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Software audio player | software


Manufacturer: JPLAY
Price (when reviewed): 149 EUR
The license allows using it on two computers



Provided for test by JPLAY

JPLAY is a software music player. It is a specialized software intended to improve quality of sound played from a computer via optimizing several parameters. It replaces default software players implemented in PCs and by many users it is considered to be the best software of this type in the world. The man behind this product is MARCIN OSTAPOWICZ.

t has been almost eight years since I first met Marcin - I tested the first JPLAY player in September 2011 ( HF | No. 89). I compared it back then with a very good, free Foobar 2000 player and it proved its value - from this moment on it became my "default" player.

Eight years in the computer industry, is a very long time. And file players, both software and hardware ones, have undergone an accelerated evolution during this time. Same goes for the JPLAY player. These changes at some point accumulated into something completely new - the JPLAY FEMTO player, that we would like to tell you about.

Yes, „we”, because this text is a dialog, a story told by Marcin and me. We split it into three parts. |1| We shall start with a conversation, as I'd like to learn something about this software player and how it differs from the biggest hit of the recent years, Roon. |2| The second one will cover what JPLAY FEMTO really is, how does it differ from original version and what can we expect from it. |3| Last but not least, in the third version we will share with you what we heard while comparing JPLAY FEMTO and Foobar 2000.

|1| Part one, CONVERSATION

Marcin Ostapowicz visiting "High Fidelity” – February 2019

WOJCIECH PACUŁA: I wanted address you as the owner of JPLAY, but should I perhaps say, the owner of JCAT – which one is it?
MARCIN OSTAPOWICZ: JCAT is a brand owned by JPLAY and was created in order to support operation of my software. JCAT is short for: JPLAY Computer Audio Transport. It offers peripherals to improve the quality of sound played from a computer, for example USB cables and network cards – let me remind you that the latter is used by the TRPTK publishing house you wrote about (more HERE). I have recently received their newest release with the JCAT logo on - Martin Van Hees, Remgewoken.

When we met for the first time in September 2011…
…JCAT wasn't even there yet.

Lots has changed since then – for me and for you – both professionally and in our private lives, but you've kept working on perfecting still the same product – your software player. Has the approach to software players changed that much since then?
Obviously situation has changed, because first of all the market has changed. Mainly because of streaming services. It seems to me that the sound quality is no longer the most important factor. What counts above all is convenience. Back then, when we met, quality was a priority.

But people actually like „PC Audio” because of its convenience..
Yes, but since the storage capacity was limited high-quality sound was not really a possibility back then, but it doesn't mean that people were not interested. But, of course, it was not high-end.

Do I understand it correctly – JPLAY was your attempt to introduce high-end sound, right?
Yes, exactly. After a few years, streaming services emerged, which took us back, although of course at a much higher level, to the initial situation, when mp3 format reigned.

So where do you see a niche for JPLAY?
My ambition is to bring thinking about sound quality back to the computer sound, so that it's not only about convenience anymore. Not only on the high-end level, because the new FEMTO also supports streaming, but simply in computer audio intended for audiophiles no matter how expensive is their gear.

Has there been any significant changes/improvements considering music files playback since we last met?
Sure. It's about knowledge and experience that I constantly gather and that I keep trying to utilize to improve sound quality.

So is it still just for geeks?
I think that more things today became more of a common knowledge then they were back then. Now a large part of this knowledge are widely accepted facts, you do not need to convince anyone. Today, no reasonable person would question that USB cables affect sound - this is no longer a snake oil. Power supplies in computers - the same. Many companies use advanced, linear power supplies in their servers. And there was a time when engineers thought that a regular switched mode power supply were absolutely sufficient. For them, a computer was not a part of an audio system, it was a common belief among those guys that it had no effect on the sound. And that has changed.

Since this has already changed, it should be also easier to understand that a computer program used to play music files also changes the sound.
Yes, what was clear for us from the very beginning, now becomes a common knowledge.

So what does the JPLAY software do right? After all, anyone can get a free Foobar 2000 - why should I invest in your program?
Because it sounds better (laughing). And it sounds better thanks to the extreme optimizations it introduces to the way the computer operates when playing music. And these optimizations lead to better sound quality. The playback process itself, from the moment the files are read from the media, through its decoding, until the audio signal is sent to the D/A converter - each of these stages is maximally optimized.

The software also partially improves the behavior of an operating system, but it is primarily about what it does and how it does it. It all does not happen in isolation from the hardware. The effects will differ when software is used on a laptop, from those achieved on a dedicated, high-spec server, which is refined in many areas.

