I’ve been using a few different OSX Audio Players in the past few months, and I found them to be interesting enough that I’m going to be writing more about them in the future. For now, I decide to start out with a review of Tim Murison Bit Perfect, a player that I found to have strong points in performance, ease of use, and pricing.
APP STORE LISTING
Being listed in the App Store has big advantages not only for the developer, but also for the customers, since it simplifies the whole purchasing-downloading-installing process to one or two clicks. At the moment, none of the other audiophile players are listed on the App Store, but I personally think that it’s the proper way to go, seeing how the majority of Apple users these days shop regularly on the App Store. I give BitPerfect a +1 just for this.
BitPerfect runs together as sort of an add-on to your standard Itunes player, with the only tweak being the superior data transmission offered by BitPerfect as opposed to the standard Itunes engine. Now this is a good thing, as I don’t need to spend time over getting familiar with a new user interface and a library management interface. Indeed I can’t seem to get totally comfortable with the other player’s interface regardless of how many weeks I spent with them. That may be due to the design of the interface itself, and not a matter of familiarity. But since most people with a Mac also tend to use Itunes, I really think that going the Itunes way is the way to go. We don’t have to worry about getting music purchased from the Itunes store to a separate audiophile player, and likewise importing content from CDs can still be done within the convenience of Itunes’ importer feature. Besides, we know that Apple spent a lot of money developing Itunes into the state that it’s in right now, and in my view it would be a futile attempt to try to spend time to develop a new interface to compete with Itunes. As of now, BitPerfect along with the Amarra players are the only two developers who have made their programs to run alongside Itunes, but I think it would be a good thing for the other developers to follow suit.
BITPERFECT AUDIO PERFORMANCE
I’ve tested BitPerfect with anything as basic as the Fiio E10 + Superlux HD661 to something as exotic as the Audio-Gd Ref7.1 + WooAudio WA5/Apex Peak + Sennheiser HD800/Beyerdynamic T1 and found that I get the same improvement regardless if I’m on the Fiio or the Ref7.1 system. Music becomes more open and less congested. It’s similar to if you had just upgraded your source to a better DAC. So this is definitely something that everybody can benefit for, and for merely $4.99. Granted, the difference can be subtle to untrained ears, but if you’ve been very critical of the quality of your DAC, I think that for $4.99, the BitPerfect is really something you should give a try.
Now, I don’t think that the $4.99 price tag is an indication of lower quality programming. Like how the best App Store apps often sell for $0.99, I would see the price tag to be a reflection of BitPerfect’s marketing strategy. At $4.99 added with the App Store placement and the Itunes integration really makes it a very good offering for the average Joe who’s just getting interested in improving the quality of his computer audio playback. So far I’ve compared BitPerfect with Fidelia, Decibel, and Audionirvana, and I think BitPerfect ranks just as well as the pricier options. I should write a more detailed sound comparison at some point, also with the Amarra players.
Recently I’ve started recommending the BitPerfect to my audiogeek friends with their $5,000 headphone systems. I told them that this is the easiest upgrade you can get, all for merely $4.99. What I didn’t consider is that many of them are still running Windows systems, on which BitPerfect doesn’t run on.
Tim said that he’s contemplating about the Windows version, but only after Windows 8 and the Windows App Store are out. And yet he also expresses some concerns about Windows’ lack of OS support for USB Audio. The interesting thing is this: both Tim and I have witnessed (on different audio systems) that audio playback does sound better out of Mac computers. So, I guess Steve Jobs is doing a lot of things right.
For those of you interested to test out BitPerfect, they can be found right here on the Mac App Store.
Now I don’t know why but for some reason my writing feels very rigid for this article. Maybe it’s because I’ve never written software reviews before.
Gear used for review:
WooAudio 5, Apex Peak and Arete, Audio-Gd Ref 7.1, MacPro, Macbook Air, Sennheiser HD800, Beyerdynamic T1, Fiio E10, Superlux HD661, along with a few other headphones.
I really wonder how this compares to Fidelia (advanced version with iZotope processing), which I love by the way.
