How would you like to upgrade your audio system to exceptional performance? I am not talking about expense speakers, cables, turntables, DAC’s, etc. I am talking about a very low cost and simply upgrade that you can do in the privacy of your own home.
Let me start with vinyl. I love the sound of vinyl as many audiophiles do. There is so much music recorded in those grooves. But to be fair, the get the best out of those vinyl grooves one needs some very expensive equipment. The turntable, tonearm, cartridge, and phono preamp has everything to do with the sound of vinyl.
Over the years vinyl playback has improved significantly. We have discovered a lot about the proper setup of the playback equipment over the years. The quality of today’s vinyl has improved. More could be said, but suffice it to say that a long development time and greatly engineered products have restored the vinyl as a premium playback system. Much credit should be given to the wonderful audio reviewer Michael Fremer, who never gave up on vinyl.
Have we learned as much about the relatively new digital playback system. Probably not, but I believe that digital is starting to come into hits own. Early CD’s simply did not sound very good. Early digital playback equipment did not seem to help matter much, even on expensive machines. But over time the CD players have improved – better transport decks and digital to analogue converters. Very expensive players do sound a little better today, but they may have become obsolete.
Clearly, reading digital music files from static computer memory has an engineering advantage over any spinning CD. We can download digital files, even high-resolution ones, and get a better sound source. But there is another element which is now starting to be understood. And I believe this element will revolutionize digital sound in many ways.
What am I talking about? Bits, I am talking about bits. All bits are not the same. Theoretically they are. The are just a series of zero’s and one’s. Their timing, however, is critical. Jitter can ruin the musical waveform. We must extract all the bits carefully without smearing the digital information stored.
One way of doing this is through high-resolution digital audio. But hi. res. digital recordings are expensive. These recordings use oversampling of the bits as well as higher bit rates of processing power. It is easier to get better sound from the bits with these techniques. What about improving the sound of 16 bit 44 kHz? What about all of our legacy digital recordings? Can they be improved?
It turns out that there is much more music in those bits than we thought. Sophisticated processing of the bits can make a huge difference. Apple iTunes does not use hi. res. It does not even use CD quality playback. But Apple has shown that even its AAC recordings can sound much better careful attention to detail. What they are doing we are not quite sure, and they will probably not tell us. But Apple is asking for hi. res. signal sources from the music labels from which they do their “remastered for iTunes” sound.
I have a lot of Apple music files that I want to keep. I just want them to sound better. Here is the magic. There is an inexpensive product which will do the job and then some. Just download that latest software music player from Audirvana Plus. It will play high-resolution files, stream music from Tidal, and even play the latest rage files. (More about this later.) But, for me, even more importantly, it will play all types of digital files, including AAC files, and make them sound one hundred percent better.
It has some shortcomings, but not sonically. It will not steam Apple Music. But it will play all your iTunes playlists, provided the files are downloaded. It will not work with Apple Airplay. Airplay, of course, does not do hi. res. But Audirvanna Plus handles low res. so well that I wish it would do Airplay. Well, there is a work around. Just download the software app Airfoil. Airfoil is such an easy app to us. I like it better than Airplay. You see it in the upper left-hand corner on the screen shot below.
Audirvanna Plus is simply magic. In my opinion, it sounds almost analogue no matter what files are used. Why do I want expensive hi. res. files? Well I might want to buy a few of the extraordinary records, but I am quite content with most of my Apple AAC files. After all, the one of the primary purposes of Audiogram II is to save us money.
The music through Audirvanna Plus simply sounds gorgeous. The bass is very deep, solid, and articulate. Even boomy recordings sound better. Female voices sound like female voices. Choral music is not one big mesh. Voices are separated. The purity of the top end is almost unbelievable. Hi-hats and cymbals just ring, even on low res. Quite remarkable!
What does Audirvanna Plus do to the bits? Well they will probably never tell us everything. But here are some of the information that they have shared:
- The DAC sample rate is automatically switched to the audio file original one to ensure unaltered signal is played.
- All internal processing is done using 64 bit precision to eliminate information loss due to rounding errors.
- SysOptimizer can be configured to stop the OS X background services potentially interfering with sound quality, and give to Audirvana Plus the extreme priority during playback to ensure the maximum signal streaming precision.
- File loading, processing, converting to DAC native format are all done before playback to minimize any possible interference
- SoX or iZotope 64-bit SRC best in class sample rate conversion technologies
- MBIT+ dithering Volume Control (Dithering is meant to reduce the audible impact of the inevitable reduction in the audio signal precision when reducing the bitdepth, which happens when using a digital volume control. iZotope MBIT+ is the leading technology that pushes the noise way out of the audible spectrum.)
Audirvana Plus can play all major Audio File Formats :
- PCM Audio Format read by iTunes: WAVE, AIFF, Apple Lossless, M4A, MP3
- PCM Audio Format not read by iTunes: FLAC, WavPack, APE, Cue Sheets
- and the New High Res Audio Format : MQA (Master Quality Authenticated)
- DSD Audio Formats: DSF, DSDIFF (including DST compressed), SACD ISO
The sound of Audirvanna Plus is far superior to BitPerfect and Amara. While BitPerfect plays (integrates) better with iTunes than any other player, Audirvanna Plus does dovetail fairly well with the iTunes interface. As a stand alone music player it is very user-friendly and elegantly minimalistic.
I cannot recommend this product more highly. It has brought a whole new dimension and enjoyment to my digital audio music. I can now say that digital audio has moved into a new era. Who knows? Maybe it will catch up with vinyl. This much is true – it is much cheaper to buy and play. Then there is the convenience and file storage. But yes, I still love my vinyl.
Audirvanna Plus software may be download here. Try a 15 day free trial period and then pay $74. Otherwise, do not, before you get hooked. Airfoil costs $29 and may be downloaded here. They will also give you a two-week trial period as well. Better not do this either if you want to save money. I would say that great sounding musical reproduction is well-worth the expense of a night out at a good restaurant for two.