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Shutting down JRMC altogether and using JPlay's mini I heard further gains in transparency and low-level detail retrieval. Instruments and voices sounded a little more real and present while ambient cues were a tad more defined. I wouldn’t say the difference was huge—it certainly wasn’t as great as going from stock JRMC to JPlay’s plug-in—but an improvement nonetheless. Going FullScale Hibernate mode again upped the ante. Here was the absolute pinnacle in sound quality. Even standard Redbook sounded great such as Jordi Savall’s intoxicating recording of Vivaldi’s Viola da Gamba Concertos [Alia Vox 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV] wonderfully engineered by the great Nicolas Bartholomée. I have not heard this recording flow so naturally. On my CEC transport this recording sounds darn near somnambulant by direct comparison.

One wonders what else could possibly improve playback further. Indeed I asked Josef and Marcin that very question. There’s already a lengthy thread on their forum discussing this. According to Marcin, "the PC should be treated with the same attention to detail as any regular mechanical transport. Obviously there are very few 'audiophile' PC components available and this field is also very new so we have to experiment. But I can tell you that almost everything matters: quality of power supply, power cord quality, motherboard selection, RAM selection, almost every component - even USB or SATA chip sets have an effect on SQ as do SATA cables. Right now I use JPlay with my operating system on an SSD in an external SATA-USB enclosure powered by a linear PSU connected to the PC via USB over fiber-optics extender and high quality USB cable. My DAC also is connected via USB over a fiber-optics extender."

While I obtained the greatest overall listening experience running JPlay's mini in FullScale Hibernate Mode, I was quite happy running it sans Hibernate Mode for most listening sessions as I was with the plug-in for JRMC. Remember, when you load an album or playlist into Hibernate Mode, you lose control of your PC until playback is finished. But late at night when everyone had gone to bed, I could load up Mahler’s 2nd [Channel Classics 24-bit/88.2kHz WAV] in FullScale Hibernate Mode on JPlay mini, shut off the lights and allow myself to be transported to a degree I would never have thought possible with a mere laptop as source. Frankly I can’t see ever buying a silver disc spinner ever again.

JPlay appears to be an excellent piece of software that does exactly what its developers claim. I’m not aware of anyone else who has delved so deeply into the inner workings of a PC and Windows in terms of audio as Marcin and Josef have. Clearly there is more to it than just bits are bits and we’ve only begun to understand how computers, software, drivers etc can affect sound quality. My sense is this is all about timing. Computers are designed to perform a multitude of tasks simultaneously - or at least appear to be doing so to the user. Since music playback is a real-time task, it stands to reason that removing any process from a computer that might negatively impact, even at a tiny level, the flow of music data should improve playback fidelity.

Today it is well understood that jitter in traditional disc players and DACs negatively impacts overall musical flow and nuance which is why many audiophiles prefer vinyl to digital. It’s a timing thing. I suspect that computers are prone to their own unique type of jitter, one resulting from the multitude of internal processes, threads, power supply fluctuations and such. I suggest that a program like JPlay and others like it address this which is probably why I hear distinct differences between playback programs just as I do with CD transports. In these terms JPlay brings digital almost neck to neck with vinyl. I never thought I’d say this but perhaps we are rapidly approaching the day when digital might actually surpass vinyl in every way.

€99 may seem a little steep at first for such a small piece of software but in my opinion JPlay offers excellent value and unlike a CD player/transport or DAC it won’t become outdated anytime soon (or break) as the price includes all future upgrades. Integrating it with a more comprehensive media playback package such as J. River Media Center, iTunes or foobar offers intriguing options for those who prefer a little more flexibility and eye candy. And remember, there's a free fully operational trial version to ensure it really is for you.

Addendum: Just prior to publication I installed the latest beta of Windows 8 as per Marcin’s and Josef’s prompting. I’m not sure what Microsoft has altered in their coding over Windows 7 that could cause this but there’s clearly greater textural fidelity and a more natural relaxed sense of flow. In the words of the late great Slim Pickens in the hilarious film Blazing Saddles, "What in the Wide World of Sports is going on here?"

Quality of packing
: N/A
Reusability of packing: N/A
Quality of owner's manual: Straightforward. I had JPlay installed and operating within minutes of downloading it.
Condition of component received: N/A
Completeness of delivery: N/A
Website comments: Lots of info. Busy informative interactive forum.
Human interactions: Professional, friendly and informative.
Warranty: None required as free full function demo is available. Price includes all future updates and full timely support.
Pricing: Terrific value.
Final comments & suggestions: None.

JPlay website