I’ve always been a “bits are bits” sort of lad, though I have managed to discern differences in software media players on my mobile(*). That said, it should be no surprise that I’d gravitate towards the foobar2000 community, with its myriad customisation options and promises of bit-perfect output.
Long story short, someone whose listening skills I respect recently took a dump on the SQ of foobar, which came as something of a surprise as I did an extensive comparison between it and the much-regarded Audirvana+ and found no discernible differences save for that the output off A+ was a hell of a lot louder, making level-matched testing annoying. Conclusion: this is all being put out to a DAC so chances are my ears just aren’t skilled enough to tell them apart. A+ certainly looked fancier, but being on a Windows machine I found it didn’t quite perform as advertised.
Plus f2k was literally free, so it had that going for it. My A+ trial period lapsed and I I didn’t find myself mourning it, all hail the overlord of software audio players! Besides, I have it looking just how I wanted, and I’m loath to give up the cool retro aesthetic I’ve got going on:
Then of course, my persistently curious ass wanted to try and see if I could get better sound for relatively cheap— I’m not what it is about paying for digital licences that feels so much more painful than shelling out the same for a physical product, but that’s how it goes. Off to the JRiver landing page I went, and several long minutes later (Philippine internet sucks) I’m ready to give pricey software another chance.
It was subtle, but there was a proper difference to my ears this time around. I figured that was confirmation bias at play, not to mention I’ve got an absolute hell of a cold at the moment and my sinuses are painfully swollen, never mind what the state of my eustachian tubes must be, so I slept on it and decided to give it a try later on.This was a few days ago.
I’m still sick, and if anything I feel even worse now than I did a few days back. My hearing’s far more sensitive as a result so I’ve not been listening to music as much, even then at somewhat lower volumes than usual, but near as I could tell listening to my digital collection on JRiver is much less tiring. I’ve not done an extensive A/B, but the differences are really quite overt; on the same tracks at with volume as close as I could manage f2k comes off as more abrasive and less pleasant on the ears, not to mention JRMC paints a more cohesive soundscape (yes, with all DSP turned off). The recidivist objectivist in me wants to say that the latter player is just attenuating the upper frequencies and that I could perhaps achieve a similar effect with parametric EQ, but even excepting the fact that I’m EQ-averse as a matter of principle JRiver is just a hell of a lot nicer to use and has competent DSP that makes watching movies and more fun on my rig.
Is an incremental improvement in sound quality worth $60? Dunno, ask me when my free trial expires in a few weeks. It may not be my aesthetic but this is still damned pretty to look at, though:
What are your experiences with software audio players on Windows/Mac/Linux, and what’s your favourite so far?
- (*) I ended up going for PowerAmp as it was significantly less fatiguing-sounding than Neutron or whatever other software players were FotM at the time I was looking, plus it’s easy on the eyes. The fact that it didn’t cost more than a decent glass of liquor was a nice bonus too.