It’s comparable, and I’ll write a more comparison review in the future with other players.
Well, Tim Murison told me that I had a few points wrong:
1) “As of now, BitPerfect along with the Amarra players are the only two developers who have made their programs to run alongside Itunes”. This isn’t quite accurate, there is also Pure Music and very recently a beta of Audirvana Plus that integrate with iTunes in a similar way.
2) “So far I’ve compared BitPerfect with Fidelia, Decibel, and Audionirvana”, just a little spelling mistake, should be Audirvana.
3) “At the moment, none of the other audiophile players are listed on the App Store”, this isn’t quite correct. If I remember correctly, Fidelia and Decibel are also on the app store.
Please bear with me guys, I’m still new with all these software stuff.
Yes, Mike. You are correct on that last part. However, you MUST purchase off of Audiofile Engineerings website for the advanced version of Fidelia, since it’s not on the Mac App Store.
…on another note, Decibel seems to be in the same price range as Fidelia, may have to see what that’s about.
Yes, I think I have the advanced version of Fidelia.
I bought the app and things do sound more open but I noticed that the treble sounds a bit hot. Disabling it tones the treble down. Have you noticed this, Mike?
I heard more treble, but the upper top treble, which helps with making the sound more open. I wouldn’t call it a hot treble though, normally hot treble are more on the low treble section and more than 3dB.
Hmmm I shall have to listen to it some more. I’ve only tried it out for the last 30 minutes. When I said “hot” I meant that some cymbals sounded a bit over emphasized and harsh to my ears.
I think that would be an issue already inherent in the recording. BitPerfect just makes it clearer that the issue is there.
After listening to some more, I think you’re right. Perhaps it was just my initial impression but things seems to have smoothed out. Getting used to the “bit perfect” sound! 😉
Yes, let me know if you have further issues.
does bitperfect or amarra only improves dac via usb?
what if i use my dac via the optical out of the mac, would it help also?
Yes it does work for optical out, though optical is not an ideal choice for serious audio playback. Firewire is best, but USB is the most common method these days due to the uncertainty of the future of Firewire.
Why isn’t optical ideal for audio playback? Many DACs have optical and coaxial. Some don’t even have USB ports. Just curious as to why optical isn’t ideal.
The digital signal is actually transferred natively as an electrical signal (how else would you do it otherwise). With Toslink, the electrical signal needs to be converted to an optical signal for transmission over the toslink cable, then reconverted back to electrical at the DAC end. Whenever you have these additional conversions/processes, it’s another window for Jitter.
With USB such conversion is not necessary.
Makes sense. Too bad my desktop DAC only has Coaxial and Optical. My MBP doesn’t have coaxial, obviously.
do you know of any comparable players for Windows?
From Master Sega, above:
For Windows, i recommended XMPlay over Foobar or another music player software 😀
Personally I still am quite foreign to Windows playback systems. I’ve only used foobar since I rarely use Windows. But I’m definitely exploring the Windows options as well and I plan to write about them in the future.
For Windows, i recommended XMPlay over Foobar or another music player software 😀
Thanks, Master Sega.
I still have to evaluate the players for Windows, but the other day we did a comparison with top end systems over Windows and OSX for an audio player. We used Bitperfect for OSX and Foobar for Windows and the Windows playback was noticeably thinner, dryer and grainier over the OSX. What you get with Windows is more treble and a more open sound, but it was dryer and less smooth than on OSX.
Yes Mike, Foobar is drier, thinner, and grainier 😀
Try XMPlay, (maybe) you’ll be amazed 😀
Thanks, will keep that in mind when I do a review on Windows-based playback system.
Can you tell me what exactly the buffer size means and effects?
And also the integer mode?
Hi Dende, good questions. I’m not an expert on this, but I’ll try to answer them as best as I can.
Audiophile players tend to load the files for playback into a memory (RAM) buffer before being processed by OSX for playback over to the DAC. On regular players, playback is achieved by continuously reading the hard disk and sending the data over to OSX for playback.
