Review: Amarra high end audio player

Amarra is an audiophile music player for the Mac. It comes in multiple versions, with one that integrates with iTunes and enables FLAC encoded audio to be played with iTunes. I tested the full Amarra v 2.4 player that is going to be released on May first.

Amarra is developed by Sonic Studio, the same people who develop Sonic Studio soundBlade and NoNoise for professional sound engineering and recording. I think that makes Sonic Studio qualified enough to also develop software through which you can route high quality music — especially when their technology wins awards. And if Amarra is one thing, it’s high quality.

IT Enquirer rating

8.5/10
URL: amarra/sonicstudio.com

Pros
  • sound quality
  • use of iTunes playlist
  • FLAC to AIFF converter
Cons
  • interface
  • documentation
  • dither technology: no choice
Price (approx.): Amarra and Amarra Hifi resp. price on May 1st will be €145.00 – €45.00

Amarra can be used to play audio directly from a Mac’s internal CD/DVD player/recorder, but it can also directly play selected audio files from any iTunes playlist. Finally, you can drag files to its own playlist and play them from there. No matter how you play them, they will always sound the same. I tested Amarra by dragging music from iTunes into Amarra’s playlist as well as the direct method. This enabled me to select audio in iTunes and listen to exactly the tracks I wanted to hear.

Amarra can also play high-resolution files, including FLAC encoded audio with no further intervention on your part.

I could also have dragged files directly from the Finder into Amarra to listen to them. Once files are in Amarra’s playlist, you can save that playlist as a playlist for later use.

Audiophile quality

I almost exclusively listen to classical and baroque music, so that is what I tested Amarra with. All files were conversions from CD in iTunes using the best quality possible, i.e. uncompressed AIFF 24bits/48kHz. I also downloaded a 24/96 FLAC file with a Mozart violin concerto that I have on CD as well — that allowed me to compare the sound quality and how Amarra renders these different quality files.

The Equalizer with a setting for SACDs


I first listened through a pair of AudioEngine A5+ speakers connected with an AudioEngine D1 DAC. Afterwards I also used a Musical Fidelity V-Can II headphones amplifiers connected to a pair of Sennheiser HD800 headphones.

Amarra’s sound quality is without a doubt excellent, if not amazing given that you are after all playing from a Mac Mini and not from an audiophile player. Without any adjustment — no equalizer turned on — music sounded identical as played on a Marantz CD6004 hooked up to the Musical Fidelity V-Can II. With Amarra’s equalizer set to Classical, the music sounded warmer with a little more bass, but not unnaturally so.

Amarra allows you to tamper with settings as much as you like. For example, you can set dithering to happen automatically, with a resolution of 16, 20 or 24 bits. The dithering engine is TPDF. This is reported on various sites across the Web as not as good as POW-r#1, nor as iZotope’s MBit+, but in my listening I could only hear a very faint difference with MBit+ and after having listened to a dozen or so discs, I couldn’t tell which is better anymore. In the end, it doesn’t matter as Sonic Studio told me they will be adding a new Noise Shaped dither in the next version (v2.5). They also only engage the dithering algorithm if the volume control is exercised (at full gain there is no dither applied).

Where Amarra shines throughout is in clarity. iTunes nor the Fidelia player which I briefly tried as well, were capable of that much clarity as Amarra without becoming harsh in the high tones.

Interface

The one and only thing I don’t like about Amarra is its interface. It’s too fiddly, the playlist window must be “hooked” onto the player window if you want both to look like they’re one — and even then, the playlist window will only follow the moving player window after you’ve let the mouse go.

I also think the documentation could be better with more attention to first time users. I agree that audiophile users probably will like to fiddle with the software, but a user guide serves a purpose. It not only guides us, it also reassures us that we’re doing things right.

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