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Amarra sound enhancement


agentsmith
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I just downloaded Amarra trial version to test the legendary sound enhancement noted by various users on this board.

 

My humble setup is as follow:

 

Macbook Pro 2GB RAM--FireWire--Weiss DAC2--Naim HiLine--Naim NAC202-HiCap--NAPSC--NAP200--Harbeth Monitor 30

 

Music is all in Apple Lossless, includes 16/44.1, 24/96, 24/192, 24/88.2, 24/46, 32/96.

 

The automatic switching between different sampling rate sure is handy. But....

 

I must be deaf. The other users are reporting night and day improvements. But I cannot if my life depends on it discern any differences between Amarra and no Amarra.

 

How do I test if Amarra is actually performing its magic?

 

Or is the difference so small? If it is, there are millions other variables that can make the sound change. Including psychoacoustic.

 

 

Macbook Pro/MacMini/dCS Debussy/Cambridge 650BD[br]Vitus Audio SS-010/Living Voice OBX-R2 Speakers/Ultrasone Edition 8 phones[br]Airport Express/Meridian AD88[br]

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I was testing the full version.

 

Which again brings back the question. According to people in the know, iTunes in Mac OS environment is "bit perfect". And according to Amarra, their product is also "bit perfect" when no EQ is applied.

 

If both are bit perfect, shouldn't they sound identical?

 

I have yet to see a white paper describing how Amarra enhance the experience. Except for one claim that it utilizes the CPU more efficiently. Which assumes that the system is CPU restricted, and would also be dependent on how powerful one's system is.

 

 

 

Macbook Pro/MacMini/dCS Debussy/Cambridge 650BD[br]Vitus Audio SS-010/Living Voice OBX-R2 Speakers/Ultrasone Edition 8 phones[br]Airport Express/Meridian AD88[br]

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I noticed PV is currently on post-CES special at $180US until the 18th of January.

 

With these players I think the best advice is "Listen for Yourself and Question Authority" (to twist Tim Leary a little).

 

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thanks for sharing the 'special' on the price. I've been meaning to try Pure Vinyl.

 

Sadly, I'm now in a bit of a quandary after reading Ralph's comment on another thread about the PV developer casting aspersions on a competitor's product - the claim being that Amarra (aka Player 'A' in the comparison table) is playing iTunes in something he calls "shadow" mode only - simultaneously with Amarra, only 30dB down in volume.

 

I prefer not to do business with folks employing such shenanigans.

 

clay

 

 

 

 

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OK I noticed one thing. When I play with Amarra, the "VU Meter" does not move. Does that indicate that Amarra is not active?

 

Amarra does switch to the correct sample rate automatically and shows me what file format I am playing, e.g. Lossless, MPEG.... etc.

 

What gives? Have I been using Amarra to play? If not, how do I make it work?

 

Macbook Pro/MacMini/dCS Debussy/Cambridge 650BD[br]Vitus Audio SS-010/Living Voice OBX-R2 Speakers/Ultrasone Edition 8 phones[br]Airport Express/Meridian AD88[br]

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"Does that indicate that Amarra is not active?"

 

yes, it does.

 

I'll have to look in a moment, I can't start Amarra right now as Pure Vinyl has taken over my computer and will not allow any other application to come to the forefront.

 

clay

 

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I find that both players are good and offer subtle changes over standard Itunes mostly in sound staging.

 

The new 1.2 version of Amarra sounds much better to me than earlier, and they have fixed issues i had with with volume control on startup, so its easier to manage headless. I still prefer PV, but only marginally and its fallen behind in ease of use.

 

@clay - I just looked over the table on their site, and yes, its a bit skewed in the last section. I laughed and wondered if "A" was just a typo for Amarra - if doing a comparism, do it fair. But i'm glad you are trying it out despite your reservations. And when PV opens in demo, some box requires an 'ok' click, maybe that has gotten hidden.

 

[br]Mac Mini > Lio-8 > Graaf Gm-20 > Stax ESL-F83x[br]Ipod / Wadia Dock / Wadia 830 > ULN-2 > Krell KAV400xi > B&W 805

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Hopefully you store your music files on a separate volume from OS X, and you disable journaling only on that volume.

 

It would be a bad idea to disable journaling on the OS X startup volume. Journaling is why the need to run disk directory repair utilities has pretty much vanished in recent versions of OS X.