Playing the data over a memory buffer has the advantages of reducing potential sources for jitter such as the CPU overhead required for hard disk streaming, the actual reading process from a mechanical hard disk (this is not an issue with SSD drives), transmission over cables, and RFI issues.
The Buffer size setting tells the player on how big of a memory you want to allocate for your audiophile player. Obviously a bigger buffer size is nice but it would also depend on how much RAM your computer has because other applications like your email reader, browser, itunes, twitter client and so on also needs RAM to run on.
Personally I find the stock 256Mb settings to be just fine and I don’t hear any audible benefit in increasing the buffer.
In short, Integer mode is the way to go as it is a direct way to the buffer and finally to the DAC. Think of this concept like when you’re driving to go somewhere. You can take the expressway/toll road, or you can take the country road. Integer mode is the expressway and we all love the expressway. However, not all DACs support Integer mode and so it would depend on the particular DAC that you’re using. The bad thing is if you’re on the latest OSX (Lion), Integer mode is no longer supported.
You’re welcome. 🙂
And by the way: listening with my MacBook Pro, the Fiio E10 and my JH16, I noticed a soft crackle between the tracks.
With BitPerfect, it’s gone!
Nice.. so that’s one of the good effects that you get.
Did you try Decibel -aprox. 30$- (http://sbooth.org/Decibel/) or Audirvana -free- (http://code.google.com/p/audirvana/)
Yes both of them and I should write a more comprehensive comparison in the future.
Thanks for writing a review of BitPerfect, Mike; and nice to see Headfonia expanding its range of products covered.
I bought BitPerfect a few months ago but stopped using it because iTunes audio stopped playing back when Bitperfect was active; hopefully the current version of BitPerfect will resolve that.
I hope you are well. 🙂
You’re welcome. I’m glad to see us expanding to different topics as well. 🙂
Please try BitPerfect again now, I have it running on two Macs without a problem.
BitPerfect’s working OK now, though when I was listen to a CD in iTunes last night, the music stopped a few times, as if due to processing speed. But BitPerfect just works fine with my ALAC files.
Overall, I very much like the sound of BitPerfect as a cost-effective iTunes enhancement.
For windows find any player that can utilise WASAPI to output to your DAC. Your DAC will be used exclusively by the player, blocking out all other sounds from other programs. I’m quite sure it gives the same improvement as BitPerfect on a mac.
Yes, in theory, but in practice they are all a bit different.
Thanks very much for the review Mike. I was wondering whether Bitperfect would support airtunes to an airport express or apple tv? Does anyone know this for certain?
Let me check with Tim, since I don’t have an Airport Express or Apple TV.
Mike, I tried this app on a lark today and I was less than pleased by it. It played around with the Sound Output settings on my iMac in a bad way. Itunes would play through my DAC, but all other sounds (VLC, Quicktime, online videos) would play through the crappy Onboard Sound and Speakers. This happened every time BitPerfect was open.
I also noticed no improvement in the SQ compared to the stock Apple audio engine (as you mentioned). Needless to say Apple is crediting me my $4.99.
It’s doing it because the app acts in “hog mode.”
It’s a terrible implementation if you ask me. If you’re listening to headphones and a web page opens up with sound embedded it will annoy anyone around you and you may not it is happening.
Some of these softwares do need to address glitches like that, because that does happen and it is indeed annoying.
Lewis is right, though BitPerfect seems to operate in hog mode by default — you can’t turn it off.
Sucks to hear that, SoulSyde but I understand your concerns. One is on that part where only Itunes plays to your DAC — they need to do that because it’s one of the methods that audiophile players use to get less interruption from the computer, by blocking the other stuff. But yes, it’s annoying and I feel it too.
As for the improvements on the SQ, you’re not going to notice any change in tonal balance (ie more treble, more bass etc), but rather an overall more open and less congested sound.
why in the world would one need to adapt this program for windows, when users have tons of options already which already support bit-perfect playback?? foobar + wasapi being the most obvious solution, but asio4all or several paid asio drivers have been around for YEARS. foobar in comparison to every mac player is quite open, totally customizable, has hundreds of plugins/excellent codec support/every DSP imaginable and has ALWAYS been free.
