Amarra for iTunes at RMAF...

As my listening habits are split about 70% from iTunes and 30% vinyl I was pretty excited to see Stereomojo report on the new Amarra software for iTunes that can increase the sound quality of your digital music.

I was somewhat less excited to see that the price tag on this software add-on is almost $1k. Has anyone heard the Amarra software and have thoughts on if it's worth this price? Are there any similar products out there for a more reasonable price?

Happy listening!
Interesting. I am heading towards iTunes eventually. (Time to dump the 5 CD Megachangers) If I eventually go this route then I will need room modal correction for the bass signals - so I anticipate I will need a pro quality digital Paremetric EQ plug-in for iTunes (I like to be able to set frequency and Q as well as depth of notch filters precisely). Does one exist? Or is Amarra it?

FWIW: I ran tests recently with serving lossless from a wireless NAS 1 TB HDD to iTunes and played wirelessly via an Airport express with Toslink to a Benchmark DAC1. Extensive testing (flicking between optical sources with a remote from listening chair) has convinced me that there is no audible sound difference (to me) between a CD Toslink to DAC1 and the same CD burned (with error correction set to on) into iTunes and played lossless via a Airport Express toslink to DAC1.

Of course, I did not try a magic green marker on the CD's and my toslink cables were different in both type and length too - so my tests are probably invalidated for most folks with golden ears.
Yes they do offer a demo/trial version:
I think you will find the Amarra only works for firewire output from itunes to Weiss equipment. On the Weiss I tried it was night and day difference. But into the DCS via digital outs made no difference.
Their website carries a list of converters the software will work with and they make a generic claim that it will work with most USB and Firewire converters.
The Amarra software for Itunes was $355 at the RMAF. Add the price of a Mac computer if necessary.
A new version will be avaiable on the 15th of this month.
Heard the software in a couple of rooms, with upgrade, and it sounded great. Opens up the sound and takes care of Itunes nasties.
I am probably moving to a Mac system using Amarra. I am not happy with having a switching power supply in a computer near a signal source, but such a system has sounded good in several suites at RMAF and CES, and it is certainly convenient and more user friendly than using crap like Foobar which lives up to its name. I also hate remote desktops for control. Weiss had a wireless mouse that worked well.

I guess it is okay to use USB2 for data exchanges, but certainly not for sending information to a dac. I will only use firewire.

In my opinion there are enormous differences among digital hard-drive music systems, and most are unlistenable. My present Exemplar music server sounds great but it is too finicky, often driving me to pull out what few hairs I have on my head.
I just ordered the Amarra mini, I'll have to check it out.
It's currently 10% off as a RMAF discount, don't know how long that will last.
>The big problem with Amarra is that it handles only uncompressed files.

There will be an update soon to accommodate Apple Lossless.
Tfl30, is "it" the mini?

Drubin, I have heard that you can bypass Amarra on playback. I would suspect that Apple Lossless files would not equal those of no compression files.
You can turn Amarra on and off as you like, but to date it won't turn on with any compressed format files. Does no compression sound better than Apple Lossless or FLAC? Maybe, but I'm sure they will be improved by Amarra, unless you don't find Amarra an improvement.
I am ready to pull the plug on the Mini but wonder if it is as good as full version?
I do not care much for features or other limitation as long as quality is on par with full version.

The mini version is supposed to be identical in sound quality as the full version. Note that it will only support sample rates up to 24-bit/96kHz as opposed to the full hi-rez formats that the full version is capable of. But for those with dacs limited to 24/96 like myself, it's not an issue. It's also my understanding that one could pay the difference and upgrade later to the full version if they wanted to.
For anyone who is interested, here's a link to the currently available RMAF 10% discount page:
Heymikey - thanks for link and info about the differences between the two.
I am aware of sample rate limitation and few other features which are found in full version, but it is the basic sound quality that I was really concerned about. If you say that SQ of both is identical then everything is peachy and I should get Amarra Mini by the end of next week.

