Mac OS X Music Players - alternatives to iTunes

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.

August 2019: Replaced with the version from the thread, which was updated in February.

Amarra Luxe by Sonic Studio
http://www.sonicstudio.com/amarra/
Commercial, demo available for download. Apple, iOS and Windows.
Amarra sQ+ for Mac, Amarra Play for iOS and Amarra Luxe for Mac and Windows. The latter is a fully-fledged player which supports DSD, FLAC and MQA and includes up-sampling and EQ options. They were one of the very first companies to come out with a player focussed on improving sound quality and have changed their offerings over the years.

Audirvana Plus
Commercial, demo available for download. Apple and Windows.
http://audirvana.com/
Aimed at the high-fidelity crowd, contains a plethora of features ranging from iZotope or SoX-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. Playback can be via its own playlist, iTunes library sync or using an iTunes Integrated Mode. The latest versions include support for TIDAL, quobuz and HighResAudio streaming.

BitPerfect
Commercial, Apple.
http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/bitperfect/id455545700
Integrating with iTunes, this software sits in your menu bar and feeds music via Integer Mode to your DAC, matching the sample rate in the process. Great if you want a simple and cheap solution while still using iTunes. Now supports up-sampling and DSD playback.

Elmedia Player
Free/Commercial, Apple
http://mac.eltima.com/media-player.html
Free with commercial "pro" version available with more features.
A multi-media player that also supports Youtube. The commercial version is required to be able to save Youtube videos and stream to Airplay devices.

HQPlayer
http://Signalyst.com
Commercial.
An up-sampling (or re-sampling) music player that allows the user to choose numerous algorithms and even DSD conversion and network transmission, potentially allowing for improved sound quality from DACs with good hardware but poor or no (ie: non-oversampling) digital filter implementations. Can be used with Raspberry Pi and similar acting as endpoints, with the NAA daemon installed.

JRiver Media Player (Mac)
http://www.jriver.com/mac.html
Commercial
Well-known for its fully-featured Windows software, which includes video playback.

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.

Roon
https://roonlabs.com
Commercial
Intended to completely revisit the storage and playback of music in a way that is more interesting, it can play back music locally, from storage or from TIDAL or Qobuz, and gives a highly graphical and carefully curated interface to your music. With the software installed on computers, including Raspberry Pi and similar, it can play music from the server to any device on your network, including multiple devices separately at the same time, and be controlled by any of them too.

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.

VLC (VideoLan Client)
http://videolan.org/vlc
Free.
A multimedia client which plays back most audio and video formats and also supports streaming and other features.

Vox by Alessio Nonni
http://coppertino.com/
Free, except their Music Cloud music storage system.
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 and Soundcloud support, autoload from folder and a bunch of other features worth checking out. The makers are now offering a service allowing to upload and stream your music, as well as sync it with Vox on your iPhone.
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About author
Currawong
I started with headphone hi-fi back in the early '90s when my father got sick of hearing the modern pop music I liked through my hi-fi system. In 2007, when the earpads on my headphones became too flat, I joined Head-Fi where I began the search for a good pair of headphones, then a good system to enjoy music with.

Comments

tintin220

100+ Head-Fier
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.
 

Wraith13

Head-Fier
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.
 

snowshoe

100+ Head-Fier
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.
 

rockwell

100+ Head-Fier
is there an app which truly replaced itunes in that sense that the app creates a library for all my tracks with the possibility to send this library correctly formatted to my dap? i don't want to use itunes anymore and convert my flacs to alac and then use an app like dapper to load the library onto my dap. any suggestions?
 

hamlesh

New Head-Fier
This hasn't had an update for a while it seems.

I suggest we add Clementine (https://www.clementine-player.org/) for consideration. Been using it a while, free/open source, does what it needs to.
 

hamlesh

New Head-Fier

pond44

New Head-Fier
is there an app which truly replaced itunes in that sense that the app creates a library for all my tracks with the possibility to send this library correctly formatted to my dap? i don't want to use itunes anymore and convert my flacs to alac and then use an app like dapper to load the library onto my dap. any suggestions?
Rockwell, did you ever find what you were looking for?.????
I know this post is old but I was wanting to know if you did. I'm the same as you.
 
is there an app which truly replaced itunes in that sense that the app creates a library for all my tracks with the possibility to send this library correctly formatted to my dap? i don't want to use itunes anymore and convert my flacs to alac and then use an app like dapper to load the library onto my dap. any suggestions?
I switched to Roon for that. Expensive for a lifetime licence, but since I'll be using it for a few decades at least, not entirely unreasonable.
 

pond44

New Head-Fier
Looked at a few but gave up, came back today to see if any progress. None. Still want a replacement for iTunes especially now Catalina is out, hate it and it's stuffed all my iTunes files. Anyone got any updated info.
 

Lohb

Headphoneus Supremus
Anyone have AudirvanaPlus_3.2.16.dmg ?
I need to test it against AudirvanaPlus_3.2.18.dmg to see if the issue I have is with A+ or new Air machine...
I want to keep using A+ vs new Audirvana one which I really don't like.
Had to roll back to Sierra after finding out old A+ has been "retired" on Catalina....i just find GUI awful on new Audirvana.
 
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