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Although still affordable, Pure Music really makes the most sense when you need its enhanced features. Otherwise the possible little operational glitches and added complexity make the extra money harder to rationalize. This is only true because both Pure Music and Audirvana deliver excellent musical performance with great ease and flow and minimal digital glare.

For now then my nod for playback software goes to Audirvana by a very faint margin. Feature-wise it offers automatic sample rate switching, memory play, DSD and FLAC support and the ability to operate without iTunes open. Most importantly Audirvana does most if not all background optimization for you and setup time is minimal. Just install and enjoy (options are available but are just as well left alone for best performance). Where the software truly separates itself in my mind is its stability and complete absence of glitches. I still have to see the computer or iTunes freeze up when Audirvana runs. Movie playback is utterly unaffected as this player only takes control of the audio path when music plays and otherwise releases it, kindly staying out of the way of other activities requiring sound.

Damien Plisson indicated that he too has young children and therefore paid particular attention to the robustness of his protocols. His program thus seems to recover without any problem when an unwanted USB unplugging takes place. All in all it is an easier program to use and delivers its magic without requiring any user effort.

Sonically I already indicated that Pure Music and Audirvana are more alike than different. I would actually be worried if it were any other way. After all, the differences between two programs whose objective is to offer the purest path to audio playback should be minor at best but since their audio engines are different, it is possible to tease out minute nuances between them.

To keep it simple, Pure Music seems to offer slightly more depth and width with a tad more midrange emphasis and Audirvana slightly more resolution and ambiance retrieval. Emphasis is on slightly. Depending on disc I like one or the other better.

I doubt anybody would be unhappy with either and your choice can easily be steered by features and cost rather than major musical differences. If hairsplitting is your thing, you can always download the free trial versions of either and decide for yourself. From that perspective Audirvana is getting ready to throw a major punch with the upcoming release of an upgrade offering an even purer path through the deepest layers of OS X whilst restoring integer playback for Lion for those DACs which can support that mode. This feature was removed by Apple during the Snow Leopard to Lion transition but Damien Plisson is getting ready to pounce and restore it. This new Audirvana version is still in beta testing hence I will refrain from any comments but initial impressions are very good indeed and the Internet buzz is slowly but surely growing around it.

I intend to revisit the comparison when the new Audirvana has gone alpha but for now I will call it a very close draw between Audirvana and Pure Music. If one doesn’t need the advanced functions of the latter, I give the edge to Audirvana since it is quite a bit cheaper. You can spend a bit less even on Decibel or BitPerfect but you will also get far less in return on both features and sound. Considering that the difference in price is more or less equal to a single high-resolution download, I won't hesitate for a second to recommend that you skip over Decibel and BitPerfect and head straight for Audirvana. The next step up in price to Pure Music is a little steeper but still affordable by audio standards and it delivers far more complex featurization if you need or want that. Which is all I had to say on the subject. Or so I thought...