Thanks Again

Mrjstark, you're welcome. Here's the Mini info page if you haven't seen it already:
Mine will be here next week too.
VRS is offering 10% off Amarra for RMAF, we also updated our website with more information about Amarra and lots of screenshots.
Amarra uses a software protection program called ILock which is a combination of a Dongle and software that installs at the system level in your computer. Before you install Amarra you should do a Google search for "Ilock" and also check out the posts on Computer Audiophile "Amarra installs a Rootkit".

Many people refuse to use software that uses these types of protection systems because they have caused serious computer problems.
Roccoriley, I read the entire thread and really don't know what to make of it. As an Apple user since the 80s, I don't feel very threatened, but having heard copy protection, I cannot help but wonder if ILock in the Amarra might actually harm the music. At any rate, I want to escape Foobar and cannot tolerate Itones, so I have little choice.
I read all the relevant forums and don't recall a single Amarra user mentioning any problems in this area. I don't think it's anything to worry about.

TBG, you do know that you still use iTunes when you use Amarra, right? Hopefully it's the sound of it you cannot tolerate and not the UI or functionality, otherwise you are SOL.
Yes, Itunes is the control.

I talked with Daniel Weiss at the RMAF who was using Amarra on a Mac Mini. He was not concerned and indeed recommended Amarra.
If it makes my computer based system sound a bit better ..... that is all I want.
I do have some concerns tho.... Not with Amarra itself but with my computer setup.
I use MacBook Air which has only one USB. (Isabellina HPA DAC, Empirical Audio Offramp Turbo, Ridge Street Audio Design Poiema!!! R-v3 USB Digital Master USB cable) Will including quality USB Hub degrade the sound or compromise my setup in any way?
If it is a problem, I would like to use (purchase) Mac Mini ....... MacBook Air is mostly used on the go so it is not something that did not cross my mind.
My Air is 1.6 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 2GB 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM.
I am not sure if that is optimal but if I was getting the Mini, what spects would you recommend? I figure 4GB memory but how about the processor speed?

Mrjstark, see the review in 6moons on the Minerva
from all that I have learned, you want to avoid USB2. I am getting a Mac Mini for what the Sonic Studios setup says.
I am getting the big one, but you will have to get an external raid hard drive with firewire connections.
I have experimented extensively with Amarra, and wouldn't be without it.

The best solution I found was to use a powerful Mac (more power is a good thing) with 8GB of RAM (more RAM is a good thing), Amarra/iTunes, and outputting through an Empirical Offramp 3 and an excellent USB cable (I like the Offramp as it allows me a world of DAC choices).

I also found that with my 24/96 DAC, I was best to convert all my files to 24/96 and store them at that resolution, uncompressed. Its a bit like the idea of feeding your LCD with a file that matches its natural resolution. This takes load off both the Mac (no unpacking of ALAC files on the fly), and off the DAC (no real-time upsampling to do). Both can then work more accurately. And you really should dedicate a Mac to the task, not use it for anything else.

Peoples' preferences about upsampling versus 'native' blends/confuses two different issues. Upsampling, if done well can be very beneficial, up to a point (which depends on your DAC chip), but doing it in real time taxes your DAC's performance. I use AIFF as it can handle tags etc, unlike WAV, and use SampleManager software for the conversion to 24/96.

