JPLAY SOFT­WARE FOR WIN­DOWS AU­DIO

BACK­GROUND SOFT­WARE FOR WIN­DOWS AU­DIO

Australian HIFI - - CONTENTS -

A unique piece of soft­ware tar­geted di­rectly at au­dio­philes who want the best sound from their com­puter-stored mu­sic.

JPLAY is piece of Win­dows soft­ware tar­geted di­rectly at au­dio­philes who want the best sound per­for­mance with their com­puter-stored mu­sic. But JPLAY isn’t re­ally a mu­sic player, although it has a min­i­mal player called JPLAYmini just in case you need one. It’s ac­tu­ally an en­vi­ron­ment de­signed to allow your pre­ferred qual­ity au­dio player for Win­dows to op­er­ate bet­ter than it might other­wise.

THE PROB­LEM

Com­puter mu­sic play­ing soft­ware has a ma­jor lim­i­ta­tion. It has to be run on com­put­ers and com­put­ers are mul­ti­pur­pose de­vices. They not only can do many things, these days they must do many things, and must do quite a few of those things at the same time.

Many of those things are largely in­vis­i­ble to you or me as users. Mostly in­vis­i­ble, any­way. But you will have clues. For ex­am­ple, you click on some­thing and in­stead of it in­stantly re­spond­ing there’s a pause. Per­haps half a sec­ond, and barely no­tice­able. Per­haps sev­eral sec­onds and quite ir­ri­tat­ing. It may be due to the com­puter hav­ing to spin up a hard drive that was rest­ing, but it may be that re­sources are busy do­ing other stuff. Main­te­nance tasks, per­haps. Mon­i­tor­ing tasks. Who knows?

Right now as I’m writ­ing this, I can see from Win­dows Task Manager that I have seven ap­pli­ca­tions run­ning… and 110 ‘Back­ground pro­cesses’. Some of them are re­lated to the run­ning ap­pli­ca­tions (fif­teen of them are Adobe, so I guess they’re to do with Acro­bat or Pho­to­shop. Sev­eral are due to my dis­play driver. But a few of them are to do with Win­dows, be­cause there’s a sep­a­rate list of an ad­di­tional 34 ‘Win­dows pro­cesses’.

MU­SIC CAN’T WAIT

If you’re play­ing mu­sic, in­ter­rup­tions and de­lays are to­tally un­ac­cept­able. Com­puter sys­tems for play­ing mu­sic typ­i­cally pro­vide a de­gree of buffer­ing—read­ing ahead and stor­ing source data for ready ac­cess. But they can only do so much and if just one sin­gle sam­ple of au­dio is missed, or if there’s a de­lay of just 23 mi­crosec­onds, (as­sum­ing CD-standard 44.1kHz sam­pling), you’ll likely hear it.

And that’s where JPLAY comes in. It is a Win­dows pro­gram that man­ages the process of get­ting mu­sic from your com­puter to your dig­i­tal to ana­logue con­verter, and man­ages the com­puter to elim­i­nate de­lays, and in­deed the pos­si­bil­ity of de­lays, should you wish.

But it is not in­tended to be player soft­ware. You will need a com­pe­tent player on your com­puter.

One that al­lows you to se­lect the au­dio out­put method in­de­pen­dently of Win­dows’ built-in fa­cil­i­ties. In particular, it must allow you to se­lect ASIO driv­ers. ASIO stands for Au­dio Stream In­put/Out­put and was de­vel­oped by pro mu­sic soft­ware com­pany Stein­berg a very long time ago to work around the lim­i­ta­tions of Win­dows au­dio han­dling.

Win­dows has im­proved over the years with the in­tro­duc­tion of such things as WASAPI (Win­dows Au­dio Ses­sion Ap­pli­ca­tion Pro­gram­ming In­ter­face), but ASIO has such a huge sup­port base in pro au­dio it makes sense to keep on us­ing it.

When peo­ple talk about ASIO, they tend to talk about its ‘low la­tency’ virtues. When you’re, say, record­ing an ad­di­tional track in a multi-track record­ing, play­ing along as the ex­ist­ing tracks are played back, that’s pre­cisely what you want: ‘low la­tency’. If the play­back au­dio and record­ing au­dio are un­duly de­layed they won’t be syn­chro­nised with each other. But the good thing about ASIO has been what you might call ‘ad­justable la­tency’. You can change the size of the buf­fer to get a bal­ance be­tween un­in­ter­rupted au­dio and few de­lays. With pro stuff, you’re going to want the de­lay as short as pos­si­ble as is con­sis­tent with no in­ter­rup­tion. But there’s no rea­son in our lis­ten­ing con­text, where we’re gen­er­ally not try­ing to syn­chro­nise with any­thing, why we shouldn’t em­ploy a larger buf­fer, and thus longer de­lays.

