Media Player Software Overview

Perhaps one of the easiest and least expensive (as in free!) things you can do to improve the sound quality of your computer audio playback is to use one of the many audiophile-grade Media Player apps. If you’re attached to iTunes don’t fret – a number of these players let you keep the iTunes interface while they go about the business of better sound more or less in the background.

We recommend trying a few (all of the applications listed here offer free trails unless otherwise noted) and also feel that a personal tour is a necessity since everyone will have their own preferences when it comes to what constitutes a friendly user interface. In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be taking a closer look at Media Player software and expanding this list but in the mean time, please feel free to help yourself.


Mac and PC

iTunes
Apple
www.apple.com/itunes/download

Price: Free

The closest thing to a ubiquitous music player, iTunes on the face of it offers everything you need. Downsides include the inability to play FLAC files in their native format, the interface bogs down once your library exceeds about 10,000 songs and no auto-sample rate conversion which is a game-stopper for people with HD music in their libraries. AudioStream cannot recommend augmenting iTunes strongly enough with one of the players listed below. That said, iTunes as a free Music Browser is hard to beat.

Features:
Type: PC and Mac compatible player
File Formats Supported: MP3, AIFF, WAV, MPEG-4, AAC (.m4a) and Apple Lossless
Sample Rate: up to 192kHz
DSD playback: No
Auto Sample Rate Conversion: No
Memory Play: No
Gapless Playback: Yes
Exclusive/Hog Mode: No
Integer Mode: No
Upsampling: No
Remote: Apple Remote App for iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch


Mac Only

Amarra
Sonic Studios
www.sonicstudio.com/amarra

Price: Junior: $99, MINI: $295, Full: $695

Manufacturer’s Description:
Junior: Amarra Junior is the 99 dollar Computer Music Player with the million dollar sound. Amarra Junior supports up to 96kHz sample rates, Plays AIFF, WAVE, MP3, AAC and Apple Loseless. Amarra Junior is also perfect for compressed music and CDs.

MINI: Designed for high resolution audio, Amarra MINI supports up to 192 kHz sample rates, automatic sample rate adjustment, double-precision audio processing, RAM-based Cache for disk-free operation, native FLAC playback and conversion.

Full: Amarra supports up to 384 kHz sample rates, Automatic Sample Rate Adjustment, RAM-based Cache for Disk-free operation, Native FLAC Playback and Conversion, choice of Dither Algorithms.

System Requirements: Intel Macs 4GB RAM (or more) recommended, 10.5.8, 10.6 Snow Leopard, we do not recommend 10.7 as there may be issues with sound quality, iTunes: 10.0, and later.

Features:
Type: Mac-only iTunes add-on or Stand Alone Player
File Formats Supported: Junior & Mini - AIFF, WAVE, MP3, AAC and Apple Loseless, FLAC, Full version adds DSD
Sample Rate: Junior - 96kHz, Mini – 192kHz, Full - up to 384 kHz
DSD playback: Yes (Full version)
Auto Sample Rate Conversion: Yes (all versions)
Memory Play: Yes (all versions)
Gapless Playback: Yes (all versions)
Exclusive/Hog Mode: Yes
Integer Mode: Yes
Upsampling: by 2x / 4 x or Maximum sample rate
Remote: Apple IR Remote
Other: iZotope 64-bit SRC best in class sample rate conversion algorithm, Dithered volume control with iZotope MBIT+ dithering highly advanced algorithm

Audirvana
www.audirvana.com/Site_2/Audirvana.html

Price: Free, Audirvana Plus - $49.99

Manufacturer’s Description:
No equalizer, no trendy special effects, just the best sounding music.

System Requirements: Mac OS X 10.6 or 10.7 (note that Apple has currently removed Integer Mode feature from 10.7), RAM: 2GB minimum, 4GB or more recommended

Features:
Type: Mac-only Stand Alone Player
File Formats Supported: AIFF, WAVE, FLAC, Monkey Audio APE, WavPack, Apple Lossless, AAC, MP3
Sample Rate: up to 384kHz
DSD playback: Yes (Audirvana Plus)
Auto Sample Rate Conversion: Yes
Memory Play: Yes (Audirvana Plus)
Gapless Playback: Yes
Exclusive/Hog Mode: Yes
Integer Mode: Yes (Audirvana Plus)
Upsampling: by 2x / 4 x or Maximum sample rate
Remote: Apple IR Remote
Other: iZotope 64-bit SRC best in class sample rate conversion algorithm, Dithered volume control with iZotope MBIT+ dithering highly advanced algorithm  

BitPerfect
itunes.apple.com/us/app/bitperfect

Price: $4.99

Manufacturer’s Description:
BitPerfect is a simple, easy to use, audiophile grade music player that works with iTunes to deliver the highest possible sound quality.

