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Anything wrong with Windows Media Player and the wma lossless format?


ChrisFromDublin
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Why do so many people on this forum go to such lengths to avoid the very convenient 'wma lossless' format, and Windows Media Player? Does this program degrade the sound in some way that I'm not aware of?

 

At the moment, my system is based on Windows XP Media Player (Home edition, Service Pack 3).

 

I bypass the Windows mixer by using software that is enclosed with my Terratec Phase 24 FireWire external DAC. (A small pro-use DAC that got rave reviews in the hifi magazines of my native Denmark.)

 

This way, WMP shouldn't affect the sound, and the audio files are supposed to be 'lossless'. It's so easy ... am I missing something?

 

Thank you

 

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Hi ChrisFromDublin - Welcome to Computer Audiophile. That's a good question that I'm sure has more than a few answers. I think you alluded to one reason in your own post. You're bypassing KMixer by "...using software that is enclosed with my Terratec Phase 24 FireWire external DAC..." Most high-end audio DACs don't include software and it's often thought avoiding software is a key to better sound. Without special software Windows Media Player lacks certain options that programs like MediaMonkey have in terms of selecting an ASIO plug-in or selecting another way of sending audio straight to the output device. Many people around here also don't like Microsoft and they don't want to be tied down to one vendor of software. WMA can be played within other programs, but the fact that WMP is a Microsoft application leaves a bad proprietary taste in many people's mouths.

 

As I said there are many other reasons that other readers may provide. I just touched on a couple.

 

Thanks for the post!

 

 

 

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing The Audiophile Style Podcast

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Hello Chris and Chris,

 

Those are good questions I have asked myself many times. I know many folks are not fond of the big giant... can't say that I am either. But I can't argue with their ease of use!

 

The question I have (and ChrisFromDublin) may also, is regarding the storage of WMA Lossless... not the playback. Are "WE" really storing our music in a "bit-perfect" format? Granted, their are numerous ways to screw it up and change the sound on the way out.

 

Best regards,

Kelton

 

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Hi Kelton - "...Are "WE" really storing our music in a "bit-perfect" format? Granted, their are numerous ways to screw it up and change the sound on the way out..."

 

You can convert WMA back and forth from lossless compressed to uncompressed WAV and the file will not change at all. But, many people are not sold on WMA for playback.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing The Audiophile Style Podcast

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The problem with WMP is that it uses kmixer in XP. Better with Vista, but still not as good sounding as other players such as Jriver ro Foobar IMO. It does have the advantage that some downloads are available in WMA format.

 

Has anyone got WASAPI running with WMP on Vista?

 

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

 

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....or WMA Lossless and WMAPro 192k files with WMP in Vista64 using a either the ASIO plugin or ASIO4all.

 

Both sound pretty much perfect to my 37 year old ears. I'm sticking with them. I press play and they...play.

 

I've tried Foobar and a few other media players but to be honest I find myself just going back to WMP.

 

I'm not a diehard MS fan, I just get a bit tired when folks try to make out something is lesser or more difficult when its MS. I tend to find MS stuff just a lot easier and most importantly...cheaper.

 

Just try it. If it works great, if it doesnt then look elsewhere.

 

I use the WMAPro 192 files on my Zune. I find WMAPro the best lossy codec since ATRAC, if anyone is interested.

 

 

 

 

 

Meridian 551 amp / Meridian 507 CD / Zune Mk1

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The problem with WMP and WMA-Lossless (or WMA-Professional for that matter) is that people in the open-source development don´t like them simply because they are from Microsoft. From my opinion, in their minds anything coming from Microsoft is bad, commercial, badly coded and harmful to the customer. I can´t stand this, because it is biased. And I don´t like prejudices.

