Peterson StroboSoft Tuner

The StroboSoft tuner from Peterson is a software (PC or Mac) version of the strobe tuners for which Peterson is famous. If you don’t know what a strobe tuner is, it is a tuner that works by triggering a strobe light from the audio signal of the instrument you are tuning. The strobe light illuminates a rotating disk with markings that is spinning at a constant speed based on the pitch you are trying to tune to. This effect of this is that if your instrument is tuned to pitch, the disk will appear to not be spinning, if you are flat or sharp, the disk will appear to spin in one direction or the other at a speed proportional to how far off pitch you are. So when you are tuning, you see which way the disk appears to be spinning and adjust the tuning appropriately until the disk slows down and eventually stops.

Most of Peterson’s hardware tuners aren’t true strobe tuners anymore, but what they call ‘virtual strobe’ tuners. These tuners digitally emulate a mechanical strobe tuner and display a graphical representation of the spinning disk on its display. These tuners have the advantage of being able to offer a lot more features over there mechanical versions while still being extremely accurate. Both mechanical and virtual strobe tuners cost several hundred dollars.

With StroboSoft, Peterson has taken a virtual strobe tuner and created a software version that runs on a computer. It is available in two versions, standard and deluxe. The standard version costs 49.99 and is capable of chromatic tuning only. The deluxe version is 79.99 and allows you to set up and store profiles for various instruments as well as allowing you to tune using various ‘sweeteners’ which are included. These sweeteners use slight offsets from standard tuning to try to compensate for some of the intonation problems inherent in guitars. It also contains presets for tuning guitars equipped with the Buzz Feiten tuning system.

The reason I purchased StroboSoft was because I wanted an accurate tuner to use when adjusting intonation on my guitars. I purchased the deluxe version, but the standard version would have been just as capable for this purpose. I just decided that If I’m going to spend $49.99, I must as well just spend $30.00 more and get all the bells and whistles. I found that software works as advertised and was extremely accurate when used with my M-Audio firewire 1814 audio interface. It may not work as well with all sound cards, so I would recommend trying the demo to make sure before purchasing. I also experimented with using the sweetened tunings and they definitely seem to make chords sound a little bit umm, well, sweeter, but that might just be the power of suggestion.

The user interface is fairly easy to use and find your way around. It forgoes the standard windows conventions in order to try to look more like a hardware tuner. I’m not usually a fan of that kind of design, but it works ok here since they deviate from the hardware paradigm and use standard windows controls like list boxes in the right places. Also the help file is decent if you find you get stuck.

One major negative is the software’s overly restrictive registration process. Instead of the usual registration key, the software generates a unique code on installation. You then have to enter the hardware code at the web site to get a registration key which activates the software. If you end up rebuilding your machine or reinstalling windows, you have to get another registration code from them in order to reinstall the software. They do allow a certain number of registrations per year because of this, but if you rebuild your machines often this could be a problem. Also, this seems like overkill for such a relatively low cost program.

Another negative is that if you need to reinstall the software and you’ve lost the original download, you have to contact them to re-download. You would think with the crazy super secure registration process, they could feel comfortable providing a means to re-download the software. It’s the same with upgrades. I saw on their forum that there was an upgrade 1.10 version available. The message said that registered users should have been contacted by email to get the upgrade and if you weren’t then contact them by email. Well I had never received notification of the upgrade so I sent a message with my registration info and still haven’t got a response. So if your hard drive dies and you don’t have a backup, you may have a hard time getting in touch with their unresponsive customer service to get another download. I don’t understand why they don’t just have an area on their site where registered users can log in and download the latest versions like everyone else does.

So to summarize, I’d say the software works well, but because of the overly restrictive registration and download process, as well as extremely poor customer service I can’t give it my recommendation.

Update [2006-03-27]: I received a response from Marshall Johns at Peterson.
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