How To

Streaming the Jplay way

Jplay streaming control app

Jplay streaming control app

Jplay is a streaming control app that works broadly along the same lines as Roon but does not require a core to be running on a separate processor, what’s more it aims to provide high sound quality as well as a rich user experience. Roon has proved that streaming enthusiasts are willing to pay a fairly high subscription in order to access information alongside music on local storage and from streaming service providers like Qobuz and Tidal. This is because the apps provided by the makers of streamers frequently leave something to be desired when it comes to richness of data and, crucially, reliability of operation.

Jplay is the creation of Marcin Ostapowicz who has been building upgrades for streaming audio since 2010, his Jcat brand makes the full gamut of streaming audio components including high end sound cards, music servers, network switches and power supplies. His dedication to making streaming audio sound as good as it can is not in doubt and Jplay is his first universal control app, so it should come as no surprise that it sounds very good indeed.

Jplay streaming control app

Limited to IOs devices Jplay catalogues music files stored on network attached storage (NAS) when it’s first set up and there’s the option to have it re-scan either the entire library or ‘recent activity’ via the settings. You select which libraries to serve music from and which streamer to play them with, so it’s easy to combine libraries from different sources on the network and switch between players in say a multi room situation. Music can be found under artist, album, genre, year, tracks etc and you can limit file access to your own library or a mix of that and titles on streaming services, or if you prefer something more familiar you can use the folders on your server but that is not generally such a rich experience.

The artist listing can be in icon or list form and provides images for those artists that Jplay has metadata for, in other instances it will use album art cropped to circular form. One minor gripe is that within my library it lists all the artists that contribute to, or feature on albums, alongside the main artist to whom the album is credited. This makes the artist listing much longer and these secondary artists do not get any form of image, apparently this relates to the way that my Melco server provides metadata so will not be the case in all instances.

Jplay streaming control app

The playback page looks simple with artwork, titles and track progress bar as well as icons to indicate the source and player in the bottom corners, but scroll down and you get more data listed under ‘about the track’ including file format and release date. Scroll right from the play page to see the track queue which gives you a count and time for all of them. I didn’t figure out the maximum amount of tracks that are listed in the queue but it can stretch to quite a few over many days if not weeks. It would be useful if the playback slider could be moved whilst the stream is paused as is the case with other apps but that may not be something that non reviewers want to do so often, and more importantly probably relates to sound quality as you will read.

Jplay lists ‘You may also like’ titles underneath a selected album but these aren’t always related, not in any obvious way at least. More useful is the ‘radio’ function that selects tracks to follow on from one you have chosen with more that have a similar vibe, for those of us with more music in our collections than we can remember this is a great way of discovering and rediscovering gems. Accessing new and favourite albums and tracks on Qobuz is very easy too but I didn’t find a way to combine tracks from my library and streaming services in one playlist. The sound of files stored locally always exceeds that of even the best streaming services so I prefer to play them if possible.

There is no option to stream internet radio with Jplay which is a pity but not a game changer, a lot of control apps are weak in this department today presumably because sound quality is not great as a rule. Or maybe podcasts have replaced radio for many.

Jplay streaming control app
Jplay playback queue

Sound quality

Generally Jplay is pretty intuitive to use and has proved reliable with a wide variety of streamers over several months during which I have not found brand specific app that sounds as good, and that includes Auralic’s Lightning which sounds very good with Auralic streamers, as well as the Focal & Naim app created from the ground up for Naim streamers. I asked Marcin why control apps have so much influence on the sound of the hardware that they manage and he explained that it’s to do with how much interaction the app has with the processor in the streamer. Some send a lot of traffic back and forth in order to stay on top of things whilst Jplay has reduced this to a minimum in order to lighten the processing load. Roon is perhaps the most extreme example as it requires a dedicated computer core to run in order for it to work, this can be in a networked PC or a dedicated NUC but it’s a lot of computing power to have involved in the playback process.

This low traffic approach allows Jplay to deliver greater transparency, more detail and with greater coherence than other apps. Producing soundscapes that really escape the speakers and have a vivid realism that is not easy to achieve with streamed audio. This much was apparent on Lumin, Bricasti, Mutec and Auralic components as well as the Naim NSS 333 that I will soon be writing about. Look up the reviews of those products on the Ear and the enthusiasm you’ll find is in part due to the remarkably sound quality of Jplay. I love the way it combines perfect timing with soo much clarity, most apps can do one or the other of these but not many manage both simultaneously and to this standard. I doubt very much whether the Mutec MC3+ USB reclocker would have proved so inspiring if I had been using Melco software to control the N10 rather than Jplay.

Jplay streaming control app

Using Jplay to control the Naim made this very clear, the Focal & Naim app allows this excellent streamer to deliver superb timing and pretty good imaging, Jplay expands the depth of detail to such an extent that everything is more three dimensional and real. This is abundantly clear on Sinatra’s Fly Me to the Moon big band live extravaganza where the extra information this app allows the streamer to resolve creates a more palpable and real performance, it’s almost a 2D to 3D transformation, and the standard app is by no means weak.

At just under £44 per annum Jplay is not inexpensive and isn’t as strong on features as Roon but offers sound quality that is in a different league, and ultimately that’s what you want from streamed audio. It’s not supposed to be somewhere to try out tracks before you buy a physical format, streaming done well can outperform CD even when playing CD quality files, and it gets close to matching all but the best turntables. But like a turntable you have to get everything set up properly and use a control app that doesn’t muddy the waters, Jplay does quite the opposite it transforms streaming performance to an uncanny degree.

Jason Kennedy

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