The Road to JPlay
Apple recently released an update for Mountain Lion 10.83 that included Boot Camp support for Windows 8. I have a copy of Windows 8 Pro 64 bit that I thought would work well with my Early 2011 MacBook Pro. This MacBook Pro is a 2.3 GHz Quad Core i7 with 16 GB RAM and a Samsung 840 Pro SSD 256GB. My music library is on a Promise Pegasus 8TB drive and an exact copy on a G-RAID 8TB Thunderbolt drive.
Installation of Windows 8 with Boot Camp is easy and was uneventful. Complete instructions for this installation in Mountain Lion OSX 10.83 can be found here:
I then purchased a copy of JRiver Media Center 18 as my music player. JRiver imported the library with no issues and was easy to set up. The sound of the system with JRiver was very good playing everything from 44.1/16 to 192/24 and native DSD 64 files.
Additional Windows settings included turning off Windows Update, turning off Pagefile, System Restore, and turning off allowing the computer to sleep.
I used the excellent remote program JRemote for the iPad that did a first class job controlling JRiver.
The DAC used for evaluation was the MSB Technology The Analog DAC.
I have read numerous reports from audiophiles using an add-on program to JRiver called JPlay. JPlay is the creation of two dedicated computer audiophiles; Josef Piri and Marcin Ostapowicz. What the JPlay plug-in does is substitute its own sound engine for other software music players such as JRiver or Foobar. JPlay claims that their software will improve the sound of programs like JRiver or Foobar, but retain the library functions and other features of these music programs.
What is JPlay?
What does JPlay actually do to improve the sound of already excellent players like JRiver? JPlay improves the way your computer deals with memory playback, optimizes CPU functionality, and prioritizes essential computer functions while turning off non-essential threads.
The JPlay player is small enough to load into CPU cache and can be used alone or with other software players. JPlay provides optimization of the playback buffer resulting in very low latency to improve playback performance. The large page memory used in JPlay results in low CPU latency as a result of superior memory management. JPlay is able to access non-fragmented memory sooner than other programs as it works as a Windows Service. Music data playback is uninterrupted by giving it the highest maximum priority. JPlay supports both 32 bit and 64 bit CPU architecture.
JPlay supports 16-bit Red Book and high-rez 24-bit files in WAV, AIFF, ALAC or FLAC formats as well as native DSD 64 and 128 files. As I mentioned before, JPlay works with JRiver Media Center, foobar2000, MediaMonkey, music streaming services: Spotify (via fidelify), Qobuz and many more—the only requirement is that the host player supports ASIO output. JPlay also provides JPlaymini; a stand-alone player that works by copying track links from programs like JRiver, or other players and pasting them into Mini. JPLAY also supports a StreamerMode (setup with two PCs connected via LAN) with a dedicated ‘Audio PC’ fully optimized for music transport.
JPlay works with Windows 8/7/Vista, but not XP. 64 bit Windows 8 provides the best results with a Quad Core CPU and 4GB RAM (2GB is minimum). As you can see, JPlay’s approach likes a fast CPU with large amounts of memory.
I have just touched on the many features and functions of this software. The JPlay web site will provide even more information as to what this software is actually doing.
Now some of you will ask why bother with a program like JPlay when programs like JRiver are bit perfect unless DSP options are employed? The answer rests in the fact that music playback is more than just reproducing a data file. It has the element of time involved in the process. How the computer deals with the time factor can have a profound influence on the quality of sound that plays though our systems.
I will share my experiences and results of using JPlay with JRiver in Windows 8, and how this combination sounds in comparison to OSX programs like Pure Music and Audirvana Plus.
If one really wants to get the best from JPlay, you should set aside a period of time to try the different settings and music engines. I worked with the program for two weeks before I found the optimum settings that sounded best to me. JPlay offers 4 different playback engines. ULTRAstream requires Windows 8 for an audio single PC setup like mine and demands the use of Kernel Streaming.
The Playing Via box offers Kernel Streaming, WASAPI, and ASIO. Kernel Streaming offers much lower latency and is the lowest audio engine level in Windows, allowing more efficient, real-time streaming. For the ultimate playback experience, JPlay recommends Kernel Streaming. ASIO is applicable only to DACs that have an ASIO driver. Note that on 64bit Windows a 64bit ASIO driver is required.
There are 3 buffer settings. The first is for 44.1 files, the others for 96kHz and 192kHz files. The best selection would be DirectLink. The lowest settings will result in the best quality playback. I found that I was able to select DirectLink in the Buffer and Buffer 96kHz, but had to use 2 samples to avoid issues with the 176.4kHz and 192kHz files.
