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Dirac HD Player App for iPhone Earbuds Review

by December 04, 2012
Dirac HD Player App

Dirac HD Player App

  • Product Name: HD Player for iPhone Earbuds
  • Manufacturer: Dirac
  • Performance Rating: StarStarStarStar
  • Value Rating: StarStarStarStarStar
  • Review Date: December 04, 2012 13:15
  • MSRP: $ 2.99
  • Buy Now
  • Genuine Sound Improvement: This is not a generic sound effect, it is tailored to the original iPhone earphones and controls their actual acoustic properties. This is the only way to achieve a genuine improvement.
  • Easy-to-use: No complicated knobs or settings, simply better sound. Toggle the sound improvement button ON/OFF and hear the difference.
  • The usual simple functionality: Dirac HD Player incorporates the usual simple functionality that you are accustomed to with your iPhone, while the optimization runs in the background.
  • Sound quality benefits: Dirac HD Player gives the listener a natural sound with increased clarity in music and voices; it deepens the bass and removes resonances and other acoustic problems that degrade the sound reproduction.
  • Cost efficient: A very cost efficient and green alternative to upgrading to more expensive earphones.

The app is also available in a free version, Dirac HD Player Lite, that has the same functionality as the Dirac HD Player, except the following features:

  • Import playlists
  • Create playlists
  • Quick alphabetic search index of songs
  • Shuffle and Repeat functions
  • iPhone 4, iPhone 4s, iPhone 5, iPod touch (4th and 5th generation)
  • iOS 5.1 or later
  • Tailored for Apple original Earphones and Apple original EarPods

** NOTE! iTunes Match and iTunes in the Cloud not yet fully supported.

DRM protected music from iTunes is not supported by Dirac HD Player. **

Pros

  • Makes your earbuds bearable
  • Cheap
  • Easy to use

Cons

  • Still have to use the earbuds
  • No manual adjustment
  • iTunes Match, Cloud not fully supported
  • DRM protected music not supported

 

Dirac HD Player App Full Review

Skeptical. If I had to describe myself in a word, it would be skeptical. Someone claims their speakers perform as good as speakers five times the price? I'm skeptical. My kid says he's up for Reader of the Year? Skeptical. My wife says she thinks my fascination with headphones is cute? Highly skeptical. So when a company approached us and claimed that they could make the stock ear buds or ear pods that came with your iDevice sound better? I was very skeptical.

Background

Dirac_playingI have to admit, Dirac wasn't a company I was familiar with. But a quick perusal of their website shows that they are no fly-by-night app developer looking to capitalize on a well-written description of their app in the iTunes store. Dirac works with the likes of BMW, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Lear, and Oppo. They've developed digital room correction technology for HiFi, digital cinema, cars, and studios. They have the pedigree necessary to put together an app for optimizing the sound of your iDevice. 

Use

If you've never downloaded an app from iTunes...well, I'll wait until you do. It doesn't take much. There are two versions of the Dirac HD Player - a free "lite" version and the full paid version. The lite version is fully-featured (I was afraid it would only play 30 seconds of a song or something) though you can't import or create playlists and there is no quick alphabetic search index of songs or shuffle and repeat functions. This allows you to experience the full abilities of the digital correction without having to pay. If you like what it does for you, and you want those features, you can pay the $2.99. To me, this is the right way to incentivize people to buy your app - don't hamstring it to get them to pay - give them the core mechanics for free and ask for the bells and whistles for a price.

I downloaded the Dirac HD Player to my 4th gen iPod Touch running the latest version of iOS. The Dirac HD Player is designed to work with either of the stock earphones that come with your iDevice. When you open the app, it will ask you which you are using. While you could use the app with any headphones, obviously the results will likely be less than optimal. If you have the full version, there will be tabs at the bottom for playlists (both Dirac specific and those on your iTunes account), artists, songs, albums, and Dirac. The Dirac menu actually overlays the other screens so you can still sort of see what is going on in the background.

Turning on and off the Dirac correction is as simple as a button press. This makes A/B comparisons very easy. Switching calibration settings, for good or ill, is done not within the app but in the settings menu. If you are one that is worried about your kids changing your settings, having to exit out of the app and into the Settings menu is probably a good thing. For convenience, it would have been nice to have that selection within the app.

Dirac_onoff

While turning on/off the app is very easy, it reveals the most obvious "flaw" with the Dirac HD Player - it only works with the stock earbuds. While that's fine if you use the stock earbuds, it also has no manual controls to tailor the sound to your tastes. Or, more importantly, tailor the sound to a different set of earphones. Of course I put flaw in quotes because Dirac never promised to work with any other set of earphones. That is a design choice they have made.

There is a way of making your own playlists within the app but it isn't the best interface. The songs come up alphabetically and you can't reorganize the songs in any way. That's fine if you know exactly the song title but if you're like me, you often recognize the placement within an album more than the song name. It would be nice to be able to reorganize the songs by artist or album. Once you chose your songs for your playlist, there is an Edit button but I had a hard time pressing it. It is right under the Back button and I kept going to the previous screen. Once engaged, you can relocate songs with your playlist or delete them.

