iOS Corner Face-Off: HF Player And NePLayer

But HF Player’s interface is button heavy, and in 2015, horribly anachronistic. The good: swipes take you all the way back to root from the playback screen. The bad: its setting menu is grouped under headings that to the trained eye, look like touch targets. They are not. Below them are radio switches, arrows, and textual links. It is ugly.

Mashing its EQ to the ceiling yields little noise. That’s because the first thing HF Player does is lower your iDevice’s output by a few decibels. I have no idea how it side-steps major distortion after you ram one frequency or another to the top, but by and large, it does. Gain is automatic, but you can also raise and lower EQ volume by swiping up or down on the screen. Naturally, noise rises and lowers correspondingly.

New music must first be synced before it registers in your device. If you’re listening to regular old Redbook file, you can just plug and play through iTunes the way you do normally. iTunes files sync normally. If it’s HD files you’ve got a hankering for, you have to drag and drop them into the app section of your iDevice. Either way, you first need to sync your device. I kind of find it a drag. And, the same files take yonks to transfer. A DSD album measuring 1,5GB takes much longer to sync than the same size album through iTunes. That is the nature of non-proprietary interfaces.

If you’ve got the right outboard DAC, HF Player will spit DSD DoP signals up to 6MHz, and can up sample or down sample everything else to meet the requirements of your music or your device.

HF Player does its job, but not prettily. With the singular exception of back-swiping, it relies too heavily on the sort of layout a fresh-faced Apple intern would have rejected in 2008. My biggest WTF moment, however, revolves around this: if you’re enough of an audiophile to need DSD playback, and to shell out 12 – 13 bones for a music-playing app, there’s no way you own Onkyo headphones. Onkyo shouldn’t be pandering their so-so headphones. They should be focusing on making the best app available.

As far as SQ is concerned, I’ve noticed possibly that HF plays files slightly louder than their Music equivalents. But, equalised for volume discrepancies, discernible differences are minor at best. HF Player’s main draws are its EQ system and hi-res playback.

Verdict: HF Player gets the job done. But you need to pay extra for the privilege. I’m just not sure why it bothers.

NePlayer

NePlayer follows modern Apple interfaces more closely. Largely this is a good thing. Its now-playing screen is more business-like. Unfortunately, it’s got this annoying attention-bomb called ‘Hi-Res Visualizer’ constantly bobbing below the scrobbler. I’d rather see bigger album artwork. Or an easier-to-grab scrobble tog.

Its file info palette is better organised than its HF Player analogue. But then again, across the board, it’s not hard to be better organised. It settings are simpler and more wholesomely free of advertising. Still, Radius pay special attention advertise their other apps. While at it, it’s a shame they don’t spend as much time plugging their TW earphones.

Unlike HF Player, NePlayer doesn’t require you to update your library before playing back new 16-bit albums. Like HF Player, all hi-res files require a library re-sync. This is a small thing, but one I can get behind. Primarily as I am used to the no-nonsense Music App. )Hmmm, am I now saying that about the iOS 9 Music app?)

More complaints: NePlayer’s ‘High Reso’ and ‘Music’ library selection icons are too large for my beloved iPhone 4s. There’s simply not enough room to scroll through songs, albums, artists, and genres.

Speaking of iPhone 4s: if you’ve got a hankering for setting your own awesome EQ, you’re out of luck. It’s either hidden, or gone from the menu. It works beautifully on an iPhone 6. Spline EQing is a cool take on a semi-parametric EQ. It doesn’t hold a candle to the one in Astell&Kern’s new AK380.

And while I didn’t mention it above, I’ll do it now. HF Player doesn’t do landscape mode. NePlayer does. But it shouldn’t. It’s pug-ugly: merely breaking up its regular interface into album art/song information on the left and and navigation controls on the right. Seriously, whatever least amount of thought has ever gone into orientation-changing interfaces and Radius have it nailed. It is neither more easy to use, nor does any major album/genre/setting navigation layout change meaningfully for landscape users.

I do appreciate that you can drag and drop songs wirelessly to and from your device with NePlayer and connect to a DLNA music servers. It handles hi-res files wonderfully. But so does HF Player. Which means that if Apple added support for it, so would the Music app.

Both HF Player and NePlayer do Android. But because both Android hardware and software are more varied, NePlayer drops some utility depending on your device and OS.

Verdict: NePlayer is nicer to use than HF Player, but not by leaps and bounds. You pay more, and still, iOS’s base Music app provides a better, more coherent listening experience.

Yay.

So what?

I began this review from the perspective that iOS’s Music app sucked. I’m still not enamoured by it. It doesn’t do Hi-Res. It’s got a near-worthless EQ. Its interface is complicating from generation to generation. It’s stuck to music-industry standards.

So much could be changed.

But, volume-matched, neither NePlayer nor HF Player show repeatable improvements in SQ. Both are more complicated than the Music app, and neither works perfectly straight from an iTunes sync.

Still, if you want DSD playback, you have few apps from which to choose. NePlayer’s 16$ are more well-rounded.

And strapped with one of these hi-res apps, an iPhone, or iPod touch, plays hi-res files for hours longer than does your Fiio or AK, or Hifiman etc. and so on to infinity and beyond. And it does so in a much more polished, stable, and cleverly designed way.