System Requirements: Intel, Mac OS X 10.6 or later.

Features:
Type: Mac-only iTunes Add-On
File Formats Supported: FLAC, AIFF, WAVE, MP3, AAC and Apple Loseless
Sample Rate: up to 196kHz
DSD Playback: No
Auto Sample Rate Conversion: Yes
Memory Play: Yes
Exclusive/Hog Mode: Yes
Integer Mode: Yes
Upsampling: by 2x / 4 x
Remote: Supports Apple Remote App for iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch

Decibal
sbooth.org
www.sbooth.org/decibel

Price: $33

Manufacturer’s Description:
Decibel is an audio player tailored to the particular needs of audiophiles.

System Requirements: Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) or later.

Decibel is compatible with Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion). Exclusive access (hog mode) works correctly, however audio is not sent in the device's native format due to an architectural change in Apple's USB audio driver.

Features:
Type: Mac-only Stand Alone player (replaces iTunes)
File Formats Supported: FLAC, Ogg Vorbis, Musepack, WavPack, Monkey's Audio, Speex, Apple Lossless, AAC, MP3, WAVE and AIFF.
Sample Rate: up to 192kHz
DSD playback: No
Auto Sample Rate Conversion: Yes
Memory Play: Yes
Gapless Playback: Yes
Exclusive/Hog Mode: Yes
Integer Mode: Yes
Remote App: No

Fidelia
Audiophile Engineering
www.audiophile-engineering.com/fidelia

Price: $19.99, + $49.99 Fidelia Advanced, + $9.99 Fidelia Remote

Manufacturer’s Description:
Fidelia is a high-definition audio player for sophisticated music lovers. With support for all contemporary audio file formats and an elegant interface that focuses exclusively on music, it gives users the power and the freedom to organize, customize and savor their digital music collection at the highest possible fidelity in any circumstance. If you've invested in premium audio hardware, you should have the best audio software.

System Requirements: 10.6 or 10.7 Intel Macs, 1 GB of RAM (we recommend 2 GB or more, 1 GB or more free space, QuickTime 7.2 or later highly recommended

Features:
Type: Mac-only Stand Alone Player
File Formats Supported: AIFF, WAV, CAF, AAC, Apple Lossless, Ogg Vorbis or FLAC
Sample Rate: up to 192kHz
DSD playback: No
Auto Sample Rate Conversion: Yes
Memory Play: Yes
Gapless Playback: Yes
Exclusive/Hog Mode: Yes (Fidelia Advanced only)
Integer Mode: Yes
Upsampling: iZotope Resampler
Remote App: Fidelia Remote ($9.99)
Other: iZotope MBIT+ Dither in Fidelia Advanced

Pure Music
Channel D
www.channld.com/puremusic

Price: $129

Manufacturer’s Description:
High Resolution Music Server Software for Apple Macintosh Computers.

System Requirements: Mac OS X 10.5.8 or later; G4, G5 or Intel CPU. Minimum 1 GB RAM, 2 GB for Memory Play. 4 GB or more preferred for high resolution memory play (88.2 kHz or higher sample rate).

- Pure Music is compatible with Lion (including 64 bit iTunes) and the new Mac Mini. However, unless you have a pressing need to update an existing machine, allow the dust to settle on Lion for a while. It's prudent to wait at least until the first dot update (e.g., 10.7.1) is released by Apple.

Features:
Type: Mac-only iTunes Add-On
File Formats Supported: FLAC, AIFF, WAVE, MP3, AAC and Apple Loseless
Sample Rate: up to 384kHz
DSD playback: Yes
Auto Sample Rate Conversion: Yes
Memory Play: Yes
Gapless Playback: Yes
Exclusive/Hog Mode: Yes
Integer Mode: Yes
Upsampling: optional REAL-TIME 64-bit upsampling
Remote: Supports Apple Remote App for iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch
Other: Uncompressed audio streaming support (up to 384 kHz and up to four separate connections), 64-bit Adjustable 2/3/4-way Crossover with time alignment and minimum phase filters, Pure Vinyl's™ High Quality File Sample Rate Converter (downsample high-resolution audio to 96, 88.2, 48 or 44.1 kHz / 16, 24, or 32 bit files)


PC Only

Foobar2000
www.foobar2000.org

Price: Free

Manufacturer’s Description:
foobar2000 is an advanced freeware audio player for the Windows platform. Some of the basic features include full unicode support, ReplayGain support and native support for several popular audio formats.

