Stereophile's Products of 2011 COMPUTER AUDIO PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

2011 COMPUTER AUDIO PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Amarra music playback software ($695; reviewed by Art Dudley, Vol.34 No.7 Review)

2010 RUNNERS-UP (in alphabetical order)
Decibel music playback software ($33; reviewed by Art Dudley & John Atkinson, Vol.34 Nos. 7 & 9 Review)
Linn Majik DS-I networked integrated amplifier ($4200; reviewed by Art Dudley & Robert J. Reina, Vol.34 Nos. 3, 4 & 6 Review)
Micromega AirStream AS-400 integrated amplifier ($4594; reviewed by Art Dudley, Vol.34 No.7 Review)

In his July "Listening" column, Art Dudley expressed his appreciation for computer audio: "Computer audio is not only the right choice for me: It's a happy choice. The genre is still fun. . . . [It's] still affordable. . . . Computer audio is the road to freedom from obsolescence, extortionate prices, and those glorified kitchen-table manufacturers who thanked their best customers by neglecting to stock enough spare parts to keep their overpriced goods running for more than five years." (Whew.) Computer audio is fun, affordable, and liberating.

With digital storage space as affordable as it now is, more and more people are looking to free themselves from physical media. They're ripping their CDs, hiding them away, and turning to the Internet for exciting new music, which is increasingly available in high-resolution formats. For most people, Apple's iTunes does a fine job of organizing that music, providing lots of useful metadata, colorful album art, and an intuitive feature set. But audiophiles aren't most people. We have libraries of hundreds of thousands of music files, in various combinations of bit depths and sampling rates. As good as iTunes is, it just can't handle those kinds of demands. What's an audiophile to do?

We need something better, something more, something that will allow us to squeeze all the bits from our hi-rez files without having to relaunch iTunes every time we switch sampling rates. Is that too much to ask? Not at all. Help has arrived in the form of Amarra, our Computer Audio Product of the Year.

Amarra is an aftermarket music-playback program designed to work with rather than replace iTunes: while iTunes retains the job of cataloguing your music, Amarra bypasses Apple's playback pathway and changes the sample rate of Apple's CoreAudio engine to match that of the file being played, disabling CoreAudio's real-time sample-rate converter. Amarra's sophisticated user interface inspires confidence; its luxurious feature set includes memory play, user-adjustable equalization, a Playlist Mode that lets users bypass altogether iTunes' song-selection interface, full compatibility with native FLAC files, and a handy switch for comparing the playback qualities of Amarra and iTunes. Perhaps best of all, Amarra sounded wonderful, always naturally detailed, and consistently involving.

Can we ask for anything more? Certainly, in time, our needs will grow and evolve. After all, we are audiophiles. The only thing that moves faster than our whimsy is technology itself. For now, however, we're thrilled with Amarra. It won a total of 15 votes from our writers, including four for first place.

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COMMENTS
soulful.terrain's picture

Never would have guessed the Voxativ Ampeggio would have garnered this awarding from Stereophile. Especially since this speaker is a single driver unit. Who'd a thunk it?

I too, was fortunate enough to hear them at Axpona in Atlanta this year. I remember saying to a buddy of mine that attended with me, "I can't believe the level of musicality I'm hearing from this somewhat minimalist speaker"?

If you take a look at all the German engineered speaker systems, the question begs to be asked: Are there any German made products that fall short of the sublime? If so, I haven't encountered any.

FranklinFQ's picture

Interesting choices in your headphone category. Among users on HeadFi as well as other headphone enthusiast circles the UE18 is seen as somewhat of an Also-Ran product, released as a response to the JH Audio JH13 and the "driver wars". Very few people who have experience with the category would choose the UE18 as their top choice. 

There have been lots of significant advances in the headphone world of late. Audeze LCD-2 and now the new LCD-3. HiFiMAN HE-6 and HE-500. Westone ES5. Unique Melody Miracle and Merlin. Even UE's own Reference Monitor is more highly regarded than the UE18. I really can't see why you chose it. 

Regarding your comment about the "True Blood" headphones. Those are the V-MODA V-80 headphones, and are actually very highly regarded. You might check with your own headphone expert Tyll Herstens - he recently gave them a rave review, as have many other HeadFi members. I agree that the marketing seems goofy but you might want to look into things a bit before commenting. And speaking of Tyll - why wasn't he involved in this? You have one of the world's foremost experts in the field of headphones on your staff, and you don't bother to consult him?

Stephen Mejias's picture

 Regarding your comment about the "True Blood" headphones. Those are the V-MODA V-80 headphones, and are actually very highly regarded.

I know what they are and I've read Tyll's review. I was just making a joke. I do, however, think it's funny to market a headphone around an HBO show about sex-starved vampires and mind-reading fairies. (Yes, I watch every Sunday night with the girls.) The press releases for the headphones do include the bit about "supernatural sound" and "immortal durability," so, they're clearly having fun with it, too.

And if audiophiles start wearing True Blood headphones, I will laugh. A lot.

And speaking of Tyll - why wasn't he involved in this? You have one of the world's foremost experts in the field of headphones on your staff, and you don't bother to consult him?

Something to consider for next year. 

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