pl | en


Owner, constructor

ul. Rymarska 45/1
53-206 Wrocław | POLAND |

Place: Poland | CRACOW


Translation: Ewa Muszczynko
Images: Wojciech Pacuła | Marcin Ostapowicz (no. 7)

No 209

October 1, 2021

IN THE BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE THAT MARCIN OSTAPOWICZ, my interlocutor, sent to HIGH FIDELITY in August 2011, so almost exactly ten years ago, we can read that:

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.

⸜ HIGH FIDELITY № 89, September 1st 2011, read HERE; access: 22.09.2021.

And it was reproducing music with the use of the computer that became the essence of his professional career. The first experiments with the medium took place in 2004, when – as he writes – he discovered alternative drivers, kx Project, for the Creative Sound Blaster cards. He became deeply involved in the foobar2000 program, created to play audio files on the computer – he got so hooked on it that, as he mentions in the note, he almost got banned from its official forum for “asking questions”. While following foreign forums, he came across the posts of another “madman”, Josef. They started talking to each other and decided to prepare a music program that would be better than foobar2000 – a heretical idea at that time. This is how JPLAY was born, Marcin explains.

⸜ MARCIN OSTAPOWICZ during a listening session at the seat of HIGH FIDELITY.

Just like Marcin, Josef used foobar2000 at the beginning. Then he came across 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 1990s I consulted one of the top software manufacturers from the USA). I decided to try to understand what this all is about. All software players fulfilled 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 over), yet each one of them sounded different!

⸜ Ibidem.

The JPLAY file player which was created as a result of the cooperation is a computer (software) music player. It is a specialized program designed to improve the quality of sound reproduced by a computer through the optimization of many parameters. It replaces proprietary players implemented in PCs and is considered by many users to be the best player of this type in the world. With time, Marcin Ostapowicz became the sole owner of the program and it was he who has developed it. Compared to the original program, the FEMTO version that we looked at in 2019 appeared to be a significant step forward.

In the meantime (in 2013), a sister company – JCAT – was created. It is run by Marcin to take care of the “hardware” part of an audio path based on a computer. It is because in order to play files properly and then send them to an external digital-to-analog converter, some actions are necessary to take place “in reality”, e.g. via USB and network cards, USB and network isolators, cables and – above all – power supply units. At HIGH FIDELITY we have tested both PSU models that the company is now offering – the OPTIMO 3 DUO and the INITIO 3.

Let me also tell you at the end of this short introduction that JPLAY/JCAT is one of the very few Polish audio manufacturers known and respected in Japan. The JPLAY FEMTO program and JCAT products are used and referred to in tests by reviewers working for two most important audiophile magazines in that country – “Stereo Sound” and “Net Audio” (an interview with YOSUKE ASADA, the Editor-in-chief of “Net Audio”, can be found HERE).

WOJCIECH PACUŁA is talking to MARCIN OSTAPOWICZ about both his companies, computer audio, a new (almost ready) JCAT file transport and a new JPLAY application (all the fragments in bold have been emphasized by the editor).


WOJCIECH PACUŁA I can see you have a few new products on offer and the company is doing well despite the pandemic – hasn’t the lockdown made your business life harder?
MARCIN OSTAPOWICZ No, it is fine. In a way, the pandemic has “helped” me, although I know how terrible it sounds – but these are the facts. Product sales have gone up by over 100%. There have been challenges related to supply, as no one had anticipated a sudden surge in demand, but this also coincided with the previously announced premieres of a few products.

WP Which products?
MO These were the topflight versions of our USB and NET cards. By the way, the NET card was the first such product in the world, as we are talking about an audiophile card here. I launched it in 2015.

⸜ MARCIN OSTAPOWICZ presenting the JCAT file transport board.

WP What do you mean by a “NET card”? I am asking you, as there is great chaos when it comes to the nomenclature used in computer audio…
MO It is a card through which a computer communicates with an Ethernet network. This audiophile NET card was equipped with a Femto clock and linear power supply, LEDs disabling and more mechanically strong ports. It was an interface between an Ethernet network and a PC. Last year, we launched better versions of both cards. The USB card serves to connect a computer to a DAC.

We now also have the OPTIMO 3 DUO linear power supply on offer, which you tested as the first person in the world. The idea was for it to become the PSU for these cards – each of the outputs supplies power to one of them. They were supposed to be a set. However, it appeared that the power supply unit is living its own life and is being used in many other applications.


WP Didn’t you have any problems with component supplies? – Almost all the manufacturers that I talk to mention a literal collapse in the supply chain.
MO Sure I did – the biggest problem was with obtaining the OCXO clock. It is based on a completely new technology that is probably not being used in audio yet. I have been inspired by telecommunications solutions for which the clock was developed.

However, I was curious about one of its features: resistance to vibration. It seemed to me that it would be important in audio gear, especially computer audio hardware. If a computer is not entirely passive and has classic hard drives operating with the speed of a few thousand rpm, it vibrates. So, I thought that using the clock should be effective. That was just a guess, an idea, but it appears to have a great sonic effect. It was this component that I had to wait for a long time.