System Requirements: Win XP #, Win Vista #, Windows 7

Features:
Type: PC-only Stand Alone player
File Formats Supported: MP3, MP4, AAC, CD Audio, WMA, Vorbis, FLAC, WavPack, WAV, AIFF, Musepack, Speex, AU, SND... and more with additional components.
Sample Rate: up to 192kHz
DSD playback: No
Auto Sample Rate Conversion: Yes
Memory Play: Yes
Gapless Playback: Yes
Exclusive/Hog Mode: Yes
Integer Mode: Yes
Upsampling: Yes
Remote: available through 3rd party components
Other:

J. River Media Center
www.jriver.com

Price: $49.98

Manufacturer’s Description:
It's the best media player software available. Play your media wherever you are. More than a world class player. It's also a Media Network, a whole house music, movie, TV, and photo solution. The leader in audiophile quality sound. The most powerful media database available; an essential tool for large collections. An endless source of satisfaction for tweakers and developers.

Requirements: Windows 2000, XP, Vista, Windows 7, & Home Server.

Features:
Type: PC-only Stand Alone player
File Formats Supported: Monkey’s Audio (ape, apl), MPC Audio (mpc, mpc+), MPEG audio (mp3, mpa, mpga), OGG Vorbis Audio (ogg), Wav Audio (wav), Windows Media Audio (wma, wax), AAC Audio (m4a, m4p, m4b, aac), AIF Audio (aif, aifc, aiff), AU Audio (au, snd), Audible Audio (aa), CD Audio (cda), MIDI Audio (mid, midi, rim, rmid), RealAudio (ram, ra), Shorten Audio (shn), Podcast (pcast, podcast, rss), Dolby AC3 (requires download), FLAC (flac), DTS WAV (via DirectShow and requires additional configuration), WavPack (wv)
Sample Rate: up to 192kHz
DSD playback: No
Auto Sample Rate Conversion: Yes
Memory Play: Yes
Gapless Playback: Yes
Exclusive/Hog Mode: Yes
Integer Mode: Yes
Upsampling: DSP Studio in Playback Options allows resampling at 48Khz, 96Khz, and above.
Remote: available through Plug-in software.
Other:

COMMENTS
Vincent Kars's picture

Hi
Can’t escape the feeling this is written by a Mac guy.
7 OSX players and 2 for Win?
What about
WMP
JPlay
MusicBee
XBMC
VLC
MediaMonkey
MusiCHI
Etc?
 

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Hi Vincent and welcome.

Yes, this list is certainly lopsided but we will be balancing things out shortly.

Cheers.

rastanearian's picture

I am concerned that someone new to the idea of computer audio will come away with the false impression that they need a Mac in order to participate. I realize iPods are popular and that their owners are corralled into using iTunes to sync them. The iPod and iTunes are cross-platform products that work just as well on a PC as they do on a Mac. That Apple represents only 5% of the computer market suggests there are more iPods syncing with iTunes on a PC than any other platform.

The Mac-centricity of computer audio has become a real turnoff where yet again the masses are not being represented.

Computer audio on a PC should not be an afterthought.

Computer audio on a Mac is not a "higher-end" option; it is simply an option.

I am glad to see that there is intent to balance out the above list.  I urge you, Michael, to apply that balance to the whole website.

JIMV's picture

I use Pure Music in my serious music system but use J-River on every other PC in the house. The ability for J-River to do some art easilly, even with WAV files is a big plus for me. I wish Pure Music could do the same. The household also owns two iPODs but...I am increasingly unsatisfied with the sound from an iPOD...I have moved most of my music to my Droid 3 using the Poweramp app and have much better sound. I have no idea if that app supports anything beyond WAV (lossless) but it sure sounds better through phones.

nunh's picture

I will stick with Foobar - and scratch the use of itunes altogether! I buy from emusic which is not hd but, fills my needs nicely.

LogicprObe's picture

Surely there are more players for PC than Mac?

Mac's have been banished around here because of their refusal to play nice with the Windows network.

 

All I want is a player to play wav files and HD tracks.

No MP3............no complicated interface.

Is it too much to ask?

Rich Davis's picture

Are you sure it's an Apple related problem with them not playing nice with your Windows network?  Maybe you are used to older versions of the OS or maybe it's just a setup issue that's easily remedied. 