JPLAY

So what you see of JPLAY isn’t a play list or any­thing of that kind. What you see is a set­tings panel. You in­stall it, in­voke the set­tings panel, choose the out­put de­vice that you want the mu­sic to go to—typ­i­cally that will be your DAC, as de­fined by its driver, and choose from the var­i­ous set­tings op­tions pro­vided by JPLAY as to how the au­dio should be han­dled.

Then you go to your ac­tual player soft­ware and choose ‘JPLAY Driver’ as your out­put de­vice. It is im­ple­mented as an ASIO driver. So in­stead of your player send­ing mu­sic di­rect to the driver which runs your DAC, your mu­sic goes to the JPLAY driver which does its stuff and then for­wards the au­dio onto your DAC’s driver. It’s in essence some­thing in be­tween.

I have two crit­i­cisms of this user model and one lim­i­ta­tion I should stress. First, when it’s in­voked, the Set­tings panel can’t be moved on the screen. That’s prob­a­bly more of a prob­lem for peo­ple like me who are writ­ing about it rather than for peo­ple who are us­ing it. That’s be­cause of my sec­ond and more sub­stan­tial crit­i­cism: it doesn’t have an ‘Ap­ply’ but­ton.

You make changes to set­tings and the only way to make them work is to hit ‘Okay’, which in­vokes them but also makes the JPLAY Set­tings panel go away. There are quite a few set­tings and some of them will have at most very sub­tle ef­fects, and some in­ter­act with each oth­ers in dif­fer­ent ways. That calls for a lot of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion. It would have been nice to have been able to hit ‘Ap­ply’, have a lis­ten, change a set­ting, hit ‘Ap­ply’ again and so on. I put a link to the JPLAY Set­tings app on my task bar to make it eas­ier to start up again.

Fi­nally, be­cause it de­pends on ASIO, it can’t be a sys­tem-wide au­dio manager. You use the JPLAYmini player or a player which sup­ports ASIO, such as Foo­bar2000 (my player of choice) or Mu­sicBee (both free) or JRiver Media Cen­ter (which costs money). But Win­dows it­self doesn’t sup­port ASIO and there are a lot of mu­sic play­ers that only work through Win­dows. So mu­sic played by your browser (e.g. when you’re play­ing YouTube videos) or iTunes or Spo­tify, can­not run through JPLAY. TIDAL mu­sic can be­cause its app al­lows one to se­lect a spe­cific au­dio de­vice.

That said, the man­ual at the JPLAY web­site de­scribes a num­ber of work­arounds us­ing third party soft­ware, in­clud­ing the beta ver­sion of a prod­uct called Fidelify, which is a Spo­tify client.

There can also be prac­ti­cal dif­fi­cul­ties as­so­ci­ated with all this, es­pe­cially if you’re plan­ning on us­ing your com­puter as a mul­ti­pur­pose de­vice. You may have just one au­dio de­vice—your DAC and the high-qual­ity au­dio sys­tem into which it’s plugged. If that’s the case, you will want to be able to play YouTube videos and what­not through the sys­tem. So you can have the DAC se­lected through the reg­u­lar Win­dows ‘Man­age Au­dio De­vices’ so that it works when you’re not play­ing mu­sic with your player soft­ware run­ning through the JPLAY driver. Of course, if your JPLAY-de­liv­ered mu­sic is going, you won’t get sound from those other apps.

This switch­ing be­tween the two gen­er­ally worked well, but you should be care­ful. If I tried to start Foo­bar2000 play­ing mu­sic through the JPLAY driver while some­thing else—say a YouTube video—was play­ing, then not only would it not work, I’d also get an er­ror mes­sage af­ter a while from Foo­bar, and the JPLAY Set­tings panel would not open, giv­ing a mes­sage about an in­abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate over some IP ad­dress on the lo­cal net­work. IP ad­dress? What’s all that about? It re­quired a re­boot to get JPLAY work­ing again.

Any­way, you have to man­age your­self a bit while let­ting JPLAY man­age the sound. (I was us­ing Ver­sion 6.2.)

SET­TINGS

In ad­di­tion to choos­ing the out­put driver for your DAC there are ten main set­tings. Some are fairly ob­vi­ous, such as ‘Bit­per­fect Vol­ume’ which al­lows you to reduce the out­put level with­out loss of res­o­lu­tion, and ‘Po­lar­ity’. You can have the out­put in the source bit-depth (e.g. 16 bits for CD standard mu­sic) or force it to 24 or 32 bits.

More im­por­tantly, there’s a ‘Throt­tle’ mode, which should be set to ‘On’, which makes sure Win­dows know that this must be treated as a high pri­or­ity process, rather than be­ing sac­ri­ficed to other pro­cesses. That alone ought to en­sure that your stream is never in­ter­rupted. You can set the buf­fer size—the length of mu­sic lined up, ready and wait­ing.

