A year or so ago I reviewed Audirvana Plus. I found it one of the best music players around. Amarra was just a tiny little bit better, in my opinion. Then came Amarra 3.0, which sounded the same as the previous version, but had more capabilities. Now, Audirvana Plus 2.0.1 has been released, and I am starting to see the light. Audirvana Plus 2 outperforms evrything else and if you’ll give me a couple of minutes, I’ll explain why.
First fo all, Audirvana Plus 2.0.1 has a completely new interface for those who don’t integrate with iTunes. Since the best sound quality usually comes when listening without iTunes in the neighbourhood, I decided to test Audirvana Plus 2.0.1 with its now built-in — and beautifully designed — music asset management interface.
Audirvana Plus 2.0.1 can now replace iTunes completely and it has all the bells and whistles you’d expect. It doesn’t look like iTunes too much, and it shouldn’t, as iTunes is overly complicated for anyone who just wants to listen to music. iTunes is great if you’re completely into buying music online. The listening experience is less important (although not bad). Audirvana Plus 2.0.1 is more about listening, but now also about managing your music collection.
Except for the sorting, thumbnail and metadata editing capabilities, Audirvana Plus 2.0.1 is completely iTunes compatible. I could edit track metadata in Yate and see it refresh in Audirvana Plus 2 immediately. With regards to the music asset management, I’m a fan, a huge fan.
But what about sound quality? In that area there’s something strange going on. I decided to try out Audirvana Plus 2 with three different DACs: an Apogee Duet iPad & Mac, an AudioEngine D1 and an Audioquest Dragonfly 2.0. I tested with classical music only — that’s the only music I really listen to anyway. I ran the same tests with Amarra 3 again.
Now, here’s what strange: with Amarra 3, the three DACs sounded pretty much the same. There were very subtle differences between the Duet, the D1 and the Dragonfly. If I would have someone else change the cables and connections and listen to the music with my eyes closed, I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference.
When I tried the three DACs with Audirvana Plus 2, I suddenly heard very clear differences. The D1 was more clear — almost harsh — sounding than the Duet, with the Dragonfly in-between. The Duet performed better in the bass tones, etc. There was a better sound-stage with the Duet than with the D1, etc, etc.
To make sure I wasn’t making this up, I switched back to Amarra 3, but I got the same result: an almost identical sound from the three DACs — less transparency and less sound staging as well. It all sounded a little bit muddier.
I can only find one explanation for this: in Amarra 3, some equalisation is going on, despite me having turned off their EQ feature explicitly. I know SonicStudio is raving about their EQ capabilities, and there are specific headphone EQ settings in the built-in EQ feature. But I would expect the EQ feature to be off when I teel it to. I now suspect it somehow isn’t.
In contrast, Audirvana Plus 2.0.1 seems not to add anything to your music — just the sound as it was recorded. In the past, when I still listened to a Denon Super Audio CD player with a Musical Fidelity headphones amplifier connected, I could hear whether a recording was good or bad. From those years, I still remember which CDs sound like rubbish and which are brilliant.
With Audirvana Plus 2.0.1 I got back that experience and that’s what I expect from a HiFi music player. In Audirvana Plus’ Preferences I can select an Audio Filter if I want that. I have NUGENAudio SEQ-S eqaliser on my system, an EQ that is vastly superior to the Amarra 3 one. I have yet to turn it on, so I don’t know yet if I want that — but the point is that in Audirvana Plus 2 I will at least have a choice. In Amarra 3 I should have that choice too, but it seems like it doesn’t matter much.
As I was surprised by the Amarra sound experience, I tried activating the EQ and setting it at extreme levels. The sound changed, but not by much — and it only became muddier. Perhaps my system is to blame, a conflict with the many pro audio recording apps I keep on the system from previous reviews. Even if that is the case, it doesn’t affect Audirvana Plus 2.
Bottom-line as experienced from my testing: Audirvana Plus 2.0.1 doesn’t just look better and has at least as good management functionality as iTunes, it also sounds like it’s supposed to: with High Fidelity.