Hardscrabble 🍫

By Max Jacobson

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The Apple Studio Display's Missing Volume Knob

October 1, 2023

EDIT Nov 3, 2023: I’ve replaced that gadget with a different, similar gadget that I’ve written a new post about.

I’ve been using the Apple Studio Display as a computer monitor for over a year now and here’s my review: it’s pretty good, but it’s missing a volume knob.

I use the built-in speakers, which are pretty good. And, of course, it’s possible to adjust the volume. My goofy mechanical keyboard1 has a row of function keys, and maybe one of them is supposed to control the volume, but I can’t figure it out (I’ve tried for like two whole minutes). So for the first year or so of using this monitor, any time I wanted to adjust the volume, I moused up to the little Control Center icon in the menu bar, clicked, and dragged the little slider.

Adjusting volume with Control Center

And reader, forgive me, maybe this is intuitively obvious to you, but it must be said: this experience sucks!

If I’m “feeling myself” and want to turn up the tunes, that should be as easy as possible to do. I don’t want to scan through a mess of tiny monochromatic icons and have to think. If I’m in the middle of a tense chess position and I want to turn down the music and concentrate, again, that needs to be so easy to do without even taking my eyes off the chess.com chess board.

This sucky experience was kind of simmering below the threshold of conscious annoyance for a while, but a few months ago I finally put my finger on it and had the thought: damn, I wish I had a little volume knob I could turn right now, I wonder if that exists somewhere? So I started doing some google queries like “standalone volume knob” that yielded some very interesting products.

Some products are literally what I imagined: a standalone volume knob. For example this handmade walnut one from Etsy seller ZiddyMakes that I came very close to ordering:

Walnut knob

A bunch more of them were small knobs that are not usable standalone electronics, but meant to be somehow fastened to a mechanical keyboard. An appealing idea! If my keyboard had a little knob, I’d be thrilled. But my keyboard doesn’t, and I do not dare attempt to give it one.

Eventually, in this research, I found my way to the term “macropad”, which is basically like a little standalone keyboard with a few keys on it that you can program to do whatever you want, like kick off some automation, or act as simple media controls to pause your music or adjust your volume. Some of them even have knobs on them.

I ordered this one: DOIO KB04-01 Macro Keyboard 4 Keys + 1 Knob Macro Pad

DOIO macropad

Hot yellow! Nice.

When it arrived, it basically worked out of the box. The knob controlled the volume. The first button worked like a play/pause button. The second button like a previous track button. The third one like a next track button. The fourth one, uh, didn’t seem to do anything.

I spent a few minutes trying to figure out how to customize what those buttons would do, but nothing seemed to work. Then I remembered the classic Mitch Hedberg joke:

I write jokes for a living, I sit at my hotel at night, I think of something that’s funny, then I go get a pen and I write it down. Or if the pen is too far away, I have to convince myself that what I thought of ain’t funny.

And so I convinced myself that actually having play/pause, previous track, next track, and a no-op button was what I wanted.

I did order some media keycaps from WASD to replace the blank keycaps that came with it, so I could remember what each key does. I was planning to leave the fourth key blank, but the WASD keycaps were a bit taller than the keycaps that came with the macropad, and it felt weird for them not to all be the same height, so I just put the square “stop” keycap there, even though it doesn’t actually stop anything.

I’ve had this little guy on my desk for a few months now and I really love it. I almost never press the keys, but I turn the volume knob all the time. It has a nice uh, knob feel. It isn’t an entirely smooth spin; it sort of turns in notches. As you turn it, you can feel exactly how many notches you’re turning it, and each notch is equivalent to pressing the “volume up” or “volume down” key on a keyboard that has those buttons.

Nice little gizmo.

  1. FWIW, I’ve been very happily using the REALFORCE R2 KEYBOARD MID SIZE (IVORY) keyboard for almost two years and it’s my favorite keyboard I’ve ever used. It has the excellent topre switches from the iconic Happy Hacker Keyboard, but in a normal keyboard layout that asks very little of you. 

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