After the premiere of the cards, I instantly sold all of them. They featured a “pre-order” status on the website, which normally does not happen. It is a very disadvantageous situation for a company. I felt tremendous pressure, as I was anxious that my clients would withdraw their payments. I was afraid of that, but it appeared that 90% of the clients who had ordered the cards were waiting patiently. When the components finally arrived, subsequent delays were much shorter.

WP Talking about clients, have you noticed that the new potential purchasers are a “new wave” of people who did not have anything to do with audio before, or people who know the audio industry and have simply decided to buy now?
MO It seems to me that in case of my products there is no possibility for them to be completely new people from outside the audio industry. I offer really niche products for the people who know what they want, i.e. are familiar with the topic of reproducing music from files, have already experimented with it themselves and know what to expect from my company. It is always a conscious decision.

⸜ The new JCAT transport board with its Ethernet ports thanks to which it can also be a router.


WP Has the pandemic changed anything in your personal life – e.g. caused you to have more free time?
MO No, no – I do not have any free time :) Instead, I have more work…

WP The result of your work is the new file transport that we have in front of us on the table, right? I remember you already presented a product like this a few years ago at a show in Munich, didn’t you?
MO Yes, but it was something completely different that ultimately did not enter production. Actually, I started working on this streamer already in 2015.

WP I remember when you told me many years ago that you consider a streamer to be a “black box”. Everyone still wants displays and control panels, but you wanted it to be a “cube” – that was quite an innovative approach.
MO Yes, I have wanted my file transport only to have a switch, a LAN port and a USB output. And it is ready – it is still just a PCB, as we do not have a chassis for it yet. We are also waiting for a few components to build the PSU that will be placed inside the device. It will be integrated with the transport, as we need three voltages. So, it will be some sort of a “black cube”.

WP Where have you placed the operating system?
MO The operating system will be placed on a FLASH card. It is a coincidence, but the goal is easy updating and also transforming the file transport into something else. The device that we are going to offer will be a two-in-one product – a file transport or router with six LAN ports. It is enough to change the card for the device to have a new application. However, it cannot simultaneously be a file transport and a router – everything depends on the system on the memory card. If someone wants to have both devices, they need to buy two such “boxes”.

WP What will the transport be capable of doing?
MO Nothing new, in fact – it will reproduce files, but they will sound good, or even very good. I must say that I am very satisfied with it. It is a sum of all my experience and knowledge of reproducing files that I have gained for the last ten years.

WP What files will it reproduce?
MO It is going to reproduce all formats without any limits – the only limitation will be the capabilities of the digital-to-analog converter.

WP So, let me ask you about something that you were not convinced about – what with MQA and Tidal, and with streaming in general?
MO If somebody had told me two years ago that I would be listening to streamed music, I would have laughed at them. I was convinced that I would never seriously listen to streamed music, as the quality is insufficient. However, for some time, the quality of streamed files has become so good that I have entirely given up listening to locally stored files.

WP I get the impression that a lot has changed on the providers’ part, in their server rooms and the way files are transferred.
MO This is also important, but I think a more important thing is that now we understand better how to reproduce these files – and my platform is a good example of that.


WP So, your transport will offer Tidal and MQA access?
MO Of course. And this brings us to another extremely important thing – we are finalizing our work on a dedicated app.

It is a problem which pertains to many manufacturers of file players/streamers, whatever you call them (and the nomenclature used in computer audio is extremely varied), who are now forced to either use Roon, which has become a leader – no wonder, as it is the easiest to use, or to UPnP. The latter is problematic as it offers no really good applications. Some of them are tolerable, but they are no match to Roon.

WP I fully agree here – most UPnP apps are a failure, at least according to my experience.
MO If this was only about local files, some of the apps might actually be OK, but when it comes to implementing streaming, it is simply dramatic with them. However, I have noticed a chance and a gap in the market here. I assumed that the market, and not only my streamer, needs a high-end UPnP app – and I have created such an application. It comes free with the streamer, of course, but one will also be able to buy it to be used with other devices and my JPLAY FEMTO program.

⸜ The new JCAT control application with Qobuz on the screen.

WP As JPLAY and JCAT are sister companies, does your transport operate on the basis of the JPLAY Femto player?
MO No, it is actually different. JPLAY operates on Windows, while our operating system is based on Linux with a real time kernel that is best for music reproduction which constitutes a real-time process that requires minimum delays. We were also guided by other product and licensing requirements, the possibilities of “putting blocks together” to create exactly the system that we need, without overloading it with unnecessary functions.

WP Let’s return to the app – what is so interesting in it that someone could actually be interested?
MO Let’s start with the fact that when I began working on the app, I met an interface designer and conducted a survey among the audiophiles who use our products. It gave us a basis for the prototype. We wanted to answer the basic questions – what the people have biggest problems with, what their expectations and habits are, etc. The results became guidelines for us, showing us how to develop the app. At the moment we are conducting beta tests and there will be a premiere this year.