 

Mac Mini (2012 i7) > HQPlayer > RME ADI-2 v2 > Benchmark AHB-2 > Thiel 3.7

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The sad truth is that what PV say about "competitor A" on their site and in more detail in their PDF manual - see the ghost play appendix - is accurate. Amarra is using the iTunes Visual Plugin API as a means of extracting audio from iTunes before it touches the iTunes volume control code but not before it passes through crossfade and eq section. This is why you still need to ensure the eq, crossfade etc are off AND mute iTunes volume. Having both iTunes and your kilobuck media player both simultaneously processing the same audio seems like a ugly kludge to me.

 

I'm not entirely convinced about PV and would bother purchasing even at the special price - I can hear a slight improvement but the integration is a bit clumsy still. While it hasn't seen light of day even as a beta I'm holding out high hopes for Twilight - the Audiofile Engineering guys have a fantastic suite of audio products already developed and hopefully they deliver a product that matches the same standards with their media player.

 

As an aside - I've been playing with a bit of apple example code - basically a simple one shot audio file player - which I've hacked slightly so the file plays entirely from memory. While it's not practical for listening as you have to queue up each song the sq is at least as good as PV for native sampling rate playback.

 

if you feel like trying the commandline player out I've put it up here. This is simply Apple AudioQueueTools sample code with the maximum buffer size altered to allow files up to about 500mb to be buffered in memory. Listening to ALAC rips in comparison with the same file played back by iTunes, buffered aqplay sounds smoother, less harsh in the treble and a shade darker. The file will definitely run under 10.6 and possibly under 10.5.

 

to play a file open a terminal and drag aqplay to the term window (this will give you the full path to the binary). Then drag an audio file to the same terminal window and hit return. The command should be something that looks like:

 

/Users/yourusername/Downloads/aqplay /Users/yourusername/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music/some artist/some album/01 some track.m4a

 

cheers

Paul

 

 

 

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Agreed that iTUnes and Amarra are playing simultaneously. Those who investigated Amarra upon it's arrival are well aware of this, and have been for several months, including me.

 

The part that is disingenuous is claiming that the (simultaneous) volume is only 30 db down in iTunes, implying that the difference in the sound of Amarra is due to this.

 

I've seen it posted here twice that the PV developer is claiming this. That's pathetic, in my opinion.

 

OTOH, PV have figured out a way to use iTunes differently than Amarra apparently, and I'm definitely not a fan of both apps having to run simultaneously.

 

But, if my initial experiences are remotely valid, the integration with iTunes of PV are not like Amarra, and not nearly as integrated. I don't seem to be able to use iTunes to control playback in PV. More investigation to do, obviously.

 

Lars will give us the real scoop tomorrow, he says.

 

clay

 

 

 

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If any have interest, I measure the Amarra VS iTunes in analog domain (DAC out)

 

In the Frequency response the purple line are the Amarra and the green the iTunes

 

In Harmonic distortion the orange are the Amarra and the purple the iTunes, as well the impulse graph.

 

IMHO appears that the Amarra have any kind of psycoacoustic dither (lowering the 3º harmonic distortion in the mid band), as well a better job in the low pass filter section

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Mini >Amarra Mini>Apogee MiniDAC>Ars Sonum Filarmonia SXE>Quad ESL 2805[br]www.susoramallo.com[br]

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The part that is disingenuous is claiming that the (simultaneous) volume is only 30 db down in iTunes, implying that the difference in the sound of Amarra is due to this.

@Clay

 

The statement might be somewhat misleading. I was trying to run my Konnekt 24D direct to power amp using digital volume control and rapidly discovered that the iTunes volume was utterly useless for this purpose. I found that the attenuation was very limited right until you reached the minimum level position where it suddenly muted. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the maximum attenuation iTunes in was 30dB before muting.

 

Added: I've just tested this and it is indeed 30dB before muting. I don't have a earlier version than iTunes 9 to check whether the muted end point is there.

 

cheers

Paul

 

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@Clay: "The part that is disingenuous is claiming that the (simultaneous) volume is only 30 db down in iTunes, implying that the difference in the sound of Amarra is due to this."

 

I can't find such a statement on the PV website. I even did a google search for "30db" or "30 db" limited to the "www.channld.com" domain, and nothing relevant turned up. The following footnote to their Amarra comparison table is completely accurate:

"Both the Player software and iTunes are playing the track at the same time, so the computer is doing twice as much work! (It doesn't matter that the iTunes volume is turned down, iTunes is still playing the file in tandem with the other player, placing extra burden on disk I/O and the CPU.)"

 

 

@Clay: "But, if my initial experiences are remotely valid, the integration with iTunes of PV are not like Amarra, and not nearly as integrated. I don't seem to be able to use iTunes to control playback in PV."

 

Yes, that's the tradeoff. If you want to use the iTunes transport controls (play, pause, rewind) to control playback, you must let iTunes actually play the music, as Amarra does, which doubles the CPU load.