I usually respect your opinion and have been an avid fan of this website for quite some time, but playback ‘sounding better’ out of mac computers is simply a bad joke. I have owned apple computers and loved the design, craftsmanship and their stellar displays…but the pricetag and utterly closed nature of the OS has brought me to become the windows user I am now.
PUREMUSIC was a very popular audiophile product for mac users that provided bit-perfect playback…however they charged the ludicrous rate of $130. it is nice that apple users now have a cheaper solutions, but it is simply asinine to ignore the fact that windows has had free and other cheap solutions for bit-perfect&audiophile-grade playback for half a decade. it’s one thing to review an outstanding product for the mac OS, but to go further and claim that music sounds better from apple products is just total oversight.
Thanks for the post, Evan, but I don’t think you need to be that angry. 😉
Let me share a hypothetical situation.
Say two of my headphone enthusiast friends came over one night. They wanted to audition the WooAudio 5 that a friend of ours lent me. This was the flagship 300B amplifier from WooAudio, and this particular amp had all the upgraded parts and tubes. We started the listening session with a few headphones including the Grado PS500 that I was reviewing, along with some Senns, Beyers, Audio Technicas, and even some IEMs. The DAC was a Burson HA-160D and we used my friend’s VAIO laptop as the playback system.
When I listened to Jazz at the Pawnshop, I noticed that the sound was dry at the top even though we were using one of the finest tube amps around. Jazz at the Pawnshop had one of the best recording quality around and it has been one of my reference recordings for a long time. I wondered what was wrong with the set up that had caused that dry sound, since I’ve been listening to the same set up for some time so I’m quite familiar with the sound. So I went upstairs, grabbed my MacBook, went down, and played the same Jazz at the Pawnshop album with the Mac, on the same Burson DAC, WA5, and the HD800. In another word, everything was the same except for the laptop that we used to play the music. Then the dry treble was gone and things were warmer and smoother across the board.
Now that was just a hypothetical situation. It may have happened or it may not. But can you really claim that there is absolutely no chance that such situations could’ve happened? Nope you can’t.
Seriously, I’m not here to spread bullshit. Even in science there are a lot of phenomenon that scientists still can’t explain, but they know that those phenomenons are real and just because they can’t explain it doesn’t mean that it’s false.
You should keep an open mind until you can prove otherwise that what I’m saying is false.
I actually really apologize if my post before was too confrontational, I meant no harm but am quite opinionated on the subject. Let me try this again haha.
In a hobby like hifi audio (and especially headphones) I wholeheartedly agree there is certainly a degree of ‘what the user believes to be true is true’ because everyone’s hearing and hearing preferences differ. One may find certain headphones to be pleasing, veiled or a variety of other adjectives.. while others may not find this to be the case at all even under very similar listening sessions. my point is certainly not to discredit what your ‘hypothetical’ ears heard in the comparison tests.
This of course is just my opinion, but I’d like to share my findings with various bit-perfect solutions across both OS platforms in order to further my real point. When I was a mac user, I had the opportunity to compare a set-up at a headphone meet on another’s iMac and a W4S DAC through both itunes and puremusic (using my SRG Solo II amp to my HD650s). Essentially everything was the same except for the player used: itunes stock and puremusic which offered at the time various audiophile features including flac support and bit-perfect playback. Even in double-blind simulation I found puremusic to sound better/fuller/livelier with various different genres. however, I am unwilling to pay 130$ for an improvement that I later found to be parallel to a free solution on windows.
Now that I have been a windows user for around 2 years, I have experimented with the various audiophile solutions on this OS. foobar by itself is simply a player like stock itunes (besides the fact that it has better codec support/various DSPs/fully customizable). with the help of a friend I again did some testing on my now home-setup comparing 1. foobar stock 2. foobar + wasapi output 3. foobar with asio4all 4. foobar with a paid usb-asio drive from plyotec (available for windows and osx). what I found is similar to what you found in your comparison, although in this scenario all I could consistantly identify is that ONE of the four options had less realistic treble and a slightly more compressed feeling: this being the foobar with default directsound output.
