Audio: Listen to this article.
Describing the creators of JPLAY as hardcore or extreme audiophiles is appropriate but just scratches the surface. The dedication and expertise needed to develop both hardware (JCAT) and software (JPLAY) solely because nothing on the market meets one's sound quality needs, is a couple subway stops beyond extreme. I mean that in the best way possible. Because of companies like JCAT/JPLAY, boundaries are pushed and we as music loving audiophiles receive more of what we want, the best sound possible.
To be honest, writing this review is a bit tricky for me because the audience who can benefit from JPLAY is on a very wide continuum from little knowledge to expert. Everyone who uses UPnP can benefit from JPLAY. However, I've found many of the most dedicated UPnP users to be some of the most technically knowledgeable audiophiles in the world. Partly because they had to be knowledgeable in the early days and partly because they wanted to learn the ins and outs of UPnP to make it work better.
Therefore, I'm not writing this review for those ultra tech savvy audiophiles who can likely just download any app, give it a spin, and decide if it jumps through the necessary hoops. I'm going to focus on the 90% of audiophiles who may be tech savvy, or not, but mostly stay out of the weeds and may also be Roon, Audirvana, MConnect, or dCS Mosaic users.
JPLAY is a UPnP control point that runs on both iOS and iPadOS, and is audio hardware agnostic. It's like an air traffic controller, scanning what's out there and directing traffic, no matter what type of plane is in the air. Don't ever use that answer on a UPnP exam because it's overly simplistic, but I used it as an easy illustration. JPLAY can certainly be used to stream audio from Tidal or Qobuz and play it through one's iPhone without any UPnP, but that's an edge case. The main thrust of JPLAY's raison d'être is as a UPnP control point scanning content on a UPnP server, finding the UPnP renderers / audio endpoints on a network, connecting to streaming services, and providing a beautiful interface through which to interact with one's, music collection.
In my system I used JPLAY in the following way. This may be helpful in understanding how it could fit into one's own system.
- JPLAY running on iPad
- Local music stored on QNAP NAS running MinimServer
- Streaming music from Qobuz and Tidal
- Sonore signatureRendu SE optical running as UPnP endpoint with USB audio output
- dCS Rossini APEX receiving audio via USB input
Note: Many DACs, including the dCS Rossini APEX, can receive UPnP audio directly over Ethernet. However, I've found the best UPnP performance is had by using a device such as a Rendu upstream of one's DAC.
JPLAY is one of those apps that I can't believe took until 2023 to be released. On the other hand, this isn't a trivial task. I tested the beta version for so many months I've lost track. UPnP is the most nonstandard standard. Imagine browsing the web but having to customize one's web browser for each site visited. That's similar to how UPnP works. Every manufacturer seems to implement it a little differently. Some do this to maximize performance and compatibility, while others do it out of ignorance or laziness.
Fortunately when working with smallish HiFi companies, issues can be addressed much quicker than when working with tech behemoths. For example, shortly after JPLAY was released some users had issues with the app and Lumin streamers. The team at Lumin sent the appropriate info to the team at JPLAY and the issue was resolved. Again, nonstandard implementation, for good reasons, but it required a little behind the scenes finesse.
The main reason I can't believe it took this long for an app such as JPLAY to hit the market is because it was needed so badly. After using UPnP apps over the years, I wouldn't wish them on my worst enemy. The interfaces take me out of music listening mode and into IT infrastructure mode, thinking about the data, its structure, the network, the endpoint, and if it will all line up and give me music at the end of the road.
Once I used JPLAY for the first time, it was a whole new UPnP world. The user interface is what we've all come to expect from phone/tablet applications. Beautifully designed, easy to navigate, and full of information (artist, album, contributor, all hyperlinked etc...) if we choose to look around. Upon opening the app, users are presented a really nice Home Screen showing some information about their music collections, then it's right into the music. I really like viewing the info at the top, such as number of albums, then tapping on that number. JPLAY bounces over to the Albums page, where I sort by Date Added. This is how I love to browse my music collection. It ensures I don't forget about new albums I've added and it provides me a mini history of where I've been musically over the last many months.
The Albums screen also brings me to another feature I use all the time, Filters. Filtering is incredibly fast and efficient! For example, I want to listen to Grateful Dead's Workingman's Dead album. Rather than search the entire Tidal, Qobuz, and local collections for this album, I can use the filter in JPLAY. Typing in Working, instantly brings up the two Qobuz versions I've added to my library. This has become the ONLY way I look for music that I know is in my library. The speed to so dang fast and the results are always perfect for me.