What's the difference between JPLAY FEMTO and the original version from 8 years ago?
I've learned a lot during that time, many things became clear for me. For example, the capabilities of the operating system were not adapted to send a signal with such low latencies. Because in my experience, one of the key parameters for a file player is the lowest delay in signal transmission while maintaining low usage of hardware resources - thus minimizing distortions.

The player became more user-friendly. Back then we had only a JPLAY Mini window, and now you can control it from a tablet, use covers, etc. You can also use Tidal. The playback application is my implementation of UPnP, i.e. it is a "renderer". JPLAY turns a computer into a streamer and server.

So what's the difference between JPLAY and probably the most popular audiophile software player today, Roon?
In fact, the idea is similar, although Roon features its own graphical interface and is not based on UPnP, but has its own architecture and its own standard, its own concept. Thinking is a bit similar, but Roon is a separate, closed ecosystem. Roon separates the server part from the part responsible for playback - in JPLAY we had it already in 2013 with the JPLAY dual PC mode - one was a server, the other was a player. It was connected via LAN network. Roon adds a visual part to it.

Do you believe that JPLAY is better than Roon?
When it comes to sound quality, yes, without a shadow of a doubt (laughing). But I am not the only who thinks so - if it wasn't, other companies wouldn't be buying JPLAY licenses for themselves. This is the latest news – the Sound Galleries, a company from Monaco building top music servers, will install my program on their new Extreme model. Both Roon and JPLAY will be available, and the user will be able to choose which one he wants to use.

Roon's advantage is that it promoted itself to becoming an industry standard.
Yes, it is so for now. The advantage of this program is that it is "fool-proof" - I do not know if I can say that, but that's what it's all about. With JPLAY, there is no graphical interface on the computer, everything operates "underneath", it works like a system service. There is only one window to configure main settings.

Can it be customized for particular user?
Yes, there are several options one can use for that. First of all, you can adjust the size of a buffer (DAC Link) - this is a basic parameter that is not universal at all. The size of the buffer changes the sound in a substantial way. We have three playback engines for JPLAY and each of them differently caches the data which also changes the sound. It is important that our program, with the default UltraSTREAM engine, does not use data flow and re-sending mechanisms (UDP protocol). And Roon uses TCP, which repeats the data transfer, and this is not beneficial. Re-sending data to preserve their integrity is not good for sound. You need to optimize the code so that the use of re-sending is not necessary.

|2| Or what JPLAY FEMTO is

Marcin Ostapowicz treats FEMTO as a completely new JPLAY product. It's a complete network player (for audio files) for, as it reads, "the most demanding audiophiles". It consists of JPLAY femtoServer - a media server software compliant with the UPnP standard - and an UpnP audio renderer.

JPLAY FEMTO supports almost all popular audio formats, including DSD Native (RAW) and DoP up to DSD256. In combination with any PC, it works the same way as popular music file players from manufacturers such as Linn or Lumïn, with the only difference being that instead of a dedicated hardware platform it utilizes a PC for this purpose.

Due to deeply-reaching optimizations, the JPLAY improves the playback quality of files stored locally on the computer – as the previous version did - but those streamed from lossless Tidal and Qobuz services.

JPLAY FEMTO provides much better sound quality then all previous versions of the program, while offering also convenience of use via a selected UPnP application installed on a remote device (tablet, smartphone or other computer).

The software works as a background service on a Windows computer. Installation and configuration boils down to a few simple steps:
1) You need to download and run JPLAY FEMTO setup file.
2) You need to point to location where you store your music.
3) You need to restart your computer.
4) You need to pen JPLAY Settings and select output device (USB input in your DAC).
5) You need to run UPnP app on your smart device connected to the same network as the computer with JPlay Femto. You have to choose JPLAY FEMTO as a renderer in the UPnP app and JPLAY femtoServer as your music library.

Recommended app: Bubble UPnP (Android)
Tested apps: Kinsky (Windows, iOS, MacOS),  Glider (iOS),  mConnect  (iOS)

Marcin recommends following configuration to get the best sound quality: in the installer, select the version optimized for Intel processors (if you use one in your computer) and select the ‘optimize for Single PC’.

In the "JPLAY settings" panel, select "KS: UltraStream, DAC Link" - this is the highest possible value (it depends on the driver for the USB converter you use - drivers enabling lowering the buffer value allow to achieve the maximum value). In the case of a dedicated audio computer, try the "Hibernate" function, which stops most processes in the system and turns off the screen during music playback.