And, despite the fact that the iPhone 4s can’t hold a candle in 24-bit to an AK Jr at volumes which illustrate 24-bit’s theoretical advantages, it sure does that warmish/strong thing that I love from the AK Jr, but with nary the aberrant UI or hardware glitch and double the battery life and at heat levels much lower than an AK240 or AK380 or campfire, for that matter. 

For this reason, I think that both apps offer great utility for the smartphone user that must play hi-res files. For everyone else, I recommend sticking with the stock app, sticking with your stock device, and buying better earphones or headphones.

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Back before he became the main photographer for bunches of audio magazines and stuff, Nathan was fiddling with pretty cool audio gear all day long at TouchMyApps. He loves Depeche Mode, trance, colonial hip-hop, and raisins. Sometimes, he gets to listening. Sometimes, he gets to shooting. Usually he's got a smile on his face. Always, he's got a whisky in his prehensile grip.

14 Comments

  • Reply September 29, 2015

    George Lai

    I used to have HF Player in an attempt to play high rez on my various iPhones but as you rightly pointed out, the inability to sync high rez defeated its main purpose amongst other things. So now my solution is two-fold:
    1. Use the stock music app on my iPhones (I still use my iPod Classics) for my iTunes lossy and ALAC files. Nothing comes close to the ease of synchronization. Nothing.
    2. Use my Sony ZX-2 DAP for my lossless FLAC and DSD music.
    Life’s too short to try to shoehorn one into the other.

    • Reply September 29, 2015

      ohm image

      I need to update one thing. I didn’t point out that HF Player requires in-app. But even with it… ridiculous.

    • Reply September 29, 2015

      ohm image

      Honestly, unless you are listening at volume levels above the noise/dynamic ratio of 16-bit, hi-res has no advantages. I understand the need/want to play them. I fall into that group as well.

      Which is another reason I prefer the stock app. Anything that makes it harder to enjoy music is tough. That said, if I had to choose just one ridiculous 3rd-party app, it would be NePlayer.

      • Reply September 29, 2015

        George Lai

        I agree, Nathan. Though I have my high rez files, DAPs, DACs, and amps, there are times when my iPhones and the stock app with a decent CIEM more than suffices, especially when I’m outside the house at a coffee shop watching the world go by.

        The other thing I’ve never agreed with is the seemingly general view that iTunes is cumbersome. It is almost perfect for music. I just ignore the video, podcast, etc sections as I don’t use them. And I say again, I have yet to find any music app on my Mac that does such a marvelous job at synchronization and creating smart playlists.

  • Reply September 29, 2015

    derSchallhoerer

    You need to check out the Vox Player iOs App, Nathan. Hires support (even dsd if you’re fancy) and costs nothing.

    • Reply September 29, 2015

      dalethorn

      If you’re familiar with that player, can you say a couple things about it? Let’s say that all I wanted to play is CD rips at I have in a folder on my Mac. Can I download those tracks to Vox as easy as iTunes downloads to my iPhone now? Does Vox have as good an interface as iTunes, particularly A to Z buttons so I can jump to tracks beginning with Z immediately? Does it have an equalizer? Does the free versions hit me with ads?

      • Reply September 30, 2015

        ohm image

        I’ll cover this one, too.

      • Reply September 30, 2015

        derSchallhoerer

        As long as they are redbook alac’s, yes you can just transfer the way itunes would normaly work. If they are flac or everything above redbook, there is an app-folder menu within itunes were you can drag and drop files and folders into the vox app. I really like the UI. Its minimal and to me personally aesthetically pleasing. Scrolling from A to Z is possible, yes. The build in EQ is pretty good to be honest. I’m not aware of any ads whatsoever. And this thing gets updated regularly. Just try it out, Dale. It’s free and won’t bite. And maybe you end up digging it.

  • Reply September 30, 2015

    djordje

    Accudio™ Pro by Golden Ears

    https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/accudio-pro/id553759905?mt=8

    it has a big DB of headphones profile (personalized EQ for most models) that tries to improve sound – tends to make flat freq. response of a headphone by applying downloaded EQ created from official headphone frequency response graph…
    better explained:
    http://accudio.goldenears.net/accudio/concept/

    I think free version does not support FLACs or automatic EQ download anymore, personal EQ can be created though. 🙁

    On mac (os-x) I use VOX too , like it a lot (simple, drag and drop any kind of file and it plays well).

    • Reply September 30, 2015

      dalethorn

      I’ve used Accudio Pro, but what I tell users is don’t always settle for the setting that’s matched to your headphone. Sometimes there’s another setting that works better.

    • Reply October 1, 2015

      ohm image

      Largely, I put these side by side because both make hullabaloo about hi-res, not merely lossless. Golden Ears (which I own), does not.

  • Reply October 7, 2015

    Willyman

    You do realize there’s not actually anything above 20 kHz coming out of your iPhone right? Unless you connect a DAC it’s hardware limited.

  • Reply November 4, 2015

    Colin

    I can’t try ne player & kaiser-tone(i have read on other audio forum, anyone ever try this?), i have try(good) is golden ears(not accudio) but it has problems can’t play songs from music library & must manually manage the songs ; a better one(feel awesome) is relisten(arround usd60, amazing price i think), they have lite one to try it. So whose become the best arround this with yours experiences?

    • Reply November 4, 2015

      dalethorn

      According to the app’s description, Relisten will actually modify the music “to recover the original sound” from your MP3’s”. That doesn’t sound good to me.

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