• Amarra For Tidal Review





    To the computer audiophile, the convenience of having millions of tracks at your fingertips has always been hamstrung by quality issues. With the rise of Tidal and its lossless capabilities, streaming has really gotten a second look as a more legitimate source. Its appearance at audio shows is becoming more frequent (even if its use is often hidden from public view). So as with most intentions associated with the audiophile hobby, it should come no surprise that eventually steps to squeeze more fidelity out of this high-potential cloud-based service should come to market.

    Even in the early days of Spotify, it was subtly apparent to anyone who took the time to compare that the interface/device had great influence over the end game output of the service. As any seasoned audiophile might guess, headphone jacks from mobile devices didn’t rank very high on that top 10 list of listening options. Many may have perceived the wide array of upgraded pay-for-it bandwidth options from companies like Pandora and Spotify were plausible for casual listening but nothing so special to write home about in terms of critical listening. But even with these low ceilings it appeared that if mobile devices where the most quality challenged, computer sources were less so. And of the available options on that platform, a native player provided substantial improvements over the web-based browser in many instances. When Tidal launched, the company’s intent to be an “everywhere” product was obvious. Every platform and every device they could clear was optioned from the get go. Now filtering though those options to get the very best combination has just become a little more ambitious. While I would still contend that Airplay (to an Apple TV) from a mobile device with Tidal as a source produces notable improvements over other ATV app possibilities, the implied charge of the reviewer nags the question “how far down the rabbit hole can we go?” Controlling the 1s and 0s a little closer to the foundation couldn’t hurt, as could a direct lifeline to a high-end DAC. The current atmosphere surrounding digital playback appears a little more receptive towards software (in terms of incremental sound quality improvements) than say… upgrading your Ethernet cables. It seems to make logical sense in the mind of many audiophiles that something so close to the preparation of the digital files might offer the opportunity for some wiggle room for an uptick in fidelity. And so it has been with my experience. Software like Audirvana Plus and Sonic Studio’s Amarra can add a pinch of life, vibrancy and intimacy to digital files. They don’t really act as a miracle cure for flat lining, low-bitrate atrocities, but they can make a good recording just that much better. Sonic Studio has also released an all-purpose streamer-cleaner called the Amarra sQ a year ago that promised to improve any digital output via an outside application. Amarra for Tidal takes all of these elements and collects them together with its own interface in a one-stop shop for musical enjoyment.

    Installation for the application was easy enough, you simply have to plug in your Tidal login information into the settings tab to get things going. Like most audiophile playback software (and even the free Tidal player), you can select your output device directly from the application. Beyond a two tiered “buffer size” variable, the rest of setup options are kept quite straightforward. The overall layout of the main interface is similar to the current version of the vanilla Tidal player but also adds some welcome changes. The color scheme feels a little more “Adobe Lightroom” and the left hand column includes an easy to access settings link. The horizontal stacking of the layout does feel a little more intuitive by comparison. I did find that clicking into almost any new page or playlist requires a small wait while things download (both images and playlists). A helpful green download bar appears to show some your progress for any given action, however a little less drag time wouldn’t hurt the overall user experience. One of the biggest additions to the game here is the inclusion of EQ. Access to the straightforward interface is available from the main page and includes a visible reminder letting you know what (if any) options have been selected. The EQ presets allow for an interesting selection of pre programmed EQs for headphones as well as custom options, you can even save unlimited personalized curves to your hard drive to reload later. The cross section of headphones chosen for the presets left me scratching my head a bit (NuForce NE-700?) but the inclusion of “Mac Laptop” and “Apple Earpods” definitely peaked my curiosity. The laptop setting definitely leveled out the mid-centric and thin sounding speakers from my Macbook Air but occasionally the pre assigned boost around 200hz was too much for the little speakers to handle. It was really a problem however; the curves can easily be adjusted with an user-friendly graphical interface. The customization here is important and fun custom feature to have, however for critical listening I left the EQ setting off during my sessions.

    For some reason when I contemplate mid range tone, texture and detail I find myself inexplicably drawn to Diana Krall’s I Used to Love You But It’s All Over Now. The isolation of the of the intro’s vocals are accompanied by only a single guitar melody and allow for a serious look at the way Diana’s voice is sculpted by the gear. When comparing Tidal’s standard issue player loaded onto my MacBook Air to the Amarra player not only was it easy to pick out more detail, but also the sense of air around her voice seemed subtly more real. The husky bite of breath through windpipes range truer and felt intimately closer to the ear. In fact, in addition to this rich clarity, the entire sonic canvas felt closer. For a visual representation, imagine a highly intricate landscape image hanging on the wall. From a distance you could photoshop in more reds, blues, tweaking the saturation, contrast and the like. Well-executed amps, DACs, and speakers/headphones can all do this to a certain degree with appealing outcomes. Granted too much sonic fiddling will leave you with an unrealistic result, but a well-done presentation can mean the difference between lifelike vibrancy and the drab resonances of a foggy window. What Amarra for Tidal gives you is that “first row” presentation. It moves the canvas closer to your ear. No overdone semantics for the sake of grabbing your attention, just smooth, intimate listening that is so important to that last 10% of quality for systems that are capable of revealing it. Based on that position alone the software update appears to hold its own as an respectable upgrade for Tidal.