Software functions:

  • JPLAY FEMTO UPnP renderer
  • JPLAY femtoServer UPnP media server
  • Lowest buffer value on the market (DAC Link 1000Hz results in a 1ms delay while the minimum value in, for example, foobar2000 is 50ms, which translates into 50x bigger buffer)
  • Supported UPnP control apps: Bubble UPnP (Android), Kinsky (Windows, iOS, Mac), Glider (iOS), mConnect (iOS), MusicLife (iOS), Upplay (Windows)
  • Supported audio formats: FLAC, WAV, DSD DoP, DSD Native (ASIO) 64/128/256, AIFF, ALAC, M4A, MP3, WMA
  • Supported streaming services: TIDAL, Qobuz (including Sublime hi-res)
  • Supported playback methods: Kernel Streaming (KS), WASAPI Event Style, ASIO
  • Special version optimized for Intel CPUs
  • Gapless playback
  • Supported OS: Windows 8 or later (64-bit only))

You can try the player for free – the trial version of the JPLAY FEMTO works for 21 days. The full version including license for two computers costs 149 EUR. Customers who already have one of the previous versions can take advantage of a special offer and purchase the JPLAY FEMTO license in a promotional price of 79 EUR.

|3| It's time to listen to JPLAY FEMTO

For our listening session we used the "High Fidelity" reference system, that is with the Ayon Audio CD-35 HF Edition player as a digital-to-analog converter, the Ayon Audio Spheris III preamplifier, the Soulution 710 power amplifier and the Harbeth M40.1 speakers. The source of the signal was my old HP Pavilion dv7-6030ew laptop with Windows 10 and files were played from a SSD. The signal was sent via the USB output using the Acoustic Revive USB-5.0PL cable.

We listened to individual tracks from different albums - both in PCM and DSD. Most of them were hi-res files, including Master WAV files. Like previously, also this time we first listened to music using Foobar 2000, optimized for my computer, and then we switched to JPLAY FEMTO.

WOJCIECH PACUŁA: It's not just some difference, it's a completely different sound, isn't it?
MARCIN OSTAPOWICZ: Yes, I believe it is (laughing). Lots of things have changed since 2011, I have not wasted this time.

It seems to me, that Foobar sounds more „showy”. And for people who do not have much experience with well-played music it may be more attractive.
You're right. Foobar simplifies presentation, so it is easier to accept. There is more power to this presentation, every element seems stronger.

It was particularly obvious with the new Led Zeppelin remaster.
JPLAY is not about making impression on listener, but about high quality, natural sound. I wanted the sound to be as refined as possible and to sound as "little digital" as possible. It is to sound analogue. Maybe it is a cliché, but that's ultimately what we strive for - the music should sound natural and at the same time as resolving and as transparent as possible in relation to what has been recorded.

Have you noticed, that with JPLAY sound seems a bit quieter? But all you need to do is to increase volume by 1 dB and…
Exactly, with my player the sound gets deeper. Such quieter presentation does not mean worse, quite the opposite, it's an indicator that the presentation is more resolving.

It was very clear with the Aretha Franklin's DSD recording, but even better with the master WAV files from the Polish Jazz series. It sounded really good with Foobar. But comparison with JPLAY quickly proved that with Foobar it actually sounded rather flat – am I right?
Yes, you are (laughing).

What, in your opinion, has been improved in the new JPLAY?
Long story short – to be blunt - everything. The most important thing to me is the refinement of this new sound. It's no longer the coarse sound of Foobar, but it's also better than what the early versions of my program offered. High resolution and its combination with - as I call it - "romanticism" are now simply much better. Music has a "flow", makes more sense, and is not a technical collection of sounds.

With Zeppelins it was easy to hear that with JPLAY everything calmed down on one hand, kind of sorted it in time domain, and on the other hand it was clearer. With Foobar it was more subdued, muddier. JPLAY is more vivid and offers better bass control, which was very clear with Aga Zaryan recordings. The double bass is heavily "tuned up" there and JPLAY coped with it better without losing its timbre. When we were listening to this track with Foobar, we both smiled at the same time - there was too much of the bass there.
I don't really like to talk about how my product sounds like – it feels like I was trying to push it on potential customers…

In my opinion, you do not have anything to be worry about - I think that in the trade press manufacturers and designers don't have enough voice, so to speak. Even if they are in a certain way "biased" by the fact that it is "their" product, they still have a lot to say. We lack more statements from people who really know something .
OK, so let me complain a bit - if you had a newer, faster computer, the positive effect would be even bigger, more impressive. The sound was very good, but it can be even better. And having a dedicated computer, would make another significant difference. And we did not even use the hibernation mode, so we did not use the maximum potential of this software. And the buffer was not set to maximum value.

So – the hardware, meaning a computer one uses, is equally important.
Yes, of course, that's the foundation of a good sound. JPLAY is just a software. As I've said at the beginning, every element of the system plays important role – same as in a classic audio system. The good news is that computer audio will get better and better. We have faster CPUs, RAMs and more and more experience. Changing your computer to a newer one, with a faster processor, you will also improve the sound. Technology improves the sound.

