JPLAY Responds: An Open Letter
There has recently been some hubbub online (and even within some applications!) surrounding the media player JPLAY. Essentially, claims have been made by the people behind two competing (actually complementary) media players that JPLAY is nothing more than a "hoax" and an "audiophile scam". The former claim was leveled by JRiver, both in their software as a warning to JPLAY users as well as online on the JRiver forum (among others), and the latter claim was made by Foobar2000. As you may be aware, our own Steve Plaskin reviewed JPLAY (see review) and found it did in fact improve the sound quality of his system so our position in this skirmish is clear.
Josef Piri and Marcin Ostapowicz, the people behind JPLAY, have submitted a response to these claims and I chose to publish it here on AudioStream in our Industry Voice section to allow them the opportunity to speak directly to these claims and offer up their side of the story.
JPLAY Responds: An Open Letter, Josef Piri and Marcin Ostapowicz
'Simpler is better' is an old rule frequently quoted by designers of audio-equipment. However, some say we should completely forget this rule when it comes to computer audio: They say, computers are so 'fast' and audio reproduction such a relatively 'easy' job for a computer, that any computer, regardless of hardware or software used, will sound absolutely identical provided the data is 'bit-perfect' (as in: digital audio bits are not modified by equalization, digital signal processing, etc). And they add that once a computer outputs 'bit-perfect' data then all those who claim to hear a difference between software players or operating systems or computer hardware are ‘delusional’ at best and, at worst are 'scammers' and 'hoaxsters'!
We at JPLAY believe the old rule 'simpler is better' should not be ignored for computer audio—to the contrary: We believe that the less work a computer has to do the better it will serve as a digital audio transport.
Why? Because neither Windows nor the MacOS are designed for 'real-time' operation: In other words, any task involving time is a 'best-effort exercise' as opposed to a 'guaranteed execution'.
Unfortunately, for digital audio, timing is an essential requirement: the official standard for CD playback says 32 bits must be played precisely every 22 microseconds: if this timing is 'off', even by a very, very small amount, the output, by definition, is no longer in line with the technical specification for CD playback. In other words: digital playback must not only be 'bit-perfect' but also 'timing-perfect'. That is why many modern DACs often showcase 'jitter' measurements (denoting a DAC’s timing precision) at the _pico_second level (1 picosecond is only 0.000001 microseconds!).
And that is what JPLAY is all about: improving timing.
What JPLAY does is simply 'slow down' any task in the computer not related to audio (the average PC can easily have hundreds of those). Even more extreme, in JPLAY’s ‘Hibernate mode’ many tasks are stopped altogether, rendering the computer unusable for any 'normal' work and in effect, 'brute forcing' Windows to treat audio-playback as the only remaining job—all in order to give audio the best chance of 'perfect timing' possible!
While some audiophiles will manually optimize the Windows OS on their servers, JPLAY adds to that process by increasing the computer's timer resolution accuracy to the maximum possible. JPLAY uses special ultra low-latency RAM to store music samples and massively pre-queues them so the sound driver can access them faster. It also leverages the lowest latency networking available (in a unique 'StreamerMode' mode involving two PCs) to utilize the smallest playback buffers of any software player on the market. This is all done in a fanatical attempt to attain the absolute minimum number of computer cycles needed to accomplish 'perfectly timed' digital audio playback.
It’s important to note that the corporation accusing JPLAY of being a 'hoax' does not, in fact, deny JPLAY is performing this massive "audiophile re-programming" of Windows. No—Instead, this corporation denies that, despite JPLAY’s actions, JPLAY has any impact on sound quality whatsoever. Their "proof" is that JPLAY does not have any 'technical measurements' to demonstrate an improvement in sound quality.
Sure, we don’t have all the 'technical measurements' we would like: The simple fact is, while there are plenty of DAC measurements regarding jitter, when it comes to using a computer as a digital transport, there simply aren’t any! Nobody has quite figured out how to measure ‘computer jitter’ (or 'computer noise'), which others propose is the "real" cause of the sonic differences in software and/or hardware.
While we’re certain technical measurements will come in time, computer audio is still a new field—and while we're certainly looking forward to working with anyone advancing the state of art, we do believe we have the best measurement equipment on the planet: the ears of thousands of passionate and discerning audiophiles who have tested dozens of JPLAY versions by ear alone…
All of them simply cannot be wrong: 'Simpler IS better' with computer audio.
P.S. A free downloadable trial of JPLAY is available at www.jplay.eu. Please listen for yourself and decide.
For those interested in further discussion on this subject, check out our Media Player Q&A: 10 Questions for 8 Companies. The participants include JRiver and JPLAY and one question posed was, "What makes one media player sound different from another?".