    A comparison to a 24/96 version of the same song on the server seemed to edge out the streaming service by just a hair. A little more definition, a little more relaxed presentation stretched the sonic appeal of the high res Flac file ahead, but not by much. Now whether to credit that edge to the player or the file’s resolution is more of wager than I would like to bet on, but needless to say I would love to hear the Amarra software plugged into a 24/96 stream however pie-in-the-sky that may be at our current juncture.

    The economic breakdown of the Amarra offering is surprisingly value driven when you consider the price of its immediate surroundings. The cost of a Tidal subscription is $19.99 month ($16.99 if you prepay 6 months) for the premium HD version. The cost of the playback software from Amarra is currently $39.99. For the price of two months of subscription you can afford the software. In those terms the Amarra upgrade appears immediately worth the cost, based on the upgrade is quality that I witnessed. The reality seems to be that if you are willing to invest in the premium cost of the service, this premium player should be set well in your sights to optimize that investment. This of course assumes you aren’t on a standard definition package, which if you frequently read this site and have already chosen Tidal over the other streaming services its fairly safe to say that you haven’t. That $39.99 will effectively marry you to the Tidal service however. If we push sound quality aside for just a moment and look elusively at the Tidal experience, it isn’t without its faults. I have heard some truly amazing playlists from Spotify, their music curation seems to be one of its most endearing qualities along with a solid UI. Tidal has playlists, but they often leave me with the feeling that an algorithm slapped them together rather than a real person (with good taste), although I seriously doubt this is the case for the featured “recommended playlists”. Search on Tidal can be a little tough and go but you will eventually find what you are looking for. I did experience a repeated issue where the wrong list of songs loaded for the Diana Krall album and I had to resort to searching for the song by name instead. Most of these examples can be worked out with a little debugging and amount to no more than minor complaints. At its core, the player satiates the needs of its intended consumer.

    The proposition for an easy-to-access, all-in-one Tidal & Amarra interface is fully realized with this new software. Aside from a few small bugs, the promise of Amarra sound quality injected into one of the best streaming services available continues to take the music source to a new level. With a revamped interface and special bonuses like custom EQs, it is easy to see the value to the digital audiophile in having a nearly limitless collection of music to listen to. While the allure of this convenience has always been subject to a major decline in quality, Amarra for Tidal quietly closes this gap from a chasm to a crack for a price that roughly equals two months of service. In short, if you care about quality and you are already a subscriber to Tidal, you most definitely need to download the free trail for a listen. For those of you contemplating taking the plunge into an all-you-can-eat arrangement for you music for the first time, Amarra + Tidal does not disappoint. Based on what I have heard it is the best option currently available on the market for this type of service. Highly recommended.








    Image Gallery

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    Product Information:

    • Product - Sonic Studio's Amarra For Tidal
    • Price - $39.95
    • Product Page - Link








    Associated Equipment:

    Source: MacBook Air
    DAC: Auralic VEGA
    Headphones: Audeze LCD-3, HiFiMAN HE-560, JH Audio Layla (Universal), JH16 (Custom), Beyerdynamic AK T5p
    Cables: AudioQuest Victoria, Zu Mission RCA Mk.II-B, ALO SXC 24 2.5mm to 2.5mm balanced









    About The Author

    Brian Hunter
    I’m a recovering musician turned audio reviewer. I currently manage and write reviews for Audio-Head.com and freelance with several other publications. I love tech and the tools of music, especially the ones involved in reproduction. After I finished my undergrad degree in business I went to the local community college and got one in photography, which was way more fun. I like it when people have unbridled enthusiasm for something and I have the utmost respect for individuals who try to create, even more for those who are good at it.










    Comments 27 Comments
    1. sm31's Avatar
      sm31 -
      I wasn't aware about that 6-month prepay option on Tidal, and can't find anything obvious about it on the site. Pointer?
    1. REShaman's Avatar
      REShaman -
      Hello Brian,

      Long time Amarra Symphony user. And recently Amarra For TIDAL and AsQ+. Your review is well done in my experience after a month or so with the program and TIDAL HIFI purchased even earlier. Setup was easy and almost transparent, provided one has a TIDAL subscription. The prepaid was a no-brainer in my opinion. The 7th month is free, after which the subscription rate returns to the 19.99 from 16.99.