Any final words for „High Fidelity” readers?
The problem at this moment is the USB connection. But I think it's the ultimate solution for computer audio and we just have to work on improving it. Although we can't forget about the whole path of audio signal with its all elements that have to be of a good quality - starting with the USB port we send the signal out to the DAC – it makes a difference whether it's the default motherboard output, or whether it's a dedicated USB card. It matters how the card is powered, what USB cable we use, and last but not least what USB receiver board is installed in the D/A converter. It is also important what driver we have installed on the computer. And finally – the software player plays its role, in this case: JPLAY FEMTO.

So having a dedicated computer makes sense?
Of course it does, but only when it is properly optimized. There is still a long way ahead of us, but even what we already know today is enough, to achieve really good results.

Thank you.
Thank you and see you again!

| Summary

I've known Marcin for years and I think that he is one of the best specialists when it comes to playing music files from a computer. He is also a man immersed in music. I trust such people. His first JPLAY player was excellent, and the information he shared with me opened my eyes on many issues. Even though many computer specialist thought we were crazy. Today we know that he was right and they were wrong. When Marcin said at the time that even changing the interface language changed the sound, it could be treated as some voodoo. Today we know that it was just about changing the system parameters, which in turn always changes the sound.

His latest player, JPLAY FEMTO, was - paradoxically - created in even more difficult conditions. On the one hand, it should have been easier, because no reasonable person, who spent at least half an hour comparing, would claim that different software players sound the same. On the other hand, the expectations for digital audio are incomparably bigger today, and in addition, a strong competition in the form of the entire Roon system has grown. But again - you can compare them yourself and draw your own conclusions.

I know one this - with FEMTO using digital music we're again closer to analogue sound. And that's what we search for, right? So congratulations are due to Marcin and his company, but there is still one thing left to do for them – to offer a dedicated device with the JCAT logo to play music files with. I am pretty sure it will come one day. ■

Reference system 2018

1) Loudspeakers: HARBETH M40.1 |REVIEW|
2) Line preamplifier: AYON AUDIO Spheris III Linestage |REVIEW|
3) Super Audio CD Player: AYON AUDIO CD-35 HF Edition No. 01/50 |REVIEW|
4) Stands (loudspeakers): ACOUSTIC REVIVE (custom) |ABOUT|
5) Power amplifier: SOULUTION 710
6) Loudspeaker filter: SPEC REAL-SOUND PROCESSOR RSP-AZ9EX (prototype) |REVIEW|
7) Hi-Fi rack: FINITE ELEMENTE Pagode Edition |ABOUT|


Analog interconnect SACD Player - Line preamplifier: SILTECH Triple Crown (1 m) |ABOUT|
Analog interconnect Line preamplifier - Power amplifier: ACOUSTIC REVIVE RCA-1.0 Absolute-FM (1 m) |REVIEW|
Speaker cable: SILTECH Triple Crown (2.5 m) |ABOUT|

AC Power

Power cable | Mains Power Distribution Block - SACD Player: SILTECH Triple Crown
Power (2 m) |ARTICLE|
Power cable | Mains Power Distribution Block - Line preamplifier - ACOUSTIC REVIVE
Power Reference Triple-C (2 m) |REVIEW|
Power cable | Mains Power Distribution Block - Power amplifier - ACROLINK Mexcel 7N-PC9500 |ARTICLE|
Power cable | Power Receptacle - Mains Power Distribution Block: ACROLINK Mexcel 7N-PC9500 (2 m) |ARTICLE|
Power Receptacle: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu ULTIMATE |REVIEW|
Anti-vibration platform under Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu ULTIMATE: Asura QUALITY RECOVERY SYSTEM Level 1 |REVIEW|
Power Supply Conditioner: Acoustic Revive RPC-1 |REVIEW|
Power Supply Conditioner: Acoustic Revive RAS-14 Triple-C |REVIEW|
Passive filter EMI/RFI: VERICTUM Block |REVIEW|


Speaker stands: ACOUSTIC REVIVE (custom)
Hi-Fi rack: FINITE ELEMENTE Pagode Edition |ABOUT|
Anti-vibration platforms: ACOUSTIC REVIVE RAF-48H |ARTICLE|

  • HARMONIX TU-666M "BeauTone" MILLION MAESTRO 20th Anniversary Edition |REVIEW|


Phono preamplifier: Phono cartridges: Tonearm (12"): Reed 3P |REVIEW|

Clamp: PATHE WINGS Titanium PW-Ti 770 | Limited Edition

Record mats:


Headphone amplifier: AYON AUDIO HA-3 |REVIEW|

Headphones: Headphone Cables: Forza AudioWorks NOIR HYBRID HPC