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Mac OS X Music Players - alternatives to iTunes

The original thread discussing this article is here.

 

There seems to have been an explosion lately in "audiophile" music players for Mac OS X lately. Though iTunes wiped out the need for competition when it was introduced, it has become a huge, multimedia and store program, leaving many people wanting something simpler.  For a while, that was Play and one or two others, but then Amarra came on the scene. Offering higher-quality playback, it has become famous among audiophiles, alongside its biggest competitor, Pure Vinyl (and now Pure Music).  As those two have fought it out in the commercial arena, the developer of Play came up with a free program, AyreWave, in conjunction with Ayre, which combined the simplicity of Play with high-quality 64-bit playback. This now leads the pack of the free players (after the association was dropped and the program re-named Decibel) if you want a simpler program and potentially better sound than you get using iTunes.

 

Many people feel that using the audiophile-oriented music players improves the sound with their equipment. At the very least, they offer features not available in iTunes, such as upsampling and access to the audio filters built into Mac OS X. The latter is especially useful as Mac OS X has a built-in 31-band equalizer which is very handy for learning about frequency response. However their main advantages over iTunes for improving the quality of the computer's output is a dedicated playback engine different to the one in Mac OS X or iTunes, as well as the ability to switch the system output to the sample rate of the track being played, which is important if you have a mix of high-resolution as well as CD quality music and wish to have bit-perfect output every time. Additionally, they can entirely take over the output device ("hog mode") giving the program exclusive access which prevents system beeps and other programs interfering with music playback.

 

So for the curious, here is a list of the players currently available that I know of, along with some basic information about them.

 

April 2014 Note: Players that are not being actively upgraded have been removed.

 

April 2014 Note: Players that are not being actively upgraded have been removed.

 

Amarra by Sonic Studio

http://www.sonicstudio.com/amarra/

Commercial, demo available for download.

Comes in three flavours: Amarra, Amarra Mini and Amarra Junior with varying features and prices. The player integrates with iTunes, or can be used stand-alone importing tracks into a playlist with one click from the Finder or iTunes. For people with a lot of RAM in their computer, it can be used in cache mode where the files are loaded into memory before playback. Includes iZotope for re-sampling individual files. 

 

Audirvana Plus

Commercial, demo available for download.

http://audirvana.com/

Aimed at the high-fidelity crowd, contains a plethora of features ranging from iZotope-based up-sampling (with comprehensive options) to device integer and exclusive access modes. It can also suspend Spotlight and Time Machine for dedicated music servers and either directly play DSD files for supported players over USB or on-the-fly convert them to high-res PCM. It can either play back music using its own playlist or using an iTunes Integrated Mode.

 

BitPerfect

Commercial

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/bitperfect/id455545700?ls=1&mt=12

Integrating with iTunes, this software sits in your menu bar and feeds music via Integer Mode to your DAC. Great if you want a simple and cheap solution while still using iTunes. Now supports up-sampling and DSD playback.

 

Decibel by Steven F Booth

http://sbooth.org/Decibel/

Commercial, doesn't appear to be updated.

The developer of Play produced a basic, high-quality music player known as AyreWave in conjunction with Ayre. This has now dropped any association with them and has been renamed Decibel.  The software itself, while basic, allows one-click importing from files selected in the Finder or iTunes, "hog mode".

 

Ecoute by PixiApps

http://www.pixiapps.com/ecoute/

Comercial

With iTunes integration, including song rating and metadata support, this is the player for people who want a slick, theme-able one-window interface and want to share your listening habits on Twitter, Facebook or LastFM.  It also supports the Apple remote control.

 

Fidelia by Audiophile Engineering

http://audiofile-engineering.com/fidelia/

Commercial.

With a main window that looks like a piece of high-end hi-fi gear, but far more classy than that of audirvana, it has the ability to play music directly from iTunes playlists without needing to have iTunes running. Also included are a selection of on-the-fly resampling methods, including iZotope and remote control software for the iPhone and iPod Touch available in the App Store. It now also has optional features for headphone listening included.

 

JRiver Media Player (Mac)

http://www.jriver.com/mac.html

Commercial

Well-known for its fully-featured Windows software, which includes video playback, JRiver is currently developing a version for OSX. 

 

Nightingale

http://getnightingale.com/

Free

A multi-platform player based on Songbird (which shut its doors in 2013) that supports a wide range of audio formats.

 

Pure Music by Channel D

http://www.channld.com/puremusic/index.html

Commercial, demo available for download.

Based upon Pure Vinyl and using its own playback engine, like Amarra, integrates with iTunes, running in a window alongside and can re-sample music on the fly. Unlike Amarra, it requires iTunes to be running to select tracks, but offers a considerable slew of other options.

 

Swinsian

http://swinsian.com

Commercial, 30 day trial period.

Designed to entirely replace iTunes, including iDevice sync support. It has, among other features Last.fm integration, watch folders, device sync transcoding rules, a duplicate finder and Airplay support. 

 

Vox by Alessio Nonni

http://coppertino.com/

Free (donations requested).

While it has maintained its simple player interface, the features have grown this player into something interesting to audiophiles with automatic sample rate switching, device hog mode, neat playback features such as auto-crossfade between songs, LastFM support, autoload from folder and a bunch of other features worth checking out.

Comments (4)

Are there any that support OS X 10.5.8 Leopard?
I use Enqueue, it's basically iTunes 9 before the UI became a disgusting, bloated, iOS-ified mess, but with queueing playback capabilities. And yes, it plays FLAC.
Just did the last two weeks trying out as many of these that I could try for free and I just dropped my money on Audirvana Plus. I really liked Fidelia as well but there was just a bit more to the Audirvana sound that I liked. Plus, I could not get the FHX software to do much of anything (even using several sets of recommended settings), I'm assuming that the FHX was enabled for the demo since it was available in the preferences and did make some changes when I selected it, just nothing that was really great for me. Integer mode with my Schiit Magni/Modi combo works great and really makes the music come alive.
Amarra HiFi was easy but didn't do nearly as much for the music as A+ and Fidelia. Decibel wasn't bad either but I didn't like the interface as much as I like the other two. Pure Music has all these rave reviews but I deleted it by the end of the first day I used it since it looked and acted like a piece of junk.
You've forgotten the JRiver Media Center. It's still in Beta, but the price continues to inch up. It was around $25 when I first came across it, it's now $45.
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