There is music buried within many CD’s that would gladden the heart of many analog aficionados. Most of us now have an awareness of how bad the initially offered CD’s sounded. Great progress has been made in digital recording techniques since those days. Nevertheless, even the early CD’s were capable of better sound with more sophisticated hardware and software. Four and five figure CD players, transports, and DAC’s are capable of extracting much more from the CD’s than many thought possible.
Spinning a disc with recorded music on it presents problems. That is why we may need a separate CD transport from the DAC to ensure proper alignment and data reading before any attempt to decode the signal. The best workaround the spinning problem is not to spin at all. Just download digital files and store them to be read and decoded.
Decoding digital information and converting it to an analog signal is another matter. We need a very sophisticated DAC with enough processing power to do the job. The quality of the chip and the supporting circuitry is all important. What can revival these expensive DAC’s? A home computer often has more potential processing power than some of the chips and circuits within the DAC. Putting that processing power to proper use requires some very sophisticated computer software, however.
This is where the Frenchman comes in. Damien Plisson, Founder and CEO of Audirvana has invented the software. His music player sounds miles ahead of other music players on Apple computers. Now it is also available for Windows 10. What does his program Audirvana Plus do? It merely extracts music from digital recordings. That may be an overstatement for some. Not for me. He has even made those iTunes AAC compressed files sound pleasant. In fact, they sound more than pleasant. Dare I say they begin to approach analog sound? Audirvana Plus will do wonders for AAC compressed files, but it is better to use Apple lossless music files for s more refined sound.
The other day I started listening to iTunes through my HiFiMan planar headphones. They sounded particularly good. I though: “Maybe they are finally breaking in along with my AudioQuest Dragonfly Red DAC.” Then I realized that the music seemed to be coming from outside my headphones. Perhaps I was actually listening to my AudioEngine A2+’s instead. The HiFiman are not closed back so that must be the explanation. The outside sound was simply bleeding through. I checked my setup. No, the sound was coming from the headphones. But the music had a wider and more open sound stage.
I had recently updated Audirvana Plus for free to version 3.2. A new ultra high quality upsampling algorithm, SoX, had been added. This algorithm produces magic sound. Some have complained that it is just too euphoric. What is wrong with euphoric music being extracted from digital files? I found that SoX needs to be fine tunes, however. It can produce some ringing, at least to my ears. Here is my setting for it, though computer system may require a different settings. It is best to experiment.
Audirvana Plus handles DSD, PCM, flac, MQA, etc. It does a great job of decoding MQA along with the Dragonfly Red. More about that later.
Some have said that a computer is best used from casual listening. If you have very expensive state-of-the-art components, then perhaps a home computer is only a secondary consideration – a convenient story device for compressed music files. But if you want sound that rivals these expensive components at a fraction of their price, think about the power of your computer and the program Audirvana Plus. The raw processing power of a home computer, when controlled by superb software, might equal or exceed the power provided by of dedicated chips contained within audio playback equipment.
A computer does have shortcomings. It produces external noise, even jitter. Audirvana Plus works around this by passing the audio engine of your computer altogether and substituting its own. Moreover, it shuts off all outside computer functions which may interfere with the sound. So it is best not to attempt to do multitasking while listening to music with Audirvana Plus.
There are still may some unwanted influences that need to be addressed. The USB connecters on a computer are noisy in many cases. What to do? Buy an AudioQuest Jitterbug and place it between your USB connector and external DAC.
The Jitterbug can really clean up the sound even further and is a quite audible improvement to my ears. It works with both one’s computer or also a mobile device such as a smart phone.
The power of Audirvana Plus kicks in when playing high res files such as PCM, DSD, or MQA. The builtin DAC on a Mac laptop is not awful. It will not, however, render MQA files. Here is the setup that makes the most economical sense while still providing superb sound:
Plug the combination of an AudioQuest DragonFly and Jitterbug into your computer or mobile device. The resulting sound is clean and transparent. Be sure to fully break-in the DragonFly for the best sound. It will play high impedance headphones quite well, such as the HiFiMan 400i, because it has an excellent builtin headphone amplifier.
How close does Audirvana Plus come to state-of-the-art sound? The Frenchman’s music player is state-of-the-art. It will produce a sound close enough to make a few audiophiles think twice about spending a fortune on high end audio components.