is a must for any PC user interested in MOD files because it offers the best control over all the many MOD playback modes while presenting an informative and customizable interface. It's also the only MOD player for PCs that looks and behaves like the best software CD players, with an interface that should be familiar to anyone who has played audio CDs on a PC using a fancy "deck" player that comes with a typical mid-price sound card.
Mac users should download Mod4Win just to get the exceptional documentation that accompanies it. (If you have a Mac, make sure you are able to extract the contents of ZIP files—be sure you can unzip them, in geek speak. You can find a Mac unzip program on most Macintosh file sites on the World Wide Web.)
For PCs running Windows 95 or later, two outstanding MOD players are MusicManiac and ModPlug Player. MusicManiac can hide itself away in the System Tray (where the clock lives) on the Windows desktop, and lets you copy MODs to a favorite location while they're being played.
Both MusicManiac and ModPlug Player were programmed to run efficiently in the background under the newer versions of Windows. Mod4Win also works well in the background, but only on PCs that have a lot of muscle. My system-test software showed that MusicManiac took up only about 2 percent of the processor power on my 233 MHz PC. Because ModPlug Player has more sound options and comes with a 21-band spectrum analyzer, you'll probably want to have both these modern Windows players in addition to Mod4Win.
The best Mac MOD player is SoundTrecker, which has a slick look and feel. Links to other Mac players are listed on my site.