During my sonic journey from doubter to convert, I kept asking myself, “Why does Amarra only make a difference with some setups and not with others?” My hypothesis is that a system must have adequate resolution and a sufficiently modern USB (or FireWire) interface for Amarra’s ministrations to be audible. While it might be considered an extreme position, Amarra serves as a crucible for a computer-based Mac system. If you can’t hear a difference with Amarra, your system isn’t good enough.
To give you an idea of just how revealing a well-set-up Amarra system can be, near the end of my review Locus Design sent me its latest Nucleus USB cable to replace the Polestar USB cable I had been using. Being something of a cable cynic, I was nonplussed to discover the Nucleus lowered background noise when I was listening through Amarra. When I tried the same A/B test using iTunes, I couldn’t hear any audible differences between the Nucleus and Polestar cables.
Amarra Is Swahili for Icing on the Cake, But First You Need a Cake
So should every audiophile with a Mac-based computer music system run right out and buy a copy of Amarra software?
Er, no. Unless your hardware is up to snuff, you will quickly discover that Amarra doesn’t seem to do anything to improve the sound of your system. First, you need components with sufficiently low noise and high resolution to make the differences between Amarra and iTunes audible. If you don’t already own one of the units on what currently is a pretty short list of Amarra-supported USB or FireWire DACs, put your money toward one of them instead of toward Amarra. Think of it like this: If you want to run an entry in a horse race, you need to buy the horse before you hire a jockey and trainer.
Once you have assembled hardware that lets you hear Amarra’s sonic ministrations making an audible difference, I am confident you will discover, as I did, that Amarra is an indispensible part of any state-of-the-art Mac-based computer-audio system. If you want to hear how good a Mac-based system can sound, you have to use Amarra. In the end, it’s that simple.
SonicStudios Amarra Software
Hardware Platform: Apple Macintosh OS 10.4, 10.5, 10.6 with iTunes
Price: Amarra $995, Amarra Mini $395
Sonic Studio LLC
330 Sir Francis Drake Blvd. Suite A
San Anselmo, CA 94960-2552
Source Devices: EAD 8000 Pro CD/DVD player and transport, CEC TL-2 CD Transport, MacPro model 1.1 Intel Xeon 2.66 GHz computer with 14 GB of memory with OS 10.6.2, running iTunes 8.2 and Amarra 1.1 music playing software
DACS: Bel Canto DAC 3, April Music Stello DA-100, Perpetual Technologies PA-1, Weiss Minerva DAC, Empirical Audio Overdrive DAC, Empirical Audio Off-Ramp 3, Bel Canto 96/24 converter box
Preamps: Reference Line Preeminence One B passive controller
Amplifiers: Bel Canto S-300 stereo amplifier, Edge Electronics AV-6, Accuphase P-300 power amplifier, Modified Dyna St-70 amplifier, April Music Stello Ai 500
Speakers: Joseph Audio Pulsars, ATC SCM7s, Paradigm S1s, Aerial Acoustics 5Bs, Role Audio Kayaks, Earthquake Supernova mk IV 10 subwoofer
Cables and Accessories: Locus Design Polestar USB cable, Locus Design Nucleus USB cable, PS Audio Quintet, AudioQuest CV 4.2 speaker cable, AudioQuest Colorado interconnect, Empirical Audio Coax digital cable