I obviously haven’t had the opportunity to compare foobar + wasapi to osx with puremusic, but from memory I recall the improvements over the stock player to be what I consider CERTAINLY AUDIBLE. I would be curious if you have time in the future to re-do your comparison with wasapi/asio output on windows, but in the meanwhile would respectfully ask for a reconsideration of the statement that osx audio > windows audio before trying the audiophile options available for windows. Again I apologize for my earlier comment and always am appreciative of what you do on the site.
Interesting. But I have loads of questions!!
How does Bitperfect actually perform its task? Is there some extra processing of the music file during/before playback? I understood that as long as the itunes ‘volume’ control was set to max you are getting bit perfect playback anyway? Isn’t any extra ‘meddling’ with the basic music file within software just as likely to degrade the listening experience as an optical outputs conversion? (which is to all intents and purposes as interference free a a USB cable which shares its power with god only knows what else and is hard to shield totally)
What does ‘Automatic Sample Rate Switching’ mean? – can’t iTunes only play back at the bit rate you recorded at?
Wouldn’t upsampling ‘in machine’ just use the macs D/A conversion which is less than perfect?
Would a system using a USB asynchronous DAC benefit in any way?
WEW! Hope that lot makes sense.
Dmitryi S. Sizónenco
Long story short, ITunes outputs everything in 16-bit, both the Windows and Mac versions. Apparently it just forces everything to be output in 44.1 KHz/16-bit. What this thing does is replace the standard ITunes output module with a bit-perfect version that *actually plays* 24-bit and 32-bit.
do you know how should i properly set the audio output of my computer?
should it be 16/44.1 or 48?
or should it be 24/96? the highest possible output of the computer
if i set the computer to 24/96, does it means the computer will upsample it everything to 24/96?
i use a upsampling dac it can accept up to 24/96 and will output 24/192
This is the general rule:
If your files are mostly from CDs and/or MP3, just leave it at 16/44.1. Setting it any different would resample the files which you don’t want.
If you set it to 24/96, yes everything will be resampled to 24/96.
If you have files that are 16/44.1 AND 24/96, then set it to 24/96 since you don’t want the 24/96 files being converted down to 16/44.1.
If you are using the BitPerfect then you can just set the bit depth to 24 bit and leave the sample rate switching to BitPerfect.
how abotu dvd?
DVD is actually stored on a different format than conventional Audio CDs. I think it goes through a different engine and not CoreAudio.
Dmitryi S. Sizónenco
Resampling does not magically fix the deformations in CDs (detail limit for a sampling format is sampling frequency/8, so CDs are only ~detailed up to about 5.5 KHz, upwards of that rectification starts to happen). But it does make the sound livelier, as 44100 Hz has a longish sampling quantum that tends to sound “slow/woody”. That is: there’s too much time in transition between one sample and the next one. This is not directly “heard”, of course, but it is perceived as that “woodiness/sluggishness” of sorts.
The formula for distributing amplitude detail is 1 bit/6 dB, which makes 16-bit rather undetailed and hollow-/dull-sounding compared to 24-bit and 32-bit, etc. The bit depth controls the number of volume steps on the vertical/amplitude axis. So you get 65536 levels at the -0/-6 dB range, 32768 in the -6/-12 dB range, etc. Basically, each -6 dB down closer to the noise floor you lose detail. 24-bit max. voltage step value is 16777216. That’s more than 16 million.
The CD loudness war has to do with this – there’s just not enough detail at lower volume, so unconsciously the engineers try to push dynamics in the 0/-6 dB range, where the most coordinates are.
Long story short, 96/24 is a lot more lifelike. The coordinate grid is finer, and there’s simply more freedom for the waveform. 192/32 is already more like true hi-fi – to properly describe 20 KHz of hi-fi range, you need at least 20 KHz*8=160 KHz/24-bit.
