Audirvana Playback Software Now Unfolds MQA

The recently-released Audirvana Plus 3 has become the first desktop music player for MacOS to include an integrated MQA Core decoder. To quote the press release, issued jointly by London-based MQA and Paris-based Audirvana, Audirvana's MQA Core decoder "enables the first origami 'unfold' and also authenticates the file using a blue or green light to confirm that the sound is identical to that of the source material."

In addition to optimizing sound quality and authenticating file provenance, Audirvana Plus 3 claims to include "a complete library management system with full metadata and cover art display" for music that is either stored locally or streamed, and integration with premium streaming services such as Tidal and Qobuz. Whether Audirvana's latest library management system etc. is anywhere near as extensive as what Roon currently offers is another matter.

The MQA Core decoder's initial file "unfold" is claimed to recover all direct music-related information and make it available for either analog or digital output at 88.2 or 96kHz. Thus, even without an MQA-enabled DAC, listeners can expect to hear enhanced sound. Optimal sound quality is achieved with an MQA-enabled DAC, which will continue to unfold the file "with precise file and platform-specific DAC compensation and management." Clarification on what all this means follows.

Audirvana offers a free 15-day trial version of Audirvana Plus 3. Cost for those wishing to purchase is $74 for new customers, $39 for upgrade from a previous version of Audirvana Plus, and gratis for those who have purchased Audirvana Plus 2 since December 25, 2016.

More Playback Software in the Pipeline
Audirvana will not be alone in offering MQA Core decoding. Amarra 4 Luxe, which is due in May 2017 from Sonic Studio, will support MQA decoding on OSX (10.8+) and Windows (8/10)-based computers for $99 pending final license agreement with MQA. The player will have an entirely new look, and include integrated artwork.

Sonic Studio's Jon Reichbach reports, via email, "With MQA decode integration, Amarra 4 Luxe adds support for MQA playback of local MQA audio files and MQA Master files from Tidal HiFi streaming service. Amarra 4 Luxe's MQA decoding will allow playback of music up to 96kHz sample rates and, when combined with an MQA-enabled DAC, full unfolding to 4x rates as well as MQA rendering. The software will also include advanced equalization, headphone processing, optional iRC room correction, and support for native DSD (1x/2x). Future integrations will allow for MQA device management with integrated DSP processing."

Rob Darling of Roon Labs also reports that MQA decoding will come to the Roon music library/file player app, Stereophile's 2015 Joint Accessory of the Year, in a future update. Roon Core runs on Mac, PC, and Linux, with Room Remote available for Mac, PC, iOS, and Android. Tidal integration is part of the package.

Pure Music software, which is dedicated to MacOS, has not as yet finalized its plan for MQA decoding. As Rob Robinson explained by phone, "We expressed interest MQA at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2015, but they haven't followed up in a meaningful way."

As for JRiver playback software, CEO Jim Hillegass writes, "JRiver has no plans to support MQA. MQA is not a lossless or open format, and it offers no apparent benefit to consumers, in our opinion."

Because Bob Stuart of MQA was traveling at press time and unavailable for comment, I asked Darling if he could explain further how playback software that includes MQA Core decoding can improve sound, and how that improvement differs from what an MQA-enabled DAC can do. He replied:

"It helps to think of MQA as three things:

1. A lossless packing scheme.
2. A DSP technology for removing artifacts (de-ringing) both in the analog/digital converters used to capture the recording, as well as in the digital/analog converter you are listening through.
3. An authentication mechanism to show you are listening to a file in its full glory, with the right DSP applied for both ends of the digital process.

If you play back through software that does the first decode, but with a standard DAC, you are unpacking a 24/48 losslessly encoded file and playing it back at 24/96, with the artifacts of the A/D removed.

If you play back through a full MQA DAC, that device has been tested and "profiled" by MQA, so that the DSP can be performed that will compensate for its artifacts. Thus, you get the full benefit of the DSP technology in MQA, where "de-ringing" has been applied with knowledge of both the A/D and D/A."

tonykaz's picture

You left out your Sound Quality estimate of MQA.