Throttle: [OFF,ON]. When Throttle mode is activated, JPLAY will reduce to absolute minimum both CPU and I/O priorities of all running processes and individual threads in the system it can get to, without risking the stability of Windows.
Hibernation Mode: This mode eliminates dozens of OS jitter-inducing processes & hundreds of threads, providing the best possible sound quality. This is an extreme setting and was not used in my single PC setup and is probably best utilized in a 2 computer streaming setup.
There are also settings one can tinker with in the Registry. The only one I used was the UltraSize setting that controls the size of the buffer for the ULTRAstream engine and ultimately settled on 25.
Setting up JRriver for JPlay couldn’t be easier. Select ASIO in Audio Output Mode. Select JPlay Driver in Output Settings.
I first compared the sound of JRiver with WASAPI Event Style and the MSB USB driver for The Analog DAC with JRiver using the MSB ASIO driver. It was no contest. Running JRiver in ASIO sounded much better to me than WASAPI; a bigger soundstage with superior detail and focus. I was very impressed with JRiver ASIO.
As good as JRiver sounded, JPlay in ULTRAstream was superior. The soundstage was larger in both depth and width. Bass was tighter with more impact and far more dynamic. What really got my attention was the superior clarity, focus and definition with JPlay.
Aaron Neville’s My True Story 192/24 showed these differences easily. The bass had pop and punch with JPlay; without JPlay it was good, but the dynamic pace and rhythm was not as good when using JRiver with ASIO. The soundstage opened up with JPlay with the background vocalists clearer and more easily heard. The sonic stage seemed compressed without JPlay. Aaron Neville's voice just sounded clearer and more focused to me with JPlay. There was no brightness or warmth added to the music with JPlay.
Listening to Patricia Barber Smash 192/24 resulted in the same findings; JPlay was superior to JRiver with ASIO. Soundstage, detail, focus, and dynamic pace and rhythm sounded better with JPlay with Kernel streaming and the ULTRAstream engine.
I would like to comment on the new version of JPlay 5.1 vs. the former version 5b. 5.1 was superior sounding to me especially with the new ULTRAstream engine. The Xtream engine worked much better in 5.1 without the delay found in 5b. I found 5b to be somewhat bright sounding, but this brightness was not heard with 5.1.
I was now curious to compare Audirvana Plus Direct Mode / Integer in Mountain Lion 10.83 with JRiver ASIO and JRiver with JPlay. OSX optimizations were applied such as turning off Spotlight for the external hard drive, turning off OSX auto updates, turning off the infrared remote, and turning off Bluetooth.
Audirvana Plus in Direct Mode / Integer was generally comparable to JRiver with ASIO. Audirvana Plus was a little darker sounding and not quite as detailed. Soundstage was similar for both programs. I preferred the slightly more open sound of JRiver ASIO and felt it was the more revealing program. I have no doubts that some of you will like the warmer presentation of Audirvana Plus, but I never felt that JRiver ASIO was bright sounding.
Audirvana Plus and Pure Music did not measure up to what I heard with JPlay. JPlay just stole the show from these two programs.
I encountered a problem playing native DSD files with JRiver/JPlay. It just wouldn't work no matter what combination of settings and engines I tried. JRiver with WASAPI Event Style and the MSB USB driver did play the native DSD 64 files that I had. I was able to play native DSD using the JPlaymini program with no issues. And yes, it sounded excellent!
JPlay 5.1 with JRiver in Windows 8 Pro 64 bit is now my reference player. Marcin and Josef have done a great job with JPlay. I suggest that you give the trial version a listen to see if it improves the sound of your system as much as it did for me.
JPlay Update 4.21.12
I have received numerous questions concerning proper setup of JPlay. My advice is to concentrate on getting the lowest settings for the 3 buffers. DirectLink is optimum and will provide the best sound quality. You can then address the registry settings such as the UltraSize for the UltraStream engine.
I didn’t say much about Hibernate mode as it won’t work for everyone. Hibernate Mode stops many computer processes to reduce computer “noise”. If you want to try it, insert a USB flash drive and start JRiver or the JPlay mini player. When you are done listening, remove the USB flash drive and the computer will be accessible again.
I did not experience a big improvement in sound quality with Hibernate Mode. A slight increase in clarity was observed. Not a big enough difference to give up the JRemote function that will be lost with Hibernate Mode.
JPlay/JRiver Playing DSD files
I was able to solve the issue of JPlay/JRiver not working together to play DSD files with the MSB Technology The Analog DAC. I uninstalled the MSB Technology drivers and reinstalled them. JPlay/JRiver now functioned with both DSD64 and 128 files.
I’m looking forward to hearing about your experiences with this excellent program.