JRiver on the network

How To

JRiver on the network

I met up with Steve Silberman of AudioQuest a couple of months back and as well as extolling the virtues of his Ethernet cables he showed me JRiver’s software player for the PC and Mac. At the time he pointed out the many features and great flexibility of this programme, explaining that it can route just about any form of internet music service to your system and be run via tablet app for maximum convenience. JRiver has an enormous range of features and is thus daunting to geeks like me who are not fully paid up, especially when it comes to platforms that were created for Windows machines. But I finally got around to trying it on my Mac and when used via the conventional computer output of USB I was pretty impressed, it’s not a world beater but it’s very good and this combined with the feature set make it a serious contender.

Then Steve encouraged me to try connecting by a different route, not USB but via my Ethernet network. The network that was already connecting streamers and NAS drive in my system, so ready to roll. In effect this meant using a streamer as a network DAC because when JRiver is employed in this way all the unpacking of audio files is done in the computer, the streamer is no longer taking WAV and FLAC files onboard it’s just accepting a PCM signal and converting it to an analogue or digital output. You don’t use the controller for the streamer at all you just press play on the computer, or you use the JRemote app on a tablet or smartphone.

 

JRiver MC19

 

The sonic result of this approach is pretty impressive, in musical terms it is at least on a par with a USB connected computer and gives a top notch streamer a run for its money. Steve has a theory about why this might be and it comes down to the processing power of computers versus streamers, of which the latter have relatively little because in theory they don’t need it. Whether that’s all there is to it is hard to say, maybe the Ethernet approach has its advantages too but that seems less likely. Either way the results speak for themselves, never have I heard such big differences between recordings. This was apparent right from the off when I put on a piece that I don’t often use and heard so much. It was Feist’s The Bad in Each Other, a modern studio album made for mass consumption, but it has tremendous presence and massive power. Both probably the result of studio manipulation but they give the music a very contemporary and vibrant sound compared to older recordings. Stevie Wonder’s Superstition nonetheless has all of its groove and a lot more of its inner workings on display, it’s much easier to hear precisely what’s going on and how it was done, and this serves the music superbly. It’s laughably, magically revealing and entertaining.

The system is very good too; Resolution Audio Cantata in UPnP mode, Roksan Oxygene amp, Chord Sarum TA interconnect and DNM Stereo speaker cable into the mighty PMC fact.12 loudspeakers. But I have been using this combo for a while and it didn’t do this when the streamer was calling the shots, so to speak. You don’t even need a full streamer, all that JRiver requires is a network DAC, not a breed that’s very common at present, as far as I’m aware only Marantz, PS Audio and NAD make such things. I suspect however that they are in the vanguard of a general move to this approach. An alternative was shown by Auralic at CES this year, it was a prototype network bridge. This converts the packet data on an Ethernet network into a USB or S/PDIF digital signal that can be handled by any DAC. Significantly this means that you can then stream DSD over a network, something that very few dedicated streamers are currently able to do.

 

JRemote on the iPad

 

Steve is primarily interested in JRiver’s flexibility, it’s ability to channel a multitude of music services to your system, things like Spotify and YouTube which few (if any?) dedicated audio components are able to access. Unfortunately these are not yet supported on the Mac version, or at least I was unable to master using Spotify through JRiver and was informed that YouTube plain don’t work yet. It’s worth mentioning that JRiver in its current MC19 form is an unusually flexible application, which makes it tricky to get to grips with in the first place. Its not unlike Photoshop, you can usually manage the essentials but mastering the whole caboodle is a proper undertaking. Reuben Klein used an earlier free version called Jukebox in his review of music synching software and remarked on how good it is for organising your music. He’s not wrong, tell it where your music library is and it will upload the lot and keep tabs on it in case something new is added. It will find artwork even if it’s not with the music and when it can’t figure out which album or artist should apply to something it’s not difficult to tag it correctly. On the other hand it’s not the most stable of music players on the Mac, it gets regular updates and these will probably make it solid in future but at present there are times when it just falls over, but it’s just a matter of reopening to get it going again.

So what’s in it for AudioQuest, well being a cable company they can provide better Ethernet for your network. I realise that suggesting differences exist between data cables is tantamount to heresy but, inconvenient as it might be, they make a difference in a high resolution system. So AQ can see some mileage in encouraging a technology that not only has audiophile appeal but is ultimately able to deliver a comprehensive multimedia experience to the home at a competitive cost. It is also Netflix ready and offers more than the usual gamut of online radio stations because you can seek out anything online with it.

JRiver on a network represents the next step up for computer audio, the one where musicality is added to detail and the other audiophile niceties. At under $50 it’s a remarkably good value piece of software, all you have to do is master it!