 

My personal opinion tells me different: the WMP sounds good as a stand-alone program. Did one ever compare decoded HDCD with the high definition original? WMP is able to decode HDCD to a file with the help of an wav-output plug-in. DBPowerAMP can do the same with a HDCD decoder reverse engineered by the coding community. I don´t know why but WMP sounds better, it just comes closer to the original high-def-source. Please note, that I´ve only observed this with HDCD. I´ve described this on http://www.thesoundtrackzone.com/viewtopic.php?f=35&t=900#p5265 - look below. And why should a multi-million dollar company produces something awful? Their WMP is not a bad media player. Like every other media player it uses 32-bit floating-point and is able to play high-definition material. The compatibility would certainly be a problem but this will be solved with Windows 7. Then WMP will be able to decode things like AAC out of the box.

 

Also, when it comes to lossy audio in 24/96 WMA-Professional is superior than other codecs like AAC or OGG. It keeps frequencies beyond 20.000 Hz while the other codecs eliminate those (because there aim is CD resolution, nothing more). The only lossy codec that is better than WMA-Professional is WavPack in its Hybrid mode. I did a blind test on http://www.thesoundtrackzone.com/viewtopic.php?f=35&t=918#p5373 to show the sound differences between the codecs.

 

WMA-Lossless has on the other side in fact a few disadvantages compared to other lossless codecs: the first and most important disadvantage for me is its speed because it is slower during encoding & decoding. FLAC on the other hand is one of the fastest lossless codecs out there. The sound of course is the same.

 

I hate it when people are prejudiced. Take foobar2000 - I really love this program but it isn´t able to decode lossy WMA-Professional with 24/96 properly. Such files are decoded as 16/48. The developer of foobar2000 obviously hates things from Microsoft (and the coders on Hydrogenaudio don´t seem to mind).

 

E-MU 0202 USB wired with Monster USB Cable --> Audioquest King Cobra --> (sometimes) Corda Arietta --> Sennheiser HD-600

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Thank you for all your replies!

 

I’m seriously considering upgrading my Terratec Phase 24 FireWire DAC – even though the driver software automatically bypasses the kmixer on my 4-year old Win XP Fujitsu-Siemens laptop and never has caused a single problem.

 

Through the years, I’ve constructed a WMP library of 650 albums. I’d hate to start all over. Do you know of a reliable and easy way to use WMP without the sound degradation of the kmixer?

 

PS. I’m new to this forum and I love it here. There’s a thrill to our interest – I suppose not unlike the excitement that the audiophile pioneers of the 1950s must have felt charting the vast differences between phono cartridges, turntables and pre-RIAA equalization curves.

 

 

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Hi Chris - There are ways to bypass the KMixer using WMP, but you'll have to write some serious code to make it sound great. I only know of one person doing this. One good thing about WMP is you know it will be around as long as the Widows platform is around. Many people really like the interface and the interoperability between remote controls etc... Sound quality is something that WMP is not know for and you may be fighting a losing battle trying to get more out of it.

 

I've never been more excited about high-end audio than I am now. The future is limitless and the pace of improvement is lightening quick compared to traditional high-end.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing The Audiophile Style Podcast

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I’m still a bit shaken by my new-found guru, Chris Connaker’s, comment above. I must say I could never live with the audio quality I get when I e.g. accidentally set Windows sound level to less than 100%. If kmixer does something similar to all audio output, my upgrade to a high-end DAC without a kmixer-cheating driver is definitely off.

 

Before I give in I’ve been doing a bit of surfing. I found this information on “Microsoft Developer Network”

 

Policy for Sample Rate Conversion of Audio Streams

This section describes the policy that the KMixer system driver follows for sample-rate conversion (SRC).

KMixer does SRC on audio streams only if it must do so to match the sample rate of more than one stream. Most applications that use more than one audio stream use the same sample rate for each stream. However, KMixer uses the following client-based policy to match sampling rates: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms790051.aspx

 

Could it be true that kmixer only messes with our audio bliss when it has to interweave audio streams? Then most of us might not experience any problems with WMP. Like most people, I only plan to play ribbed CDs with standard bitrate – no super audiophile down-loads, and no mixing.

 

Here’s what can be found on Benchmark’s website on the issue:

 

Microsoft Windows® Test Results

Windows® 2000 and XP operating systems have a digital mixer known as 'Kmixer'. All audio streams must go through the Windows® Kmixer to reach native USB audio devices. The performance of Kmixer is critical to any native USB audio solution, so we tested it extensively.