Now, again: resampling won’t fix all of the space/liveliness information that’s lost in CDs. But it will make playback a lot livelier and will make details/sparkle come out that may have been lost in lower-res. So you should always set the DAC and player to resample to the highest frequency/bit depth the DAC accepts.
I bought it and It’s strange because i can’t hear much difference but i FEEL something different. LOL
Yes sometimes you may not feel a difference in say treble-mid-bass. But when you listen to it, you actually feel that the background is blacker, and such.
Dmitryi S. Sizónenco
Under Windows, there’re players with ASIO output: Foobar2000, XMPlay… Foobar2000 is probably the closest in UI comfort to ITunes (it has separate playlists and a library, just like ITunes). Frankly, 16-bit output was the reason why ITunes was never, ever considered as a player by me (the mockery of it all, chilling/hollowing out even 24-bit ALAC files). Listened to a transcoded ALAC copy of DSOM in 96/24 on ITunes once, it was cold and drab. Played it on Cog, it was all right.
For the Windows version of ITunes, there was a similar, but free output plugin set to use an external player’s output (Foobar?).
Anyway, bought myself a Roland UA-1G interface, and been happy ever since, it’s running in 96 KHz mode, and the sound quality is far superior to any consumer soundcard. Foobar2000 is free, and it has the SRC resampler plugin, and bit-exact ASIO output to the interface. What else is needed? Windows (XP) mixer also automatically resamples all output to 96 KHz (96 is forced by DIP switches on the interface), so even though the quality of game sounds and the like low-res formats is lower, it still plays livelier.
Lately, I download the BONGIOVI DPS Plug-in for my Windows 7.
The result is really not bad, especially on iTunes!
Hope you will talk a little bit about this product in future.
Thanks, Yap. I use Mac mostly but I’ll give it a try when I have the chance.
I most certainly want a Mac for many reasons. However, I would still like to see Mr. Murison release BitPerfect for Windows when both Windows 8 and the Windows App Store are completely developed and available for the public.
Re-reading this now, I do agree with you about Music Player interfaces. I use iTunes on my PC as my primary interface and thanks to the article, have WASAPI enabled. I prefer iTunes. It’s just too easy and very organized for me. I don’t have any unecassary issues, and it is just so clean.
Yes I know some people enjoy Foobar, but for me iTunes is the most convenient.
Hi Mike, do you still use bitperfect? aside from bit perfect, what other player are there for mac?
I’m doing a review on the other players so I’ve been mostly using the other ones for now:
Audirvana Free and Plus
Amarra, Junior, Mini
Ok, since you’re doing a review, if i want an upgrade from itunes, but don’t wanna spend a lot, something small, say as a first step, would you still recommend the bitperfect for $5?
For $5, yes give Bitperfect a try.
How does BitPerfect work? Does it somehow enhance the signal coming from iTunes to the headphone output on a Mac Book, or do I need to use a headphone amp to get digital signal to the DAC of my amp? My Mac Book Pro already has a coaxial output that I can plug into my Head Room Portable Desktop Amp to get a full digital signal from my Mac to my HR PDA. What is the advantage or use of BitPerfect? Thanks for your help.
I believe I’ve answered a similar question on the older comments on this article. Can you check? As me again if you can’t find it. 🙂
Hey Mike! Bitperfect’s price has went up by almost 100% since the article i guess!
Could you tell me what i should have selected for my upsampling?
I don’t think that’s because of the review. They implemented several additional features on the new version.
Oh haha you misunderstood, I was just mentioning the increase in price. Can you help with my upsampling question?
Greetings, thanks for the info about Bitperfect. I’m always looking for ways to improve sound from itunes on my macbook pro. I’ve been using SRS Iwow http://www.srslabs.com for sometime now. Like Bitperfect it’s an interface that works with Itunes and seems to make my music sound livelier. Wondered if you were aware of it and if you could would rate it to Bitperfect. Would using Bitperfect compliment SRS Iwow?
I haven’t tried SRS Iwow, but I did compare a few of these OSX players.
My favorite currently is the Audirvana Plus DM Beta (wasn’t yet released when I did that comparison).
Second is Fidelia.