Hi-Res Music Playback Software Comparison: Page 2
Audio Capabilities: FLAC, Vorbis, AIFF, + more with additional components. ASIO and WASAPI, plus other plugins available.
File Management: Built-in, easy to organize and personalize. Overall, great file management!
Foobar2000 is my (Cliff here, not Ryan) favorite audiophile playback software. First off, it’s free, which is hard to beat. Second, they offer up an SDK (software development kit), which allows others to build components to expand the functionality of foobar. That’s probably its biggest strength. By opening up development to the online community, the possibilities are basically endless. Some of the available components are ASIO and WASAPI support, a really cool ABX comparator that “Performs a double-blind listening test between two tracks”, and a DSDIFF decoder. In short, you can totally geek out with foobar and customize nearly everything, including the GUI and backend.
At the same time, all that customization and community support comes with a downside. You may have to do some digging and experimentation to get things setup the way you want. That means a lot of time poking around forums and support pages, which luckily, there are a lot of. Another downside, depending on how you look at it, is that new versions of foobar are constantly being released. That means you will be continually updating foobar and any components you use, but update functionality is built-in to the software, so it’s not a big drag.
Even without doing any customization, the software is powerful and easy to use right out of the gate. By default it supports most every file format you will come across, and the built-in file management system is top notch.
At the very least, this software is worth a download because it is completely free, and in my opinion has a much better user interface than many of the pieces of software that you have to pay for.
Customer Support: 7.5 (have to rely on friendly forum folks)
User Interface: 9
Subjective Sound Quality: 10
Trial Offered: NA
Pure Music / Pure Vinyl
OS: Mac OSX
Price: $129 / $279
Audio Capabilities: FLAC, DSD, DSD-PCM, Digitize Vinyl, Audio Units DSP, active crossovers
File Management: Utilizes iTunes file management
Pure Vinyl and its little brother Pure Music are the most versatile pieces of software in the OSX arsenal. This can be good or bad depending on how you look at it. They both sound the same, but Pure Vinyl has the added feature of vinyl digitization and RIAA filters. The software sounds great, has a very analog sound, but is slightly lower resolution than the other OSX offerings. It interfaces easily and automatically with iTunes and has a slew of features that make it easy to do room correction and active crossovers all from a single piece of software.
Both Pure Music and Pure Vinyl have a neat pass-through feature that allows you to run other audio applications through the Pure Music DSP. So if you are utilizing the active crossover functionality and want to listen to Spotify this software makes that easy.
To me, the PM software has a slightly rolled off, forgiving character. The various settings can change the character of sound, sometimes dramatically. So proper setup can take a little care and tweaking, but the end result is a software with great performance and a lot of neat features.
User Interface: 8
Customer Support: 9
Subjective Sound Quality: 8
Trial Offered: YES
Amarra HiFi, Amarra, Amarra Symphony
OS: Mac OSX
Price: $49.95, $189.00, $495.00
Audio Capabilities: FLAC, DSD, 384khz playback (Amarra), File Conversion, Cache/Memory Playback, EQ filters
File Management: Standalone playlists or utilizes iTunes database
Amarra began the high-end software craze and is very refined and simple. A bit more detailed and arguably “HIFI” compared to the other pieces of software, Amarra offers a really nice sonic improvement over standalone iTunes while adding a few neat features. It also comes in three flavors: Amarra HiFi, Amarra, and Amarra Symphony.
All three version of Amarra integrate both a memory playback feature as well as a playlist cache system that loads entire playlists into memory. This is something that most software does in one form or another, but it’s important to note nonetheless.
Amarra has one neat feature unique to their system and that’s their EQ. When going from Hifi to their Symphony level software you are paying for better EQ features and Sonic Studio’s precision metering. The time I spent with Amarra I almost never utilized the EQ and found that I preferred the sound without it. For the additional few hundred dollars it costs you to get the Amarra EQs, your money would be better spent on a Dirac Live system, which utilizes finite impulse response automatic frequency correction and phase alignment at the output of your computer (so it works with any software). I can say from significant experience with the Dirac system that pound for pound it’s some of the best money you’ll ever spend on a computer-based audio system. And because it works with any software it pretty much outweighs choosing a piece of software for the EQs.
My suggestion is that if the highest resolutions you utilize are 24/192khz then stick with the $49.95 Amarra Hifi. It sounds great, has all of the features you need for audio, and is the most affordable. The step up from there allows for 384khz support, so for DSD-lovers that’s the way to go when it comes to Amarra. Aside from the additional EQs, I can’t think of much reason to spring for Symphony as it didn’t particularly impress sound-wise and some of those features are better served elsewhere.
