I write this quick review in case someone wants to take advantage of their promo (Amarra for $99.00 until Dec 23rd).
What does Amarra offer?
• Adds Sonic Studio Engine to iTunes
• Sample rate support up to 192 kHz, 24-bit
• Automatic sample rate switching
• Plays mp3, mp4, alac, aac, wav, aiff
• FLAC to AIFF conversion
• EQ via iTunes interface or via Amarra Presets
• 384 kHz support
• FLAC file playback
• Cache play
• Amarra playlist creation
• Can work independently from iTunes
• Sonic Mastering dither algorithms
• Independent Amarra EQ Window
• Includes Sonic Studio Processor Sample Rate Converter application
It's up to each individual to decide what features they need, and whether they're willing to pay for those features. For example, Fluke or X Lossless Decoder may provide some features for free.
There's a simple test that shows objectively whether 2 audio files are different. I recorded the output from iTunes into Audio Hijack Pro, and then recorded the same file but this time played via Amarra. If both files are identical, inverting the polarity on one yields silence. This can be done with Sonalksis' FreeG. For example, Fidelia -and IIRC Decibel- sound exactly the same as iTunes. On the other hand, Amarra and Pure Music do not sound exactly the same as iTunes.
Does Amarra sound $189 "better"? Not to me. Since I had tried the demo before, I wrote support asking for a new evaluation. I received no answer. I purchased Amarra and although I will use it, it is buggy. For example, artwork was incorrectly displayed, and it takes a bit of configuring and often relaunching the program in order to get it to work properly. At first it would not play 96 kHz files. On another occasion no sound came out at all.
iTunes measurements in dB after playing a song fragment:
Max Peak: -8.47 L, -8.57 R
Max RMS: -14.02 L, -14.09 R
Average RMS: -22.25 L, -22.33 R
Amarra measurements in dB after playing the same song fragment:
Max Peak: -3.35 L, -3.45 R
Max RMS: -8.91 L, -8.98 R
Average RMS: -16.76 L, -16.84 R
Most people listening to iTunes and to Amarra would perceive Amarra as better due to the increase in volume.
After getting both files to the same levels, the differences between Amarra and iTunes, at least in this test, are very subtle. For example, using FreqAnalist Pro iTunes is stronger (i.e., louder) at 120 Hz and from 18 kHz and above, but in this last case at levels around -93 dB, so no one would hear those differences.
Definitely not a thorough test, particularly since the song I used only has piano and vocals. Still I wanted to get this done quickly in case anyone wants to take advantage of the promo. Pure Music is only slightly more expensive than this promo, so you may want to try both. Amarra does sound good and $99 is certainly more reasonable than their regular pricing.