Audio file player software
Price: 99 EUR
tel.: 606 312 189
Country of origin: Poland, the Netherlands
Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Pictures: Wojciech Pacuła
Translation: Krzysztof Kalinkowski
I got used to the fact that Polish audio products are in many cases very interesting, well made and have a “keynote” quite some time ago. Their problem is usually not the way they sound, or how they look, but that they come from small companies and from a country not so well known in audiophile world. But sometimes they are lucky and we can talk about products, that crossed the border – most of all the mental one, not the geographical.
I received information about this program quite early. However it happened, that I could not take care of it immediately, and soon a new version was released. So I decided to invite Marcin Ostapowicz to come to me and show me how to properly install the program and what is important and what not. Even more – we listened together to the new disc of the group Diary of Dreams Ego:X, as it turned out, that Marcin is their big fan and organized their concerts (please look at the picture – it was made during the Festiwal Ciszy - we can only envy him…).
You can already see, that this is not another “all in one” program, but something designed by people, for whom a bit is not equal a bit, who also listen and draw conclusions. I must say, that this is a big relief talking to a computer specialist, why understands, when I say, that USB cables “sound” differently. Even more than “understands” – he came to the same conclusion long ago. And he does not negate anything just because the current state of knowledge tells, that this is not possible, that there “can be no difference”. Because “state of knowledge” is something changing in time. And it broadens, also due to people like Marcin and his partner Josef.
Like I said, for computer sound, regardless of the used player, it is most important to optimize the system. In case of the JPLAY it is also important to decide about some things. First of all: FLAC or WAV? Different companies tell different things - Reference Recordings chooses WAV without hesitation, while for example Linn opts for FLAC (see the review of the Klimax DS HERE) . Listening to this player I could not choose myself. WAV sounded different than FLAC, sometimes I thought they sound better, sometimes worse.
Secondly you have to choose the mode – River or Beach. For me the fuller and more natural sound was with the Beach mode. But the differences were not very big and were rather of the preference than of the “good-bad” kind.
The difference between JPLAY and foobar2000 is very easy to catch, although the differences between software players (and I compared a few already) are usually not the same, as going from one loudspeaker to another, or from one amplifier to a second one. It will not be a distinct change in timbre, it will be no change hitting us in the first second of listening. And very volatile. The differences between the two programs (and the player software in general) are structural, much more important for me, because they teach me something new, changes which change my perception and sensitivity. Such changes develop us. They construct the reproduction of music from scratch. Timbre, dynamics, etc, categories usually useful in description of sound sources are less important here.
The JPLAY shows clearly better the acoustical surroundings of the instruments – especially in case of purist recordings like the Montreal Jazz-Up Maânouche Swing Quintet, a disc issued on MasterFlash (96/24), but also on 16/44.1 material from the disc Good Rain Solveig Slettahjell. I do not want to enter the analysis, because my priority in this test is to show the holistic changes leading to a different perspective, from which we look at a musical piece, but from time to time I need to touch something deeper. And good reproduced acoustics is something, that makes the sound seem more “live”, more true.
Equally important is resolution, about which I did not want to talk before. JPLAY sounds in a much more resolved way, what makes foobar2000 more damped, more choked in direct comparison. Although the upper midrange seems more expressive in it, I think it is not about the change of timbre, but about its more rough reproduction in foobar2000. This is why JPLAY seems to sound darker at first sight. And this first impression is misleading. Similar to my new loudspeakers Harbeth M40.1 this is related to psychoacoustics and the way we are used to listen to music at home. This is something completely different to listening to a live event by default, so if we want to make those two similar to each other in some way, then we have to prepare the sound in a special way. This is of course a departure from neutrality, but without that, the sound does not play at all – there is no “live” and no “at home”. One of such things that is done – is enhancing the contours of the sound, it makes it more palpable. However in digital players this results in brightening and coarseness of the sound, the lack of velvetiness, like in nature. And JPLAY keeps it, similar to the best “physical” players.
