JPlay Audiophile Software Review/Comparison

Today’s piece is a bit of a quirky one. I was asked to check out JPlay by Marcin Ostapowicz, the founder of JPlay. Marcin was super generous with his time, carefully giving me plenty of interesting details and tips on JPlay when I was first sent the software.

Now, a piece of software is a rather difficult thing to review for an audiophile publication. There’s endless discussion to be had about the sonic intricacies of digital software coding, but I don’t think that will be particularly interesting for any but the most technically obsessive amongst us.

Instead, and in favor of a more interesting piece, I decided a comparison of sorts would make for a more compelling write-up. I’ll start by saying that this is truly a comparison, rather than a ‘shoot-out’ as I won’t be declaring any winners. I feel that each program has its respective pros and cons and will suit different kinds of users. There are some who will prefer JRiver, some Audirvana and some JPlay. Having lived with all three, there’s no doubt in my mind that each one will be a great fit for the right user.

Audirvana UI.

Let’s dive right in with a look at UI. This is an area in which Audirvana is clearly the most sophisticated and slickest of the three. There is a choice of a light and dark theme, both very classy, though the somewhat fancy font can be a tad hard to read on some screens or from far away. The overall interface is well laid out, easy to navigate and offers a number of excellent tools for creating playlists and curating music. Custom sorting tags can be implemented in Audirvana’s settings so that music can be sorted by date of release, genre, composer, and more.

JRIver UI.

JRiver fares quite well in this regard too, though with a slightly more ‘tech geek’ layout. The GUI is not quite as fanciful as Audirvana’s, and you’ll find yourself sorting through Windows-style drop down folders a bit more often, especially when it’s internal metadata sorting falls short. Inevitably, this almost always seems to be the case, as I find Audirvana’s metadata retrieval and sorting quite a bit more robust than JRiver, especially with large local libraries of high-resolution files.

One major difference I have to note is that JRiver will quite easily play files from file systems, so if you store things in File Explorer on Windows or Finder on Mac, it’s a simple click and play program. Audirvana by contrast is much fussier – files must be sorted and organized in a proper folder, which must then be scanned by Audirvana. After this, playback can only be started in Audirvana itself. Adding on this, Audirvana is a somewhat buggier and more RAM intensive program than JRiver, often taking quite a bit longer during bootup as well as the aforementioned library scanning, which with large digital libraries like mine, further slow down the program.

One of the reasons for this more sluggish response, and occasional hiccups during operation which JRiver does not display, seems to be due to the fact that Audirvana takes over a deep layer of the audio subsystems on all the Windows laptops I have on hand for testing. JPlay seems to do something similar, with both programs actually taking over the entire WASAPI driver subsystem, even overriding some functions of the Windows sound settings tab.

JPlay in use.

JPlay accomplishes this in a significantly different way from Audirvana or JRiver – it essentially runs as a settings overlay for Windows through which files accessed directly from the desktop can be run. The interface is extremely lightweight and doesn’t have much in the way of playback functionality, though it can be integrated with UnP Bubble functionality for remote control from a streaming device. There are a myriad of options including buffers, engine settings and more interesting controls labelled ‘throttle’ or ‘hibernate.’

My conversations with Marcin on the phone as well as my read-throughs of the JPlay manual seem to indicate that JPlay is digging very deep into the audio subsytem on Windows, much like Audirvana, and attempting to prioritize audio information as much as possible. JPlay seemed to eat a decent, though not absurd amount of RAM for such a graphically-simple program, though it still ran quicker and faster than JRiver or Audirvana. Such are the benefits of a hyper-minimalist UI.

JPlay’s manual has some very interesting information and quite a wealth of suggestions for how to set up the various buffers and latency settings for specific DACs. I generally had no issues getting it to work with any DAC I plugged in, and found the various settings subtle but noticeable. The buffer settings in particular are important to adjust correctly, but the JPlay manual generally made this a cinch. JPlay’s manual recommends closing all other programs on your machine for highest-fidelity playback, though I didn’t notice specific differences.

Since JPlay doesn’t do any metadata management, swapping between programs quickly was a little tricky, as I had to totally close and reopen both a file explorer window and the JPlay Program and then wait for JRiver or Audirvana to rescan and re-order my library. Take all of the following sonic testing with big grains of salt obviously. You may or may not find your experiences vary.

My experience was a very subtle but noticeable difference between JRiver and JPlay and Audirvana. Whatever audio subsystem routing Audirvana and JPlay were doing definitely seemed a little cleaner and more engaging sounding in my system with most of my DACs. There was a kind of subtle graininess or background noise that I didn’t notice with most music that seemed absent with Audirvana and JPlay, though only when I was doing direct comparisons. That said, the difference was subtle, even more subtle than most audio or digital differences. I don’t know that I could reliably tell the differences between the two programs in a blind test. I’m sure tweakers will have a field day testing between the various software options – add in Roon, Amarra and others and you have an overwhelming array of micro-differences to parse.

Sound quality aside, my personal program of choice is Audirvana. JRiver gets use when I need to play files off my hard drive quickly, and of course, has a decent video playback engine. JPlay doesn’t see a ton of everyday use from me, but the slightly cleaner sound and pure simplicity of the program are certainly appealing. I think for the computer-savvy audiophile who would rather manually control their metadata, psuedo-Foobar style, or DIY streaming folks who have the patience to setup the UnP Bubble system for phone control will find this an excellent and inexpensive solution.

