OS X Audio Players: Amarra, Audirvana, Pure Music, Fidelia, Decibel, and BitPerfect.

osx_audio_players

Fidelia

Fidelia from Audiofile engineering has the best combination of sound, user interface, and features. Looking at Audiofile Engineering’s Website, it seems clear that these guys have the most experience when it comes to designing audio softwares for the OS X (and also iOS), and that experience is evident as I compare the day-to-day usability and user-interface factor of Fidelia.

Fidelia starts as a basic $19.99 software, and it really is a solid piece of software for the price. It is the cheapest player to feature the iZotope resampler and with manual controls over the upsampling engine. Although it misses out on some features like device hog mode and memory cache playback (which you’ll get with the Free Audirvana), overall the sound quality discrepancy to the Advanced Fidelia is not as big as between the Free Audirvana to Audirvana+. Personally, I find the basic Fidelia to be a very solid player for the budget-minded, considering the list of features and sound quality that you get for $20. It is not quite as enticing as BitPerfect’s $5 price tag, but I believe the iZotope resampler is superior to the SoX resampler of BitPerfect.

Fidelia Advanced

The next step up is Fidelia Advanced which costs $49.99 on top of the basic software, and gives you more advanced features that include exclusive access to the DAC and advanced control of the iZotope resampling function. Are they really that mandatory? The exclusive DAC access can be a nice thing to have, but even without it you are already getting good sound out of the standard Fidelia. Likewise, while I love having access to the iZotope resampling parameters, one thing you need to realize is that the $49.99 add-on is not going to give you a sound that’s 2.5X better than the basic $19.99 software. But the great thing about Fidelia is that even after purchasing the $19.99 and $49.99 licenses, it’s still cheaper than the basic Junior from Sonic Studio or Channel D’s Pure Music, while offering very solid features and a far more mature user-interface.

Fidelia FHX

The latest addition to the Fidelia package is the FHX add on which is an advanced crossfeed processing control. It reminds me of the canz3D plug in, but I’ve always found canz3D to be too complex for a casual day to day use. The FHX add on is one of the best crossfeed control I’ve ever used, second to the SPL Phonitor amplifier. Although the Phonitor amp has more control over the crossfeed parameters, the FHX has the benefit of operating in the digital domain allowing for a far better preservation of signal purity. Aside from the usual sound changes associated with mixing the stereo signal (a warmer darker sound with less wide but less panned-out soundstage), signal quality remains very high with the FHX and at the moment I think this is the best crossfeed mechanism I’ve yet found (and for $49.99 it’s far more cheaper than the SPL Phonitor).

In regards to the crossfeed, basically you get two parameters to adjust: Speaker angle (0° to 60°), and intensity of the crossfeed filter (0% to 150%). The crossfeed effect also tends to lower the treble quantity and adds a tad more bass, so some basic treble/bass equalization control is also added with the FHX add-on to reverse those effects introduced by the crossfeed. Finally, you get some bonus features such as phase reversal, channel reversal, mono signal output, and solo channel features. Worth mentioning is the phase reversal feature which would give you an idea of what the sound would be like when your headphones are wired in an incorrect phase (hint: when phase inverted, soundstage tend to be wider, but don’t get fooled as the image is totally messed up with no proper center focus).

The nice thing about Fidelia is that the designer got both the important technical functions as well as the practical day-to-day usability functions right. Let me start with the latter. For instance, not only do you get a playlist window, but you also get to create multiple different playlists on that playlist window. Even better, the Itunes Library is also accessible through the same playlist window, making accessing files super convenient and easy. The other feature I love for day to day usability is auto detection of external DACs. Say you started the player without a DAC plugged in (which happens very often if you are using a laptop), music would be playing through the speakers. The moment you plug in a DAC, Fidelia would automatically switch the output to that new DAC (or if you have two DACs plugged in Fidelia will switch to the DAC added last). Of course you can still select DACs manually through the preference windows, but that automatic switching feature is very nice to have. Lastly, the fact that Fidelia’s preferences settings and GUI are among the nicest of the bunch is just a great thing to have.

With Fidelia, You can toggle between a few different sizes for the player interface: Large, Medium, Small, Smaller, and Mini. I don’t know who would need the Large and Medium size windows, and up until recently I was mostly using Small and Mini, but the recent addition of the Smaller setting has been the size I use the most often.

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  • Søren

    Mike, I a bit confused (because I don’t know this stuff).

    You talk about better than Core Audio up sampling but don’t most USB DAC’s require the output to go via Core Audio?

    Also all those advanced features confuses me, I thought it was really a matter of the decoder of the audio file (FLAC, MP3, …) decoding the format correctly and simply sending this information bit perfectly/correct to the USB and let the DAC do the magic? So my question here, should any player that will decode the files correctly not be as good as any player when it comes to sound quality as it it is the DAC that does the stuff?

    Thank you

  • Timthemailman

    One thing amazes me most about all of these audio players (I have four of them installed on my iMac): Every music file in my iTunes library sounds so different through each player. A live concert Beethoven cd file sounds too harsh with my AudirvanaPlus but sounds more full and “present” on my PureMusic. But MacCartney’s “New” sounds warm and rich with the Audirvana! That’s the fun of it!

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      Fun yes, but are we sure we want standard players to change the sound?

      • Timthemailman

        Well, L, considering that properly engineering a recording is a long forgotten art, I do alter what I listen to just a little. And, yes, I admit these players do color the sound, so do dacs and tube amps (and headphones!). But I don’t have the budget for Audese (?) and $20,000 dacs. Also, my mac doesn’t offer Integer mode.

        • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

          I can see where the different sound from software comes in useful. thanks for making me see that. but on the other hand, like Dale, I think there should be at least one “mode” that sounds the same on all players

          • Timthemailman

            L, I’m late for work, but I’ll get back to that tonight. Thanks!

      • dalethorn

        It bothers me that different players sound so different. A music player has to have a default tuning? I don’t get it at all.

        • Timthemailman

          Each of these players has default settings which are designed by the engineers of each company and results in the signature sound of each. A lot of complicated engineering! Dale, I just wanted to get a truer sound from my files and the makers of these programs claim they can deliver that. Upsampling for example. And less CPU usage. My biggest gripe is that the PDF owner’s manuals in many cases don’t really explain the settings as the author of this article can attest.

          • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

            That actually in impressive, like they don’t know their own software :)