For the Apple Mac owner about to get fresh with digital audio the journey almost always begins with iTunes. And why not?iTunes talents as an all-rounder remain unsurpassed even despite the year-on-year weight gain of additional resource-hungry features: artwork addition and tagging are a cakewalk. Ditto playlist creation, CD-ripping (with legacy hardware), library browsing and playback control, the latter two neatly handled by smart device apps. Apple’s own mini-silver-wand, capable of pause/play and next/previous, is for those who prefer good ole infra-red.
Two key limitations for the wannabe digital audiophile equipped with iTunes rear their twin heads soon enough: 1) an unwillingness on Apple’s part to include FLAC compatibility (it’s Apple Lossless or nowt) and 2) less-than-stellar sound quality. That alternative playback software can sound different (better!), despite zero changes to the hardware or operating system on which it runs, is often the first mind-blowing moment for the newcomer.
One such piece of software is Audirvana+. Even a casual listen reveals its sonic superiority to iTunes and once deployed in standalone mode, FLAC playback is also possible. The price of file format freedom? Remote controllability.
With Audirvana+ returned to the more popular ‘iTunes integrated mode’, it hijacks iTunes’ bitstream to apply its own take on audio processing, volume control, dither, SRC, thus bypassing (most) layers of OS X’s Core Audio before talking directly with a connected DAC. Alas, with iTunes still holding tight to library management and storage the ALAC restriction remains in place.
October 2014 brought the much-anticipated Audirvana+ v2.0 for which iTunes was suddenly even less essential. An ‘iTunes integrated mode’ was there for those who still wanted it but this new version could also internalise library management, artwork addition, tagging, browsing and playback without the need to defer to ANY Cupertino code. Everything under one roof, including FLAC support. Winner.
The catch? With iTunes cast to the wind its remote control apps were surplus to requirements…but how to control Audirvana+ from the couch? Cue much wailing and gnashing of teeth from some areas of Audirvana+’s userbase.
Well, wail and gnash no more, mouse-clickers. This month sees the launch of Audirvana+ v2.2, which brings with it support for developer Damien Plisson’s first stab at a dedicated iOS remote control app; US$9.99 from the iTunes app store. Users complaining about the additional outlay on top of the desktop app’s US$74 entry fee probably don’t quite appreciate the niche appeal of this software for which the ‘high volume / low margin’ business model is a non-starter.
For this commentator’s first fire on an iPad, iOS 8.1.x kept the A+ Remote app blind to its master but updating to iOS 8.4 fixed the problem. The remote control app could then see Audirvana+ and its self-indexed music library of FLACs. Proper hands-off operation becomes possible once Audirvana+’s auto-syncing library folder is shared to the network. Drag and drop new content to network share and Audirvana+ automatically adds it to its library ready for selection from the iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch. No bum-lift required.
No more reverting to remote desktop apps like VNC and Splashtop. No more hunching over keyboard, mouse and screen. MacMini owners are now free to go proper headless.
Perhaps most importantly, Audirvana+ might not have the larger-than-life interface, additional metadata or inter-library connections of Roon but it definitely sounds better. To these ears, Audirvana+ sounds a little less herky-jerky in the joints than Roon, spoons in a soupçon of tonal richness and handles transients with a smidge more refinement.
Further information: Audirvana+ A+ Remote