We found that Kmixer can perform with full or near full bit-transparency under the right conditions. But, under the wrong conditions, Kmixer can do a great deal of damage.

Kmixer's sample-rate-conversion is of very poor quality (under XP and 2000) and must be avoided. Benchmark's Advance USB Audio solution allows Kmixer to default to a transparent mode of operation that avoids sample rate conversion.

(…) Whenever audio is originating from a single application, Benchmark's Advanced USB Audio solution prevents Kmixer's sample-rate-conversion so that bit-transparency can be maintained. It also forces Kmixer into a 24-bit output mode so that the Windows® volume control does not degrade the audio quality if it is used.

Benchmark's Advanced USB Audio solution offers users the convenience of simultaneous high-quality playback from more than one Win-dows® application. Kmixer's sample-rate-conversion is disabled as long as all applications are playing files at identical sample rates. If the sample rates do not match, sample-rate conversion is only applied to the lower sample rates, and the high sample rate signals remain at high-quality.

http://www.benchmarkmedia.com/computer_audio/advanced_usb_audio.html

 

Benchmark also writes:

 

Windows XP features dynamic output sample-rates and word-lengths. That is, it will automatically stream audio at the sample-rate of the audio file being played. This is important when you have audio files with different sample-rates. This avoids sample-rate conversion to a fixed sample rate set within the operating system, as sample-rate conversion often causes severe distortion.

Windows XP will transmit up to 96kHz, 24-bit audio bit-transparently (perfectly, bit-for-bit), when the media player, device, and OS settings are configured correctly. This article will guide you in properly config-uring your operating system and media player.

http://216.92.198.120/wiki/index.php/Windows_XP_Audio_Playback_-_Setup_Guide

 

I might buy their DAC1 PRE if they’re right. But are they?

 

 

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After looking at this site for a while now I think its time for a list of Urban Digital Audio myths to be listed and debunked.

 

It seems to me folks have a lot of opinions on things but when asked to back them up it all goes quiet. When this happens it has to be thought of as FUD or just "I heard a mate of a mate mention this was true..."

 

My recent question on ASIO latency is a good example I think.

 

Could be added to the FAQ as it seems there are a lot of standard questions that get a lot of 'old wives tales' type answers. Time to get some definitive or near as definitive answers down.

 

Would be good to add as a digital audio primer.

 

Meridian 551 amp / Meridian 507 CD / Zune Mk1

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Hello ChrisFromDublin,

 

If you are thinking about upgrading to a Benchmark DAC, I think you might be pleasantly surprised! I had one in my system for a couple of weeks and it never sounded so good. I have the Rotel RSP-1098 Preamp and the Rotel RMB-1095 Amp with B&W 703's. I much preferred the Benchmark to the Rotel. Unfortunately I was not able to keep it or the Nordost Frey Speaker Cables and interconnects which also added to the pleasurable audio experience.

 

QUESTION:

I'm curious how the Benchmark DAC would compare while in the USB mode VS. using a sound card with ASIO and Digital Out. Most of you here are more experienced than me... but wouldn't this be fairly similar on the Digital Side, before the digital to analog conversion?

 

Thanks,

Kelton

 

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I’m surprised by how things have quieted down in this lively thread after I quoted Microsoft and Benchmark on the sound quality of WMP. They might know a lot, but they also do have a self-interest in giving the impression that WMP playback is bit-perfect. Okay, so it’s possible to avoid Kmixer’s sample rate conversion, but does WMP affect sound quality even when it doesn’t convert sample rates?

 

Benchmark writes (see my earlier comment in this thread) “We found that Kmixer can perform with full or near full bit-transparency under the right conditions”. The key phrase here must be “OR NEAR FULL”. What exactly does that mean?

 

You can see that I’ll argue with everything you WMP-skeptics say. But I still want to hear it!

 

If Benchmark and Microsoft are right the advantages for everyone here must be huge. A single program that does all your ripping, album data indexing, playback, updates and search facilities.

