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Sonic Studio Amarra Music Player Review

sonic studio amarra review

TL;DR:

Sonic Studio Amarra HiFi Review. Amarra is an incredibly good audiophile Mac OS X music player that streamlines your experience and has powerful file processing technology.


Review Preface:

The American software manufacturer is one which has been at the forefront in the production of CD's, pioneered the digital Red Book (the mastering quality music format), and professional mastering software. Starting life in the 1980's, Sonic Studio has a proven track record in the professional music industry that has subsequently led to the development of an audiophile consumer audio player that brings the same premium DAW quality audio playback in a simple format package that is intuitive for those whom are both familiar with iTunes and fanatical about audio digital lossless quality playback.


Install:

In terms of unboxing there really isn't a physical package as the Amarra player only comes via digital distribution. With this noted I shall outline the following simple purchasing process. When purchasing Amarra you should appreciate that this is an application that is best suited for users with high-quality DAC's and audio interfaces that are paired with modest to premium monitoring playback devices. Although Amarra can be upgraded at any point, you should additionally consider the three different packages that are on offer; Amarra 'Hi-Fi' (€39.00) is the most restricted version that doesn't support continuous playback, standard 'Amarra' (€189.00) is the middle-of-the-road package that will satisfy most, and Amarra 'Symphony' (€379.00) is the high-end suite with EQ options. Without detailing the pros and cons of each separate software clients we would like to inform you that we will be reviewing the standard version of Amarra, and if you wish to take a look at the differences then please head over to the Sonic Studio website by clicking 'here'. Alternatively you can demo the software for fifteen days by downloading the installer, and then choose to buy with the steps listed below.,


Purchasing Amarra is quite simple, head on over to the link supplied on the Sonic Studio website for purchase, this will then take you over to their client 'Mediarte' where you can pay for Amarra by card or PayPal. Following this you can download your version of Amarra and your activation code will be sent to you in an email. Please be aware that the Amarra licence will only function for one install on one computer. During the install and activation we encountered no problems at all, and everything went swimmingly. We have however been notified that users who used Amarra for the trial period that they have encountered some issues inputting their legitimate authorisation code. In relation to this we have been reliably informed that if this does happen to you, then you should remove Amarra from you system and reinstall the programme. For the following review we will be using Amarra version 2.5, a Prism Sound Orpheus connected with AudioQuest Firewire and Epiphany Acoustics Mains Cables, where the outputs are a pair of Beyerdynamic T90's, Grado RS1i's, Heir Audio 4.Ai's, and feature a matched pair of Dynaudio BM6a MK2's.


Features:

Currently on the market there are a number of high-fidelity desktop music players that claim to provide their users with premium quality sound, and this appears to be a growing trend. Here at The Pro Audio Web Blog we have been fortunate to try almost all of current releases on the market and would like to start detailing the features with the knowledge that Amarra has the best perceived sound quality and fidelity. So, why are we giving you this information so early on in the review? Simple, unlike all the other players if you are familiar with iTunes (like the billion other users on the planet), then you will know that no matter what version of Amarra you purchase, all seamlessly integrate as a plug-in, or extension, to the iTunes user interface. Also, unlike other music players, you can use the standard iTunes keyboard shortcuts to control Amarra when in iTunes mode.


As seen within the picture above, when you load iTunes Amarra will automatically open as well and add a simple interface to the top of the iTunes window. Forgetting the self-explanatory volume slider on the left hand side, within this elongated window you can select to load the tracks into your computers RAM for seamless playback, or can switch Amarra from being a plug-in into the standalone Amarra playlist window. Notably the standalone Amarra player looks very basic with no pseudomorphism, just a black screen with a very 80's appearance and simplistic user interface. For a premium player I do believe that this budget appearance will offend the fashion conscious, and really is the biggest disappointment to the software's capabilities. It is here that we shall break away from the simplistic and delve into much deeper territory... into the guts of Amarra we go.


