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

osx_audio_players
Classifications

I really won’t attempt to put a 1-2-3 rankings since people have different priorities when it comes to features, price, and sound quality. Clearly some players give a better value for your money, as described on the preceding pages. However, for most people, we’ll be making the purchase based on the price classification and this is how I would categorize them:

  • Entry level: Audirvana Free ($0), BitPerfect ($10)
  • Mid level: Fidelia Basic ($19.99), Decibel ($33), Audirvana+ ($49)
  • High End: Audirvana+ ($49), Fidelia Advanced ($69.98), Sonic Studio Junior ($99), Pure Music ($129), Sonic Studio MINI ($295), Sonic Studio Amarra ($695).
Final Thoughts

We often see the audio chain as follows:

Transport > Digital to Analog Conversion > Amplifier > Headphone/Speakers.

Following the Garbage In, Garbage Out principle, any distortions done in the beginning of the chain (i.e Transport section) will be carried throughout the system and out to the Headphones. This is where the players come in, to ensure the highest quality playback possible on the Transport section.

Now, if we want to zoom out a little, we’ll actually find that the audio chain covers a much wider range of elements:

Music Score > Music Performance > Recording Quality > Mastering > Storage Media > Transport > Digital to Analog Conversion > Amplifier > Headphone/Speakers.

This again reminds us to some of the points I’ve made on the “General Facts About Audio Players ” section, such as the fact that recording quality is very important, and that the quality of your playback system is going to be 2nd in comparison to the recording quality. So it’s important to be able to recognize the limitations in your system before you go out and spend tons of money on audio gear and software.

Of course the purpose of this article is to discuss the available high quality players for the OS X, and one of the first thing I want to say is that it’s quite surprising to see how the players differ in terms of sound quality. Not only that, but also the fact that every player even manage to have their own sound character (i.e: the Sonic Studio players sounding darker than the other players).

I think every player have their own plus and minuses, but I’ve outlined some of the characters and the features of the players throughout the article, and I hope that it will help you to decide on the purchase.

Gear used for review

I have to make an exception with this article as I’ve been evaluating them for as long as 10-12 months now, and I didn’t really keep a precise list of the equipments I used to evaluate them. The rough list basically covers all the articles I’ve done in the past 10-12 months, and that includes anything from a basic Fiio E10 system, all the way to a multi-thousand-dollar DAC/Amp/Headphone combination.

 

Next page: Appendix

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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 :)