 

I love being able play just the right tracks within seconds when e.g. I’m in a “bossa nova-pre-1964-that-I-gave-four-or-five-stars-and-haven’t-heard-in-1½-years” kind of mood. Can you do that in foobar?

 

Best,

ChrisFromDublin

 

PS. If my English reads a bit weird please remember that I’m Danish.

 

 

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Hi Chris - I've been meaning to get back to this thread and comment on the "Or Near Full" phrase. In my experience WMP can slip in and out of bit transparency several times during each song. Maybe this is what they were alluding to with the comment.

 

One other thing I don't like about WMP is the inability to select sample rates such as 88.2 and 176.4 in certain circumstances. I'm ont saying it's always like this, but I've run into the issue. It's a showstopper for me as the Reference recordings HRx 24/176.4 material should be heard at its full potential.

 

I do agree that WMP has a slick interface and can make life easier. It all comes down to choice. If someone doesn't like WMP it's totally fine with me even if they don't have any reasons. Some people like Honda and dislike Toyota. Both do the job very well and there isn't a right and wrong when it comes to opinion.

 

I like your persistence in trying to find out people's opinions about WMP and other apps. More data never hurts.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing The Audiophile Style Podcast

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Lossless compression is lossless compression. When done right (no bugs in the Codec) uncompressing it yields the original information.

If you want to try: rip a track to WAV, convert it to FLAC and do a binary comparison between the two in Foobar. Both are expanded to PCM audio and compared.

No reason (except sentiment) to assume WMA lossless is worse/better then any other mature lossless compression format.

 

Don’t think WMP has a sound quality of its own, you have XP audio and you have Vista audio. Player running on XP will use the XP stuff, player on Vista the Vista audio stuff.

Exception to this rule is an ASIO driver, this by passes all OS audio by communicating directly with the sound card. This is the common trick to bypass Kmixer.

The good news, no Kmixer in your audio path. The bad news, there are several implementations of this protocol and they are reported to sound different and some even worse than Kmixer (when not mixing)

Kmixer has become infamous just because of what it has to do: mixing. Mix a high quality audio stream with a low bit rate one (VOIP) and the result is what in the end forced Microsoft to make a total redesign of the (Vista) audio stack.

In case of Vista: go to the device panel, choose ‘exclusive mode’ and, if needed ‘high priority’ and you get WASAPI, the bit perfect mode of Vista audio.

A bit more on Vista tweaks can be found here: http://thewelltemperedcomputer.com/SW/VistaTweak.htm

 

 

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The Benchmark and my own Empirical Audio products use the same USB firmware, so I can comment on this.

 

Bit-perfect data is normal at 44.1 in Vista using this USB interface because it converts 16/44.1 into 24/44.1. Mac gives bit-perfect data.

 

For XP, you will need Kernel streaming or unmap the device to get bit-perfect data.

 

Either one sounds great IMO.

 

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

 

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Thank you for all your responses, you've been VERY helpful. I’m starting go get an idea about what to do. (But one well-put comment from one of you can still thwart it all.)

 

1) I’ll stick with WMP and Win XP, and settle in the knowledge that I'm not as hip a computer-audiophile as all you foobar’sters.

 

2) I’ll get an USB ASIO driver.

 

3) I’ll start looking for a great DAC.

 

Extensive googling has lead me to my current favorite: the Ploytec USB ASIO driver: www.usb-audio.com. It costs €59 for a tiny plug-in download. Expensive! But better than having to go Vista or reestablish my media library for another player. (This driver comes bundled with hardware from Tascam, Numark and Audio Devices. That seems to vouch for its reliability.)

