Audirvāna audiophile music player

Audirvāna Plus used to be my preferred audiophile music player until Big Sur came along and the app had some small issues. That made me look out for alternatives, but my quest wasn’t a success. And then Audirvāna Studio got released and I tried it out and found that it’s even better than its predecessor.

Unlikely as it may seem if you’ve used Audirvana Plus before, the developers have succeeded in making music with Audirvāna Studio sound even better than it already did. Many of my albums sound, by lack of a better word, purer and with a better stereo image than I managed to get out of Audirvana Plus. That’s no small feat as I have always found Audirvana the top when it came to sonic quality and I have tried and tested almost every audiophile player app available for macOS.

The sonic quality of Audirvāna Studio isn’t the only thing that has been improved, though. The app gives a better experience of streaming music as well. Audirvāna Studio not just streams music directly from your account; it even allows you to check the quality of the stream. There are also over 65,000 Internet radio stations and nearly as many podcasts that you can listen to directly from within Audirvāna Studio.

Audirvāna Studio: looks

The Audirvāna Studio interface looks gorgeous. The dark interface is the one I love best and is the default, but for those of us who like a light interface better, you can switch to a very light one.

The interface is refined, with small elements well placed and well designed, with a sidebar that holds “My music”, “Your Streaming Service” and “Local” categories that each list different sub-categories. The main panel is home to a number of new features of which some are unique. Some features, though, are a bit convoluted. For example, when you create a Smart Playlist you must first name it, but to make the name stick, you must hit the Enter key and by doing so you deselect your newly created playlist that jumps to its alphabetically listed location.

To add rules to the smart playlist, you must first re-select it and then create a rule. That could be well made easier by not deselecting the playlist when you hit enter. Not a big deal, you say? Well, not when you’re starting out, but when you have 50 of them and the new one is named “Widor” after the French composer, you’re in for a scroll…

Speaking of composers and conductors, it would be nice if the “Local” section of the sidebar didn’t just stop at Albums, Artists and Tracks. It’s true, none of the other audiophile players that I could find, add Composers and/or Conductors to their equivalent of this section, but they don’t sound as good or have the analysis functionality that I’ll cover in a moment, either.

The organisation per artist does make a nice list of related albums appear at the bottom of an album you’re listening to.

Good looks cost… time. The app did take a while to load my 492 albums and 14980 tracks. That seems entirely due to it having to paint the album art on the fly with every launch of Audirvāna.

Looks aren’t everything

A very useful — and I might add mind blowing — new feature is the sound profile. When you play a music stream or a track and navigate to the Settings, Audirvāna Studio allows you to analyse a track’s frequency response in a mini player window by clicking the “Check Audio Profile” button in the Settings panel. The button will turn blue and clickable once you start playing a track. The mini player window that opens when you click it shows you all of the track’s technical information and its playback status, which is unique.

It gets even better. Click the small icon left of the progress bar in any panel view and you’ll find yourself looking at a waveform representation of the track’s dynamics. The representation can be toggled so you can switch — instantly — between the waveform and the common playhead locator at any time.

The Settings view also gives access to both Audirvāna’s internal software volume settings and that of your DAC’s volume slider. With the previous version of Audirvana, I found the software settings not as good as my DAC’s (an Apogee Element). With Audirvāna Studio, the software volume is just as good as the hardware one.

The unique part of the window, though, starts with the middle area. There you get an overview of the playback modification steps you have switched on for the track before playing it, including format, gain and resolution.

Audio quality check

The mini player window holds a HD sound profile graph for the track that you can view by clicking the “Check HD profile” button. This button enables you to verify whether your audio files are of studio master quality. For that purpose, Audirvāna implemented Ircam Amplify’s MetaSound Quality Check technology that allows the software to automatically find out, in realtime, if the characteristics of a track meet the standards of high-definition audio.

The graph shows the coherence between the resolution of a track as defined in its metadata and the actual frequency spectrum. The analysis is based on several criteria, including bandwidth, quantisation, oversampling, DC offset problems and more. The curve allows you to see whether musical information is present in the audible register beyond the quality of a CD, for example. To interpret the graph, you should keep in mind the Nyquist-Shannon sampling theorem which says the sampling frequency must be greater than twice the maximum frequency one wishes to reproduce 1.

Ircam Amplify, by the way, is the company that exploits the research of IRCAM (Institute for Research and Coordination of Acoustics and Music), an institute founded by Pierre Boulez 43 years ago.

Oh no, it’s subscription based

The one thing that I don’t like, as so many people, is the switch from a perpetual licence to a subscription based business model for Audirvāna Studio. Other audiophile apps, though, are subscription based as well.

As so many others, I wondered if the yearly subscription fee of €69.99 is too much? If you consider the app’s many high-end features like the Ircam Amplify functionality and its pure sound output with a stereo image that is mind-baffling (although part of that is also courtesy of my Adam A7X studio monitors and Sub8 in exactly the right locations), I think the fee is reasonable, certainly taking into consideration that you get a 3-month free-trial of the developer’s Integrated HD Streaming Partners (HighRes Audio, Qobuz and Tidal).

One of Audirvāna Studio’s direct competitors charges some €52 for a yearly subscription and has an interface without the organisation capabilities of Audirvāna, doesn’t sound as good and doesn’t come with any extras. In addition, you can use Audirvāna Studio on a monthly basis (€6.99) with no time commitment.

  1. The Audio Engineering Society recommends a sampling frequency of 48 kHz for the origination, processing, and interchange of audio programs employing pulse-code modulation. Recognition is also given to the use of a 44.1-kHz sampling frequency related to certain consumer digital applications, the use of a 32-kHz sampling frequency for transmission-related applications, and the use of a 96-kHz sampling frequency for applications requiring a higher bandwidth or more relaxed anti-alias filtering.