Optimal HQPlayer Settings
In proper Audio Bacon fashion, I spent quite a bit of time testing out all 30 filters and 9 dithers HQPlayer had to offer. If you’re looking for measurements and technical details, there are awesome nerds out there that might have more information.
These were my subjective impressions. YMMV.
|IIR||Clean but not very organic|
|FIR||More analog and textured than IIR. Subdued top end with imaging being softer. A relaxed sound.|
|asymFIR||Better than IIR and FIR. A lot more tonal variations and better separation. The dynamics aren’t bad but the soundstage is pretty flat.|
|minPhaseFIR||Poor separation but smooth sounding. Music just is mushed together.|
|FFT||Good tonal balance. Good focus and detail. More gloomy than vibrant.|
|poly-sinc-lp||Clean but some smearing in the low end. Poor layering.|
|poly-sinc-mp||Much more organic in comparison to poly-sinc-lp. Better than all the filters above.|
|poly-sinc-short-lp||Not very colorful but smooth.|
|poly-sinc-short-mp||Warmer than poly-sinc-short-lp but not quite natural yet.|
|poly-sinc-long-lp||HQPlayer would keep crashing when I selected this filter.|
|poly-sinc-long-ip||There’s something jarring about this filter. It feels like the soundstage is stretched both vertically and horizontally around the axis. Focus is good though.|
|poly-sinc-long-mp||Articulate, textured, and tone isn’t too bad. Richer than most of these filters but closed-form-M and sinc-M are probably better choices. Good material and presence. One of the better filters.|
|poly-sinc-hb||Cruncy1 Piano is a bit too bright. Overall a very cold sound.|
|poly-sinc-ext||Elegant and smooth. Softer top end but very liquid sounding.|
|poly-sinc-ext2||Fantastic grip, instrument separation, gradations, and quiet. Better than the poly-sinc-exts. Decent amount of textural cues as well. Not very warm but not cold either.|
|poly-sinc-mqa-lp||This filter sound very different from the rest. There’s a crisp and heightened quality to it. Reverbs sound a little contrived.|
|poly-sinc-mqa-mp||Tonal balance isn’t bad. The highs and lows coexist wonderfully here. Might still be a bit too “smoothed over”?|
|poly-sinc-xtr-lp||Tonally variant and smooth but flat and unfocused.|
|poly-sinc-xtr-mp||One of the warmer filters. Delineation isn’t great and the soundstage sounds a little hollow.|
|ASRC||Clean, crisp, and light-footed. It’s more elevated and thin. Laidback but not mellow. Fast and quiet. I feel like it’s missing that connective tissue though.|
|polynomial-1||I heard a few glitches with this filter. Overall more soft and neutral.|
|polynomial-2||Wide soundstage. Tonally neutral but shapeless. I had a few dropouts here as well.|
|minringFIR-lp||A bit colder than neutral but the metallic shine off cymbals is nice.|
|minringFIR-mp||Not bad. Soundstage is pushed further back. Good tactility on the top end. Precise and weighty.|
|closed-form||Too neutral for my tastes…but overall not a bad filter.|
|closed-form-fast||Tight and punchy low end. You could hear more of the music without being analytical. Still not warm enough for my tastes, but great grip and imaging.|
|closed-form-fast-M||Ok, now we’re in the big leagues. This filter has all the best qualities of the other filters along with beautiful gradations, texture, and visceral expression.|
|sinc-S||Incredible articulation compared to the rest of the filters above. Treble is accurate. More laid back and leaner than sinc-M and sinc-L. Super clean cut sound. But not very inviting as far as tone. Layers out dense tracks with ease.|
|sinc-M||Denser than sinc-S. A soft and grey tone but very full and contoured sound. I feel sinc-S has plenty more textures and air though. it’s a more forward and thick sound.|
|sinc-L||By far the most resolving filter on this list. It digs DEEP but remains very analog sounding. I could start to hear the individual members of the audience. Cymbals and hi-hats have more “clang” and material to them. There’s an organic weight and presence to all instruments and performers. Very transparent and separation is uncanny. Amazing filter if you enjoy an uncolored sound. Personally, I prefer a more warm-blooded tone.|
Dither & Shapers
|NS1||Pancake flat. Terrible.|
|NS4||Soft and not a lot of sparkle. Smoother and denser than NS9 but not as textured or tonally true.|
|NS5||A bit flat…and there’s something off about the transients here.|
|NS9||Quiet, snappy, and very articulate. It’s not the punchiest, but the tone is very good. LNS15 is fuller and more granular but NS9 has more texture and faithful tone.|
