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Audiophile-grade Player for iTunes

Written by Wendy Dunham.

If you're an audiophile seeking higher fidelity from iTunes, I highly recommend BitPerfect available from the Mac App Store for only $9.99.

What does BitPerfect do?

bitperfectBitPerfectBitPerfect is menubar app that turns iTunes into an audiophile-grade music player which delivers superb sound quality by playing back at the highest bit depth and sample rate that your Mac or external hardware is capable of. BitPerfect replaces the computer's audio engine with it's own. If your audio hardware supports Integer ModeBitPerfect can also deliver your bits exactly as they were encoded without rounding errors. 

If you desire, lower quality songs can undergo up-conversion on-the-fly. For instance, you can choose to either up-convert by powers of two (i.e. 44.1 kHz up-converted to 88.2 kHz or 176.4 kHz), or up-convert to the maximum allowed by your audio hardware (i.e. 96 kHz, 196 kHz, etc.) – depending on which method sounds better to your ears.

You can also choose whether any high fidelity audio files in your collection will play back at their native bit depth/sampling rate or undergo up-conversion. For instance, say you have some songs in 24 bit/96 kHz format and your DAC is capable of 384 kHz, you can choose to let them play back natively at 24 bit/96 kHz or up-convert to 384 kHz. This feature can be set globally or even on a per track basis.

What To Listen For

Anyone with a good sound system and an external hardware DAC (digital audio converter) – also found in most A/V amp/receivers – will hear improved, higher fidelity sound from iTunes using BitPerfect. Even lower quality MP3 or AAC music files (i.e. 128/256 kbps) will playback with improved clarity when up-converted.

Although BitPerfect cannot recover what's been tossed out by lossy formatting, it does give you the best possible playback for all formats, whether lossy or lossless, due to up-conversion, bit depth and other factors.
Don't expect in-your-face, over-processed sound that you get from equalizers and digital signal processors. We're talking clean audiophile improvements in sound clarity, fidelity and high frequencies. Specifically, if you focus on high hats, cymbals, snares, bells, percussion, as well as all other frequencies including bass, you should hear improved clarity and definition.

Notice the improvement with this A/B test:

  1. Begin playing a song with BitPerfect disabled. Listen for high frequency elements (strings, cymbals and other percussion).
  2. Now click Enable BitPerfect without stopping. After a short delay (while the buffer fills up), you'll hear brighter, more clearly defined percussion and other high frequencies. You may also notice more richness and definition to bass and all other frequencies.

You should now fully appreciate what BitPerfect is capable of! It's all about what's not missing from the music, what you can now hear that was previously not apparent. BitPerfect is not just about up-sampling – there are other subtle playback elements that are being improved beyond the normal iTunes playback and computer audio engine. Indeed, BitPerfect replaces the computer's audio engine with it's own. So if you can hear this difference and care, you are indeed a bona fide audiophile!

If you also have some actual high definition music at 24 bit/96 kHz or higher, BitPerfect will allow iTunes to playback through your hardware at their native sample rate and bit depth, or even up-convert to the highest your DAC supports. If you use BitPerfect's default sample rate conversion (SRC) SoX 14.3.2 VHQ Intermediate algorithm, you may even hear improved fidelity. I do!

HDTracks.com sells DRM-free, 24 bit/96 kHz & 192 kHz high definition music from major studios and artists in FLAC, ALAC, AIFF, and WAV format. There are several other studios and websites offering audiophile music – Google "HD music", "high definition music" or "audiophile music".

My Quest for Audiophile-grade Sound

I recently upgraded my JBL L100 speakers with the L100 Crossover Kit from Jantzen Audio in Denmark for improved speaker fidelity. After building and installing the new crossovers, I became so disenchanted with my lower fidelity AAC music files in iTunes, I started looking into buying audiophile-grade 24 bit/96 kHz or higher music. My own studio music masters are recorded at that quality and, indeed, I can hear improved audio compared to my 16 bit/44.1 kHz exports. But I soon discovered that there is not a lot of audiophile music for sale at 24 bit/96 kHz or higher. It hardly seemed worth buying just a few audiophile-quality albums, yet remain stuck with all my other low fidelity AAC's.

Update: I have since purchased 24 bit/96 kHz music from HDTracks.com and can report that it is indeed a real aural treat. HDTracks.com is now offering substantially more HD music. New and older titles are constantly being added as more and more studios and artists are choosing to release or rerelease in HD format. These are studio-grade masters, folks!

So I started looking around to see what could be done to improve all my lower fidelity songs via my sound system. I tried the Bongiovi DSP plugin for iTunes. That certainly improves the lower fidelity songs, but it does so using digital signal processing (DSP) "profiles" which are not individually adjustable, and not necessarily suitable for your own external audio hardware. It also adjusted high fidelity music that didn't require it, thus artificially coloring the music. Once installed, it unfortunately prevented iTunes from playing back discrete Dolby Surround channel audio in movies that have it. This was a real deal-breaker for me, so I uninstall it. Apparently, they are working on a new plugin for the entire Mac sound output rather than just iTunes, and it won't have this problem. Still, it's not exactly what I was looking for – namely, higher fidelity audio – although it certainly can improve low quality music by restoring transients and compensating for weak frequencies.

BitPerfect, on the other hand, is a true audiophile solution because it does not color the sound. By up-converting the bits and sample rate, you get greater audio fidelity and clarity that you can hear. And for those high sample rate/bit depth songs you may have (i.e. 24 bit/96 kHz), BitPerfect allows your internal or external audio hardware to play it back at the highest possible depth and rate. After I heard the improved quality from BitPerfect – especially on 16 bit/ 44.1 kHz CDs in Apple Lossless format, as well as 256 kbps iTunes music – I repurchased hundreds of older, lossy songs in iTunes Plus format (256 kbps), and signed up for iCloud with Match to get the remaining lossy songs up to at least 256 kbps, 16 bit/44.1 kHz. Now, I'm really enjoying the higher fidelity with BitPerfect. I'm delighted every time my external A/V amp displays "88 kHz" or "96 kHz" when I play iTunes. I can hear the difference.

Highest Quality Music

Someday, perhaps all music will be released in 24 bit/96 kHz or higher format. In fact, that was the idea behind the DVD-Audio (DVD-A) format, which supports audio bit depths up to 24-bit and sample rates up to 192 kHz – vastly superior to CD's 16 bit/44.1 kHz. Sadly, the DVD-A format never gained consumer popularity, despite the obvious advantages. To help fill the void, HDTracks.com offers high definition music from major studios in FLACALACAIFF, and WAV format. Their catalog is growing as more studios and artists hop on the hi-fi band wagon and release or re-release audiophile-grade recordings.

Certainly, the widespread adoption of the MP3, AAC and other lossy audio formats has seriously degraded consumer music. Until this changes, I highly recommend BitPerfect.

Not only will your low bit rate songs improve, your lossless CD-quality audio will truly shine when upconverted – not to mention how any audiophile 24 bit high sample rate music you may own will sound absolutely pristine as you drive your audio hardware DAC's to their maximum sample rate and bit depth using iTunes and BitPerfect.

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