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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 HighResAudio.com’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 H. Darko

John H. Darko

John is the editor of DAR, from whose ad revenues he derives an income. He is also an occasional contributor to 6moons and AudioStream and currently resides in Berlin, Germany.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
Instagram: DarkoAudio
Facebook: DAR

20 Comments

  1. What is the process by which the A+ software, by virtue of playing bit perfectly, reduces the electrical noise transmitted through the USB cable from the host to the DAC?

    • I’m not a software developer so that’s a question best emailed to Damien Plisson.

  2. Has there ever been anything more complicated in audio than MQA?
    After my digital journey I understand it now when I run into people that tell me they like playing CD’s.
    Insert disk, push play, enjoy music.
    Just saying…..

    • I think it depends on one’s understanding of how computers work, how to set them up as digital front ends and troubleshoot if necessary. I feel completely at home in this environment but I also understand that others do not. What that means is that one man’s ‘complicated’ is another man’s ‘simple’.

  3. I just wish this was available for Windows and not just macOS. I can’t justify buying a Mac just for running this

    • Audirvana+ v.3 sounds much better than the OSX TIDAL Player, but still not as good as the Amarra for TIDAL. I’m utilizing both players. But Amarra is so buggy at the moment – no fun to use it!! 🙁

  4. I’m now trialing this Or deer varna and am really enjoying the sound. I tried Amarra but just could not get it or its remote to work consistently. The A+ remote works well and also allows me to control Tidal. Sold!

  5. Still no technical reason for unfold number 2 being done in hardware. Audirvana and others basically have the ‘unfold 1 or else’ gun to their heads if they want to remain relevant. Sad times for this industry. Rather than embracing open-source ideas like Hi-Res 192 Khz+/DSD we get a locked down, lossy format. Read the technical papers. MQA throws out samples. Throws out. But yeah it sounds better. Too many people on the bandwagon, not asking legitimate engineering and use questions. Do you want DRM heavy or light? How does MQA allow for the little guys like Lampizator, Audio-Gd, TotalDAC, etc. to remain free to create with out MQA effecting their business? Their will be fewer innovative, small DAC manufacturers going forward and this is a tragedy for the industry.

  6. will version 3 be worth it over 2.6.6, I don’t use MQA . Any benefits. Its my main software for high res??

    • You’re best advised to download the trial of v3 when it drops and compare the pair.

  7. iZotope is an industry-standard RSC, or DSP for players. It’s been around for a while and sounded very good, albeit it still had audible issues for which digital was blamed. Digital is not the problem, or why it did not sound as good as analog in some systems. The problem was iZotope which MQA will not “cure.” But GoodHertz, another SCR can cure MQA’s issues or dispense with them altogether, which will not sound superior to GoodHertz. In fact, arguably, the other way ’round.

    Audirvarna needs to incorporate GoodHertz engine and remove iZotope.
    And then the rest can remove MQA, the hype, and get back to reality.

    Compare here: http://src.infinitewave.ca/?Top=GoodHertz_LP&Bot=GoodHertz_MP

    • Not sure what you’re trying to say – GoodHertz does not test as well as iZotope, according to the page you’re referencing.

      iZotope is the “gold standard”.

  8. Upgraded to version 3.0 today and it sounds superb. Irrespective of all the MQA controversy. In my setup A+ Software Decoded MQA is bonza.

Global feedback: lounge room or listening room – or both?

HighResAudio.com calls for a deeper technical analysis of MQA