Remember that the digital to analog conversion essentially upsamples in the way that it joins the dots in the analog domain between the discrete samples. Different algorithms for joining the dots sound different, even though the imaginary data is supposedly beyond our hearing range. There is a trade-off between how much of the imaginary data is done in the digital domain (upsampling) and how much is done by the DAC process. Doing it offline is a good thing as I have said before, but there is a limit to how high you should upsample - mainly based on whether your DAC works well (or at all) at the higher bit rate.
Antipodes_Audio, thanks for your thoughts regarding mac/Amarra implementation. I am also using an Empirical Audio Offramp 3, with a Locus Design Axis usb cable from my mac mini. The mac mini is upgradeable to 4gb of RAM (it will only utilize 3.5gb of that), and I have done that with mine, which I use as a music server only. I would guess there are a lot of people using the mini as a music server, due to it's unobtrusiveness. I keep my mini on the stereo rack and run a cable from it to the tv on the other side of the room, and use the tv as monitor when needed. So, no monitor on the stereo rack.
Regarding converting your files to 24 bit and storing them at that rate, what program do you use for this? I'm getting ready to rip some standard 16 bit cd's and may try what you're doing. It sounds logical, although I'm not fully convinced it would be beneficial.
BTW, do you use the Amarra mini of full version?
HeyMikey, I am using Amarra mini at this stage but also ran the full version for a month's trial before deciding. I may upgrade to the full version later, but its only advantages for me would be the higher sampling than 96kHz and I am currently limited to 96kHz by both my DAC and the Offramp. I note that Dan Lavry holds strongly to the view that upsampling to 96kHz is still better than upsampling to 192kHz, so I am not fretting about that one.

I converted my files using Sample Manager, which you can find at Use the iZotope options for resampling and redithering. iZotope is the best sounding set of algorithms that I have tried, and it seems that many in the industry use it.

The redithering to 24 bit provided the most significant improvement, more so than the upsampling.

The hassle with Sample Manager is that you can only batch convert around 100 files at a time or some cache fills up and the program has to be restarted.

It was recommended to me that the best process is to redither to 24 bits first, and resample second - which I just accepted and didn't test myself.

I recommend you make yourself a 24 bit version of a few songs, a 96 kHz version and a 24/96 version and then compare them with a 16/44.1 version of the file. Trying this out for myself with a DAC that upconverts to 96kHz, I preferred the 24/96 file. Trying this with a NOS DAC where the sampling rate is switchable between 44.1, 48, 88, and 96, I also preferred the 24/96 file.

For those that are interested in such things, I do employ double blind tests routinely, but in a way that is helpful as opposed to confusing - but to describe it here would be a long post.
I experimented with Amarra.

Macbook with 4gb Ram and SSD HD.

I returned the ilok for a refund.

I'll live with iTunes and a PWT until Audiofile-Engineering comes out with their playback software.
Kana813, you need to use a suitable way of getting the bits out of the Macbook or else using Amarra is pointless. An asynchronous USB Dac, an Empirical Audio interface, a Lynx card etc. If you don't then you won't hear any of the benefit of using Amarra. The jittery output will render it moot.
Antipodes_audio- the output of my Macbook was reclocked via an upgraded Genesis Digital Lens, so jitter wasn't an issue. I also tried an asynchronous USB to SPDIF converter
before I returned the itok.

IMO, the difference between Amarra and iTunes isn't anywhere near the difference between DACs.

Plus, for less than the discounted cost of the full version
of Amarra, I can get the new Auraliti Player.
What was the asynchronous USB to SPDIF convertor Kana813? I am not aware of any other than the Wavelength Wavelink. There is a Musiland but on examining the board it is clear that it cannot be asynchronous, despite the claims. I would be very keen on getting one if there truly is one on the market. The Wavelength one isn't available yet I don't think.

I don't share your faith in the Genesis Digital lens rendering jitter not to be an issue, it is just a PLL device, but if you are right that it does then of course Amarra would make no difference, and you could use any old PC or Mac you like with any old crappy cable you like to feed it.

The asynchronous USB to SPDIF convertor was an ART Legato. It uses Streamlength firmware.

I suggest you read the Stereophile review:
of the Genesis Digital Lens before saying "it is just a PLL device." I'll bet you've never heard one.

