I have spent the past few weeks messing around again with various audio software. It seems we are turning a corner in terms of how many options are now available but have not yet reached a balance between affordability, performance, and ease of use. Still I thought I'd share my recent and not so recent discoveries - please excuse me if I kind of jump all over the place.
Reclock is a program I read about on head-fi, mostly trumpeted by user 'leeperry'. Since head-fi is not exactly the most audiophile forum, it made a little bit of a splash but not much. Too bad as he is right, it is an outstanding audio renderer. It is easy to configure for Wasapi Exclusive playback and the sound quality is top-notch. It can be used as a third party renderer with other programs including JRiver (don't quote me on that). I have used it with lesser known programs KMPlayer and PotPlayer and best of all
Media Player Classic Home Cinemahttp://mpc-hc.sourceforge.net/
Yep, little old Media Player Classic has now been made into an audio/video powerhouse whilst retaining it's minimal interface and footprint. The playback quality when using ReClock as the audio renderer ranks second to Jplay, but kick in Fidelizer and I think it goes toe to toe with the exception of Jplay's Hibernation Mode. MPC just sounds more musical to my ears but Jplay does have a level of fidelity that keeps it slightly ahead. This is my go to player. Also, it's free. Jplay, not so much.
The newest Fidelizer (2.1) is a must-have tweak before using any audio software. It has never failed to improve my listening experience to some degree or another regardless of program used. Use it in conjunction with Reclock and MPCHC (Media Player Classic Home Cinema) or any audio program.
I'd been reading about Jplay for a while and finally decided to give it a whirl. This little program is the real deal. It's like the anti-XXHighend; just choose from a couple of playback options and hit the space bar. No zillion of options and dials and buttons to tinker with. Heck, no GUI at all. It's real ace in the hole is the Hibernate Mode. Playback in hibernate mode is close to magical. The lack of volume control options (they do offer -6db increments as of the latest version) and mp3 playback not so much. Since my output is straight to amp, this makes jplay impractical. But for everyone else you HAVE to try it out. The lack of mp3 playback made me think of trying put something I haven't done for a long time -
Mp3/Flac to Wav conversion
I have a lot of my files in flac and mp3. In other threads I've mentioned preferring wav to flac, but given the jplay restriction mentioned above I thought I'd confirm another impression I had - I prefer mp3s converted to wav. No, it's not a night and day difference. No, I don't believe the conversion adds anything that isn't there. What it does
do is flesh out the depth and imaging of the file. I've had to do this conversion several times over the years even before I was bitten by the audiophile bug and the impression has always been the same. Wav just sounds better. So I downloaded db Poweramp and am now converting all my flac and mp3 to wav.
On the Jplay forum co-creator Marcin mentioned improved audio quality when using Windows 8. Setup was simple and easier than any other windows. I installed W8 and after a few minutes getting used to the layout I began demoing some of the programs mentioned above. Aside from the fact that W8 is actually kind of cool, the sound quality is indeed terrific. Transparency and width improved and a delicacy to the playback I have never heard on W7.
Every now and again for kicks I like to try out different linux distros. This time I went looking to compare sound quality. Per usual, I end up being incredibly unimpressed with the GUI. There's something pre-schoolish about the look; pastel colors, large icons - like it's trying to convince how EASY it is to use. Of the ones I tried only Linux Mint had me listening to music from my USB DAC out the box. The sound quality ws actually very good but I could detect processing. A little research led me to a world of confusion and command lines. It seems audiophile sound quality is not easy to achieve. Too bad, because I think linux would the perfect tool to for audiophile music player (note I said player, not just server a la VoyageMPD which has only remote GUI).
Surprised not see more mention of XBMC here. It is hands-down my favorite music interface. It is so slick and polished and accessible you just want to show it off. The sound quality is also IMO very good. Yes it does downsample everything to 16/44 and it's not quite bit-perfect but with WASAPI it still sounds very good. It throws a huge soundstage and music is dynamic. I found it involving if not with the rarefied fidelity of Jplay. And it looks so cool! I may very well go back to it. It is also a GREAT for video playback.
There are so many variables that I don't expect others to necessarily have the same experience, but it's also good to experiment and I wanted to throw out some other easy to use options. At this point I consider programs like Foobar, MediaMonkey, J River, etc. to be bottom rung in terms of sound quality compared to the ones mentioned above.