      I find the interface with TIDAL HIFI to be an easy one and immediate. I also appreciate that I can employ iRC with both A4T and AsQ+ given I already have a license for iRC since Amarra Symphony 2.6. iRC takes TIDAL HIFI a bit further along that differentiation you alluded to when comparing with 96/24 versus 44.1/16 provided with TIDAL HIFI.

      Thank you for your take on the program.

      Best,
      Richard
    1. Sal1950's Avatar
      Sal1950 -
      Have you done a comparison of the data stream between the Amarra and Tidals factory player?
      If they are delivering the same data (and they should) to Auralic DAC any difference you are hearing is fantasy.
    1. speavler's Avatar
      speavler -
      is there a remote app?
    1. wm64's Avatar
      wm64 -
      The review is not very useful unless you compare Amarra with the standard streaming available from Tidal. If they are both delivering bit-perfect streams to your DAC, then any difference is purely imaginary.

      The advantage of integrating streaming services into the player apps is convenience. You can access all your music through the same interface.

      I also wonder why reviews like this make it appear as if Tidal is the only CD-quality streaming service on the planet. Qobuz has a bigger catalogue and there are other services too.
    1. rooob's Avatar
      rooob -
      is there a remote app?
      I don't think so I have SQ and that doesn't. This is where the Amarra range falls down imho by not offering remote apps for its products, it can't be that hard to develop one.
    1. Musicophile's Avatar
      Musicophile -
      Nice review.

      Given that Damien is working on Qobuz integration for Audirvana, it will be interesting to do a comparison of the two approaches when it is out.
    1. Amarra_Support's Avatar
      Amarra_Support -
      Quote Originally Posted by speavler View Post
      is there a remote app?
      Thanks for your interest in a remote app for Amarra products. We are hard at work on a remote initially for our streamers, Amarra for TIDAL and Amarra sQ+.

      Here are some initial images of the EQ and Now Playing windows on an iPhone:

      Attachment 20395Attachment 20396

      More information can be found on our news page at:

      Amarra News & Reviews
    1. jhwalker's Avatar
      jhwalker -
      Quote Originally Posted by REShaman View Post
      Hello Brian,

      Long time Amarra Symphony user. And recently Amarra For TIDAL and AsQ+. Your review is well done in my experience after a month or so with the program and TIDAL HIFI purchased even earlier. Setup was easy and almost transparent, provided one has a TIDAL subscription. The prepaid was a no-brainer in my opinion. The 7th month is free, after which the subscription rate returns to the 19.99 from 16.99.

      I find the interface with TIDAL HIFI to be an easy one and immediate. I also appreciate that I can employ iRC with both A4T and AsQ+ given I already have a license for iRC since Amarra Symphony 2.6. iRC takes TIDAL HIFI a bit further along that differentiation you alluded to when comparing with 96/24 versus 44.1/16 provided with TIDAL HIFI.

      Thank you for your take on the program.

      Best,
      Richard
      Richard, what is the difference between Tidal + AsQ+ and Amarra for Tidal? I already have AsQ+ and can use it as the output from Tidal - does buying Amarra for Tidal get me anything more?
    1. bobflood's Avatar
      bobflood -
      If all of you who say that something can't make a difference (including this) have actually heard it and confirmed it to be so, then I will will respect your opinion. But, if you have not actually heard it, then to paraphrase the founder of Linn Electronics "if you haven't heard it, you don't have an opinion".

      I get really tired of all this "it can't possibly be so" stuff from people on this site who have not heard the thing that they say this about.
    1. Sal1950's Avatar
      Sal1950 -
      Quote Originally Posted by bobflood View Post
      If all of you who say that something can't make a difference (including this) have actually heard it and confirmed it to be so, then I will will respect your opinion. But, if you have not actually heard it, then to paraphrase the founder of Linn Electronics "if you haven't heard it, you don't have an opinion".