|TPDF||Good crunch and heft. Softer and fuller than NS9 but melodic and smooth.|
|Gauss1||Nothing tonally overpowering. Great focus and imaging. Dynamics are a bit dull.|
|Shaped||Good energy and very resolving. A little light and thin on tone though.|
|LNS15||Meaty and engaging. Reverbs are clearly heard. Sounds like an unfuzzy and more solid version of TPDF. LNS15 is more grounded and outlined though. This is the most analog-sounding dither on this list. NS9 has more color and fiber but sounds thinner.|
My Favorite HQPlayer Settings
So obviously I wasn’t a huge fan of most of the linear-phase filters. I suspect those who enjoy those filters are listening to large-scale live performances with minimal vocals. There were definitely a few combinations of filters that caught my ears:
|closed-form-M with NS9||Tone snobs would prefer this combo. This sounded particularly good with the DAVE – which tends to have a more neutral color across all settings. You’ll be trading a more fleshed-out sound for a more colorful one.|
|closed-form-M with LNS15||Smoother and darker than with then NS9. It’s a heavier sound.|
|sinc-M with NS9||This combo is very nice. Good nuance, control, and great depth and layering. A good tradeoff between tone and body. This itself is probably worth the asking price for HQPlayer. Tonality is pretty good too (relative to the other filters).|
|sinc-M with LNS15||Great shaping and delineation of the music. There’s no sign of digital harshness at all. In comparison to the NS9 variant, it does come off a bit “smoothed over” and untextured. It’s also more of a greyish tone above neutral. It’s not a golden brown, warm color – which is better for vocal recordings IMO.|
One thing to keep in mind is that there’s a huge delay when playing these files with upscaling. It’s about 5+ seconds. And this is on one of the fastest PCs on the planet. So if you’re a reviewer like me, we probably don’t have the patience to wait this long to switch tracks. It’s probably fine if you’re just listening to an entire album all the way through, though. There are also some funky problems with Roon where it wouldn’t play the correct track displayed on the remote. I just had to keep clicking.
So at this point, we haven’t involved Hugo M Scaler at all. These combos will be the “upsampling soldiers” for HQPlayer. At a minimum, these filters first have to sound better than the un-upscaled Roon direct ASIO output to DAVE and TT 2.
Upscaled HQPlayer vs. Roon Direct TT 2 & DAVE
As mentioned, the pass-through feature of the HMS isn’t reliable for testing because it actually sounds better than a direct connection. This is presumably due to better noise isolation. USB direct to the DAVE is a larger sound, but the image loosens up and diffuses. Tone and density also diminish. It’s more subtle on the TT 2 (slightly cooler, thinner, more diffused). From what I gather, the TT 2 was developed later and was designed with better isolation.
If you don’t plan to upscale with HQPlayer, direct Roon via ASIO sounds better to my ears. Although there’s more bloom, you’ll get more cohesion, color, and nuance with direct ASIO to TT 2 and DAVE. Music is snappier and more dynamic. Strangely, HQPlayer was a bit more sibilant. Anyway, you’re not buying HQPlayer without using its upscaling feature right?
Finding the best filters…
So against the un-upscaled TT 2, I found that the sinc-M and NS9 combination provided a better tone plus all the benefits you’d expect from a good upscaler. These include much better shaping of the music, quieter background, more tangibility, depth, and spectral separation. It’s tighter, more nuanced, deeper, and layers beautifully. Overall, it sounds better with the HQPlayer upscaled output in comparison to the Roon direct output to the TT 2. Mission accomplished.
With the DAVE, it’s a little different. At a baseline, a direct connection via USB to the DAVE is a sound that is a bit cooler and contains more bloom. It’s not as consolidated or full as a BNC connection from the HMS. In any case, the NS9 dither with either the sinc-M or closed-form-M filters sounded pretty good. In both cases, you’ll get better sound from your DAVE versus Roon direct. Also, LNS15 is smoother and will have higher transient performance and clarity.
Interestingly, the one thing the direct DAC configuration consistently did better was the reproduction of textural cues. The HQPlayer has a “silky” overlay that seems to encompass all filters and shapers.
So can HQPlayer help elevate your sound for only $260? Hell yeah. But up until now, it wasn’t really a fair fight. Let’s connect the Hugo M Scaler.