Then there are three choices for ‘En­gine’. I’m not sure of the dif­fer­ence be­tween ‘Clas­sic’ and ‘Ul­traStream’, but one of particular in­ter­est is ‘Xtream’. An­other set­ting is called ‘XtreamSize’, and this can have a numer­i­cal value of up to 5000. What it does is take over suf­fi­cient RAM in your com­puter to store the mu­sic in RAM, rather than stream­ing it from some other stor­age. It would seem that 5000 equals five sec­onds. When I chose that set­ting, the com­puter set aside a quar­ter of a gi­ga­byte in RAM for a process called ‘jplay. exe’, which is where I as­sume the data is main­tained. My main com­puter runs 16GB of RAM so that pre­sented not the slight­est prob­lem, but if you’re us­ing an older com­puter with lim­ited RAM, that may impact sig­nif­i­cantly on other uses. The on­line man­ual also de­scribes some tweaks to the Win­dows reg­istry for those brave at heart.

There’s also a kind of help sys­tem when you click on an op­tion, but it uses the Win­dows no­ti­fi­ca­tions box which pops up in the bot­tom right of the screen. This tends to dis­ap­pear a bit too quickly to allow one to ab­sorb its con­tents, and some of the text was too long for the box, so the tail end of the in­for­ma­tion couldn’t be ab­sorbed at all… on my com­puter any­way.

JPLAYMINI

I must not for­get the lit­tle player that comes with JPLAY. It’s not so much ‘mini’ as min­i­mal. It is sim­ply a win­dow with a kind of text in­ter­face.

It would have been nice to have been able to hit ‘Ap­ply’, have a lis­ten, change a set­ting, hit ‘Ap­ply’ again and so on…

It doesn’t have any set­tings since it al­ways out­puts to JPLAY. To use it, you use standard Win­dows meth­ods (se­lect and Con­trol-C) to copy some tracks. Then you se­lect the JPLAYmini win­dow and press the space bar. It loads in the tracks and starts play­ing. You can skip to the next track, pause/play or stop. But that’s it. No other func­tions and all that is dis­played is the file name and the play time.

I could make fun of it, but if you’re OK with se­lect­ing tracks (or a folder, so long as the tracks are the next level down within the folder) it worked per­fectly well, and pro­vided gap­less play, even when us­ing the XStream ‘En­gine’, which can take up to five sec­onds to start while it loads up a bul­let­proof steam of au­dio.

JPLAY — THE FINE PRINT

The price for a sin­gle JPLAY li­cense is €99 (A$150 at the time of writ­ing in June 2017). Free and trial ver­sions are also avail­able. The ver­sion used for eval­u­a­tion to pro­duce this re­view was V6.2. The full paid-for li­cense in­cludes 32-bit and 64-bit in­stall­ers, free life­time up­dates, and per­sonal sup­port di­rectly from the au­thors. A sin­gle li­cense is valid for a whole fam­ily; any fam­ily mem­ber is free to use JPLAY on any com­puter they own be­long­ing to them in the one house­hold. To run JPLAY a com­puter should ful­fil the fol­low­ing min­i­mum cri­te­ria: Win­dows Vista, 7 or 8 or Win­dows 2012 Server, at least 2 GB of RAM, net­work adapter (Wi-Fi or Eth­er­net). All ver­sions of JPLAY can be down­loaded from http://jplay.eu. There is also a com­pre­hen­sive man­ual on­line at http://jplay.eu/man­ual/

SOUND

I am not one that leans to­wards the dif­fer­ent-hard-disks-pro­duce-dif­fer­ent-qual­ity-au­dio school. For me, dig­i­tal is dig­i­tal and all sounds the same so long as it is com­pe­tently han­dled. JPLAY most cer­tainly han­dles dig­i­tal mu­sic com­pe­tently, and makes sure that the rest of your sys­tem also han­dles it com­pe­tently.

Those who ad­here to the other school are going to find a su­perb set of func­tions and set­tings in JPLAY to make sure that their pre­ferred dig­i­tal au­dio han­dling is pro­vided, along with plenty of op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore dif­fer­ent ways of han­dling the data. There’s cer­tainly a school of thought that re­gards the pre-load­ing of mu­sic into RAM and play­ing from there as a def­i­nite en­hance­ment.

For everyone else, JPLAY pro­vides an as­sur­ance of in­ter­rup­tion-free play­back and a com­plete ab­sence of miss­ing au­dio sam­ples. Stephen Daw­son

Mu­sic played by your browser, or iTunes or Spo­tify, can­not na­tively run through JPLAY. (See copy).

Right now as I’m writ­ing this, I can see from Win­dows Task Manager that I have seven ap­pli­ca­tions run­ning… and 110 ‘Back­ground pro­cesses’, some re­lated to Adobe pro­grams.

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