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Network streaming comes to Audirvana Plus

  • With Mac + USB DAC, if I want the best sound quality (by a nose), I opt for Audirvana Plus. For UX elegance, auto-tagging, meta information layer, music discovery and networked audio streaming, I opt for Roon. Audirvana Plus doesn’t do network streaming.

    This week, that ‘doesn’t’ moves to the past tense: ‘didn’t’. French software developer Damien Plisson has introduced a pubic beta of Audirvana Plus v3.1. (“Or-deer-varna Plus”). Per the headline, v3.1 introduces UPnP network streaming.

    What’s not to like about Universal Plug n Play (UPnP) when it comes to audio? Any manufacturer with the necessary software development chops can leverage UPnP for an in-house coded solution. Or that same manufacturer can pull on the coat of an established third party for an off-the-shelf hardware/software combo as provided by StreamUnlimited, Convers Digital et al.

    This decentralised free-for-all means quality varies from one UPnP-based audio streaming implementation to the next. The first casualty is often the UX. None seen by this commentator hold a candle to Roon. None. Not one. Then again, UPnP-ers don’t ask us to pony up US$119/year for UPnP. We get what we (don’t) pay for.

    The KEF LS50 Wireless deliver a rival-demolishing value quotient but the associated control app is plainer than Jane. A UPnP-loaded Audirvana Plus beta allows us to sidestep the LS50 Wireless app completely.

    With v3.1, Audirvana Plus auto-discovers UPnP network audio devices; the KEF show up in the same output devices drop-down as USB devices.

    UPnP devices don’t return maximum sample-rate compatibility information to Audirvana Plus. These must be specified by the end user for both PCM and DSD. For the LS50 Wireless, it’s 24bit/192kHz PCM, no DSD (and no worries).

    Hit play on any album or song and we’re off to the races. Pause it at will. Previous track and next track work AOK. As does tracking within a song using the seek slider. If you’re using Audirvana Plus’s Tidal integration, make sure you don’t seek beyond the pre-load bar lest your Mac invites you for a game of catch on the beachball of death.

    What we get is the familiarity of Audirvana Plus’s interface and smartdevice control from the A+ Remote app (€10.99). What we don’t get is gapless playback; not attributable to Plisson’s efforts but a shortcoming in the LS50 Wireless’ firmware. UPnP streamers using KEF’s own app don’t get gapless playback either. Hashtag sadface.

    For gapless playback we instead look to Sonore’s micro- and ultraRendu devices for which Audirvana Plus’s UPnP implementation was implemented as a bespoke fit.

    Here’s Plisson: “…the issue with UPnP/DLNA is the loose definition of the standard, and thus of the implementations, that leads to compatibility issues. So there is still work to ensure it’ll work perfectly with network players from the different brands on the market. The results are already here with the Sonore products.”

    Sonore’s Jesus Rodriguez hands over all the credit to Plisson: “The greatest contribution we made was simply to ask Damien to consider adding support for our gear:) Sure we provided hardware, opened our software, and assisted with updates to our system, but the bulk of the credit goes to Damien for his effort in adding UPnP support to Audirvana”.

    With Sonore’s UPnP rendering code at his disposal, Plisson could tailor his software app’s UPnP output to the ‘rendus and therefore ensure gapless payback wasn’t cast aside. Well played.

    Roon users might now wonder, as I did, about possible sonic advantages in making the switch inside the ‘rendu’s Sonicorbiter OS from Roon’s in-house coded RAAT to Audirvana Plus’s UPnP.

    From his latest blog post, Plisson asserts “With Audirvana Plus 3.1 your audio files can be sent to a network player to benefit from the sound quality of Audirvana Plus even when you Mac is not hooked to your audio system.”

    Plisson reasons his assertion with the following logic: decoding a FLAC to .wav within Audirvana Plus and, crucially, prior to streaming, lowers the impact on the ultra- or microRendu’s CPU, which in turn generates less electrical noise and sees less electrical detritus heading downstream into the DAC over USB.

    Per the Frenchman’s blog post: “Audirvana Plus 3.1 prepares the working process of the network player. Any PCM format audio file is sent to a non-compressed WAV format thus, avoiding the network reader from performing decompression calculations potentially harmful to the sound quality. Any DSD format audio file can be transmitted directly decompressed (or transcript [sic] to PCM if the network drive does not support the DSD)”.

    This a priori decoding also applies to audio filters e.g.up-sampling or frequency response-correcting. And it also applies to MQA where the first unfold is executed via Audirvana Plus before being streamed to the ‘rendu or the LS50 Wireless.

    Anyone – existing license holder or not – can download the UPnP-enabled public beta of Audirvana Plus here. In the spirit of Quid Pro Quo, constructive feedback should be provided via the appropriate Audirvana Plus forum thread here. The public beta will expire after 15 days.

    Want to know how Audirvana Plus’ streaming SQ compares with Roon? You don’t need me for that. You can find out for yourself by doubling down on two-week limited demo versions. Roon also give you two weeks’ service for nowt.

    Damien Plisson reckons that Audirvana Plus v3.1 proper will land sometime in late August / early September at which point a full license sells for US$74 or €64 + VAT.

    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

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