One of the more controversial reasons JPLAY was developed was to improve sound quality. People are quick to say that the television remote doesn't change the picture quality, so a UPnP control point also can't change the sound quality. However, this is a very primitive point of view and shows a lack of understanding of how applications and networks function. Most apps are "constantly" communicating with either a mothership, the network, online services, or a host of other entities.
JPLAY has always said to improve sound quality a main goal was to eliminate or majorly reduce network activity from the control point. I wanted to see how successful the JPLAY team was at this, so I setup a test and recorded video for everyone to see. Within the JPLAY settings is an option called Update Time. This is how often the control point application queries the audio endpoint for a progress update. The allowable settings are between 1 and 12,000. I started with 1, then changed it to 10, before switching to the Connect app to see how it functioned on the same test.
In the video below one can see the track Superblood Wolfmoon from Pearl Jam's Gigaton album playing. The Source listed as 10.0.1.86 is my iPad running JPLAY. The Resource with 10.0.1.73 is the audio endpoint (renderer) playing the music. Served is the amount of data returned to JPLAY from the audio endpoint. Each second, the log is incremented by one line with nearly identical information.
In the video below one can see the same track playing, but the Update Time adjusted to 10 and the amount of traffic reduced by roughly 90%.
In the video below one can see the communication between my iPad running MConnect and the UPnP renderer.
Getting down to brass tacks, does any of this matter? My honest answer is that I don't know. I was unable to notice a difference in my system (described above), but this also raises another item for me that could be related. This isn't necessarily a JPLAY issue, but when using JPLAY or any UPnP system, I run into it. I use convolution filters in my system to raise the level of sound quality beyond what's capable with hardware and physical acoustics. I'm used to hearing an objectively stellar audio system. When using JPLAY and other UPnP applications, I can't NOT hear the flaws in uncorrected bass frequencies. To me the sound without convolution is flawed, making listening for the effects of controversial adjustments, nearly impossible. I will happily leave this one to members of the Audiophile Style community, to continue their already active discussion.
Note: I really wish MinimServer would enable a VST3 plugin feature. This would enable everyone using convolution filters to use Hang Loose Convolver with UPnP.
As I type this review, I'm accidentally reminded of another JPLAY feature, JPLAY Radio. I usually disable all features of all apps that attempt to think for me. Call me a luddite, but that's just how I am. I accidentally left JPLAY Radio enabled, and it's now playing some great tunes from Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Gorillaz. I admit the tunes are great and the app has done well in selecting music I like, but this feature isn't meant for me. I know many music loving audiophiles swear by this feature, as it either introduces them to knew music or reacquaints them with old favorites. I guess it's a win-win because they can enjoy it and I can disable it.
In the last few days I've used JPLAY a ton in my system, and it has worked absolutely flawlessly. Gapless playback, one of the big tests of any playback method, is perfect whether it's 24/192 from Qobuz or my local NAS running MinimServer. It just works. I even tried to make it not work, by issuing numerous commands that can at least cause a hiccup with some apps, but JPLAY with my Sonore signatureRendu SE optical was impenetrable.
On the other hand, I did a lot of testing with other UPnP renderers from dCS (StreamUnlimited), EMM Labs (ConversDigital), and Mytek (ConversDigital), without as much success. They all had issues with gapless playback, and the ConversDigital based units had trouble with Tidal. I know JPLAY is working with StreamUnlimited to resolve the gapless issue. I also believe the Tidal issue is related to many ConversDigital implementations not supporting HTTPS. In the US, Tidal has to use HTTPS to stream audio. Globally, HTTP works just fine, which is why JPLAY has the option to enable HTTP streaming. I have high confidence that both of these issues will be resolved sooner rather than later.
On another note, JPLAY recently launched its certified devices and partner program. Last week Weiss Engineering and JPLAY announced that the Weiss DAC501, DAC502 and HELIOS products are certified to work seamlessly with JPLAY. I love these certification efforts, as they take the guesswork and trial and error out of the customer's hands, and ensure things just work.
JPLAY for iOS and iPadOS is the app I've wanted forever. A UPnP control point that makes me want to browse the music collection I've built over several decades and listen to that collection without thinking about the nuts and bolts of how it works. The interface is full featured, but not bloated. At a cost of $50 per year, with a free trial period, audiophiles would be foolish to overlook this app. It costs less than the sales tax on many HiFi tweaks, and offers an immediate impact the quality of one's musical life. JPLAY is unequivocally the only UPnP application I will use with my audio system. Nothing comes remotely close.