I could also add, that the bass seems more controlled with the Polish player, that the treble is much nicer, more vivid, the dynamics in better shown, but this is only a part of what I am talking about: this is a more natural sound than from – still very good – foobar2000. Softer, more velvety, just plain better. Sometimes it may look that the competitor is more palpable. This is not like that, this is a trick that JPLAY does not need to use. Using it event rough, raw pieces gained life, “flew”. This was the case with the unique digital copy of the master tape 24/96 WAV of the disc The Q Open Zbigniew Namysłowski, which I received (for educational purposes) from Ms. Karolina Gleinert, who was re-mastering the Polish Jazz series discs. I heard a similar effect with the material sent to me by Damian Lipinski from the company Vinylmagic.pl (I wrote about it HERE). JPLAY cannot play 32 bit files yet (this feature is in the works, DSD is also one of the future possibilities), so I concentrated on 24 bit files. The voice of Savage from the remix of the piece So Close with foobar2000 seemed closer, more present. JPLAY provided a much deeper perspective, an although the voice seemed further away, it was clearer and text was easier to understand. The foobar2000 just brings the back planes closer, makes the stage shorter. JPLAY shows bigger distances, bigger virtual sources but in better perspective. To appreciate that what it does, we have to forget what we heard earlier and approach it with a carte blanche. Then the hibernation mode, although arduous in handling will become the equivalent of the vinyl disc – just like I said. An exceptional product!!!
The JPLAY receives the Red Fingerprint distinction.
This distinction was earlier awarded to:
Small post scriptum
The system where I experienced this PHENOMENON:
Or the second system:
Computer power - classic UPS APC 2200
Love for music came much earlier than the passion for computers and sound coming from the computer. I was raised in a home with deep musical traditions – my father was a professional musician and teacher. I finished the first level State Music School with two instruments, but this was also the end of my musical education – in the meantime I felt the “love” to a different keyboard and my education changed for informatics. However the values I carried from home and musical school developed into a big sensitivity for sound. I quickly noticed the difference between various CD players and started to think how to exploit the potential to reproduce music buried inside the computer. The first experiments with sound coming from a computer started in 2004, when I discovered alternative drivers, kx Project, for the Creative Sound Blaster cards. I heard an improvement and this started my chase of the rabbit… At that time I used the foobar2000 and the ASIO plugin, to bypass the destructive influence of the system mixer. It was close for me to get banned from the foobar2000 forum – asking questions related to sound quality is against their regulations. I started to experiment on my own. I devoted every spare time I had to my hobby, I followed each discussion on foreign forums until a few years ago, I found the forum of the XXHighEnd player, where I met Josef. We went along well since the very beginning (we both have a twist for sound played from computers). Then it went off – hundreds of email, changes, new ideas, which had to be listened to, compared. So the JPLAY was born.
Personally I was into music much before computers: actually I learned English due to music – as a kid I was a fan of the Beatles and I had to know what they are singing about. I bought a dictionary, I took the vinyl sleeve (yes, I am old ) and then I checked each word.
Later, in the 80-ties, when the first CD players appeared, I was intrigued, that each player sounded differently. I even experimented with the MiniDisc format: often a copy of an MD disc (compressed with ATRAC – a format that appeared much earlier than MP3) sounded better than a CD! I could not explain that at that time, but now I know, that this experiment opened my eyes and I realized, that a digital transport is not only ‘bit-perfect’.
I also experimented with different “colors” of CDs. At that time I was a professional coder and all this had no sense for me: bits were bits, weren’t they? So I went to a shop and bought all available CD-Rs. It turned out, that one model of “black” discs offered much better sound than the others, including the original disc! The recorded CDs, in contrast to the MiniDisc, were identical bit wise. This confirmed my belief, that bit-perfect is not enough; the mathematicians would say that this is a prerequisite, but it alone is not sufficient.
Many years later first audio interfaces appeared, which were able to work with PC computers; I bought one of them - Empirical Audio Offramp, which, in its first incarnation, was only a modification of the popular and cheap interface M-Audio Transit. Already then I started to listen to music more often from the computer than from my stationary SACD player…
Just like Marcin, I first used the foobar2000. Then I found XXHighEnd – a program, which had the makings for an “audiophile” player. I tried it and I heard an improvement! I could not explain all those differences between the MiniDisc and black CD copies, but this time it was my domain (in the 90-ties I consulted one of the top software manufacturers from USA). I decided to try to understand what this all is about. All software players fulfill the prerequisite of being bit-perfect (Vista was available at that time, and the times of the XP with the KMixer resampling everything to 48kHz were passed), yet each one of them sounded different!
In short: I started to experiment, first I created a small test program for personal use, but this quickly turned into a bigger project, on which we spent days and days. Despite the ultra minimalist interface we decided with Marcin to show our brainchild to the world.
Everything is based on music. I had the misfortune to look, how the country I grew up in is destroyed by war. I believe (maybe I am naïve), that people who can feel emotions from music are much less capable to make wars compared to people subject to ‘noise’.
g a l l e r y