 

PV merely uses the iTunes *database*, not the iTunes transport controls. Specifically, you select a playlist in iTunes, then tell PV to play it using the Play button within PV, not within iTunes.

 

Mac Mini (2012 i7) > HQPlayer > RME ADI-2 v2 > Benchmark AHB-2 > Thiel 3.7

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Instead of using the volume slider, the definitive way to set iTunes to the minimum volume before muting is to run this AppleScript:

tell application "iTunes" to set sound volume to 1

 

When I tested iTunes some time ago (probably in Leopard), each of the 100 volume steps in iTunes was 0.3 dB, which agrees with Paul (pj)'s measurement of 30 dB attenuation at the minimum setting.

 

Anyway, Amarra sets the iTunes volume to 0, not 1 or -30dB, so the minimum setting above zero is irrelevant.

 

In Snow Leopard, I confirmed that iTunes truly is muted when its volume is set to 0. Therefore, the iTunes output will not be mixed with the Amarra output when Amarra is running.

 

Mac Mini (2012 i7) > HQPlayer > RME ADI-2 v2 > Benchmark AHB-2 > Thiel 3.7

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@Bob

I believe Clay was referring to this passage in the PV Release Notes:

 

What’s more, we found that the iTunes volume control slider doesn't go to true zero. Even at the minimum setting, the level is a quiet, but still audible, -30 dB (note: Pure Vinyl “maps” this -30 dB iTunes setting to its internal -60 dB volume setting). Coloration, comb filtering and faint echoing results when the iTunes audio playback is mixed, by Apple’s audio API (part of the operating system), with the (slightly delayed) output of the server software. The effect will be audible, and it will also sound different every time the track is played, because the amount of delay will always be a little bit different. (Imagine your iPod slightly and randomly changing the equalizer setting, each time a track was going to be played.)

 

@Clay

 

It might be simply that your expectations are at odd with what the PV developers are trying to do:

 

The Server provides you with direct access to an ultra high quality music playback engine. However, as with computer software, there is a very, very strong temptation to "test" it by "exercising" the controls, skipping forward, back, etc. repeatedly, trying to provoke hiccups. That is, in essence, using it as a toy, instead of as a tool for serious music listening. (Since critical listening is impossible while rapidly stepping through tracks, etc., that activity is best left to native playback with iTunes, etc., anyway.)

When using the Server feature, envision how you would use a standalone, hardware based CD player (especially one having a memory play feature, which has the same side effect of delaying playback while the CD is loaded into memory). Rather than constantly exercising

the remote, just press Play, relax, and experience the superb, crystalline, highest possible quality playback available for your music...

 

cheers

Paul

 

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One additional comment on PV.

 

If you use the main iTunes library rather than a playlist it is possible to click on a track title to change tracks and the change over occurs within a few seconds which corresponds with the time it takes to buffer a track as seen by disc activity.

 

Using a playlist the behaviour seems less intuitive, but reading between the lines PV caches as much of the playlist as possible before starting playback, so you are fighting against the 800-900+mb of data the app has already cached in trying to change tracks.

 

cheers

Paul

 

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Amarra struggles with lossless ...convert some of the files to wave or aiff ..and then compare w/itunes

 

PV has no such issues..will play any format..give it a shot as well.

 

iMac i7 > Amarra Symphony | Audirvana+ > Intona Industrial > Singxer F-1 DDC > Eastern Electric Minimax DAC+ | iFi nano iDSD > Line Magnetic LM-518IA > ProAc Response 3 + REL R-528

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For the poster of the thread

 

I found Amarra makes a very small but repeatable difference; it makes images have a smidge more focus, the sound a smidge less grain. I really have to listen very hard though and IMHO this change is nothing different than you would get by moving speakers an inch or two or by altering toe in a fraction. Not worth the asking price.

 

Nyal Mellor, Acoustic Frontiers LLC.

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Nyal - Please be careful here. If I'm not mistaken you may have a software product for room correction coming out that could possibly compete with Amarra. Let me know if I'm way off here. No disrespect meant, just want to make sure everything is above board here.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing The Audiophile Style Podcast

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Paul,

 

Thanks so much for your clarifying posts, both in this thread and my 'initial experience with PV' post.

 

very much appreciated,

clay

 

PS, this was good for a laugh, as well:

 

"That is, in essence, using it as a toy, instead of as a tool for serious music listening"

 

Denigrating (potential) customers based on how they might want to use your tool and/or disguising a (potential) design flaw (as in, misunderstadning what the market might want) as a feature is an interesting sales strategy, IMO.

 

 

 

 

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