Can we guess that Schiit & Linn will be the only hold-outs in the MQA roll-out? Oh-well. Of course the Vinyl people need not worry about it.

However, I'll bet that we readership would value the opinion of the veteran Audiophiles, like you.

Download is not the same as good old, tried & true, Analog/Tube/Vinyl playback, it's a differing format that a great many seem to be adapting, we might value you're opinion as to whether it's a useful improvement.

Tony in Michigan

ps. when will Jana do a nice video of you and your philosophy? I suppose that she'll have to fly out and set-up her gear. The HR video is great. Maybe there's a pecking order where JA is 1st, Tyll comes next, then comes Washington. Hmm, exciting stuff.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

as evaluated at audio shows, are readily available to anyone who searches this site. I've been sharing my observations for years. I have not, however, obtained the new Audirvana, let alone tried it with MQA files. Not that I would necessarily share my opinions in a news story.

If you read my review of the AVM monoblocks in the current issue of Stereophile, you will discover that my reference system does not include vinyl playback. I simply have no room for all that is required to do vinyl right, which includes a record cleaning machine and storage space. Hence, I am not equipped to make a comparison.

I do appreciate your respect, Tony. As for Jana doing a video on me, other than my whistling, you'll have to ask her. But your suggestion of a pecking order is unsupportable.

tonykaz's picture

I've been an Electrocompaniet fan for decades, this Amp's sonic description doesn't equate with my experience but they only share a Salesman.

I did read your report as soon as this Issue arrived by mail, I hadn't paid attention to your System description, in fact I'm surprised to learn that you don't own rooms filled with Vinyl crates and all that paraphernalia that those NY based "True Believers" seem to be collecting. Hmm. ( as I once did )

...annnnnd, I confess, I haven't been paying attention to MQA and it's developments in the Marketplace ( until just recently ) thinking that it was just another DSD or Pono or ???. So, if you've mentioned an affinity to it's goodness, I glossed over it and certainly missed it completely. On the other hand, I recall JA's description and comments. Hmm, again.

I am a long standing owner of Meridian Active, I even imported the stuff ( back in the early 1980s ). I never would've guessed that they would, one day, become mainstream audio people but who would've? It is beautiful stuff! but it's pricy.

Well, I'm hoping that JA will send Jana out to do something, her work on that HR video instilled a respect for the man and his methods, I even had a much closer look at Tube Integrated stuff from Upscale Audio as a result from my reading/rereading all of HR's reviews from 2014 onward. Getting a video measure of the man puts a sharper focus on his words and their intended meanings. Now he doesn't look like a sinister, angry man but a wise and insightful person and one of my all time favorite Audio people.

Just wrapping up, I took another look-see at your Associated Equipment list, phew, is that all the stuff you own? Not that I'm proud of it but I've got more stuff than that in my closet ( which I gotta sell before I move to Florida, Dave Wasserman , here I come ). I'll betcha you got tons of stuff collecting dust.

Tony in Freezing Michigan

ps. what kind of Audiophile doesn't have two or three complete back-up music systems?, even lots of spare Amps hidden under the bed, for gods sake.

harryas's picture

Dear Jason,
thank you for this info. Indeed I downloaded Audirvana because I heard of MQA-ability, but until today I only had version 2.6.2 without MQA. Only after your info I downloaded version 3.02 with MQA and even on my Macbook Pro (!) I can immediately feel the difference in clarity, aliveness and room definiton and stage hearing a file with or without MQA. And it´s wonderful to hear those very many MQA-files from TIDAL (you can find them as "Masters") through Audirvana with the blue light on so that I know, this is rather near to the master tape. I´m looking forward for a MQA-DAC to hear this music through my home stereo:-)))
I also bought the JRiver MediaCenter some time ago. IMO it sounds better than Audirvana but it is without MQA, more difficult to use (too many options) and sometimes it doesn´t work the way it should.
MQA on CD: That shows that MQA is definitely gaining momentum now, fantastic possibilities!! Looking forward to further news on mqa!