JPLay as Settings Overlay.

Part of the appeal of the JPlay system is that streaming, files or any format that can run off your OS will do just fine with JPlay. JRiver lacks this functionality, and streaming simply isn’t a realistic option, despite the built-in web browser. Audirvana splits the difference, with a web app that is well designed but quite buggy, and support for streaming from Qobuz and Tidal.

So, there you have it. I primarily use Audirvana, and a little JRiver, though again, back when I was more insistent on doing things manually, or if I were to use files or music sources Audirvana doesn’t support, I can absolutely see the usefulness of JPlay. If you’re still tooling along with iTunes, I cannot stress how much of an upgrade from a functionality standpoint these programs are, so definitely check them out if you’re still living in the age of WinAmp/Foobar/iTunes frustration.


Brown Sound's picture

Wow, I was really surprised how many PC-based, file playing hobbyists you could tick off in one short review. I have been subscribed to this site since it's beginning and started bumping heads with Michael about it's direction before his unfortunate departure. This site used to be about getting the best sound from your computer rig, be it desktop, headphones or to your big rig stereo. Now the site has become a style showcase for Apple gear/software and four to five figure net players. Now don't get me wrong, I love reading Stereophile, Sound & Vision and TAS, but most of that gear is audio porn, akin to reading Motor Trend and lusting after a Ferrari GTO. This part of the audio hobby was still accessible to a budget minded listener with technical knowledge and with over thirty years of technician experience, I fit right in that category. As much as I like some the gear still being reviewed on the site, most of my file based needs have been very much jumped over to high end area.
So yes, I am technically obsessive about the details, not as much on the pretty layouts. Yes, I do use a highly customized version of foobar2000, to play and curate my just over 32,000 mixed format files with correct metadata, which resides on a NAS for easy network access throughout my home and on my phone while out. If wanted the pretty stuff, I would just get Roon. I do like better quality sound, so I do EAC rips to FLAC, a few hi-rez downloads and Tidal Masters. As far as, being frustrated with WinAmp/Foobar/iTunes, well I haven't used WinAmp in 15 years and I don't know of anyone still using it. And yeah, iTunes has always sucked. iTunes is an Apple program after all, so it's designed to suck but in a way Apple users like, right?
Okay, my point is where has the roll up your shelves and get your hands dirty attitude gone in this hobby? If you can't figure it out, do some research and learn. This goes for setting up phono cartridges or rolling tubes, too. Buy a calibration disc for the new 8K TV and get a test record for that new turntable. This striving for convenience is what is really killing the hobby. Be a hobbyist not a user. Later and miss ya, Michael.

Bob.B's picture

Well Brown, I suspect we may be Twin Sons of Different Mothers. (you youngsters will have to google that one) Just celebrated the end of a very successful 40-year career in IT. Have about 35,000 tracks on my NAS. Use a Yamaha receiver to play tracks around the pool on nice Klipsch speakers via DLNA. My library of favs is around 5,000 tracks. Also have some really nice Senn headphones and more than a few DAPs for when I'm offline. No matter where I am, I can just set the player for 'random' and enjoy my favorite songs in excellent quality...

Non-geeks haven't figured this out yet, but one of the first things you learn in IT is "the performance of any system is limited by the weakest component in said system". Applies to just about everything in life, doesn't it? Agree with you that one of the glaring weaknesses often points to the software, and I'm also a very happy foobar user.

Foobar is an excellent product, and at the best price you'll ever find. The plugins are generally excellent, and the overall functionality is great. Not to mention it's infinitely configurable.

Music is technology, and if you strive for happiness in listening you'll do better by learning as many pieces as you can. Doesn't matter if you're tuning guitar strings, picking new sax reeds, configuring your system for excellent FLAC capture, or defining your curation process. All are parts of the system and all can make it fail... Stop expecting a miracle out of a box, just learn to optimize the components of the system!

And oh yes, this means MP3 has long outlived its usefulness, and there is certainly no room in my world for flaky fruity computers...

Did I mention this is actually a very fun hobby? As you learn the pieces, you find that you don't have to spend a fortune on high-end components. And spending a ton on a few expensive components won't necessarily improve your listening pleasure at all if they don't address the specific problems in your system...

Go back to the singer's mouth and look at every component her/his voice passed through to get to your ears. Work on fixing the challenges you find. Fun!

Thanks for your comments. I was starting to feel like I was the only one...definitely miss ya Michael!

Brown Sound's picture

Thank you for the kind words, Bob. Maybe, we went to different schools together? Ha ha. How is that for an old reference, for the youngsters to deep up? I hate thinking that this fun hobby is becoming increasingly about big money and convenience, but it sure seems that way. Enjoy your retirement, sir. I am also from the IT sector, but have been through three layoffs and this last one has been a bear to get back from. I'm on the Stereophile forum as well, if ya need some like minded conversations. Have a great week and holidays, sir.

Brown Sound's picture

Here is my FB link... It looks, they have made the forum about as impersonal as it can be.

Geoff's picture

Is there a reason you did not include Roon in this comparison?

Grover Neville's picture

I was originally sent a copy of JPlay to do a review on. I felt a three-way comparison between the three softwares that I listed was more doable for me. I like and have used Roon plenty, and I think it provides an even more robust solution than any of these three, but it does cost a substantial amount more.

joelha's picture

JPLAY FEMTO is by far the sounding JPLAY option.

I don't understand how you could review the company's software and not review that product.