PSAudio will be coming out with a new digital lens that will handle hirez data.
I have owned 2 Genesis Digital Lenses Kana813 so you lost the bet. I will have a look at the ART Legato. I have a V3 Cosecant from Wavelength, which uses asynchronous USB, and find its performance is affected by the computer used (and Amarra), but it is pretty effective. Having the ART Legato would enable me to use a wider range of DACs, like the Offramp does. I will be interested in comparing the Legato and Offramp.
Just noticed the Legato is constrained to 44.1. That's a shame, but at $500 will get one anyway. Thanks Kana813.
PS Audio don't have any dealers in this part of the world and I have found that PS Audio don't respond to email inquiries unfortunately. The Perfect Wave DAC would be interesting with the ethernet bridge. It will be interesting to see whether the very promising idea of ethernet transport lives up to its potential when done by an audiophile firm - as opposed to the just OK efforts of Logitech and Sonos.

So, when does Amarra decide to get into the other 90% of the digital industry and engineer their plug in so it will work with Windoes and non Async DACs with the same results it provides Apple users with now?

Seems to me one should go where the better opportunities for some real $$$ are, 'PCs'.

or it is possible I suppose Amarra simply optimizes or lives on the hardware tech presently employed in Macs & Async DACs & the IEEE interface. A very narrow audience.

I hope they broaden their horizons at some point... as I for one am not likely to rush out and buy another confuser, DAC, and pricey application, just to see...
I guess because the Mac audio stack is better than the Windows one, its a genuine multi-tasking OS and even without Amarra they sound better. This isn't about finding another use for your PC, it is about dedicating and optimising a computer to serving a digital music stream. Why not buy the better product for the task?
Blindjim, you are assuming that Amarra only works with asynchronous dacs or the Weiss firewire dac, I believe you are mistaken. But yes, it is Apple OS software.
BTW, thanks to all, a lot of good info here in this thread on implementing computer based audio.
Blindjim, you are uninformed about Apple's share of the market for computer over $1000.

Has it occurred to you that it might be far easier to design a program such as Amarra for Macs? USB2 outputs are available on Macs, but many would argue that Firewire is superior, even with Wavelength's new asynchronous software. Finally, this is largely professional gear going for the best possible solutions and not overly concerned about the price.
Antipodes_audio- If you're interested in a Legato, I suggest you get an order in. The first production run won't last long.


Better for the task? You’re not serious, are you? BTW I do live to find other uses for my PC, doesn’t everyone?

I wasn’t aware Mac were now considered the only computer from which audio playback should occur. Are you an audio dealer? I’ve heard tones like this before and that’s usually where they originate from.

It sounds as though you’re a tad biased towards Mac’s. Saying they are the best at anything is like picking SS over Tubes or vice versa, or selecting one DAC, CDP, Amp, etc., over another, and applying a likewise claim to it/them. Ridiculous. At the very best, it’s juvenile. At worst, it’s erudite.

You’ve taken my meaning out of context and your bias shows.If, in your own words, “it is about dedicating and optimising a computer to serving a digital music stream”, and only one path to that end is taken, then as I said, it is a very narrow one indeed.

That’s just plain fact.

We are after all, just talking about a ‘plug in’, and not a stand alone application… in fact a quite pricey & dedicated plug in with limited versatility.

I’m not discounting it’s worth or the energy which has gone into it’s construction or attempting to slight those involved in the process. Not one wit! No sir. Indeed I must congratulate them for this innovation.

But bits are just bits…. Regardless the name on the appliance, PC or Mac, bits are still bits. Not only should an alternative or collateral path for the greater bulk of the digital computing industry be delved into, the yield there would be exponentially larger… and I don’t care who you are, if you’re in business you want to appeal to the biggest slice of the buying public as you can, don’t you?

Maybe things have changed. Sorry. I was out sick that day.

There are some very valid reasons why the computing public at large doesn’t line up at the Apple Store every morning to buy a Mac. Nor do they alternatively inundate the PC vendors solely. PCs provide the same platform for development as do Macs… and have a far, far, larger ownership base. Additionally there are applications dedicated to, and specifically written for PCs which are not cross platform programs. I know of at least two. They are indispensable for just simple operation of a computer for some. Apple has long since ignored that erstwhile portion of the consumer base. Add in their proprietary peripheral sales arm of the show and it’s a bit off-putting… and lets not even talk about the price diffs between the opposed computing clubs…. And well, it is what it is. So be it.