There will be a percentage of you who are skeptical about the software of hi-def music players so this is why we will now go into the serious details and processes that Amarra performs to deliver you an audio quality that is far superior than what you may have perviously thought. Without offence, everyone should know that, on its own, iTunes audio processing engine is really not very good regardless of if the music it processes is 'red-book', lossless, via lossy third party codecs, or indeed even Apples own AAC lossy audio download files that are paid for fairly and labeled as 'mastered for iTunes'. What Amarra does is simply replace the iTunes engine and 'processor' with the ultra precise 'Sonic Studio' engine which processes the digital data in a much better way with a nice rounded feel, additionally Sonic Studio uses its own dithering algorithm to sample down music, allows music to be loaded into the cache for a smooth transition, and supports all sequential music playback sample rates up to 384kHz and a 24 bit-rate. If this isn't enough Amarra communicates with the Core Audio settings to automatically apply sample rate switching on your DAC. All of these settings can be adjusted in the preferences pane, and you do have the option to apply EQ with Sonic Studios own plug-in. Amarra does also offer easy and first class FLAC to AIFF conversion as iTunes doesn't currently support FLAC. In summary, both in iTunes mode and Amarra playlist mode Amarra is an intuitive interface that works well and provides some serious 'under the hood' upgrades.


Function and Sound Quality:

Since updating to the version 2.5 of Amarra I have not experienced as many issues as there used to be. Although the standard Amarra player supports seamless track playback occasionally there can be delays between tracks which can disturb your experience of Amarra as the icon bobs up and down in the dock to tell you it is actually processing something. Also every time you will want to 'shutdown' you will notice that iTunes and Amarra has to be properly exited before hand otherwise iTunes and Amarra will cancel shutdown... this can become annoying. When paying the price that you have for Amarra you expect both excellent sound quality and function, however, Amarra does have its faults which I am hoping Sonic Studio will improve.


Overall the sonic quality of Amarra is a drastic change from iTunes, it sounds incredibly detailed and is the true definition of sonic perfection. Although parallels should always be avoided in the review setting, I can comfortably inform you that Amarra offers the best audio playback quality than anything else we have encountered, and if it was just down to this audio quality then Amarra would easily win a five star review, but it is the bugs as outlined above that places this as a four star package. Even with mentioning this I would like to give some more information regarding the sound quality of Amarra, and how exactly it holds a ground of its own. First, even if you cannot afford the full Amarra price or think that it is a bit overpriced then I would really urge you to commence a trial so that you can A/B it against the standard iTunes processing. Even with the most basic audio setup you will notice a difference that is highly palatable. Amarra is extraordinarily defined and perfectly sonically balanced, and the easiest way to describe what it does to the sounds is to say that it doesn't add anything to the audio, Amarra just opens up the music into the soundstage that it was produced for. Some might describe that the music that they had been listening to for years now appears to have a three dimensional feel, or element of air between each instrument. I would definitely say that the nuances of reverb tails are defined and not lost into the void, or dead space. By all means feel free to try Amarra on any genre you feel like and there will be no perceived difference in the way that it performs, that is because Amarra is what it is. It doesn't colour the audio in a way that it means that it will fit with certain genres better than others, hell I love its performance on everything, and if you do want to colour the audio then add some of the professional Amarra EQ... it's your music, your experience, so make it at the best that it can be, although do listen to a well recorded classical track before you install Amarra and After.


Review Conclusion:

Amarra is an excellent hi-definition player that processes audio in the best way possible. I would liken the way that Amarra performs to exactly the same quality as if  you were to load your lossless files into one of the major DAW's and use them for playback. Amarra is intuitive to use, although does have some aesthetic and minor-function issues, and will certainly live up to expectations. Currently the price that Amarra is selling for is definitely on the high side, but please perform a trial because if you like it then the Hi-Fi version is cheap and then you can upgrade for a reduced fee. I really cannot fault the audio quality here, it is second to none, so my words will mean little in comparison to what you should hear with your ears. Although The Pro Audio Web Blog would love to award Sonic Studio's Amarra with a five star award for its performance, we have to account for some minor issues, and this is the reason for the four star rating. Either way, we love Amarra!


Edd Harris

Edd Harris - 15th June 2013

Global RRP: €189.00

Editors Rating:

Four Star Award
Sonic Studio Amarra
4/5 stars
Sonic Studio Amarra HiFi Review. Amarra is an incredibly good audiophile Mac OS X music player that streamlines your experience and has powerful file processing technology.