Once you begin playback, there are controls for pause/play, forward/back, volume, shuffle, and repeat. The Shuffle and Repeat buttons are near the Back (previous screen) and List (lists all songs from that artist) buttons. I had a hard time controlling the app without multiple tries. The Repeat control was a little confusing at first as it had a single arrow in a circle to indicate repeat the current song and a double arrow to indicate repeat album/playlist. I'm used to seeing a single arrow in a circle with a "1" inside of it for a single song or and empty center for album/playlist repeat. Control and interface issues aside, once you get your playlists set up, you'll likely only be using the play/pause, forward/back, and, occasionally, the playlist/album select screen. Those controls were all easy to access and use.

Dirac_list

Performance

Once you get the Dirac HD Player setup, the real fun comes in seeing whether or not it can make your stock earbuds acceptable. Being able to switch on and off the correction on the fly makes it easy to see if your $2.99 was well spent. Well, to be succinct, it was. Very much so.

Dirac says:

"Are you thinking about buying new expensive earphones? Try this first! The Dirac HD Player is an easy-to-use music player that uses advanced technology to make a genuine improvement of the sound quality of your original iPhone earphones. You can now listen to all your favorite music in your iTunes library with improved sound quality."

"Improved sound quality" is a pretty nebulous term. I don't often do this, but let me make a few editorial changes for Dirac.

"Are you thinking about buying new expensive earphones? Try this first! The Dirac HD Player is a music player that uses advanced technology to make a genuine improvement of the sound quality of your original iPhone earphones. How much of an improvement? With the press of a button you won't believe you're still listening to your stock earbuds!" 

I've tested a lot of headphones in my time. They've ranged from $20 a pair to over $300. That's a pretty wide range of prices and I've heard a lot of different performance variances as well. The hardest thing to do is to get a good balance of bass and treble so that the music is clear without being fatiguing on the top end or muddy on the bottom. It is a fine line.

The stock earbuds have virtually no bottom end. There is very little there and what is available sounds like the plastic drums my three-year-old beats on. The top end is fatiguing and tinny - to the point that I spent less that five minutes with the stock earbuds when I first got them before throwing them away in disgust. 

The difference between the Dirac HD Player engaged and not engaged is nothing short of amazing. If you had asked me if this would have been possible with the stock earbuds, I would have stated emphatically no. But, apparently it is. Unlike other sound enhancement apps, Dirac hasn't just boosted the output and bumped up the bass. They have tailored every bit of the frequency response to suit the earbuds you are using. The treble is much smoother and more extended. It isn't at all fatiguing or tinny. The midrange has a lushness that I'd never though possible with the stock earbuds. The entire upper end is just light years better.

The bass of the stock earbuds is naturally horrible. It is practically non-existent to begin with. This is truly where you can see the effects of the Dirac HD Player solution. While the bass is only slightly more extended, the output is much more natural and much fuller. While listening to some bass runs, the difference in the extension wasn't mind blowing, but the sound quality was night and day. I just wanted to yell, "We have bass, people! Bass!" Obviously, the Dirac HD Player can't force the earbuds to recreate sounds outside of its range, it is making the earbuds perform to their optimal level.

One last sonic test I did was to switch the calibration settings from the earbuds to the earpods to see if Dirac had actually set up two different DSPs for the different earphones. Sure enough, changing the settings changed the sound considerably...and for the worse. If you are planning to get the Dirac HD Player, don't just think that you can use it with any headphones. Remember, there are no manual controls so it is either the stock earbud or the newer stock earpods.

Dirac HD Player App Conclusion

The question I believe I need to answer is whether purchasing the Dirac HD Player is better than buying a new set of headphones. Well, if you could point me to $2.99 headphones that perform as well as the Dirac HD Player, I'd say no. But you are going to have to spend upwards of $40-$60 to get something that sounds as good as the Dirac HD player. While it can't turn your earbuds into $500 headphones, and the interface leads a little to be desired, it can take something that sounds fairly horrible out of the box and make them sound so much better than you won't believe your ears. I know I didn't.

Dirac HD Player App

MSRP: Free Trial; $2.99 Full

Dirac_logo

The Score Card

The scoring below is based on each piece of equipment doing the duty it is designed for. The numbers are weighed heavily with respect to the individual cost of each unit, thus giving a rating roughly equal to:

Performance × Price Factor/Value = Rating

Audioholics.com note: The ratings indicated below are based on subjective listening and objective testing of the product in question. The rating scale is based on performance/value ratio. If you notice better performing products in future reviews that have lower numbers in certain areas, be aware that the value factor is most likely the culprit. Other Audioholics reviewers may rate products solely based on performance, and each reviewer has his/her own system for ratings.

Audioholics Rating Scale

  • StarStarStarStarStar — Excellent
  • StarStarStarStar — Very Good
  • StarStarStar — Good
  • StarStar — Fair
  • Star — Poor
MetricRating
PerformanceStarStarStarStarStar
Ergonomics & UsabilityStarStarStarStar
Ease of Setup/Programming/IntegrationStarStarStar
FeaturesStarStarStar
PerformanceStarStarStarStar
ValueStarStarStarStarStar
About the author:
author portrait

As Associate Editor at Audioholics, Tom promises to the best of his ability to give each review the same amount of attention, consideration, and thoughtfulness as possible and keep his writings free from undue bias and preconceptions. Any indication, either internally or from another, that bias has entered into his review will be immediately investigated. Substantiation of mistakes or bias will be immediately corrected regardless of personal stake, feelings, or ego.

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