      I get really tired of all this "it can't possibly be so" stuff from people on this site who have not heard the thing that they say this about.
      The science says it's not possible if the software isn't altering the data stream, Bits is Bits. So if you or anyone else says they can hear a difference it's up to them to prove it with both double blind testing and measurements. Until then it's just fantasy. (or the software IS altering the datastream, I don't see any measurements to check for a little juicing of the sound.)
    1. One and a half's Avatar
      One and a half -
      Quote Originally Posted by Sal1950 View Post
      The science says it's not possible if the software isn't altering the data stream, Bits is Bits. So if you or anyone else says they can hear a difference it's up to them to prove it with both double blind testing and measurements. Until then it's just fantasy. (or the software IS altering the datastream, I don't see any measurements to check for a little juicing of the sound.)
      A timely rebuttal for the Bits are Bits reasoning.
    1. Sal1950's Avatar
      Sal1950 -
      Quote Originally Posted by One and a half View Post
      A timely rebuttal for the Bits are Bits reasoning.
      The noise argument is more fallacy, save the fairy tails for the little children. If the ones and zeros can be read through the noise the data will be read bit perfect. If it's so polluted not to be read correctly there's something seriously wrong with your equipment design Are the Lights On or Off? | Real HD-Audio
    1. One and a half's Avatar
      One and a half -
      Quote Originally Posted by Sal1950 View Post
      The noise argument is more fallacy, save the fairy tails for the little children. If the ones and zeros can be read through the noise the data will be read bit perfect. If it's so polluted not to be read correctly there's something seriously wrong with your equipment design Are the Lights On or Off? | Real HD-Audio
      sorry, the noise argument is compelling and cannot be ignored for computer audio especially DACs and transmissions to DACs are electrical values, not pure 1's and 0's.

      All AES3, USB, Firewire, Ethernet signals that are transmittable to a DAC by electricity and through wires are :

      Analog Voltages.

      Pulsed Waveforms.

      Not pure 1's and 0's. no bitperfect either. Error correction is fine, bank accounts are safe, I agree, BUT when you deal with DACs, it's physical electricity with predictive behaviour, often undesirable for audio cause it's audible!

      Some of the voltage is passed through to the DAC for processing, the remainder of the voltage has to go somewhere and is reflected back to the source as noise unwanted rubbish. The worse the receiver has to work to make sense of the signal, the worse the reflected noise is in the system, this is especially true for USB and Ethernet transmissions which are delivered as packets of signal, then nothing, the more packets, like a barrage.

      Sadly this noise appears in power supplies and in the very sensitive receivers of the DAC. The ideal is the transmitted signal (yes voltage, not BITS) can be controlled by software, or in another way EQ'd enough to provide good signal integrity.

      Anyway, these pages have been through enough bits are bits arguments, no need to start here, you're welcome to start a new thread, be prepared for a nutkick though The article's links should be studied a little more instead of scoffing about stories for little children.
    1. Sal1950's Avatar
      Sal1950 -
      Not worth the time to argue with subjective audiophiles, thousands more pages of fantasy have been wasted then ever should.
      In the end it all come down to money, bet sure you get yourself one of them $3K power cables too. LOL
    1. panhead's Avatar
      panhead -
      Btw - there is a windows version of this coming soon. Im hoping very soon. Now using Kodi + Audiophile Tidal plugin that uses wasapi wrapper. Sounds great - love that Tidal. Now listening to Mendelssohn Violin Concerto...

      Happy listening!
    1. REShaman's Avatar
      REShaman -
      Quote Originally Posted by jhwalker View Post
      Richard, what is the difference between Tidal + AsQ+ and Amarra for Tidal? I already have AsQ+ and can use it as the output from Tidal - does buying Amarra for Tidal get me anything more?

      Sorry John for the delay in responding to your post. I will catch up with you tomorrow. Appreciate your understanding. I do appreciate your query as it touches on a variety of possible solutions. You will also notice Sonic Studio is readying an iOS and, I believe, a Windows version, remote app for AsQ+wiRC and A4T(Amarra For TIDAL) with iRC. Tomorrow

      Best,
      Richard
    1. speavler's Avatar
      speavler -
      Quote Originally Posted by Sal1950 View Post
      Have you done a comparison of the data stream between the Amarra and Tidals factory player?
      If they are delivering the same data (and they should) to Auralic DAC any difference you are hearing is fantasy.
      What a moronic comment. Maybe not post?
    1. One and a half's Avatar
      One and a half -
      Quote Originally Posted by Sal1950 View Post
      Not worth the time to argue with subjective audiophiles, thousands more pages of fantasy have been wasted then ever should.
      In the end it all come down to money, bet sure you get yourself one of them $3K power cables too. LOL
      Do a favour and say hi to Waldrep and enjoy closed mind conversations.
    1. Sal1950's Avatar
      Sal1950 -
      Quote Originally Posted by speavler View Post
      What a moronic comment. Maybe not post?
      ??? Seems like a perfectly legitimate question to me. If the two digital file servers sound different aren't you curious as to why? Maybe one of them is defective? The first most logical place to start would be to compare their outputs data streams.