Customer Support: 10
User Interface: 8
Subjective Sound Quality: 9
Trial Offered: Yes
OS: Mac OSX
Audio Capabilities: FLAC, DSD, DSD-PCM, SACD ISO, Memory playback, Direct Sound and integer mode, Izotope DSP
Audirvana sports a neat-looking CD Interface, iTunes integration (or standalone playlists), a powerful 64-bit playback engine and great sound quality. It does not have the DSP features of Amarra or Pure Music, but the sound quality is most certainly the best to be had.
Audirvana comes in two packages, a free version and a paid version. The free version doesn’t offer the same level of fidelity, losing the Direct Sound mode and processes at 32/64-bit instead of a full 64-bit like the full version, but it’s hard to beat the price when it comes to the sound quality. If you plan on playing DSD or doing anything multichannel then you’ll want the full version, which is packed full of additional features and worth every penny.
Like Pure Music, Audirvana supports Audio units plugins and utilizes an Izotope DSP for noise shaping and some of the best dithering algorithms to be found in audio software. While it doesn’t have built-in crossover functions, or the breadth of features of Pure Music or JRiver Media Center (now on both Mac and PC), it does win the sound quality contest.
Customer Support: 9
User Interface: 9
Subjective Sound Quality: 9.5
Trial Offered: YES
Like with all things high-end software, the differences between pieces of software are not like comparing an MP3 to a 24/192khz file. There are many services available on the Mac and PC that can sound absolutely fantastic when properly set up. Spotify is one of my personal favorite playback software, and while it doesn’t yet outperform high res through JPLAY or Audirvana, it can sound SO good by itself that there are times it’s not worth the hassle of messing with playlists and memory playback every time I want to sit back to enjoy some music. You can stay tuned for another article just on Spotify, how to optimize it, and why I believe it’ll be the future of high-end audio some day.
For those looking to do video, JRiver Media Center is the clear winner. When it comes to sound quality on the PC, it’s a system-dependent toss-up between XXHE and JPLAY, with JRMC close behind. On the Mac, the clear sound quality winner, to me, was Audirvana with Pure Music sporting the best, easiest to use feature set and Amarra Hifi being a really excellent bang for the buck that sounds great too.
At the end of the day each piece of software is similarly priced, comes with a 15-day trial, sounds really good, and has an array of unique features. You can’t go wrong with any of them over iTunes. My best recommendation would be to read the features in detail, choose the features you like and take it for a test drive. Trial versions are free and there’s no better way to choose software than to choose software.
Many thanks to Ryan Mintz of Core Audio
President, Core Audio Technology
Confused about what AV Gear to buy or how to set it up? Join our Exclusive Audioholics E-Book Membership Program!
Recent Forum Posts:
bullitt5094, post: 1193808, member: 82593“An internal DAC in a receiver will not get it done”. I'll call B.S. on that statement.
Your DAC counts too! A PC sound card or an internal DAC in a receiver will not get it done. ifi makes some excellent, reasonably priced DACs. Feed it with USB from the motherboard.
I just upgraded my AVR and it contains an internal DAC that's as good or better than most DAC's you could purchase as standalone units. Based on what criteria would you base a statement like yours?
The job of a DAC is simple: convert digital information to analog audio. Period. Add in no DSP capabilities, no sound coloration, no artifacts of any kind. A properly functioning DAC is colorless, tasteless and ordorless: you can't tell its there. That's the mission of a DAC: simply take 1's and 0's and make little waves out of them.
MuchoReverbo, post: 1197559, member: 82578MuchoREverbo
Whether or not you can benefit from an external DAC definitely depends on your system. With my hi-end AVR I didn't experience any improvement but can see why you might on lower-end AVRs. The article linked above is dead-on as far as I have experienced.
I think your reply here is much closer to the pin: you may or may not get any benefit from an external DAC depending on what you have. I just upgraded from a nearly 10 year old DAC/AVR and notice no difference at all in sound quality. If an existing DAC is not functioning properly, you may indeed see an improvement. If an existing DAC is part of a piece of equipment that's coloring the sound due to setup or defect, again you might see improvement. But that's not apples to apples.
I feel a gigantic rant coming on so I'm gonna sign off this thread and listen to some soothing tunes.
bullitt5094, post: 1193838, member: 82593
READ THIS: Not with your system, apparently. I can certainly hear a difference in mine. And I've backed that up by blind tests with my favorite test equipment… my Wife and Daughter who both have zero knowledge of the signal path and bat hearing. But believe everything you read on the internet that suits you.
You need to video this and youtube it.
bullitt5094, post: 1193808, member: 82593
Rip CDs using dbpoweramp in FLAC Lossless. Play with JRiver. Your DAC counts too! A PC sound card or an internal DAC in a receiver will not get it done. ifi makes some excellent, reasonably priced DACs. Feed it with USB from the motherboard.
Read this: Do you need a DAC?
Most likely not.