However, let’s return to what the app gives us. Apart from supporting my streamer, it will help you use any other streamer with UPnP support, i.e. Lumin, Linn and Auralic products. These manufacturers do offer good apps, but many solutions used in other devices go with poor quality free apps. It is about the interface, handling streaming services, as well as other possibilities that my app offers.

WP As far as I know, you commissioned the design of the hardware element, i.e. the physical circuit on the PCB, to a Canadian company.
MO That’s right – the PCB has been designed by one of the most interesting Canadian companies. I have been cooperating with it since 2013 and we have also created the USB and NET cards together. Software, however, was developed here, in Poland. I cooperate with various programmers, but tuning this, by which I mean sound tuning, took me over a year.

⸜ The new JCAT control app with an album displayed on the screen.

WP So, what is the most important thing about such a device? Many engineers or even audio journalists think that transport does not affect sound, but only constitutes a bridge connecting the network to a digital-to-analog converter – what do you say?
MO It is not like that, I have a very different opinion. I have been consistently representing a different approach since I started my company. I believe everything starts with a transport that constitutes a sum of two elements: hardware and software. These two elements are responsible for sound quality – in the sense that transport is mainly responsible for sound quality. So, one cannot assess a software program separated from the device that it operates with.

If we talk about running JPLAY on a laptop like yours versus running it on a dedicated computer-server, additionally equipped with JCAT cards with independent power supply, we are talking about an abyss, though both are just file transports. It is naturally an offer for high-end audiophiles, as not everyone will feel like playing with it.

WP I suppose it is a good thing – it seems to me that JPLAY/JCAT are brands for people who know what they are doing, right?
MO Well, yes, JPLAY and JCAT are niche companies. But when it comes to the transport, we are hoping to expand. This year will feature a premiere of both the transport and the app.

WP How much will they cost?
MO My plan is for the transport with the app to cost €5000. It will be our first such product, but not the last one. We are already planning to have more.

WP Towards the top, or the bottom of your price range?
MO The top, for now.

WP Has anything changed in file reproduction recently? I am talking about the so-called backend here.
MO I have the impression that we have already exhausted the possibilities there and little more can be done. I have not noticed any breakthrough, but have rather observed streaming becoming popularized in high-end gear. So, the entry point is easier, as a streamer is part of many amplifiers, D/A converters, etc. However, let me say that, the element responsible for file reproduction should be separate.

WP There are no technological miracles, however?
MO Not at all. On the contrary, I would say. Right now, what has been good is being simplified and costs are being optimized. What has been good will not be much better anymore. There will be progress in hardware, while software is going to become simpler and cheaper. Let us remember that the streaming element is simply a computer and computer market rules apply here.


WP You have come to HIGH FIDELITY with the Initio 3 power supply.
MO Indeed. It represents one of JCAT product lines that was started a year ago with the Optimo 3 Duo power supply that had been planned as a power supply for the USB and NET cards. Later we developed a cost-optimized version, but based on our more expensive product. It has one controller board and this is the main difference between it and the Optimo, but not the only one – the latter features much better components. However, we have tried to preserve as much as possible of its character and quality in the new model.

⸜ MARCIN OSTAPOWICZ with the Initio 3 power supply.

This year we are going to launch another power supply. It will be the first 100% linear computer power supply to be used instead of a classic switching mode one. It will be optimized when it comes to sound quality – there has not been such a product on the market yet. So far, people have been using standard power supplies or had a combination of a switching mode power supply and linear power supply for some modules. That has been a compromise, however.

Creating such a power supply in accordance with the ATX norm, so that it can perform its main task – i.e. improve sound – is really complicated. The problem is also that it cannot be big, which is very difficult to achieve when it comes to computer power consumption – the reason why switching mode power supply units are used there is that they are small. Our power supply will be a separate component with the size of an average integrated amplifier and weight of 25 kilos. Anyway, it will still be small regarding current efficiency.

WP How much will it cost?
MO €4,500.

WP Quite a lot…
MO That’s right, but it is a serious power supply. If someone wants high quality file reproduction via computer, it is the only possibility to take a huge step forward. It is the “missing link” that has put limitations on file reproduction from the beginning. It can be improved using cards, a file player, etc., but it is changing the power supply that results in the greatest quality improvement.

WP Thank you very much for the interview.
MO Thank you, too – and I wish good sounds only to HIGH FIDELITY readers :)


Amplifier: SPEC RPA-MG1000 (review in HF HERE)
Loudspeakers: YG Acoustics Carmel 2 (review in HF HERE)
Cables: Acrolink 8N-A2080 Performante IC, Absolue Creations TIM Signature SP
Power supply: Siltech Triple Crown (review in HF HERE), Siltech Double Crown, Acrolink 8N-PC8100 Performante (review of the NERO EDITION in HF HERE)