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MQA comes to Audirvana Plus

  • Audirvana Plus is a desktop music player/manager for macOS (formerly OS X). Developer Damien Plisson claims that it sounds quite a bit better than iTunes and charged accordingly (US$74/€64).

    The Frenchman isn’t lying. My experience with Audirvana Plus over the past few years has validated its sizable value for money quotient on occasions too numerous to mention. A+ isn’t only an abbreviation; it’s Audirvana Plus’ audio performance grade: A+ from A+. Find out for yourself via a 15-day trial (here).

    Of course, to the ‘bits-are-bits’ brigade, A+ presents a bit of a challenge. Pun intended.

    I asked Plisson to explain why his software sounds better: “In playing bit perfectly, Audirvana Plus minimizes the electrical noise [generated by the host device: iMac/MacBook] transmitted to the DAC’s analog stages through the USB wire, the power cables and also any radiating RF noise.”

    Furthermore, music is pre-loaded into RAM prior to playback and the (optional) SysOptimizer shuts down services not requires by the OS: “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.”

    A+ doesn’t only play hi-res PCM and DSD natively, it will (optionally) upsample audio using iZotope’s 64bit SRC.

    Plisson again: “Over-sampling uses a much higher quality algorithm than the one that can fit in the small DAC chip, feeding the DAC at its highest rate. Upsampling to DSD is the ultimate one, the DAC then having no upsampling to perform at all.”

    Users aren’t shackled to their iTunes database either; that’s optional. A+ offers its own clean-looking library management system with full metadata and cover art display. I have A+ pointed at a Downloads folder where it automatically registers incoming music. Folder synchronisation takes place automatically.

    A+’s digital audio sorcery isn’t only for locally stored content. It can be applied to Tidal, Qobuz or’s VirtualVault. Better sound, and for those who dislike Tidal’s or Qobuz’s native macOS app, an alternative interface. Icing the A+ cake is an iOS remote app (US$10) which lets us to leave the Mac in the rack and control it from the comfort of the couch.

    In other words, A+ is a highly accomplished music manager and player, particularly for audiophiles looking to optimise the digital audio performance of their iMac or MacBook.

    Landing very soon is Version 3 of Audirvana Plus. With it will come support for MQA. A+ will become one of the first audiophile software players to execute the first MQA unfold – 44.1kHz → 88.2kHz; 48kHz → 96kHz – and gives listeners access to roughly half of MQA’s potential benefits.

    A second unfold (should it exist) and MQA’s DAC (filter) optimisation still mandates the uses of an MQA-certified D/A converter like the Meridian Explorer2 or the Mytek Brooklyn.

    A+ automatically detects the aforementioned Meridian but manually specifying your DAC’s (lack of) MQA capabilities in A+’s settings panel drop-down requires some understanding of the associated terminology. This from my January 2016 piece on MQA:

    Decoding refers to the first step: recognising the incoming stream as an MQA file and unfolding any hi-res content (should it exist). Rendering is where the MQA software optimises the signal immediately before it is converted to analogue, thus mitigating the DAC chip’s potential to blur time-domain information.”

    A+ is a decoder – it gives non-MQA DAC users access to the first unfold. A moot point for MQA DAC users whose hardware device acts as both decoder and renderer. MQA DAC or not, we still get A+’s digital audio optimisation smarts and (for some) a cleaner interface as well as MQA’s ADC time-smear correction.

    As a tidy bonus – and one central to MQA’s thinking – version 3 of A+ will also authenticate any MQA stream with a coloured light (blue or green), thus leaving the end user in little doubt as to when s/he is receiving the studio master. Go to Tidal → New → Albums → Masters (from the drop down) and gorge thyself.

    That said, don’t let the tail wag the dog. Play an album because you want to hear that album, not simply because it’s MQA.

    For those concerned about the application of Audio Units and/or upsampling to MQA content, Plisson adds, “MQA DACs still get all the audio processing features of Audirvana Plus after the MQA unfolding. This includes upsampling to PCM/DSD and audio units.”

    Also: “MQA decoders and renderers that implement the output gain control get the ReplayGain command from Audirvana Plus and thus handle the volume levelling without issue.”

    Lastly – and this one’s for pronunciation sticklers like me – it’s not ‘AudioVarna’ or ‘AudioNirvana’ but ‘Or-deer-Varna’. It’s French — and it’s fantastique!

    Plisson’s currently waiting on the final MQA Core Decoder library but we might see A+ v3 made available for download as early as the end of this week. Audirvana+ 3 is available NOW! The update will be free to anyone who bought A+ after “Christmas 2016”. Pricing for everyone else is US$39/€34.

    Further information: Audirvana Plus

    Written by John

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram calls for a deeper technical analysis of MQA