 

Another option would be the free asio2ks driver beta-version http://www.asio2ks.de/

 

And then there’s the brand new ASIOWmpPlg plug-in made directly for WMP. http://sourceforge.net/projects/asiowmpplg/

 

A user at AudioAsylum writes:

I can vouch for Ploytec driver (…) It uses kernel streaming to get low latency streaming to a plethora of standard USB devices. It does NOT use usbaudio.sys under XP - and trust me, this is a good thing. It costs a few bucks, but if you're a die-hard XP or Vista fan and you like USB products that happen to rely on USBAUDIO.SYS, then the Ploytec driver is for you. Might save you an upgrade to Vista - also a good thing if you ask me! :o)

* I have only used this driver with XP. I use v2.6.1 with XP as v2.8.7 for XP/Vista was crashing for me. 2.6.1. is rock solid with XP SP2 and SP3

http://www.audioasylum.com/cgi/t.mpl?f=pcaudio&m=36878

 

Other links that are relevant to getting the best audio from Win XP and WMP:

http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f46/asio-vs-kernal-streaming-161408/

http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f46/asio-windows-media-player-383419/

http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=949758

 

I know that I’m newcomer in high-end computer audio; please tell me if I've misunderstood something and I’m heading down the wrong track.

 

Cheers,

Chris

 

 

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Don’t think you are heading in the wrong way.

I like your post, you have done your home work and supplying the relevant links is something I appreciate too.

 

If you are not hip, running Vista/WMP on an iMac (you can’t be wrong with 3 monopolist , (Apple, Intel en Microsoft) in one box!) I must be square ball jazz!

Well, nothing wrong with John Coltrane.

 

XP/ ASIO is a well known way.

You might check the audioasylum for Otachan, another ASIO driver

 

Maybe you should swap step2 and 3. First thing come first, a good DAC will probably have more impact on the sound quality than tweaking your OS.

Maybe you end up with a ESS Sabre based DAC supporting SPDIF input only http://www.esstech.com/products/digitalaudio/digitalaudio.php

 

 

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When I started doing the music-from-computer thing, all I knew was that I didn't like MP3. I'd copied a few songs to a Mac using an early version of Itunes, using the AIFF format. When the silent PC came along I naturally started using Windows Media Player because it was free. I was disappointed to find out it wouldn't support AIFF, but it had this format called Lossless. So, I tried it. Worked fine and I'd still be using that if not for a series of problems with that machine.

 

I decided to move to the Mac. This required research, as I'm a regular Shoutcast broadcaster and needed a way to do that. I found Nicecast and that enabled the move. Next step was to convert all my Windows Lossless files to Apple Lossless. New versions of Itunes don't write AIFF files. Itunes on the PC will read Windows Lossless and write Apple Lossless... in theory. I tried it and it didn't work. The files played back about 20% slow. So, I ended up re-ripping all 1000 CDs to an offboard hard disk connected to a Mac Powerbook. For some CDs I'd lost the originals, so I used the PC to burn a new copy and ripped that on the Mac. These sounded as good as the originals.

 

I eventually got the PC working again. Both are connected to a Benchmark DAC1 USB, PC through the SP-DIF and Mac through USB. Playing the same music through them sounds the same on the output. I've followed Benchmark's advice on setting up WMP and Itunes.

 

Then the PC blew up again, and I lost all the WMP files. No more comparisons.

 

My advice? Keep using Windows Media Player. It works fine. Play your music and enjoy it. I've read the endless debates and theories and my ears just can't hear it. I'm 56 years old and have reasonable hearing, and hear far more problems (as one of the earlier posts mentioned) with the recording itself than I've ever heard from the computer source.

 

The only major difference for me between Itunes and WMP is that the former uses a much better database for CD info. I have to do much less editing of the tags in Itunes, especially for classical CDs.

 

 

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  • 11 months later...

I have compared WMP, foobar, winamp, and CMP +CPLAY.

 

There is nothing wrong with using a program that you are familiar with and enjoy the features of.

So, if you are happy then keep using WMP, but perhaps you suspect that ther is better and that is why you were asking the question?

 

However, WMP just simply does not sound as good as foobar or CMP + CPLAY.

 

If you are after the highest sound quality that you can get from a computer then you cant go past CMP + CPLAY.

( I have not heard amara) Have a look at the website for all the reasons why this is superior :

http://cplay.sourceforge.net/

 

Then download it, muck around until you get it to work then enjoy. No its not user friendly. You cant multitask with your computer when using it. But if you want good sound then this is it.

 

Just my 2c FYI.

With best regards.

 

 

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