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Only audiophiles really care about audio files. But they can make a huge difference to your listening experience. Buying an expensive set of speakers won’t make a great deal of difference to your audio enjoyment if the tracks you listen to aren’t up to snuff. Unfortunately, iTunes lacks the ability to play many high-end audio formats, but switching to another player can turn your Mac into the equivalent of several thousand dollars’ worth of hi-fi equipment.
Decibel makes up for iTunes’ sonic shortcomings, handling a wide range of audio file types in their native format and at the quality they were intended—including many files iTunes can’t touch. Decibel won’t perform miracles, however. Your old-school 128kbps downloads will work, though they’ll still sound anemic compared to higher-quality versions. But iTunes-quality tracks aren’t what Decibel is all about anyway. If your Mac is stuffed with Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, and other high-quality files, Decibel handles them easily without the need for conversion (and the resulting loss in quality).
Decibel might not look pretty, but it handles high-quality audio formats with aplomb.
The Decibel interface looks a bit like iTunes, but it isn’t so much a music-library organizer as it is a simple player. The app offers a plain list view of your tracks (which can show album art behind it) and a search function -- that’s it. It’s the audio features, not the interface, that make Decibel worthwhile. With the right files and playback equipment, a song that sounded muddy when compressed into an iTunes-friendly format is a crystal clear piece of audio perfection.
We tested on some high-end gear from Sony and Sennheiser using an MP3 version of Nine Inch Nails’ The Slip against a higher-quality, 24-bit 96kHz FLAC version. The difference offered by Decibel was, quite literally, clear -- deep, rich bass notes, crackling treble, and a very clean midrange. Listening to high-res tracks is enough to make you want to ditch your entire iTunes library and start from scratch. We’d love to see Decibel handle ripping as well, but it’s for playback only, although Decibel’s creator also offers a separate open-source ripper.
The bottom line. Decibel won’t replace iTunes, but when you want to enjoy top-quality music, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better solution for the price.
Mac OS 10.6 or later
Easy to use. Multiple format support. Great audio quality. Can load and play files in memory to avoid disk-access interference. Hog Mode sends audio in native formats without sample-rate conversion.
Few additional features. iTunes integration not brilliant.