To each their own. I’ll not slight one choice over another. One buys that which they wish to buy and for their own reasons. I’ve lived long enough to find out there is no singularly right way, and in fact there usually are several. Each just as viable as another. Their outcomes are the subjective cases.

Unless some propriaetary aspect of one of these platforms is being preyed/optimized upon, and the other is not delved into, I see it as perhaps just a shortcut is being taken. Definitely for now, maybe the future will yield some broadening of this perspective, and why I posed the question of when might this added platform development, or endeavor yet begin?

If indeed it is all about optimizing a computer to serving a digital music stream…. Then lets optimize ALL the computers to those same ends. And this just in, “We all do exactly that.”

Otherwise, it’s like making aftermarket parts for the XKE Jaguar only.
===== ====== ======

Actually no I wasn’t saying/thinking along the ASync DAC lines…. I looked over the website some already. The latter part of your comment on Amarra’s dedication solely to the Apple OS, & iTunes software is my point of friendly contention, inquiry, and possible confusion but not which DAC can be used.

I was prepared to give Amarra a go until I saw that Mac OS ONLY tid bit, and wondered privately than aloud, if iTunes will work on PC, admittedly poorer than some other media players do, then why wouldn’t the ‘mini player’ plug-in work with iTunes in a Window atmosphere?

I’m not keen on the Windows iTunes app at all. It’s bloated and consumes enormous gobs of CPU usage. I used it for the GUI and found it better than some previous media management applications as well as the ALAC file types had their own appeal.

There are much better ‘sounding’ media players for PC than iTunes irrespective of the file format being played. I use iTunes now only for streaming internet content… ie., web radio.

AS one other poster said already, I’m about the sound. Consequently if another bit of software is truly some killer app I’ll buy it… and was about too save for the Mac OS only caveat.
==== ===== ===== =====

You have dissected the computers being purchased. I made no such distinction. I spoke of them all. Here there and everywhere! Professionally, and privately. Nationally and internationally. ALL of them.

Has it occurred to you that it might be far easier to design a program such as Amarra for Macs?

Absolutely. It was my initial thought and I’ve danced around that here as I didn’t want to be so dismissive of the Amarra developer’s abilities en masse. Thank you.


I wasn’t overly concerned about the price, just the (as you put it) developers taking the softer easier path.’

I’ll admit too, I’m not in the ‘price no object’ flotilla. Few are if you ask me. I have nothing against those whose pockets are bottomless. Yayyy them… or perhaps, you. It’s none of my concern either way nor anyone else’s I’d say. Attitude however is another matter. If rude, it belies one station and lessens the nature of the comment from one of altruism to one more aggressive.

I asked an honest question and implied nothing else. When one reads between the lines they then, become the author.
Blindjim, "bits are just bits" and everyone is entitled to their opinion. I guess that says it all in my opinion. In the meantime, I am buying a 13" Macbook with a SSD drive, Amarra, and a Weiss Minerva.

I expect that Window 7 will make MS competitive again, but we will have to wait and see.

10-4. Correctamundo. Everyone is entitled to their say... no prob.

Congrats on this upcomning move to the Minerva. Weiss DACs have interested me for some time i'M SURE IT'S A VERY GOOD DAC.

When the folks making adaptive software get on the stick and make it cross platform capable to Lenux, Windows & Mac... I'll hopefully be able to give that a go as well. Currently they're not up for '7' just yet either. lol

By then however, Blue Ray will be extinct or some newer format will be the deal. 'Til then I'm OK with being ahead of most CDPs using what I have on hand.