Why are you having problems playing WAV files on a PC? That should be easy.  I know Winamp is no longer.  But Windows Media Player plays them as does others. 

samidzepol's picture

First time reading this website and I would like some help understanding the purpose and meaning on the features below that are used to describe the different Media Player Softwares:

 

DSD playback

Auto Sample Rate Conversion

Memory Play

Gapless Playback

Exclusive/Hog Mode

Integer Mode

Upsampling

 

I'm specially intrigued with the DSD playback, where and how can you get DSD encoded recordings? The only DSD sources I know are SACD (which I believe they're unrippable) and Tascam digital recorders.

 

Any help will be greatly appreciated.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Here's an article titled "DSD-Ready DACs" which includes a few sources for Direct Stream Digital downloads as well as a link to one method of ripping SACDs.

I’m working on a Glossary of computer audio terms that will include each item on your list. I hope to have this ready in a few months. In the mean time, here’s a super-condensed version:

Auto Sample Rate Conversion – Really should be called "Auto Sample Rate Switching" which is the ability to automatically play music files in their native format. For example iTunes does not offer this feature so you either play all music files at the same resolution or you have to manually set the bit/sample rate for different resolutions.

Memory Play – music file is loaded into memory before being played, i.e. the media player is not reading from hard drive during playback.

Gapless Playback – applies to a media player’s ability to remove the few second space between separate files/tracks during playback where appropriate. One example where this is applicable is a live recording that has separate tracks saved as separate files but in the original recording there is no silence between them.

Exclusive/Hog Mode – media player has exclusive access to the audio interface.

Integer Mode – This is a DAC and OS-dependent function where the media player software bypasses processing in Apple’s CoreAudio (here’s a good article,  “Beyond bit-perfect: The Importance of the Player Software And MAC OS X Playback Integer Mode” by Damien Plisson)

Upsampling – converts a music file to a higher sample rate.

Rich Davis's picture

Check out Blue Coast Records, 2L and be on the lookout for what Sony is doing. They are the big proponents of DSD.

It's still up in the air as to if it's going to catch on since SACD didn't catch on as well as they hoped.

JRiver (both PC and Mac), Amarra (Mac) and PureMusic (Mac) I know play DSD, but you have to get a DAC with a DSD support.  Not many to choose from right now.   But I'm sure more will emerge over time.  It's just not as popular right now. 

Baygul's picture

I have just set up J River on my home network, with my desktop as server and my dedicated HTPC as client.  Once I got through the setup process, I was rewarded with a great sounding media player that has an excelent user interface.

The setup had a couple of pitfalls to overcome first. I had to spend a day and a half cleaning up the meta data on my music library, and renaming all the coer art to "folder.jpg" before the library import process would produce satisfactory results.  Next, I had a problem with the HTPC playing hi res 96 KHz files at only 48KHZ.  After a lot of fiddling I finally discovered that when playing files over a network, J River automatically downconverts files to prevent network interuption.  That is fine when I am streaming to my iPhone, but annoying when I want hi res playback on my audio system.  I finally discovered that in the DSP settings, this feature can be disabled, and now all is good.

I am still on the free 30 day trial period, but will definitlly spend the $50 for this player.  It is replacing Foobar 2000 as my player, and while Foobar is a great player capable of producing excellent sound, it is not powerful enough in network capability and it's library functions are not a well developed as J River.

Recomendations for PC users:

J River Media Center for network and multiple device users, for users that want a polished user interface, and for large libraries.

Foobar 2000 if you want a great free player, only play music from the computer it is stored on or have a NAS that is always on, and don't require an elaborate library system.

prerich45's picture

Yeah, I think this article was very MAC biased. You guys need to do a review on JRiver - Hometheaterreview.com has already beaten you guys to the punch.  Oh FYI, JRiver now supports DSD files. I have no affiliation with JRiver whatsoever...just an avid fan of it!

Rich Davis's picture

I don't think it was biased either way, all they did was run through the various most popular players for both platforms.  I didn't see anything in the editorial that suggested one platform over the other.  They left out Linux, probably since the list was compiled in 2011 and there wasn't much and it's a platform that's not as widely used by people, but I think it would be nice to see ALL software and a list of the features and be kept up to date as an ongoing list of what's out there.

I would also like to see a similar list of USB DACs, cables, external power supplies, etc. and be kept up to date so we have a one stop for information.

I just wish they updated this and maybe had a tips and tricks for each s/w for optimal perfomance.