It do slow one down, but then it's not a keeping up with the Jones', or a race either... it's just a past time that is aimed at having fun. Not reigning in my ego at times sure does prevent that from happening for me, now & then.
In many ways I agree with our passionate friend Blindjim. Unfortunately in the real world bits are not only bits because they get transported from one place to another through all manner of software and circuits. It would seem the moving of the bits is where the ideal world starts to fall away and problems arise.

I have Macs and PCs all geared towards music production and playback. I like both formats. The fact is that Macs straight out of the box seem better suited to music applications. However a PC built and programmed to deal with music will be as good if not better than any Mac. But every PC I have owned has taken some effort to make it work to its best. But if you factor in the price difference, the PC will be a "better" machine although you are on your own with it.

This is why I think many go for the easy Mac option. Each model is exactly the same wherever in the world you are. This cannot be said for most PCs which can be built from an huge range of components from different manufacturers, causing many of the issues and compatibility problems found on the PC platform. ie This motherboard with that chipset etc.(sometimes an advantage)

Regarding Amarra mini, I found it worked very well over firewire with Weiss equipment. I have not had time to try it with other firewire interfaces to judge it. (I have a few different interfaces for pro audio work (RME/MOTU/Apogee), and some do work with Amarra.)

However I would not say the little Weiss is the last word in digital on its own, but at that price the Weiss DAC/Amarra/itunes is extremely good and hard to beat.

It is pointless to use itunes/Amarra from the digital output of your computer to a DAC. Amarra made little if no difference. The Little Weis DAC was average using it non firewire from s/dif and optical inputs. But I must say running itunes firewire with Amarra to the Weiss was significant.
Blindjim, you have accused me of a few things, and with no justification. What is it you have to hide? The statement that bits is bits does say it all. Timing of those bits is critical to great sound and I am surprised there are still people that don't get that.

Let's take just one of your accusations - that I am biased towards Macs. I have owned computers since the first PC in 1980 and the first Mac I purchased was about six months ago I think. I am typing this post on a PC, because I like it better than the Mac. I have always very much disliked Macs as I am an old DOS-head who knows how to wring every last bit of performance out of a PC and I am pretty ignorant when it comes to Macs. Those are facts. The only reason why I have a Mac in the house is that I had just spent months comparing different PC builds, file format and software player combinations, including the cMP builds, and then tried a bog standard Mac and was utterly surprised to hear what a Mac could do without breaking a sweat. Not anywhere near perfect but detail resolution, dynamics and PRAT were superior to any iteration of PC I had tried to date. So much so that it was screamingly obvious that the Mac had something very important going for it. That fairly standard Mac did in fact suffer a bit of glare compared with the PC and so I set out to see what could be done to remove it.

This is a forum Blindjim - a place where people state their opinions without the need to state their scientific evidence, or have to repeatedly say IMO ad nauseum. Your attack of me for stating my opinion says a lot about you buddy. Your accusations of bias and some percuniary motive show you up for what you are. No I don't sell Macs. Do you accuse everyone that has an opinion that is different to yours of being a vendor of what they like?

I stated my opinion on my conclusions about what sounded best to me following man months of effort to try just about everything I could. You stated your opinion, not about equipment, but of me. Where do you get the right to do that Blindjim. You don't know me or anything about me. Search my posts and you will see I have declared my interest as a designer and marketer of cables. I refrain from commenting on cables in any way that might be a conflict of interest. I do not have anything to do with any computer audio products. At one point I looked at doing that but have decided against it - so I feel I should be allowed to post my opinions without personal attacks.

Lets just take one last point from your rant. You state you disagree with me that we should attempt to create a sound system in its own right. I believe that deciding an USB device should perform well on anyone's PC is counter to just about anything else audiophiles seem to agree on, therefore I use a Mac for music (only) and PCs for everything else. Your position is that that is unreasonable. Do you, Blidjim, insist that your speakers should be good plant stands too, use your DVD player as a CD transport because they jolly well should be able to do both jobs, insist on a teflon coating on your amps so that the fried eggs don't stick? So why insist that computer audio should be dumbed down to run on your workhorse, general purpose PC?